Ladies asked for gray gis and our first batch is ready! Gi jackets are made of 550 gr pearl weave and pants are cotton ripstop with flat drawstring. Fenom signature F on the sleeves and a minimalistic flower design on the pants and jacket make a gorgeous, feminine gi. The color combination of gray fabric and dark purple embroidery is unexpectedly bright and striking. Gray gis are not IBJJF approved for competition but we expect to see them at women’s jiu-jitsu seminars and open mats everywhere. If you are one of the first customers who have received their gis in the mail, let us know what you think. Happy shopping, happy training!
People sometimes ask me, “What does a a typical day in a gi business owner’s life look like? Is it really as cool as it sounds like? Do you get to sleep in late and train whenever you want?” Well, here you can read about a day in my life. You be the judge.
Monday. The day started off shitty. My son decided suddenly that he didn’t like Fruit Loops any more and asked for a Pop-Tart. Pop-Tart? What? I don’t have Pop-Tarts. I had just spent over four dollars on this extra huge family size box of cereal and he wants Pop-Tarts. Get outta here! My daughter was angry about something I did or did not do, can’t remember what it was. She is always angry. Both of them knew I had a lot of work to do so they got a yelled at before it was even 7:30 AM.
It was an extremely important day; we had to push out a new women’s gi design and time was ticking fast. I got my two designers on the phone and told them the usual, “Make me something good.” The designers mumbled something about direction, that they need direction. I was like, “What? You’re the designer, you know what I want. Make it!” They kept arguing with me and it really escalated because you know, I’m the boss here. They started suggesting the regular gi design ideas: samurai, octopus, skull and some other nonsense. So I yelled at them and called them morons, idiots, imbeciles and entry-level clip art artists among other things. I know that this always makes them work hard so I kept my tirade going for a good 10 minutes threatening to fire everyone if I didn’t get a design in the next hour.
Then I hung up the phone, got me a fresh cup of coffee and dove into Facebook. It’s always good to spend time on Facebook admiring other people’s lives. Some of my friends have such perfect lives. The food is AMAZING, the husband is the most AMAZING and the training is always AMMMMAZZZINGG! Damn it.
In about an hour I opened my email and guess what! There it was: THE email with an attachment. I knew I could squeeze a good design out of my employees! It was a picture of a carrot, an organic carrot to be specific. First I wasn’t sure if I liked it or not but the more I looked at it, the more it made sense. I’ve seen gis with all sorts of crazy designs so this is no different.
It will sell; I know it will. At this point I had nothing else so it was either a blank gi or the carrot. I went with the carrot. I stamped APPROVED on the design and thanked the designer for doing an outstanding job bringing my vision to life in such a vibrant manner.
It was a tremendously successful day. I felt accomplished and started counting the money I would be making when the new batch of gis drops. Did I train? No, I skipped that; grabbed a big bag of potato chips instead and plopped myself on the couch. Great day it was!
Happy April Fools Day!
How to choose great fitting gi pants? It can be very easy or tricky depending on where you fall on the size chart and one size definitely does not fit all! In the first part of the article we will talk about sizing and the second part will cover material options in-depth.
Size chart shows the range of weight and height and should be used as a general guideline. If you are not sure about your size, always ask! There is a good chance we have found the correct size pants for someone with similar measurements and build. For a woman smack in the middle of the size bracket it is pretty easy to pick the right pair. At 5’7” and 145 pounds with athletic build, you can order a pair of A2s* and the pants will be a great fit. Someone at the same height but at 175 lbs with wider hips is probably going to ponder, “Should I go with the weight bracket or height bracket for size?” The answer is to go with the weight and choose curvy pants. A tall lady at 5’10” and 145 lbs should go with the height bracket and pick tall pants for best fit.
Women come in so many varying shapes and sizes that weight and height are not the only thing we ask when helping with sizing. Sometimes we may need to dig deeper. Fibbing about your weight a little bit is fine but anything over ten pounds can result in incorrect fit. Being honest about your jeans size is appreciated; it helps prevent disappointment and costly exchange process.
