Maria Zamora


I can’t quantify in words how much jiu-jitsu has given me. Through it, I’ve found my voice; I have grown, and I have made friends who have changed my outlook on life. 

But, I often wonder: have I given back? Is there a way to pay it forward? 

There are many ways we can pay it forward as jiu-jitsu players. The best advice I can give you is don’t wait until you receive your black belt to make a difference. But, we can all take part at any level. 

Below is a list of some of my favorite jiu-jitsu related non-profit organizations working towards improving others’ lives: 

I feel my watch vibrating in an attempt to awaken me and look up and see the time: 7:30 am. Trying to look up, I realize the drinks from last night were not the best idea. I now have 150 minutes to get myself together and show up to wrestling class. In our school, wrestling class is the most demanding class we offer, so I panic. 

As I browse Instagram throughout the day, I am constantly bombarded with toxically positive posts. Between the guys with less than a year of training who are slaying black belts, the mom hoisting the 2-month-old baby while sporting a full 8-pack, or the seemingly perfect person who’s “living her best life,” I become more and more discontent.

A few days ago, everyone’s favorite BJJ Coach, John Danaher wrote a very insightful post on Facebook, “It’s natural to leave every workout strongly doubting whether you are making any tangible progress. This is because as you rise in skill level, EVERYONE AROUND YOU IS RISING AT ROUGHLY THE SAME SPEED AND THEY ARE LEARNING SIMILAR TECHNIQUES AND TACTICS, SO THEY KNOW MOST OF YOUR ATTACKS. As such, you never really feel like you’re making forward progress. It’s natural that you should feel discouraged by this – no one likes to expend large amounts of time and effort without result.” This post hit home hard for me, and after sharing it on my personal Facebook page, it was clear that it hit home for many other BJJ practitioners as well… 

In the summer of 2015, I was a new blue belt full of unfounded confidence and spunk. One Wednesday afternoon, my coach drove me to one of our affiliated gyms where he was teaching that day. Upon arrival, I was told that Erin Harpe was teaching an all-girls class. Without thinking twice, I joined. The class was spectacular. The tips she gave us were priceless. After the lesson, she invited me to grapple with her, and she managed to submit me at least five times in five minutes. I remember telling Rob, my coach, that I wasn’t sure I knew Jiu-Jitsu on the drive back after rolling Erin. I felt utterly illiterate. His response was firm: “Don’t ever compare yourself to Erin. She’s going to dominate the grappling world. She is a whole different level of grappler.” And six years later, I know exactly what he meant that day. 

 I no longer remember a time in my life in which I wasn’t physically active. I have always dived headfirst into any and every sport or physical activity I could join. I also cannot remember the last time I wasn’t compulsive about said activities. It took me years to understand that my obsession with exercising came as a way to self-medicate the anxiety and depression I have lived the better part of my adult life. Without exercise, I have no idea where I’d be today.