The term BJJ Dirty Dozen refers to the first 12 American black belts, which are the first people to earn the rank outside of Brazil before Brazilian Jiu Jitsu spread globally. Well, after the first 12 male black belts, it did not take long for the first dozen of BJJ women black belts to appear. That is who we are honoring in this article.
What is The BJJ Dirty Dozen?
The spread of Brazilian Jiu Jitsu outside of Brazil went through the United States first. America acted as a sort of funnel, popularizing and helping the sport spread worldwide at an incredible pace.
The people that greatly contributed to this were the early adopters of Brazilian Jiu Jitsu in the late 80s and early 90s of the 20th century. They were the people that took up BJJ, long before Royce Gracie’s heroics reached millions via the first UFC and drew the American martial arts masses towards Jiu Jitsu.
What is more impressive than the accomplishments of the first 12 American male black belts are the BJJ women who followed suit.
In a period where martial arts were almost completely male-dominated, these 12 women defied the odds in a martial art that was different from any other before and achieved the coveted black belt rank when the standards for one were super high.
Some of these 12 BJJ women are still active today, whether as coaches or even recording and releasing instructionals to share the knowledge they’ve amused over several decades.
The First 12 BJJ Women to Earn Black Belts Outside of Brazil
The female BJJ Dirty Dozen pioneers were somewhat behind their male counterparts in terms of the period when they were given their black belts. Until 2002, there wasn’t a single female black belt outside of Brazil, which puts the timeline of the first dozen non-Brazilian BJJ women with black belts significantly later than the male BJJ Dirty Dozen.
1. Cindy Omatsu
Cindy Omatsu is an American BJJ black belt promoted by Leka Vieira and Rigan Machado in 2002.
The lady that kicked things off for all other BJJ women out there (sort of) was Cynthia “Cindy” Omatsu. She received her black belt from Rigan Machado and Leka Vieira. Leka is also a part of history as the first-ever female BJJ world champion at black belt.
Cindy started training BJJ in the mid-90s in a quest to master self-defense during an insecure time in her California neighborhood. She received her black belt in October 2022, after winning bronze at the 2001 Pans as a brown belt.
2. Aika Sato
Aika Sato is a Japanese BJJ black belt promoted by Yuki Nakai in 2003.
Aika is not just one of the first BJJ women to get a black belt but also the first Japanese woman to receive the rank and the first Japanese athlete to win three consecutive world championships (2001-2003).
Sato trained at the famous Paraestra Tokyo Academy from the very beginning (the late 90s) and got her blackbelt in quite a short period, which was quite unusual at the time.
Not much information is available on Sato in terms of her present involvement in the sport.
3. DC Maxwell
DC (Deborah Christine) Maxwell is an American BJJ black belt promoted by Saulo Ribeiro in 2003.
Maxwell started training quite late (at the age of 38). Yet, she won 3 Pan American titles at blue and purple belt and International Masters medals at brown and black belt.
DC trained for 11 years before finally receiving her black belt from Saulo Ribeiro. During her rise through the belts, she also spent lots of time training with the Gracies. In fact, she helped Relson Gracie set up his famous Hawaii academy.
DC is Steve Maxwell’s ex-wife, one of the early black belts, and the mother of Zack Maxwell (another BJJ black belt).
4. Kathy Brothers
Kathy Brothers is an American BJJ black belt promoted by Carlos Machado in 2003.
Originally from Dallas, Kathy trained with the Gracies and Machados and was one of the most active BJJ women in no hotels barred competitions of the time. She has titles in the World Free-Fighting Championship and Pancration Council.
Not much information is available on her, but she did work as a martial arts instructor in Dallas for a long time.
5. Kris Shaw
Kris Shaw is an American BJJ black belt promoted by Leka Vieira in 2005.
Shaw began training Jiu Jitsu in 1997 in Texas before moving to California and joining Rigan Machado’s academy. She spent the next 6 years training under Machado and eventually was one of the first BJJ women to join Leka Vieira’s women-only Jiu Jitsu academy.
Kris is very well known for founding the BJJ Legends magazine in 2007, one of the first Jiu Jitsu-specific magazines in the US.
