“Inspire” all-girl open mat in Arizona a success

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Text by Kristina Barlaan, photos by Lisa Rae Hight

This past weekend, on February 5th, Arizona made history in the Jiu-Jitsu community by hosting it’s very first all-female open mat. Simply entitled “Inspire”, the free event gathered over 50 women from 23 different schools, hailing from South San Francisco, Las Vegas, and all over Arizona, on to the mats of Team Megaton in Phoenix. Organized by Gustavo Dantas Purple belt Kristina Barlaan (Nova União), the success of the event could not have been possible without the support of Luciana Dias (Gracie Humaita), the first and only female Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu black belt in Arizona, and her step-daughter, Mackenzie Dern (Gracie Humaita), who is fresh off her double-gold performance at the 2011 European Championship.

Left to right: Mackenzie Dern, Luciana Dias, Kristina Barlaan

“When I was in the beginning stages of putting together “Inspire”, I was thinking that I could maybe get 20 or 25 girls to participate. I never imagined that over 50 girls would want to attend, but as I watched the numbers increase day by day, I came to the realization that it was really going to happen. The support of everyone in the community was overwhelming!” states Kristina.

With the three leading ladies of Arizona Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu heading the front, “Inspire” set up a forum which made it possible for female Jiu-Jitsu players to train, learn, and bond with one another. The event also welcomed women who have never trained or have been curious about Jiu-Jitsu, providing a fresh and friendly environment which would allow them to discover the gentle art. To top off the day, prizes were raffled off to the participants. The lucky ladies received OTM Fight Shop products, a Fenom Kimono, and free registration to compete at the 6th AZ International Open scheduled for the end of the month. Entry prizes, such as a free issue of GRACIEMAG and Women Representing Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu T-shirts were also provided.

Although at opposite ends of the bracket, Mackenzie and Kristina love partnering up to share their knowledge and passion with other ladies.

With the success of “Inspire”, Kristina hopes to be able to keep building from the open mat:

“I really just wanted to provide an event that made the girls feel special. I want them to know that it’s ok to build friendships with girls even though they may be from an opposing team or someone who they will compete against. There’s only a few of us and the only way we’ll keep growing is if we support one another and contribute to events like “Inspire”. This was only the first run, but there will be more to come in the future and I hope to be able provide more of these types of opportunities. I’m passionate about what I do and I’m hoping that all the ladies were able to receive that message. I want them to be able to feel like they can inspire others to do the same.”

To see more photos from “Inspire”, click here.

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