When you think of Gracie Barra, you think of a Brazilian Jiu Jitsu powerhouse…from the original, grind-it-out, hard-core training at GB Rio, where it all started, to the cutting edge, top-flight, structured, competitive GB schools around the world today. Whether it’s Gi or No Gi, when you think of GB, you think of the champions built and created, from past to present, and you always think “MEN.”
Well, GB’s here to tell you – this image is changing, and it’s changing fast. There’s a new GB team in town, and this team is called “WOMEN.” Women everywhere are getting excited about BJJ and they’re not into it to be “like a man.” On the contrary, women are joining up to take BJJ classes because they want to lose weight and be fit, and they like the exercise, conditioning and social aspects of the sport. They see the future, and they want to be a part of it. That’s where GB comes in…
The first structured GB Women’s Program came out of GB Headquarters – GB America in Irvine about a year and a half ago. Since its induction, well over 100 women have started training in Southern California and the women of GB are saying this is just the tip of the iceberg.
Ana Laura Cordeiro, GB’s undefeated black belt, who was just sited by GRACIEMAG as “one of the greatest fighters in the world,” is heavily involved in the Women’s program. Cordeiro comes from an environment where she only trained with the guys. However, she believes it doesn’t need to be that hard, “Girls don’t have to do what I had to do. It can be easier. It was hard for me. I had to train with men only, and I got hurt a lot.”
Now Cordeiro says she’s training alongside girls in pink gis, has manicured nails, and yet, is still training hard and working hard, helping to create a structured, efficient, and effective women’s program, while still maintaining her world-class status as “Undefeated Champion.” Cordeiro says she didn’t have the option to roll like this in Brazil, but she loved BJJ so much, she had to do it, “I thought, ‘there must be a better way.’ I’m a survivor of the old-school ways. I am very happy to have girls around me to train with now. The GB Women’s program is great and I’m really proud to be a part of it.”
The GB Women’s Program is based on the same GB Fundamentals curriculum as the men’s program, except the girls have different drills. Cordeiro says they created special drills to get more exercise, “Girls need and like the extra cardio and strength conditioning they get from the drills we do. It’s a good workout and it helps them remember the techniques better.”
Cordeiro says that she and her counterparts know and understand other women’s limits and how their bodies work, so the adaptation of the curriculum has been really effective, “Women don’t have the same strength as men. If men don’t know a technique, they can use their strength. Girls, on average, don’t have enough strength to fight through the same situation. The drills make a big difference. They help prepare the body and mind to apply the technique better.”
Caroline Gracie, Master Carlos’ daughter, is a blue belt coach who assists with the Women’s Program at GB America. She says that breaking down the techniques and repeating them over and over again really helps women remember them, “Women are perfectionists. To feel good, they have to be good. When women are in class, they work really hard to do the techniques perfectly. Repeating the drills over and over again is key.”
Gracie, says what she wants people to know is that the Women’s Program really builds self-confidence and strength, inside and out, “I didn’t know how powerful it would feel to be able to defend myself. Now I have this knowledge that I can take care of myself. I’ve never had that before.” To make it even better, she says her body has changed along with her mind, “I have more strength and my conditioning is better. At the gym, I was working isolated muscles. Now I’m working my body as a whole, which is more efficient.”
Apparently, Gracie is not alone in the way she feels. According to GB, the feedback is that the girls really like the program and it shows in the increase in their female memberships. Like the men who train, women who come to GB are from all walks of life. Some are moms, some are women with jobs, and some are competitors, but they all have the same thing in common: they love the BJJ lifestyle.
Vivi Almeida, sister of Marcio Feitosa and wife of Flavio Almeida, is also a blue belt coach in the GB Women’s Program. She says her goal is to expand the program and see a lot more girls training and teaching, “We want to change girls’ lives, the way our lives have been changed. We want women to feel comfortable here on the mats, and not be intimidated. I can be myself here and I want other women to feel the same.” Almeida says that when she teaches, she imagines herself on the other side as a student, “I teach the way I’d like to learn as a woman. I think that’s one of the reasons why this program has been so successful.”
Almeida, who has a degree in Physical Education, says another reason for the program’s success is because the fitness aspect of BJJ is unparalleled, “I’m in great shape and I’m fit. I never get bored on the mats. When doing a technique, my mind is involved and I’m always learning something new. Because of that, I don’t even realize how hard a workout I’ve had. When I’m at the gym, my mind wanders. I love this sport. It’s an amazing feeling to help your partner and then be helped back. It’s really fun.”
The Women’s Program has steadily grown, changed, and evolved over time. Originally, the program included alternating Rape Safe and Conditioning classes every Sunday, but they’ve moved them to once a month. They now have so many blue belts, they’ve started Advanced classes on Sundays.
Cordeiro, Gracie, and Almeida say they want the GB Women’s Program curriculum to be at every GB school around the world. Cordeiro says there’s no better way to develop yourself as a person, “We teach the GB philosophy together with the GB curriculum. Bjj is a tool for personal development. It improves character through hard work and training. We provide all that – that’s what makes champions, but what’s most important, is that it raises self-esteem and self-confidence. You can’t put a price tag on that.”
All three instructors say that they have been very fortunate to have had the opportunity to develop the Women’s Program and that Master Carlos, Feitosa, and Almeida have been very supportive in allowing them to try new things. Gracie says, “Like the black belt professors we know, the three of us rolled around in our living rooms together trying to come up with the best drills to compliment each technique for the program.”
Over time, they worked through the kinks and with the overall success of the program, their goal for 2010 is to create a special instructor’s program for girls and also to have their own GB Women’s Fundamentals DVD set. However, as tough as these girls may be, when it comes right down to it, they are still just girls who enjoy their “girly ways.” As Gracie puts it, “We believe, because we are women, when we train BJJ, we want to do the techniques perfectly, learn to defend ourselves, get in shape, meet new friends…and then have breakfast and chat.” Did I mention that they have a “girls breakfast buffet” after every Saturday roll? That’s what I call girls doing it the girls’ way…