Cape Town’s very own Jess Mouneimne has been selected to represent South Africa at the Africa Arab Jiu-Jitsu Championship in Morocco next month. As she prepares for a trip of a lifetime, she talks to Cape Town Etc about her training and motivation.
What drew you to Jiu-Jitsu?
I have been involved with martial arts for more than 10 years. It started with Muay-Thai in high school. Anyone that knew me back then would agree that I had some serious anger issues, hitting something really helped channel that anger into something productive. The Brazillian Jiu-Jitsu (BJJ) bug bit about seven years ago but finding women sparring partners was always a challenge. As a woman and a small-ish one, BJJ teaches you ways to overcome a stronger opponent from a bad position, like your back. I don’t think the self-defence aspect was ever a drawcard for me, but it’s certainly a great side effect, especially in a South African context.
What has it taken to get to this level of competition?
This will be my first competition internationally. I have competed locally but as a woman, you are always limited for opponents as there are just not enough competitive women in South Africa. The local scene is quite safe and predictable and so I am excited to really be able to test myself against others on the continent.
This is also a very big weight cut for me. I am having to come down from 56kg to make 49 kg. I usually compete at 55kg in South Africa. I was given this opportunity at 49kg only and I am determined as hell to make the weight
What disciplines and skills does JJ require, physically and mentally?
It requires fitness and explosive power and a mind of a chess player … all of which are still very much a work in progress for me. Ultimately being able to stay calm under pressure is your biggest asset.
How big is the sport in SA?
I would say that as a continent, South Africa is probably the leading country in Jiu-Jitsu. We have about 30 high-level black belts in the country, many of whom were pioneering the sport here 20 years ago, but compared to the rest of the world, we are a small community. You see the same guys at comps locally and getting your hands on gear is always tough unless travelling internationally. We have a long way to go in growing the sport in South Africa, but at the same time, we have also come a long way.
What are you expecting in Morocco?
I am excited about travelling as part of a South African team. Usually, this sport is a solo one, with your fellow gym mates as your team members. Ultimately you get on that mat and face your opponent on your own though. I am looking forward to testing my skills on an international level and learning from every single woman I face. In Jiu-Jitsu, nothing is a better teacher than the competition and I am looking forward to learning.
How are you preparing for the championships?
Besides the dieting which involves very little carbs, no sugar or dairy, I am training twice a day which involves some cardio (assault bike, treadmill, road running, Tabata) as well as about three hours a day of technique and grappling.
How can someone get involved in JJ at a beginner level?
Anyone is welcome at absolute beginner phase. As a beginner, you start with a white belt and as you put in the time and come to class, you will earn stripes on that belt. Eventually, you will be graded to blue belt and then purple etc. It is a great way to gauge your progress. It is up to each individual whether they want to compete or not and there is never any pressure placed on non-competitors in a gym environment. There are a number of good gyms in Cape Town where any man or woman would feel right at home. I run Pride Fighting Academy with my husband and we offer classes every night as well as three mornings a week.
To help Jess raise funds to cover airfare to Morocco and event registration, follow this Back-a-Buddy link.