From the victor’s epic tale to the outcast’s lament, the stories of life’s journey never cease. As biographies are built, the martial arts provide an unparalleled armor of honor, service, and courage to not just trudge through the valleys, but vanquish great mountains. Join us and witness the unconquerable spirit of incredible martial artists, whose journeys expand the vision of all who listen.
A seemingly ordinary Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu practice in 2012 proved to be anything but for Austin, Texas resident and BJJ practitioner Shama Ko. As she went to pass, her opponent went to sweep and Shama’s life took an unexpected turn. “My knee was stretched in opposite directions and immediately popped,” Shama recalls. “It was very painful to say the least.”
The prognosis came back as a torn meniscus, which worsened until Shama eventually had to step away from the mat completely. “The doctors say I have to make the decision between training for life or risk never training again if I am hurt again,” Shama says. “This was heart breaking news, but I don’t give up that easily and I have not lost hope.”
Born and raised on the island of Oahu, Hawaii, Shama began her BJJ career in 2003 and now trains at Gracie Humaitá in Austin. At the time of her injury in 2012, Shama was working toward an International Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu Federation world championship title, with a second place finish already under her belt. Having to put her competitive dreams on hold could have been a devastating blow, but for Shama, it proved to be a blessing in disguise.
“It opened up a lot of doors for me,” Shama says, “and it made me realize that I have the rest of my life to train jiu-jitsu.”
Refusing to stand idly by with her injury, Shama has redirected her energy toward an innovative idea called Girls in Gis. The program, founded by Ashley Freeman-Nguyen in Houston, Texas in 2009, brings together female BJJ practitioners in an environment of learning and camaraderie.
“Girls in Gis is the essence of every woman who steps on the mat,” Shama says. “Our events are just a meeting ground for us, but ultimately it’s a community. It’s building a sisterhood, it’s inspiring each other.” The basic structure of Girls in Gis is a once-a-month, free event hosted at a different school around the state. (Currently there are chapters in Texas, Colorado, and a Midwest chapter that encompasses Oklahoma, Arkansas, Missouri and Kansas.) At each event the host school teaches techniques that the participants can try out right there, making new friends and ultimately breaking down barriers.
“Instead of going to competitions and thinking, ‘Oh my gosh, this girl is going to rip my arm off,’ you’re competing with your friends,” Shama explains. “You have this compassion and understanding for each other. … When you’re friends with that person and you have a healthy competitive relationship with them—with the understanding that it’s going to uplift both of you—it’s different.”
From the girl who slapped an arm bar on her abusive boyfriend, to the countless women who have overcome effects of post-traumatic stress disorder, Shama sees the Girls in Gis mantra of “strength in solidarity” coming to fruition.
“I think Girls in Gis is part of a much larger entity than just our events or what we do,” she says. “It’s part of a movement in a lot of ways. It’s a movement to empower women.”
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