Living the Jiu Jitsu lifestyle isn’t for everyone. But for Mylene Ramos Engle, co-owner of Chris Engle Brazilian Jiu Jitsu in Las Vegas, Nevada there is no other way to live. She took some time out of her busy schedule to talk with us about who she is, her inspiration and what’s next for her. Mylene isn’t someone to sit still and watch the time go by. She runs an academy with her husband, the women’s open mat group, the Rowdy Rollers, owns and operates a food truck and it should come as no surprise that she graduated summa cum laude from UNLV. She’s been quite successful in the competition scene, including the IBJJF World Masters and at the All Americas tournament. That much success could make someone a total ego monster, but she is quite the opposite. She is a very grounded, hard working person actively working to create community and spread the good Jiu Jitsu vibes.
I was blown away by your list of accomplishments. How did you start competing?
“I was a white belt when I first competed. I didn’t even want to compete when I first started. I was just going to Jiu Jitsu to learn how to defend myself. I had just moved to Vegas and it’s crazy. I was working super hard and I was like ‘you know what, why don’t I test myself and all the things I’m learning? You know I’m here spending hours at Jiu Jitsu, why not see how I do?’. I did it (competed) in my first eight months, and I fell in love. So, I just kept competing.”
Do you have any rituals or things you do to prepare for competing?
“Usually the month before I compete I will eat super clean. I’m not going to lie, I eat horrible. I eat ice cream for breakfast, chips after Jiu Jitsu… soda. I love eating and that’s something that I can’t stop.
The month of, I eat super clean. I do yoga for recovery because I train hard twice a day. I swim a lot because I have a bad back so running kind of hurts. I train super hard. The day of, I always pray (I go to church twice a week) and I listen to these four songs over and over again. I get into my own zone and picture my game, my plan, what I’m going to do in each match.
It’s not like I go to compete to win, I literally change my mindset and goal each tournament like ‘this tournament I’m going to practice my arm drag that I’ve been working on the last four months or this tournament I’m going to try my De La Riva, or whatever.’ It’d be nice to win yes, it’s more like I want to test all the moves and I want to test my game that I’ve been trying to work on from the last tournament, where I failed. I try to better myself and get into a position that will allow me to do that. I just started this when I was purple belt.
When I was blue, I was running around like a chicken with its head cut off. I didn’t know what to do, my coaches told me what to do. My husband competed a lot and helped me, warmed me up and stuff like that, but I didn’t have my own ritual. It wasn’t till I finished school that I took Jiu Jitsu 100% seriously.”
I must ask, what are your four songs?
“(laughs) Beyonce ‘6 inch Heels’, ‘Survivor’ from Destiny’s Child, Justin Timberlake ‘Murder’, then ‘Amber’ from 311. It pumps me up and then calms me down.”
Last year you earned your black belt, which is something most practitioners hope for and they strive for, but very few make it. How did that feel?
“I’m still, honestly getting used to it. It’s like starting all over. I feel like a white belt again. It’s like a clean slate. I feel like now my journey starts. Everyone’s always like ‘Oh I can’t wait for my belt, why don’t I have my brown belt, why don’t I have my purple belt?’ Why are you in a rush?
When you get to be a black belt, that’s it, you’re going to be a black belt forever. So why are you even rushing? That’s one thing I learned when I was a brown, there’s no rush. There is so much to learn. The game is evolving, there’s no end belt for me. I got it when I was at Pan Ams. I didn’t expect it. I was in the middle of an interview, a fake interview apparently, with Fuji when my coach interrupted it and was like “this is not a brown belt interview, this is a black belt interview” and gave it to me.”
You mentioned that you started training for self-defense, had you done any other martial arts before?
“No. I danced hula since I was four until twenty-two. Then I started Jiu Jitsu. I did volleyball and stuff like that but never self-defense. People from my hometown were like ‘What, you went from hula to Jiu Jitsu, where you hurt people.”
What did you family think when you started training?
“My parents are extremely strict. My dad, he didn’t really mind it, but my mom… Literally, up until last year she still called it karate. I was like ‘I’ve been training for nine years and you still call it karate, I own a gym and you still call it karate?’ But she calls it Jiu Jitsu now. She was against it all the years up until our third year that we opened our gym. She took it hard only because I had injuries.
