Tuesday, March 1, 2011


When I started training, there were almost no girls at Fabio's.  I talked to a guy friend of mine who also practices martial arts.  I told him I was worried about annoying the guys in the gym with my hesitance and general lack of knowhow, as well as my extreme lack of fitness.  I was just your average out of shape mom with zero athletic background.  Surely, I was a less than ideal training partner for the rest of the gym. 

He told me “Don’t worry about it.  All gyms need a pretty token girl.  Guys will tolerate you even if you suck.” 

I understand why he said what he did, he was trying to ease my concerns, but it made me sad.  I did not want to be that girl.  I didn’t want to be tolerated just because I was a girl, and I definitely I didn’t want to suck. 

A few months later in class, I rolled with one of our senior guys.  Normally when he grapples, he moves at the speed of light, but he had clearly toned down for our grapple….  And my friend voice echoed though my head, “Guys will tolerate you, even if you suck.”

After our grapple, nearly in tears I apologized to him.  I said I was sorry he got stuck with me, and how I imaged he would get nothing out of grappling someone like me. 

He asked me why I would say something like that, and I told him what my friend had said, and to my surprise, he got angry.  He told me never let anyone talk to me like that.  He said that I trained just as hard if not harder than a lot of the guys, and that they all respected me because they know Jiu-jitsu is a man’s world but I stuck it out and trained hard anyway, and it was clear that my heart was in the sport. 

From that moment on, I’ve been able to (most of the time) hold my head high when I go to class.  Sure, I know I’m not awesome, but I know I try… and knowing that other people are aware of that too makes me feel better about my short comings.  We all have them after all, and it’s okay. 

And all of that to get to the point of this blog, The Token Pretty Girl. 

Allie and I were walking a few nights ago, like we often do, and as always, Jiu-jitsu came up.  The conversation went in the direction of girls on the mat, and I flashed back to my friends comment, and I realized Fabio doesn’t have a token pretty girl.  All of Fabio’s girls are beautiful.  I mean that honestly.  Every girl who trains in our gym is beautiful, inside and out.  I love them like sisters.

Allie ‘PitBull’ McClish – Allie is Fabio’s senior girl, my sister, and best friend.  We started our BJJ journey together, and I am so grateful to have her.  Not only to train with, but to understand.  She knows firsthand what it is like to be a girl on the mat.  Something no man could ever truly understand.  The hardest part of Jiu-jitsu can be the mental and emotional aspect of the game, and to have a shoulder to not only cry on, but understand my tears has without a doubt helped me to keep my head in the game…. And to have some to laugh at the embarrassing moments with, someone to not judge you when you get angry, or fail, or just totally blow it.  She is always there for me, and it is nice to know I’ve always got her in my corner.

Erica ‘No Mercy’ America – Erica’s new husband, has been training with Fabio for about two years.  When I started, she didn’t train, but came to most classes.  She’d always been interested in training, so it didn’t take much prodding from Allie and me to get her on the mat, and she took to Jiu-jitsu like a fish to water.  If she wasn’t one of the sweetest people I’d ever met, I might have been annoyed at her instant skill.  The same could be said about her beauty – she is gorgeous.  On top of all of that, she trains like a maniac.  She is easily among the most dedicated of Fabio’s students.  I am so glad she decided to train.  She is the only girl about my size, which makes her a perfect training partner for me!

Mean Joyce ‘MJ’ – Joyce is the smallest person in our gym.  When she started Jiu-jitsu she had to overcome a lot of hurdles.  She had a difficult time getting over the personal space invasion that comes with BJJ, but she stuck it out.  Joyce is very reserved and quiet.  She is an elementary school special needs teacher, and has the heart to match her profession – sweet, kind, and patient.   It is very against her nature to be aggressive.  Recently, though, she has really come into her Jiu-jitsu game, and was dubbed jokingly, “Mean Joyce”.  One of my most exciting moments in class was watching her grapple a much larger person, controlling them, and submitting them successfully.  I’ve really enjoyed watching her BJJ journey, and I love to grapple her.  Especially when she goes all 'Mean Joyce' on me!

