Panning gold in California

Members of Corral Martial Arts in Schererville participated in the Pan Kids International Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu Federation Championships on Feb. 15 in Long Beach, Calif. Team members totaled a pair of first- and third-place finishes. Pictured are, front row, CMA owner Braulio Corral, second row, from left, Amelia Murphy, Rianne Murphy, Chase Kasprzak, Matthew Tuley and Reese Kasprzak. Not pictured: Ryan Tuley.

SCHERERVILLE | The journey to attain a black-belt ranking in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu is long and arduous. Even more so for a red belt.

But all roads start at the same place.

"Every black belt is a former white belt who never quit," said Braulio Corral, a BJJ black belt himself and owner of Corral's Martial Arts in Schererville and Valparaiso.

"There are no short cuts," Corral said. "Unlike some other martial art disciplines, you can't hide behind a (undeserved) black belt in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu. You go out on the mat to spar and train, and you'll be exposed in less than two minutes."

It's rare when a BJJ black belt is awarded to someone short of their 20th birthday.

"They would have likely to had started training when they were very young, like 4 or 5 years old," Corral said.

There are several CMA students who have gotten an early start in BJJ. At the Pan Kids International Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu Federation Championships held Feb. 15 at California State University in Long Beach, CMA fielded a team that brought back two gold medals and two bronze medals.

Reese Kasprzak, 7, of St. John, and Rianne Murphy, of Valparaiso, both won their divisions.

"I feel thankful for my coaches and my teammates for helping me reach one of my goals," said Rianne, who recently turned 9.

Chase Kasprzak, 9, of St. John, placed third after winning his first three matches; and St. John 8-year-old Matthew Tuley, who won two titles at the Kids World Brazilian Championships last summer in San Bernadino, Calif., also placed third in his division.

Other competitors representing the school were Ryan Tuley, 10, and 7-year-old Amelia Murphy, who in her first international competition drew a world champion as her first opponent.

"Amelia was winning for most of the match," Corral said, "but for safety reasons, the match was stopped when she got caught in a potential submission hold."

Jay Kasprzak, father of Reese and Chase; and John Murphy, father of Rianne and Amelia, both accompanied the team to Long Beach.

"I've been trying to get them to take Jiu-Jitsu classes themselves," Corral said. "They're really involved in helping out with the classes, so they've probably learned a lot already."

Murphy said he got his children involved in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu as a means for effective self-defense.

"It gives a smaller person more of a chance against a bigger person," Murphy said. "I'm a father of two daughters, and I want them to be able to defend themselves.

"That's why we came here. The reason why we're still here is because the coaching and teaching has been great."