She always worries, she’s my mom. My family never saw me compete and I compete quite a bit. That’s my fault, I never told my family cause I get nervous. I never told my friends from church or work or anywhere when my next fight was. It’s not really for show, it’s more for me. I get it, they want to support, but I get nervous. I don’t even like people watching me. I want to go out there, do my best and have fun. My sister and my brother started watching me a year ago because they joined Jiu Jitsu. Now I have everyone’s support.”
Earlier, you mentioned some injuries, was that something that started in your Jiu Jitsu career or earlier?
“Earlier. I had sciatica a year before I started Jiu Jitsu, I still have flare ups, but it actually got better. It was to a point where I couldn’t walk, couldn’t bend over, I was bedridden for three months, this was all before I started. Today I do still have flare ups when I train super, super hard.
In 2011, I was a blue belt, I broke my femur. My doctor said I couldn’t do Jiu Jitsu for two years. I said, ‘that’s not an option’. I got back on the mats after 5 ½ months. It was a lot of hours at therapy and I had my husband drop me off at the gym before he went to work, because we only had one car since my car got totaled. He would drop me off at the gym at 6 am, the regular work-out gym, and he would pick me up at the gym when he got off. I would be at the gym for eight hours, every day for a month and half, because I couldn’t afford physical therapy any more.”
Rowdy Rollers is the open mat your run. How did it start?
“It just started as a Vegas thing, because Vegas is so saturated with Jiu Jitsu. Me and my friend Ronda Andrews from Gracie Humaita talked about it, like we should do kind of like a Girls in Gis but without the seminar. Something where people just come in for free to roll. We’d have 60 – 70 girls on the mats! That’s how it started with me and my friend Ronda.
Chicago was the first place that I got invited to do one there. I flew out with nine girls from my gym, we went there and did a Rowdy Rollers open mat. We want to do one there every year. Every two months I hold one in Vegas and if I get invited somewhere else, I’ll do one there as well.”
Do you think there’s been a change in women’s Jiu Jitsu since you first started as a white belt to now?
“From when I started, there’s a huge difference. The statistics show it, as far as tournaments, how much women’s Jiu Jitsu has grown. My first tournament I went against a blue belt, because I didn’t have anyone in my division. Now, I look at the competitor list and it’s so long! I remember having only 5 – 8 girls, now there’s 20 to 50 to 75 girls in a bracket. Especially in the blue and purple belt brackets there’s like 20 and 30 of them. That’s how many it used to be for all the girls. That’s why I tell the girls now, “you are lucky you have girls in your division, you have girls that weigh the same as you, take advantage of it, push yourself.”
When you first started doing Jiu Jitsu were there any girls you looked up to?
“Honestly, as a white belt, I didn’t really look into social media to know who was big in Jiu Jitsu. I kind of just went to class and trained. It’s kind of funny that you bring this up because I have a brown belt, my friend Erin, she’s naming off all these names and I don’t know them. I know the people I compete with. In the first three years, I just went to school (I was a full-time student), church, and trained. I respect B and Tammi, Leticia and many other black belts out there. Everyone I competed against as a white belt, I have all their phone numbers. I keep in touch with 80% of them.”
You and your husband own an academy in Vegas and last year you opened up in a new location. How does the new place feel?
“Like home. The atmosphere is nice, it’s clean and it’s open. We started out in our garage, then we went to this rent out place that was like a dance hall, then we went to a big place, two stories, but we shared it with boxing and Muay Thai. It was very loud, and it wasn’t personable. Now this place is purely us. We did repairs, we painted and designed it the way we wanted to. We have an open-door policy and people from other gyms always tell us it’s really clean and really nice. We really try to make sure all our students learn and feel welcomed. I love it here. We plan to stay here for a while.”
It sounds like you and your husband are a good team.
“Yeah. I’m a mess and he’s good at what I suck at. We’re different and so the same in many ways.”
Did you guys meet through Jiu Jitsu?