- Pants width
We recommend an easy fit test. When you put the pants on; pinch the loose material at the side of your hip at the widest point and if you have about 1.5-2 inches of fabric between your fingers, you have a good, pretty fitted pair of pants with just enough room to move around and no excess bagginess. When you have less than 1.5 inches material between your fingers, the pants will be too tight. Gi pants should fit a little loose, not skin-tight like yoga pants. It is uncomfortable to roll in super tight gi pants. Not only do they constrain movement but also make you feel self-conscious knowing that the back side is being exposed and the seams are about to bust open. If you have way more than 2 inches of material between your fingers, you will have very loose-fitting pants, almost like judo pants looseness. There is nothing wrong with loose fit, it is ultimately all about personal preference. Some women prefer fitted pants, some prefer looser cut.
If you are in between sizes or your weight tends to fluctuate 5-7 pounds within a month, having a pair of curvy pants is a great option. Extra couple of inches of room around hips and waist makes all the difference when you feel bloated or heavy. Regular, slim cut pants are perfect for the days or seasons when you are little lighter or want more fitted pants. If your goal is to lose some weight, we suggest to buy a pair of pants that fits right now, not at your goal weight. Tight pants will not motivate you more; they make training unpleasant. Buy a smaller size as a reward when you have reached your goal. Even though we make a variety of sizes, there are a few cases when a customer is out of our weight and height range and sadly we don’t have the perfect pair for that shape.
- Pants length
When you put on a brand new pair of gi pants, the bottom of the pant leg should touch or sit on top of your foot. After shrinkage the pants will be right above the ankle bone which is the preferred length. If your pants start out at the ankle bone length, they will become capri pants over time. Some people don’t mind capri length gi pants but if you are a competitor, the pants may not pass inspection depending on how strictly the rules are followed. Do not hem the pants before you have washed them a couple of times. Most of the time hot water wash and dryer takes care of the extra length.
*Size refers to Fenom size chart and Fenom gi pants. Every brand uses slightly different size charts and our recommendation does not necessarily work with other brands’ pants.
Sometimes the gi you purchased is incorrect size or you happen to have buyer’s remorse and an exchange or return is in order.
This is a friendly reminder what not to return:
- Gi covered in pet hair and lint. We love furry babies too but please run a lint roller over the gi before you pack it up.
- Gi with stains (food, blood, dirt). Yes, odd but it has happened.
- Washed items.
- Hemmed pants or altered jackets.
- Gi that has been worn to class. Try it on but don’t take it for a full test drive.
- Clearance items. If you are not sure about sizing, please ask before purchasing. Clearance items are not to be returned and forcing the refund through by complaining to your credit card company is not cool.
- Items with size tags or labels removed.
Thank you and happy training!
Dr. Kim Freeman, PhD is a four stripe brown belt, a mother and a philanthropist. She will be teaching a co-ed BJJ seminar in New Albany, Indiana, on March 12th and took some time off her busy schedule to talk about her life and training in Indianapolis. Everyone meet Dr. Freeman!
What do you do in real life besides training jiu-jitsu?
Currently I am a sales representative for the life science microscopy company, Olympus. I always loved science and knew it would be part of my future. I went to the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and attained a Bachelor’s Degree in Cell and Structural Biology while minoring in Chemistry.
I started graduate school in New York but had to take time off for the birth of my daughter and relocation after the 9/11 attacks. After settling in Indiana, I re-entered graduate school and attained my master’s degree through Purdue University in a Cell Biology program, specializing in Lipid Biophysics.
My Ph.D. is through the Indiana University School of Medicine in Medical Biophysics, specializing in Biomolecular Imaging. My doctoral worked focused on deep tissue imaging of the sympathetic (think fight-or-flight) nerves in the heart and how they changed with myocardial infarction (damage from a heart attack). Most of my imaging work used a Olympus multiphoton microscope so when the position with their company in the area became available it seemed silly not to apply. I never would have guessed that I would end up doing what I am doing; life leads us in strange ways sometimes.
