29 May 1999




Full list of BJJ DVDs, Book and Other Media Reviewed by Me





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Instructional Reviews

Full list of BJJ DVDs, Book and Other Media Reviewed by Me 30 Dirty Volume Two, Miha Perhavec Isolate to Dominate, Nelson Puentes, A...

28 May 1999




From Formal to Crazy - 6 Different Jiu-Jitsu Team Formation Photos
A good team photo is a front window to the wider world. But the presentation can vary quite a lot so I thought I'd take a look at the different approaches gyms take when it comes to the group photo...








Sponsorship in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu
In this write-up I provide a round up of a bunch of very good articles on the topic - each with their own set of guidelines and nuggets of advice. I also summarise at the end a bullet point list of five practical tips.













How to use local media to promote Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu
Local media is still very effective in reaching out to members of the community in a way that social media and the internet doesn't always satisfy.











Designing Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu Uniforms - Part 1 and Part 2
As an illustrator and designer of hundreds of fightwear projects I wanted to write down some of my thought processes when it comes to the do’s and don’t’s of designing a BJJ uniform.


















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Articles

From Formal to Crazy - 6 Different Jiu-Jitsu Team Formation Photos A good team photo is a front window to the wider world. But the prese...

26 May 1999

I am an illustrator and have produced numerous designs for academy logos, fighter mascots and fightwear clothing company apparel. Here is a sample of my work, click on the images for more information about each design. You can also visit my art specific website here: Meerkatsu Art, for reviews of art related products and detailed breakdown on how I produce some of these images.




















ALL PHOTOS AND ARTWORK ARE COPYRIGHT TO SEYMOUR YANG / MEERKATSU.

MEERKATSU ART

I am an illustrator and have produced numerous designs for academy logos, fighter mascots and fightwear clothing company apparel. Here is a ...

18 Apr 1999


BJJ Gi Reviews
Gi addict? Moi? (Join gi addicts anonymous on Facebook!)
*Those marked were designed by me or I had an involvement wth the project.

Fightwear and Fight Gear 

Apparel Showcase

    BJJ Instructional DVDs & Book Reviews

    BJJ Academy Tour

    Tournament and Seminar Reviews


    BJJ Reviews

    BJJ Gi Reviews Gi addict? Moi? (Join gi addicts anonymou s on Facebook!) Article: What BJJ gi should I buy? Article : How to look af...


    HEART OF THE LION - FELIPE ALVES DE SOUZA

    Words and photos by Seymour Yang

    Published in Martial Arts Illustrated, Jan 2010

    Felipe Alves de Souza, [29], is one of the UK's most popular and enthusiastic instructors of Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu (BJJ). Born in Rio de Janeiro, he defies the usual fighter stereotype by being a vegetarian and a Brazilian who likes the cold English weather. He is head of the Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu School, based in London. Seymour Yang went to meet Felipe to talk about his academy, his charity work and how the kids are taking to BJJ.




    "I don't think I could ever kick a man in the face when he is kneeling down."



    Felipe Alves de Souza explains why, unlike many of his fellow masters, he could never enter a cage fighting event.



    "I mean you need a certain type of..."



    He reaches for the right words, and I suggest aggressiveness.



    "Yes, I don't have the aggressivity for it."



    Whatever Felipe may claim, he is, in many people's eyes, one of the top 3 or 4 Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu (BJJ) instructors currently in the UK. Behind the easy going and genial persona of this devout vegetarian, there hides a strong competitive streak and the brains behind one of the fastest growing BJJ academies in the UK.





    From sun and sand, to rain and drizzle

    At the age of 21, Felipe was awarded the coveted rank of black belt by the instructor who first introduced him to jiu-jitsu as a gangly 13 year old. Master Jose Henrique 'Leao' Teixeira, a 6th dan black belt under the famous Gracie Barra organisation, is still a major influence: “My teacher has always been an important person in my life, I wanted to keep a link with his work, that's why I named my place after his academy, Escola De Jiu-Jitsu, which translates to Jiu-Jitsu School, and I also chose the lion for my club logo, which is what his school uses” he explains.



