Apeksha Kakkar is one of the first women in India to train in Jiu Jitsu. Mostly practised by men, this martial art discipline focuses on ground fighting techniques. It teaches you to defend yourself when pinned on the ground or against a wall. It is one of the fastest growing sport around the world and has been popularised through many Hollywood movies too.
Wondering how can a woman defend herself against a man in martial arts? We met this 24-year-old Delhi lass who is a stripe four blue belt in Jiu Jitsu, to know more.
What inspired you to take up Brazilian Jiu Jitsu (BJJ)? Why not any other sport?
I was a very shy kid from the beginning, be it going out to play with my friends or take part in sports activities. I started training in martial arts as a fitness regimen with stand-up martial art forms such as Shaolin Kung Fu, Jeet Kune Do and Kali.
You are a blue belt. When did you realise the passion for BJJ?
I train at BJJ India/FMA Fitness in Delhi, where my professor Arun Sharma teaches both Jeet Kune Do and Brazilian Jiu Jitsu. It was here that I learnt what BJJ is all about. Initially, I never showed any interest because it was a close combat art and there were no girls training at that time.
Once I started assisting my instructor in self-defence workshops, I realised that my training isn’t complete without knowing BJJ which teaches you the ground fighting techniques. I started my training in BJJ and in no time the training sessions became the best part of my day.
And, when did you decide to become a coach?
I assist my Professor during classes and also fill in for other coaches. So far, I’ve filled in for my professor for a couple of classes when he was unavailable. He trains the Special Forces/Indian Army and hence travels a lot. I do take women and kids only camps, occasionally, as well as women self-defence seminar. Doing this makes me feel wonderful.
Many people believe that self-defence requires you to go to the gym, lift weights and learn kickboxing, so they consider themselves not capable enough to defend themselves. After our seminars often, the women participants thank us for making them realize that they can do anything if they set their minds to it. It gives them the confidence they never thought they had. It’s a wonderful feeling every single time.
Who was the inspiration behind your career?
I don’t see it as a career, at least as of now. Practising and teaching BJJ is my passion. Though my professor inspires me to push myself to become better every day.
How did you overcome the challenging times?
Honestly, I always received encouragement from my family, friends, training partners and instructors.
How many girls are there in the academy?
There are about 15 girls who come on and off to train now.
What drives you towards the sport? What does it mean to you?
Every day I train, I feel amazing. This feeling is the reason why I train every day.
Share your strategies for the sport and insights.
BJJ is an art of self-defence that focuses on ground techniques. It requires minimum strength, speed and flexibility, and places greater emphasis on timing and a deeper understanding of biomechanics. It teaches you to defend yourself when pinned on the ground or against a wall.
BJJ is also one of the fastest growing sport around the world. It’s new to India, but in countries like Brazil, UAE, USA, Canada, Australia and Singapore it’s very popular. In these countries, there are many academies to train and regular national and international competitions are held in which athletes of all age groups and genders compete. You can also see fight scenes based on BJJ techniques in many Hollywood movies.
What have been your biggest challenges so far?
When I started training, my biggest inhibition was in training with guys in such a close combat art. I overcame that by telling myself that if I really want to learn self-defence, I can’t do it without it. BJJ requires you to let go of the body constraints you set for yourself. Like the guard position which is one of the primary positions in BJJ is where you let someone sit between your legs. Other positions like mount and side-mount are those where somebody is on top of you.
These basic positions were so uncomfortable that learning actually began when I got over my inhibitions.
And luckily, where I train the instructor and other students are so caring and helpful that the environment of the academy feels very safe. Now I try to train as much as six days a week so that I can be there for a new girl walking in the class, to help and make her feel comfortable.
“I want to become the first Indian female black belt in BJJ. “
How do you balance life, family, profession?
Sometimes I feel even 24 hours are not enough, because you miss out on something or the other. I’m a freelance Architect and Interior designer, so work timings are flexible. I take time out to train in the evenings, which costs me family and friends time. But this is really the age to do as much as you want to, so I don’t hold back.
What has been your most touching or amazing moment?
I never thought people would look up to me the way they do. Every time someone tells me that what I’m doing is great I feel good. Once during a class, a boy came up to me and told me that he wishes his sister becomes like me. There is also an adorable six-year-old who trains at our academy, her parents told me that they want her to be like me. This, in turn, makes me do better every day, not to prove anything to anyone, but to become better for the ones who look up to me and to become a better version of myself.
Women learn from men as their teacher, but it’s hard for men to learn sports from a woman. When people become more accepting, new avenues will definitely open up for women.
What do you think India lacks in appreciating different kinds of sports?
BJJ is not so popular in India so they are only a few places to train in the country. But if you see it overall there isn’t enough support and money in the field, anyone who is performing really well is not making a lot of money. The thing is it requires a lot of training hours, and you invest a lot of money to train, but the results are not as fruitful. In other countries athletes are paid better, the sports industry is more sorted. Jiu Jitsu was introduced in the Asian Games 2018, but there was no participant from our country. There was no selection held for the discipline.
“I want to better for the ones who look up to me and to become a better version of myself.”
Do you face any struggles for sponsors?
Athletes in this art are unlikely to get sponsors. The game changes when you compete in (Mixed martial Arts, MMA), there you have sponsors.
What are your core passion and long-term vision?
I love training, hence I will continue to train. I want to become the first Indian female black belt in BJJ. And soon start teaching more and more women in this wonderful art. My instructor and I are planning a women-only class, concentrating on self-defence and the next step would be to introduce women-only BJJ classes.
What are the chances for girls from to take up the sport? Do they get as much exposure and enthusiasm as they deserve?
There are very few events and competitions around and even they don’t get any media coverage. For this art and sport to grow in India the government and the media need to create awareness and help in organising more events and competitions. In Abu Dhabi, its part of the curriculum in schools.
“We are planning a women-only class, concentrating on self-defence and the next step would be to introduce women-only BJJ classes.”
How sports, in general, has liberated women?
Sports has given me confidence. From driving away the insecurities about my body to speaking in front of people. Sports really helps you develop personality and confidence. Women will only take it up professionally if they are paid well. Secondly, women learn from men as their teacher, but it’s hard for men to learn sports from a woman. When people become more accepting, new avenues will definitely open for a lot of women.
Usually BJJ is considered a masculine sport. Do you think the norm is changing?
I believe sports as a whole is considered masculine, but time and again women are proving themselves. Jiu Jitsu is no different, I have trained in academies in Canada, USA and trust me everywhere the ratio of women to men training is skewed. But it all starts with one girl, and soon you see so many. So yes, it’s changing, it is a slow process but the world doesn’t change overnight.