Meet the Hosts GIGFL Special Event: Melissa Bentley, Gezary Matuda, Hannette Staack, Gina Franssen and Carissa Damm

GIG FL Banner copyOn April 30, 2016 Girls in Gis is hitting the sandy beaches of Florida for what is said to be the event of the year! One hundred and fifty females will be in attendance to learn from an incredible line up of instructors. The all star list of host just keeps getting better and better as the event gains momentum. Legendary black belt Hannette Staack, world champion Gezary Matuda, the phenomena black belt Gina Franssen, champion Melissa Bentley and MMA fighter/black belt Carissa Damm are included in the line up.  The event will be held at American Top Team Vero Beach located in the Indiana River Mall at 6200 20th St #210 Vero Beach, FL 32966. We had a chance to chat with host Melissa Bentley of American Top Team Vero Beach about the upcoming event, what it means to her to have this event at her home academy and work with these amazing ladies.


Melissa Bentley is one that rose through the ranks fast and furiously. At the rate she is moving, there is no sign of her slowing down anytime soon. Having earned her black belt in six years under professor Master Renato Tavares, Melissa has proven her self time and time again. She is a girl on fire and has been showing the world that girls can in fact do anything boys can do, and girls can do it better.

She says that she started training BJJ because she had been involved in team sports her whole life and missed being a part of a team.  Having started her BJJ journey on a whim she never imagined how life changing the decision to start training would be.  Melissa is a mother, a wife and world class competitor. She says her family is her biggest fans and helps keep her going. She is a women who proves that you can have your cake and eat it too.

One of Melissa’s biggest goals in BJJ was to earn her black belt from professor Master Renato Tavares, which she has. With great power comes great responsibility and the responsibility of being a black belt isn’t something that Melissa takes lightly.  She says that lower belts look to the black belts for guidance and knowledge. Although black belts don’t know everything because this sport is ever changing and evolving, it is our [ black belts] job  to teach respect, show respect, encourage, lead and set a good example for everyone to follow.

melissab2The most noticeable change Melissa has seen in BJJ since she started is that more women are competing.  When she started competing six years ago she was primarily competing against men, especially at local tournaments.  Now there are a lot more female competitors and she hopes it will continue to grow.  Melissa says she would like to see more higher belt females competing at smaller tournaments, because regardless of rank you can always learn from testing yourself and you don’t necessarily need to be at the big tournaments to do so.

Although she has a handful of females that she trains with, she predominantly trains with me men more because the pool is bigger. Melissa says training with men and women have their own benefits.  According to Melissa training with women is especially beneficial if you are competitor.

“From my own experience and other women I have spoken with there is a very big difference in the way women move compared to men.  We are built different and our way of doing things are different, so if you’re only training with men and competing against women it’s like a whole new game.”

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Melissa says getting more women and girls training isn’t the problem, its having them stay that is.

“Having these awesome Women’s Open Mats are helping tremendously.  When women see a lot of women together enjoying themselves and learning something that not only is fun but practical for life saving skills is priceless.  We need to make sure gyms are welcoming and try to push the significance of what they are learning and how it can benefit their lives.”

Melissa says she has hosted a few other open mats before, but this one is exceptionally special because Girls in Gis is one of the first organization to start these open mats for women and she is hosting along side women she looks up to. This includes women like Hannette Staack, Gina Franssen, Gezary Matuda and Carissa Damm.

“I honestly don’t think I have the right words to express what an honor it is to work with these amazing athletes.  I am super excited to learn from them and not just techniques but as an instructor to learn different styles of teaching and how they approach teaching. I’ve done a seminar with Professor Gina Franssen and loved her confidence in teaching. I got to work with her a bit on techniques which was great.  Professor Gezary Matuda also was a part of the same seminar and showed amazing positions.  I think she is an amazing competitor and I would love to be able to pick her brain on competition preparation and mindset.  I’m very excited to work with Carina Damn as well to learn a different perspective and gain even more knowledge. I have never met Professor Hannette Staack but I am anxious to learn from her and to just be on the same mats.  She is a legend and I know I will be learning a great deal.”

She says she loves the vibe of women coming together and looks forward to meeting new people. It is such a great opportunity for all girls and  to expose this amazing sport further so our community can grow bigger. Based on the fact that we have hit capacity one week prior to the event and that capacity was set at 150 participants, I think this is a sign that the women’s BJJ scene in Florida is growing fast and  furiously much like it’s up and coming female talent.

We have a waiting list going on. So please sign up and we will let you know as soon as we have a spot open.


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