Oftentimes, BJJ history can be really interesting. And I’m not just talking about the Gracies and Maeda, that is a subject that has been well and truly exhausted. The history of our sport has plenty of other interesting stories and folks to focus on. Previously, we wrote about the Dirty Dozen Of BJJ – the first 12 black belts that were not Brazilian. Today, we will take a look at the dirty dozen BJJ female black belts and check out their stories.
It is always fun to think about how BJJ was in its early days, right after spreading across the US. Those were days of Brazilian black belt instructors, makeshift gyms, no instructional or online content on the subject, and very few competitions. It was the era of what we now call BJJ fundamentals, and it was probably a really cool time to be training Jiu-Jitsu. In those days, getting a black belt without being Brazilian was a huge accomplishment and very few were entitled to it. The Dirty Dozen BJJ Ladies are the first 12 women to get black belts outside of Brazil in a time when Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu was almost exclusively a male sport.
The Dirty Dozen(s) Of Jiu-Jitsu
I really like the concept of the Dirty Dozen BJJ black belts. In fact, if we’re being honest, there are two – the female and male Dirty Dozen. While today it may seem inconceivable why people would give so much respect to non-Brazilian black belts, back in the early 90s, getting to black belt in Jiu-Jitsu was probably the hardest thing you could do. Getting one as a woman was probably seen as one of those things that are ludicrous to pursue. Luckily, there were those that didn’t share that opinion.
When it comes to the male Dirty Dozen BJJ black belts, some of them are still at large today. Chris Haueter springs to mind first, even though he ranks at number 10 on the list. Some of those coming before him are now unrecognizable for the everyday modern grappler. That is a pity, as they all left a huge mark on the sport and should be honored. And the same holds true for the finer half of BJJ pioneers, of course.
Dirty Dozen BJJ Ladies – Who Are They?
The Dirty Dozen BJJ ladies are even more of a mystery than their male counterparts. That said, more of them are still actively training to this day compared to the men, which is something worth recognition. Some of them, like Felicia Oh and DC Maxwell, are pretty known in the community, while others, like Sue Abergast and Jocelyn Chang, are not as famous. It is time to change that and learn something more about each one of them!
1. Cindy Omatsu, USA
The very first female BJJ black belt that is not a Brazilian national was Cindy Omatsu from the USA. She is a black belt under Leka Vieira (the first Female BJJ world champion) and Rigan Machado. Originally from California, she started BJJ in the ’90s looking for a way to learn self-defense in a period of increased attacks in her neighborhood. She got her black belt in 2002, making history and establishing the roots of the dirty dozen BJJ female black belts.
2. Aika Sato, Japan
Sato is the first Japanese Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu black belt, promoted by Yuki Nakai. She was a part of the famous Paraestra Tokyo Academy, since its inception in 1998. Aika got her black belt in 2003, after medaling in that year’s Worlds for the third time in a row. Not much more information is available on Sato, including whether she is still training.
3. DC Maxwell, USA
The last name might ring a bell, and for a good reason. DC is Steve Maxwell’s ex-wife and the mom of Zach Maxwell. Quite the BJJ family right there. A black belt under the legendary Saulo Ribeiro, DC famously started training well into her 30’s, which didn’t stop her from becoming a household name in the sport. She received her black belt in 2003, after spending 11 years practicing, since her first classes in Brazil in 1992. She spent a lot of time training with the Gracies, including Helio.
DC played a huge role in the spread of Jiu-Jitsu in the East Coast, as well as help Relson in building up his Hawaii Academy. Oh, and DC stands for Deborah Christine.
4. Kathy Brothers, USA
Kathy is one of the greatest American grappling and MMA pioneers on top of being in the first half of the Dirty Dozen BJJ ladies. She is not only a black belt in Jiu-Jitsu (under Carlos Machado) but also competed in No Hold Barred events. In fact, she was a World Pankration champion and a two time Pans champion in BJJ. Apart from the Machados, Kathy spent some time training with Royce Gracie as well. Last we know, she was a martial arts instructor in Dallas.
5. Kris Shaw, USA
Another Leka Vieira black belt, originally from Texas. She started training in 1997 and got her black belt in 2005. Later, she transferred to Machado’s academy in California, before moving to Leka’s legendary women-only academy in 2004. With loads of medals in the Pans and Campeonato Internacional, Shaw is now teaching at Tinguinha’s academy and holds the rank of second-degree black belt.