“We met through mutual friends in church and Jiu Jitsu. I would say kind of, but I didn’t meet him on the mat, I met him at a birthday party.”
It’s fantastic having a training partner at all times.
“I guess, in the beginning it was hard having him telling me what to do. I got over that in six months. When your husband or boyfriend is telling you ‘you’re doing it wrong’, you don’t want to hear that. Once we opened the gym I realized I should be acting like he’s not my husband. I’ve asked instructors at other schools, ‘how did you train with your girlfriend or wife?’ They say, “We always fought, she doesn’t even do it anymore.” I knew it was just me. He really helped me to better my Jiu Jitsu.”
You also own food truck, specializing in acai bowls. How cool is that?
“Honestly, Jiu Jitsu is my number one. I kind of just do events. My main focus is for students, teaching, and Jiu Jitsu. That is my second thing. I started that ‘cuz I know eventually I can’t train, like when I’m pregnant. At first it was just an idea. I tried it and it took me a long time to find the best ingredients and the right consistency. It’s fun and challenging.”
I saw that you graduated with top honors from UNLV.
“My parents harped on education, which is one of the reasons they didn’t support me in the beginning. I don’t know how I did it, but I did it.”
What did you study when you were in school?
“I went to school for Human Services and got a minor in Marriage and Family Counseling. Then after that, I was going for my master’s in occupational therapy, but I stopped doing that because we opened the gym. I chose to help my husband open the gym because that was our dream.”
You have so many accomplishments, where do you get your inspiration from?
“My family. I would say my parents, and my brothers and sisters, they hold a damn high standard, maybe it’s an Asian thing. My parents and grandparents they always said, “I don’t care what you do, I don’t care how long it takes, just as long you finish.” That’s something my Grandpa always used to say, before he died. My parents were like ‘whatever you do, be the best in it.’ My brothers and sisters, they all have high standards, like ‘don’t ever slack off.’ I’m the youngest of four, I always looked up to them, they are all very successful in their jobs. They always pushed me to be the best, to do the most I can in the little amount of time I got. My last name, my maiden name, is Manalo. In Tagalog it means winner, so I feel like I must always be my best. Because of my upbringing, my brothers and my sisters and my parents and my church that’s the way I am.”
What advice do you have for women starting out in Jiu Jitsu, say for the white belt or the blue belt, someone that’s just finding their way?
“Just let go, just forget about everything. As soon as you walk in, you’re going to feel weird, you’re going to be in positions you don’t understand why or how, or what’s going. Just trust in your coaches, believe in your coaches, that they’re going to guide you in a way that’s good for you as far a protecting yourself. Some people always want to do stuff, like ‘I want to do an armbar’, we’re guiding you in a way to protect yourself and make your game the best it can be without the bad habits. Just go out there, have fun and be open. Be open to everything. Try your hardest and keep drilling. I promise in a couple months you’re going to have a light bulb and everything is going to click. Then you’re going to see why this sport is so awesome and so beautiful and why people get addicted. Clear your mind, no matter how odd you feel. It will get better, no matter how much you get smashed, it will get better. Eventually, you won’t be the new person. A new person will come in and you will roll with them and you will see how much better you got. Enjoy your journey and have fun. I tell the girls who compete, its normal to be nervous, but don’t stress so much that it’s no longer fun.”
What are you looking forward to next?
“A baby, but that means I can’t train as much. Also, just making our gym grow. I’m 32, almost 33, and I don’t have any kids, the reason why is because my goal was the get my black belt first. My parents are so mad. I feel selfish, but I worked so hard. I did want my black belt without any distractions.”
You followed your Grandfather’s advice.
“I told my mom I got my black belt a month after I got it. The first thing she is is “Okay, baby!” She remembered! There’s a couple of more things I want to accomplish, but that is ultimately the next step. Shorter term, to get better and healthier and to win something as a black belt.”
About the Author:
Irene Matsuoka is a four stripe blue belt with Jiu Jitsu Dynamics out of Olympia, WA. She started training Jiu Jitsu in 2010 after attending her first backyard fight party. She enjoys coaching kids Jiu Jitsu class and is working on her MPA.