    After gaining his black belt and finishing his university degree, a desire to explore new horizons brought Felipe to the UK in 2002, to work beside his mentor's good friend Mauricio 'Motta' Gomes. He cheerily remembers revelling in the novelty of London's cold and wet winters. “Well you know in the beginning it was really fun, the cold in winter, everything so new to me and for the first two years it was so fun. But yes now [laughs], not so sure!!”



    The late 1990’s and early 2000’s saw the establishment of the first handful of BJJ academies: Gracie Barra, run by Mauricio; Alliance run by Roger Brooking; Carlson Gracie, run by Wilson Junior, and several others. The success of Royce Gracie in the early UFCs ensured a small but informed group of students to begin with. In 2004, Mauricio’s son, a certain world champion known as Roger Gracie, established the Roger Gracie Academy (RGA) in Ladbroke Grove, London and Felipe became one of the founding instructors there.



    Over the following years, the number of people wanting to learn BJJ exploded and the academy grew larger and larger. But unbeknownst to his students, relations between Felipe and the academy were breaking down. He declines to give the exact details but it was clearly a troubling time for him:



    “Yes, it was really tough, I was disappointed with certain things. I don't know why such things were happening to me, I want to think that that is just the way life is and you know, no matter how hard it felt for me, how complicated it was, how tough things got last year...I don't regret one moment now.”



    In 2007, Felipe quit his post at RGA, much to the shock of his students and many in the BJJ community. “I did not make a big deal out of it, like calling students behind their backs and saying hey come train with me, don't train with them and this and that. That's really not my style. So I just left and of course, it caught people by surprise.”





    BJJ School

    Now out of a job, Felipe began to teach by himself, renting a couple of spaces in sports halls around London. It was a good time to do so. The explosion of BJJ meant it wasn't long before he was able to launch his own academy - BJJ School.



    The first year of its existence has seen rapid growth, establishing the academy as one of the major BJJ groups in the UK, a phenomenon that even surprises its founder. A photo of the summer grading session in July 2009 showed nearly 100 students and instructors lined up for the shot. “I remember standing back as the photographer was getting everyone ready and saying to myself, WOW! Have we really done that well??”



    With size, comes competition success. At the 2009 BJJ British Open in Birmingham, BJJ School competitors won an impressive haul of 22 medals. Not bad for a team barely 16 months old at the time. The team have set their sights higher for next year, aiming to make inroads at the prestigious IBJJF European Championships in Lisbon in January.



    Does the competition success of his students drive Felipe to consider stepping back on to the mat again?



    “I always said to myself, my goal is to win the world championships (Mundials) at black belt and a couple of times I came so close to doing that. So I would love to continue competing, but right now, my mind is too focused on building up BJJ School. If I put my name down I don't think I will be at the same level as those guys who are training 24/7. So I don't like to put my name to anything and not be able to do the best that I can."



    Many would like to see him compete again. His strong attacking style and technical all round game mark him out as a serious contender for more success. In 2005 he was third in the world and in 2006 he was second in Europe [see competition highlights below].





    Young warriors

    It is the kids classes that Felipe is most renowned for.



    As we talk, one young boy runs over.



    "Thirty-two" he cries. Felipe smiles. "Thirty-two years until you get your red belt!" the boy is beaming. Felipe, who has been a black belt for eight years, has set the youngsters a task to calculate a simple sum. No mean feat while being thrown head over heels and drilling 'armbar' joint locks.



    There's an easy going atmosphere in the kids classes. They think they are playing around and having lots of fun. To the seasoned observer, they are honing skills that will see them through their BJJ journey into tough adult competitors.



    The young grapplers, who range from four to 16, travel from all over London and even further afield just to join his classes. And he has a knack of nurturing talent. 11-year-old Jay Herridge, for example, has been training under Felipe for three years and has already accumulated an incredible 12 BJJ gold medals. Jay is just one of over 60 young juniors under Felipe and his team of instructors at BJJ School.



