Cindy Omatsu was born on January 19, 1961, and started training in July of 1994 at Redondo Beach, California. She walked by the aerobic room at Gold’s Gym, and saw a bunch of guys rolling around on a big mat. At that time a lot of women in South Bay area were being attacked, so she thought it would be a great idea to learn some self-defense. She was hoping to find another woman in class but there were none. The one thing that really got her attention was when her training partner grabbed her wrist. The strength and force of a man’s grip was hard to deal with, and she realized why women would just give up when attacked. She was hooked after the first class. At the same time Cindy’s family was going through a rough time because her dad was battling cancer. Every class helped Cindy deal with her dad’s sickness, and gave her strength to help her mom care for him. Sadly, Cindy’s dad passed away.
After training for a year at Gold’s Gym under Renato Magna, she switched to the Machado Academy at Redondo Beach. Cindy received her black belt from Rigan Machado and Leka Vieira in 2002, making her the first American, as well as the first woman outside of Brazil to receive a black belt in BJJ. Cindy is currently teaching at Let’s Roll Academy in Torrence, and at The Brentwood Club in West LA. She is the OG of women’s BJJ in the US, and her contribution to the sport is invaluable.
What was the most challenging belt level for you?
I feel that my purple belt was one of my toughest belts. This is the belt where you learn which techniques really work for you, and your body type. Your game is really developing here, and you are learning to perfect your moves. I have had many purple belts tell me that they feel stuck or plateau at this belt. At purple belt level it feels like you advance five steps, and then get knocked back down ten. As an instructor, purple belt is where I see a lot of improvement, and growth in my students. With a lot of mat time, and consistent training the rewards will pay off!
What advice would you give to women?
Women who are at white or blue belt level, ask your instructor to watch out for you so that you are training with students who won’t injure you. If you can train with upper belts, do so because they will give you pointers as you roll with them.
I also tell jiu-jitsu women to give yourself kudos if you pass a guy’s guard or hold them in side control or mount. Sometimes you aren’t going to get the tap but you are getting dominant positions, and stabilizing them. Take it as a compliment when a guy starts putting more pressure on you or starts using more strength. It means he is getting frustrated, and your technique is working!
Injuries can happen at any belt level. It is important to let your injuries heal, and be very, very, very patient. I have had my share of injuries with strained MCLs, torn ACL, and shoulder. If you don’t take care of them or let them heal, they will definitely come back, and bite cha in the butt!
Enjoy the experience and journey that each belt level brings. Have fun! If you aren’t learning, and having fun then it is time to quit!
Jocelyn Chang has been training jiu-jitsu for over two decades. She is a second degree black belt under Leka Vieira and at 4’9” the tiniest black belt in the world. Due to her size she has had to adjust the techniques to fit her frame. Furthermore, she has had to modify her training to protect her chest from any pressure. At the age of 39, in 2009, she was diagnosed with breast cancer. Jocelyn underwent double mastectomy, 5 months of chemotherapy, and 30 days of radiation. Two weeks after the radiation treatment was finished, she was back on the mat. Jocelyn is a true inspiration for all women in BJJ. Being small or facing a deadly opponent is nothing when you have a never give up attitude. If you have a chance, try to visit her Let’s Roll BJJ Academy in Torrance, California.
What was the most challenging belt lever for you?
Throughout the years of training, the most challenging belt was my purple belt. As a purple belt you are no longer given a pass for any mistakes. The bad habits that you had at the blue belt level are now gone. You have to own the mistakes you make, and reap the consequences. The fun part of purple belt level is that you get to experiment doing more techniques. Mat time is the must, and that is the only way you will grow and succeed to the next level.
What advice would you give to women who are struggling?
It is okay to take a break. Don’t worry, you never forget the basics when you decide to come back from a break. It is like riding a bike. If life completely takes over, BJJ will always be there for you when you find your way back. I’ve had challenging times lately but I don’t see myself giving up the BJJ lifestyle. I’ve recently gone back to working full-time, and still teach at my studio in the evenings. It is too important not to roll. I’m a 3 year cancer survivor, and I believe that doing jiu-jitsu prior to cancer helped me in my recovery both physically and mentally. If you do make time to train regularly, I applaud you. Keep it up, and don’t ever stop rolling!
To read more about Jocelyn Chang, please check out BJJ Legends interview.