TXMMA – Texas Mixed Martial Arts

Ladies First! The BJJ Renaissance and the Growth of Women’s Jiu-Jitsu in Texas

(Cover and additional photos by Danny Nguyen, ssanceman.com)

The roots of Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu reside in the early 1900’s when Count Koma brought the martial art to Brazil through the Gracie family. It saw its first renaissance period in the early 1990’s when Gracie Family’s Royce Gracie represented Jiu-Jitsu in the very first Ultimate Fighting Championships and the world started taking notice of the art. Now, at this very moment, Jiu-Jitsu is undergoing transformation, rolling into another renaissance period here in the United States, spurned by a larger segment of the population taking interest in the gentle art.

One need not look further than women Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu competitors  in Texas as a testament to the ascending growth of BJJ.

Starting a few short years ago, women in Texas (and everywhere) began opening up to the idea of training in Jiu-Jitsu for many reasons. Whether it was for fitness; exercise; self-defense; stress relief; or as a transition from more traditional forms of martial arts, Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu enrollment for women has increased despite the fact that it is a traditionally male-dominated sport. There are a myriad of other reasons women train but the gist of it is simple: Jiu-Jitsu was tailor-made for females. After all, the fundamental basis of BJJ allow for smaller, weaker persons to protect themselves against larger attackers. From a self-defense perspective, women are much less likely to be caught up in a bar-fight type of wild, punching situation as they are to be grabbed/sexually-assaulted. In these situations, the reflexes and instinctual reactions taught by BJJ are the perfect complement to staying or getting safe. Beyond those practical reasons, women in Texas have enjoyed BJJ for a more fun reason recently with the rise of tournaments as a means for them to test, and showcase, their skills through competitive situations with other females.

Women's Jiu-Jitsu Championship

Recently, tournaments in the state of Texas have seen a large uptick in the amount of women entering competitions and that number continues to grow.  Just these past two months, F2W/WGC’s Tournament of Champions VII and the IBJJF Houston Open both showcased a healthy dose of female BJJ competition, and that’s been a growing trend. An event greater indicator still is the fact that Texas held its first all-female tournament this past year with the Women’s Jiu-jItsu Championship put on Frisco by Zebra Tournament Systems of Texas and Fenom Kimonos, an event which had a great turnout and expected to draw even more competitors in 2011.

Also, what we are now seeing as a by-product of BJJ’s growth amongst the states’ females is the formation of an even tighter-knit group of women looking to improve upon their skills. Passion Is contagious. With that, groups like Girls in Gi’s continue to meet, share knowledge, and cultivate camaraderie, the natural result will be an increase in both skill and competition. That will be evident in years ahead as these ladies make noise nationally at competitions like the aforementioned Mundials and Pan-Am’s.

All in all, Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu fans can be certain of a bright future ahead as the sport continues in its upward ascent here in Texas, around the nation, and all over the globe. Based on what has been seen recently, one can expect women to spearhead that growth.

Read on to for some of Texas’ female Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu practitioners’ thoughts on why they started BJJ, what they love about training, and what they see as the future in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu for women.
  • Danielle Alvarez, Alvarez BJJ (training time: 1 year)
  • Lora Hallock, Paragon Academy (training time: 3 years)
  • Lana Hunter, BJJ Revolution (training time: 2.5 years)
  • Georgette Oden, Relson Gracie BJJ (training time: 2.5 years)
  • Triin Seppel, Carlos Machado (training time: 3 years)
  • Tessa Simpson, Randy Palmer’s South Austin Gym (training time: 7 years)
  • Kristin Sommer, Gracie Barra Texas (training time: 2 years)
  • Carmen Vardeman, Sugarland MMA (training time: 1 year)
  • Ashley Wade, Nova Uniao (training time: 6-months)

Why did you start training in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu?

Danielle Alvarez at F2W/WGC Tourney

It was not an option for me to begin training BJJ. After an incident with friends my freshman year in high school, my dad didn’t give me a choice. For awhile, I was against the whole idea, but now it has become the best thing in my life and I thank my dad for giving me the opportunity. – Danielle Alvarez

I decided to train BJJ for self defense. I first began by going to a rape prevention seminar that Aurelio Gallegos Jr., my coach now, hosted at Paragon.Lora Hallock

I took a grappling class and really enjoyed it. Then I thought I wanted to do MMA and began taking jiu-jitsu classes to supplement my stand-up. Along the way, I fell in love with jiu-jitsu and ended up devoting all my time to training just jiu-jitsu. Lana Hunter

I started off by training in another martial art called kajukenbo. It has its roots in Hawaii and was the combination of several other arts– Karate, Judo, Ju Jutsu, Kenpo, and Chinese Boxing/Kung Fu. When we got to the Ju Jutsu and Judo parts of the curriculum, I fell in love. I don’t like to be punched or kicked, wasn’t motivated by forms and kata, but loved the aliveness of the sparring and the strategy involved in groundfighting. Pretty soon it was apparent to me that every moment I was training kajukenbo was a moment I could be spending grappling instead. My instructor Robert Reed honored my passion for grappling by introducing me to Tom Krausz, who is a kickboxer and grappler. Tom rolled no-gi with me for a while and encouraged me to train BJJ. I haven’t looked back. – Georgette Oden

