“..because Bjj schools that focus heavily on competition are not going to teach the appropriate skills to neutralize a really bad street situation.”
May Ooi is a Singapore based Bjj athlete and professional MMA fighter who comes from an extensive athletic background.
Jiu-jitsu Times caught up with May in between training sessions for a few questions about her training, advice for women in bjj and philosophy.
Jiu-jitsu Times: May, you have an extensive athletic background including competitive swimming and the “other” Brazilian martial art of Capoeira. Can you tell us how and why you got started in Brazilian jiu-jitsu? What got you addicted to Bjj?
May Ooi: Capoeira is ‘The original Brazilian Martial Art’ and I started training Capoeira about 8 years ago. I saw Capoeira for the first time in Brazil and was enchanted by its flashiness, the graceful yet powerful movements of the Capoeiristas.
I wanted to move like them. It was really impressive. (I’m rarely impressed by anything).
I was in for a real surprise 6 months into my Capoeira training….You must be thinking what does this have to do with BJJ? Well…it’s all connected 🙂 I though Capoeira was just that…flashy kicks and acrobatics. Wrong. Dead wrong.
Studying Capoeira a little deeper revealed lethal kicks, tons of takedowns and ….SUBMISSIONS!!!!!!!!!!!
Imagine my surprise.
I learned all my take downs in Capoeira and my first submission skills came from Capoeira too. Guillotine (Gravata em Capoeira), RNC (Mata Leo), Armbar (Chave de Braço).
Fun fact: Did you know that Mestre Helio Gracie got his ass kicked by Capoeira Mestre Walderma Santana who worked in his BJJ academy as a janitor? They fought for more than 1 hour.
Helio Gracie was taken down so many times by Walderma Santana it was getting ridiculous. Helio threw in the towel.
The Gracie family rarely talk about this.
(It’s on youtube. You should check it out)
Point of the story is…well trained Capoeiristas are take down artists. Surprise!
After 6 years of solid foundation training in Capoeira, I was introduced to BJJ by my Capoeira master (Contra Mestre Silvio do Berimbau who is also a Brown Belt in BJJ).
I studied BJJ as a continuation of my Capoeira training…i.e what happens when that street fight goes to the floor?
I had to study BJJ to answer that question. I have a better understanding now, and I’m still studying …
Jiu-jitsu Times: You are an active professional MMA fighter.
Can you tell us a little about your training camps leading up to an event?
Your grappling, striking, physical conditioning,diet and mental preparations.
May Ooi: Training for an MMA fight can be quite complicated because of the many martial art disciplines one has to cover.
The training becomes more specific when the opponent is named and you have some idea about their fighting style.
I am well rounded in stand up and on the ground. Training camps usually involve 2 to 3 sessions a day.
I work on striking and grappling everyday. Conditioning is less of a priority than skill training for me.
I generally eat very healthy meals on a day to day basis even with no fights lined up so tweaking my fight diet is not a big deal at all.
I don’t suffer when I need to abstain from junk food.
But I don’t beat myself up over it if I feel like having some Ben n Jerry’s.
I will eat it. Then train.
My mental state is the most important part of my fight. Once that bit gets locked in … resistance is futile :).
Jiu-jitsu Times: Can you talk about your philosophy of Brazilian jiu-jitsu, martial arts training and life?
What drives you to compete? How do the lessons in the gym carry over into the rest of your life?
May Ooi: I believe in the Gracie Jiu-Jitsu system and its use as a form of self defence…whether it’s in a street fight or getting caught in a bad situation with a guy/girl/psycho etc….i.e when I get pinned to the floor by some guy, how do I get out (sweep and RUN) or can I immobilize/control my attacker while on my back or maybe put the crazy to sleep to buy some time to get help?
It’s that simple. I have never trained Jiu-Jitsu with the intention of competing or getting fancy coloured belts.
The tactics used in competitive BJJ are a complete contradiction to why I train Jiu-Jitsu.
I can’t pull guard, butt scoot or stall someone in my guard when I’m in real danger.
