For the better part of a decade, Shawn Smith taught kids the art of Brazilian Jiu Jitsu in the small town of Rangeley.

He worked with between 15 to 20 kids for years but regretted not being able to take them to various competitions. Opportunity to compete in tournaments proved too costly and too far away.

“Up until three years ago, there was no place to do tournaments,” Smith said. “I’m a very active competitor myself, and I’v done about 80 tournaments all over New England and in Montreal. Most of my kids, I knew, would never get a chance to compete.”

So Smith changed that by beginning the Black Fly Brazilian Jiu Jitsu Tournament in 2014. This year’s event,  scheduled for Sunday at Rangeley Lakes Regional School, will be in its third year and is expected to be the biggest and best tournament yet.

“This has been the first year that we’ve been able to get every single major academy in the whole state of Maine,” Smith said. “I’m definitely expecting 80-plus kids.”

In the first year, Smith had 49 kids from four different schools in Portland, Bangor, Manchester and Topsham. Last year, the event drew more kids and more schools, with clubs from Winslow and Farmingdale also attending. This year, most all of the schools in the state are competing, including a number of athletes from Central Maine Brazilian Jiu Jitsu.

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“The fact that we can say that every major school is represented, then we can say that this is a true state championship,” Smith said. “Every single major academy is coming. The’re bringing all their best kids. So that’s the thing I’m most excited about this year. It’s going to have everyone coming here to Rangeley to make this an official state championship of Brazilian Jiu Jitsu.”

The popularity of mixed martial arts has helped spark interest in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu. It is a style that is practice by many professional MMA fighters as well as a growing number of martial arts enthusiasts. It features a ground game in addition to competing with stand-up martial arts moves.

“It’s a grappling-based martial arts,” Smith said. “The kids will be going for a full range of techniques. The older kids will be going for arm bars, leg locks, everything you’d see fighters going for at New England Fight nights, except they can’t kick and punch each other.”

Smith says what makes Brazilian Jiu Jitsu so different and popular from other styles is that there are so many varieties in which to win matches. The tournament Sunday will feature kids displaying many variations of the skills they’ve learned and developed.

“We can go full contact,” Smith said. “Even kids that are from five to 17 are going to be out there wrestling just as hard as they can. Some of the young kids will be going just for points. They won’t be going for submissions.”

The event will feature IBJJF rules and four belts for Absolute Division champions for boys and girls in under 100 weight class and 100 and over. The first tournament two years ago featured just two belts. So having four belts at stake in the afternoon competition makes this tourney that much more exciting for the participants.

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“That gives the kids a chance to win a championship,” Smith said. “We have pretty awesome belts. They’re ones even the most professional fighters would love to have hang on their walls. We’ve got four belts ready to go this year.”

The tournament will begin with exhibition matches on four mats in the morning, starting at 11:30 a.m. Kids from 5 to 17 will be competing in Gi and No Gi Divisions. Gi features a more structured style in full karate gi uniforms. The No Gi allow participants to wear just shorts and T-shirts and will be more of a mixed martial arts style.

The Absolute Division tournament is expected to begin around 3 p.m. Participants interested in competing for the championship belts can sign up and compete for Maine bragging rights then.

“I’m very happy to be giving kids an opportunity right in their home state because of lot of these kids would never have a chance to experience a Brazilian Jiu Jitsu tournament and say they’re the grappling champion and get their hand raised in front of a crowd,” Smith said. “It’s a great feeling, and I’m glad these kids will get to experience that.”

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