Monday, April 5, 2010

The Path to Michelle...

On our way into the gym on Saturday morning, coffee in hand, I asked Michelle if she knew what she wanted to teach to us ladies at the seminar, she nodded quickly and said, "spider guard". I just about jumped for joy right there because it's one of the aspects I've been admiring about her game for years. Last week, Ryan returned from his first training session with her and immediately informed me that I needed to copy her guard yesterday, lol!

No one at our gym uses spider guard, lots of different varieties of open guard and half guard but very little spidering is involved. Recently, I had been showing some techniques from that position to the women's class because I know it's a piece of the game they will at least need to be aware of, but I know so little about it. So I'm psyched that now, I know a little more. =)

Michelle is so quiet and unassuming that at first you might think she doesn't speak English, but mostly it's that she's just a little shy with new people. After warming up, she shares easily that in the past she has been intimidated going into fights against known tough competitors, although you'd never know it by watching her compete. She told me that this feeling affected her a lot more as a new purple belt when she had to compete in Purple/Brown/Black divisions in Brazil - but she overcame it well, winning the division as a purple belt at the 2004 Mundial before they split and created a separate division for purple belts the next year (which she also won)!

She had been training Capoiera for four years when her instructor moved out of town and suddenly Michelle was in a situation to be looking for a new martial art. This happened around the time she met a young (blue belt) Robert Drysdale and he convinced her to try Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu. Ten years and multiple championship titles later, Michelle funds training full-time through sponsorships and with a stipend from the Brazilian government which she must reapply for each year and will only receive as long as she continues to place at the major tournaments - talk about motivation to succeed.

Michelle gently, quickly, and easily commanded the attention of the chattering bunch and was clear and concise in all movements and descriptions. She went through her A game series from the guard (sweeping and submitting) to passing and submitting from the top, making sure to give various options based on the different movements you may expect from an opponent. Michelle made it seem so effortless, although some of us struggled with the movements with which we were unfamiliar. Quick to correct or praise with an eye for detail on each woman's movements, she made sure we were all on track before moving to the next step. Then she invited each attendee to roll with her for three minutes before the seminar came to an end.

There is an undeniable, yet unclaimed and perhaps unrealized, toughness under Michelle's quick shy smile. Perhaps this is what makes her so endearing to those she comes into contact with. I don’t think a single woman left without feeling as though they had learned some new techniques, succeeded with at least a few of them, and were ready to go out and try it on the men in their academies at home.

One of the great thing about women only events is that there are no fake exteriors or bids for attention. It's all about the art and the desire to improve in it. There is an amazing camaraderie felt with the realization that we are all in it together - from Michelle down to the newest white belt.

As one woman pointed out this weekend, attending one of these events can be intimidating because it strips away the ability to blame a mistake on someone out-sizing or out-muscling you and forces you to come to grips with your strengths and weaknesses head on. This is the one aspect that many BJJ women are missing due to the male dominated environment in our sport. And these occasional women only events are one of the few venues outside of competition that we have to face ourselves. The only possible result can be a positive one in that it helps to raise the level of us all.


  1. Leslie linked to your write up here and I must say, thanks for the biog on Michelle as I was just about to ask if someone had a little more background to her.
    Sounds like you guys had an awesome time and what a privilege to study with an elite grappler. Well done!

  2. I am quite sure I'm not the only guy that wishes Michelle had done a co-ed seminar. Maybe next time she is in town.

  3. Very cool! It would be awesome to meet women who weren't all white belts. I keep hearing they exist. ;)


Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.