If you are a female BJJ practitioner looking for a camp in which you will receive some excellent training from the top not black belts you need look no further than the Grapplin’ Gals camps Sonia Sillan and her Partner Jamel (Jei) Kennedy put together. Champions such as Mackenzie Dern & Hannette Staack can teach are just a few you to name that teach ladies who really want to get their roll on the most unintimidating environment. Sillan personally believes that “although women can get fantastic training from rolling with guys, it's a completely different experience to be able to roll at the same intensity as other females. As a new jiu-jitsu player, instead of spending an eternity focusing on survival, you can actually play and evolve your game; you can really figure out what works and you have a technique down when you are matched equally with an opponent of your size and build.”
Sonia and Jei
Sonia Sillan started training BJJ in June of 2009 one year after having reconstructive hip surgery. She was diagnosed with congenital hip dysplasia (shallow hip sockets) at 20 but continues in her BJJ pursuits and on a very definite path. When Sillan started BJJ, she was hooked, but her body did not move the way she needed it to. She was one of two girls that trained consistently at her gym. Drilling caused no discomfort, the sparring did. She was constantly smashed or because people were aware of the surgery they didn’t give her a real challenge on the mats. Eventually Sillan entered her first official tournament, as a blue belt, with only an in-house tournament under her belt in 2011. She experienced what most girls experienced their first time competing, she lost. Sillan’s loss came at the hands of her now teammate Amanda Loewen, and one of Oregon's first female black belts. The loss brought the realization to Sillan that women don't get enough realistic training experiences and thus the concept for the first Grapplin' Gals Open Mat was born.
The first GGs happened in 2012 when Sillan and partner Jamel (Jei) Kennedy were starting their own gym Straight Blast Gym of Seattle. They brought GGs along in order to mold it into exactly what they envisioned it to be. GGs moved from small open mats to full blown training camps. The goal has always been the same. On the website the following statement still holds true http://ggbjj.com/: "Our focus is on increasing the standard of jiu-jitsu techniques for women training in the Pacific Northwest. Although BJJ isn't as popular here in the PNW [it's definitely growing], it is still home to some of the toughest and most hardworking women in the sport. We aim to support the growth and progress in women's BJJ locally and nationally." After experiencing difficulties in training, and in competition, Sillan wanted to provide an environment for women to be able to come together and just train – learn, roll, laugh, have fun, figure out how to keep hair in line.
The candidness of Sillan endears one to the struggles of the BJJ woman seeking to create her ideal training environment. “To be completely honest, running our gym has put some road blocks in GGs because I haven't been able to put as much time and effort into it as I would like to, but the camps make everything work. It's amazing seeing all these ladies come together to train, to build connections, to see incredible camaraderie. Being an unaffiliated organization has been absolutely incredible as well; although the camps are being held at SBG Seattle, I feel like the BJJ community has grown.” The 2012 opening of SBG Seattle came with a surprising lack of support for Sillan and Kennedy. Initially they had some hiccups, because departing from their previous gym to start anew involved a great deal of turmoil and underlying politics. Some colleagues have remained since the change and some have not however, just like anything in life everything has a reason and a season. Now that people are recognizing SBG Seattle as a legitimate venture with knowledgeable owners/coaches instead of medal chasers or scam artists things have gotten easier. Sillan’s current successes have not come without some MAJOR sacrifices, “we were almost one Safeway stop away from the baby aisle, stocking up on baby wipes and doing our field baths the way the military does. It’s been an interesting ordeal, but as we grow as a gym, Grapplin’ Gals grows.”
Today, I’m reviewing the Submission FC Ranked rash guard; on their site, they note it’s made from “Recycled Polyester / Spandex blend” and is priced at $64.99.
Look: Upon opening the package and examining the rashie, I was immediately drawn to the design. The logo is featured prominently across the chest and again, much larger, down the center of the back. On top of that, the logo is also found throughout the product in a much smaller, nearly invisible font. Overall, it’s clean and understated. If you’re into large type-face and a clean design, you might like this.
From the site, Submission FC notes a “tear-away tag” – I noticed the tag to be overly large and made from what I can assume is some sort of recycled wood-pulp material. It was extra thin and looks very unique to this product. It lay well against the skin while I was wearing it and found no need to tear it away.