Work, family and jiu-jitsu keep me fairly busy. Every month or two I sneak in some philanthropy though. This month my daughter and I packed food for the needy. In April I am helping frame and wall a house for Habitat for Humanity. Giving back helps a person appreciate what they themselves have.
You have been training for 17 years. How do you stay motivated to keep going? What setbacks have you experienced?
Setbacks; there have been a few! I started training towards the end of 1998 at a small gym in NY. The overall attitude towards women in jiu-jitsu was very different back then, at least amongst the lower belts. Most all of the brown and black belts I met or knew were very encouraging though. I do not know how many times I’ve “quit” jiu-jitsu. Too many to count probably. I’ve had some severe injuries that kept me off the mat for months at a time. Most of the injuries were caused by lunkheads not controlling themselves or purposefully going rough to shake me away from the sport. There was a lot less control in the sport back then. Leaders of the gyms were blue belts, not black or brown. There is a certain refinement that comes with vesting years into this sport. That refinement is much more noticeable in schools led by higher belts. That was a luxury not many had back then though.
I took about a year and a half off for having my daughter. I was in a school that did quite a bit of warm ups, cardio and drilling so I was able to stick with that for several months before having to leave the mat. My daughter was born a few weeks after the 9/11 attacks which left us without jobs, or prospects of jobs. We picked up and moved to the Midwest. I joined my current gym in the spring of 2002 and have been with Indianapolis Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu ever since.
My then husband did not adjust well to family life which really limited my training time for a few years. My teammates were by my side though and after separation and divorce, I was able to get back on track with BJJ which has helped me discover how strong women can be. I bet most people take extended breaks from jiu-jitsu throughout training. Life happens. What matters more is that you come back to the sport. That you keep returning; persevering in the face of difficulty.
The motivations to continue on change constantly. As you progress in your jiu-jitsu journey, you grow and develop as a person. Therefore, the motivations for continuing the sport need to develop with you. Sometimes it is to overcome some internal demons, sometimes it is to prove something to others, sometimes it is for the comradery or it could be because your mind and body have learned to release stress when in the gym. After a while, it becomes a regular part of who you are. It is less motivation to stay in as it is an existential need to complete who you are as a person. BJJ transcends from something you do to being part of who you are. I don’t have a set motivation to keep going in jiu-jitsu, it is fully integrated into who I am. It is not the entirety of my being, but it makes me whole as a person.
What does your family think about BJJ? Does anyone else in your family train?
No one else in my blood line family trains. My daughter has been on the mat a month here or there, but has never stuck with it. My extended family has shown support now that I have climbed my way through the ranks which I am very thankful for. My nuclear family is not fond of it though. My jiu-jitsu family has been my lifeline. I am very grateful for all of them.
Do you enjoy competing? Do you remember your first tournament? What is your biggest accomplishment and what are you most proud of?
I used to compete quite a bit. My first tournaments were actually against men because there weren’t other women in my divisions. Especially after moving to the Midwest competing was limited. My divisions were empty most of the time and when there were other women, we did not have the luxury of weight classes or divisions. I took a few severe injuries because of it. My last tournament left me with some mild but permanent hearing loss. I have retired from competing because of that.
As for pride, that is a double edge sword. I think attaining my blue belt was amazing. I was under Marcio Simas at the time, back in 1999. I felt invincible, strong, and proud of this accomplishment. As the years progressed, I have been less proud of each belt. Not that they weren’t deserved, or unwanted; more because each was seen less as an insurmountable obstacle and more as an expected achievement. I have achieved more than most people every will, at my young age of (cough, cough, mumble). I expect myself to do more and go farther still. Am I glad to be doing it? You betcha! Would I continue without belt promotions? Sure thing. I just expect to achieve certain goals so it doesn’t seem like something to be prideful about.
