By ADAM SHINDER
Recorder Sports Staff
James Fallas found Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu almost by accident -- a chance for him to get back to something close to his wrestling days at Amsterdam High School. Now, he's a world champion twice over.
Sunday in Long Beach, Calif., Fallas won a gold medal in the Purple Belt Master Male Light-Feathweight division of the International Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu Federation World No-Gi Championships. Adding to the world championship he won as a blue belt in 2010, Fallas admits that it's certainly a long way to come for someone who had to give up wrestling when he left high school after becoming a father at 16 years old.
"I had a daughter at the age of 16, so I had to kind of quit school and start working," Fallas said. "I never got to finish wrestling. I always wanted to go back and try it, but there's not really any wrestling for when you get older, except if you go to college."
Unable to shake the desire to get back onto the mats, Fallas found a partner to get back into the world of grappling with his friend Danny Montalvo -- who just so happened to be a Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu instructor. It wasn't long until their informal wrestling practices at The Dance Company on Route 30 turned into Montalvo teaching Fallas the finer points of submission grappling.
"He had a little space in this basement of this dance studio that he used to rent out, and we used to get together and just wrestle," Fallas said. "From there, I started getting into Jiu-Jistsu and he was teaching me a little bit. I fell in love again. It was similar to wrestling, something that I loved, and I was like, 'Wow, I can get into this.' It started off with Danny there, and it just progressed more."
Fallas quickly became enamored with the martial art developed in Brazil from Japanese roots, especially the way that Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu emphasizes the importance of technique over size and brute strength.
"In this sport, it's not like wrestling where the bigger, stronger guy usually wins," he said. "This here, it's like physical chess. Size doesn't matter."
Eventually, in looking to further his studies, Fallas made his way to Spa City BJJ in Saratoga Springs, where he trained for nearly four years. That paid off in 2010 when he won his first IBJFF world championship as a featherweight in the blue belt division.
Then, last weekend, Fallas headed westward to sunny Long Beach as a purple belt -- Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu ranking system goes from white, to blue, to purple, to brown and then to black belt -- looking add another gold medal to his resume.
Even he couldn't believe how perfectly things worked out.
"The competition was real good. It was really tough this year, and I ended up doing better than I thought I was going to," he said. "I ended up not getting a point scored on me in the whole tournament."
In his opening match, Fallas powered his way to an 11-0 lead on points before catching his opponent in a submission to reach the semifinals. There, he faced what he called a "very tough" opponent, but managed to hold on for a victory on points and a berth in the gold medal match.
In the final, Fallas said he stressed patience against his opponent, Andre Pontes, until hooking a submission in the final minute to bring home another world title.
"I never thought it was gonna be like that," he said. "I thought that if I was to win, it'd be by just barely winning by points. But, I ended up just dominating in the tournament. It was pretty good."
Having come from informal sparring sessions in a dance studio all the way to a pair of gold medals in world championship competition, Fallas said he's dedicated to continue moving through the ranks of the sport and see just how far it can take him.
"I'd like to just get to the next level there, hopefully win it next year at the upper level," Fallas said. "You don't get any money, it's just a good feeling. You've won the submission world championships. It's just a good feeling that I've never had ever since I left wrestling."