By TXMMA Staff // Hannah Robinow
AUSTIN, TX, July 8, 2014 – Brazilian Jiu-jitsu’s primary value comes from the fact that this martial arts system enables a smaller, weaker grappler to gain an advantage over their opponent by using leverage and body positioning. This element of BJJ ensures that it’s not about size, but literally how you use it. Christy Thomas proves this day in and day out as the owner of Relson Gracie Jiu-Jitsu in Austin. Thomas is the only female black belt in Gracie’s organization, promoted in 2012 by Relson Gracie, who is a coral belt and the second-oldest son of Helio Gracie.
Aside from teaching, the Austin-resident has been competing since 2001 and has earned notable victories over Michelle Nicolini and Maria Do Carmen while representing Relson’s Shark Patch.
TXMMA recently had the opportunity to catch up with Christy and chat with her many things BJJ, including her day-to-day life as an active BJJ black belt to how she handled the male-female training dynamics during her time on the mats. Here is what she had to say:
July 2014 BJJ Interview – Christy Thomas
TXMMA: What inspired you to start training BJJ?
Thomas: I started training Muay Thai with my boyfriend and he also was a blue belt at the time and fought pro MMA – Pankration rules in Texas. I was not serious until I met Relson Gracie. At that point I became very interested in his teaching but we mostly competed, so I fell in love with tournaments.
TXMMA: What continues to motivate you?
Thomas: My students. I love being at my academy, on our mats training and laughing. It makes me so happy to share with kids and adults alike the things which I spend most my time doing – learning and doing Jiu-Jitsu.
TXMMA: What’s your typical week of training like?
Thomas: Insane! I have another black belt senior to me in my gym. He runs three classes each week. Some of my students run one class each and I do the rest – with tremendous cooperation from my guys. I teach early mornings, noon classes, some nights, self-defense, weekend sessions and private lessons sprinkled throughout.
TXMMA: What was the biggest challenge you faced when you first started? Throughout your career?
Thomas: I think the biggest challenge has been remaining calm with so many dummies around. Being a strong accomplished female, people think you’re waiting to fight them or that you’re a dominatrix and pervert’s approach or somehow bother me all the time. Other than that, it’s the people who claim to avoid politics while creating drama at any chance they can.
TXMMA: Who were/are your mentors both personally and professionally?
Thomas: I have an amazing family, a solid support system in my academy… Relson is very close and with not only me, but my students, also. My family and my students are what I turn to when I’m happy or sad, stressed or proud, etc.
TXMMA: If/when you’ve encountered sexism during your training, how was it expressed?
Thomas: No women allowed, and less prize value for ladies. Perverted reporters, photographers, coaches. Women exploited their sexuality to gain attention or money or sponsorship deals.
TXMMA: How did you deal with it?
Thomas: I don’t go to every event. I choose who I train with or have around me. I don’t follow the trend or hop on bandwagons. I train with people I trust and pick what gets my participation.
TXMMA: As a female gym owner/instructor, did you ever feel like the dynamic between you and your male students was different than that between the male instructors and the male students?
Thomas: Yes, but not very often, now or recently. More so when they are told a technique by me and then by a guy – even one w/o. Credentials or rank – they’d be like, “Oh! Okay cool”, but it was the same things I said. When guys just become vulgar to impress another guy or some type behavior – It used to bother me but now I see it as an emotional vulnerability or a way for them to eventually grow.
TXMMA: Where do you see women’s BJJ going over the next five years?
Thomas: I think there will be more money events. We may get a little more, but at some point, the girl camp meet ups will fizzle and the ladies will ebb and flow in population. I think it may depend on the MMA scene, since girls are coming up with crazy chemicals in their pee tests & flaunting photos without pants – it’s hard to say.
TXMMA: Do you have any advice for women training and competing in MMA and BJJ?
Thomas: Wear appropriate clothes. Train self-defense. Make sure you avoid injuries so you can train without long breaks… Don’t rush your belts. Stay with a great instructor for the long haul.