Crystal Cartagena is a 34 year old Brazilian Jiu Jitsu Blue Belt training under Dean Lister/Jeff Glover at Victory MMA San Diego. She began training Jiu Jitsu in the summer of 2014. She won Gold in Gi and Silver No Gi her first competition Naga after only 3 months of training. She achieved her blue belt after one year of training for hours almost 7 days a week. Crystal is a single mom of a 13 year old boy who also trains Jiu Jitsu and MMA. She was recently diagnosed with Lupus, an autoimmune tissease where your body mistakes and attacks its own tissues. Despite some fatigue and joint pain, she is able to manage the disease with a healthy diet, training, and rest. She runs a dog grooming business, home schools her son, while still training 5-6 days a week. Crystal is in the process of selling her business to go back to teaching elementary school. Crystal is bilingual, and speaks both English and Spanish. Crystal served in the United States Army and was honorably discharged July 2007.
Q&A Session Between Crystal Cartagena and Elite Sports
Question: What inspires you about BJJ & MMA?
Answer: Brazilian Jiu Jitsu is an amazing art which allows a weaker opponent to be able to protect and defend themselves from inferior positions. I find it incredible how the human body can become a weapon. A small child or woman could put a grown man to sleep with a properly applied rear naked choke submission. When a new person comes on the mat, regardless of their strength or size, they are repeatedly submitted and controlled with proper technique. Brazilian jiu jitsu allows you to defend yourself after being thrown on the ground, where many attacks and fights end up. Unfortunately domestic violence, rape, kidnappings and murder are major problems in society, particularly for women. I have experienced domestic violence first hand and looking back I would have been able to defend myself from throws, chokes, and different positions and remove myself from the situation. I was able to escape the situation eventually but many women have been killed trying to leave or after leaving their violent partners. Jiu Jitsu gives back power enabling women to have some way to defend themselves if this unfortunate event were to occur. Sparring in jiu jitsu is amazing because you can go 100 percent and test your technique, because your opponent can tap before any injury occurs. This level cannot be done daily in striking martial arts or self defense with groin strikes or eye gauging because of the damage it would inflict on your training partner. MMA is such a complex sport. The amount of training and dedication it takes to master the various arts is impressive. I love seeing the athletes evolve the sport and the different styles of various fighters.
Question: Who inspires you, past or present? Why do they inspire you?
Answer: I find Cat Zingano very inspiring that she was the first mother to compete in the UFC and is a jiu jitsu purple belt. She still fights despite being a single mother (her husband, Brazilian Black Belt Mauricio Zingano committed suicide) and having to take time off due to injuries. She is a very inspiring, strong woman who prevails despite numerous challenges.
Another big inspiration is Kyle Maynard, a motivational speaker who was born without his limbs developing properly, a rare condition known as congenital amputation. Despite doctors saying he would need assistance his whole life, he not only takes care of himself, he competed in high school wrestling, trains, competes, and submits people in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu, had an MMA fight, and was the first quadruple amputee to reach the top of Mount Kilimanjaro without t prosthetics.
Past inspirations would be Helio Gracie, for modifying the art and spreading its popularity through Brazil and the United States. Royce Gracie is inspiring for fighting in the beginning of the UFC and showing the true power of the art against different styles of fighting. Rener and Ryron Gracie have created and made available to many people great self defense programs including Women’s Empowerment and Bully Proof For Kids. Making these programs welcoming for women and children and giving them the power to protect and defend themselves is very inspiring. I hope one day to teach jiu jitsu to women and children.
Question: What are your goals for this year? Next 3 years? Next 5 years?
Answer: My goal this year this year is to apply and secure a teaching job in San Diego, CA, preferably teaching Dual Language Spanish. I want to improve my jiu jitsu game while maintaining my health.
I want to receive my purple belt and begin a local women’s self-defense based jiu jitsu class. I also want to see my son receive his blue belt at 16 and have him start applying for college.
Within the next 5 years, my goal is to obtain my Black Belt in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu. I will use my knowledge to help other women to learn the art of jiu jiu jitsu.
Question: What sort of gear do you usually keep in your gym bag before hitting the gym? Do you have different items for specific days?
Answer: I always have my mouth guard, shower items (small towel, tea tree soap, flip flops, brush, change of clothes), and lip balm. I have my Gi and Belt. If I am doing striking I have gloves, hand wraps and muay thai pads or boxing mitts. I have a lacrosse ball to roll out any knots I may have. I also always have at least 3 bottles of water.
Question: How long have you been training?
Answer: I have been training Brazilian Jiu Jitsu for almost 2.5 years.
Question: Any major accomplishments you’ve been able to achieve in that time?
Answer: I was awarded my Brazilian Jiu Jitsu Blue Belt after only one year of training (I put in A LOT of hours of classes, drilling, and rolling on the mat. I won Gold at Naga as a White Belt, Gold as a Blue Belt at Naga, and Gold as a Blue Belt at Grappling X.
Question: Do you have a go-to finishing move?
Answer: I do not have a go-to finishing move. I tend to go with whatever my opponent presents to me. I do particularly love heel hooks, regular and reverse arm bars, and the head and arm choke.
Question: What do you think it takes to be a champion in your sports?
Answer: To be a champion in Jiu Jitsu can mean many things. For me, welcoming other women into the sport, and helping out new people and your team mates is a major part of being a champion. You can win tournaments or submit people on the mat, but I also feel being a champion is helping the jiu jitsu community grow and prosper. It brings me more joy to see my son helping new and younger students, than it does seeing him win a tournament or submit another student.