    'Team' is definitely the defining characteristic of the philosophy behind BJJ School. When talking to Felipe about his academy, he uses 'us' and 'we'. He is careful to ensure his co-instructors get their due credit for the academy's remarkable rise to prominence.



    He explains: "The instructors and I meet once or more times a week to discuss the academy and review techniques, but these meetings are not too formal, I like to see it more as just a group of friends getting together, working things out, discussing ideas about organisation and how we move forward.





    Social conscience

    But success as a BJJ instructor was not enough for a man with a strong social conscience. At the same time as starting BJJ School, he started Future Champions, the charity that provides free BJJ lessons to underprivileged children in exchange for good school attendance and behaviour.



    The idea began as a scheme in Brazil run by Felipe’s instructor Master Teixeira, to offer BJJ scholarships to children who lived in the local favela (slum areas). The project quickly became a huge success, offering hope and direction to lives that would possibly have been blighted by poverty, crime and drugs.



    “Last year I started the UK Future Champions scheme and we now have 24 kids who come from underprivileged backgrounds, who would not be able to afford normal classes. These kids come from troubled areas and after one year, the school we partnered with are amazed by our results. The kids have improved their behaviour, have improved their scores, their concentration, everything...they actually want to go to school now because they have jiu-jitsu afterwards!”



    The charity is so important to Felipe that he almost considered quitting BJJ School to concentrate on the charity. In the end, he decided the two aspects of his life could not be separated.



    A Future Champions promotional video on youtube [see link below] shows one mum proudly enthusing at how jiu-jitsu transformed her shy, withdrawn son into a confident young boy with high self esteem: “We only came to the country three years ago and he was always so scared of school and taking part in group activities...these classes made it smooth and easy for him, I must say, it is like magic.”



    For a man who espouses strong moral ethics, it’s not a complete surprise that he is a vegetarian. When I ask him about his vegetarianism, he laughs, as if this is all he is known for.



    “You know, nutrition for fighters is one of the biggest lies going around, people just don't know what they are talking about.”



    With his degree in nutritional science, he explains how he concluded in his studies that most dietary advice given to combat athletes is completely wrong and he puts forward a convincing argument: “Everyone tells me I am going to lack protein I am going to lack B12 and this and that, and I know 100 percent this is not true. I have studied all the scientific documents regarding this and when I have competed at the highest level, I have not suffered any lack of energy or strength due to not eating meat. I actually think I am a lot healthier than most of the other athletes because of being a vegetarian.”



    The motto at BJJ School is 'Strength and Honour'. With such a loyal and passionate group of students and instructors, it seems the upward rise of the academy will continue, ensuring its place as one of the major BJJ teams in the UK, and perhaps further afield.



    “If you can say that jiu-jitsu makes you fitter and happier and maybe gives you a better relationship with your family because the class you just had was a good thing in your day, then great, my job is done.”







    ENDS 1810 WORDS © 2009 SEYMOUR YANG/MEERKATSU.COM









    FURTHER INFORMATION:



    1. Competition highlights:





    2008

    Gracie Invitational – Black Belt Champion



    2006

    CBJJ European - Black Belt Middleweight Silver

    CBJJ European - Black Belt Absolute Bronze

    Gracie Invitational - Black Belt Champion



    2005

    CBJJ Mundial - Black Belt Lightweight Bronze



    2002

    CBJJ Brazilian Teams Championships - Black/Brown Belt Lightweight Silver



    1999

    CBJJ Brazilian Teams Championships - Purple Belt Middleweight Gold



    1997

    CBJJ Mundial - Blue Belt Featherweight Bronze

    CBJJ Brazilian Championships - Blue Belt Absolute Champion

    Felipe Alves de Souza

    HEART OF THE LION - FELIPE ALVES DE SOUZA Words and photos by Seymour Yang Published in Martial Arts Illustrated, Jan 2010 Felipe Alves...

