3rd Coast Grappling Kumite 7 will go down tonight, and the promotion will be concluding their Kumite series with an eight-woman challenge for the grand prize of $10,000.
Among the competitors is Jessica Swanson: a black belt with an impressive record that includes a win at Worlds when she was a brown belt. She calls the achievement both her proudest and most challenging moment in her jiu-jitsu career, and tonight, she’ll be hoping to defeat a number of other decorated grapplers to add yet another big win to her record.
Swanson won’t have an easy trip to the finals, though. Her first-round matchup is none other than Luiza Monteiro: a multiple-time IBJJF world champion in both gi and no-gi. The pairing might be intimidating for some, but Swanson calls it a “dream.”
“I feel so lucky to have the opportunity to compete against Luiza,” she told the Jiu-Jitsu Times. “I’ve been training since I was nine years old and grew up watching her competition highlight videos. Im just going to go out there and have fun. Orange belt Jessi would have never believed that we would be in this bracket alongside Luiza Monteiro.”
In another reality, this opportunity might not have even happened for Swanson were it not for her first trip to Brazil, which she took in 2016 as a purple belt. Swanson says visiting Leandro ‘Tatu’ Escobar’s academy in Tijuca, Rio de Janeiro “completely changed the direction of [her] career and made [her] reevaluate what [she] wanted from [her] training.”
“It was my first time out of the country and first time training with people who were my age,” she says. “I was training four times a day and conditioning in between rolling sessions while staying in Rio. It was so challenging and I missed my family, but it was the best time.”
The trip wouldn’t be her last to the country. She’s since returned to Brazil four times, staying for three months during each visit. Given that she says she learns something new from Escobar and his students each time, it’s easy to see why.
Swanson’s time in Brazil is far from the extent of her international travel experience. Following her 2018 college graduation, when she earned a degree in International Political Economy and Diplomacy with a minor in Languages, she took seven months to study in Cheonan Asan, South Korea. Swanson was riding the high of one of her biggest career wins to date, having just won Pans as a brown belt when she flew there. Though she was in a completely different country, she wasted no time in taking the initiative to make the most out of her training there.
“Since the college I was studying at was outside of the city, a lot of my friends’ gym recommendations weren’t a possibility because of the distance,” she says. “I did my own Facebook search and found a gym that was about a 20-minute bus ride from my dorm.”
Her search led her to find T.A.R. Jiu-Jitsu in Baebang, which had classes taught by then-purple-belt and current brown belt Lee Nam Hee, who operated and trained under black belt Kris Kim.
“I remember I had trouble reading the schedule because it was in Korean and ended up waiting outside the gym for an hour and thirty minutes hoping someone would show up for the morning class,” Swanson recalls. “I think I gave Coach a bit of a fright when he saw me with my gi camped out in front of his gym doors.”
Despite the unconventional introduction, Swanson calls her decision to train at T.A.R. the “best decision [she] ever made.”
“They were the most welcoming team I had ever met in jiu-jitsu, and their kindness made me want to achieve more in the sport,” says Swanson. “That following year when I came back to the States, I placed second in the brown/black belt division in Abu Dhabi, losing to Ana ‘Baby’ Vieira, won the Pans for the second time and Worlds for the first time at brown belt. I think I couldn’t have done it without their support. To this day I still wear their patch on my gi when I compete.”
If Swanson’s story has increased your desire to train abroad, she has some simple advice for you: “Just go do it.” She says that the time she spent training in South Korea, Guatemala, and Brazil helped her improve her language skills, in addition to helping her better understand different cultures. “I learned things inside the gym that I would have never learned inside of a language classroom and made friendships with people that I’ll carry with me always.”
Swanson has since decided to pass on her love for learning languages to other students. She currently teaches English online at night to students in Beijing ranging in age from five to fourteen, and she hopes to earn enough to buy her own car in the near future.
Of course, that’s not all Swanson has planned for the future. She aims to grow her women’s team at BJJ Lab Naperville in West Chicago. “I recently moved there and so far we have around 11 women who come to class consistently. I want that number to grow more than anything, and my dream is to have my women’s team representing at the IBJJF Chicago Open next year.”
As for what she’ll do with all that cash if she conquers the challenge ahead of her tonight and earns the title of Queen of the Kumite? “Me and my teammates have been joking that if I somehow manage to win the 10k that I will fly back home that next day and Uber straight to the Honda dealership.”
You can watch Swanson vs. Monteiro and many more exciting matches when 3CG Kumite 7 streams live tonight on FloGrappling