Asena Melike Ağansoy (Sponsor: Moya) is the first woman, living in Turkey, to earn a Brown Belt in Brazilian Jiujitsu. She trains on and coaches for the Istanbul-based team Corvos, under Burak Değer Biçer -Turkey’s first black belt (lineage: Ricco Vierra). Asena routinely competes in the highest level of European grappling tournaments, capturing silver at the 2017 IBJJF Paris International in the Brown Belt Absolute division (medalists of all weight classes fight each other after clearing out their respective weight divisions)…She is a featherweight (58.5 Kg/122lbs). Asena aspires to be Turkey’s first female blackbelt, IBJJF black belt world champion, and to empower woman all over the world with her knowledge and abilities. She is also a student at Bilgi University in Istanbul majoring in Sports Management; having earned a full scholarship to attend.
Jimmy: Although Turkey is one of the more socially liberal countries in the region, women still face many challenges in terms of social equality. Has any of these problems affected you or the people close to you in any way?
Asena: It never affected me. I grew up in a matriarchal house because my dad died when I was five. My mom was working to provide for me and my brother. She was also cooking when she got back from work and we used to help her together. It had a more positive affect on my brother than me because as we grew up he knew that no other female is entitled or responsible for cooking food for him or doing his laundry just because they are “female”. My mom is very strict in some cases and he wanted my brother to understand this fact when we were growing up.
Turkish people, especially men aren’t raised like this and that is the source of all the problems you mentioned above. They are raised by moms who teach them cooking or laundry is women’s work, and other “manly” stuff should only be done by men. I think around age 12 one of my friends told me “your mom is like a man, she is working because you have no father” and I was like “yes but I can’t see anything wrong with that” 🙂 Growing up this way made me understand that women are equal to men in all ways.
My relatives were also very respectful towards my mom, as her being my first role model I was very impressed by it. Also at our home, we have my dad’s paintings on the walls and most of them are about ancient warrior women and it had a very positive affect about me knowing where I stand in the terms of social equality.
Jimmy: What does it mean for you to be the greatest female submission fighter in the region?
Asena: It puts a huge responsibility on me. I believe I have to go further and work harder to improve myself. If you compare my division now back to 2010, it expanded a lot and we have many talented female fighters in this region. So I believe I have to work harder to claim my place.
Jimmy: Many young women take inspiration from you. What is your advice for them?
Asena: It’s really great to hear this! My advice is they should always believe in who they are. Even if someone tells you that you’re not talented enough, or you’re not athletic enough, or you’re fat you just have to keep moving forward. The one who judges you should only be you and you shouldn’t listen to anyone else because you’re the one who decides who you want to be, and believe me the people who tell you this stuff won’t even be there when you reach the top.
My other advice is you should always be yourself because that’s where all your power comes from. Your uniqueness is your best asset so don’t ever waste it wishing you were someone else. And be realistic. See things as they are not how you want them to be. That’s when everything changes. Because if you want to make progress first you have to admit what’s holding you back. And you can only achieve it if you see things as they are.
Jimmy: How can Brazilian Jiujitsu be source of empowerment for women not only in Turkey but all around the world?
Asena: Women are often told that they are too fragile, or not strong enough to “achieve”. They are told that they should aspire marriage and to bear children. BJJ helps women to realize who they really are.
If a woman can choke [out] a man who is 30 kgs heavier than her, then what is holding her back from creating a career for herself or achieving other goals?
Jimmy: You are on path to becoming Turkey’s first female black belt in Brazilian Jiujitsu. Do you see yourself leading the charge in expanding Brazilian Jiujitsu for women in Turkey?
Asena: I’m really glad to be leading the charge and I started working on it this year. For college, I created a project specific for female BJJ and the dissemination of it in Turkey. I’m studying Sports Management and our lecturers and academic staff are very supportive towards our projects which makes me really happy and hopeful towards my goal. We also had an open mat with female practitioners from different teams in Turkey and planning to do the second one this month. Training in a male-dominant sport and having very few female training partners in Turkey, we decided to join our forces and we are planning to create further organizations together.
Jimmy: Anything else you want to say to your fans? Both in Turkey and here in the US?
Asena: Thank you all for the love and support! I’m really proud to be part of this community!