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Lea Young: Women starting to push boundaries in male-dominated BJJ scene

By Zach Arnold | October 28, 2012

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Kauai Girl Brings Home Gold Medals in Women’s Jiu Jitsu

In a sport that is particularly dominated by men, women are starting to push the boundaries and make their presence known on the mat. One Kauai girl, Alexis Carvalho, a Relson Gracie Kauai Technical Institute (KTI) Brazilian Jiu Jitsu blue belt, is doing just that.

Coming from an island in the middle of the Pacific Ocean where many grapplers find it difficult to travel to the mainland to compete in larger tournaments, Carvalho’s drive to compete has taken her to the largest Brazilian Jiu Jitsu competitions in North America. In September, Carvalho won two medals at the International Brazilian Jiu Jitsu Federations (IBJJF) Masters and Seniors World Championships, and just recently won another two more gold medals at the NAGA Championships on Oahu. She is also a former world champion silver medalist from last year’s IBJJF World Championships of Jiu Jitsu.

In a competition where people from all over the world come to compete, Carvalho won the gold medal for her Senior 1 division at the IBJJF Masters and Seniors World Championships. Although there was no one else in her weight category, she went on to fight in the absolute weight division, which included winners from the various weight divisions in her age category. Carvalho earned a silver medal, having three matches where she won 9-0, 7-0, and then lost in the finals 0-0 by referees decision.

Just one month later, she was back on the mats competing again at the NAGA Championships held annually on Oahu. She won both her no-gi match (6-0) and gi match (2-0), earning another two gold medals to add to her team’s collection of hardware at their academy.

Carvalho, a student under Pono Pananganan at KTI in Lihue, said that KTI (and jiu jitsu) saved her life. She has been training for almost four years and is one of KTI’s first females to be promoted to blue belt. Through jiu jitsu, Carvalho says she has gained a healthier lifestyle, more self-esteem, focus and perseverance, but most of all she has been blessed to train with an amazing group of people who she has come to know as her own family.

When she suffered the recent loss of her father in July, she turned to her KTI family and jiu jitsu.

“No matter what you’re stressed or worried about, it ceases to exist when you step through that door. We are more than a team, we are a family. KTI helped me discover who I want to become, things I need to work on. When I lost my dad, they gave me strength and courage when I needed it most. Without them I wouldn’t have gotten through these past few months.”

Her instructor, Relson Gracie brown belt Pono Pananganan, describes Alexis as always laying it on the line and leaving everything out on the mat. He says that anyone who meets Alexis out on the street or in the grocery store would never guess that she is such a fierce competitor, given her shy and humble nature. She always jumps at the chance to compete and represent her fellow KTI teammates and he is amazed and proud of her continued courage and dedication.

Alexis is a true testament of the jiu jitsu athlete. Her attitude, along with her love for the sport and her team, shows that she is a true role model for other women who may be too intimidated to train in a martial art. Not only did she bring multiple World championship medals home to Kauai, she continues to proudly represent Kauai in women’s jiu jitsu.

Lea’s on Twitter – @effenprincess. But of course.

Topics: Lea Young, Media | 5 Comments » | Permalink | Trackback |

5 Responses to “Lea Young: Women starting to push boundaries in male-dominated BJJ scene”

  1. 45 Huddle says:

    Grappling a woman is a strange experience. I did if during high school wrestling. You are expected to win so it is a lose/lose situation. Plus they have a different muscle structure so it does feel like wrestling a weaker man.

    I have no problems with a woman being the breadwinner or being an equal. So my comment doesnt come from a place of sexism. It just is strange experience…..

    • edub says:

      I remembered it all the way back in Judo as a 4 year old. I was the best around my age, and this girl came in. She was so freakin ferocious that she started to beat other boys my age. When I went against her I remember having to work harder than anybody else, and I specifically remember feeling like losing would be death because it was a girl (this is without any long expericences in a male dominated society as I was raised mostly by my mother). I never lost to her, but I did quit Judo to focus more on team sports right after.

      As you said, strange experience…

  2. Alexis Carvalho says:

    *bronze medaist from 2011 Mundials.

  3. RST says:

    You go girl!


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