If you’re into BJJ or grappling, then you’ve probably heard of NAGA (the North American Grappling Association). If you’ve ever been to a NAGA event, you already know that’s a super high-energy-twelve-matches-at-one-time-fans-screaming good time. You’ve probably also seen the NAGA semi-tractor trailer parked on the side of the auditorium and seen NAGA President Kipp Kollar, the man who makes these events happen, behind the mic and dealing with all aspects of making these events run. JiuJitsuMania sat down with Kipp to find out more about NAGA and their plans for the future. (FYI for NAGA’s entire calendar for 2011 click on Events under Fan Stuff on the top navigation bar.)
1. Kipp, please tell us your background relative to BJJ and Grappling and how you got into the sport?
I’ve been grappling since 1994. In 1998 I received my Blue Belt from Jacare Cavalcanti (Alliance). While I have never tested beyond my initial Blue Belt I have won numerous Expert No-Gi Divisions at NAGA and many other tournaments. I have also competed in and won 5 professional MMA fights.
2. How did NAGA get started and why
Many, years ago I worked for Traveler’s Insurance as a computer programmer. On the side I ran a Tae-Kwon-Do academy for corporate employees. Our TKD team traveled across New England, competing in point karate tournaments. During a sparring session at a local academy, I read a flyer about a man called Rickson Gracie; via a seminar he taught at a JKD school nearby. I was astonished at the unbelievable technique that this person possessed and more importantly how easy it was to learn and apply. My academy practiced the technique we learned for the seminar and from some video tapes I purchased. We started practicing grappling as part of our TKD curriculum and before I knew it, grappling was the core of what we trained.
At the time there weren’t any competitions for grappling in New England so, at a local point karate event that I organized, I added a few grappling divisions. The turnout for the grappling was about 35 people which impressed me for its first time – this was in 1995. At the conclusion of the event, the grapplers were begging for another competition. The word caught on that we were doing these events and people came from everywhere.
We ran a few more events and realized the number of competitors doubled each time. We eventually dropped the point karate part of the tournament and focused our efforts on expanding the grappling.
3. How many NAGA events do you hold per year and how many competitors do you have?
We are holding 35 events this year (2011) and expanding to 45 events in 2012.
Each event averages between 800 and 1200 competitors.
4. Who are some of the world class grapplers, BJJ fighters and current MMA fighters that have competed in NAGA over the years?
We’ve had a bunch of top name guys: Matt Serra, Rodrigo “Comprido” Medeiros, Joe Lauzon, Kenny Florian, Forrest Griffin, Mike Brown, Miguel Torres, Rodrigo Gracie, Lloyd Irvin, Rhadi Ferguson, Jorge Rivera, Jeff Curran, Jens Pulver, Josh Grispi, Damien Maia to name a few.
5. Any memorable matches or super fights you have made over the years that standout?
Rodrigo Gracie vs. Robert Ferguson, the buzz on the Internet was huge.
6. What have you noticed about the development of the sport over the years? In kids division? In adult division?
Number one is the popularity and growth of the sport – it grows in size every year. I notice too that the kids are starting earlier and earlier. We had so many that we had to separate the 3 and 4 year olds from the 5 year olds at our last NAGA FL event. Competitors are also starting to train later in life making our Director (40-49 years old) and Executive (50+ years old) divisions popular.
7. Why is this sport good for the kids especially?
The kids benefit so much from the discipline, self control, confidence, self esteem – but most importantly they like it! It’s fun and this why they stick with it.
8. You run a very organized, fun event given the large number of matches and fan attendance. How do you do that so consistently?
We had 2,200 competitors in New Jersey for our World Championships 2 years ago. There is a lot of leg work and preparation that goes into running a smooth event, but most importantly your staff has to be professional, courteous and timely, just like in any successful business.
9. What is it that sets NAGA apart from other organizations and competitions that take place over the year?
I honestly believe that the tremendous following we have is directly related to our staff and how they treat the fighters and their families/friends. Every single person who works for NAGA trains in some form of grappling – and 90% are still active competitors. When you love a sport like our staff does then you know how you as a competitor want to be treated. For example, competitors we all know that:
– I don’t want to wait in long lines
– I want my questions to be answered in a professional manner
– I want to understand the rules clearly
– I want the referees to be non-bias and fair.
We are the only grappling tournament association that has full time employees across the country. We run an event just about every weekend somewhere different and in 2012 we will expand to multiple weekends where we do two events.
Thanks for your time Kipp! JiuJitsuMania looks forward to being at the next NAGA and seeing the competitors there!