On March 22nd, 2019, Sandi Duquette and Susan Gordon faced off in a monumental match. They were at the IBJJF Pans at UC-Irvine, and faced off in a Women’s Master 7 blue belt bout. Sandi and Susan began the match sizing each other up, each trying to take the other down. After several seconds, Sandi and Susan both go to the ground. Susan assumes the turtle position, and Sandi seizes the moment, taking Susan’s back and applying a successful rear naked choke. The video of this match went viral among the BJJ community, not only because of the historic match up, but because of Sandi’s black belt son, Blaine Lacanaria, and his encouragement to his mother: “Get on top, Ma! Get your hooks in! Choke her out! Oh, yeah!”
It was with her two black belt son’s encouragement that made Sandi give Jiu Jitsu a try at age 65. Even two of her four sons began Jiu Jitsu at a later age, which each starting in their 30s. She had recently retired from being a large animal veterinary assistant, and was looking for a way to challenge all of her muscle groups, and her mind. From the first class, Sandi began her addiction to Jiu Jitsu, an addiction each of us experience from the first roll. She began her Jiu Jitsu journey totally obsessed, and found herself training 5-6 times a week, sometimes twice a day. She soon realized that her body and mind wouldn’t last in this sport with that kind of training frequency and intensities, and admits that she was so inundated with information, that she could barely remember the moves. Now a couple of years into her Jiu Jitsu training, Sandi recommends balance, even though one might be tempted to train all the time.
Now 68 years old, and standing at only 5 feet tall, Sandi jokes that she is usually the oldest and smallest in her classes, though that doesn’t stop her from rolling with everyone, once even with a man who was 6’9”. Just like every newbie, Sandi felt like she totally “sucked” at the beginning. When she earned her blue belt recently, she felt like an imposter. Her encouragement to others who might be feeling this way is to “just keep showing up.” She adopts a one day at a time mentality, and seizes every moment in her exciting journey. She credits her coaches and teammates with keeping her spirits up, and for encouraging her, even if she isn’t a stereotypical student.
Not only does Sandi train in Jiu Jitsu, she also recently started doing Muay Thai and Judo. She is a true adventurer, and loves being thrown the most about Judo. While this part of Judo is usually dreaded, she jokes that she enjoys “flying through the air.”. Sandi has a wonderful sense of humor, and jokes that in Muay Thai her opponent should, “watch your ankles!” A native of Hawaii and a resident of cold Michigan, Sandi spends her winters in Hawaii, and even finds time to find open mats and martial arts classes there.
After Susan tapped to Sandi’s rear naked choke, the women embrace. No matter who won, this match was historic. After significant lobbying from women in BJJ, the IBJJF finally added Masters categories to its tournaments. With many Jiu Jitsu enthusiasts starting in their 20s, the addition of the Masters categories acknowledges that women of all ages and types are embracing the sport. Sandi might have had her hand raised in victory, but it wasn’t just her victory. This was a victory for all of us, and Sandi and Susan both are incredible inspirations to all of us.
It’s never too late to embrace the Jiu Jitsu addiction.
About the Author:
Darisse Smith is a four stripe white belt and trains at Aloisio Silva Academy in Yucaipa, California. She is married with a 6 year old son who also trains in Jiu Jitsu. Darisse spent 7 years in the U.S. Army as a reconnaissance and attack helicopter pilot. She is a full-time student at UC-Irvine, earning her 2nd Bachelor’s Degree in Literary Journalism. Her favorite move is the kimura from closed guard.