The Copa de Marianas competition ended with Kristina Barlaan of the United States taking home the gold after defeating the 2017 World Black Belt Champion, Talita Alencar of Brazil.
Brazil-born California resident, Tassia Pimenta, who trains with Gracie Barra black belt Romulo Barral, took the the bronze. And China’s first female black belt Emma Xiong took the fourth place finish.
California resident Kristina Barlaan, 31, who is of Filipino background — her parents are both from the Philippines — spoke of her struggles.
Although Barlaan was born and raised in the U.S., she struggled with her accent when she started school. She first started Muay Thai and watched a lot martial arts movies from Bruce Lee, Jackie Chan, Jet Li and more.
Barlaan did not start jiujitsu until she was 20 years old and she’s been training for 10 years.
Barlaan actually went through a lot of physical and emotional, abuse when she was younger. Her self-esteem was very low, which led to depression.
“Now I enjoy jiujitsu because it gives me strength and power to showcase what we can do as women,” said Barlaan. “I feel empowered and nothing else motivates me when I’m on the mat.”
“Jiujitsu showed me how to lead and be a voice in the community.”
Barlaan, who is also an instructor added, “My legacy with my students will be that I’m competitive. There are three girls who I believe will be good role models and contenders for the future — Nara, 10, Toni, 13, and Milagros, 14.”
As a competitor, Barlaan advises to “Take care of your body, train smart and treat your body right. You need to know if you are hurt or if you’re injured because you don’t want to take risks.”
“Eat well, this is a lifestyle. If you’re competitive – take care of your body and health,” she added.
“Perseverance – it is my motto through jiujitsu.”
Talita Alencar, 27, from Brazil is the 2017 World Champion and also a jiujitsu instructor who has been training for 13 years.
Alencar grew up in a home pained with domestic violence where she felt helpless to defend her mother against her father. One of the reasons she got into jiujitsu was to defend herself and her family members.
Alencar has brothers who are also fighters but primarily street fighters.
In her training and instructing she said, “I’m known for passing and being on top.”
“I hope my students will remember what I’ve taught them and follow in my footsteps.”
Pimenta, 34, also from Brazil is a jiujitsu instructor who lost her father when she was 16 years old and her life didn’t get any easier after that.
However, she found Brazilian jiujitsu in 2000 when she was 17 — nobody wanted to support her besides her brothers who were also fighters.
Pimenta has worked with kids in the past but now only focusses on herself and has been at it for 17 years now.
But she said, “I have girls following in my footsteps now.”
In training she said, “You need to go with people who challenge you. I train constantly until I get better and improve. Train smart — if you want to do something you love, you take care of yourself because it’s very hard to live this lifestyle.”
The 26-year-old black belt from China, Emma Xiong, is the first female black belt from her country and currently also instructs Brazilian jiujitsu.
She was 22 years old when she started her white belt and worked her way up the ranks and it took three years and four months to become a certified black belt instructor.
And although Xiong’s professor taught her well despite her drawbacks with being female, she was determined.
“I just had to train hard and never give up. I am not one to quit or give up, rather I stay positive,” said Xiong. “ I push myself and that’s how I train. Of course, we have to watch what we eat as it is part of your training routine.”
Xiong is also doubling as a student and she has expressed that it is hard work to eat well, go to school, and train.
This article was originally published on PDN on Oct. 29, 2017. View here.