Raising A Warrior: BJJ Black Belt Mom May Masuda

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As the first homegrown Filipina Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu (BJJ) black belt, May Masuda has faced many opponents on the competition mats. Her accolades include being a Pan Asian International Jiu Jitsu Championship champion, BJJ World Champion, Asian Beach Games gold medalist and more.

Her greatest challenge to date? Being a full-time mom to her three year old daughter Aielle, who she calls a natural (but super cute) fighter while managing a gym, sports team and martial arts facility — phew! We spoke to May about how she’s tackling it all, why she loves being a mom and how she’s planning on raising her to be a strong warrior.

How long have you been training BJJ?

may masuda group pic

I’ve been training for over 12 years. Looking at it from a fitness perspective, I love how when I train everyday I can eat whatever I want and not feel guilty or worry about packing the pounds. I also love that as a woman, I’ve had the opportunity to feel like a strong superhero, with the ability to subdue or submit, bigger and stronger opponents (thanks to technique and leverage – it’s like magic!)

But overall, I love how it requires you to find the balance between think and feel. I used to say that I enjoy it because it’s a thinking game, and people will say it’s like human chess because as you move and flow you have to answer your opponent with your move and flow.

How do you manage training or competing while being a full-time mom?

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Fresh off the mats… the reporter asked me how I feel about the sudden exclusion of grappling from #SEAGAMES2019 – honestly, I feel it is a huge loss, not just for me but for the country. Filipino grapplers excel and are ahead of their time compared to other SEA nations. It’s unfortunate that it’s our fellow Filipinos who would deny our own country some sure medals, especially considering that we are hosting the games this year. I feel that it is unfair because a lot of other sports are fielding their events completely, while in wrestling out of 32 events that were submitted, only 14 were approved and they threatened to pull out the entire sport! There is one other sport where only the men’s team was going to be fielded, and this sport has been producing SEA games golds since the 80s. Meanwhile, you have other sports that have been in the SEA games since the 90s (no disrespect) that haven’t produced a single gold medal but have a complete line-up of events. Sports politics is disgusting, maraming crabs and mga nangiipit, even when the only agenda is to represent and deliver good results. I’m just thankful that our training abroad for grappling pushed through thanks to the amazing support of the Philippine Sports Commission that paid for and took care of EVERYTHING! At first malungkot kami because the training there was really in preparation for SEA games kaya nakaalis kami, but now we’re using our experience there for the UWW WORLD and ASIAN grappling championships ahead; so with or without the SEA GAMES, TULOY ANG LABAN! 💯✔️ You know there really is a silver lining in every situation, and the earth is round, if e-games made it in the games this year with 20 ‘athletes’, I know our grappling events will have its time. ❤️ #RPTEAM #WRESTLING #philippinegrappling #PTV4 #ikiroathlete @ikiroasiaph Photo Credit: Dr. Marte

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You just do it! I’m not perfect but before anything else, I am a mom, so my children’s needs always come first—I guess I’m just lucky that our kids want to be part of this lifestyle we have so everything works out. Aielle has been very supportive, she’s my number one cheerleader at competitions and she has been there for every training session.

That’s so cute! Was it hard for you to get back into it after giving birth?

may masuda podium pic

Nothing is ever easy, I took getting back in shape a day at a time. I think the problem with women who try to get in shape after giving birth is that they pressure themselves too much and are fixated on the results they want right away —and when it isn’t happening they stop trying.

That’s why Jiu-jitsu is such a great sport because you’re busy trying to learn to piece movements together that you forget that you’re actually working out your whole body —fast forward weeks later you’ve lost so much weight. Getting back in competition form wasn’t as hard as I had imagined it, I think the only real challenge was focusing on training when your priority is your children.

Do you think being a mom has made you better at BJJ?

I feel the same. They say that after you give birth, your body is prepared to care for two humans so you develop this thing they call “mommy strength”. I’m still waiting for it to kick in cause I don’t think I got it (Editor’s note: most people would say otherwise!).

You mentioned that you take Aielle to training with you. How does that work?

My family loves bonding through physical activity and thankfully like most sports we’ve introduced to her, she enjoys training Jiu-jitsu with us. Jiu-jitsu isn’t something we had to force her to do (just because my partner and I are both black belts); it was entirely her choice, in fact, she makes sure that she packs her gi every time we train and gets very upset every time she forgets her belt.

I love it because having her enjoy the gym environment that my partner and I practically have to be in most of the time, makes it easier for us to do what we need to do.

Training Jiu-jitsu of course has countless benefits for the child to develop life skills – they learn how to defend themselves, they develop self-discipline, focus and self-confidence as well. But for me as a parent, a good training session, is the best way to make sure she is knocked out right after and sleeps early or right away when we get home.

It sounds like you guys are really close!

may masuda and daughter

I would say that we developed a very close relationship through breastfeeding but more than that, just like I’m sure most moms experience—she will always turn to me for help, to ask questions, and I think the most crucial evidence of this closeness is that she can’t sleep unless I am by her side.

I took her everywhere with me and she never complained about it as long as she was with me; whether it was to the gym, competition or up the Great Wall of China or the grocery—you can bet Aielle is with me.

Would you say that being a BJJ competitor is in her blood?

It’s almost like she was born ready and prepared for life; she’s a natural fighter, having to fight a bacterial infection she picked up at birth (we had to stay in the hospital for 5 days till she was cleared). She has this emotional and social intelligence beyond her years that it has never been difficult raising her.

Why do you think more women should do BJJ?

Jiu-jitsu through the years has been promoted as the most effective form of self-defense. I myself, made the decision to start training jiu-jitsu after experiencing sexual abuse twice in my life as a child—I made it through both incidents alive, whole and still in peace because I refused to be defined by it or be a victim of my experience.

I never openly spoke about these experiences until I had Aielle and now I see her growing up and find it to be my obligation to make sure she is protected first and still more importantly equipped should she ever have to face such terrible things. Outside of self-defense, women who want to get in shape should see Jiu-jitsu as a gateway to fitness as it is a rigourous full-body exercise and you learn to appreciate your body more for it’s abilities and what it’s capable of doing – the physical attributes you develop like abs or firm arms and shoulders is just the icing on the cake. 

Thanks, May!