Brazilian Jiu Jitsu began as a male-dominated sport. In many ways it still is. But every year, more and more women are practicing and competing in BJJ. But why? How is this even possible? Similar to other sports, there was one woman (or maybe a few) to pave the way for the future, and honestly it’s frustrating when blue and purple belts today do not know their roots.
Last weekend I had the opportunity to learn from living legends and attend the Groundswell Grappling Concepts Women’s Camp with special guest instructor Leka Vieira. The GGC is a community and resource guide for Brazilian Jiu Jitsu practitioners on and off the mat. The principal members of the GGC are Emily Kwok, Hannette Staack, and Valerie Worthington. Without the accomplishments of these pioneers, the women’s bracket would not be what it is today.
Reflecting on when I first began BJJ, there were no women’s groups, open mats or camps. At the time, it did not matter that much (or so I thought). But then I went to my first GGC women’s camp in 2013. I was already a huge fan of Emily, Hannette, and Val from just watching and reading about them. To actually meet them, learn from them, and train with them was a whole other level of awesome! Brazilian Jiu Jitsu is funny in that way where we as students can actually share the mats with the superstars of our sport. Not many amateurs can say they played catch with an MLB pitcher or shot hoops with an NBA starter. But I managed to get choked out by the first ever Women’s BJJ World Champion.
GGC camps are not just training camps though. This last camp added educational sessions on nutrition, self-awareness, and a round table Q&A. The first day everyone is a little nervous and excited as we introduce ourselves to new friends and reconnect with those we know from past events. But there are ice-breakers and training techniques to calm the mood followed by a nice group welcome dinner. Saturday started with no-gi, followed by a group breakfast and nutrition session, then learning about being more self-aware with Val. In the afternoon we had gi and in the evening the round table Q&A. During the morning no-gi class, the floor opened for a brief discussion on the education and training of heel hooks. It was very interesting to hear each instructor’s take on the subject and how the sport is progressing.
The round table opened up with Leka sharing her BJJ journey and what it was like for her in Brazil during the mid to late 90’s. She did not have other women to look up to. She did not have another woman to set an example. She IS the example. As we all raised our hands with questions, a wealth of knowledge and new perspective came to light.
Sunday morning we met for our last session to review the techniques and gather our thoughts. There were lots of pictures and hard goodbyes. Women come from all over the world to participate in these camps and meet other women who train.
It’s a growing network and I am honored to be a part of the GGC community. These women are not only my heroes -- they are my mentors and friends. I can’t thank them enough for everything they have taught me and for opening the door to new relationships and opportunities.