Two local martial artists and dojo owners recently traveled to Tokyo to compete in Brazilian jiu jitsu and are now ranked in the top 10 percent in the world in their divisions. Arthur Ruff, 42, is ranked number 119 and Courtney Anaya, 32, is ranked number two in the world.
Anaya won gold in the International Brazilian Jiu Jitsu Federation’s (IBJJF) Tokyo Open on June 15, and both she and Ruff won gold in the Master International Asia Championship June 16, also in Tokyo. Anaya had visited family in Japan before but this tournament was her first time competing internationally.
“It was quite an experience,” Anaya said. “There were competitors from everywhere: Japan, Korea, Brazil, the U.S., Australia, etc. Everyone was trying really hard to interpret for each other. So many languages in one place, it was inspiring to see people from such different backgrounds competing and respecting each other.”
Athletes win Brazilian jiu jitsu matches by points or submissions. Points are awarded for taking an opponent down (making them fall to the mat) and for advantageous positions, such as sitting on top of an opponent while both knees on the floor, or latching onto an opponent’s back, with both legs wrapped around them. Submissions are moves such as joint locks or chokes that can cause an opponent to “tap out” or forfeit from pain. In the instance of a submission, all points are voided and the athlete who tapped out loses the match.
“Countless hours of training and fighting go into preparation for competing,” Anaya said. “You have to think about points, time, strategy, endurance and sometimes cutting weight down to a different division. It is a lot of hard work.”
The IBJJF ranks athletes by the number of medals won in IBJJF tournaments in their divisions. Athletes are divided by belt rank, gender, age and weight for competition. Athletes who win gold, silver or bronze in their weight division qualify to compete in the “absolute” division or open weight, where the medal placers for that tournament are put into one division, mixing weight classes.
“The main principle of Brazilian jiu jitsu is to use leverage and technique to make up for size or strength in a fight,” Anaya said. “This makes it great for self defense. In the absolute division, spectators will sometimes see a 150-pound athlete defeat a 250-pound opponent.”
World rankings do not divide by weight class. Anaya’s ranking is in the female blue belt, Master 1 division, or 30-35 years old. There are more than 800 registered athletes in her division. Ruff’s ranking is in the male black belt, Master 3 division, where there are more than 1,200 registered athletes.
“It feels great to get back into competing again,” Ruff said.
Earlier this year, Anaya won gold in the heavyweight and absolute divisions at the Portland Open, in Oregon, and silver in heavyweight at the Pan American Championships in Long Beach, California. In 2018 she placed third at the World Master Championships in Las Vegas. Both Anaya and Ruff are the reigning Seattle Open champions in their divisions.
“We have been working very hard and focusing on competing,” Ruff said. “In addition to running our dojos and teaching.”
Anaya owns Renton Martial Arts Center in downtown Renton, where she teaches Muay Thai to kids and adults and Brazilian jiu jitsu to four to six year olds, or “Peewees” as they are called at the dojo.
“My Peewee students are awesome,” Anaya said. “I love teaching that age group. Our program has been so successful that we have a waiting list now.”
Ruff, or “Professor” as Brazilian jiu jitsu black belts are called, owns his own affiliation of jiu jitsu schools called Ruffhouse Jiu Jitsu. There are affiliates in Ohio, California and three in Washington. His most recently opened gym is Ruffhouse West Seattle which he owns and Anaya operates.
“We both started training jiu jitsu under a Carlson Gracie lineage,” Anaya said. “Carlson is a legend in the sport. Professor Ruff trained under him in Brazil. Carlson Gracie style jiu jitsu is very aggressive, tough, old school. We keep our programs that way for both kids and adults.”
Although there are only four belts before black belt, achieving one in Brazilian jiu jitsu is no easy task. Practitioners stay at the same color belt for multiple years and it takes most people 10 years or more to reach black belt.
“This isn’t one of those little places you can get a black belt in four to five years,” Ruff said. “If you start as a child, when you turn 16 you are given a white belt again. No one under 19 can be promoted to black.”
Ruff has been training since 1980. Born and raised in Rio de Janeiro, he started in Judo and took up Brazilian jiu jitsu when he was nine. He is a Pan American champion, European champion, American National champion and Brazilian National champion. Five years ago, before a weight lifting injury forced him to step back from competing, he was active in the tournament circuit and ranked at No. 2 in the world. Last year at World Masters, he defeated the No. 1 ranked athlete, 4-2.
“Competing is an important part of jiu jitsu,” Ruff said. “You test your skills, uncover weaknesses, overcome fear and learn discipline and diligence in preparation. We encourage any student who wants to compete to do so.”
Anaya has been training in martial arts for more than 20 years. She started in taekwondo in 1995, at a small after-school program at St. Anthony’s School in Renton. Now-retired Renton police officer Norman Ryan founded and led the program. In 1997 she competed and placed third at the taekwondo Junior Olympics. She has trained in other martial arts, such as wushu, capoeira and muay thai. She has fought seven times in muay thai and more than 60 times in taekwondo. Currently she has five years of Brazilian jiu jitsu training and more than 30 matches.
“My dad used to sign me up for every tournament when I was little,” Anaya said. “Whether I wanted to or not. And back then there was one every month. I’m grateful for it now, it taught me to work hard and face fear.”
Anaya attended Liberty High School, St. Anthony’s School and even Highlands Preschool in Renton. She wants to get more women in her hometown involved in jiu jitsu, because it has empowered her in more ways than one.
“I’ve done a lot of martial arts but it wasn’t until I started jiu jitsu that I really felt like I could defend myself,” Anaya said. “It teaches you how to use what you got -as in your body type- as an advantage. I compete at heavyweight, 175 pounds, and it’s awesome to actually feel good about being heavy.”
The pair will now focus on getting themselves and their students ready for the IBJJF Seattle Open tournament, happening Aug. 3 at Everett Community College. On Aug 23 they will travel to Las Vegas again to compete in the World Master Championships.