I would get my face punched in. I only got my blue belt in June 2015 after about 3 years as a white belt with no stripes.
I had to wear it coz folks were getting mad that they were getting tapped by a white belt.
Someone used to call me the ‘9th degree white belt’ and Arnaud Lepont (Asian MMA veteran, MMA coach and BJJ Blackbelt) once said I was ‘the most dangerous white belt in the world’….it’s kinda funny and I really don’t care about the colour of my belt.
But it puts folks at ease I guess…so I wear it.
I might be a blue belt forever. 🙂
I have been training martial arts for many years and I’ve actively refrained from competition and tried to live a normal, non-competitive life.
I’ve come to accept that I’m meant to be a competitor. I tried running, hiding, staying low profile whatever…obviously it didn’t work.
I did a workshop with Mestre Royler Gracie and spent a couple of days learning with him. He told me straight up I should try fighting MMA at least once.
So yes, it’s his fault. He pushed my competitive button and nailed it. 🙂
But in all seriousness, he rarely encourages students to fight in the cage and for him to even suggest that to me (especially since I’m female) I think he saw something special.
The rest they say, is history.
People fight in the cage for many different reasons, for fame, money, glory, respect…whatever.
I compete in MMA because it’s the closest thing there is to a street fight where I can truly test my Jiu-Jitsu and all my other martial art skills (Capoeira, Muay Thai and Boxing).
The challenge of putting it all together is exhilarating. Getting paid for it doesn’t hurt. either.
My skills are forced to evolve as I fight better and more experienced opponents.
I was raised to be ready to fight anytime, even on my worse days and in the poorest conditions.
This was evident in my last fight against 5x World Pankration Champion, Anna Bezhenar.
I took the fight despite having torn an abdominal muscle just 2 weeks before the fight which completely debilitated me in my striking game. I could not kick at all.
I was also super ill with a chest infection and on strong antibiotics 1 week before the fight. I had every reason to pull out.
Only my coaches and doctors knew about this. I did not allow that to be publicized. I fought and lost by decision.
I’m not heart broken or sad. I made some technical mistakes that cost me the victory.
Oh well…I will live and learn and evolve and come back more dangerous than ever.
Be so good in what you do that people can’t ignore you. I live by that.
Jiu-jitsu Times: Can you give some advice for young women who are starting to train Brazilian jiu-jitsu.
What are the unique challenges that a female Bjj practitioner faces? What advice do you have for women training jiujitsu?
May Ooi: BJJ is a very close contact sport with awkward positions which can cause many women to be hesitant about taking up classes.
Boyfriends are definitely not going to be pleased with another guy mounted on their girlfriends all in the name of martial arts.
I think instructors need to be sensitive to these issues if they hope to have a decent women’s BJJ group in their respective schools.
Come with a female friend or a trusted male friend to help you get through the initial awkwardness of such close contact.
Women are often the victims of assault and may look to picking up BJJ as a form of self defence.
But they really need to do some background research on the BJJ schools because schools that focus heavily on competition are not going to teach the appropriate skills to neutralize a really bad street situation.
Nothing worse than being mislead. Do your research!
Jiu-jitsu Times: Can you share a principle or training practice, (or motivational quote, tips on nutrition, attitude etc.) that worked for you in your training?
May Ooi: When you are rolling with someone way more experience, focus on your defensive skills.
If you can survive the onslaught without getting tapped out, you are on the right track.
Jiu-jitsu Times: Can you tell us something interesting about yourself that most Jiu-jitsu Times readers would not know?
May Ooi: Pink. I like pink! And I always wear something pink in my fight gear. Look out for that! 😉
because schools that focus heavily on competition are not going to teach the appropriate skills to neutralize a really bad street situation
Jiu-jitsu Times: Are there any exciting projects that you are currently working on / competitions or events that you are preparing for ?
May Ooi: I’m training for my next fight in the World Series of Fighting (WSOF) against Chinese Sanda Champion Zhang Weili. The fight is likely to be scheduled for late May in China.
I also have another potential bout brewing in the pipeline for PXC sometime in July.
It’s going to be a busy year. 🙂