Kara Debats – She is Fabio’s newest female addition.  Sadly, due to my hiatus, I missed the beginning of her jits journey but thankfully, I do get to see her outside of class fairly often. Kara is a crack up.  I don’t think I have ever grappled her and not laughed the entire 5 minutes… or even been around her without a smile on my face.  We rode to and from class together tonight, and had me laughing to the point I was almost sick, twice.  Seriously.  Allie is especially glad it was 'almost'...  I'm pretty sure she'd have been mad if I ruined her upholstery, no matter how funny the situation was. 

I love to be around Kara on and off the mat.  Her personality is infectious.

Elizabeth ‘Wizzy’ – She, for the most part, trains at Fabio’s other branch so it isn’t often that I get to roll with her, but I am always excited when she makes it out to Lakeland.  She is an entire foot shorter than I am, so it is interesting to grapple her.  She moves differently than longer people do, and is so tiny and tight it’s almost obnoxious, in a good way.  She told me tonight that she will be making it out to our branch a lot more often and I am really excited to have another regular girl!  Plus, with the smaller people I try to think about each move I’m making, so I don't end up going all ogre and just tossing them around, and I find a lot of the little steps I tend to forget.  Which is always very beneficial, it is also very apparent when I do something that was only accomplished by the size/strength difference, and I try to make a mental note to try and avoid doing that in the future.  I'm so happy she will be around more often!

Roberta – Fabio’s actual girl.  Roberta is Fabio’s wife.  She trained in the past, and earned her blue belt, but even though she is not currently training she is a good person to talk to about the ins and outs of BJJ.  She runs the business side of Fabio Novaes BJJ, but more than that, she is an amazing woman, truly a beautiful person.  She has a positive outlook on life, and is always encouraging and supportive, and she is an incredible mother; her children are joys to be around.  The added bonus of her being so involved is she always makes sure there are shirts for the girls too!.. And if your pink sports bra falls out of your gym bag, you don’t notice and accidentally leaving it laying around in a bus full of men, she’s got you covered.  =)  

And because the girls refused to let me take their pictures, and let me get away with out having to get in front of the camera myself, here I am.  

And, I know taking the pictures BEFORE we got all sweaty would probably have been more ideal, but let's face it... we are all happier once we've gotten good and sweaty and ruined our hair. 

Truly from the bottom of my heart, I love the girls I train with, I couldn't ask for better training partners!  I love the different shapes and sizes and skill levels we have because each person presents a different challenge, and we face different challenges in each other.  I hope 10 years from now I am still standing side by side with them - sweaty with messed up hair.


  1. Great post- thanks for sharing!

    I find that once you've been around long enough that the guys see you're serious, most of them do gain respect for you. It seems like once you hit blue belt, in particular, you cease to be "other". I think that most guys realize that we have to work even harder to get there than most of them do.

  2. Awww, I love this Steph!! Great pictures of everyone!! My favorite is the last one. I think am going to be compelled to make that my profile picture on Facebook. lol

  3. Stephanie!!!
    First of all the pics and the comments you made were so sweet! You are such a genuinely sweet person !
    Stephanie is always full of compliments and encouragement! She is one of the reasons I started training.... Thanks to her and Allie's encouragement and reassurance .... :)
    It's awesome training and knowing all of you girls!!

  4. Ps:
    Forgot to sign my name!!

  5. Omg, I am such a dork, this post made me cry! You are all very lucky to have each other. Very nice tribute, Stephanie.

  6. @SavageKitsune - I think you're right. I clearly remember when the kid gloves started to come off, The first day one of the guys really put it on me was one of my happiest days. lol I remember feeling like I'd finally been accepted.

    @Allie - That 6 way rear naked picture is so funny! I have pictures of every addition. First it was Erica and Kara... then Joyce jumped in, and then you. lol So funny!

    @Erica - I got nothing but love for ya girl! =)

    @Gina - I cried a little when I wrote it. hehe

    @Georgette - =D I love my girls.

  7. I know everyone's said it, but I have to say it, too. This is such a sweet post. Makes me want some girlfriends @ my gym!

  8. Shark Girl - I hope you do! BJJ girl bonds seem stronger than other female friends I've known for the same amount of time. I love my fellow Jiujitsunistas!