Story & Reporting by Diane Roberts, 9 Sports
BETHESDA, Md. (WUSA) -- On Saturday, a group of D.C.-area youngsters will be competing in an international jiu jitsu tournament -- one just for kids.
A Bethesda team that boasts one of the top players in the country will be there, but this story goes deeper than the sport itself.
Fernando Yamasaki runs a Brazilian jiu jitsu class at Yamasaki Academy. Jiu Jitsu is a martial arts form from Japan that's more than just fighting.
"It's my job to take them by the hand, make them feel comfortable and welcome and give them the confidence that nobody's going to hurt them," said Yamasaki.
The confidence student grapplers learn here can help them throughout life. Just ask Jael Winsett.
By all accounts, Jael was a poor student, disrespectful and undisciplined before taking up the sport.
"Something was missing, I knew something was missing ... his grades were bad in school and I didn't know what to do," said Jael's dad, Danny Winsett.
"I just wasn't very disciplined, I was a little monster ... and jiu jitsu changed my life around," said Jael. "I'm pretty good ... not the best in the world, but I want to be."
And the 11-year-old is well on his way. Jael is number one in the state Maryland, number three in the region and in the top ten in the United States.
"I don't care about those medals, I just want him to win the medal in my heart ... that's all that matters to me," said Danny Winsett.
Jael and more than a dozen of his fellow fighters are on their way to Los Angeles to compete in the Pan American Brazilian Jiu Jitsu Championship. Yamasaki students ages six to 13-years-old will grapple, strike and flip their way through a tournament their instructor hopes will teach them much more than winning.
The Yamasaki Academy hopes to expand its reach to offer free classes to foster children and veterans.