    PENNY THOMAS - THE JIU-JITSU GYMNAST

    Words by Seymour Yang, Photos by James Olouch-Olunya

    Published: Fighters Magazine, Dec 2009

    Penny Thomas is recognised as one of the world’s best female grapplers. She is a four-time Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu (BJJ) World Champion gold medallist, and the first person from Africa to become a BJJ black belt. Seymour Yang met up with Penny before her only UK seminar to talk about life, tournaments, and that all important question – would she ever wear a pink gi?




    Penny Thomas is sitting in a West London pub giggling at having scored yet another victory – a full refund for being served a limp and undercooked vegetarian meal that was ordered over an hour ago. Fresh from her success at winning a silver medal at the prestigious ADCC submission wrestling tournament in Barcelona, the four times Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu (BJJ) World Championship gold medal winner is clearly in the mood for a fight.



    Penny’s obvious good looks, easy-going personality and formidable competitive talents have made her a popular figure among BJJ followers. She is firmly established as one of only a handful of elite female grapplers, which include the likes of Hannette Staack (2009 ADCC champion), Kyra Gracie (three World BJJ titles), Leticia Ribeiro (five World BJJ titles) and Lana Stefanac (2009 World BJJ heavyweight and absolute champion).



    She is also the first person, male or female, from the African continent to have earned the rank of black belt in BJJ. But her ability to walk, let alone compete at the highest level, was nearly taken away from her by a serious spine injury.



    Breaking back

    “When I was five years old I started training in gymnastics everyday – at weekends, after school, it was my whole life. By the time I was 12 I was part of the junior Olympic team but then I developed a severe pain in my back. My coach suspected I was just using it as an excuse not to train and just told me to sort it out, so I tried physio and traction but I carried on training basically with a broken back for about nine months.”



    Penny finally had an X-ray that confirmed she needed urgent spinal fusion surgery, with the prognosis that she may never do sports again. One surgeon cheerily suggested that Penny could take up stamp collecting instead. Fortunately, Penny recovered well from surgery and returned to gymnastics but she never regained her early promise. Eventually she took up martial arts, spending time training in aikido and kickboxing.



    It was during one of her kickboxing classes in 2001 that Penny was introduced to grappling and specifically BJJ. She recalls the moment when two men in her gym were demonstrating their new found sport:



    “There was a guy called Micah Atkinson and he was rolling [sparring on the ground] with some other guys and the other kickboxers were looking on and saying how crazy and gay it all looked. So anyway a girl in my class really fancied the instructor but she didn’t want to go to the class on her own and begged me to come along with her. I did a couple of classes but I didn't like it at first because it was so frustrating with all the skinny guys getting me into chokes and locks, but soon I got the hang of it and started to really enjoy it. I even began tapping out these guys.”



    With a lack of formal BJJ schools or qualified instructors in South Africa, training relied solely on the dedication of Micah, his brother Ivan and a few keen enthusiasts - and a collection of Gracie instructional videos. Micah and Ivan eventually travelled to London to train with Royce Gracie and gained their blue belts before heading back to South Africa to establish an official BJJ club and kickstart the sport in South Africa.



    Penny progressed well in BJJ and competed at the prestigious BJJ World Championships, also known as the Mundials in BJJ's native Portuguese. Her dedication paid off with a gold medal in the womens blue belt division, and she repeated the success at purple belt - the next grade - the following year. But with success, came the realisation that she would have to leave South Africa in order to further her career in the sport.



    Leaving home



    “I was very much settled in South Africa with my job, my home, my long term partner but I said okay, let me just see, for six months, how I can do? So in 2006 I bought a ticket and did all the competitions in the States that I could for six months…and then I found Hawaii.”



    A trip to Hawaii left Penny falling in love with the island lifestyle. She also found a BJJ instructor, 5th degree black belt instructor Luis ‘Limao’ Heredia, who was able to give her the training she needed to achieve her goal of becoming a black belt.