Craftsmanship: Out of the bag, I noticed some seams that weren’t lined up as well as some blue spotting along a couple of seam lines. I believe the latter may be a result of the sublimation process and found it to only affect aesthetics. However, one white thread actually came off at examination and, after only one roll – not one night of rolling, but the first roll of the evening – a long thread came loose from the seam and hung from the end of the sleeve. After one wash, it didn’t get any worse; I was able to cut the blown seam from the rash guard and continue unimpeded. That said, I was very disappointed with the overall craftsmanship of this product and hoped it would have been produced to higher standards.
Feel: I’m 5’7”, 170 lbs without the gi and asked for a medium. Pulling it over my head, I found it to be of a comfortable cut and provided the range of motion needed for training. Compared to some of my other rash guards, Submission FC’s felt thinner and breathed better while providing a similar level of comfort. Overall, I try to avoid long-sleeve rashies because I don’t like the lack of breathability that comes with them, but this was actually a pleasure to wear. As advertised, the product is extra-long and I had no issues with ride up during training.
Care: I tossed this rash guard in with the rest of my usual Jiu-Jitsu laundry and it was none the worse for wear. It suffered little to no shrink and, because the logos are sublimated, there was no design flake to speak of. However, the next time I wore the product, I noted a bit of scratch around the neck and wonder if this could be a sign of things to come based on the craftsmanship issues mentioned earlier.
Overall: If it weren’t for the poor craftsmanship of this rash guard, I would have no issue with it. It wears comfortably, is cut well and doesn’t shrink in the wash; the extra-long length doesn’t ride up after intense drilling and it is of a neat and clean design.
That said, craftsmanship is one of the most important aspects of purchasing any product and I wouldn’t recommend putting 65 hard-earned dollars down just to have seam issues the first time you wear your new rash guard. If Submission FC can get past these issues, fix their seams and ensure each product shipped is of the highest caliber, I can see this becoming a regular rash guard in my rotation.
Returning to BJJ gave Arnold the skills to overcome debilitating fear. She came back to her roots, her second family, BJJ.
Trigger Warning: Descriptions of Domestic Violence
Psalms 18:48 He delivereth me from mine enemies: yea, thou liftest me up above those that rise up against me: thou hast delivered me from the violent man.
In March 2013 Shary Arnold took her first step in her BJJ journey at Global MMA Academy under 2nd Degree Black Belt Beto Nunes. Unfortunately, Arnold’s steps (like so many) were previously impeded. She wasn’t able to resume her training until 10 years after her initial taste. Work, kids, and life in general become a priority that takes precedence over all things. Arnold’s derailment was much darker. In 2004, her spouse returned home from a one year deployment in Iraq. Arnold had knee surgery immediately after his return. Instead of going home to recover she was brutally sexually assaulted upon her arrival. That day marked the beginning of a six year nightmare.
BJJ Legends: Tell me about yourself, where you are from, if you have siblings. Tell me about your parents, elementary, middle, and high school.
Shary Arnold: My name is Shary and I was born in San Jose, California, grew up in Port Orchard, Washington until I joined the Army after high school. My mom, step dad and twin sister live in Washington and my real dad and his side of the family mostly live near San Jose, California. My mom and step dad moved us to WA when I was 7. I went to Burley Glenwood Elementary, Cedar Heights Junior High and graduated from South Kitsap High School. I played sports starting young. Began with soccer and then started playing basketball in 3rd grade until 11th. I was in a serious car accident when I was 16. My twin sister suffered the brunt of the injuries physically, but the accident left me with lingering hip damage as well as suffering from PTSD, nightmares and flashbacks.
BJJL: Tell me about life post-secondary.
Shary: I joined the army when I was 18 and was stationed at Fort Lewis, Washington. Got pregnant and then married shortly after I turned 19. Followed a marriage from Washington to North Carolina to Alaska and eventually to Florida. More than 6 years of our 8 year marriage was severe physical, mental, emotional and sexual abuse. I spent most of my 20s living a double life, away from family and friends who didn’t really know what was going on.
BJJL: How did you meet your husband?
Shary: I met my (now ex) husband at Fort Lewis, Washington while we were both stationed there in the Army. A mutual friend introduced us to each other.
BJJL: When was the first time you saw his temper? Did it involve violence?
