The American Dream

Following in the footsteps of female world champions that came before her and under the watchful eye of Leticia Ribeiro, you will find  Mariana Rolszt.  Within the first year of earning her black belt from Leticia, Rolszt successfully fought her way to the top at the IBJJF Brazilian National Championships and at BJJ Star 8.  At only 24 years old, Rolszt is on the fast track toward greatness.  

Having grown up in Rio De Janeiro in a family that trained Jiu Jitsu, the idea of moving to America to train under Leticia Ribeiro seemed impossible. But with the support of her family Rolszt is now living the American Dream. We caught up with her to learn more about this rising star. 

Having grown up in a family where both of your parents train, did you ever feel pressure to train? What made you finally start at age 12? 

When I started training, my parents did Jiu Jiutsu to have fun and to relax at the end of their work day. I grew up with this feeling about Jiu Jitsu being fun. I started after I saw my dad compete at a tournament. I was so excited and longed for that feeling too, so he asked me to come train at the gym, but all I really wanted to do was compete. Three months after that I competed in my first tournament.  

What made you move to the USA? Tell us about this experience and what it was like to leave home for a different country? 

I came to America because there are so many more opportunities. I’ve always loved to visit and train with Leticia and the Gracie South Bay team. I would come and stay for a while and train with Leticia, but I always went home back to Brazil. Eventually there came a time that it became harder and harder to stay in Brazil, to make trips to compete, to manage my responsibilities, and to live the athlete life.   

Did you come to the USA with any goals? Which have you accomplished?

Of course becoming a world champion was one of my goals, but now my priority is establishing my life and helping my family. I think being among world champions is one way to help me achieve my goal, and with Letty by my side I know it’s gonna be easier. 

Do your parents still train? What do they think of your success? 

My parents stopped training, but they still accompany me. I’ve always had their support. My mother and brothers are my biggest supporters; they celebrate with me with every victory and make me feel special in defeats.

You have many accomplishments. Which one means the most to you and why? 

I have two special moments that mean a lot to me. One was my first world championship  where I realized I wanted to make a career out of Jiu Jitsu. The second one was when I won the Brazilian National because it was my first important title as a black belt

What has been your greatest experience in your BJJ journey thus far? Why? 

Bjj Stars for sure. It is the dream of every athlete who wants to live off of the sport to participate in an event like that. There we see up close the professionalization of the sport

What has your experience been training under Leticia Ribeiro? Why do you think she has so many champions? 

I was always one of her fans, so it was a dream when I met her. My admiration for her only grew. She loves what she does, she has a passion for teaching, and this love passed onto her students. She inspires us to achieve our best Jiu Jitsu version. 

You are following in the footsteps of legends like Leticia Ribeiro, Mackenzie Dern, and Penny Thomas on the Gracie Humaita team. Do you ever feel pressure to live up to the expectations? 

To be honest, no. They inspire me, but I don’t force myself to be the new Bia or the new Letty. I try to use what they teach me and hope it makes me more like them, but I don’t put that responsibility on myself

What are some of your goals moving forward? 

I want to earn some titles in my career, like Worlds, Pan Ams, Europe… And I want to start competing in more No Gi tournaments that I never had an opportunity to do before. 



 Shama Ko

Girls in Gis staff writer

Shama Ko is a black belt and program director at Girls in Gis. 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.

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