"Next time, I'll bite your head off"

Student and jiu-jitsu fighter aims for Olympics

Taco van der Eb


Journalism student Ismay Gossen came second at the European Brazilian jiu-jitsu championships: “It was hard finding a balance between fighting and my femininity.”

Practice has already begun, but practitioners are still arriving one by one at the sports academy in Rijswijk. Before they step on the mat dressed in a gi (martial arts uniform), they bow to the battle field, then approach the coach and greet him with a slight bow and a short embrace.
Ismay Gossen (23) has her hair bound into a tight plait and is already prostrate on the mat. She is pushed onto her back, but she throws her legs around her practice partner and pulling and tugging at each other’s gi, they tumble around.
Last month, Gossen came second at the European Brazilian jiu-jitsu (BJJ) championships in Lisbon.
This martial art is not particularly well known in the Netherlands. The most notable difference with the Japanese variation is that practitioners spend more time rolling around the mat and less time standing when they fight.
“Your aim to take down your partner as fast as possible: throw him on the mat. However, I’m really lazy and usually I take the guard position.” Lying on her back, she locks her opponent between her legs. For a layman, this might seem to put her at a disadvantage but she says that it does not diminish her chances of winning: “It’s my favourite position.”
Gossen started to practice Japanese jiu-jitsu when she was eleven. “I had tried all sorts of exercise, ranging from basket ball to ballet and my mother said: ‘You’re going to do this now.’ At first I didn’t like it all, but when I was about fifteen, I got better at it and started to enjoy it much more.”
Eventually she was enrolled at a Japanese school, the second woman to do so in 650 years. Unfortunately, she noticed that the tough practice was changing her personality. “I had to repress my emotions. It was hard finding a balance between fighting and my femininity.”
She switched to BJJ eighteen months ago. “In other combat sports, there are quite a lot of bitchy girls around, but that’s not really the case here and there is less hierarchy between students and their coach. At the Japanese school, I was even expected to wash my teacher’s gi occasionally.”
At the moment, she has a white belt, but at the end of this month she will be awarded a blue one. Just in time, because otherwise she would not be allowed to compete in a major tournament in Finland in April, where tickets for the world championships in Brazil can be won.
How does she think she will fair?  She utters a deep sigh. “I’ve fought against higher categories several times, and even beaten a blue belt once. I’m just going to practice very, very hard. I started dieting today because I still need to lose five kilos before Finland. I’m not allowed to weigh more than 69 kilos.”
After the warming-up, she adds: “Sometimes I’ll lose to a lady, but then I think to myself: ‘Next time, I’ll bite your head off.’”
She spends four hours at practice every day, but she is also doing a master’s degree in Journalism and New Media. “It’s a tough combination.”
Nevertheless, she is relying on a career in journalism rather than in sports. “You can’t earn much from fighting and at the moment, I’m a student without a sponsor. I have a personal trainer and a dietician, but I have to pay for everything else myself.” On the other hand, she adds: “BJJ will be launched as an Olympic sport in 2016. If I can take part in the 2020 Games, I’ll be 31, the perfect age, because you peak late in combat sports.”

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