    Under the tutelage of Heredia, Penny captured some of the most coveted titles in grappling, including gold at the ADCC, BJJ Mundials and Pan-American tournaments. But her best-remembered fight occurred at the Triple Crown grappling event in Oahu, Hawaii:



    “I had been training real hard for this tournament but there were no women for me to fight, so I begged them to let me in and compete against the men. I was a brown belt at the time and they said okay, but I would have to fight at my weight division, not a lighter division. My coach was saying like ‘Oh I don’t know Penny I really don’t know about this’ but I managed to win my first round against a guy. I didn’t quite submit him but I was way high up on points. It was a tough fight, he was a strong guy but I was so stoked when they raised my hand up at the end”





    Flexibility

    Most of the world’s best grapplers tend to favour a certain style of technique – some are defensive ‘guard’ players, some are much more attacking and prefer to aim for mount or back positions. Penny is her worst critic when it comes to her very passive, waiting style of grappling:



    “I’m very flexible so when people stack me, I can work these weird positions and I get a lot of triangle chokes because I am quite comfortable being upside down on my head. But I also get into bad positions a little more than I should. For example, in the Worlds last year against Ana Laura, I nearly got armbarred because I thought I could stretch my arms a little further than was possible."



    Her fight with Ana Laura Cordeiro was one of the highlights of the 2008 World BJJ Championships. After six minutes of a typically tight defensive game from Penny, Ana Laura’s constant attacking pays off - she frees Penny’s arm loose and extends it for an almost certain, match-winning, armbar lock. Penny twists and turns but Ana Laura tightens her grip and straightens the arm into a physically impossible angle. Penny refuses to ‘tap’ and somehow, on the brink of a potential broken arm, manages to escape and free herself. It’s a remarkable, if eye-watering, moment that had the crowd on their feet. Penny lost her final on points but not without showing what an incredibly tough competitor she is.





    Life for the full time athlete

    Since turning professional, Penny has worked hard to maintain the jiu-jitsu lifestyle. Holding down as many as four jobs at a time, she agrees that life is tough at times:



    “It is difficult. We don’t get much support, especially the girls. The contests that do pay us, only pay one eighth of what they pay the men, I mean it’s real hard. Sponsors are few and far between and even most of the men have to cross over to MMA to make any money. BJJ is really something you do not do for the financial rewards, you do it for the love.”



    MMA is certainly something that Penny has been considering. Events such as the UFC and Pride can offer rich rewards for those that are successful and interest in womens MMA is growing with the success of Cristiane ‘Cyborg’ Santos, Erin Toughill and Gina Carano. For now however, Penny is still keen to focus on her grappling career, and avenging her defeat to Hannette Staack in the final of this year’s ADCC tournament.



    “I was looking forward after this ADCC to taking a break from competing but now it’s like 'no way!' There is nothing like a big loss for someone as competitive as me to make them want to come back and train again.”



    During her semi-final ADCC match with the MMA cage-fighter Cristiane ‘Cyborg’ Santos Penny was surprised at how good her purple belt ranked opponent was both technically and physically:



    “Oh man, she is a tough and intimidating opponent. During the fight, she elbowed me in the face and was deducted a point, then she had a point taken away for a knee to my head… but I would definitely not walk around saying like ‘Yeah I won I’m so stoked’, oh no, it was more a case of ‘I survived’ that match!”



    “And with Hannette, she was just grinding [her fist and forearm] across my face so hard across my lips that my mouth was bleeding inside!”



    Naturally, it is no surprise to find that Penny is not one to offer small-talk to her rivals before a competition:



    “I don’t have a really aggressive game, I’m really passive and defensive, so if I’m gonna compete against someone, I don’t want to be friendly with them otherwise it would be more difficult for me to be mean when I am fighting.”





    Women’s image

    Now based in San Diego, Penny has witnessed the explosion of BJJ around the world and in particular, the rising number of women who take part in the sport. But it seems that women who compete at BJJ, MMA and grappling are still judged on their looks rather than their skills. One only has to perform a google search on Kyra Gracie or Gina Carano to see the type of comments they get. Penny offers her thoughts:



    “All those girls you mention are super talented. They’ve all got really good technique, all train really hard, they’re all dedicated to the sport, they get out onto the mats and a lot of guys couldn’t achieve what they have achieved so I would say they are great role models. It’s unfortunate we live in a society that judges on looks, but well, it’s the way of the world and girls in any sport have to deal with that. Maybe you just have to work with it to your advantage as much as you can, why not?”



