Fenomenal Women series for 2013 starts with a very special lady. She is one of our favorite bloggers, has two kids and a full-time career. Anyone doubting if they belong on the mat should read what Debra has to say. Everyone meet Debra Ibarra!

How did you get started in BJJ? Do you do any other sports? 

My kids are the reason I started BJJ in the first place. We had spent years playing 390943_361811427167022_1043757662_n baseball and softball and they needed a change. I spent a good nine months watching them train, and was mesmerized by everything I saw, wondering if it were something I could ever possibly do. Then all the jiu-jitsu stars and planets aligned and my gym started offering women only class on Fridays. I spent 3 months doing that, then transferred to the regular adult class and I’ve been hooked ever since.

I also train Muay Thai kickboxing and I’ve been known to do a CrossFit class or two. They are great for cardio and conditioning, and help me improve my jiu-jitsu game. But jiu-jitsu is my first love!

You recently received your blue belt. How does it feel and has it changed anything for you?

Blue beltI’m not going to lie, it feels really good! It was the culmination of 27 months of hard work, buckets of sweat and a few tears. I still have those days when I question whether I’m worthy, and what was my coach thinking giving me this belt, but at the end of the day I know, that he believed in me and in my abilities. I feel more confident on the mats because of it, silly I know, but it was the validation I needed from my coach that I have a place in this sport, that I belong on the mats.

In the first half of last year, I really went through a period of non-growth, not knowing what to do to get better, questioning whether I deserved to train, whether I belonged on the mats with all these youngsters. That little piece of blue cloth squashed all my doubts and insecurities. Now there’s no looking back!

What has been or is your biggest frustration when it comes to training? What’s your biggest joy?

I would definitely have to say that my physical limitations are one of my biggest frustrations when training. Wanting desperately to be faster, lighter, more fluid, more flexible, wishing I could grow an extra 4-6 inches (since I’m only 4’11”) and realizing that all of that will come in time (not the growing an extra 4-6 inches since I’m 45 years old and I won’t be growing anymore!). In the beginning I was so out of shape that most things were near impossible for me to do. I’m slowly learning that those things that frustrated me the most can be changed – I will get lighter, I will get faster, more fluid, more flexible.

The biggest struggle is on the inside, in my mind – questioning myself, second guessing my abilities, holding back. That can be more frustrating than my physical limitations. The body can be changed, but our minds are much harder to change. My biggest joy comes from watching the success of my daughter and my teammates. There is no better feeling than seeing your teammate have a breakthrough on the mat or win at a competition or get a belt promotion and know that you were a part of that journey.

The feeling you get when you are rolling with your teammate in class, and you are both pushing, and pushing each other trying to make the other one better. At the end of the roll you hug, and smile, and you know that you made a difference. That is a feeling of pure joy!

252523_10150192214997242_1516034_nYou are a big supporter of women’s seminars and Girls in Gis. What do you like about them?

I absolutely love Girls in Gis and women’s seminars. I think because I got my start in a women’s only class, it brings me back to a place of comfort and security. The atmosphere at these events is always supportive and encouraging. I especially love the women only seminars. You get the chance to meet world champions like Leticia Ribeiro and Hannette Staack. At a seminar you get the opportunity for them to personally help you, show you technique and even roll with you.

I don’t know any other sport where you get that kind of access to athletes at that level. It is absolutely amazing! Girls in Gis gives me the opportunity to learn, train and network with ladies from all over Texas and the United States. It’s very special to me because so many of the women I’ve met at Girls in Gis’ events have become an important part of my journey. They encouraged me to keep training, told me that it would get better, didn’t let me give up. I don’t think I could have made it this far without all that support and encouragement.

Many women have the same crazy, busy schedule like you and it’s so easy not to work out. How do you find the time and motivation to train? What can you recommend to other women?

For me, the most important thing, was to make training a part of my daily routine. I can only train in the evenings, so I do my best to keep my schedule clear. Plus, a lot of credit has to go to my husband. He does not train but he supports me 100%. He takes care of all the little details in the evenings so that I can go train. Without his support I could not do what I do.

Motivation, now that is something entirely different. Staying motivated can be difficult at times, especially when you are having a tough time with your training and feeling like you are not progressing. During those times I really have to lean on my support network, my family, my friends, my teammates, my coaches, my jiu-jitsu brothers and sisters. All of those people keep me motivated. On the deepest level I just love jiu jitsu. When you love something, you figure out a way to make it all work.

My advice to other women is to pick a schedule that works best for you and your family. Stick to your schedule. Be consistent. Be present in mind and body when you are training. Ask questions. Ask for help. Surround yourself with people who support you and your goals. Lastly, find the right gym for you. Not all gyms are created equal. Find that place where you feel safe and empowered and encouraged. If you are happy when you train, you are at the right place!

376815_468574873160689_967295078_nYou and your daughter train together and she’s earned a “Tasmanian Devil” nickname. Tell us a little bit about her and training with her.

Emily is a sophomore in high school and a member of the high school marching band. She recently turned sixteen and is learning to drive (which I am currently in denial about, my baby girl is not old enough to drive). She’s a typical teenage girl, loves music, dancing, and socializing with her friends. She hates homework, and cleaning her room, and she is a self-proclaimed band nerd.

Jiu-jitsu is the thing that makes her unique. I love the fact that we train together. She has a completely different style from me. She’s fast and crazy and not afraid to be aggressive on the mats…all the things I’m not. In the past we would do warm-ups and drills together, but on the advice of our coach, we have made an effort to train with other people. All those day-to-day frustrations we have with each other had a tendency to come out on the mats. It was good advice. It gave her the opportunity and the space to develop her own game. She also trains Muay Thai kickboxing.

I am so very proud of her. It’s not easy to train with a high school schedule, homework and marching band, but she makes it work. Training together has given us a unique mother-daughter bond. It’s not every day that you get to choke your mom or give your daughter a kick in the head! At the heart of it all though, it’s something that brings us together, no matter what may be going on in our personal lives, on the mats we can let go of it all and just train. We always leave exhausted and happy, smiling and talking about the things we learned that night.

And if you folks out there were wondering about her nickname, I gave that to her. When I first started jiu-jitsu she had already been training for quite some time. I was still new and so very slow and did not know anything. When she moved up to the adult class and I would roll with her, she was like a blur of arms and legs, spinning around me so fast I could not do anything. In that instant she became the “Tasmanian Devil.

We enjoy reading your blog. Have you always liked writing and do you have favorite blogs you browse through every week? 

I have loved to write for as long as I can remember. In high school I developed a real passion for it thanks to some amazing English teachers (Ms. Clark and Mr. Gordon – thank you!). I sort of let it go for a while. Marriage, work and motherhood took the front seat and I did not feel the urge to write for a very long time.

Then I started jiu-jitsu and all that energy, emotion, and excitement that came from training had to go somewhere, and my blog was born. I thoroughly enjoy writing. It can be very therapeutic for me. I don’t write about technique very much, my writing is usually always going to be from the heart and personal. It’s about my journey to beautiful jiu-jitsu.

I have a lot of blogs that I read regularly: Ginger Snaps, Georgette’s Jiu Jitsu World, Tangled Triangle, BJJ Grrl, Shark Girl BJJ, Dagney’s Brazilian Jiu Jitsu Training, The Teacher Mom Donut-Eating MMA Lady, Jiu-Jiu’s BJJ Blog, Jiu Jitsu Family…to name just a few. You can check out my blog to see the full list. If those folks are posting, I’m reading.

Thank you, Debra!