6. Felicia Oh
Felicia Oh is an American BJJ black belt promoted by Jean Jacques Machado in 2005
Felicia is arguably the most recognizable name in the female BJJ Dirty Dozen list, given her active involvement in Jiu Jitsu to this day.
The Machado black belt started training at 33 in 2000 and was promoted in just over 4 years. She holds Gi and No-Gi titles in the Pans, World Masters, and ADCC silver. She has notable wins over Leticia Ribeiro and Mefumi Fujii, which were exceedingly difficult feats to achieve at the time.
7. Laurence Cousin
Laurence Cousin Fouillat is a French BJJ black belt promoted by Flavio Behring in 2005
A representative of the BJJ women pioneers in Europe, Laurence is the very first European female BJJ black belt. She is also the 2nd ever non-Brazilian BJJ World Champion black belt, trailing behind American Rafael Lovato Jr.
Since 2014, Laurence has been a part of the Ribeiro Jiu Jitsu Association.
8. Jocelyn Chang
Jocelyn Chan is an American BJJ black belt promoted by Leka Vieira in 2005.
One of the heroes even among the dirty dozen, Chang is exactly the inspiration BJJ women need around the world. She was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2009 and underwent a double mastectomy at age 39.
Two weeks after the chemotherapy and radiation ended, she was already on the mats, teaching classes.
She is a coach at the “Let’s Roll” Academy in Torrance.
9. Gazzy Parman
Ghazaleh “Gazzy” Parman is an American BJJ black belt promoted by John Lewis in 2006.
The Persian-born grappler started training in 1998 and immediately got involved in competing. She won ADCC trials in 2003 and was one of the few directly invited to the 2005 ADCC event, earning bronze that year.
She also won Grappler QUest 17 times and was a no-gi World Champion. In the process, she caught the eye of Dana White and was one of the first UFC-backed BJJ women in history.
Parman is also the first female to be inducted into the Hall of Fame.
10. Megumi Fujii
Megumi Fuji is a Japanese BJJ black belt promoted by Yuki Nakai in 2006.
Famous for going on an undefeated streak in MMA for 6 years (2004-2010), she displayed some of the most impressive grappling ever seen in MMA. She started to grapple through, Judo, trying her hand at Sambo before settling down for Jiu Jitsu.
Her specialty was armbars, with 13 wins to her name via this submission. She was also so good at toe holds that people called them “the Megulock”. Some of her MMA victims include Erica Montoya, Michelle Tavares, Mei Yamaguchi, Carla Esparza, and others.
11. Sue Aborgast
Sue Aborgast is an American BJJ black belt promoted by Julio “Foca” Fernandez in 2006.
Aborgast came into Jiu Jitsu as an already very experienced and well-versed martial artist. Training everything from karate to kung fu from 1894 onwards, she discovered BJJ in 1996, joining a Carlson Gracie academy led by one of his black belts, Julio Foca Fernandez.
The two-style karate black belt is the head instructor at “Montpelier Martial Arts” in Vermont, where she leads a women’s self-defense program developed by her.
12. Cindy Hales
Cindy Hales is an American BJJ black belt promoted by Marcio Laudier in 2006.
Another of the first BJJ women black belts had a very successful MMA career. Her BJJ journey began in 2001, under Marcelo Alonso, and then switched gyms when he left for Brazil, ending up under the tutelage of Marcio “Mamazinho” Laudier.
Cindy’s bread and butter techniques were chokes, and she was so effective that her nickname was “The Sleeper”.
Hale is still teaching at the Gracie Barra gym in Kirkland, Washington.
*A note on information accuracy:
The list of the Dirty Dozen BJJ women involves information about people in a time when record-keeping was scarce at best. While we did our due diligence in researching each name on the list, some of the information included above comes from interviews, people’s recollections, or student statements, which may not be completely true.
If you have any evidence to offer on why someone wouldn’t be on the list in favor of someone else, please do not hesitate to contact us, and if corroborated, we shall make the necessary revisions.
The female BJJ Dirty Dozen pioneers showed early on that Jiu Jitsu is not just “a sport for the boys” and that BJJ women bring balance to how we approach the sport. To this day, the actions and legacy of the female BJJ Dirty Dozen live on, regardless of their activity or inactivity on the mats, and we are grateful for it.