So a little back story...
I began photographing BJJ tournaments in 2008 which was shortly after I started training jiu-jitsu. It only seemed natural to combine a new obsession with an old one. The very first tournament I ever shot, coincidentally, was the 2008 Pan Jiu-Jitsu Championships.
At that time it was held on the campus of Cal State Dominguez Hills in the basketball gym. I was there mostly to photograph my teammates and other people from the academy that I knew.
Flash forward a year and I had my first website and company, Cooperfoto, and I hit the ground running hard.
For the next few years I tried to be at every major tournament and even a few smaller ones. The hours were grueling and the pay was scarce. But I was determined to make a name for myself. I finally landed a job with the IBJJF (International Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu Federation) and photographed their major tournaments as well as a few Opens here and there.
But after several years of doing this and the constant policing of my photos on social media it wore me out. I was feeling under appreciated. My photos were constantly being used without permission and I began to resent the very people I had come to enjoy watching.
I was burnt out.
In addition to this, I was missing family events and using up my vacation time so that I could attend these multi-day tournaments. I was questioning if it was even worth it anymore.
There is an old saying in the Marine Corps: "Doing a good job around here is like pissing your pants in a dark suit... it gives you a warm feeling, but nobody notices".
So I quit.
I know, not the best example to set but I had had it. Instead, I focused my energies on my family and being with my kids. And let me tell you... it was worth it.
But I still had an itch that needed scratching.
During this time the nagging to come back stayed with me. And every year I would say, "I am coming back, just not full time" and every year I would get caught up in other things and not make my photography a priority. I would attend a half day of a four day tournament and I justified this as "being back" but my heart just wasn't in it.
There were so many new faces. New photographers, new athletes, new companies. I felt like an outsider in a sport where I used to be the ultimate "insider". I used this as another excuse to stay away.
Flash forward to March 16, 2017. Day 1 of the Pan Jiu-Jitsu Championships.
To be continued...