In the last year, Gracie Barra has seen many schools all over the GB Network of schools introduce the GBF Women’s classes. 
We sat down with Professor Marcia  Carvalho of GB Georgia to talk about her GBF classes and the experiences of the female students. We discussed Professor Marcia’s background, the GBF approach to introducing women to Jiu-Jitsu, connecting with other women through Jiu-Jitsu and forming friendships, why she feels a women-only class is a benefit, and being a mother of a GB Athlete.

Unveiling Professor Marcia Carvalho

In our recent discussion with Professor Marcia Carvalho of GB Georgia, we gained insight into her journey and the profound impact of GBF classes on female students. Professor Marcia, originally from Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, didn't commence her Jiu-Jitsu journey until adulthood after moving to the USA. Although her brother trained, her father was reluctant to allow Marcia to training due to the conditions for women in Jiu-Jitsu gyms back then. Reflecting on her early aspirations, she recalls the challenges faced by women in the Jiu-Jitsu community during the 80s and 90s.

"Inside the academy, guys didn't use rash guards. There was no air-conditioning system. It was not very friendly for girls," she explains. "If we look back at the IBJJF, I think that the first female division (in competition) was not until 1998 or the late 90s."

Empowering through the GBF Program

The GBF program, an 8-week curriculum designed for women, emphasizes self-defense and fundamental techniques. Professor Marcia underscores its role in providing a supportive community for women embarking on their Jiu-Jitsu journey.The GBF program is designed to meet the specific learning needs of women who want to start Jiu-Jitsu. Complete with curriculum and empowerment messages. It offers a community to women who need it, for whatever reason.

Connecting with other women through Jiu-Jitsu

Professor Marcia shares her belief that if someone is relocating to a new city when you have a Gracie Barra Jiu-Jitsu school there, you can walk into any GB school and be able to connect with a group of new, potential friends.

This is a sentiment echoed by several other GB school owners. GB Santa Barbara's Professor Rodrigo Clark says that many prospective students inquiring about Jiu-Jitsu classes ask him outright: "Will I be able to make friends here?" People need to form social connections with others for a healthy life. Especially women.

Professor Marcia says, "Wherever I travel in the world, that is the first thing that I look for: is there a GB? If there is, I try to reach out to the professor, and I try to go in and meet girls and guys that are from that academy. Then I ask, 'Hey, what's a good restaurant? What's a good place to go? What should I do?" It is a great way to have community and support wherever you go.

Breaking Barriers:
 Embracing Women-Only Classes

Professor Marcia admits that initially, she was less than 100% on board when she thought about the format of a "girls only" Jiu-Jitsu class.

"I was always very hesitant to teach a girls-only class," she says, "It had never been a huge thing of mine." Professor Marcia goes on to explain, "I had always motivated girls to train, albeit in a coed scenario. Because I always felt that if we wanted to do it for self-defense, most likely the person that was going to attack us wouldn't be a girl." Professor Marcia thought that females needed to learn to interact with males in learning self-defense in order to have valid self-defense training experience.

Only after meeting Professor Nika Schwinden, did she change her philosophy on female-only Jiu-Jitsu classes.

It wasn't until the Pan American championships in 2022 that Professor Nika and I spent a couple of days together.

She really shared with me her vision for the GBF," recalls Professor Marcia, "And that changed my world." 

Professor Marcia elaborates on the meeting,"To know that many (female) students now are not in the right place to be able to train with the opposite sex. We don't know what they are going through in life. When we offer this place for her to come, and not only learn self-defense, but also overcome that fear, and eventually be able to train with other guys. To be around guys. It's powerful."

After that perspective-changing conversation with Professor Nika, Professor Marcia was inspired to begin teaching a females-only GBF class.

Professor Marcia embraces the purpose of the GBF program as serving as a gateway for entry to Jiu-Jitsu for people who might otherwise be apprehensive about joining the GB1 Fundamentals class.

A welcoming school environment for women

Professor Marcia expressed how important it is to cultivate an atmosphere of support and open communication within the group of women training in her GBF class.

"We feel comfortable talking with one another. The place that you can come to where you can feel welcome. There are no silly questions. There's not going to be something that you think, 'Oh, I shouldn't ask this question because someone is going to look at me weird', says Professor Marcia.