Girls in Gis

I played a bunch of sports growing up in Guam, and at the time, I was actually on a paddling team training to compete. My older brother just started jiu-jitsu and I went with him to hang out one day. I asked the instructor if I could try and walked on the mats with jean shorts and a tank top. I guess I was hooked after that. I would sometimes go straight from the beach onto the mats. Tessa Simpson

A good friend introduced me to BJJ and I trained informally out of my garage for about a year before attending a real class. Prior to joining a real school, I didn’t have much grappling time because there was simply no one to grapple with. I was amazed at how the basic principles carried over from drilling to live rolling. After a few live sparring sessions, I was absolutely hooked.Triin Seppel

I began to train in BJJ to increase my knowledge of martial arts and to improve my self-defense skill set. I started in the grappling arts when I realized that most real life fights go to the ground and that having only striking and throwing skills is not enough for self-defense. Kristin Sommer

I have always been in Martial Arts since I was about 6 years old but as I got older I wanted something more realistic than what I was doing. I figured BJJ would be the perfect choice. Carmen Vardeman

I wanted to learn self-defense and get in better shape. Ashley Wade

What do you love about Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu?

Jiu-Jitsu has been life changing for me. It has become more like a lifestyle. Jiu-jitsu has already, in two short years, taught me incredible life lessons. I have so much fun out of the mat and I love competing. I have met so many great people through the sport and most of all I love that I get to enjoy all of it with my black belt father. We have so fun and have a great passion for what we do. – Danielle Alvarez

Sue Ausman at F2W/WGC Tourney

I love the sport because it makes me feel empowered. The sport has kept me in shape. I have never been in better shape than I am now. I am passionate about training and competing because BJJ has been extremely beneficial in my life. The sport has given me a reason to eat healthy and stay fit so I can get the most out of training.Lora Hallock

Jiu-jitsu has me hooked because of its complexity as an art and the challenge that comes with learning it. I really enjoy the competition aspect of jiu-jitsu and I am definitely a submission hunter! I just think the art forces you to think creatively, tests your perseverance, in other words mental toughness and challenges you physically! It is truly a lifestyle that promotes healthier living, physically and mentally. I find myself comparing many life situations to the jiu-jitsu journey! Lana Hunter

I proselytize the great gospel of jiu jitsu all the time, everywhere, to most everyone I meet. Please check out my blog for all the reasons of why I think everyone should train BJJ. – Georgette Oden

Since I’m not a frequent competitor, I’m not sure BJJ is a sport to me. I enjoy the martial art aspect of BJJ. The personal growth I’ve experienced in the short time I’ve been training can’t be obtained anywhere else. Getting smashed by women and men has a funny way of deepening one’s humility! Above all I cherish the relationships. I’ve made some really good friends on the mat. Triin Seppel

Ashley Nguyen, Girls in Gi's

For many reasons. It’s so challenging that it keeps the mind and body active. You never stop learning.Tessa Simpson

I love BJJ because it’s always fresh. Not only is there so much to learn, practice and refine, but every person you roll with presents different challenges for you. I love the sport of BJJ because I like to compete and challenge myself.Kristin Sommer

I love the sport because you always learn something new, it’s never the same. I love a good challenge and that’s what this sport brings to me.Carmen Vardeman

It has made me mentally and physically stronger. I love pushing myself and competition pushes me to my limits.Ashley Wade

How many women do you get to train with on a regular basis?

Georgette Oden at IBJJF Houston Open

We have about three other women that train at my academy. However, I usually train with one of them consistently on a week-to-week basis. – Danielle Alvarez

The majority of my training partners are males. Women are scarce in the sport which can make it difficult sometimes. However, I feel that regularly training with men makes me a stronger opponent against females. I am the fighter I am today because of my coach and teammates that are males at Paragon BJJ. – Lora Hallock

I train with only one other girl regularly! I am fortunate that we have the Girls in Gi’s program which gets women all over Texas together once a month to train and help each other out.Lana Hunter

I train seven days a week, often twice-a-day, sometimes three-times-a-day. I train with Christy, Shama, Courtney, and Rebecca regularly (couple times a week) and I see a few other girls (Jackie, Christine, Dominique) at least once a week. Once a month there’s Girls in Gi’s too, a facebook group of women who meet all around Texas for some non-denominational training, sparring and camaraderie. – Georgette Oden

Lana Hunter, WJJC 2010

I train with several girls on a regular basis. Kristine Felts, Sue Ausman, Meshel Bridges and Kathy Brothers are the women I train with frequently. Coordinating schedules can be difficult so “regular basis” may be an overstatement. We get together whenever time permits and we see each other at local women’s mats hosted by Travis Lutter, Paul Halme, Genesis Jiu-Jitsu and Stephen Hall.Triin Seppel

Hard to say. I have about a handful on my team, but most are still fairly new to the sport.Tessa Simpson

I train regularly with five girls at Draculino’s. It’s important for competitions for me to have girls to train with. Training with men is definitely beneficial, but because women’s bodies are shaped differently (even if they weigh the same as the dude) and move differently, I feel lucky to have girls in the academy who can also push me.Kristin Sommer

I don’t get to train with girls that much, two to three the most. – Carmen Vardeman

I train with usually anywhere from two to seven, depending on the day.Ashley Wade

What do you see as the future for Women’s BJJ in Texas?

