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Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu: It’s Not Just for Men, Anymore!

By Todd Hester

Brazilian jiu-jitsu is firmly established as one of today’s most exciting martial arts. Built around the concept of "going to the ground" and using only what works, Brazilian jiu-jitsu has built a huge worldwide following. From the Japan’s Pride Fighting Championship, to the King of the Cage, to World Vale Tudo, to Extreme Fighting, it is nearly impossible to find a fighter who has not studied some form of Brazilian jiu-jitsu. Brazilian experts such as Wallid Ismail, Rorion, Rickson, Royler, and Royce Gracie, and Rigan and Jean-Jacques Machado, have been instrumental in spreading the effectiveness of the art around the globe. Now, even American wrestlers such as Mark Kerr and Mark Coleman have been using jiu-jitsu’s locks, chokes, and throws to befuddle opponents and win championships. While the names most associated with this South American art are predominantly male, there is a new breed of fighter that has taken up the art with the same enthusiasm and dedication shown by their male counterparts – jiu-jitsu women.

On the forefront of this new revolution in America jiu-jitsu circles is Joe Moreira purple belt Gazzy Parman. Born in Iran, she left when she was only 20 days old, due to the Iranian revolution, first going to London with her parents and eventually settling in the States. In wrestling-crazed Iran, even though her athletically-gifted father never participated in grappling, he was the Iranian record holder for a while in the long jump and high jump, and her uncle was the captain of the Iranian National Handball Team. Although the 22-year-old has been training jiu-jitsu for only three years, she has already racked up an impressive list of accomplishments. In addition to her recent win in the Female Blue Belt Division at the Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu Pan American Games, held in Florida, she is also a three-time California state champion, once as a white belt, twice as a blue belt, and a three-time International Challenge champion. Strangely enough, one of her proudest accomplishments was when she lost in the first round of the Mondial, the Jiu-Jitsu World Championships, in Brazil last year. "The woman I lost to beat me in five minutes," Gazzy recalls. "It was a tough, close match but I definitely lost. Then she went on to beat everyone else in two minutes or less and win the championship. So even though I lost I felt that I proved to myself that I belonged in such elite company."

A martial artist for most of her life, Gazzy started training in Shaolin kung-fu and kenpo when she was 12, with her brother in Los Angeles, until the age of 17, spending nearly seven years in the United Academy of Self-Defense in Buena Park, California, eventually teaching a women’s and children’s classes. Then when she was 19, she started taking a hip-hop class in a dance studio that just happened to be next to Joe Moreira’s Jiu-Jitsu Academy. One day she noticed there was a tournament going on and stopped in to watch. Moreira offered her a free class, she accepted, fell in love with the art, and has been training faithfully every since. "The thing I like best about Brazilian jiu-jitsu is that from the moment you start, you’re already rolling around on the mat and learning how to defend yourself. In kung-fu and kenpo you spend most of your time mimicking the movements of animals and the fighting or practical part of it comes in much, much later. With jiu-jitsu you’re learning how to defend yourself from the very first day. That keeps your interest up so it’s easy to train. Before you know it you’re losing weight and getting in shape and just thinking about how much fun you’re having. I still practice my kenpo, just to keep what I have learned, and keep my stand-up skills – but my focus now is definitely jiu-jitsu."

With the lack of qualified women to train with, it is no surprise that Gazzy trains mostly with men. "I think that women use more technique than men," she says. "Because we aren’t used to using strength in anything we do. So when I train with men, I find myself mostly defending. Then in a tournament, when I go against other women, I think it’s a little less intimidating to me than for someone who might train mainly with other women. Sometimes, though, I have to remind myself to attack and to be aggressive and use my game and my techniques. There is a lot of speed in the women’s game. It think it is a lot more enjoyable to watch than the men’s fights."

Sponsored by Logic Nutrition, Gazzy follows a low-fat, high-protein and high-carbohydrate diet, which she feels is key to her athletic performance. "I run, swim, and lift weights to help my endurance and power. I don’t lift heavy, but I do lift consistently – three times a week. I run the dunes in Redondo Beach and also run the bleachers with Joe and Fabiano Iha in the morning. The best cardio training I’ve found, though, is jiu-jitsu. I’ve seen people in other sports – guys who can run marathons – just collapse after five minutes on the mat. So there is just so substitute for mat time. I usually train at least four hours a day in straight jiu-jutsu."

Gazzy’s love of the sport is so strong that she has given up all her other outside professional activities and schooling to pursue her jiu-jitsu dreams full-time. "I want to eventually earn my black belt and open my own jiu-jitsu school. Jiu-jitsu for women has not even scratched the surface and I think that once more women learn about what a great workout it is, you’ll see an explosion of interest. Not only can women get in shape, but it is the only martial art that I think a woman can genuinely use against a man and have a realistic chance of defending herself."

This is the career I’ve chosen," she says. "At first my parents were not that crazy about it. I was a nursing student for about a year-and-a-half, planning on majoring in nursing, and quit that to train with Joe. My father in Miami found it really hard to understand. Since I live with my mom, and she could see first-hand what I do, and my accomplishments, I think she was more understanding. Now, though, I think everyone accepts my choice."

reprinted with permission from CFW Enterprises