This edition of Black Belt Corner features Felicia Oh whom we tried to interview for a long time. Things got delayed, and postponed, and we thought it was not going to happen. Turns out that in the last 3 weeks a whole lot in Felicia’s life has changed, and her story did not want to go public without it! The wait was worthwhile. Please enjoy!
Can you tell us a little bit about how you found BJJ, and what you have been doing lately?
I started training when I was 33 years old. I had done lots of different sports growing up but I wasn’t really good at any of them. I was decent; I didn’t get cut from the JV Basketball team but I never actually got to play. I enjoyed gymnastics a lot, and made the team but I wasn’t really that good. I just really loved sports, and worked very hard at them.
In 2000, I had an unusually bad outdoor year. I did the LA Marathon, and it turned into an awful time. And then, in October, I went on a last-minute climb to Mt. Whitney, and that was also a terrible experience. We got caught in a horrible storm, and never made it to the top. My friend’s husband told me about BJJ on our drive up so on the unpleasant drive home, I decided that an indoor activity might be a good change. The following week I went to watch a class at Jean Jacques Machado’s Academy, and signed up. After 6 months I did my first tournament, and after that I just kept competing.
It’s funny because it wasn’t like I did my first class, and thought “Wow! I’ve found a great sport”. It was just a class that I signed up for, and went to go learn. I kept going back, and the 2 days a week turned into 3, into 4, and so on.
I received my black belt from Jean Jacques Machado after training for 4.5 years. In 2006, I won the ADCC North American Trials, and my spot at ADCC. I finished 2nd after winning matches against two very seasoned women’s jiu- jitsu veterans.
Later that year, I got Epstein-Barr Virus, and have been plagued with health, and fatigue issues ever since. I competed a few times in the following years, and had started training for MMA but it was impossible to train at the high level necessary in order to compete. I’ve gone to different doctors but haven’t found any answers. This forced me to shift my focus more to teaching instead of training.
Now I’ve found myself having a great time teaching, and coaching kids! It was never something I was interested in doing! This year, I am helping to start the Valencia High School Wrestling program, the first one in the Santa Clarita Valley since they cut back their sports program in 1977.
For a while I’ve entertained the idea of getting back to competition. However, at 46, I’ve reluctantly come to accept that the body is no longer the same, and it has a mind of its own. There are increasingly more divisions, and competitors in the masters divisions so I decided to compete this year at the World Masters Jiu-Jitsu Championship, and took home a gold medal after just a few weeks of training!
Which belt level was the most challenging for you, and how did you overcome the challenges?
Wow! Every belt level has its own set of challenges, and then life has its own set of challenges on top of that. That would be a few books worth! There were times where jiu-jitsu was my safe cocoon, my escape, and made all my problems, all my worries disappear because the person on your back trying to choke you out was a little more pressing at that moment. It lets you have very focused attention; I love that, and the freedom that I feel in that space.
There were also times where jiu-jitsu was the source of my misery, and it has been very difficult. I would say my blue belt was a real emotional jiu-jitsu rollercoaster ride. After 2009 I was pretty much done with competing, and training. I only taught.
The fatigue made it really hard to train, so for 3 years I didn’t do anything. When I would try to get back to rolling or even running, some odd injury popped up, and it started to get very frustrating, and old after a couple of years. I was starting to think that I was done with training for good.
Then, just a few weeks ago, I started running again; felt pretty good, and didn’t get any injuries, and sort of decided to sign up for the 2014 IBJJF World Masters Championship. I didn’t think there would be anyone my age, and I did it more as something to make me commit to training again. But there was another woman, Sue Ausman, signed up so I put my gi on, and started training! The tournament is sometimes referred to as “Old Man Worlds” but being there this year was really amazing. It has grown so much! I got to see so many guys I used to watch, and whom I looked up to; they are back out there on the mat competing! There are also the brave men, and women that do both the regular Worlds, and the Masters because 30 isn’t really that old, and certainly doesn’t mean you are past your prime!
It has taken me some time to come around to this, and I would not have done the tournament before, but now I’m so grateful that there is a venue for competitors when we …uh… advance in our years, and realize that the competition itch doesn’t fully go away. Coming back to training; learning to enjoy jiu-jitsu for the pure joy of it, without competition as the primary motivation. That is where I am now!
What advice would you give to women who have a hard time in training?
It’s the same in life, and in jiu-jitsu that you just have to keep going. Even though you will get lost or you are uncertain; you just keep going, and believing. Sometimes it is a really hard advice to follow when it seems like things keep getting worse and worse. It’s easier in jiu-jitsu because you can tap, and you get to start over. Life does not always let you start over or give you a second chance, and the boundaries are not always as clear. So I find this to be much easier in jiu-jitsu than in life.