As soon as I got off my call with Mary Aldana, the only thing I wanted to do was put on my gi and get on the mat. If it had not been 6:00 am, I just might have! Mary’s enthusiasm about Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu and her resilient spirit echoed in everything she said during our talk.
Mary spent seven years on the sidelines at South Texas Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu before she was finally convinced to try Jiu Jitsu for herself. Her daughter Vivian, at the age of 8, started Jiu-Jitsu first. In the beginning, Mary would watch her daughter’s class, but the more time she spent at the school, the more involved she became. From talking to other parents about the martial art, to helping out at the front desk, to even leading warm-ups once in a while. She was getting closer and closer to realizing that this was where she was meant to be – not just as a helper, but as a practitioner. Finally, at the start of 2019, she took that first step and started training under Victor Garza.
With four children and a full-time job as a nurse, Mary definitely has her hands full. However, she does not give it a second thought when it comes to making time for her training sessions. Jiu-Jitsu, just like being a nurse and a mom, is part of who she is. Things do look differently now with the stress and exhaustion of being on the front lines during the COVID-19 pandemic. However, even with these new circumstances, she finds relief on the mats that have now become part of the family room in her home.
Mary’s passion for Jiu-Jitsu was evident as she recounted her first class. She joyfully told me how her daughter, currently a Yellow Belt, always pushes her to improve. However, it was her fighting spirit in coping with challenges off the mat that really moved me. As if a packed schedule wasn’tt enough, in 2015 Mary was diagnosed with breast cancer and had to go through intense chemotherapy treatment. She had barely started the recovery process when she suffered a stroke which affected the mobility on one side of her body. Nevertheless, Mary was determined not to be defined by her health experiences. Instead, she tapped into her inner strength and fought to be self-sufficient. This is where Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu played a critical role. After all, what better way to prove you can take care of yourself than by literally knowing how to physically defend yourself when put under pressure or threat? Now, not only can she protect herself, but she can fight back too!
Even though she is incredibly passionate about her training, it does not come without occasional hesitations. The apprehension of being in her mid-40s plus mobility limitations, do frustrate her occasionally. Still, Mary continues to fight and to focus on keeping a positive mindset. With all that she has been through, she knows that if she faces her challenges head on, she will emerge victorious.
One of the keys to her enthusiasm is her training environment. It is in Jiu-Jitsu class where Mary feels that she is enveloped in an atmosphere of complete acceptance. The frustrations she might feel when there is a technique or movement that she struggles with is never noted as a weakness by her coach or classmates. Rather, it is always framed as an opportunity to learn and grow. It is through this non-judgmental atmosphere that she realized how authentic an experience Jiu-Jitsu is. This attitude of complete acceptance has translated into other areas of her life and she has come to value pure honesty and genuineness of character over anything else.
A two-stripe white belt, Mary believes in the power of Jiu-Jitsu and enthusiastically encourages others to give it a try. While she is still in the early stages of training, she looks forward to enjoying the learning process and discovering all the rewards it has to offer.
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.