BIJONARI Arnold's Booth

When I take a step back and reflect, it always amazes me how cyclical life can feel at times.

In March of 2010 I attended the Arnold’s Sports Festival to compete in my first Brazilian jiu-jitsu competition. At the time, I was 20 years old and had been training jiu-jitsu for roughly 3 to 4 months. When we found out the Arnold’s held a jiu-jitsu tournament and it was happening in our backyard my buddy and I jumped at the opportunity to sign up and test ourselves. Honestly, at this point I don’t remember much about my first matches but I can vividly remember watching a specific match with my friend where we saw our first jumping guillotine attempts from a shirtless dude in tight shorts running and jumping around all over the mat…it was one of the funniest things we saw the whole day.

Since that moment, for roughly a decade between 2010 to 2019, I was either competing at the Arnold’s in jiu-jitsu tournaments or I was fighting in MMA or boxing matches. In total, I’ve competed in three jiu-jitsu tournaments, one amateur MMA fight, and two professional fights at the Arnold’s, so going into the event this year we were definitely familiar with the experience, just from a different perspective.

Now here we are in March of 2022, setting foot in the Arnold Classic for the first time not as a competitor, but as a business. Thinking back to the first experience I had at the Arnold in March of 2010, I never imagined I’d be attending the Classic as a business owner. The idea to partake at the Arnold came to us in late December of 2021. We were just coming off our second live event, a seminar with a local jiu-jitsu competitor at a gym in West Virginia called Weirton BJJ Academy. When we heard that the event would be taking place again this year after a two year hiatus due to COVID-19, we jumped at the opportunity to finally get out and get involved directly with some of the community who we seek to serve and create for. So we reviewed where we stood financially and decided to take a leap of faith.

After about a week of some back-and-forth with event coordinators, we were able to lock down a vendor booth with the help of an old friend who promotes a lot of the local boxing and MMA shows that take place around Columbus, Troy Speakman. Once we got the booth locked down it was time to make sure we could get the booth staffed. Luckily for us, we were able to recruit some help from a few of our friends in the Columbus area for the weekend.

In addition to planning and preparing for the event, we were working on a new series of products, the BIJO BASICS, to release exclusively at the Classic. This was no small feat given that we currently have a very small team, with all of us working day jobs outside of what we do with BIJONARI, and time was not on our side. As with most endeavors, we ran into a few bumps along the way. The majority of these bumps occurred around shipping and supply chain issues, which isn’t too surprising given what was occurring on a global scale. The biggest headache and most nerve wracking issue was related to some of the gear for the new BIJO BASICS release, which we found out about a week before the expo – it wasn’t going to be arriving on time. When I first heard the news it felt like I took a punch straight to the kidney, a slight delay and then ‘BAM!’ you’re down on the ground, curled up on both knees gasping for air. I think one of the toughest parts about the situation was when I had to let the rest of the team know that the couple thousand dollars worth of product we just pushed so hard to develop wasn’t going to be here on time. However, we were able to put our heads together and came up with an alternative solution to overcome the obstacles we faced. Since we were unable to have the product on hand, we reframed the marketing around the pieces and presented the pieces as a pre-sale opportunity to those who were in attendance at the expo. To say I’m extremely proud of the team for pulling it all off would be an understatement because we had much more to accomplish this time around than just releasing new products.

Once the first week of March rolled around, it was game time! Thankfully, we were able to get some help from my Dad and brother to set up the booth because a few of our guys weren’t able to make it during the setup window. It was both exciting and humbling to be there early setting up and getting to see some of the other larger companies constructing their booths. Obviously, relative to some of the other vendors we were smaller scale but seeing the production behind the larger booths inspired us and sparked some ideas for what we could aim to do with ours in the future as we grow.

To be honest, when the show kicked off we weren't really sure what to expect. The event is mainly targeted at the fitness industry – bodybuilding, Crossfit, weight lifting and powerlifting communities – which aren't exactly our direct communities but we thought it'd still be great to get out and start meeting folks, no matter their background or interest. To our surprise, we received a good amount of support and traffic from both the martial arts community members and the fitness industry members throughout the weekend. It was reassuring to hear some of the feedback we received on the brand and our design directions. A lot of folks really loved our “Strive” hoodie and the training gear pieces that were apart of our “Represent” capsule. We look to embrace this feedback and implement it as we continue to move forward developing the brand and our artwork.

The highlight of the weekend took place on Saturday once the jiu-jitsu tournament, ran by Grappling Industries, began. A good amount of our fellow training partners and friends from the Central Ohio jiu-jitsu community were out either competing or supporting teammates competing. After dealing with all the COVID restrictions the previous two years, it was awesome to see everyone back out getting together and putting their jiu-jitsu to the test. To wrap up the day on Saturday, we held an event at one of our friends’ local restaurants – Hoof Hearted Brewery – as a way to say “thanks” and have some fun with the folks who came out to support us.

Having the opportunity to have Bijonari included as one of the many vendors at the Arnold this year was something I’m extremely grateful for and proud of. The fact that our first expo experience took place in our backyard at the Arnold amongst many of our fellow local jiu-jitsu community members made it that much sweeter. Be on the lookout for us again next year!

April 24, 2022 — Corey Meeks