Joanna Shama enrolled in a Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu class to get in shape for her touch football league.
Now she’s got two gold medals in the martial art.
Shama — a 47-year-old wife, mother and full-time restorative dental hygienist — signed up for Brazilian Jiu Jitsu (BJJ) out of curiosity. Her son was in a kids’ class at Revolution MMA & Fitness and Shama thought the discipline looked interesting.
Fast forward four years: Shama won gold in her division and in the Absolute Weight division at the World Masters in Las Vegas six weeks ago.
A key player in Shama’s success is her BJJ trainer, Arther ‘Zuka’ Chandramohan, who has guided every step of her progress.
“He knows my work inside out,” she says of Chandramohan. “He is family.”
Another key player is Joel Gerson, owner and head coach at the award-winning Revolution MMA gyms in Toronto and Vaughan. His facilities offer classes in kickboxing, judo, Krav Maga, Muay Thai, BJJ and more.
Gerson describes BJJ as a physical chess game — a martial art that requires focus and anticipation.
He got Joanna Shama to try it. She’d been waved off by other coaches because of her age and hectic work schedule, but Gerson overlooked all that and told her to come to the gym anyway.
“She was watching a class through the window — it was kind of a movie moment,” remembers Gerson, laughing.
“I just went up to her and said, ‘You should try it.’”
At first, nobody figured Shama would compete in BJJ, but she took the training very seriously. Once she started competing, “She just started climbing up the ranks,” says Gerson.
“The thing about her — she is always smiling. She comes in here with incredible enthusiasm, beaming, as if she’s going to the beach in Cancun! That’s the look on her face.”
There aren’t a lot of women doing BJJ, “so she was brave enough to train with the guys. That’s a huge challenge.”
“It takes a special kind of athlete to deal with a physical opponent who already has advantages you don’t have.”
On her side, Shama says she loves the mental and physical challenge BJJ presents. And, although it’s a solo sport, she very much appreciates the community of other women competitors and the “family” she has found at the Revolution gym.
She concedes BJJ is an unusual martial art. Not everyone is comfortable with the grappling involved — you’re right in there, physically speaking, throwing down against an opponent.
“In football, we used to talk about “sacrificing your body” — sliding in there or crashing into another player, sacrificing yourself because the play is all important,” Shama said. “My goal is to win and to get the job done. The contact doesn’t even occur to me. The mentality is, ‘There must be a way to solve this. There must be something more I can do.’ There’s never any fear.”
The Thornhill woman said her hope for Vegas was that she’d win one fight. Just one — so she didn’t have to go home with nothing. She won six, with zero points scored against her.
The best part about winning?
“For my coaches! They’ve invested so much time in me — I wanted them to know that all their time and energy has not gone to waste. I didn’t want to let them down.”
Shama would recommend Gerson’s gym and BJJ to anyone, “One hundred per cent — no matter your age or what shape you’re in, you’ll get in shape, you’ll develop a game and you’ll make a network of friends. It’s a very social atmosphere.
“It’s funny — on the mat you’re all alone, it’s a personal challenge, you pull your skill set together,” Shama said. “But you still have a whole community behind you. It’s the best of both worlds.”
by Liz Braun
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