BY SEÁN P. FEENY
KATIE Sweeney from Kincasslagh is a marketing and sales executive with Customer Service Excellence Ireland in Letterkenny; a charming young woman who admit that people sometimes refer to her as the ‘girlie girl’ type. Over the past year and a half, Katie has excelled in the self-defence art of Brazilian Jiu Jitsu (BJJ), training at the Letterkenny-based Rilion Gracie Academy.
She is widely known as a charming young Rosses woman who once proudly represented her county as the Donegal Mary in the annual Mary From Dungloe International Festival in 2009; something that very few of her BJJ club members know.
The members of Rilion Gracie know Katie as one of their female members who trains very hard and is a skilful opponent to boot.
In September 2011, Katie decided to join her sister-in-law Andrea Sweeney in a new fitness venture and the joined the Letterkenny club’s Mixed Martial Arts classes.
After several months participating in these challenging fitness classes, Katie and Andrea switched over to the BJJ classes in February.
“The classes were a little easier, in terms of the workout and we loved it and have been here ever since. It has been great to have something to do for fitness in the evenings and the instructors, Brian ‘Barney’ Coyle and Stephen Coll, and everyone was so welcoming. It’s good craic and you make good friends,” said Katie.
This is Katie’s first venture into doing a sport as consistently has she has for the past year-and-a-half, training three to four times a week. “I did running and cycling when I was younger, and a little bit of boxing and kick-boxing, but I’ve never been in a sport or club where I have trained as much, put as much effort into, or loved as much as I have with BJJ, as a matter of fact.”
The art of Brazilian Jiu Jitsu is still not widely known amongst the general public in Ireland. It’s not a very common sport, yet, but its popularity is increasing immensely. There are not that many women participating in the sport on these shores either.
“A lot of my female friends, and male ones, aren’t exactly sure what it is I am doing. I try explain by showing them pictures, videos, my Gi (the outfit worn) and explaining moves to them, but they find it hard to understand; they think it’s like kick-boxing or karate. They aren’t really sure about it yet, but hopefully we will be able to bring more women into the club and show them exactly what it’s like,” said Katie.
Brazilian Jiu Jitsu’s ethos is very much that it is primarily an art of self-defence, which was what it was developed as by the famous martial arts dynasty, the Gracies. This is a very important factor to Katie, as a young woman.
“It is great that you can look after yourself and stand up for yourself. You definitely learn a lot here and it also builds up your confidence very much, so if anything ever was to happen, you would be able to defend yourself and get out of a dangerous situation.”
Being one of a few women currently training at the club, Katie sometimes finds herself doing drills and rolling (the BJJ form of sparring) with men.
“You’re rolling and training with guys your own size, but also a lot bigger and stronger, they’re also a lot more advanced than me.
“It’s actually great as it gives you an opportunity to train with people that are a lot better and I do feel that it makes you stronger and helps you develop your skills.
“I don’t have many people to train with that are my own size so you would like to think that when I do, I’ll be able to compete well with them, as you’re used to bigger people. Brazilian Jiu Jitsu is all about technique over strength so it definitely is good for a smaller person to overcome a larger person,” she said.
Katie is actually one of quite a few people who travel to the club from other parts of the county; they come from Milford, Donegal town, the Rosses, Fanad, Carrigart and further.
“I am work with Customer Service Excellence Ireland, located at the CoLab Centre at Letterkenny Institute of Technology, so I make the trip anyway, but even on my days off I find myself coming in so I can go to training at Rilion Gracie,” she said.
When Katie first started the MMA training, she never expected that she would be where she is now, a year and a half on.
“I have become really passionate about the sport and have loved going to training, you’re actually really disappointed when you miss training,” she laughed, “You learn something new every night; it’s definitely a very addictive sport and it’s always on your mind.
“I am definitely not your stereotypical BJJ or MMA person. A lot of people maybe see me as the ‘girlie girl’ and so maybe say that’s what makes BJJ so exciting, interesting and rewarding for me because I’m challenging myself and stepping out of my comfort zone.
“I think there might be a common misconception that it is a rough sport and only for people who are into ‘fighting’. This might put off women, especially, from coming, if they don’t have the confidence to walk in the door, never mind grappling or rolling. These days I am counting down the hours until the next time I get to training.
“I would encourage others to join the club for both physical and social reasons. Training at Rilion Gracie Ireland improves your fitness level, your strength and endurance, but it is also an opportunity to meet new people that share similar interests and build your confidence.”
For adult class queries call Brian Coyle, Rilion Gracie Ireland, Port Road, Letterkenny, on Mobile 085 826 9259