    Would Penny want to have kids one day and if so, would she continue to compete and fight at tournaments?



    “Oh yeah definitely I want kids, I mean I’m already 30 so I can’t leave it too much longer, so yeah, gonna make me some jiu-jitsu warriors! And yes I definitely want to still compete after kids. I mean look at Luka Dias, Megaton’s wife. She’s an inspiration to me. I mean she’s what, 47, and she’s won the Pan Ams, she’s won the Worlds, she’s still out there competing I mean she’s incredible!



    I’ll be training forever! I’ll be doing jiu-jitsu when I’m old.”



    As our interview wraps up, we chat about how some women find the marketing of pink BJJ uniforms as a bit naff while others seem to love the ‘girly’ aspect. I ask her if she would ever wear a pink gi? Penny thinks for a second, perhaps contemplating sponsorship offers, and replies diplomatically,



    “Well I do have a red one, does that count?”



    ENDS 1,900 WORDS © COPYRIGHT 2009 SEYMOUR YANG

    Seymour Yang is a BJJ purple belt and writes the BJJ blog: www.meerkatsu.com



    Further information:



    Penny’s website: www.pennyfighting.com

    Penny Thomas

    PENNY THOMAS - THE JIU-JITSU GYMNAST Words by Seymour Yang, Photos by James Olouch-Olunya Published: Fighters Magazine, Dec 2009 Penny T...

    ANA MARIA 'INDIA' - THE INDIAN WARRIOR

    Words and photos by Seymour Yang

    Published in Martial Arts Illustrated, April 2010.

    Ana Maria 'India' is a Brazilian jiu-jitsu black belt with over a decade of tournament success both at grappling competitions and at mixed martial arts events. She recently shot to fame in her home country after an extended stint in the reality TV show No Limits. Seymour Yang went to meet Ana Maria at her first ever UK seminar in London, and discuss life as a full time athlete, TV fame, motherhood and what it's like to beat up guys everyday.


    Before the start of her seminar, Ana Maria 'India' paces nervously on the tatame floor and nibbles at her immaculately painted red nails. "I like funky music...in Brazil funky music is like jiu-jitsu...you know what I am saying?" She is explaining to me the theme of her seminar, and she clicks her fingers and dances, to further emphasize her point. Moments later, Ana Maria rugby tackles and arm-locks men twice her size. The Brazilian jiu-jitsu (BJJ) expert has just conducted her first ever visit to the UK with a rip-roaring BJJ seminar that showcased her own special brand of female-powered jiu-jitsu.

    Ana Maria (full name Ana Maria Gomes Soares) was born 31 years ago, in a small village in the Brazilian countryside. With her impressively athletic physique and long mane of jet black hair, she epitomises the image of the 'Amazonian' female. She was given the nick-name 'India' in reference to her penchant for Pocahantas style double plaits and wearing copiously large native jewellery. She is something of a rarity, even in her own country - a female BJJ black belt.

    Born on the mat?
    The widely held view is that most of Brazil’s elite BJJ practitioners were ‘born on the mat’, that they began their training at an extremely early age. But Ana Maria only began her BJJ journey at the age of 21, when she chanced upon a class by accident. She explains:

    "I was in university studying biomedicine and I used to train weights in the gym, but one day I saw a BJJ class. I was amazed to see the instructor rolling around and flipping people much bigger than himself. I thought WOW! If he can do it, I'm sure someone my size could as well, so I tried out a class and it was love at first sight!"

    Her own path to black belt has proved that not all top-level Brazilian competitors begin BJJ as toddlers. But it was a far from easy journey:

    "I trained four times a day everyday for the past ten years, I was very very determined and dedicated to be the best in the world. At that time there were no other girls around so I just trained with the guys."

