Quebecers who practise or teach Brazilian jiu-jitsu — a martial art and combat sport system that focuses on grappling, with particular emphasis on ground fighting — say it’s taking too long for the province to legalize and regulate competitions of the sport.
Johnny Zemouli is the co-founder of HoMa BJJ, a Brazilian jiu-jitsu studio in Hochelaga-Maisonneuve. He’s also part of a committee set up by the Quebec government that’s intended to help legalize competitions.
“We just want something to happen and, the way we see it, nothing’s happening,” Zemouli said.
Because of a 2013 amendment to Canada’s Criminal Code, amateur combat sports are illegal unless provinces give them the green light. In Quebec, Brazilian jiu-jitsu competitions are still illegal.
It’s a reality that’s forcing many of Quebec’s Brazilian jiu-jitsu aficionados out of the province to attend competitions, Zemouli says, and pushing some to leave the province entirely.
“Our champions went outside of Montreal. They’re going to Toronto, New York … to compete,” he said.
The sport’s illegality is preventing competitions from being held in the province as well. In 2017, the Abu Dhabi Pro Jiu-Jitsu organization had to postpone its Canadian championship in Montreal that year.
“We cannot grow in Quebec. Everybody is really upset about that.”
For Brazilian jiu-jitsu amateurs in Quebec who want to compete, travelling to competition is another issue.
“Not everyone has the budget for it, because you have competition costs. You have to travel, [pay for] the hotel reservation,” said Nancy Édouard, who has been practising Brazilian jiu-jitsu for four years and trains at HoMa BJJ.
“It makes it difficult, it’s less flexible.”
Édouard says the sport is about self-defence and personal growth.
“Brazilian jiu-jitsu is not just a sport or a competition, it’s really a lifestyle,” she said. “Everything you learn on the mat is something you can easily apply to your life.”
Competitions legal in Ontario, B.C., P.E.I.
So far, Ontario, British Columbia and Prince Edward Island have legalized Brazilian jiu-jitsu competitions.
There are efforts underway in Quebec to legalize the sport, led by a committee of athletes and coaches, but Zemouli says government bureaucracy is slowing the process.
Initially, Zemouli was hopeful Brazilian jiu-jitsu would be legalized before the new year. Now, he says he thinks it could take several years.
“They say it’s going to take more time than expected,” Zemouli said.
A spokesperson from the Ministry of Education and Sports said work on legalizing and regulating the sport is ongoing.
“The objective is to propose solutions to legalize all amateur sports events between amateur athletes in Quebec. All fighting sports between amateur athletes are targeted,” the statement said.