She is the founder of BJJ legends magazine.
6. Felicia OH, USA
Arguably, the most famous name of the Dirty Dozen BJJ female black belts, and certainly the woman to get her belt faster than any other. Felicia got promoted after just over 4 years of training by jean Jacques Machado in 2005.
She started training at 33 in Machado’s Academy in California. A Pan American Gi and No-Gi champion, World Masters champion and ADCC runner up, she has quite the competitive pedigree to boast. Oh also spent time training with Eddie Bravo, developing a unique style in the process.
It is worth noting that her success in the ADCC came at age 39, beating legends like Letícia Ribeiro and Megumi Fujii on her way to the finals. She currently holds the rank of 4th-degree black belt in BJJ and is still actively training and teaching.
7. Laurence Cousin, France
Representing France as its first BJ black belt is Laurence Cousin Fouillat, who also happens to be Europe’s first-ever BJJ black belt. Laurence got her black belt from Flávio Behring in 2005. She now holds the rank of second-degree black belt. She switched academies in 2007 to train with François Laurent and David Pierre Louis in order to get ready for the Worlds. Speaking of record accomplishments, she is also the second non-Brazilian (males included) to ever win gold at the Worlds (2007).
Laurence became a part of the Ribeiro Jiu-Jitsu Association in 2014.
8. Jocelyn Chang, USA
One of the Dirty Dozen BJJ ladies that deserves a very special place in the history books of Jiu-Jitsu. She is another one of Leka’s black belts, earning hers in November of 2005. What is extremely impressive about Chang is that she had a battle with breast cancer in 2009, one that she won, and she was right back on the mats, competing two weeks after completing radiation and chemo.
One of the tiniest black belts at 4’9”, she has a pristine technical game and still teaches at Let’s Roll Academy in Torrance.
9. Gazzy Parman, USA
A black belt under John Lewis, Gazzy is arguable the most successful competitor among the Dirty Dozen BJJ ladies. Born in London in a Persian family, and discovered BJJ in 1998, after moving to California. She got offered free classes at Joe Moreira’s academy if she never missed a class, which she accepted.
Gazzy (short for Ghazaleh) has an impressive competitive record, with 17 Grappler’s Quest titles, along with an ADCC trials gold and a 4th place at the 2005 ADCC. In 2006 she earned her black belt, becoming the first Nova Uniao Member to get one outside of Brazil.
10. Megumi Fujii, Japan
Fujii is one of the most accomplished female grapplers of all time. She also fought in MMA and managed to go on a 6-year unbeaten streak, from 2004 to 2010. She is yet another black belt under Yuki Nakai, a rank she got in 2006. Originally a Judoka since the age of 3, Megumi also dabbled in Sambo along with Jiu-Jitsu. That makes her an extremely well-rounded grappler and the best submission hunter of all the Dirty Dozen BJJ female black belts. In fact, she was so successful with toe holds that there’s a variation named after her – the Megulock.
11. Sue Aborgast, USA
Sue was a real dedicated martial artist before discovering Jiu-Jitsu. She [practiced karate, kung fu, and a bunch of other striking arts. Sue began grappling in 1996 in Julio “Foca” Fernandez Academy. Currently, she heads Montpelier martial arts in Vermont. She has a 4th degree BJJ black belt rank and is also the creator of the “Strike Back” self-defense program for women. She is still teaching a self-defense system based on all her martial arts knowledge today.
12. Cindy Hales, USA
Wrapping up the Dirty Dozen BJJ ladies club is Cindy Hales, a black belt under Marcio Laudier since 2006. Cindy started training in 2001 (aged 26) and soon discovered she had an uncanny ability to put people to sleep. So much so, in fact, that she earned the nickname “Sleeper”. She has notable wins at Grappler’s Quest and at the Pans. She also had a great MMA career, with just one loss (to Megumi Fujii).
Currently, Cindy is a professor at Gracie Barra in Kirkland.
The ladies of BJJ have always been impressive. That is why it is important to know the roots and history of their BJJ journey. The Dirty Dozen BJJ female black belts paved the road for countless folks, female and male, to get access to the Gentle Art, and a life-changing experience out of it all. And they’re extremely badass!