A couple of months ago we noticed a new women’s open mat taking off in Orange City, Florida, and wanted to find out more about it. The little engine behind Pretty Dangerous Women’s Open Mat is Melissa Lohsen. She is a veterinary technician and describes her life in one sentence, ” I wrestle cats and dogs all day and people all night.”
Tell us about your life on and off the mat.
I am a purple belt under Eric Shingu who is a black belt under Cesar Gracie and originally from California. My husband David Lohsen got me started in BJJ. He started training about one year before I did. He kept coming home from training super geeked and trying out moves on me. He was so excited and so passionate about the sport and he kept trying to get me to try it so I finally decided to start training about 1997 or so. I know it seems weird that I am still a purple belt after all this time but there is a really long story with that.
When I started the belt system was extremely slow, and I was an anomaly there just weren’t many women training at that time. We came up through the Cesar Gracie system as well which was a very slow grading process. I did compete back then in the men’s divisions. My first competition was at the first Gracie open and the guys in my division either dropped out because they didn’t want to compete with a women or the ones that did compete seriously tried to kill me on the mats. Egos were a massive issue but it was an awesome experience. More women started showing up about a year or two later and I was actually able to compete with women but we were still not on equal footing with men.
I remember most of the tournaments we went to the, women competed during the kids portion of the tournaments and we were awarded the kids medals or trophies which made us feel incredibly disrespected. I remember one time I paid the same entry fee as adult men (the kids competed at a much lower cost) but when I went up to get my award they gave us a kids’ trophy. I am not one of those people who is all about the medals but I was pissed. I had a very heated conversation with the tournament director and he ended up sending all of the women adult medals in the mail. It was a small victory but I was trying to make a point.
We opened our own school, Lohsen Martial Arts Academy, in California in 2000 and we were open for 10 years. We also ran our own tournament: The Foothill Submission Championships. We had fairly big MMA names now such as Michael McDonald and TJ Dillashaw compete at our tournament. The gym closed in 2010 when my husband got a job offer in Florida and we had to move.
Then the jiu-jitsu layoff began. We made the horrible mistake of taking time off of training to focus on our careers. That was a BIG mistake. I do not, I repeat do not recommend anyone take time off from jiu-jitsu. We ended up not training for almost 5 years. Then we allowed ourselves to get really out of shape. We got the bug again and decided to hook up with a local school and train again. It is incredibly difficult when your mind knows what you are supposed to do but your body just won’t cooperate. It sucked. We also had the problem of being advanced belts that couldn’t really roll like advanced belts. That was an incredibly difficult time for me.
We competed at the Atlanta Open which was a great experience but we were having some difficulty with our new team. My husband was a brown belt and has a passion for teaching and they were less than enthusiastic about that. We began talking about starting our own school again and finally opened Darkwolf MMA in March of 2015. Darkwolf MMA is a jiu-jitsu/MMA gym in Orange City, Florida that we opened as a family: my husband David Lohsen, our son Christian Lohsen and myself. It was a huge risk and still is but we wanted to provide a gym that we always wanted and create the training environment that we enjoy.
How did the Pretty Dangerous Women’s Open Mat come about?
We had a great women’s jiu-jitsu competition team in California that took years to develop. I was struggling to get good training partners when we opened here in Florida. There were no high-ranking females in our school to roll with. So we started offering a once a month women’s only open mat. Pretty Dangerous was the name of our women’s competition team in California and we decided to keep it.
I love having a true open mat where women of all skill levels from any school and any affiliation can come together and get some great rolls in. Most of us are lucky to have one other female to roll with at our gyms and if you want to compete you have to roll with women. We roll differently than men. That was a huge eye opener the first time I got to compete with a women. The turnout is getting better and better but they are still a little small. I get amazing feedback from the women who do attend. We had ladies from three different gyms at the last one.
Do you attend a lot of BJJ seminars and do you compete regularly? Do you think it is important to attend seminars and compete?
Yes, we hit as many seminars as we can. Most recently we made it to a two-day Caio Terra seminar. It was awesome. There is a two-fold benefit to seminars. One: you get exposed to moves that you might otherwise not see in your regular class. The sport is constantly evolving with new moves and concepts coming out daily. Two: you get to meet some incredible people. Being a part of the greater jiu-jitsu community feels great.
I do compete, not as much as I would like but we try to compete at least a couple of times a year. Unfortunately it is really hard to get the higher ranked female divisions in the smaller local tournaments and the larger ones are very expensive because they require travel to get there. I recommend competing to all of our students. I think that as a learning and growth tool it is excellent experience. I always come away learning something about my game.
Competing is a very personal decision and is not right for everyone. Our daughter who trains, likes training but absolutely hates competing. I would tell a woman who does not want to compete that it is a wonderful training tool but she needs to make the decision for herself.
How do you stay motivated to train year after year?
Well, motivation was an issue before we opened Darkwolf MMA. I love training but there were times when I was just exhausted or I had a really bad day at work or whatever other excuse I could come up with but always without fail if I fought through that excuse and went in to train, I felt so much better after training. I always say that jiu-jitsu is my drug, my therapy, my happy place.
I tease my co-workers almost every day when I leave work, “Have a great evening, I am going to choke some people and hit things. See you in the morning!” Now with the gym there are no excuses, we are there teaching no matter what and I love it. Currently with a full-time day job and teaching classes in the evenings there is no time for any other sports. Jiu-jitsu and martial arts took over our lives a long time ago and I would not change it now.
What do you like the most about jiu-jitsu and what do you dislike about it?
I love the physicality of jiu-jitsu. It is amazing to me how much intelligence there is to the game. It is not about strength, power, or physical ability alone (it still plays a part) but there is so much thinking and strategy involved. I love the fact that we can train at 100% and as long as you tap when you are supposed to and noone gets injured. There is a tight camaraderie with your training partners that I don’t think exists in any other sport. This is a sport that you can do your entire life.
Probably the most frustrating part of jiu-jitsu for me is the politics. I understand that running a school is a business but the majority of us that started schools did so for the love of the sport and the need to share it with others. I feel that if you give your students great instruction and great training you should not be afraid that by just attending and open mat at another gym will turn them from you. Have confidence in your abilities.
I know for us, we are never looking to take any other gyms’ students when we host open mats, we are looking to offer our students the opportunity to roll with other practitioners in a friendly environment and gain valuable experience. We openly recommend open mats to our students and try whenever possible to attend them ourselves. Loyalty is important; don’t get me wrong. We have been training with the same instructor for well over 20 years and are still training with him even though we live 3000 miles away. We will be making a trip to California in February to train with him again.
What are your plans with Pretty Dangerous Open Mat for this year?
Looking at 2016 I am hoping to continue hosting one a month. I have been asking other local gyms if they want to host but I still run into the old politics and territorial B.S. I have been talking to Girls in Gis about possibly co-sponsoring an event soon. So we will see!
Who is your favorite black belt and why?
Let me start out by saying that my husband, David Lohsen, a brown belt, is my favorite future black belt. He is the reason I started training. He has been extremely supportive and gone to bat for me in so many occasions. He is my coach, my mentor, my confidant, my best training partner, my motivation, and my inspiration. When I was complaining about my lack of training partners, he was the one who suggested starting a women’s only open mat; he even came up with the name Pretty Dangerous. In essence this is as much his event as it is mine.
I just want to end with this: you are never too old or too young to start training jiu-jitsu. It truly is a lifestyle and an addiction. Have fun with it and enjoy the ride. Hope to see you ladies on the mat!