One of the first lessons a young boy learns from his father is to never hit a girl. Maybe dad wants his son to grow up with respect for women. Or perhaps he wants to spare his boy the humiliation of running into someone like Felicia Oh. But then, Oh wouldn’t hit back.
The Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu Black Belt and 2007 USA Grappling World Team Trials Champion would just tie him up in a pretzel and slap on an arm bar or a choke hold that would make the poor guy wish he’d been punched.
It’s a fact that students are well aware of at Big John McCarthy’s Ultimate Training Academy in Valencia – where Oh has been an instructor in ground combat since the facility opened its doors in September.
“I wouldn’t roll with her,” says fellow instructor and 11-time world kickboxing champion Hector Peña on the prospect of grappling with Oh. “She’d embarrass me. She’ll make you squeal.”
In less than eight years, Oh has amassed a résumé in grappling – a hybrid sport that combines aspects of wrestling, jiu-jitsu and judo – that would make any competitive fighter envious.
The Tarzana native’s interest in the sport was sparked on a camping trip in 2000, where her friend’s husband talked to her about Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu.
“At first I was like, ‘Whatever,'” she says.
But after a particularly terrible camping experience and an even more harrowing rain-soaked running of the Los Angeles Marathon, Oh decided to give BJJ a try.
Standing 5 feet 1 inch, Oh was intrigued by the notion that a person her size could neutralize a much larger individual using BJJ techniques.
“I’ve been better at this than any of the other sports I’ve played,” she says.
And Oh has tried them all – cross country, track, baseball and gymnastics – but she knew she found her calling with grappling.
Competing in a Grappling Games event in June 2001, just six months after she started training, Oh won her first fight.
“It was exciting,” Oh says. “But I only got a few minutes to rest.
“I said, ‘What! I have to fight again.'”
Oh lost her second fight, but her love of the sport was cemented.
In just her second event, Oh took the white belt division championship in the gi competition – where fighters wear the traditional karate uniform, and was the runner-up in the no-gi competition – where fighters wear shorts and T-shirts.
Since then, Oh has been collecting grappling and BJJ titles like John Wooden’s UCLA Bruins collected NCAA Basketball Championships.
In 2007, Oh was the Pan American Jiu-Jitsu Black Belt Champion, the runner-up at the Abu Dhabi Combat Club Championships and won the Grappling World Team Trials – earning her a spot to represent the U.S. at the World Wrestling Games in Atalya, Turkey in September, where the sport of grappling will be included for the first time.
At the ADCC championships, Oh beat highly-touted Japanese grappler Megumi Fuji in the semifinals via submission by a rear-naked choke.
“People were really looking forward to that match,” Oh says.
But through success comes adversity – particularly in a sport like grappling.
Along with taking her share of concussions, back and neck injuries and eye gouges, Oh tore her ACL in a jiu-jitsu match in 2002.
She says her strong will and dedication to the sport sped up her recovery. Oh came back to win five titles in 2003, including the U.S. Open and the Copa Pacifica.
“(Oh) is one of the top three in the world,” says BJMUTA owner and legendary Ultimate Fighting Championship refereeBig John McCarthy. “She’s a dynamic instructor for what she does.”
Oh has been teaching kettlebells – a weight lifting exercise that has become popular among mixed martial arts fighters – and BJJ for women since the academy opened in September.
“Women are easier to teach because they don’t have as much of an ego,” McCarthy says.
Perhaps this explains Oh’s meteoric rise through the world of BJJ.
It takes an individual an average of eight to 10 years to earn a black belt in BJJ, which is the discipline’s highest rank.
Oh got hers in four and a half.
“I paid attention and asked questions,” she says. “The sport was agreeable to my physical and mental abilities.”
The martial arts community has taken notice of her considerable ability.
On August 11 in Costa Mesa, Oh will be inducted into the Masters Hall of Fame – an organization which recognizes excellence in martial arts – along with UFC Heavyweight Champion Randy Couture and UFC owner Dana White.
“I’m speechless,” Oh said of the induction. “It was a surprise and a big honor.”
Oh has officially become a martial arts star.
As her notoriety grows, she hopes the relatively new sport of grappling will grow with her.
“The sport is in its infancy,” she says. “The rise of the UFC and MMA has helped. It’s a lot easier now to tell someone what I do.”
The men involved in BJJ and grappling – a predominantly-male sport until the last few years – have also recognized that Oh is the real deal.
“Guys respect technique when they see it,” Oh says. “If they don’t, I just won’t roll with them.”
Those will be the lucky ones
By Matt Crosson, Signal Staff Writer