The average height of women in the US is 5’4.6”. At 6’2” Dr. Annemieke DeMaggio is taller than your average man, and literally stands out from the crowd. We sat down with her, and asked a few questions about her experience on the mat.
Annemieke is from the Netherlands, and lives in Dallas, TX. She is a wife, has 3 great kids, and holds a PhD degree in molecular genetics. Annemieke calls herself a nerd, and is one of the founders of a multi-million dollar business offering strategic services to companies developing new cancer drugs. Everyone meet Annemieke!
How did you get started in martial arts and jiu-jitsu?
About 4 years ago we were looking for a place for the kids to train Tae Kwon Do and my husband and I ended up joining the classes because they offered a family plan. I also wanted to be a good example for my daughter and show that ladies can do martial arts. All my 3 kids are black belts in TKD and so am I.
As to the jiu-jitsu, it was a pure accident, I wasn’t looking for a new sport. About 2 years ago I went to a weapons seminar and there was a BJJ demonstration. I really liked what I saw and wanted to try it out. I started looking online to find a place close to where we live but there was nothing, every gym was at least 30 min drive. I ended up going to RCJ Machado for an intro class and saw the black belt Kathy Brothers training. I thought it was pretty cool, and signed up.
What has been the most frustrating part of your training?
I used to get hurt a lot the first year of training, so I would alternate between TKD and jiu-jitsu. When my ribs were hurt I went back to TKD, and when my foot was hurt but I could still do some technique, I was doing jiu-jitsu. I also hurt some of my training partners just because I had no idea what I was doing. I was feeling frustrated many times by seeing other people (wrestlers and guys with some MMA background) picking up technique much faster and pulling new stuff on me. I would compare myself to them, and put a lot of pressure to keep up with everyone else. I did not want any special treatment, and I did not want people to think I did not deserve the belt promotions. Many times I would sit at the edge of the mat and wonder who would want to roll with me, scared to ask.
What is the most rewarding part of your training?
The most rewarding part of the training is when things finally start making sense and falling in place. Before it was just a daily struggle from the bottom and trying to survive. Now I’m actually making an effort to use my height and strength to my advantage and implement what I learn during my private lessons. I’ve been doing private lessons regularly for about 6 months now, and that has helped me a lot.
I really enjoy rolling with higher belts who do not try to kill you but rather guide you, and show what to do when you get stuck. Rolling with upper belt women has also been an eye-opening experience. I still feel weird rolling with women but I do enjoy the trouble-shooting.
You train every day with guys 200+ lbs which is a scary thought to many women. How hard is it? Do you get to use technique or is it powerlifting battle?
99% of the guys I train with are fine. I don’t mind training with guys at all, they are my size so I think it’s fair. There is a small group of guys who started at the same time as me and we have come up to the blue belt at the same time. We’ve gone through the same struggles, not knowing what we are doing, learning, adjusting, and actually beginning to see that the technique does overcome the power. I actually feel more comfortable rolling with men than women since that’s all I’ve been doing from the very beginning.
There are some who I don’t feel comfortable rolling with because they are way too rough for me. And I’m sure there are some guys who do not feel comfortable rolling with me either. So it goes both ways.
Do you want to compete? What is your opinion about the open class?
I would like to compete some day, but I think I would scare other women away. But again, I’m so used to rolling with men, I don’t know how to compete against a woman. I also feel like I’m not aggressive enough for a competition. Some people can chase the submissions with viciousness, I just don’t have it me…. yet 🙂
Open class is fair game in my opinion. No-one forces anyone to sign up, everyone knows that they may get an opponent much larger or much smaller than you.
What do you think of women only jiu-jitsu classes?
There is definitely a place for women only class since not every woman wants to roll with guys. I would participate in terms of helping out but for my training I would stick with the guys since I’m so used to it. A few months ago I went to an all women open mat, and enjoyed it a lot.
I do feel it’s easier to connect with women and I’ve made some good friends in the gym. Even though we may not roll as much together, we still talk, encourage and push each other. I enjoy reading about other female bjj ladies experiences. One of my favorites is Tangled Triangle, it would be nice to meet the author, Megan, in person.
You have a very successful career, husband and 3 kids, how do you find enough hours to take care of the family and train 3-4 days a week?
I have a pretty demanding day job with lots of travelling. I’m trying to cut the travelling down because I don’t like to be away from the family, and instead send my staff if possible. My husband is awesome, he takes the kids to school and their TKD practice, and holds the fort up when I’m gone. He does not train jiu-jitsu but supports my hobby. Some may say it’s an unusual arrangement, but it works for us. We just celebrated our 13th wedding anniversary.
This is what one of Annemieke’s coaches Adam Trees had to say:
At a height of 6’2, her tall frame is supported with long legs, great flexibility and an increased level of strength and density. These are awesome offensive weapons that when used properly can dangerously entangle an opponent and increase the travel distance to pass around her guard. To compensate Annemieke’s difficulty escaping through smaller openings, she uses her long powerful limbs to create the space needed by movement or technique. Her body type combined with her increasing skills, gives a great advantage against her enemies. I’ve been privately tutoring Annemieke for six months now and have noticed the growth and change in her game as she discovers the extent of her abilities and the limits of her body. Her determination and athleticism are admirable and is another great tool she is still learning to use. I look forward to seeing her fulfill her potential in the future.
Thank you for sharing your experience training as a tall woman in a sea of sweaty guys. I am 5′ 11″ and have no trouble finding a guy of similar stature to roll with. I’m going to my first competition next week and will roll with women. It’s going to be strange, I think.
Also, my daughter (8yo) and husband train, we have made it a family adventure. Thanks for the inspiration!
Cool! Hopefully I’ll get a chance to train with her when I’m in Dallas this November. I’m not surprised she likes Megan’s blog, as Megan has written loads of really good posts talking about what it’s like to train as a larger woman in BJJ: e.g., here, here and here.
Thanks slideyfoot for always posting relevant links, those were great!
No probs. In fact, as this topic has come up a few times, I thought I’d start a ‘further reading’ link list at the bottom of Megan’s article, here. I’ll ask Megan if she’s got any more for me to add in there. 🙂
Love this post. I am not the typical size myself (short and fluffy) and it’s hard to find your place on the mat at times. I find that I prefer to train with guys who are close to my weight. It gives me the freedom to try new things and not be afraid to use the right amount of pressure. With women I still find myself holding back and worrying too much about if I might hurt them. I am on the opposite end of the spectrum on height at only 4’11”. I’ve learned to embrace that part of myself and it really comes in handy with the long legged folks. One of these days I’m definitely going to make it up to Dallas and train with you guys!! 🙂
Slidey is the best blog-promoter around…lol
Great post and at 6′ tall myself, it was great to read about someone having the same struggles…especially the aggression and competition. I feel silly sometimes being so large and non-aggressive, but it’s improving.
I definitely have to get in contact with Annemieke. Again…great interview!