Photos by Syan Bateman and Cassandra Barnard
The no.1 ranked international Brazilian Jiu-jitsu grappler in the world visited the University of Kent and trained the MMA society on Thursday night. Claudia Do Val, described as one of the top grapplers of her generation by the BJJ website, informed and entertained a class of around 35 students, first taking them through a series of different grapples and then providing insightful answers to a series of questions from students.
“It is a male-dominated sport and a lot of girls don’t feel comfortable to start,” Do Val said, in response to a question of how difficult it was to integrate into a sport largely represented by male faces. She continued: Jiu-Jitsu’s so amazing for a woman. In Jiu-Jitsu, the males learn to be humble, they learn that strength is not everything. Girls find out how strong they can be. I always felt comfortable and welcome and that’s one of the things that made me switch from judo. Judo is a very traditional martial art [and] everybody’s respectful but you can go to any ju-jitsu gym and you’re not going to see just training partners, you’re going to see a family. The second I got to the gym I felt this amazing energy and I feel like every girl can feel the same – the only hard part is getting them there.”
With many members of the dance society coming to the session, there was a large female representation in the class as Do Val eloquently instructed the class on the art of Ju-Jitsu, the importance of manipulating tight spaces and the technicalities of how to neutralise an opponent in self-defence.
The students split into pairs trying out a challenging exercise, where one lay prone on the ground as they attempted to repel their attackers who climbed above them. Do Val then showed them a complex leg-trapping move that, if executed effectively, would quickly subdue opponents. It appeared as though the one-on-one advice given by Do Val was helping the initially hesitant students rapidly grow in confidence as they grappled both with their opponents and the difficulty of the move.
Speaking about how the sport has changed her life off the mats, Do Val let out a wry grin when she said, “I used to be a fat girl. Not just that but I had no self-esteem. I didn’t think I was ugly, but I thought people thought that I was ugly. It’s not just ugly, [people] didn’t want to spend time with me, they didn’t want to be my friend. But after I started doing ju-jitsu, I made so many friends within ju-jitsu and you see people liking you and spending time with you. I have self-confidence now. I’m good with myself.”
She went on to tell the aspiring martial art students in the class of how she “was never passionate about anything else” and, in regards to the intensity of training, how it was “important to listen to your body”. Students hung on to all the advice given by the athlete, and there were smiles and applause as the session came to an end.