The AZBJJF’s Partnership with Tucson’s Higher Ground Organization

By Danny O’Donnell

The AZ BJJ Federation has been putting on the premier tournaments in Phoenix, AZ for over 18 years. The organization’s mission is to “promote and encourage the art of Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu in the State of Arizona, certifying and endorsing schools and instructors qualified to teach Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu.” While Jiu Jitsu is an art that has something positive to offer people from all demographics, the costs and time that are necessary often deter many people from practicing and competing. In an effort to be a positive influence in the community and reach as many people as possible, the AZ State BJJ Federation and Higher Ground have partnered to sponsor students involved in the program. Higher Ground’s Executive Director Jansen Azarias had been looking for gi Jiu Jitsu tournaments in Arizona that he could take his students to. “Unfortunately, tournaments are extremely expensive and our students could not afford travel and tournament fees. We reached out to AZBJJF to see if they were willing to sponsor or give us a discount and Gustavo was extremely generous and decided to sponsor our students, give us gis, and ensure that a good number of our students could attend.” The official partnership began over 4 years ago.

These tournaments have been extremely beneficial for both the kids and the Higher Ground organization as a whole. “Several of our students have now competed in IBJJF Pans. Our first Kids Pan Champion was Kenji Azarias in 2017. Without the AZBJJF tournaments, we would have not been exposed to high level competition that follows the same standard as IBJJF. Thanks to AZBJJF tournaments, our kids are exposed to tournaments and as an organization, we only need to cover the travel and lodging costs and not have to worry about the tournament registration as well. In addition, participating in these tournaments allow our organization to continue improving our Jiu Jitsu skills.”

Higher Ground’s mission as an organization is to empower one life at a time to reach, transform and elevate the community through love and character building. Jansen expands upon this mission stating “for us, character building focuses around self-control and the development of grit. This idea of grit is about having passion, perseverance, and vision. Tournaments allow our students to have a vision and exposure to the possibilities, allowing them to realize that there are bigger settings in life that they can be a part of. In addition, tournaments allow our kids to travel as most of them have never been outside of Tucson. Winning or losing in a tournament requires perseverance to continue training. This often becomes one of the first things where youth are guided in ensuring they do not quit and build skills to have the perseverance to stay. Passion cannot be taught, but it is often absorbed and emulated. Being around other kids who are passionate and adults who are passionate about a sport exposes our kids to passion.”

The kids sponsored by the AZBJJF are typically elementary and middle school aged and a new crop of these students are currently being developed as the original group has transitioned to high school. “We have had our original team now in high school and trying out other sports. We are once again growing our competition class and we have a new wave of elementary and middle school kids who are developing their skills. They will soon be involved in competitions and we will have a big team of kids competing. Additionally, we are now starting a grappling program inside the schools which will grow the amount of students participating in our team.”

While the AZBJJF has been a tremendous help to the kids of Higher Ground, the organization is still looking for assistance. “We are in need of gi’s and coaches. Our kids cannot afford the gi’s and we are in constant need of high level coaches. I am only a purple belt in Jiu Jitsu and the amount of knowledge my kids have are limited to the amount of exposure they have to a variety of games. We are always fortunate whenever our black belts from Undisputed come and help run a mini seminar with our kids. We would love to have more of those or even opportunities to attend seminars in other gyms where our kids can be sponsored. Donations for gi’s or of gi’s would also be an extreme help.” If you would like to help less fortunate kids and donate to Higher Ground, please visit