    But not everyone in Ana Maria's life could understand her sudden new-found obsession. She recalls those early days:

    "I remember when I first began as a white belt, I would train everyday, and my father was very negative to me. He would ask me why do I bother since it would never get anywhere and I would never amount to anything in the sport."

    Ana Maria's intense dedication to her sport eventually paid off with a series of successful competition results, including one tournament where, in the purple belt division, she beat three men to reach the final of her weight category.

    "I remember I wanted to enter this competition but there were no girls to fight and I had to beg my coach to let me enter. I did enter and I won against three guys to get to the final and only lost on points. But I proved to myself and my coach that I had the technique and ability to do it."

    The late 1990s to early 2000s were a boom time for Brazilian jiu-jitsu. Around this time, academies were spreading fast throughout Brazil and the rest of the world was waking up to the sport of BJJ, thanks to the success of Royce Gracie and the Ultimate Fighting Challenge (UFC) in the early 1990s.

    For the first eight years of her BJJ career, Ana trained at one of the most prestigious academies in Rio - Brazilian Top Team (BTT). Run by legendary BJJ instructor and cagefighter Murilo Bustamante, Ana Maria was to gain her jiu-jitsu education from some of the most successful BJJ stars of the day.

    "I trained with people like Mario Sperry, Ricardo Arona, 'Minotauro' (Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira)...these people were the very best champions of that time."



    Heart-breaking decision
    Just as it seemed Ana Maria's jiu-jitsu career was taking off, she unexpectedly became pregnant.

    "When I fell pregnant, I carried on training until I was 6 months gone, and after giving birth to my daughter, I went back to full time training one month later."

    In the tough training and competitive environment that is BJJ in Brazil, it seemed that Ana Maria would have to face a harsh decision - whether to leave the academy to raise her child, and lose everything she worked so hard to build, or, somehow, find another way. It is perhaps a decision that many women the world over have had to face during their own working careers.

    "When my daughter was nine months old, I realised I could not look after her by myself and still maintain a jiu-jitsu career. The academy is not really a good place to take a small baby everyday, so I decided that my daughter was better off being raised by my parents."

    At this point Ana Maria breaks down in tears during our interview. It's a subject matter she has previously been unwilling to discuss, but decides to explain why she felt it was important to continue her BJJ career and sacrifice the precious time with her daughter.

    "It is not easy. I have lost friends because of how much jiu-jitsu takes out of my life. Yes, it is my job, my life, my passion but everything I do in jiu-jitsu now, I do it to make a better life for my daughter. My ambition is for us to eventually leave Brazil and for her to grow up in a country where she will have more opportunities in life.

    "I really want to be an example to her - that you really can achieve your dreams if you believe and work hard enough."



    Realisation of a dream
    In 2007 Ana Maria left BTT and joined the Checkmat BJJ Team run by nine times World BJJ Champion Ricardo 'Ricardinho' Vieira. She explains what it is like to train at her current academy:

    "'Ricardinho' is absolutely the most incredible instructor I have ever known. His jiu-jitsu is just beautiful. Checkmat is such an incredible place to train, the standard is so high because the team is full of world champions and yet everyone is so humble."

    During a live TV interview with Ana Maria, Vieira interrupted proceedings to present her with a black belt. It was the culmination of ten years of hard work but obviously took Ana Maria by complete surprise. The next few minutes of the interview showed an emotional Ana Maria sobbing wildly.



    Personal jiu-jitsu
    The years of hard training and tournament ups and downs have helped shape Ana Maria's personal take on jiu-jitsu. During the course of the UK seminar, she implores participants to always "move, move, move...never stop!"

    She explains a little more about her jiu-jitsu philosophy:

    "Jiu-jitsu is not about fighting strength against strength. It is all about movement and technique and using your intelligence. The way I play, I have to be two or three positions ahead. For example, if I am in your mount, I try to choke you using my arm, but actually I am not interested in the choke but in the way you defend yourself. I can anticipate how you would defend yourself from my attack and I take advantage of that. A lot of it is about faking the first move in order to get the second.

