More than 400 grapplers of all ages convene for NAGA tournament

Taos’ Defendu Academy sends fighters, brings home hardware


Submission grapplers from all across New Mexico and parts of Colorado traveled to Albuquerque to take part in the North American Grappling Association (NAGA) Championships July 1. More than 400 fighters trained in the mixed martial arts competed to win their respective divisions and claim the top prize in the world’s largest fighting circuit. The range of ages included 5-year-old kids up to senior adults. Weight classes ranged from 40 pounds to “super-heavy” in both men’s and women’s categories.

The setup in the expo building included 10 square mats or rings connected side by side within a rectangle barrier lining the matted area. Spectators and coaches were not allowed inside the barriers and viewing was standing room only. Matches were refereed by NAGA officials.

Six fighters from Taos representing Defendu Academy made the trip, with five coming away with medals. John Reid, Damian “Damo” Carson, Neil Collins, Kristen Brudevold, Brendan Brady and Vincent Brady made the trip with coaches Ryan Daly and Dave Symington to the New Mexico State Fairgrounds to fight in gi and no-gi divisional matches.

In gi competition, fighters wear an all-cotton uniform consisting of a jacket-like top tied with a belt and trousers – much like the kimono outfit used in the Japanese martial arts such as karate. Fighters are allowed to pull at the thick-grade clothing of their opponent or use different parts of the uniform for leverage or escape. The no-gi competition does not allow the grabbing of the clothing and some aspects differ with regards to scoring points. Fighters in the no-gi must rely on different skill sets and maneuvers to grab hold of their opponent.

In the kids gi novice, 50 to 59.9 pounds, 7-9-year-old division, Vincent Brady came away with a third-place finish – earning a bronze medal for his efforts.

Carson placed second in the men’s no-gi beginner flyweight division. Reid brought home two second-place medals for his performance in the men’s no-gi beginner lightweight division and in the masters gi white belt, lightweight division.

In the men’s gi white belt, cruiser weight division, Collins placed second. Brenden Brady was a gold medal winner in the directors gi white belt, middle weight division.

Also participating in the Albuquerque championships was Questa native Antonio “A.J.” Rael, who was competing in the kids 129-pound intermediate 12- and 13-year age group. In the gi division, Rael placed second and in the no-gi division, he placed third. Rael currently fights under the Durango (Colorado) Martial Arts team.

Comparable to other martial arts, such as jiujitsu and Brazilian jiujitsu, grappling entails opponents trying to win their fighting matches via submission, point accumulation, referee decision or by an opponent disqualification. The strategy is to gain a physical advantage in hand-to-hand combat that generally starts with two opponents in a stand-up position and eventually ends in ground grappling. Unlike the commercial mixed martial arts (MMA) fights that can be viewed on television, such as those in the Ultimate Fighting Championships (UFC) series, striking is not allowed. A match is often ended when an opponent “taps out” with an open hand or by a verbal utterance.

Brothers and co-owners of Defendu Academy, Daly and Symington recently celebrated their two-year anniversary at their new martial arts studio in Taos. Offering a variety of self-defense techniques and classes, Defendu Academy moved from its former location on Paseo del Pueblo Sur to 1335 Gusdorf Road.

NAGA awarded custom engraved samurai swords to all non-expert children and teen first-place winners. Custom medals were awarded to all second- and third-place winners, along with non-expert adult division winners.