With just under 100 years since its inception, Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu (BJJ) has become the fastest growing martial art in recent time. With the accelerated growth the reach of BJJ transcends all boundaries and stretches from one end of the earth to the other. According to Canadian native and BJJ Black belt Misty Shearer, the biggest difference between the BJJ scene in Canada and the USA is numbers. She says when she started training just over thirteen years ago, Canada only had a handful of Brazilians that dared to venture into the Canadian frontier. Perhaps at the time the idea of leaving the warm climate of Brazil for the below freezing temperatures of the Canadian terrain could have been a factor. She said of those that did make their way north, most settled into eastern Canada.
“We are so spread out, really at the time an untapped potential. Now there are black belts in every major city. Like most things I think its location. We are a few years behind the US, but not many. We also have a bit different mindset, I think at times we struggle to find our place in this BJJ world, but it’s coming.”
Misty Shearer is the head instructor and owner of Brazil-021 Edmonton, under Andre Terencio & Hannette Staack. She says she has always been involved in combat sports, from Judo, Boxing, Kickboxing, Wrestling and she started dabbling in BJJ in about 2003. In the 90’s there wasn’t a lot of women in boxing and kickboxing so Misty took that as far as she could, then she got into wrestling at the University of Manitoba. She says she really liked it and competed at the Nationals but she started to get frustrated. At the time, she was in her late 20’s and just felt that she was too old to start such a technical sport. She also added that she kept going on her back, which she said felt natural. However as wrestling enthusiast knows, turning on your back is a big No No in wrestling. When Misty moved to Edmonton she stumbled across some guys that were grappling at a gym. She asked them about it and they directed her to one of the only clubs in the city. BJJ was still very new at the time and the club instructor was just a brand new blue belt.
She says the most enjoyable part of instructing is watching the “light bulb” go off in her student’s heads. She says you can see it in their face when that happens and then watching them pull the technique off in rolling, for Misty that’s the greatest thing. Misty says she loves teaching blue and purple belts; working with them to make what they know better, opening their eyes to the other possibilities in the moves or techniques. But perhaps more she loves teaching the kids. She says she never planned on teaching kids.
“I never taught kids till almost my first year after open my gym. One of my students talked me into taking on his niece (who was 3)… well then through A LOT of trial and A LOT of error. I have been able to develop my skills teaching kids into an amazing class. My youngest student is almost 3. I sit back and am amazed watching them, dumbfounded really. Half the time I don’t think they even pay attention and WHAM they nail the bullfighter pass; it’s really the most rewarding feeling I have ever had.”
We are taught in BJJ and in all Martial Arts the importance of respect and loyalty toward your instructor, team, teammates and academy. However, sometimes the feeling isn’t mutual. When consumed in a toxic environment we can often wear blinders and fall victim to blind loyalty. This was a lesson that Misty learned firsthand.
By the time Misty reached a brown belt she decided it was time to leave her BJJ club to seek out a healthier environment. Leaving behind the politics of her former club, Misty struggled finding a new team that shared the same vision. It took her three teams before she finally found her new home. Almost four years ago she met Hannette Staack and instantly she knew she had found the team. Her and her club moved over to the Brazil-021 Team in 2013. She says through the trials and tribulations she has learned so many lessons both good and bad.
“I gave a team 6 years of my life, 100% dedication and loyalty, then was thrown away like a piece of garbage. I was told I was poison. Even through all that, I don’t think I would change a thing. Through all the crap I found my path, and now I do what I love and surround myself with amazing students, and training partners. I also get to meet amazing people when I travel. So really I wouldn’t change a thing.”
Having taught for so many years by the time Misty reached black belt, the next logical step was to open her own club. Although it was a dream come true for Misty once again she was faced with adversary. Misty says it is hard enough being respected as a female black belt, but when you throw being a female club owner into the equation and it’s a whole other game.
For example she says of the ten other clubs in her city and surrounding communities she is one of the few instructors and clubs registered with the IBJJF. She and her students actively compete at local and IBJJF tournaments in the US. Of the ten clubs, maybe two of the black belts of other clubs in the area compete or are registered with IBJJF. Yet she and her club are barely noticed, nor thought about. She adds that there are even schools that have purple belt main instructors that are given more regard than her. She says that for some of these schools the instructors lack credentials and they have to use seminars they have attended as reference on their bios.
Although being a female black belt and club owner is no easy task, Misty says that she doesn’t let the opinions of others bother her. She feels extremely grateful to have a great and loyal team. She has also succeeded in creating a safe and great place to teach and train.
“It’s tough not going to lie, it’s discouraging, but I kept my head down and four years later we have an amazing club. I wouldn’t change a thing.”
As for students that don’t like the idea of being taught by a women or feel she doesn’t have anything to offer, she says she doesn’t want them as students anyways. Having come from what could be described as a toxic training environment, it is of utmost importance for Misty to provide a healthy and positive environment for her students to train and flourish. Combine that with her natural leadership qualities and her and eighteen years Military experience Misty is one hell of a leader. So what is the secret to her success? Misty says that being a good role model, being flexible and providing opportunities for her students to freely contribute input is crucial.
“Lead by example. I can’t expect anyone to follow and I am not willing to lead from the front. I set rules what is acceptable and what isn’t, I am willing to try different things and if they don’t work out, well try something else. And I allow my students to also self-police and say no without retribution. I speak to everyone that walks through our doors, it’s not only are we the right club for them, but are they the right team member for us.”
Girls in Gis staff writer
Shama Ko is a brown belt with Gracie Humaita out of Austin, TX. She has been a Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu practitioner since November of 2003. She is a photographer, writer, community organizer and activist. She heads the Girls in Gis organization or as she calls it the “movement”. She describes herself as both a lover and a fighter. She loves to laugh and not take life too seriously.