I finally got a chance to talk with Christy Thomas, one of the newest black belts in the world of Texas BJJ. I've always kept a bit of an eye on her progress since she was one of the first "big chicks" I was referred to when I started training and looking for women of even somewhat similar build. Christy was recently promoted under Relson Gracie as his first female to earn the rank.
What's your take on gender in BJJ?
While this is an incredibly broad topic, I feel the participation of women in BJJ has had a huge influence on what was previously identified as a MAN's sport. This recognition has influenced the sport phenomenon growing a world-wide intent to push for further recognition and Olympic sport status. I have been heavily involved for the past 12+/- years and seen so many things -- from there being no women's divisions in tournaments and no women's points counting towards team points, to acceptance, adjustment, accommodation and change.
While there is currently a great interest in camps for women, female competition teams, tournaments and growing participation in MMA; I still see obvious stalls in growth and resistance to mixed gender training. I feel that there is a great need to focus on self defense for all involved. A reality known to all who train in the sport is that there is a place for everyone in the lifestyle of Jiu-Jitsu, whether it's for self defense, hobby or sport.
What kind of non BJJ related training do you do?
When I'm off the mats, I maintain a healthy lifestyle. I enjoy hiking, riding mountain/down hill/around town bikes, anything outdoors. I sometimes do as little as possible to simply recover. I believe that there’s a such a thing as over-training and favor undoing what I have done to myself vs. continuing to overuse my body. I believe that drilling and practicing Jiu-Jitsu is the best training to get better at doing Jiu-Jitsu.
What emotions have you experienced around becoming a black belt under Relson?
Frankly, honor and responsibility to be Relson's first female black belt, followed closely by pride and sheer excitement. Relson is a close friend & mentor -- I want to make him proud. I strive to impress him when I learn, compete, and especially when he sees my students train or compete. Also, the many people in my life because of Relson have had a real impact on me. I feel the need to be the me who stands for myself, trusts my Jiu-Jitsu and pushes through the tough times to reach the next level. Having developed skills that invite others to come into our Jiu-Jitsu lifestyle and decide they want something this special for themselves, and having dedicated this portion of my life (and potentially my future) to it, really magnifies the power and responsibility of earning my black belt.
I read your interview over at the Fightworks Podcast and you said you've been in multiple situations where you've had to use your self defense training. Would you mind going into more detail?
I find myself in so many activities, spontaneous adventures, late night shows, back trails on bikes and I've been in more than my share of random situations where I've needed self-defense skills. Anything from: perverts exposing themselves on the forest trails or swim spots, to night time bicycle chases after leaving nightclubs, being at crowded shows and getting groped, and saving friends from their own messes -- all those situations have caused me to find myself in the position to need to use self defense. Self defense starts earlier than you may realize. It's not fighting and it's hardly glamorous or cool in any way.
Where do you see your career in the sport headed in the future?
Currently, my priorities are my students and reaching more people with self defense. I want to encourage every single person to get on the mats. My target is everyone. I want the skinny, fat, overly sure, scared .... I want them all. I'm excited to teach! Of course, I'll be looking to get into some tournaments in the future and continue my own BJJ development.
Thanks Christy for taking the time to talk!
Thanks so much, Tangled Triangle!! I appreciate your exploration into our beloved sport especially focusing on the world view from the 'big' chicks.
Christy demonstrates many of the character qualities we all seek-- honesty, perseverance, discipline, open-mindedness-- she runs an academy here in Austin Texas (http://www.gracieaustin.com/) and she is a valued resource for women (and men!) in jiu jitsu.
Cool interview, Megan!
Another great post. I love reading about women in bjj.
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