Shary: I remember the first time I saw his temper was soon after we started dating. He had locked his keys (and mine) in his car. He was yelling and irate and went to find a rock to bust out the windows. I had to calm him down and tell him we should just call the locksmith. There were several fights (without physical abuse) before he deployed to Iraq in 2003. I was pregnant with our oldest, my daughter Kaitlyn. He was aggressive and very verbal at that point and also showed signs of suicidal tendencies. He had told me about the abuse he was raised seeing, with his dad severely abusing his mom over many years. He also had been sent to an anger management treatment facility in his teenage years.
BJJL: Do you recall the worst incident related to the abuse?
Shary: There were so many incidents that i can recall. I can't narrow one down to say it’s the worst. He raped me and beat me, many times in front of my children. There was one time, it was morning and I was getting ready for work. We got into a fight and he started choking me. He shoved my face against the ground. I couldn’t breathe and I was about to pass out. The fight eventually ended but not without leaving my eye filled with blood. The pressure of choking me caused my blood vessels to pop inside my eye. I had to go to work like that and remember making up yet another excuse as to why I had bruises and now a blood filled eye.
There were so many injuries but thankfully never any broken bones. He ruptured my ear drum one time, many black eyes, bruised limbs, cuts. He hit me with a dinner plate that broke and the glass cut into my stomach.
BJJL: How did your friends and family react to how you were treated?
Shary: For many years, I didn't let anyone know. We had moved to Alaska in 2004 and I got pregnant with my son, Jakob. After the birth, my sister flew up to help babysit so that I could go back to work. We had been fighting and I was in the basement when he beat me. My sister came down the stairs and saw me on the floor. But like I had done so many times before, I defended him when she was telling me I needed to leave. My sister ended up leaving the house and wouldn’t talk to me. It wasn't until around July 2007 that his abuse led him to be arrested. It was a span over a couple of days, and a lot of it is a blur to me. But what I remember being in a lot of pain, he had choked me, beat me and I remember my muscles being so sore it felt like I was in a bad car accident. I think it was on a Saturday that I had enough and I swallowed some pills, not in an attempt to kill myself, but to stop the pain. He grabbed the bottle and held me down forcing me to swallow the rest. I remember at that point i had my cell phone under a pillow and I dialed one of my friends. She could hear the yelling and she called police. My mom flew to Alaska and helped watch the kids while I was taken to the hospital and given time to heal. She eventually took them with her to Washington for 3 months.
Currently however, I do not have a relationship with my mom, twin sister or step dad. They, for unknown reasons to me, have maintained a relationship with my ex-husband, even after he fully admitted to everything he has done. They had no regard for my safety and feelings in the situation, so I made the choice to take them out of my life.
Anyone who did not support me or provide safety and positivity, has been removed from my life.
BJJL: At what point did you start feeling it was time to walk away?
Shary: In September 2010, we had been in a fight in the kitchen. He tried to stab me but missed. He ended up grabbing my hair and dragging me to the bedroom in front of the kids. I was yelling for my daughter to find my phone and call 911. When he realized I had taught her how to call for help he started yelling at her and calling her names. He trapped me in the bedroom until he yelled at her enough and scared her into a ball on the couch. He then beat and raped me to the point I couldn’t move. After he was done all I could hear was yelling. She told me that he grabbed her by the arms and put her on the kitchen counter. I could hear him calling her a traitor and telling her if he goes to jail it’s her and my fault. It was at that point I knew I needed to get out. October 10, 2010, I told him I wanted a divorce. He wouldn’t let me out of the bedroom and finally when he did he loaded the shotgun and put it in his mount, in front of me and the kids. The police came and escorted him out.
Up until that time, when we lived in Alaska and he had mentioned possibly moving to Florida, I immediately started thinking about ways to leave. Living in Alaska made it hard to get away. Financially I would have never been able to make it. I had no support or a means to get away. But the possibility of living in Florida and the research I had started doing about the laws for divorce and I knew I could do it. So the move to Florida was a huge role in my game plan to leave.
BJJL: Were children involved in any of the abuse?
Shary: They mostly witnessed much of the abuse but there were many times his violence endangered them as well. There was one time we were at the mall and he said he wanted to get fast food. I said we should just go home, save the money and I would make lunch. He threw a fit. As soon as we got into the car he was punching the dash board. He punched the gear shifter and broke it off. Then as we were driving, he kicked the gas pedal and broke it off too. He ran two red lights and was driving erratically. I was terrified. And the kids were screaming. He was very verbally and I’d say emotionally abusive to them as well. He would yell and call them names when they wouldn’t do something right and I remember spending a lot of time after I left him, helping my daughter try to get past the complex he gave her. She lacked a lot of confidence because of how he treated her.
