SANTA CRUZ -- The Santa Cruz Civic Auditorium was filled on Saturday with competitors tying themselves in knots in the martial art of jiu-jitsu.
Jiu-jitsu is a martial art, combat sport and self-defense system that focuses on grappling and ground fighting.
The two-day competition known as the All Star Tournament, which continues Sunday, drew 500 martial artists from around the region, including both kids and adults.
Jiu-jitsu expert Claudio Franca, who owns martial arts studios in Santa Cruz and Watsonville, organizes the tournament each year.
A large mat was placed on the floor of the Civic Auditorium for matches to take place. Bouts are timed with referees awarding points based on positions and control over the opponent.
Wearing cotton robes known as gis, competitors typically roll around on the mat struggling to pin down their opponent with strategic maneuvers of choke holds and joint locks.
Many times competitors stay intertwined in a ball until one gains the upper hand through leverage and technique.
"There's a lot of sparring and contact in jiu-jitsu," said Mike Kirby, a competitor and organizer of the tournament. "A lot of other martial arts don't do a lot of contact."
Salinas resident Rodolfo Espinoza, 23, said the loss he had on Saturday only fuels a desire to work harder at improving his martial arts skills for the next contest.
Espinoza said he's been practicing jiu-jitsu for five years.
"I haven't eaten a full meal in two days to cut weight," he said. "I didn't feel like myself. That loss helps me to strive better in practice."
Nohelin Hernandez, 18, of Gilroy, is new to the sport and he said he was excited to participate in his first tournament.
He's a white belt, the mark of a beginner, but hopes to earn a higher belt.
"My favorite part of jiu-jitsu is about the different submissions," Hernandez said. "It's a different experience from boxing or kickboxing. It's very challenging and it makes you strong."
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