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Canmore club a new player in Alberta's idle jiu-jitsu tourney scene

"I want to run this [tournament] two, three times a year [in the Bow Valley], at least."

BANFF – Perhaps locking in a rear-naked choke or armbar would be more appropriate than a gentle pinch for the Dark Horse Martial Arts team, which isn't dreaming anymore following the Canmore club's arrival and new legacy in western Canadian jiu-jitsu.

After more than 300 submission aces tapped each other out at the inaugural Dark Horse Grappling Series on Saturday (June 11) at the Fenlands Banff Recreation Centre, organizers say the local jiu-jitsu events are here to stay.

"We wanted to bring the submission-only [tournament] and bring it home," said Travis Erlam, owner of Dark Horse Martial Arts. "It's rare that you get the sub-only and I wanted to bring this as a prevalent way to run a tournament, and, it shows; it's a good tournament system.

"I want to run this two, three times a year [in the Bow Valley], at least."

From jiu-jitsu to mixed martial arts, Erlam is a man of the people and keen on providing a heart-pounding buzz in his endeavours.

With grappler ages ranging from five to over 40 and competing in white to black belt divisions, Dark Horse Grappling Series picked up the torch where the scene fell off in recent years, particularly in Alberta.

Matches are won and lost solely on submissions and their appeal is widely growing in the community.

"It was an incredible event; the organizers that put it on, I can't say enough about them," said Ryan McNish of Frontline BJJ in Sherwood Park. "Sometimes with these events, they're not always run incredibly well, [but] this is by far the best event I have ever seen. They run it like absolute champions and it was a pleasure to be a part of it."

On top of the divisional brackets, the tournament included three no-gi super fights and a show-closing Banff Open Absolute, which is an adult open weight class where the winners of each division are invited to compete by belt rank. In some cases, a 150-pounder and 250-pounder could match up technique, strength and cerebral skill.

McNish won the men's blue belt Banff Open Absolute after winning gold in his respective division.

It "wasn't the nicest or cleanest [submission], but got the job done."

"To come first in not only my division, but the Absolute division, it's incredible," said McNish, who's a former Calgary Roughnecks lacrosse player. "Now I can't take credit it all goes to my coaching staff. They spent so much time with me, so many hours on the mats, it's a reflection on my coaching out there."

Sophie MacLeod, a blue belt under the Dark Horse Martial Arts banner, said she thinks the local club is establishing itself as a stand-out in the province for not only skill development, but for its newest venture in running tournaments.

Competing in the one of women's blue belt above 18 categories, MacLeod didn't get her hand raised, but is pleased with her performance in Banff.

"I was talking to one of the girls and she said I gave her a lot of trouble so that was really good to hear," she said. "All-in-all, my goal was to not get injured and be a good sport and in my eyes I was successful."

In the three highly anticipated no-gi super fights – submission-only jiu-jitsu rules – Canmore's Erlam, fresh off winning his amateur MMA debut last month, took on Blackfalds' Drew Weatherhead. The match ended with Erlam losing by heel hook.

Edmonton's Tanner Brenner tapped Calgary's Lucas St-Jean in a purple belt showdown; and Calgary's Agnes Mckervey defeated Edmonton's Kella Murray by armbar.

In 2015, Erlam co-founded the local jiu-jitsu club, which has grown exponentially from three members on its first day to now has three U18 classes, adult programs, and a striking class.

As the show wrapped up, coach Erlam reflected on the journey and his team. 

"I'm just so proud of everyone who worked here and competed," said Erlam. "For a lot of them, it was their first tournament ever and they ... did amazing and put on a show just like we wanted."

Jordan Small

About the Author: Jordan Small

An award-winning reporter, Jordan Small has covered sports, the arts, and news in the Bow Valley since 2014. Originally from Barrie, Ont., Jordan has lived in Alberta since 2013.
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