Strip yourself of the ego, facade, and fluffiness; add hard knocks, sheer determination, faith, humility, a nasty to the core win record; and you have Lana Stefanac. Lana is a top-notch black belt with a heavy hand in paving the way for fellow Brazilian Jiu Jitsu practitioners, women practitioners in particular. This is an ode to our black belt workhorse who makes no apologies for being a beast on and off the mat.
Lana fell into the sport during high school. She and her brother (who is also a BJJ black belt) spent countless hours wrestling in the barn and all over the house from the living room to the kitchen. Much of her early physicality was centered on strength training, which still lends itself to her fight game today. Lana is no stranger to hard work. Working in a male dominated profession, she did roofing and framing for some years.
Lana had previous experience in other forms of martial arts. Muay Thai was especially near and dear to her. She saw a Muay Thai fighter basically get picked apart by a BJJ purple belt and she was instantly fascinated; leading her to hang up her silky Muay Thai shorts in exchange for a shiny new white belt. Lana happened into MMA when someone offered her a lot of money to fight. MMA isn’t her first love. She just happens to be good at it. She uses MMA as a mechanism to show off BJJ. She hopes that the face of women’s MMA will change in that they will once again be recognized for their talent and hard work, void of arrogance and cocky antics.
Lana’s Jiu Jitsu journey is never ending. She shared that things clicked intermittently along the ride but right around purple belt, and certainly as a black belt, her technical growth was exponential. Chokes, arm bars, triangles, foot locks, kimuras and knee bars are her specialties. I’d say that’s a pretty comprehensive arsenal. Lana is quick to point out that the journey doesn’t end at black belt…sounds like it’s just the start of a new journey.
Lana’s place in this sport is not lost on her. She was the first women’s fight sanctioned by the California State Athletic Commission in 2006 and was the only American, male or female, to double gold in the Mundials. Lana is quick to tell you, though, that being put on a pedestal is not her cup of tea and is more concerned about being respected for her accomplishments than being idolized for some disillusioned persona or image. She seeks to capture the spirit of the sport and lend a hand to make this world a better place. There are fans and then there are rock stars. She is neither of the two…she just wants to be Lana. She makes it pretty plain: what you see is what you get.
Lana spends most of her time coaching and refining techniques and seminars when she can fit them into her busy schedule. She shares this wise nugget with white belts: “realize that you are the roughest pieces of wood, piercing yourself with your own splinters”…it will smooth out if you stick to it. When asked advice for female white belts struggling to grasp the sport, Lana says, “get used to it, life is hard and doesn’t like quitters.” If THAT doesn’t get your butt in gear, I don’t know what will.
If you all remember, Ronda Rousey’s bold statement about being able to beat any female BJJ practitioner caused uproar in the BJJ community last year. Lana’s response is simple and clear. She won’t partake in that kind of arrogance and finds it sad that genuine talent must be prostituted for it to be recognized.
Lana embodies the essence of BJJ. Her BJJ journey started off just like the rest of ours. Her tenacity, her defiance and her drive are what make her journey her own.
Lana’s one last nugget for us all:
“If you are not feeling beat up, defeated, or frustrated you’re probably not doing BJJ.”
Marinate on that and get after it, girls!!
Girls in Gis staff writer
Sharicka Long-O’Neill, is a blue belt with the Kompound Training Center out of Littleton, CO. She has been a jiu jitsu practitioner since July of 2012. She is a mom and a ten-year veteran of the United States Navy. Her hobbies include fitness, cooking, and traveling with her husband of five years.