Coming from a mixed heritage background meant that for our next FJWOW, her childhood was filled with memories made from the best of both worlds. Meet Karen Naisoro, world-class Brazilian Jiu Jitsu champion. Karen's story begins in Fiji, her background is a mix of Fijian and American heritage. Karen recalls most of her school holidays spent in their village in Ravitaki, Kadavu. At the age of 7, Karen's family made the move to America where she completed her education.
Karen's initiation into the sport of Brazilian Jiu Jitsu was through her partner, who suggested that she take it up as a form of self defense. She never expected to take a liking to the sport, let alone take it up as a professional sport. Her perseverance with the sport was one borne out of sheer determination to get better at something she felt was a challenge and also she admits, her stubborn streak refused to allow her to give up on it altogether. Her attitude towards training to be consistent and dedication to the sport began to reap its rewards as Karen says that not only did her skills improve but she also found that she felt fitter and healthier then she did in her early 20s.
Brazilian Jiu Jitsu is known as the "Gentle Art" of martial arts, the concept behind it is based on how the smaller opponent can dominate a bigger & stronger opponent with the use of technique rather than strength. Through the sport, Karen says that she has managed to find renewed confidence in herself. A well-respected teacher in the Brazilian Jiu Jitsu community puts it so well in words when he describes the sport as being about overcoming yourself. Karen feels that the phrase sums up her own personal journey in it all. In the beginning Karen shares that she had no idea what exactly she was supposed to be doing. She found it difficult trying to figure out the techniques and she felt that a major contributing factor to this was that she was unfit and couldn't seem to find purpose in anything she wanted in general. It's taken Karen four years of training and competing to get to where she is today. In the last year Karen has found herself pushing herself to the ultimate limits that has seen her not only reaching goals but also being named 1 of 2 female ambassadors to represent the Graccie Barra Oceania team for 2017. This has provided an opportunity for Karen to compete at world championships in the Oceania region, Abu Dhabi and America. Karen recently took 2nd place at one of the most prestigious championships in the world which also saw her being promoted to purple belt. Karen attributes her success in reaching her goals to the support that her sporting community have provided for her in terms of support and mentorship.
Karen's dream is to one day be able to take the sport to Fiji and create a following and a community for it with our youth and most importantly for our young women. She believes that in the islands our physique is one that is already naturally built for the sport. She also believes that the physical empowerment that comes from training and perfecting one's skill can play such an important role for women in the Fijian community. It will empower women to fully realise the potential that their bodies have, the strength and the capabilities and also the reward of seeing the transformation. It can also be a way of boosting confidence for children who may have been victims of bullying. Brazilian Jiu Jitsu has a way of transforming the way a person walks and the way they carry themselves because of the quiet confidence it instils into the person.
Karen's inspiration like many of our FJWOW features comes from her family. She wants to set the benchmark for her nieces and nephews so that they too can aspire to go above and beyond their own physical strength and realise that they can be mould-breakers and not limit their capabilities. She stressed that being a female athlete in a sport does not mean that we should be made to feel second-tier to our male counterparts. Karen believes that we need to cultivate a culture of self-confidence with our young women to set the foundation for them that we can be leaders in any field, be it medicine; science; sport or even fashion - whatever they aspire! Young women should always remember that no dream is ever too big and that our potential is capable of guiding us to achieve amazing things. Fijian women should always remind themselves and each other that we are cut from the cloth of warriors and no task is too big to overcome.
Karen's key to success is being consistent and disciplined in all that she does. She says that although the physical ability came naturally, it was the mental fortitude to keep going that needed the most work. Once she realised this, Karen saw how much more progress her training gained. Every athlete knows that the beginning of their journey is always difficult because of the disappointments that they face, but one should always remember that the first step to everything is to try. She stresses that everyone should give themselves a chance and not give up after the initial try. Nothing good ever happens overnight, it takes time and effort. One of the things that she draws inspiration from is watching the Fiji Women's National 7s team play. She says that although they may not have the budget anywhere near what the men's team gets or even the exposure, they still play with the same Fijian style, spirit and tenacity. They are great examples of how one can only allow themselves to be limited by their own way of thinking, once you break through that, everything else is sheer hardwork.
When asked who/what motivated her to be a better version of herself everyday, Karen shared that it was the two most important women in her life - her sister & her mom. She shared that it was the way that they both worked so tirelessly for their families and their generous hearts that made her always aspire to become a better version of herself daily.
In the sport of Jiu Jitsu, the mentors come in the form of her teammates, who come from all different circumstances and walks of life. The love that they share for Brazilian Jiu Jitsu makes their team spirit bond even stronger and creates a supportive network that she can rely on whenever she needs it. Her partner Sean who also happens to be from Fiji is another person she draws strength from. He not only introduced her to the sport but is also a fellow competitor and teammate in the field of Brazilian Jiu Jitsu. And lastly, her teacher Marcelo, who Karen describes as the most hardworking and genuine leader she has ever met. Karen ended our interview with a message for all the young people out there - Inspiration is everywhere, utilise it to its maximum so that you become an even better version of yourself everyday.
Vinaka vakalevu Karen for sharing your story with us.
Love & light,