BJJL: What gave you the courage to not look back?
Shary: I finally hit a point where I didn't care where the kids and I were going to live, whether it was a car or cardboard box. I had been starting to train for a triathlon, mostly because if I wasn’t home, I wasn’t getting hurt. I think the time I spent swimming, biking and running gave me time to think and process things. I leaned on a few close friends who I told everything that was going on. I even wrote a letter to one of them before the day I left. (I will share it with you, because it has a lot of the whole story) All those years, he would tell me I would never make it without him. But I got to the point that once he went after my daughter the way he did, I knew I had to get us out of there and I would find a way. The day after he was escorted by police, and the weeks that followed, I started to feel life in my soul. The support I had from my work and close friends was unbelievable. And it gave me the strength to keep pushing forward. I’ve spent a long time reflecting and reading self-improvement books. I also was in counseling for many years during the marriage and after.
BJJL: When did you start BJJ? Who do you train w/both school and Professor?
Shary: I started training BJJ in March 2013 at Global Mixed Martial Arts Academy under Professor Beto Nunes. And starting September 2014 I transferred to Samsara Martial Arts under Rinaldo Santos (Under Carlson Gracie). Dylan Moquin and Jon Gold have become our academy’s main instructors on the days that Professor Rinaldo is at his home academy in Orlando, FL.
BJJL: How long have you trained there? What belt level are you?
Shary: Samsara Martial Arts Academy is recently new, opening up officially in August of this year. So I have been with them full time since their doors opened. I just got 2 stripes a week ago, so now I am a 4 stripe white belt. My progression has been up and down because of injuries. I have dealt with joint issues and hyper lax (super stretchy) ligaments that make it easy for my joints to dislocate, keeping me off the mats way more than I would like.
BJJL: Do you compete, if so, please tell me about it
Shary: My first tournament was in December 2013. I remember the anxiety I had going in there. Wanting to prove something. I had won gi and no gi in my division. But the weight class above mine only had one lady and she needed someone to fight so I said of course I'll do it. She had almost 50 lbs. on me at the time. She won by points in no gi. But when we got to the gi match, I was winning by points. I remember her getting to side control and smashing her weight on my chest. I couldn’t breathe. I caught a glimpse of the clock and saw there was a minute and 20 seconds left. Not being able to breathe is a trigger for me. All of the times my ex-husband would choke me I panicked. Every time. But at this moment in the match, I felt that panic and shut it down. I relaxed. I held on and when I heard the buzzer go off and I had won, I was overcome with so many emotions. No one around me had any idea why I was crying, and I don’t even know if they noticed. But for me, it was huge. I overcame that fear at that moment and that match will always be in my heart.
BJJL: Fondest memory so far since you started BJJ.
Shary: There are so many memories from BJJ that are fond to me. I have traveled all over Florida to train at any school I can. The friends that I have met are more than my friends, they are the family I never had. Having a place that I belong means the world to me. Overall, when I think back and reflect on Jiu-Jitsu, the opportunities that have opened up, and just the way my life has been affected by it, I get really emotional. It means a lot to me and I can see the progress that I’ve made mentally and emotionally as well as physically. Having the outlet has helped me with stress more than any medication the doctor has tried to prescribe to me. On top of working full time and raising 2 kids on my own, I also take 10 credit hours at the local community college. School is a major struggle in my life. But the mental aspect of Jiu-Jitsu has helped me push through the hard times that I feel during school and I know taking an hour or 2 to train will help clear my mind and I can attack anything else I set my mind to.
BJJL: With your past being so traumatic, how has BJJ helped you cope?
Shary: BJJ has helped me cope in so many ways. The triggers of being choked, not being able to breathe, feeling all that weight on your body and not able to move, I have been able to shut that fear down. It doesn’t control me or cause me to lose focus in my grappling. If anything, it feeds my fire.
BJJL: Are there times that BJJ triggers anything related to your past trauma?