    "Another example is I get into position for the straight arm lock, but I am not interested in this submission. I am actually looking for the omoplata (bent arm and shoulder lock) and I know this will happen when you defend the arm lock. This is what works for me. I always train with guys who are bigger and much stronger than me so I have to use my intelligence."



    In the Cage
    The intricacies of fighting in a BJJ tournament are far removed from the brutality of a mixed martial arts (MMA) match. But it is not how Ana, with eight MMA fights under her belt, sees things:

    "The first time I saw my instructor, Murilo (Bustamante) fight I was like WOW I must do this...to me it is not fighting but an expression of movement, just like with tai-chi, taekwondo, capoeira or yoga...I just love the movement."

    With the rising interest in pay-per-view MMA events, more female athletes are entering the sport. Last year, Cris Cyborg and Gina Carano held the first women-only headline fight with a major MMA promotion. The public want to see more women in the sport and Ana Maria could be well placed to enter the big time.

    Is this something she is keen to be part of?

    "Oh yes! I definitely want to do more MMA fights. Actually 'Monstro' Thiago [instructor at the Diesel BJJ gym in Canary Wharf, London] is currently trying to find a fight for me in the UK soon. I can't wait!"



    TV Show
    In the summer of 2009, Ana shot to fame in her home country by participating in the country's biggest reality TV show, No Limits. Based on the US show Survivor, it placed 19 contestants on a remote beach location and set them tasks and challenges. Each week the public would vote to eliminate a player.

    Ana survived until the 52nd day (out of62 days) when she was finally voted out. Was she disappointed to have got so close to winning the show, and the coveted $260,000 prize?

    "I was not disappointed because it is the way God has decided. I entered the show because I wanted the challenge of all the games and tasks in the program. I had such an amazing time."

    The show proved to be a lucrative opening for Ana Maria. Straight after her exit, she was inundated with sponsorship offers and more TV work. But the fighter they call 'India' has currently only one thing on her mind - to win the prestigious 'Mundials' World BJJ Championships.

    The 'Mundials' is the biggest BJJ tournament in the world. Every elite jiu-jitsu grappler wants to win a title here. Last year, Ana competed in her first Mundials, but a passport problem led to her entering only at the last minute, where she would meet the multiple female world champion Hannette Staack. Ana lost on points but has vowed to return better prepared and determined to take gold.

    "I really really want that title. No one is going to take that away from me!"



    Future plans
    Ana Maria's success in the world of Brazilian jiu-jitsu is a testimony to her immense self-belief and determination. It seems her dream of one day living abroad alongside her now seven year old daughter is one step nearer to reality when she announces that she intends to make the UK her home.

    "Before I came here I thought who would want to learn from me? But after the incredible reception I have had since visiting here, I am really sure England is the place for me to make a new life," she says.

    The academy where Ana is teaching her UK seminar suddenly falls silent. She has just demonstrated a complex shoulder locking submission on her partner but he has yelled out in agony. Ana, bursts into fits of giggles as she apologises to him and the seminar continues once he reassures everyone that he is okay. For the students watching and participating, the incident is a prime example that a smaller, lighter person can use jiu-jitsu to beat a larger, stronger opponent.

    After the seminar, Ana Maria inspects her nails again. She frowns when she sees one of them is broken, but bursts into more laughter and, as the students file out into the cold February evening, I am certain I can hear some ‘funky’ Brazilian music in the distance.

    ENDS 2,000 WORDS

    WRITTEN BY SEYMOUR YANG © COPYRIGHT 2010

    Seymour Yang is a writer and photographer who trains at the Mill Hill Roger Gracie BJJ Academy in London.



    Additional information:

    1. Ana Maria ‘India’ Tournament highlights:

    2 x champion CBJJ Brazilian Nationals

    Gold CBJJO world cup

    Gold CBJJE Pan Americans

    Silver CBJJE world championship

    Gold international grappling competition

    Bronze CBJJ world championship 2009

    8 x champion of a Bahia competition division and open weight.

    Gold north - north east division and open weight.

    8 fights in MMA

    Ana Maria India

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