Local girl beats Pan Am jiu jitsu champion

WAILUA — Local girl Kanani Ragasa has a good grip on life — and on everyone else who challenges her. Ragasa just came back from the World Jiu Jitsu Expo in Long Beach, Calif., fresh from defeating the top athlete in the Americas in her belt and age division Saturday.

The International Brazilian Jiu Jitsu Federation — known for hosting the largest, most organized and competitive international jiu jitsu competitions — held their 1st annual Long Beach Spring Open IBJJF Championship at the expo last week at the Long Beach Convention Center.

Competing for Team Ka-Mole Jiu Jitsu, the 31-year-old feather-weight fighter from Wailua Houselots brought home the gold medal after defeating the 2012 Pan American champion Gegi Van de Walker in the purple-belt masters division.

 “It’s a great accomplishment, especially being from Hawai‘i and coming from a small school, we only have five students that I train with and we have no sponsors,” said Ragasa, who works full time and raises three children.

Ragasa’s sensei is her husband, long-time Kaua‘i lifeguard and black-belt jiu jitsu Carl Ragasa, who started Ka-Mole Jiu Jitsu in 1994 on Kaua‘i’s Eastside. He said many of the top IBJJF competitors are sponsored athletes who train every day. This year’s IBJJF Pan American Competition attracted more than 3,000 athletes, according to Carl Ragasa.

Van De Walker went into last week’s Long Beach Spring Open holding the title of Pan American champion in the feather weight purple-belt masters division, earned in early April after submitting all three of her opponents.

Fighting with an ankle injury, Kanani Ragasa took down Van De Walker by two advantage points, in what her sensei said was one of the most exciting matches he has ever seen.

“This victory now places Kanani as the top female masters purple belt feather weight in the world,” Carl said Ragasa, adding that during his years of teaching he has produced many Hawai‘i champions, but never at this level.

“IBJJF events include the top jiu jitsu schools in the world, which makes this a huge accomplishment for Team Ka-Mole,” Carl Ragasa said.

Perhaps one of the most amazing facts about Kanani Ragasa’s accomplishment is the short time she has been training, according to her husband and trainer.

In 2008, after only a year into Jiu Jitsu, Kanani Ragasa took third place in the World Jiu Jitsu Championship, in the purple-belt feather-weight division. Since then she took a two-and-a-half year hiatus, during which she gave birth to twins, a boy and a girl.

Back in training for a short time, last year she competed at the Pan American Games but didn’t place well.

After last week’s win, Ragasa is now eyeing the World Championship, from May 31 to June 3, in Long Beach, Calif.

“She’s going, and now she’s going to enter the regular division, there’s no master’s division at the world’s,” Carl Ragasa said of his wife.

The injured ankle is a concern, but unless “something major” happens, Kanani Ragasa will be on the mats in a a couple of weeks, hoping to bring home the world title.

Carl and Kanani Ragasa said they would like to give special thanks to their family for their help and support and their training partners, Frank Rivera, Sean Mamaclay, Brandon Chong, Mikee Beltran, Kawai Kupihea and Kai Weydemeyer. Carl Ragasa said he would also like to recognize and thank sensei Bruno Ewald for introducing him to jiu jitsu in 1991 and giving everyone here on Kaua‘i a head start in the sport.

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