The Future of BJJ

I would love to see women’s BJJ grow tremendously in Texas and all over the country. I would like to see the brackets at tournaments to be as packed as the guys divisions one day. I have a feeling it will happen because more women are starting to get involved in the jiu-jitsu community. – Danielle Alvarez

In the short time that I have been competing I have seen a tremendous growth in women’s BJJ in Texas. I expect to see more growth in women’s BJJ in Texas. Lora Hallock

It is rapidly growing and I see more women joining since I’ve first started. There are also so many more female-specific Gi companies like Fenom Kimonos that have really done a lot to generate support and interest in the female jiu-jitsu community by hosting seminars for women and creating the first female only jiu-jitsu tournament in Texas! Lana Hunter

It’s only going to grow and become more popular. I think women have a unique niche in sport jiu-jitsu because we’re the bigger area for growth. Guys already usually think it’s cool, but women might not, until they see that other women are getting involved and enjoying it yet retaining their femininity. There’s more growth potential for women, in other words. We need to get more young ladies involved. Don’t teach our little girls that they are limited to tea parties, gymnastics, ballet and soccer… include wrestling and grappling as options. Encourage empowerment at a young age and you’ll have better grades, better social relationships, safer interactions with a dangerous world, less sexual and emotional manipulation… the list goes on and on.

Little Girls in Gi's

The more women get out there and compete, the better it is for us all. I hope someday we’ll have just as many women competing as purples and browns as there are at blue and white. Such a shame that once you hit purple, you pretty much have to travel out of state to get tournament matches.

We need to attract more sponsorship opportunities for women as well– training and competing at a national and international level demands a huge commitment of time and money, and more visibility for the great up-and-coming women in this sport will make it mutually beneficial for companies to invest their resources in our development and progression. As long as we can continue to cross party lines and find likeminded women to train with, we’ll continue to foster these bonds of friendship and collegiality that will endure from white and blue all the way through black and beyond. What a beautiful thing! – Georgette Oden

I see three major things happening for women’s BJJ in Texas and beyond:

Growth — as more and more women become exposed to other women training, we’ll continue to see the numbers grow. I think just in the last 12 months we’ve seen an explosion everywhere.

Increased Skill – as more women begin to train, the opportunity for women to roll full speed will become a regular thing. With a room full of men, it’s typical to be ‘babied’ so no one gets hurt. Put two women of the same weight together and they will take each other’s heads off. A perfect example was the first Women’s Jiu-Jitsu Championship held last year… these women meant business!

Close Community — you can see it all over the internet. Women’s open mats are getting bigger and bigger. When Fenom Kimonos first got involved with coordinating and sponsoring open mats, there would be 10 women tops. Now we’re seeing around 50 women at events such as the recent open mat hosted by Nova Uniao. As these events grow, the friendships will grow. Triin Seppel

It seems like its steadily growing. When these kids get older, we’re going to have some tough girls on the mats that have been training at such a young age and are used to competing with the boys.Tessa Simpson

Georgette Oden

I have already seen women’s BJJ grow in the state of TX and I would love to see more women training and competing in BJJ. I would love to get the word out that the best self-defense martial art system for women is BJJ. But the biggest key for future growth is getting young girls involved. Hopefully, by setting the example, I can encourage more young girls and women to train in BJJ.Kristin Sommer

I hope to see more of it and it will give women a huge ego boost just to know they can defend themselves if needed. Plus it’s a good workout!Carmen Vardeman

It will become as big as men’s BJJ. More ladies will use it for self-defense.Ashley Wade

Anything else you’d like to share with our readers?

I am hoping and looking forward to doing big things this 2011 season and I couldn’t be more excited! Thanks for your time and the opportunity! – Danielle Alvarez

Ashley Wade

I would like to thank all the women that have stepped up and competed. I love to see new faces at competitions and hope to more and more in the future. Lora Hallock

I would like to thank my close friends and training partners for being great examples to follow, and the BJJ community around the world for embracing Fenom Kimonos. Powered by She! Triin Seppel

BJJ is a great sport, martial art, and hobby for women, but keep in mind that we are not built like men. Women need to focus on strength training to prevent injuries. If you have something bothering you, stay off the mats and let it heal.Tessa Simpson

I was really excited winning my Absolute match at the IBJJF Houston Open. It was my first Absolute match in IBJJF competition. I’m now preparing for Gi Pan-Ams where I’ll be competing in both my division (Pluma=Light Feather) and Absolute. – Kristin Sommer

I hope people realize that women are in this sport as well and can kick ass just as good as men can! My uncle was the first to mention the sport to me because he has been doing this for years and I’m very thankful that he opened my eyes to it. I would have regretted not listening to him.Carmen Vardeman

I am striving to be world champion at every belt with the help of my Team Lutter/Nova Uniao family. – Ashley Wade

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