Yvone Duarte: The First Female BJJ Black Belt

Last updated on 05.05.2022 by

In modern Jiu Jitsu, there are thousands of female BJJ black belts and that number is growing every year. But who was the first female BJJ black belt?

That honor goes to Master Yvone Duarte, who received this honor in 1990. Yvone has an incredible story that many haven’t heard, and she is a vital part of the history of Jiu Jitsu.

Here is Yvone Duarte’s story, the tale of the first female BJJ black belt. We’ll start with how she got into Jiu Jitsu follow and her journey of becoming a trailblazer for women in BJJ.

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Yvone Duarte’s start in Jiu Jitsu

Yvone Duarte grew up in the small Brazilian town of Boa Vista in the state of Roraima. She loved sports and excelled at everything from gymnastics, swimming, to basketball.

Her older brother Pascoal Duarte took up Jiu Jitsu when Yvone was a teen, along with their friend Sergio Penha. When Yvone was fourteen, Pascoal and Sergio convinced her to train with them, and she accepted.

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Yvone Duarte(right) in 1985, waiting for her first fight in a competition.
Credit: Yvone Duarte Instagram

They trained together for a while, then they joined Master Osvaldo Alves’ Jiu Jitsu academy. From the moment Duarte stepped on the mat to train, she was hooked.

Yvone Duarte dedicates her life to Jiu Jitsu

Duarte became extremely passionate about Jiu Jitsu and dedicated her life to training. She would spend hours every day training with Osvaldo Alves and her brother.

Along with spending hours on the mat training, Yvone did intense conditioning routines that she picked up from swimming, gymnastics, and basketball.

In these early days of BJJ, it was quite uncommon for women to train – and Duarte was the only woman in her gym. Of course, being the only girl that was training made things tough on Yvone, but this didn’t stop her. She knew that she had to work twice as hard as the boys and beat them to earn their respect.

Anytime someone new came to the academy, and they rolled with her, Yvone would show that she was to be respected.

Duarte pushes for the first female divisions

Unfortunately for Yvone during this time, she couldn’t compete in BJJ competitions. The federations at the time did not include female divisions!

It took Duarte years of pressuring Jiu Jitsu federations in Rio de Janeiro to include female divisions. Finally, after years of pushing, Yvone got her wish and the first female BJJ division was included in 1985.

The first female BJJ division took place at a competition in Rio de Janeiro. It was for females 60kg and under, which included both white belts and blue belts.

This first female division got a lot of buzz around the local Jiu Jitsu scene. So much so that a brand of bikini called Bum Bum Ipanema sponsored the event.

Yvone dominated the inaugural female division, handedly beating the other competitors.

Duarte dominates in competition

After competing in the inaugural female BJJ division, Duarte would continue pushing for more competitions to include female divisions. This of course would give her more opportunities to compete, and she jumped at each opportunity.

Duarte competed in Jiu Jitsu for a little over a decade after helping create female BJJ divisions. She went unbeaten before deciding to retire and focus her efforts on teaching.

Duarte opens the first female owned BJJ school

Before Yvone would make history becoming BJJ’s first female black belt, she would make history in a different way. At the end of the 1980s, Duarte moved to Brasilia to work at the local university.

At the time, Brasilia only had one Jiu Jitsu school, which was run by the Barreto brothers. Yvone saw the opportunity to open her very own Jiu Jitsu school.

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Yvone Duarte in 2022
Credit: Yvone Duarte Instagram

She initially called her school Black Belt, but was asked to change it by senior BJJ black belt Sergio Bolao. Master Bolao had already used that name for his academy in Rio de Janeiro.

Yvone respected the request and changed the name of her school to “Equpe [Team] Yvone Duarte.” This school was the first, and at the time the only, BJJ school run by a woman.

Yvone Duarte becomes the first female BJJ black belt

After opening her own Jiu Jitsu school, Yvone’s name would be etched in the history books once again. In October of 1990, Master Osvaldo Alves awarded Duarte with her BJJ black belt, making her the very first woman to earn a black belt in the history of Brazilian Jiu Jitsu.

Yvone Duarte

Thirty-two years after earning her black belt, Yvone Duarte would become the first ever female BJJ coral belt. An incredible achievement that only a very few (regardless of gender!) have achieved in the hundred-year history of Jiu Jitsu.

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October 2021, Yvone Duarte with her Coral Belt certificate
Credit: Yvone Duarte Instagram

FAQS about Yvone Duarte

When did Yvone Duarte begin her Jiu Jitsu training?

Duarte started her Jiu Jitsu training in 1978, when she was fourteen years old.

Who is Yvone Duarte’s brother?

Pascoal Duarte, who is one of the few coral belts in Jiu Jitsu, is Yvone’s older brother.

Who did Duarte train under?

Duarte trained under Master Osvaldo Alves throughout the 1980s.

When did Yvone Duarte receive her black belt?

Yvone received her BJJ black belt in October 1990 from Master Osvaldo Alves.

When did Yvone Duarte become the first female BJJ coral belt?

Master Yvone Duarte received her 7th degree BJJ coral belt in August 2021.

Yvone Duarte’s legacy

In the art of Brazilian Jiu Jitsu, Master Yvone Duarte is a trailblazer and pioneer. She broke down barriers and gave women the opportunity to compete in the world of Jiu Jitsu.

She made history by successfully advocating for the inclusion of female divisions in competitions and by becoming the very first female BJJ black belt. Any woman that practices and competes in Jiu Jitsu owes a debt of gratitude to Master Yvone Duarte, because without Yvone Duarte, Jiu Jitsu may not be as inclusive for women as it is today.