When Midshipman 1st Class Cole Shenk first joined the Naval Academy jiu-jitsu team in 2019, the club sport had only a few dozen participants and practiced outdoors.
“We use to have two mats split up on the racketball courts outside to train,” said Shenk, a Lancaster, Pennsylvania, native who has participated in jiu-jitsu and wrestling since high school. “It was like a divided culture. But since we moved inside here things have really picked up. To see how many people come out to practice on a regular basis, it’s just cool to see and I feel like I’ve been a part of helping the sport grow on campus.”
On Saturday, Navy completed its jiu-jitsu season with a bang, hosting a tournament with its biggest rival, Army.
The Naval Academy competes against several other schools in the area throughout the season, which lasts from August to May, but the battle against Army brings the largest crowds. The atmosphere in Dahlgren Hall was electric as family and fellow midshipmen filled in around the huge mat in the middle of the floor. Some spectators chose to get a bird’s-eye view of the matches from balcony seating.
“We love coming out and having so much support from family and friends, but the turnout is always more when it’s against Army,” said Shenk, the team’s president. “The crowd loves the rivalry so that pumps us up, too.”
The jiu-jitsu team, a club sport at the academy, has been around since 2010, but over the last few years participation has grown, Shenk said. According to Maj. Nick Manzke, a coach, about 40 midshipmen are on the starting roster and about 120 come to practice.
In jiu-jitsu, a form of martial arts that focuses on the skill of controlling a resisting opponent, fighters wear a traditional long-sleeved robe, or gi, in competition. For the Army-Navy match, however, competitors wore their uniforms. The Army competitors turned their blouses inside-out and wrapped a red belt around their waist, while those on the Navy team unbuttoned their blouses but kept them turned right-side out and wore green belts.
The tournament consisted of matchups based on weight and experience level for both men and women.
Shenk won his 175-pound bout after a grueling overtime round that went back and forth several times.
Every match is one five-minute round. If neither fighter submits, an overtime round starts. The timed overtime begins when the fighter who had the more favorable position at the end of the prior round wraps around their opponent from the back while both competitors sit in the middle of the mat. One fighter tries to force a submission while the other defends and tries to escape.
If the person with the weaker position can get out of the clinch and change their position the clock stops and the person who got free switches to the back position. The goal is get out of the clinch quicker than your opponent.
This goes back and forth until a fighter can’t get out of the clinch fast enough or they submit.
“It can go and go until somebody wins, it can be extremely tiring,” said Midshipmen 2nd class, Molly Owens. “It really tests your resolve.”
Owens went on to win her fight against Army’s Delorv’a Wilson by submission after one round of overtime.
Throughout the tournament, each side was engaged. Coaches yelled instructions to their respective fighters and both benches cheered each time someone successfully passed an opponent’s guard or slipped out of a choke or submission attempt. The largest eruptions came when a winner was declared. Still, sportsmanship was at a premium as both sides shook hands.
Navy eventually held on to the bragging rights for another year, winning, 20-16.
Along with Manzke, Navy boasts several other talented coaches who give their time and knowledge to help the midshipmen, including Michael Cho, a retired Marine lieutenant colonel, Rich Semides, a former Marine and Rob Goldinger, a Navy lieutenant.
Cho, who primarily coaches techniques and strategy, said he hopes the team continues to grow.
“We want more recognition that this is an incredible martial art that aligns with the Naval Academy mission,” he said. “We will continue to host intercollegiate tournaments with local colleges and we will continue to compete in high-level open tournaments.”
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