For years, Brazilian jiu-jitsu has harbored a subculture of marijuana use, being a staple regimen for various grapplers much to the chagrin of traditionalists. While many practitioners have admitted to toking up before and/or after a training session, it has never been a compulsory part of a grappling competition, at least until High Rollerz came along.
On a Sunday afternoon in South Central Los Angeles, an unmistakable musk reverberates in the parking lot of a local community center. Hordes of cars surround the otherwise seemingly nondescript neighborhood. With rap music blaring, smoke filling the airways, and arena lighting, the small gymnasium transformed into a jiu-jitsu counterculture haven, drawing competitors and spectators from well beyond state lines.
On the microphone emceeing all night is the venerable Renato Laranja, who needn’t any introduction amongst Brazilian jiu-jitsu pundits. Even the most serious of competitors could not help but crack a smile at the flair with which he introduced their names. Laranja strolled the stage continuously doing Instagram updates during matches, candidly engaging with fans as they approached him throughout the night. A warm-up mat on the side was packed with athletes discussing strategies with their coaches. Matches were separated by occasional intermissions referred to as ‘smoke breaks,’ merchandise stands lined the walls, and açaí flowed from the snack bar. Cannabis water was available to keep athletes hydrated.
The action of the matches was similar in nature to a submission-oriented style. No points were given for position, encouraging constant engagement. Nary a match took place where opponents lasted more than a few seconds on their feet without taking meaningful initiative. On more than one occasion, it was reiterated to the audience that ‘rest assured,’ the competitors were required to toke up before and after the matches. This much did not go overlooked. There was a women’s division and men’s division with brackets separated by skill level. Competitors received a care package consisting of cannabis goods, many of them CBD products aimed at aiding in recovery. If you are a cannabis-related company, this surely is an event that you’d want to be involved with in some capacity.
Brands aligning themselves with the BJJ/MMA industry are releasing cannabis-based products in an effort to capitalize on the evolving legal landscape. On January 1 of this year, recreational marijuana became legal in the state of California. Given the sworn testimonies on the benefits of cannabis aiding in recovery from figures such as Joe Rogan, TJ Dillashaw, the Diaz brothers, among many others, there appears to be a shifting trend in how combat athletes are approaching their recovery. Gone are the days where pain pills are the ideal way to deal with the nagging pain that comes along with constant training. If this High Rollerz event is any indication, we will continue to see a shifting trend in how fighters and enthusiasts approach their post-training routine.
Certainly, an event like this is bound to draw critics. For anyone not in attendance, know that camaraderie amongst complete strangers was unlike anything I have ever witnessed at a jiu-jitsu tournament. Students and instructors from many different teams gathered in a small gymnasium bonded together by their love of jiu-jitsu and their connection to the cannabis plant. The event is part jiu-jitsu tournament, part cannabis expo, part DJ party, all positive energy
As a counter-culture within the niche of Brazilian jiu-jitsu, given the success of the event and emerging evidence as to the safety and efficacy of cannabis-based products in comparison to conventional pain management options, we may rapidly be noticing a shifting trend in the image of cannabis amongst the jiu-jitsu and mixed martial arts industry at large. The groundwork has already been laid, events like this will continue to perpetuate the changing public perception to a plant that many amateur and professional fighters swear by.