Tell us a little bit about teaching jiu-jitsu. How often do you teach?
I’ve taught at a few workshops and am starting to do a few seminars now. I really enjoy seeing young timid newcomers blossom and grow strong. This past weekend I did a workshop for new to the mat women. Four of them could not easily do a somersault at the beginning of the class. By the end of class, they had learned a few techniques, felt safe on the mat, rolled their first matches, and left smiling. They gained a touch of confidence and a little bit of awareness. Who knows if they stick with it? I hope they do. If they choose to though, I will be there for them to lean on.
Do you have any other hobbies besides jiu-jitsu?
There is something other than jiu-jitsu? I keep myself pretty busy but nothing I would call a hobby. I volunteer quite a bit for my community, helping take care of landscaping and the political mumbo-jumbo my condominium association has to deal with. Also, there is always something to do when you have children. My daughter is in the school band so I help there quite often. Before that there were sports or Scouts to keep up with. I’m a routine blood donor, having given over 10 gallons of blood or blood components throughout the years. When possible I go to my gym though. My jiu-jitsu family keeps me centered, humble, and encouraged.
I greatly appreciate the support from Fenom! I had actually sent an email to a prominent gi company long ago about tailoring a gi towards women. The response was lacking, at best. It is great to see how women are not only becoming accepted in jiu-jitsu but encouraged and honored as well. There is seemingly no limit to what can be accomplished when people support each other and work towards the greater good.
Better tomorrows come from the actions and decisions we make today. Jiu-jitsu is a wonderful forum for this. BJJ tears away what we are not supposed to be and provides a supportive community to lean on while we gain the strength and perseverance necessary to be leaders in this world. Where we are today in jiu-jitsu seemed unfathomable just a few short years ago. Just imagine what it will be like in a few more.
Marcela Sánchez Rodriguez is a purple belt from Alliance Jiu-Jitsu Colombia and the co-founder of BJJ Sisters, the first women’s jiu-jitsu community in Colombia.
She is a 28-year-old graphic designer currently working in Bogotá. She describes herself as a responsible adult for two dogs, a little sister of two, a frustrated singer, a travel enthusiast, and a BJJ lover living right in front of the academy. Everyone meet Marcela!
You are one of the highest ranked women in Colombia. How did you find jiu-jitsu?
About four years ago I was at a new job that allowed me to have free time which is an unusual feature in a graphic designer’s life here in Bogotá. During those days a friend introduced me to the UFC world and I was just fascinated; I started asking about kick-boxing academies until I was finally referred to Octagon MMA which in my opinion is the greatest MMA Academy in Colombia.
They offered fantastic classes: MMA, boxing, bag work, fitness, wrestling and BJJ. I was exuberant thanks to the amazing teachers, the classes and the transformation of my body. I was happy about everything but jiu-jitsu. I remember, doing the best to understand how BJJ worked but as it is in real life, it is better if you just go with the flow.
The time passed by, I kept training and one day I met Carlos Quintero, the new Alliance Colombia instructor. He arrived with an amazing energy and a strong character; every move, drill or technique that he taught me became a challenge, and that was the major reason I fell in love with BJJ. I decided to be my instructor’s shadow and then my life took a big turn, from my neighborhood to my daily routine. Nowadays I just cannot imagine myself without jiu-jitsu.
Have you always trained at Alliance? How many other teams are there in Bogotá?
Alliance Colombia has been my academy since my first BJJ class. I have great teachers as Carlos Quintero and Giovanni Espinosa. Both are brown belts, very supportive and great team partners. We are all under Juan Miguel Iturralde, a black belt from Alliance Samborondon, Ecuador.
Here, we have plenty of academies: Gracie Barra, Octagon Jiu-Jitsu, Ultimate Fighting Club, 300 MMA, Wolfteam, etc. But I strongly recommend everyone planning to visit Bogota, to join us at Alliance Colombia. We are one of the strongest, most talented and happiest teams in the country.