Shary: All the time. My ex-husband was a big guy. 350 lbs. at 6'3''. That weight on top of my body was paralyzing. I would fight back for hours but eventually had no energy to fight against him. In BJJ, we grapple all different sizes and weights. It’s tough sometimes. The choking and panic feeling when you can’t breathe is something most people have to get used to when they start BJJ. But for me, it’s not a new feeling. But I've learned how to react to it. In BJJ, it’s also different because you can TAP and be released. Dealing with triggers is all about how you react and think about what feelings its causing. I have spent years processing my feelings and triggers are inevitable. I never know when something is going to trigger bad memories or feelings. Having a good mindset to begin with has helped me heal. Talking about it and getting the feelings off my chest have helped a lot too.
BJJL: When was the first time you knew everything was not only going to be ok for you but better than ok?
Shary: I don’t remember the exact moment that it all came clear to me, but I remember that first week after I left, I had never felt more alive. It’s been 4 years and every day gets better and better. I am an emotional person, so I cry a lot when I have that sense of gratitude and appreciation for my life. Everything smells good, the air feels good to breathe in. Having freedom and having my kids who are happier and healthier now is the best feeling in the world.
BJJL: Tell me how you feel today?
Shary: Today, I feel an amazingly overwhelming appreciation for life. I have recently had some incredible people enter my life because of Jiu-Jitsu and because of the contest held by Girls in Gis. I feel strong and determined to succeed. I have so many plans for my life and my future only seems to get bigger, brighter and happier.
BJJL: How has BJJ changed your life for the better?
Shary: I can't see my life without BJJ. BJJ has taught me how to push through mental barriers. It’s taught me how to make mistakes and then learn from them. The friends I've made have been the best part of my Jiu-Jitsu journey so far. Training gives me a purpose and a challenge. I remember my first day in class, I was so nervous. I didn't want to suck! But I knew I would because I was new, shy and clueless. But I was a parent first, I had my kids training in BJJ for a few months, so I already had some friends that trained too. That helped a lot with my first day jitters. After that first day, the fire in my soul was lit. When I am injured and unable to train, it’s hard emotionally for me. I want to be on those mats. I want to be around the people that push me and also make me laugh. Its home to me.
BJJL: If you could go back and changed things, would you?
Shary: There are so many times I wish I could go back and change it. I think more so because of my kids. What I went through was terrible, but it’s made me who I am today. Strong. Driven. And I now have appreciation for life that I wish other people could feel. It’s amazing to wake up in the morning and have another day to work towards my dreams.
“Use the darkness of your past to propel you to a brighter future.” -Donata Joseph
Anthem Athletics rashguard is a great light weight rash guard -- if your a man. Our female review found it was still light weight, dried quickly and long enough to cover the belly in most all positions but too big in the shoulders. Melissa Davis is a purple belt under Giva Santana at Lotus Club in Irvine.
My boyfriend (Brazilian black belt and Lotus Club member Fernando Travessoni) reports that the men’s version of this rash guard fits great, is light weight and is very comfortable.
In keeping with the reputation of my gender (or perhaps with the increased difficulty in fitting women’s bodies with tight, thin fabric), I have a bit more to say.
Super light-weight, breathing fabric adds very little to your weight and does not maintain much moisture on your body as some thicker rashies can do
Long torso keeps the tummy under wrap when you are in the most flattering of inverted belly fold making poses
Suffers from the common women’s rash guard syndrome – it has that extra shoulder fabric and lack of curve hugging that tends to occur when the women’s rash guard is just a smaller version of the men’s pattern. Not nearly as bad as others I have experienced, but still not a totally flattering fit.
-[EDITORS NOTE: This is the mens small rash guard. Anthem Athletics has informed BJJ Legends that they are is working on a women's rash guard. We look forward to comparing and reviewing the new women's rashie when it comes out.]-
This is a great basic rash guard with nice fabric and a good long torso for coverage. If you are a dude it has no real downside. Its light weight and fits great and is comfortable. If you are a woman, it is still light weight and comfortable, but not completely fitted for your feminine bits or lack of masculine bits. For girls I would go a size smaller to minimize the extra shoulder and waist fabric and it should be about 90% of the way to a well fitted rashguard. Since the torso is long you won’t lose tummy coverage with a smaller size. (I am 5'6" and about 135 lbs with a very long torso and slightly larger than average shoulder width, ~34C chest. I am usually a size small in rash guards, and am wearing a size small Anthem Athletics rash guard in the photos).
Today I did my first DDP Yoga class with 20 other Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu students at the Cobrinha Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu Academy. All belt levels were in attendance including Cobrinha and fellow black belts Fabbio Passos and Bruno Marchi.
