Christy Thomas: The First Woman Promoted to Black Belt by Relson Gracie

Christy Thomas michelle nicolini
Christy Thomas armbars Michelle Nicolini in the womens black / brown belt absolute division at the 2009 BJJ Pan-Ams.

Christy Thomas has been a competitor at the International Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu Federation’s events for years now and a staple of the Texan BJJ scene forever! She recently was awarded her black belt by Relson Gracie. Here’s what she had to say about the moment many consider the culmination of one’s martial arts career.

The FightWorks Podcast: You’ve been training a long time. How long ago did you start and what made you want to train BJJ?

Christy Thomas: It’s been a while. I started in late 2001 so, coming up on 11 years. I was introduced to Jiu-Jitsu and MMA by an old boyfriend. I was always around the Texas scene then started training after I met Relson at a small seminar. I found competition and that became my focus.

The FightWorks Podcast: Have you ever had to use jiu-jitsu in a self-defense situation?

Christy Thomas: All the time. It makes me more aware so I’ve found myself in a few too many tangles, helping others, not to mention the random weirdos that seem to find me. Typically, guys decide to touch me where they should not. In one situation, I used one person (of many) to shield me from the rest so that I could stand up. That worked very well and I disengaged and left immediately. I was just discussing that story with Relson when he was here. He is very strict about the self-defense curriculum and shows his concern about things like that. I want to make sure and help my students learn from my/other’s experiences and understand the complexity of scenarios like a street fight or similar situation.

The FightWorks Podcast: Relson Gracie is not known for easily giving black belts. Describe your career training under him.

Christy Thomas: Training under Relson has been so full and authentic. I have been places some will never go. I’ve met people others will never have the chance to meet. I’ve had the chance to see inside some very real moments where the big names are just normal people. I’ve learned so much about people in general. I’ve learned so much about men and the differences that make people yearn to train and what they want out of it. Basically, I am blessed to know Relson and to be so close to him. I feel so much for him and my Jiu-Jitsu family. He mentioned in my recent ceremony that I never asked for any degrees or new belts. I never felt that need. I knew he would see me and show me the way. He is very easy to communicate with when you know him for so long. So I listened.

The FightWorks Podcast: How did you react when you found out that you had just become the first woman to receive a black belt from Relson?

Christy Thomas: Man! It’s such a huge deal. It wasn’t a surprise. I knew I was slated to get my belt. I had a chore list for Relson & there is only one other lady (Hi Jen!) who was even close. He’s been on me for awhile. I have earned all the time under all the belts before black. I am so happy and feel honored to be in the ranks of my peers as well as the #1 first-ever only-one-for-now Relson Gracie female black belt!!

The FightWorks Podcast: You’ve been competing at jiu-jitsu tournaments forever. How has the competition scene for women changed, if at all, since you began?

Christy Thomas: The scene has changed a bit but mostly it’s evolved. Where we used to call each other and plan to be at events, now there are more women than ever. The tournaments count our wins toward the team scores, which some didn’t before. Some events were men only and now there are enough ladies to have women only events. We have more weight divisions & fuller brackets. We have female specific gis, camps & teams. I think though that the competition is very different now that so many teams only want to to play/train for IBJJF rules rather than playing for the submission. I think that’s the oddest thing, to set the art free into the world and then close it off as a sport. Now our best option is to choose wisely and have fun.

The FightWorks Podcast: Any final words for our audience?

Christy Thomas: Thank You, FightWorks Podcast! Come train with me if you’re in Austin!

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