Margarita “Meggie” P. Ochoa, a petite, 5-feet, 100-pound girl, has three gold medals under her belt as a jiujitsu artist.
She has grappled and defeated a 198-lb woman before the world championships.
Brazilian jiujitsu (BJJ), a self-defense martial art combat sport, teaches a smaller person to defend himself or herself against a bigger opponent. There’s no striking in BJJ. It’s all about grappling, taking down, and submissions.
“It originated from judo, then the Carlos and Hélio Gracie family modified judo and the traditional Japanese jiujitsu to create BJJ,” Ochoa said.
Ochoa has always been passionate about sports. She got into track and field in college at Ateneo de Manila. Later she moved on to judo, her first exposure to martial arts. It did not take long for some of her peers to convince her to try out mixed martial arts (MMA).
“I loved it! The problem was, there weren’t many girls my size into MMA who wanted to compete,” she said.
Then she discovered BJJ. Ochoa loves challenges; BJJ, with its large female membership, gave her the fix she needed to compete.
“If your opponent is not as skilled as you are in terms of technique, you can beat her even if she is more than twice your size,” Ochoa said. “Everyone is so technical it cancels out the strength factors. That’s another aspect I love about this sport. My biggest advantage is my athleticism. I’ve always loved sports and I’ve always loved to compete.”
But what many people do not know is how hard she works to earn those medals. She has been defeated several times, sometimes by girls she had previously beaten.
She endures bruises and injuries. She is disciplined, determined, and stays within her budget—which isn’t a lot, considering she’s doing BJJ full time now.
She enjoys assisting the coach in training small children aged 6-13, and looks forward to the day she can earn her black belt. Currently Ochoa wears a blue belt. She’ll need to win to earn her purple, brown and black belts.
Ochoa used to support herself through crowdfunding the past three years. At first it was doing well. But as she moved up, it was getting more and more difficult to sustain. The good news is, she now has sponsorships.
“But to make a living out of it is hard. The money will start to come only when I get my black belt. World-class black belt people are invited to teach around the world. I still have a long way to go,” she said.
She’s lucky to have supportive parents, “although deep inside I know they want me to have a stable, 9-5 job.”
Ochoa, a management graduate of Ateneo de Manila, worked for a nongovernmental organization before devoting herself full-time to sports.
“At least I have a backup,” she said, laughing.
You have to train smart, Ochoa pointed out. Listen to your body, and be disciplined enough to know when to stop. It can be very addicting, she warned.
“It helped me so much in learning to accept myself,” she noted. “In BJJ, whether you’re tall, short, fat, thin, strong, or weak, you have a sport that will make the most of what you have. I learned confidence and humility, that no matter how many times I win, I still lose before every major competition. One time I lost to a 14-year-old. BJJ keeps you grounded.”
The hardest part about the sport, she said, is staying committed despite the small earnings. Unlike in other sports, you can’t hold a job leading to the championship. That’s why BJJ demands that its athletes stay focused and dedicated.
BJJ, however, is not the ultimate dream for Ochoa. What she really wants is for the sport to have a positive impact on the community.
Jiu-Jitsu Manila works with the San Juan City government to teach police officers the “gentler” way to disarm a person and prevent a crime. They also have their hands full teaching San Juan City youth, to keep teenagers preoccupied and hopefully keep them off drugs.
“I know we can create a positive impact someday,” Ochoa said.
She’s a member of team Atos Philippines. Other Filipino women medalists in the World Championships include Kimberly Custodio, white belt rooster (silver); and Maybelline Masuda, purple belt rooster (bronze).