DDP Yoga is designed by Diamond Dallas Page (DDP) a three-time professional wrestling heavyweight champion, who entered the ring at 35, an age when most pro athletes are forced into retirement. He traveled the world and wrestled up to 270 days a year suffering major injuries to his neck, back, shoulders and knees, injuries that could easily derail a career and affect his quality of life. The most serious being to his L4 and L5, which could have resulted in paralysis. He was determined to comeback stronger than ever, his answer was DDP Yoga, a system that allows you to work at your own ability and with consistency reap benefits that will help hold back the hands of time.
DDP Yoga’s main benefits are body fat loss, lean muscle growth, elevated cardio levels, core strength and flexibility. The most important aspect is there is no impact, so no undue stress is placed on the joints.
Former disabled veteran Arthur Boorman’s video (YouTube 11 Million views) tells his personal success story praticing DDP. He loses 160 pounds and gains the ability to run after many years on crutches when doctors had told him he was going to be disabled for the rest of his life.
DDP Yoga is not traditional yoga, it is a hybrid workout that incorporates some traditional yoga movements and adds dynamic resistance, active breathing techniques and power movements to make for a more challenging and results oriented workout. You are encouraged to “engage” core muscle groups while moving from and in poses. Poses change quickly and cardio is incorporated too.
It started off easy enough. I learned the Diamond Cutter, despite growing up in Texas in the 1980’s I did not watch Pro Wrestling and so the Diamond Cutter was new for me. Then we did some standing stretching. My shoulder has a catch in it, old BJJ injury.
Next we went to the lunges. I modified all the lunges. This was the most cardio intense part. Lunges, squats, knee lifts. My heart rate was up. At one point we hold a plank for a 40 count. I’m seriously concentrating when Dallas pops up into a headstand. Cobrinha pops up next. I laughed out loud. Really?
After all the squatting, planking and lunging we did some nice modified crunches followed by some more stretching on the ground. My hip flexibility isn’t where it used to be. How have I not noticed this?
Diamond Dallas has plenty enthusiasm to pull everyone in the class through. I will definitely go again and if Diamond Dallas Page comes to your town you should give it a whorl. It’s fun, challenging and the benefits seem to be geared for those of us who roll.
Sidebar: It is currently used by professional athletes, professional as well as amateur wrestlers, MMA fighters, BJJ players and regular everyday people who want to perform at optimum levels and who want to place themselves in the best position to see career and life changing results and improve their quality of life. Looking to get sponsored: http://www.ddpyogaworkshops.com/get-sponsored/
The organizers at Tap Cancer Out are holding their first West Coast fundraising tournament on Jan 17. We got a chance to ask them the important questions.
Who should go? Cancer doesn't discriminate, so why should we? In all seriousness, our tournaments are great for everyone. It's a low-pressure and well organized environment, perfect for someone testing the waters of their first tournament. We allow the higher belts to go first, since I think they've earned it. Plus, black and brown belts compete for FREE. We offer a masters division for white and blue belts, and we have a dedicated ring for all women's divisions. The morning features Gi and the afternoon is No-Gi. It really is designed to give a high quality tournament experience no matter where you are in your BJJ journey. We're a community and we welcome all. Plus, it's very affordable—$50 for one division and $70 for two and free for competitors that fundraise over $250—so it's a low risk, high reward proposition. We unfortunately don't have children's divisions yet but are looking to change that this spring.
What is Tap Cancer Out? Tap Cancer Out is a 501c3 nonprofit organization dedicated to raising awareness and funds for cancer-fighting organizations. We do this mostly through our innovative fundraising tournaments, like our upcoming Winter BJJ Open in San Diego, where competitors can fundraise to compete for free as well as earn great prizes. Since 2012 we've raised nearly $200,000 for various beneficiary organizations, including donating $100,000 to the St. Baldrick's Foundation in 2014. They'll again be our beneficiary organization in 2015.
We hosted our first tournament in 2012, not knowing what charity tournament would look like or how it would go over. But it was a huge success and people loved the opportunity to fight for more than just themselves. Our tournaments gave them the opportunity to share their stories and fight for those who are in the fight of their lives. We've hosted five tournaments in all (which is a big undertaking for a small nonprofit) and hope to host four more in 2015. We're located in the northeast, so all our tournaments have been in Connecticut and Massachusetts, but on January 17th we'll have the opportunity to bring our cause to San Diego and we couldn't be more excited. We've already exceeded $10,000 raised and will most likely raise $5,000 - $10,000 more in our final few weeks of fundraising, helping us reach our goal of $20,000!
