New black belt Chelsea Bainbridge-Donner on winning Worlds: “when I got on the mat, everything clicked”

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Receiving her black belt. Photo: Personal Archive

Receiving her black belt. Photo: Personal Archive

One of Atos and Andre Galvao’s newest black belts is Chelsea Bainbridge-Donner. After three matches at the 2014 World Championship in the brown belt featherweight division, she earned the world title and her black belt. Her journey is an unusual one having trained in Hong Kong and taken time away from the gentle art. But we’re glad she came back because her tenacious attitude has given us a new black belt for the women’s divisions in the future!

Learn more about Chelsea, her experience at the Worlds and what it’s like training at Atos in San Diego, CA:

GRACIEMAG: Tell me about your journey to black belt.

I was a brown belt for a really long time. I started training when I was pretty young, around 11 years old, but I was never competitive. When I started training, there wasn’t even a competition circuit for kids, so I just trained with the adults for the love of training. When I went away to college at 17, I stopped training for the most part– I spent my time playing rugby, swimming, and diving for my college. I figured Jiu-Jitsu would come back into my life at some point, probably as a hobby.

When I graduated in 2009, I knew I would have a hard time finding a job, so I decided to go to Asia to have adventures; my travels left me in Hong Kong, where I started training again. I fell back in love with the sport, and started competing a little bit in Asia; I figured I should try to compete at a high level if I could, and it was almost time for me to leave Hong Kong anyway. In 2011, I decided to move back to the United States to work and to train in San Diego with Professor Galvao.

What are some accomplishments you had before this world title win?

My favorite tournament ever was the submission-only tournament I did with Dream back in late 2013. I feel like winning that tournament changed my mindset on Jiu-Jitsu and competing as a whole, which is something I really needed to do. Having no time limit was amazing for me; it let me work on my Jiu-Jitsu against people the same size and skill level as me, which, as a woman, is something I definitely don’t get very often.

Were there any tough spots or issues competing in the Worlds this year?

This time, when I got on the mat, everything clicked. Nothing seemed hard, and nothing stressed me out. I just knew what I had to do. In my first match, I made a mistake and almost lost on points, so I knew I had to finish the fight. My leg attacks are good, so I had to risk sitting down for a leg attack from the top because I was down on points and time was running out.

Otherwise, I’m usually worried about my weight, but now I’ve stopped cutting to light feather and I feel so much stronger. I should have stopped cutting a long time ago!

What is it like training at Atos under Andre Galvao?

I could go on forever about what it’s like to train at Atos in San Diego. It’s definitely an amazing, unreal experience to train every day with the best in the world, and Professor Galvao is a fantastic coach. It’s also a humbling experience: the competition team at Atos is definitely an all-star team, and we train hard every day. The learning curve is incredibly steep. Things that work in morning training won’t work by the evening, because someone has already figured your game out. It forced me to learn how to adapt much faster than I have in any other training environment. Competition training at Atos is definitely a trial by fire every day. Having Angelica [Galvao] as a training partner is also something that I could never replace– we push each other in every training session.

How was preparation for the Worlds?

For this camp, I had to balance working 25-40 hour weeks with training two to three times per day. It was exhausting on a level I’ve never experienced before but in the end, it was worth it. I would wake up around 7 a.m. every morning, run, then go to competition class. After competition class I would work for anywhere from 4-6 hours, then go back for night class. Like I said, completely exhausting, and I couldn’t have kept it up for another month.

It must have been a great experience receiving your black belt at the Worlds!

I figured if I won, Professor Galvao would promote me to black belt. I didn’t think he’d do it at Worlds, though, especially since he hadn’t promoted anyone else on the podium. After Angelica finished her finals match, he texted me to come down to the podium and take a picture with them, and he promoted me there. I wasn’t even in my gi anymore! Being one of Andre Galvao’s first female black belts is an honor, and getting my black belt at Worlds just made an amazing day that much better.

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