Empowering Women Through Brazilian Jiu Jitsu
Syaheenaz Halim strives to strengthen the Malaysian female Brazilian Jiu Jitsu community through Malaysian Jiujiteras, a movement to help empower and bring together female practitioners in Malaysia.
Female presence within the Malaysian Brazilian Jiu Jitsu community may still be small yet with an ever growing number of competitive female fighters taking the mats, Syaheenaz felt that it is important to help drive female empowerment and build a safe platform for women to learn and support each other. Through Malaysian Jiu Jiteras, Syaheenaz has helped bring the female community closer through all female open mat sessions around Malaysia (*open mat sessions refers to community sessions that are usually held in gyms and are open for all practitioners to partake for free), empower and motivate women by inviting reknown black belt female practitioners, like Kristina Barlaan and Livia Gluchowska to share their skill set and knowledge and with more plans in the pipeline, the sky is the limit.
We spoke to Syaheenaz to find out more about her love for Brazilian Jiu Jitsu, her future plans for Malaysian Jiujiteras and her thou...
"The biggest life lesson BJJ taught me was self-respect"
1. Tell us a bit about your own fitness background prior to taking up BJJ?
Before jiu jitsu I was actively part of Original Bootcamp whilst training Muay Thai & boxing at Muay Fit. That’s where I was introduced to no gi grappling and eventually found my love for BJJ when I travelled to Phuket Top Team to begin my journey.
2. When did you start learning BJJ? Tell us a bit about your journey
December 2012 at Phuket Top Team. I spent 3 weeks training with Olavo Abreu, most of which were PTs because I wanted to learn as much fundamentals as I could. Upon returning to KL I started to look for a gym which offered gi classes and I chanced upon Monarchy MMA & Bruninho Barbosa when I started attending their Sunday open mat sessions. Not long after, I joined Monarchy MMA & Team Buda (a BJJ team affiliated with Professor Bruninho Barbosa) became my family. I had my first competition not long after, winning 1 gold & 2 silvers, unfortunately a few months after I dislocated my elbow and fractured my ulna. I considered giving up on BJJ but Bruninho kept me motivated and helped me carry on with my journey.
3. What made you want to start learning BJJ? How is it compared to other martial arts?
I’ve always been fascinated with martial arts, and I wanted to learn a practical skill that would help me protect myself should the situation arise. I was also looking for a sport I could compete in. With boxing I was always worried about head injuries. Therefore, BJJ appealed to me so much, because there is no striking element. I feel BJJ is an art you can learn for a multitude of reasons. You can learn and practise it purely for fitness or self-defence, or you can turn it into your career and become a world champion.
4. Is learning BJJ difficult?
BJJ requires a lot of patience, persistence & dedication. It’s an art that requires time to learn and perfect and often you hit a mental wall because you feel you aren’t progressing. I feel in BJJ sometimes you feel you plateau, then you experience a steep jump in your knowledge. You must find ways to keep the fire burning.
5. How can a beginner improve and learn?
You must show up and put in the hours on the mat. There’s no secret formula to improving, effort and dedication will always overcome talent.
6. What do you love about BJJ? What has it taught you about life? How has it empowered you?
I love that you can be 80 years old and still roll. BJJ gave my life purpose, direction & it gave me my voice back. It helped me realise my self-worth & taught me to love and appreciate myself. The biggest life lesson BJJ taught me was self-respect. I was in an abusive relationship and BJJ gave me the strength to break free and the time spent on the mats was my therapy. It healed me from within. Bruninho used BJJ as a tool to help me confront my fears and piece myself together.
7. Tell us a bit about Malaysian Jiujiteras? Ie The background, how it started? What is Malaysian Jiujiteras? What is a jiujitera? Who can be a jiujitera etc
A Jiujiteira is a woman who practices BJJ. Anyone can be a jiujiteira regardless of age! Malaysian Jiujiteras was born out of my love for jiu jitsu and inspired by Jess Fraser and the love she has poured into Australian Girls in Gi. Imagine a community of over 1500 female grapplers supporting you and rooting for you to achieve your goals. That’s what I want to emulate in Malaysia. Our women helping each other achieve their goals. A safe space for all women regardless of team or affiliation.