When is the Winter Open? Our Winter BJJ Open takes place on Saturday, January 17th at the University of San Diego Recreational Sports Center. Doors and weigh-ins open at 8am and we'll start the GI divisions at 10am, the No-Gi divisions at approximately 1:30pm, and will wrap the day up around 5pm. We've finished every single one of our tournaments on time and this one will be no different. We pride ourselves in how efficiently our tournaments are run.
Where is the venue? The event specifically takes place at the University of San Diego Sports Center 102 at 5998 Alcala Park San Diego, CA 92110. There is free parking nearby. http://www.sandiego.edu/maps/#42
Why? Why have you made Tap Cancer Out? Why have tournaments? Why come to the west coast? It was back in 2010 that I came up with the idea for Tap Cancer Out. I had been training BJJ for two years at that time and realized that while the sport and community was filled with great people and growing every day, there wasn't a philanthropic presence. I also noticed that I personally wasn't doing anything to make the world a better place. I didn't really know what Tap Cancer Out would be, but I knew I wanted to start it and just figured I'd learn along the way. We met some obstacles and had some false starts, but ultimately we realized that fundraising tournaments was a way to empower the BJJ community to create change. It was the perfect way to marry their hatred for cancer with their love for BJJ, and also a way to show the world what BJJ was truly about, since it's such a misunderstood sport.
We don't have a single full-time employee at Tap Cancer Out. We have a very small team and we all have full-time jobs that pay the bills, working on TCO in our spare time. That means it's difficult for us as an organization to expand. We have 2,400 square feet of beautiful Dollamur tournament mats, but we can only conceivably use them with a 3-5 hour driving radius. We certainly don't have a team of people that could drive our mats and other equipment around the country. So we've been working diligently to find partners who could help us bring a tournament to the West Coast, where we had so many fans that were eager to take part. Luckily we hooked up with GrapplingX who are supplying the mats and found a venue at the University of San Diego. It's honestly been a dream of mine to bring a Tap Cancer Out tournament to the west coast and I can't believe it's finally going to happen. I can't wait, and I hope to see the entire west coast BJJ community there.
“Just seize every opportunity you have, embrace every experience. Make a mark for all the right reasons.” Chrissie Wellington
Picture it, Copacabana, Rio DeJaneiro. In 1992 an up and coming 16 yr old handball star had to suddenly give up on her dreams of being part of the National team due to a partial tear in her ACL and relocation issues. Did any of this stop her from pursuing a new dream, ABSOLUTELY NOT. 3X BJJ World Champion, 4th Degree Black Belt, Professor Alessandra “Leka” Vieira has encountered multiple setbacks throughout her 22 year career, but she never stopped. Her drive to compete sent her looking for another sport that would always be challenging, enter BJJ.
One day out of the blue, Professor Vieira entered what could be described as “Thunderdome” at her own risk thus beginning her BJJ journey. A predominantly male-oriented sport, she was fighting an uphill battle in extremely hostile environment. Professor Vieira is a well known pioneer for BJJ and that was never her intention. Every training session Professor Vieira attended she had to prove that she was just as serious, if not more so, than her male counterparts. It took some time, but her relentless drive began to yield the results she had been working so hard for. Professor Vieira’s road was rocky, but that never stopped her. The diligent student earned her blue belt in six months (an unprecedented amount of time for a female) from another pioneer Master Aloisio Silva (first BJJ professor to make a female BJJ black belt world champion).
After a year of training, she entered her first competition. Just like many competitors starting out she did not come out victorious in her first competition but she definitely won. The 3X PANAMS Champion never repeated the same mistakes after her first loss. In 1998, she reaped the ultimate reward for all she had worked for and received her black belt. In 1999 she became the first female black belt world champion. Professor Vieira was crushing goal after goal all because she never stopped. When she made her way to America, with 200 dollars in her pocket and a dream, even she didn’t realize at the time what lay ahead for her.
