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The Path to the Black Belt

Tammy Griego becomes Gracie Barra New Mexico’s First Female Black Belt

High atop the podium at the 2012 International Brazilian Jiu Jitsu Federation Pan-Am Tournament in Irvine, Calif., Tammy Griego displayed another title, another medal and another championship for her already overflowing trophy room. What she didn’t expect to leave the podium with was the one thing she had been dreaming about for six years – her black belt.

Gracie Barra New Mexico head Professor Roberto “Tussa” Alencar gave her a tug on her four-stripe brown belt and wrapped a brand-new black belt around the champion’s waist.

“It was pretty much a surprise,” said Griego. “I had conceded the idea of getting promoted on the podium. Blue belt came, purple belt came, and all of those promotions were after major events, but none of them were ever on the podium. I wasn’t expecting it at all, but to be honest, I wouldn’t have wanted to get the black belt from anyone else but Tussa.”

For Griego, it was a dream-come-true, but staying true to the lessons jiu jitsu has taught her, she remained composed.

“I had never questioned that I would get it,” she said., “The fact that he was putting another belt on me changed nothing from yesterday to today except the color of the thing.”

Griego has risen like a rocket ship on the jiu jitsu scene, traveling from state to state to expand her knowledge and arsenal. However, the ship almost never left the platform  six years ago.

At the time Griego was a construction worker complete with tool belt and steel-toed work boots, but she was looking for something more to do with her life.

She was close to 300 pounds, a heavy drinker, and a statewide traveler with disposable income that usually turned into material possessions she didn’t need.

Griego was lost and looking for a calling –  jiu jitsu answered.

“I was driving by on my way home from a job site,” Griego recalled. “I went in the door and it was open mat. Marcos Gallegos greeted me with a huge smile. I’ll always remember that.”

Inside of the then Albuquerque Brazilian Jiu Jitsu Academy, Gallegos wasted no time giving the prospective student her first lesson.

“He wanted to get me on the mat right then and there,” Griego said. “I came back another day and scheduled a one-on-one with Sarah Boyd. She showed me the haymaker defense, to lower back clench take-down, to mount and finish with the rear naked choke. From then on it just felt like a calling to me.”

Griego went on to win at all the big at blue belt, purple belt, and brown belt, remaining patient as she breezed through bracket after bracket, adding medal after medal. No matter the name of the tournament, be it the Mundials, Pan Ams, Grappler’s Quest, Abu Dubai World Pro, you name it, she won it.

On the last weekend of March weekend Griego entered another tournament, the 2012 Pan Am, expecting another set of medals.

After an initial setback, caused by not following her own game plan, Griego refocused all her energy on the biggest prize of them all – the Absolute.

“Coming off the loss earlier in the day, I thought, I didn’t play my game at all.” she said.

A jilted runner-up in the heavyweight division, Griego vowed to be more aggressive and implement her style and technique.

“I won all three fights by points and I was super aggressive in each,” she said. “I almost got caught 30 seconds in to my first match and thought, ‘there is no way I can lose like this.’”

The first match was a back and forth battle with Griego besting her opponent by points.

Griego’s quarterfinal match featured a shot of redemption against Andresa Correa from Alliance.

“I immediately thought, I dropped the ball last time,” she said. “I’ve got jiu jitsu to show these people.”

After getting caught in a deep choke, Griego called upon her training at Gracie Barra New Mexico.

“I thought how many times have I been caught in a deep, deep choke by Don (Ortega), Gustavo (Camargo), Barata, or Tussa?” she asked herself. “I composed myself, kept defending, and got away.”

After defending the choke, Griego found herself in a dominant position with almost full mount. Correa had a hold of her foot, but Griego applied pressure and kept driving.

“I felt her relax a little bit,” Griego said while replicating the placement of her grips. “I’m used to being the smaller person in the fight. I weathered the storm, waited for my opportunity, and took care of business.”

With the redeeming victory in-hand, the championship match was all that was left and Griego was in no mood to waste time..

She was allowed 16 minutes to rest, but refused it. , Instead, she put on her Gi and said Lets do this.

“It was another close match,” she recalled, the memory causing her eyes to well  up with tears. “We were both fighting for grips and leg position. I came up looking to pass and I felt unstoppable. I was in the zone.”

A few seconds later it was over and she was again crowned champion and a few minutes after that she was a newly awarded professor of Gracie Barra Jiu Jitsu.

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