You’d be hard-pressed to find many like Melissa Lohsen in women’s jiu jitsu today. Being a wife, a mother, and a gym owner since 2002 are all important to Melissa’s story (not to mention, she’s a black belt under Cesar Gracie). However, her story doesn’t stop there.
After her husband fell in love with BJJ, he worked on getting Melissa on the mats for 2 years. Finally, Melissa started training around 1996 when women’s jiu jitsu was non-existent.. Though she was hesitant, she joined. Back then, there were no women to roll with, only macho, sweaty guys that wanted to be fighters.
You’ve been with the sport for a long time. What are key lessons on your journey you’ve learned?
Train smart. Be selective in your training partners. Look for longevity in the sport. Stay humble or you will involuntarily be humbled. Also, help to develop the new students because they become invaluable training partners down the road.
What is something people may not know about you?
I am a pretty open book. I don’t know that there is much about me people don’t already know.
I am a Jiu Jitsu nerd, my life literally revolves around my family, my gym, and Jiu Jitsu.
At brown belt you were ranked as the #1 Master 3 brown belt in the world and the 2017 brown belt IBJJF Masters World Champion. Can you tell us about that experience and what that was like?
Oh my God, that was amazing! It was our first time going to The IBJJF Master World Championships and we (my husband and I) trained our asses off. I had never competed in that large of a tournament, and it was my first time being in a real division with women of my age and rank.
I felt really good that day. I took my division as well as the absolute division. I’m still chasing that black belt title though.
You have some interesting competition experience, notably against men, what was that like and how did that impact you?
Yes. I competed in the first Gracie Open in San Francisco (I can’t remember the year). There were no women at the tournament. I had registered and really wanted to compete, so they dropped me a weight class and put me in the men’s division. A few guys dropped out because they did not want to go against a girl, and the rest tried to murder me. They definitely did not want to lose to a girl.
[Laughs] Let’s just say it did not go well for me. I love competition and I knew eventually more women would start training, so I registered the next year and there was one other girl that year, so we ended up doing an absolute with her.
Fast forward a couple years and I was doing a tournament in Santa Cruz. We had three or four women in that one [tournament]. They were giving out nice medals for the men and when I won, they gave me a kid’s trophy. This was my first fight for women’s equality in Jiu Jitsu; I legit threw a fit.
I really did not care about the trophy versus medal thing. But I saw a bad precedent being set where women were an afterthought in the tournament scene. So, I refused the trophy and had a heated discussion with the promoter. They mailed me a medal and an apology letter later with, and the next year women were awarded the same awards as the men.
Where else have you advocated for women’s equality in BJJ?
I talk frequently to tournament promoters just trying to discuss their frustrations with getting turnout of women at tournaments and we strategize to improve turnout.
We have thrown our own women’s tournament with Pretty Dangerous. Also, back in California when we ran our own tournaments, we offered the same championship belts to the women’s absolute division as we did the men’s.
As an accomplished woman in BJJ, do you have more aspirations that you’re looking to achieve? If so, what are they?
Black-belt Master World Champion and #1 at black belt in my age division would be awesome.
We also run a women’s organization called Pretty Dangerous in Florida and I would love to develop that into a significant force for women leaders in Jiu Jitsu.
Also, building DarkwolfMMA, the gym my husband and I own, into a premier BJJ gym in the area. Yes, you could say I have some big goals.
What’s the story behind Pretty Dangerous?
So, it really started back in 2006. It was a name my husband came up with for our women’s competition team. Then we moved to Florida and I was looking for ways to train with more women. We went to a Girls in Gis event and realized that there really wasn’t a central Florida group doing more local women’s open mats. My husband suggested that we go ahead and use the name and start a rotating event here.
From then, it has morphed into monthly events hosted by multiple schools. Over the years, our mission has developed into a push for promoting women in leadership in Jiu Jitsu and the idea that you do not need to be a black belt to make a difference.
Off the mats, what do you spend most of your time doing?
[Laughs] There is very little time off the mats. I try to get to the beach when I can. I pick up shifts here and there at Newman Veterinary Centers where I am a Veterinary Technician, but that’s about it.
About the author: Mindi is a purple belt under Headnod HQ in Granite City, Illinois under Josh and Steve McKinney. She is affiliated with TAC Team BJJ. When Mindi isn’t on the mats, she is writing, working in women’s ministry, or across seas as a volunteer missionary. Instagram: @fomindi82