Picture of 5 BJJ women

5 Jiu Jitsu Women Who Inspire Me

For years Brazilian Jiu Jitsu was a sport primarily dominated by men. Women who did train were often the only female at their gym. In recent years, BJJ has become much more popular with women. Most gyms have at least a few women, and many have strong women’s programs and even hold regular women’s Open Mats.

Today there are many women in Jiu Jitsu, thanks in no small part to trailblazers who paved the way by being determined to succeed no matter what obstacles they faced. In this article, I want to highlight five BJJ women who inspire me!

1. Yvone Magalhães Duarte

I have to start the list here. Yvone Duarte was the first woman to be promoted to black belt in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu, and in 2021, she became BJJ’s first female coral belt. She was also responsible for having a women’s division added to Jiu Jitsu competitions, and the first woman to open her own academy. Yvone later used her Jiu Jitsu skills to serve the public, training police officers and developing a research-based curriculum for teaching self-defense to women. This is a great article to read more about Yvone Duarte’s story. She is truly a pioneer of BJJ and I’m grateful she paved the way for me and many others!

2. Felicia Oh

Felicia Oh is a a member of the “Female Dirty Dozen” (first 12 women to be promoted to the rank of black belt outside of Brazil) who has contributed to the sport of Jiu Jitsu through her work as a journalist as well as her impressive competition record. She started training at age 33, and at the age of 39 she won the Pan American title in both Gi and NoGi, placed second in the NoGi World Championship, and was a finalist in the ADCC world championship. Some women may wonder if you have to start Jiu Jitsu at a young age in order to get really good at it, but Felicia Oh proves otherwise!

3. Kyra Gracie

Anyone who has trained Jiu Jitsu has likely heard the name Gracie, and probably knows that Brazilian Jiu Jitsu was popularized by brothers Carlos and Helio Gracie in the early to mid 1900’s. The many sons and grandsons of Carlos and Helio are like Jiu Jitsu royalty, but few women in the Gracie family have risen to such prominence. In 2006, Kyra Gracie became the first of only two women in the Gracie family tree to be promoted to the rank of black belt, more than 70 years after her great-grandfather Carlos Gracie Sr. started teaching Jiu Jitsu.

In spite of being born into a family where Jiu Jitsu is taught to babies, Kyra Gracie’s success did not come easy. As a teenager and a blue belt in Jiu Jitsu, her famous black belt uncles tried to persuade her to leave the sport, telling her it was not suitable for women (source). Against their advice, she continued her training and became the first female member of the Gracie family to compete, eventually winning seven world titles.

Kyra Gracie’s Jiu Jitsu career can encourage anyone with a passion for Jiu Jitsu to pursue their dreams, no matter what others may think!

4. Elaine Wynn

So far all the women on this list have been black belt competitors, but one BJJ woman who really inspires me is Elaine Wynn, who is known on Instagram as “Jiu Jitsu Grandma“. Elaine started training Jiu Jitsu at age 69 and started competing at age 70. In spite of having osteoporosis, she continues to compete, and in 2023, at age 74, she was awarded her purple belt. Elaine’s determination and success reminds me that my Jiu Jitsu journey doesn’t have to look like everyone else’s, that as long as I’m making progress, it doesn’t matter how I compare to others.

5. Grace Gundrum

Another female grappler who proves that age is just a number is Grace Gundrum. She is a NoGi submission-only competitor who won the Fight2Win Strawweight title at age 18, after which her coach promoted her to black belt, making her the youngest female BJJ black belt.

Grace had the opportunity to start learning Jiu Jitsu at age 5 and was able to participate in wrestling throughout high school, and no doubt both of these are reasons she has been able to achieve notoriety at such a young age. It’s inspiring to me to see more girls being encouraged to participate in sports that were previously thought to be “for boys.” I can’t imagine how my life would have been different had I been able to develop the strength and self-confidence Jiu Jitsu has given me at a very young age instead of after I became an adult, and I’m glad more girls are getting to have that opportunity.

Which BJJ women are inspiring to you? Leave a comment to let me know!

Similar Posts

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *