WMN in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu

Meet Luisa, a woman working in BJJ who is paving the way for other women & young girls in the sport! Hear from Luisa about her journey and how she got to where she is today...
14 September 2023

LUX WMN: Why did you get started in Brazilian jiu-jitsu?

Luisa Morlano: I actually started martial arts because I used to watch UFC, a famous mixed martial art (MMA) fighting promotion. As the name says MMA is a discipline combining different striking and ground martial arts. I really enjoyed watching it on TV and as a teenager who once faced bullying, I found it inspiring watching these skillful fighters look so confident and badass. After training MMA for a while and even doing an amateur fight in Paris, I decided I wanted to focus more on the ground fighting aspect of it. I was so fascinated seeing people submitting bigger opponents and dominating them on the ground using BJJ, plus in the long term practising a martial art where you are being punched over years wasn’t something sustainable in my eyes.

LW: Describe your major highlights & achievements in the sport in the past?

LM: Of course there are the medals and competition, I think winning your first competition is always going to be something memorable. At my first belt promotion, I received my blue belt by Roger Gracie himself, the GOAT of BJJ. That was of course an intensely proud moment in my BJJ journey. But beyond personal achievements something that really gave me the feeling of purpose was building up a jiujitsu gym in London. Being there from the start and having so much impact and taking part in decision makings that truly shaped women’s participation in BJJ. Making real connections with women and girls from all walks of life, who confided in me and told me how much I changed their life. That to me is one of the biggest achievements in my life. Up to this day I get messages from girls and women I have coached years ago, thanking me for paving their way into BJJ. This is also what made me want to pursue working in sports. As a woman making it in BJJ and being able to work full time and live off BJJ was a big achievement for myself. 

I am about to open my own training studio which is obviously going to be the culminating point of years of training, travelling , experience and hard work. This is what I always dreamt of, creating my own training space offering what I always wished I had: a woman owned training space with a woman coach specialised in female anatomy. 

LW: What do you believe is the greatest challenge most female athletes are facing today?

LM: I believe that the sport is slowly evolving but still has a very long way to go for women athletes. Keep in mind that jiujitsu is a fairly new sport on the rise and therefore still lacks a lot of regulations on an international and national level. Like with most sports that are male dominated, women’s participation and presence  is always gonna be behind. Reasons being that there are just not as many women athletes and therefore less women coaches, competitors, referees, gym owners etc.

There simply aren’t the same opportunities for women, I am talking cash prizes in competitions, visibility on shows and simply women in positions of authority within the sport. And the reason for that is very simple, we lack representation. I believe if young girls and women saw more women represented and genuine opportunities in the sport  it would encourage them to join. However I can say that it is definitely growing with more and more women taking leadership roles within the sport. I have many friends in England, that are high level athletes and that are gym owners or creating women only fighting promotions such as Enyo and now also Women Who Fight UK. I am hoping to create the same opportunities and grow women’s participation in the Luxembourgish jiujitsu scene. 

LW: What misconceptions do you think there are about BJJ and women’s involvement in the sport?

LM: I believe that unfortunately, a lot of people and especially men still think that as a woman you will never be as good or legitimate as a man. Which is really ridiculous but most people aren’t educated and see size and strength as a criteria for being good in martial arts. I remember that it would strike me how the few women coaches I saw were only trusted to teach womens only classes. This clearly shows that there is a reluctance on the part of men to be taught by a woman and clubs aren’t ready to commit to hiring women coaches for fear of losing members. I was lucky to work with really supportive guys who trusted me to coach both, womens only classes and mixed classes and I could tell that some men were uncomfortable with having a woman coaching them.

I think the more people are educated the more they understand that gender or size arent a criteria for being a good coach and having knowledge and experience. I actually firmly believe that because women often are at a size and strength disadvantage they rely much more on technical knowledge and skill than men, making them better at understanding and explaining techniques. We can’t rely on strength so being meticulous in executing techniques is crucial. 

LW: Why is BJJ such a great sport for women to get involved in?

LM: BJJ is an incredible sport for women for many reasons. It teaches essential practical skills, enabling women to defend themselves using leverage and technique to beat physical strength. It is also a great way of staying fit and active as it is really fun especially at the beginning when you learn the basics and realise how powerful you can be. Most women try it once and get hooked. But I’d have to say the biggest aspect for me is personal growth. I have seen the transformation that women would go through from practising BJJ. It is a journey of self discovery, where most women discover how resilient, disciplined and confident they really are or can be. Learning to push their boundaries, developing resilience and a belief in their capabilities that go beyond the mats.

This is an aspect that is important to me because I know that I and many women can lack confidence in certain situations. This also leads to my last point which is the sisterhood and bonds you develop in BJJ. When joining the right club, there is a true sense of sisterhood amongst women because most of us share the same experience and have gone through the same struggles. We grow together, encouraging and pushing each other, celebrating every individual’s win as if it were our own.

LW: As a successful female athlete yourself, how do you hope to continue empowering women in sport, specifically BJJ?

LM: I am currently working on two projects. One is Women Martial Arts Luxembourg, a platform to promote and support women combat sport athletes and grow women’s participation in martial arts in Luxembourg by giving visibility to women athletes, creating opportunities, educating about safe and inclusive training environments as well as introducing women and young girls to martial arts and advocating for athletes and women in martial arts. 

I am hoping to educate within the BJJ/martial arts community but also to the wider public about healthy, qualitative and inclusive training environments. Which is also why I am opening my own training studio in September. I have done many certifications including a personal trainer licence and a variety of state accredited sport certifications at the Ecole nationale de l’éducation physique et des sports here in Luxembourg. I am constantly broadening my knowledge in sports and fitness as I want to be able to provide quality training and knowledge to those I am coaching. 

I want to move away from the stereotypical “booty and abs” workouts for women, that in my opinion don’t add any real value to someone’s life and move towards science based sport and fitness to enhance physical and mental health and add real lifelong value to someone’s life. I also want to offer women athletes the possibility to be coached by a woman, who understands and knows their physiological needs, biomechanics, menstrual cycle and hormones. It is important to acknowledge that women are not small men. I am someone who’s passionate about helping other women find their strength and supporting them 100% in reaching their goals in a physically and mentally responsible manner. The fitness and sport  world can be extremely toxic especially for women and my goal is to empower women to be healthy and happy and see the strength that lies within themselves. Sometimes you just need the right person to bring it out. 

I want to continue creating women centric spaces in sports and fitness where we can grow a community of strong and fierce women and girls. I am really looking forward to it as I have some big projects and events coming up and hope to see many ladies who want to be part of this new, one of a kind empowering fitness experience in Luxembourg.