Margot Ciccarelli-Tang is the purple belt you’ve probably never heard of… and the purple belt you need to hear about!
The 24-year-old Chinese-Italian world traveler is destroying the BJJ competition wherever she goes. In 2018 she has won the Europeans, the British National Pro, Abu Dhabi, and this weekend’s IBJJF Worlds. And in between all of that, she finds time to train for the circus (yes, you read that correctly).
The Jiu-Jitsu Times spoke to Margot via Facebook messenger on Saturday, June 2. The following interview has been edited slightly for clarity.
Jiu-Jitsu Times: First off, can you tell us a bit about yourself. Who do you train under, what rank are you, how long have you been training, and what got you into BJJ?
Margot Ciccarelli-Tang: I am of Chinese-Italian descent, 24 years old, born and raised in London, United Kingdom, but I am currently based between New York and Hong Kong.
I am also the founder of Nømadic iD which currently serves to assist artistic collaboration between artists of all fields including martial artists, so to speak jiu-jitsu practitioners. One of the other things we aim to do is redefine teaching formats in jiu-jitsu.
More personally about my own journey, I am a purple belt and I’ve been training since July 2012. I currently train under Murilo Santana at Unity Jiu Jitsu in New York City.
I’ve been in martial arts for almost my entire life since the age of 6, but previously in traditional martial arts such as Wushu and other various Chinese martial arts. A friend of mine that I used to lift with who was a black belt judoka and blue belt in jiu-jitsu invited me to try a class and my mentality is always very open to trying new things. So I went along to jiu-jitsu with him, and oh god!… I was in for a ride. I had no idea what I was doing on the floor. For someone who had relatively good body awareness and understanding of how to maneuver in stand-up, I was shocked at how little I could do on the ground. I got hooked on it fast, wanting to know more about how to exchange movement on the ground and grapple.
From week 1, I was training maybe once or twice. The second week: 4 times. Third week? Every day. I’ve never really stopped since, unless I was physically unable (severe injury).
JJT: So, you’re still training every day?
MCT: That’s a great question. I shift from different phases that vary between being a student and being a teacher.
During my periods of being a teacher, I may not be able to train every day. I’m lucky if I get an hour of solid training in. I might train other things generally, just like movement or conditioning instead in those circumstances.
From Abu Dhabi until Worlds I wasn’t training jiu-jitsu every day actually. I was training a lot but I think recovery is an aspect that a lot of people undermine. It’s not just physical recovery, but also mental recovery. Personally, the mental aspect is the biggest factor for my performance. If I’m mentally in tune, things are easier to execute according to plan. I’ve been cross training my jiu-jitsu with circus training recently at the Circus Warehouse in Long Island City.
Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays were jiu-jitsu days and Tuesday and Thursday were for circus or other things that I wanted to train or they were generally days for moving more by myself as opposed to with a partner.
JJT: Wow! Circus training? What kind of circus training? Like acrobatics?
MCT: Yeah circus training, haha! It includes ballet, tumbling, flying trapeze, Cyr wheel, but it really depends what you’re interested in trying and doing. I’m fairly new to the circus world, but one of my main training partners (Stephanie Lee) in Hong Kong, also co-founder of the pioneering movement facility over there, Trybe, has been a big inspiration for cross training in circus and dance. The crossover and overlap between all the movement disciplines is much closer than you’d think.
Conceptually, when you try to analyse the different arts, there’s a lot of crossover in the understanding of weight distribution, connection, balance, etc., which is directly a huge benefit to jiu-jitsu and making your game tighter, at least for me; it is granting me a lot of insight.
JJT: It certainly seems to be helping you in the competition circuit. How’s your year been going in terms of competitions?
MCT: 2018 seems to be a good year so far.
I won the Europeans for the second time this year at purple, the British National Pro, Abu Dhabi World Pro, and Worlds.
I’ll also be fighting at the Royal Invitational next weekend at the Musclepharm HQ in Los Angeles so there’s much more to come this year.
JJT: What can you tell us about your longterm goals?
MCT: It’s not too cliche to say the least, but I’ll say the most cliche thing first, haha! Black belt world champion is always the goal for any true competitor. But I really want to make jiu-jitsu more accessible to people outside of the jiu-jitsu world and shed the ‘MMA/UFC’ stigma that many people still have of the sport. Not that it’s a bad thing, but I would like people to know there’s more to it than that side and just for them to be more well informed.
I am looking to master myself and my jiu-jitsu the most that I can. I want to master how I can move in any way possible. I think it’s so incredible what we are capable of, and I want to help empower more people to do more with themselves and not tell themselves that they ‘can’t’.
A big vision of mine is to generally help expand and develop the jiu-jitsu scene in Hong Kong, and I have guys like Viking Wong, another pioneering figure in my jiu-jitsu journey, who has paved the way forward for jiu-jitsu in Hong Kong and China. In addition to that, I want to help expand the women’s jiu-jitsu scene over there, as there are still much fewer practitioners than many other neighbouring countries.
I think it’s so incredible what we are capable of, and I want to help empower more people to do more with themselves and not tell themselves that they ‘can’t’.
As a teacher, I want to help innovate with different teaching formats and help personalise and cater programs that support the learning of the practitioners. And that again is through my work with Nømadic iD.
JJT: Okay. Last question, the question we have to ask every BJJ practioner: gi or no-gi? Which do you prefer and why?
MCT: Most definitely gi will always be my first and strongest love, hahah! I’m so attached. I have grown to love no-gi a lot, though now, since joining Unity, I have to say.
I love all the elaborate manipulations you can create and entangle with the kimono. I’m a big fan of the lapel game thanks to my UK coach Jude Samuel and Keenan Cornelius.
It’s just so artistic to me and I love the extra element of control and how you can slow people down with it.
Here is one of Margot’s matches from Worlds 2017.
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