When I heard the name Laurence Cousin Fouillat, the first image that popped into my mind was of her, standing at the top of a podium with a gold medal around her neck. While I wanted to know more about her life as a world-class Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu competitor, I also wanted to get to know the woman behind the medals – what drew her to Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu in the first place, what motivated her, and what she learned along the way.
In 2005, Laurence earned the title and honor of being Europe’s first female Brazilian jiu jitsu black belt. Not long after she became the first European woman to take home the title of IBJJF World Champion. When you are recognized for your accomplishments in terms of medals and belt promotions, it is easy to forget how much work goes into reaching those milestones. With Laurence, there was one main motto that lay at the foundation of how she got started, how she continued, and how she rose to the top, and that was: take it step-by-step.
Her first introduction to the world of martial arts was with Aikido. After practicing that for several years, in 1999 her coach introduced her to Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu (BJJ). Having had some exposure to Judo before, the concept of grappling was not foreign to her; however, in learning various submissions, particularly joint locks, she was hooked by BJJ.
When she first began, Laurence focused on building her repertoire of techniques and becoming comfortable with her ground game. She had not thought about joining the competition scene. However, with the encouragement of her coach, she gave it a try and got her first taste of victory. It was after that experience that Laurence had a focus: she was going to win the IBJJF World Championships.
Winning never comes right away. Her commitment to training and her firm focus on improving her techniques put her on the path to victory. She was strategic with how she approached her mat time, and as much as she trained her body, she also trained her mind. She knew that in order to win, she would have to endure some losses and continue to put in the work. She did not back down from the challenge and used every opportunity to develop her techniques and her self-confidence.
Eventually, her commitment to her practice and her belief in herself paid off. In 2007, she took first place in the IBJJF World Championships, becoming the first European female Black Belt to do so.
So, what happens when you reach your goal? You set another one, of course. Laurence kept her sights on winning various competitions. In the meantime, however, she had to learn how to balance other things in her life: her work, time with her family, as well as her overall health. In 2010, she felt burned out by all the competitions, and also suffered from a back injury. This kept her away from training for about two years. It was during this break that she thought she would never return to the competition scene. However, after a lot of patience, plus the encouragement of her coach, team, and students, step-by-step, she returned to the mat. The break did her good; she felt like she was given a second life – a chance to rediscover her love for BJJ and continue to evolve her game.
I learned so much from my conversation with Laurence; these were my main takeaways:
- Do not skip steps when it comes to the learning process. Be patient. Allow yourself to enjoy learning from the losses and growing from the wins.
- Be strategic with your training. It is impossible to train at 100% all the time. Therefore, see how you can make the most of each training session by varying your focus and continuing to challenge yourself.
- Be flexible with your approach to training. Realize that your game will change over time. Learn to go with the flow and learn other styles of training. Laurence says that even now, as a 3rd degree black belt, Laurence learns new things each day.
- Take time to rest. It can be difficult to see how pausing from practice can help you improve, but it is necessary to maintain longevity in the game.
- Have fun. Enjoy your mat time, the camaraderie of your teammates, and continually be fascinated by what Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu has to offer.
Laurence currently lives in Toulouse, France where she and her husband, Erwan, run Acemat Academy, which is affiliated with Ribeiro Jiu-Jitsu. She draws motivation and inspiration from her students. Although she is an instructor, she still sees herself as a lifelong learner and is excited to see how her game will continue to evolve over time, step-by-step.
Ayesha is a purple belt and currently trains in Kuwait. She is an educator, writer, and speaker. Ayesha is the founder of She is Fierce, an organization that focuses on empowering women through Jiu-Jitsu, mindfulness practices, and written expression. Her other interests include writing, cooking, weightlifting, and yoga. After 20 years in education, she has shifted gears and is currently pursuing a Masters in Counseling Psychology with the hope to expand her work with women and continue to provide them with safe, supportive spaces where they can heal, grow, and thrive. You can learn more about She is Fierce at sheisfierce.co.uk or on Instagram @fiercefitfight & @plumpetalsfit.