When I started jiu-jitsu, my goal was simply to be able to defend myself, but it quickly became much more. My journey begins with the purchase of my first home. I lived alone and thought it would be best to learn to defend myself. I signed up for self-defense classes at my local community center but I learned what they taught wouldn’t help to defend myself against a paper bag let alone a stranger. At the suggestion of a friend, I went with him to check out a Brazilian jiu-jitsu academy, and after the first class, I was hooked. At the time, I didn’t know where I was going with jiu-jitsu. All I knew was that I had a sense of confidence I didn’t have before, and I didn’t want that feeling to go away.
I was a two-striped white belt when I first competed. I was terrified. I had to go against a woman who out-weighed me. To her, her coaches’ shock and mine, I beat her. From that moment I was infected with the competition bug. Still, I wasn’t sure where this would take me or that I was about to begin my jiu-jitsu journey. I knew I loved jiu-jitsu and I wanted to learn everything I could. I cannot tell you when but at some point I realized I had gone as far as I could with my coach. I wanted something more and needed something more. I wanted my black belt, and I wanted to be the best little black belt in the world. At that time, I had no idea where this desire would take me.
Fast forward several years, I had lost my job and my way. I felt there was nothing in my life to live for but on a snowy night in December I realized there was something to live for; jiu-jitsu. I wanted to train under a black belt; I wanted a new start. It was then I decided I needed to relocate. I ended up in Austin, TX with no money, no job and on the verge of bankruptcy but I had jiu-jitsu. It was my salvation, but in less than a year that salvation ended, and I ended up as a gypsy. Training at different academies until I found my home and my journey officially began.
The desire to be a black belt was always there. There isn’t one person who starts jiu-jitsu who doesn’t dream of a black belt, but many will never achieve it. It is a road that is not for the timid. There is a lot of sacrifice in evolved. You will shed blood, sweat, and tears. Many and many tears.
My dream wasn’t only to be a black belt but to be a world champion, and to prove that jiu-jitsu is for everyone, even a 100-pound gal. I struggled for years until I found the professor who could help me. You will hear it said often and it is true. A professor can only take a student so far. The determination to go that last distance is on the part of the student. It sounds hokey, but I’ve had so many conversations with my professor regarding this I’ve lost count. He can teach me every move, and I can perfect every technique but the desire to win lies within in and only in me.
Over the years, it began clear I wasn’t going to achieve my dream of being a world champion, so I settled for just winning an Open, then winning a match or just getting a takedown. And finally, I just hoped to survive a full 6-minute match. The realization that I might never achieve this dream hit me hard. I pondered what was there in jiu-jitsu without competition. I gave up a lot to chase my jiu-jitsu dreams, and at 45, I have come to realize most of them might never come true. Sometimes I looked back and wondered if I’ve been a fool.
I gave up good paying jobs, financial security and a family. I started training jiu-jitsu at 32. When most women were getting married, having children or climbing the corporate ladder, I was registering for tournaments and spending my nights rolling with sweaty men. I was happy. I had a goal, and I felt I could achieve it. I wondered if I lost a chance at having a family and kids chasing a dream that I could never grasp. I gave up on a career and financial security thinking I was as strong and talented as the generation that is following me.
It was difficult to accept that all my hard work had been for nothing and wondering what the future held was very terrifying. Two years ago, I nearly died, for the second time, and it made me think why? Why was I literally given a second chance at life? What was I meant for? I didn’t want to wait until I was on my deathbed to found out, I wanted to know now. I looked at my life, and I had nothing. Nothing I achieved amounted to anything. If I couldn’t be a world champion then what. What was the point of jiu-jitsu? I had lost confidence in myself but worst of all I lost confidence in my jiu-jitsu.
During my training camp for the 2017 Master Worlds, I became emotionally exhausted. I broke down crying during and after each training session. I felt like a weak little girl, but I knew after seven competitions in 8 months I needed a break. I needed time to re-evaluate my jiu-jitsu. I needed to re-evaluate my path, my journey.
On August 2017, in Las Vegas, I stepped on the mats to compete for what I thought was my last competition ever. I never told anyone, but I had decided this would be my last. I was tried of working so hard and gaining so little. All I ever wanted was one small victory. What I didn’t realize until my hand was raised was that every time I returned to training after a loss was a victory. What I have learned and maybe I’ve always known is our desire to continue after a failure is what makes us stronger; struggling is strength. Struggling makes us realize what is truly important in our lives.
Although I’ve achieved a dream of being a world champion, it still seems unreal; I wonder what is next. At some point, you must answer the question, when it is time to stop competing? Will it be age that stops you or an injury? As you all can see, I’m struggling with this, but it is what it is. You make choices in your life, and for good or bad you must accept them.
Over past months, I have been helping with the kid’s classes. And I have felt a small flicker of life again. It was that same small flicker I felt at my first ever jiu-jitsu class. I’m not sure if this is my new path, but I like the idea of teaching jiu-jitsu to a new generation. To give them the confidence I developed and hope they don’t make the same mistakes I made. To teach them size is only a number on a scale. To teach them to follow their path regardless of where it leads.
About the Author
Rebecca Lee Varady
Rebecca is a purple belt at Gracie Humaitá Austin under Donald Park and Paulo Brandao. She has been training for 10 years and is a constant competitor in local and national Jiu Jitsu tournaments. She stays mentally and physically strong by conditioning twice a week at Atomic Athlete. Outside of BJJ, she enjoys relaxing at home with her books and DVDs.