"I make the environment super comfortable and super open for everyone. From the white belt who has never done Jiu-Jitsu to some of my brown belts who are continuing to come and support each other," says Professor Marcia, "That's the very powerful thing about Jiu-Jitsu. Once we achieve some of the colored belts, when we start teaching another, it's when we are learning the most."

A Mother's Journey: Nurturing on and off the Mats

Reflecting on her role as a mother to a GB Athlete, Professor Marcia highlights the transformative impact of Jiu-Jitsu on family dynamics.

"It's amazing," she reflects. "Going to Jiu-Jitsu with my kids, being able to raise my daughter on the mats, has been probably the smartest thing that I have done as a mother!"

Professor Marcia references the old saying "It takes a village to raise a child," and laments that societal changes and the way people live in modern cities have changed the way children grow up.

"We don't practice that (village raising a child) as much or see it in action. It took a village to raise my daughter," says Professor Marcia. "Not because she was difficult,..she was a great kid. Now my daughter is turning 19 and has devoted herself to the Jiu-Jitsu career. She's an amazing Jiu-Jitsu instructor."

Professor Marcia indicated that the village she grew up in as a student of Gracie Barra and on the mats with all the coaches and professors she learned from helped her become who she is.

Professor Marcia believes - both from her own experience as a Jiu-Jitsu mom and observing the shared experiences of children and their parents doing Jiu-Jitsu as a family, that this offers an opportunity for families to have valuable experiences together.

"It's very powerful to be able to tell that to a mother that is bringing her kids," says Professor Marcia, "Don't only bring your kids, DO the class with them!"

Professor Marcia says, "Because it's a bond that is hard to explain. What you have when you are on the mats together." Professor Marcia believes that this bonding that takes place on the mats in class opens up the channels of communication between a mother and her kids.

"It helps you through those things that you want to talk about at home, that sometimes you don't know how to approach," explains Professor Marcia, "But on the mats, after a nice session with your daughter, you are able to approach. Or sometimes you don't even need to approach them because it's already resolved. Because that mat time is kinda like therapy time."

Honoring the Legacy of GB WomenSmall

Professor Marcia points out that growing up in the Jiu-Jitsu lifestyle has afforded her daughter some opportunities in her life that were not available to previous generations of young women. Competing, travelling, and teaching Jiu-Jitsu as a way to make a living from something that she loves.

"It's a different career that opens the doors for women. In something that before, we didn't even have a women's division in competitions," says Professor Marcia. "Now we have school owners like Fabiana Borges, who is the sole owner, female, of her business."

Professor Marcia acknowledges the contributions of trailblazing women within Gracie Barra, paying tribute to mentors who have shaped the ethos of GB Women and the GBF program.

GBF Standing on the shoulders of giants

Professor Marcia is quick to recognize the contributions of the great GB women instructors who have helped shape the philosophy around women in Jiu-Jitsu and the GBF program.

At the risk of missing some of the GB Jiu-Jitsu women, Professor Marcia mentions some of the women who have impacted her. Professor Ana Laura Cordeiro as the first significant competitor that inspired her. She credits Professor Nika Schwinden and the conversations that they shared about the GBF Program that influenced her to start teaching female-only classes at her GB Georgia school. Professor Marcia recently returned from a trip to train with Professor Fabiana Borges, who she lists as a tremendous role model for her and as having deeply impacted her on her Jiu-Jitsu journey. 

And lastly, Professor Vivi Almeida is another role model for GB Women. Professor Marcia credits Professor Vivi for expressing to her how important it is to speak, act, and dress like a leader at GB events because she is a role model to all those women who come after her.

The GBF Program is a product of the minds and experiences of the Women of Gracie Barra. It is a powerful tool to uplift your school, empower the women in your community, and connect with the family environment that Gracie Barra richly believes in.

As we celebrate International Women's Day, let us draw inspiration from the stories of women like Professor Marcia Carvalho, who embody the spirit of empowerment and resilience on and off the mats.

For those interested in learning more about the GBF program, visit the ICP2024 at and join us in championing women's empowerment through Jiu-Jitsu.