Do you like to compete? Do you have enough tournaments in Colombia or do you have to travel far for BJJ competitions?
I love to compete. It involves a lot of hard work and mental preparation. When you compete anything can happen and everything is a lesson. I always get super anxious during the tournament day. It is not an easy situation but I truly enjoy the experience because it teaches me a lot, not only as an athlete but as a human being as well.
I always try to attend every tournament in Colombia. However, I’m a big girl by my country’s standards, a fact that does not help when the time to build brackets comes. That is why I decided to compete in the IBJJF NYC Open last year, getting the 2nd place in blue belt heavy weight class and fighting for the first time in an international tournament. My last competition was three weeks ago at the Abu Dhabi Trials in Ecuador. That was my first step as a brand new purple belt and although I got the first place in my category, I couldn’t make it for the open class. Again, just an experience in this beautiful journey and a new lesson from an endless path.
You are one of the founders of BJJ Sisters. Tell a little bit more about this group and what have you accomplished so far?
BJJ Sisters is a beautiful project created with my friend Liliana Arias who is also a very talented BJJ practitioner in Colombia. We went to a Female BJJ Camp in Mexico City in 2014, invited by Itzel Bazúa, a brown belt from Mexico.
The camp was led by Sophia Drysdale and Mackenzie Dern. Being there and training with other women made us feel ready to empower the ladies from our city and country to join the BJJ life style.
We started about a year ago with the group and it has been growing really fast. For me, the greatest accomplishment is that BJJ Sisters now is seen as a strong reference for women’s BJJ in Colombia.
Do you see yourself training 10 years from now? Do you teach and do you want to teach BJJ in the future?
I absolutely see myself training not only 10 years from now but for the rest of my life. I have been teaching since my blue belt with the BJJ Sisters project and now my teachers are calling me as a support instructor when they cannot come to the academy. I feel really comfortable and joyful sharing my knowledge and seeing how the team grows together.
Who is your favorite black belt? Who would you like to learn from if you had a chance?
My favorite black belt is Dominyka Obelenyte. I just adore the way she plays spider guard and open guard in general. I would love to join Sophia Drysdale’s classes again and I’ll look forward to doing it. I think that she has quite a unique and beautiful teaching style especially focused on women.
What do you want people to know about Colombia?
About Colombia… I feel really to proud to say that in spite of all the heavy and sad violence background, we have always been listed as one of the happiest places in the world. I believe that those statistics say a lot about the Colombian people who wake up every day, fight their own struggles and still have a big enough heart to keep a smile on their faces.
As Renzo Gracie’s said: “Everyone is fighting something,” and I feel absolutely sure that I was born in a fighters’ land.
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!
We recently connected with Melodie McDonald, the organizer of New Zealand Girls’ Grappling movement and asked her to tell us more about what is happening in women’s jiu-jitsu over there. As it turns out, jiu-jitsu has become very popular in New Zealand. The small but picturesque country already has two female black belts, well-run women’s open mats and training camps.
Tell us a little bit about yourself.
I’m a 39-year-old single mother of a 20-year-old which is pretty scary! I work as a Youth Development Practice and Team Leader with an organization that works with youth at risk. I have been in this field for the past 20 years and love it.
About 12 years ago my boyfriend at the time started doing jiu-jitsu, I went along to watch and was instantly hooked. After a while my boyfriend and I broke up and he stopped training but I continued.
I’ve been on and off the mat for the last 12 years. I’ve trained at Integrated Fighting, Submission Martial Arts and now Oliver MMA. I trained at a Pankration club for the first 3 years and got a green belt in pankration at Integrated Fighting breaking my hand the day before my blue belt grading. I remember sitting mat side bawling my eyes out because I could not do the grading. I then moved to focus on jiu-jitsu at Submission MA earning my BJJ blue belt under Will/Machado in 2010. In 2009 a very good friend of mine suffered a terrible injury on the mat which affected me for a long time and the mat was a haunted place for me. I stepped away altogether in 2010 and focused on promoting MMA and no-gi tournaments in New Zealand. I was the co-owner/promoter of Industry of Combat NZ until 2013 when we closed the doors. During this time I also co-created MMA Officials NZ which is still running supplying officials to MMA fight nights in NZ.
