Jiujitsu Champ To Kick It Up A Notch

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Gustavo Dantas, a two-time world jiujitsu champion and accomplished judo and submissive wrestling instructor, will host a training seminar, from noon to 3 p.m., April 30 at Club USA.

Dantas was invited to the Rim country by Wyatt Shepherd, owner and operator of Pankration Martial Arts in Payson.

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Pankration martial arts student Judy White practices her throws technique on instructor Wyatt Shepherd. Watching are Kyle Hoover (left) and P.J. Horner. Shepherd will bring two-time jiujitsu champ Gustavo Dantas to Payson for an April 30 guest appearance at Club USA.

"I had the chance to get him up here and thought what a great opportunity for my (martial arts) students and others who might be interested," Shepherd said.

Dantas, a native of Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, now lives in Tempe where he is a member of the Nova Uniao martial arts team and coaches jiujitsu and other martial arts at Arizona Combat Sports.

In his career, the 31-year-old Dantas has racked up an impressive jiujitsu record including winning the 1997 and 1998 world championships.

He also was an international champion in 1998 and 1999, finished third in the 1996 and 2002 world championships and won the Rio de Janeiro state championship in 1988.

In judo, he has been a Nevada state champion and is a two-time Rio de Janeiro title holder.

His accomplishments in submissive wrestling include competing in the 2001 Abu Ahabai Combat Championships, and in No Holds Barred events he has a 2-0 record.

According to Dantas' website, he earned his masters degree in physical education in 1998 and later earned a black belt from third-degree black belt Brazilian jiujitsu instructor Andre Pederneiras.

After living in Las Vegas, he moved to Arizona to start a partnership with renowned kickboxer Trevor Lally at Arizona Combat Sports.

At ACS, located at the corner of McClintock and Broadway in Tempe, Dantas and Lally teach a variety of martial arts skills to a full spectrum of students including children and senior citizens.

One of the most notable ACS students, however, is former Washington Redskin and University of Colorado football star Michael Westbrook.

The former receiver is best remembered for sucker-punching running back Stephen Davis and for catching Kordell Stewart's Hail Mary pass against Michigan.

Since stepping away from what was an injury marred professional football career, Westbrook has taken up cage fighting. To master the wide range of combat skills needed to be successful in the competition -- sometimes called mixed martial arts -- Westbrook studies under Dantas and Lally.

Westbrook isn't the only topnotch fighter ACS has churned out.

"The school has produced some of the best mixed martial arts fighters in the world," Shepherd said. "Among them are Joe ‘The Diesel' Riggs and Drew Fickett."

Both fighters are among the best on the cage-fighting sports scene where, unlike professional wrestling, the punches, kicks and body slams are real.

In cage fighting, failing to "tap out" can leave a competitor with broken bones, torn ligaments and separated joints.

Learning the arts

Shepherd, also a student at ACS, says the coming Payson seminar will be a perfect fit for those interested in self defense or jiujitsu training.

"Dantas will teach various submission techniques from all kinds of different positions," he said.

"This is a chance of a lifetime to train with one of jiujitsu's most decorated experts."

Admission to the seminar is $60. Call Shepherd at (928) 468-1675 or (928) 978-0631 to enroll.

For those who want to study martial arts for more than a single session, Shepherd opened Pankration Martial Arts in Payson about nine months ago.

The school is Shepherd's first attempt at teaching on his own but says he was an instructor at schools where he studied mixed martial arts for eight years. Shepherd has black belts in both jiujitsu and judo.

In addition to teaching both those skills in Pankration, he mixes in Muay Thai kickboxing and grappling.

"(Pankration) is a hybrid martial arts system that has taken techniques from all martial arts and put it into one," he said. "It is now being taught to our armed forces as the preferred means of hand-to-hand combat."

Pankration is unique, Shepherd said, because it includes all facets of fighting but also focuses on ground combat.

"That is were the majority of fights end up," he said.

Shepherd said experts claim Pankration should be the defense of choice for women, and it can be learned by students of all ages.

He cautions, however, that the real focus is on promoting a sense of balance in one's life and to learn the values of hard work, self-discipline, friendship and respect for others. Those who master it, he said, will improve their self-esteem, build their character and have the ability to defend themselves.

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