a woman with a medal standing in front of a building
Autumn Wolfe’s smile speaks for itself as she proudly poses with her gold medal from the 2023 IBJJF Pan Kids Jiu-Jitsu Tournament.

When you think of the word jiu-jitsu, an image from the movie “The Karate Kid” might come to mind. Some may remember Daniel LaRusso’s iconic crane kick, with his foot dangling high up in the air. But according to 13-year-old Autumn Wolfe, a new national jiu-jitsu title holder and Marathon local, we are talking about something entirely separate. 

“Jiu-jitsu is not like karate – it is a very different style of martial art,” she said. “People think all martial arts are the same, and that just isn’t true. Jiu-jitsu is a combat sport based on grappling, ground fighting, chokes and submission holds.”

Jiu-jitsu enthusiasts participate in regional, state, national and global tournaments. The world’s largest jiu-jitsu tournament for kids, the Pan Kids Jiu-Jitsu Tournament IBJJF Championships, was held July 21-23. Run by the International Brazilian Jiu Jitsu Federation (IBJJF), the three-day tournament was held at the Silver Spurs Arena in Kissimmee and hosted some 2,700 competitors ranging from “Mighty Mite” to teen divisions. These contestants represented academies and regions from around the globe, making this jiu-jitsu tournament the largest in the world. Spectators got to watch competitions between the best of the best, and Wolfe has earned her place among these outstanding female athletes.

Led by head coach Justin Burnet and assistant coach Yeison Perez of Big Pine Key’s Justin Brunet Jiu-Jitsu and the Art In Motion Jiu-Jitsu Academy, Wolfe took home the gold medal for the Female/Teen 2/Yellow/Light-Feather (98-pound) division. 

“This was the biggest match of my life, and I was proud of what I had done,” Wolfe said. “It was a lot of hard work to get here. I’m very thankful to Justin Brunet, my head coach, for encouraging me and always being there for me; Yeison Perez, my assistant coach, for all the private lessons and knowledge he shared; and my younger sister Aubree Wolfe for always being a good training partner. Most importantly, I’m thankful for Jesus Christ, for without my faith in Him none of this would be possible.” 

Jiu-jitsu champion Autumn Wolfe, center, poses with head coach Justin Brunet, left, and assistant coach Yeison Perez at the 2023 Pan Kids Jiu-Jitsu tournament.

Spectators often get confused and interpret jiu-jitsu as karate, taekwondo or even kung fu. There are about 180 different styles of martial arts, and although karate is popular in movies, Brazilian jiu-jitsu is one of the more frequently-practiced martial arts. The self-defense and combat sport uses the principles of leverage, angles, pressure, timing and knowledge of human anatomy in order to achieve a non-violent submission of one’s opponent. Grappling is one of the main aspects the sport is known for, and it is because of this specific grappling technique that Wolfe began her love of jiu-jitsu.

“I first became interested in grappling five years ago when I was being bullied at my school by a much larger girl,” she recalled. “During one of those encounters, a friend of mine who did wrestling jumped in to help me, and although she was much smaller than the bully she was able to stop her from abusing me. 

“After that I wanted to do wrestling but there were no clubs around so I looked into jiu-jitsu and really found what I was looking for: a way to protect myself and others around me.”   

Wolfe has been practicing jiu-jitsu for the past four years under Brunet’s tutelage. The coach and athlete offers classes for kids and adults in his gym on Big Pine.

“We are beyond proud of Autumn,” Brunet told the Weekly. “She worked so hard for this, and it’s truly amazing to see firsthand what hard work and dedication can achieve. She is a true champion both on and off the mats, (and) that’s what we aim for here.”

For more information, find Keys Fitness and Jiu-Jitsu on Facebook or visit keysfitnessbjj.com.

Photos by KENNETH WOLFE/Contributed