The end of 2014 saw me in a space of not knowing were I belonged in the MMA/BJJ world and was also looking at the prospect of losing my mom. I needed a place that felt like I belonged. I had also moved house in that time so going back to my old club was not going to be an option for me. Making one of the hardest decisions I’ve ever made, I stepped away from Will/Machado and moved to ATTNZ at Oliver MMA. After four years being off the mat I suddenly felt like I was home again. Everyone was so welcoming and friendly. Then five months into being on the mat I ruptured my PCL and was off the mat again. Eeeeek! So fingers crossed I’m back!
When and how did the NZ Girls’ Grappling movement start?
NZ Girls Grappling came about after Sophia Drysdale visited New Zealand in 2011 and talked about how important it was for girls to be rolling and training together having open mats. We began organizing open mats and from there the camp kind of happened. I can’t remember how now. Originally there was a group of us and now it is myself and a purple belt, Shena Christian, who run it.
I’m really passionate about bringing people together and forming good, strong communities. NZ Girls Grappling is owned by the community and anyone is able to do anything they want under this name. People are hosting open mats all over the country. I kind of fell in the leader role because I like organizing and I am pretty vocal and bossy, I have been around and part of the community for a long time and like to make things happen.
How many training camps have you organized and what has been the turnout so far?
We have had 5 camps so far with our last camp hosting 46 women. It was a fantastic event and we are expecting to get this much again in July if not more. We are a nation of only 4.4 million people, so getting this many women to participate is pretty awesome!
This year’s winter camp, July 8-10, features several local brown and black belts and. Can you tell us a little bit about each instructor?
In New Zealand we have two female black belts: Keitha Bannan received her black belt in 2013 and is the first ever NZ female black belt. Kate Da Silva received her black belt a few months after Keitha. We have three brown belts: Van Do, Maren Frerich and Ale Moss and all of them are confirmed for the upcoming camp. These five are our top graded women in the country.
Keitha Bannan is the head of Brasa NZ and Kate is with Gracie Gym NZ run by Roney Da Silva who is her husband. Kate is also a well-known international MMA fighter. I could spend hours writing about these ladies but I wouldn’t do them justice. You should interview them!
What challenges do BJJ women face in New Zealand?
There were so many struggles for women training in jiu-jitsu in the early years. Competition was extremely limited. They would be lucky if one or two girls showed up to compete. Training was just as bad with such small number of females. We have come a long way, and training is much better. A lot of the gyms offer female only classes which allows the ladies to get much more comfortable on the mat before stepping into the mixed class. It’s challenging to find women’s gear but MMA Addict is doing a great job importing apparel for us and always sponsoring our camps.
When I first started, we had I think only one female blue belt in all New Zealand, and now we have 35! Women competing in BJJ and fighting in MMA has never been better, and in fact just late last year Princess of Pain MMA fight night saw 38 women in one day in the ring. This was so cool to see.
When we have open mats, all the girls put their gym politics to the side and just have a great time. Unfortunately, there are still some gyms that do not support us and prohibit their girls from participating in our open mats. We try to befriend them at tournaments and let them know that if they want to sneak into our open mats, they are so welcome, and perhaps can host one.
Tell us something unusual about yourself and New Zealand that many people don’t know.
I turn 40 this year and have decided to have my first MMA fight! I’ve been pretty good at giving people advice about what they should or should not do in the ring over the years, and I decided it was about time I put my money where my mouth is so to speak.
Something unusual about New Zealand… only 5% of NZ population is human, the rest are animals! Want to know more about New Zealand? Check out his great list!