Stephanie Baur easily shrugged off a hyperextended elbow after winning a local Brazilian jiu-jitsu match Saturday.
“It doesn’t hurt yet, but it’ll hurt tomorrow,” Baur said. “It’ll swell. It’s happened before.”
In a sport that focuses on forcing the opponent to submit to the threat of unconsciousness or physical harm, there are many unexpected dynamics that come into play, she said.
Baur, a junior at UCF majoring in creative writing, fights in Brazilian jiu-jitsu competitions in the Central Florida area. Last weekend, she defeated Jepha Mooi to take home the LeLeo Code Brazilian jiu-jitsu lightweight title belt.
“It is exciting and wonderful ... I feel really good,” Baur said. “I’m happy with how it went, even though I could be happier. I could be one submission less happier.”
In Brazilian jiu-jitsu competition, there’s no striking allowed; no kicks, punches, knees, elbows, or anything of the sort. Jiu-jitsu focuses on taking the opponent to the ground and establishing a dominant and controlling position. From there, the aggressor often attempts a submission hold — which can take the form of a choke or a joint lock that threatens to dislocate or hyperextend an elbow, shoulder, or knee — to force the opponent to “tap out,” or submit. At Saturday’s invitational competition, the first fighter to submit their opponent twice within two five-minute rounds was named the winner. In her championship fight, Baur fell behind early when she tapped out to Mooi’s armbar — a joint lock in which the aggressor attempts to bend their opponent’s arm backwards over the elbow joint — less than two minutes into the first round.
But she didn't let that stop her.
“After the first submission, that’s really disheartening for sure. But at the same time, I [felt like I had] nothing to lose,” Baur said. “When I got that first submission for me, I thought when I stood up, ‘now it’s zero-zero, now it’s just a normal fight.’”
After tapping out to Mooi’s armbar, Baur successfully submitted Mooi twice with two of her own armbars to win the match.
Baur, who has attained her green belt in Brazilian jiu-jitsu after two years of training, said her victory on Saturday was her eighth in 10 official matches.
“I’ve loved sports my whole life,” Baur said. “Whatever sport I was playing was my favorite sport ... until I found jiu-jitsu. Now I have something that I think about all the time. [When] I daydream, I’m thinking about jiu-jitsu and different techniques. It really is the most rewarding and challenging thing you can do [for] recreation.”
Baur trains jiu-jitsu at Gracie Barra Orlando, a martial arts school with four locations in Central Florida. Gracie Barra is led by Marcio Simas, a sixth-degree black belt under the Gracie family who is “considered by many to be one of the top Brazilian jiu-jitsu instructors in the Southeastern United States,” according to the school’s website. The Gracie family originated in Brazil and was instrumental in developing techniques from Japanese martial arts into what eventually became the Brazilian jiu-jitsu known today.
Steven Silva, 25, currently teaches at Gracie Barra and has coached Baur.
“To me, jiu-jitsu is a self-defense system and a vessel for self improvement,” Silva said. “It requires less hand-eye coordination and aggression. It’s more about leverage and creativity, [and] it’s more cerebral in my opinion.”
Sam Rider, a UCF alumnus and former jiu-jitsu instructor at Gracie Barra Orlando, has become a mentor to Baur and a close friend.
“Stephanie reminded me why I love jiu-jitsu,” Rider said. “[I was] burned out. I was the only girl [at Gracie Barra], and it gets to be a struggle when you’re just getting grinded on all day ... and then Stephanie showed up and here’s this young, super-athlete girl who’s excited to do stuff, is fun to work with and it was like starting all over again.”
Baur, who fights in the 125-pound weight class, agreed that small women like her and Rider had to overcome certain obstacles to succeed in the martial art and in sport competitions.
“As much as my tournament game is aggressive and fast, my life [while training] is trying to keep a 190-pound dude from killing me,” Baur said. “It can be hard to be always smaller, always weaker and always underestimated for your gender.”
Despite the challenges she has faced, Baur said that she decided to try jiu-jitsu because of its accessibility to people of any size, athletic ability or gender.
“I [wanted] to go against someone in something and so I [decided on] martial arts [because] people can do martial arts when they’re old,” Baur said. “I started Googling ‘best martial art for women,’ ‘best martial art for small people,’ ‘best martial art for people who want to actually fight,’ ‘best martial art for people who don't want to get their face punched in.’ Every single time, [the result] was Brazilian jiu-jitsu ... it’s the most accessible sport.”
Baur plans to continue training in jiu-jitsu and says she’s willing to defend her title in the future.
“I’m sure [the tournament organizer] will tell me to, and I’ll show up and I’ll fight. I hope by then I’ll fight someone my belt level,” she said.
Baur defeated Mooi despite being outranked. Mooi is a blue belt.
“But what’s a belt, it holds up your pants, right?”
Alex Storer is the Entertainment Editor for the Central Florida Future. Email him at AlexanderS@CentralFloridaFuture.com.