8. How do you hope MJ will inspire/empower women?
My hope is to inspire women who have yet to find BJJ. I hope these women will see these amazing female athletes and be inspired to make a change in their lives. I want MJ to be a positive, supportive platform that will give courage to those who need it.
9.What have your efforts been thus far to bring together Malaysian female BJJ practitioners?
The first step was flying Jess Fraser in for Malaysia’s first female only seminar back in November. Since then I’ve organised open mat sessions for the women to roll with each other and get to know each other outside of competition. My goal is to fly in as many elite female black belts to expose our women to a different perspective of BJJ.
10. What do you hope to achieve with MJ?
I want the female BJJ community in Malaysia to continue growing, and I want it to be led by women who support and empower each other. I want Malaysian jiu jitsu to start making waves internationally, & I hope it is our female athletes who wear the crown.
11. How do you think MJ can help grow the female BJJ community?
You can’t improve if you’re a big fish in a small pond. Doors open, and opportunities arise when you begin networking in BJJ. It’s a small community, even internationally, and with every female black belt that comes to Malaysia, that’s an opportunity to train overseas. MJ functions as a stepping stone to building your BJJ network.
12. Why should women learn BJJ in particular?
It’s a self-defence system that will teach women to protect themselves. It will also help to build confidence and teach self-worth. The mats expose who you truly are, and I feel BJJ doesn’t only make you a better athlete or a healthier individual, it makes you a better human being off the mats. You learn self-control, and you learn to give more than you take.
13. How do you hope MJ will encourage more women to take up BJJ?
Some women aren’t always comfortable to drill and roll with men. Perhaps it’s a religious choice or maybe it’s a personal preference. Having a group of women that constantly roll and train together will help ease other women into BJJ. It will help with female retention within the sport. I hope MJ makes women realise that BJJ isn’t a male sport.
14. Do you think women can compete with men?
Women can roll and train with men. Women can submit men using technique. However, I feel when competing at an elite level there is a reason why there are weight classes and reasons why women and men don’t compete against each other. Testosterone levels play a huge part in an individual’s strength and muscle mass at the same weight will be very different in men and women.
15. Tell us a bit about your efforts to bring BJJ to SEA and Olympic Games?
BJJ has been introduced as a sport in this year’s Asian Games and will make its debut in next year’s SEA Games in Manila. Under the UAE Jiu Jitsu Federation (UAEJJF) Female Blue Belt I am ranked number 1 in Malaysia and this, together with my other international achievements helped open the lines of communication. Over the past year I have worked tirelessly to cultivate a relationship with the Olympic Council of Malaysia to bring to their attention the benefits that will arise from Malaysia’s participation in the games, to the country and the future of the sport globally. Moving forward we will be holding national trials in June next year to finalise a national team.
16. Who are your favourite female BJJ practitioners?
Jess Fraser, Michelle Nicolini, Livia Gluchowska, Tayane Porfirio, Leticia Ribeiro, Beatriz Mesquita, Rikako Yuasa, Ana Carolina Vieira…the list goes on! There are so many amazing women in BJJ and I admire their games for different reasons.
17. What is the scene like for women now from when you started and now?
In Malaysia there are a lot more women practitioners now, compared to when I first started. For several months I was the only girl on the mats at Monarchy.
18. What are your future plans for MJ?
I want to be able to bring in even more female black belts to Malaysia and eventually to host week long BJJ camps with the best female black belts from around the world. I’m currently working on securing funding to be able to assist Malaysian women to compete overseas. The dream is to have my own space to host all open mat sessions and seminars.
19. What are your personal BJJ goals?
To earn my black belt and become a world champion. Malaysia still does not have a world champion and my ambition is to bring that title home. All the decisions and sacrifices I have made in this sport have been for my country and I intend to make my country proud.