In 2004 Professor Vieira opened her own school Leka Vieira BJJ out of Torrence, California with classes for women focusing on BJJ and self-defense. Things got off to a slow start. BJJ still wasn’t main stream (especially for women) and the classes were not meeting her expectations. Notably, Professor Vieira extended an invite to a female student from another school to attend her class and the response she received was unusual. I believe the individual compared Professor Vieira’s classes to tea party. Professor Vieira responded by attending the student’s school, staying for a class, and blowing through male and female attendees like a Category 6 hurricane. This had nothing to do with egos, this was like 1992 again and this pioneer was proving that women are just as good as the men. If the women were not backing women then clearly there was a bigger problem facing females in the sport. Years later, under Professor Vieira this same student received her black belt. Professor Vieira is absolutely genuine and her mentorship is something up and comers would benefit from.
Knowing the art of BJJ is not enough, especially for women. It is imperative that women (whether you compete or not) become immersed in the background of the higher ranking female black belts. It is only a matter of time before a Professor Duarte- Magalhaes or Professor Vieira becomes the first female Grand Master. This may bring about a change for women in BJJ that will ensure the playing field is permanently leveled. Perhaps part of the promotion process should be about knowing more than passing the guard, sweeps, etc. BJJ is not Professor Vieira’s only passion. Her family is her foundation. Her mom, husband, and two children are the center of her universe. She found the perfect balance between her two true loves and couldn’t wish for anything more. You can’t ask for better out of life.
Professor Vieira’s injuries early on continue to plague her and have kept her from competing as consistently as she once did. That still hasn’t stopped her from pursuing goals. Leka Vieira BJJ may have had a slow start but that is no longer the case. Her all women’s classes at Gracie JJ Valencia (located out of Valencia, California) are doing very well. Professor Vieira provides an environment that promotes safety and empowerment. The culture these women are in thrives because her primary focus is ensuring techniques are being executed properly. It is not about speed. It is about ensuring nobody gets hurt and that proper BJJ and self-defense is being taught. Building the self-esteem of these women helps each one achieve the ideal comfort level. They are not timid and when it is go time, these ladies are like panthers in the Serengeti. They go hard and when time is up….on to the next.
Professor Vieira has created an environment where the synergy keeps women coming back. The fun starts the minute she sets foot on the mat. The women push each other in order to progress. Once again Professor Vieira is a 1st, she is the first female black belt to start an all women’s class and 10 years later it is still going strong. Her contribution to the BJJ community goes above and beyond anything a 16 year old handball player could have ever imagined. Her path changed and because she never stopped, she has brought about significant historical changes to BJJ.
Her tenacity will always be at the forefront and that is a great thing for the female BJJ community. We all start from the bottom and having the opportunity to receive mentorship on any level from Professor Vieira would be a blessing. She is always open to provide guidance to women at any stage on the gentle art of BJJ through seminars or camps. Her advice for white belts starting out is to do your research before joining a school, ensure the school is legit, the teacher is a black belt with a lineage that can be authenticated (otherwise there will be safety issues) and never lose faith. You must stick with it. It takes time but eventually you will be the one smashing instead of being smashed.
Her thoughts on the blue belt curse are simple. Women reach the next level and are plagued by injuries. There are not enough female counterparts to train with and their male counterparts show no mercy. The other issue with some students can be lack of instruction. If the student is struggling and they are not provided much needed guidance eventually the already isolated student unfortunately walks away from training. Lack of support is probably the main reason students leave a school and female blue belts appear to have that problem more than any other belt level.
As far as BJJ has come since Professor Vieira began 22 years ago, she still believes it has a long way to go for women. Her advice across the board is to focus on having a complete game. If you are weak on top, you need to work on the bottom. There is no way around it. If you are asked what is you weak side, your answer should be I have no weak side. If your game is not complete, then your game is lacking. One would think between her family and BJJ, Professor Vieira couldn’t possibly have time for anything else, then came the 25th hour in her day.
Professor Vieira is not only an advocate for women defending themselves,’ she is also an ardent advocate for children. Her love for them led her to begin donating to a children’s food bank: http://www.helpthechildren.org/hunger-in-our-world/child-hunger/how-often-do-you-think-about-child-hunger. Professor Vieira is the type of wife a husband is always proud of, the type of mother a child looks up to, the type of teacher one wants to emulate, and the type of woman one aspires to be. 2015 is already bright for those of us that have followed the professor’s career as she has decided that she will return to competition this year. In all this time and with all the setbacks, Professor Vieira never stopped. If she couldn’t train, she was conditioning herself and watching and learning. She never strayed from the path. Winston Churchill sums up Professor Vieira’s whole attitude “If you are going through hell, keep going” she has done it more than once and she won't stop.