Margot Ciccarelli

Margot Ciccarelli
Photo by @dolavision
See her IG
Interview by Women Who Fight
June 2018 

Margot is one of the elite competitors on the BJJ scene, travelling worldwide and leading a nomadic BJJ lifestyle she is an advocate for cross training Jiu Jitsu as part of the evolution of the sport. Her vision is to expand and develop the women’s BJJ scene in Hong Kong and to forge connections with people all around the world. Her attitude to anything new or challenging is always positive. The creator of Nomadic ID her mission is to connect ‘like minded individuals together who think in the same artistic wavelength’ believing that ‘art fulfills a part of the soul like nothing else can.’


Tell us about your BJJ journey.

I’ve was involved in martial arts before training BJJ. I used to power-lift as a teenager and I had a friend who trained in Judo and BJJ. One day he asked me to try a class with him. This was in London at Mill Hill BJJ with Dan Strauss and Oliver Geddes. On my gap year I went to Hawaii and trained there at Maui Martial Arts with Ermin Fergerstrom. My heart was still enamoured with striking, and it wasn’t until I got back to Hong Kong that I truly fell in love with BJJ. I was training under Atos Hong Kong and one of my great training partners at the time (purple belt then, black belt now) had taken me under his wing and taught me a lot of the guard tricks that I still use and hone today – he created the foundation of what would become my guard game. A year later I went back to London for university where I trained at Legacy BJJ (now Inglorious Grapplers) in London with Jude Samuel and Viking Wong. There weren’t that many girls training on the mats, and the guys at Legacy were tough and big. I knew I would have to put in twice the amount of ‘smart’ work to keep up, but when you are fuelled by passion you really don’t care about the work you have to put in.

Anytime a big event came up such as Pans or Worlds, I would travel to the Art of Jiu-jitsu with the Mendes Bros in Orange County, California to prepare, but being a full time student and attempting to be a full time athlete is not easy. 

A few years later, I suffered a bad foot injury a few weeks before the Abu Dhabi World Pro, and shortly after my return I was going to have surgery to fix it. During this time I was trying my best to stay productive and pursue other creative pursuits away from the mat giving me time to think about what my next move would be.

Within a month or two of recovering, I went to compete in Tokyo and took double gold at the first Abu Dhabi Grand Slam Tokyo and moved to the Gold Coast (Australia) for a year where I met some of my closest and dearest friends. I had an opportunity to go out there to teach English with the perks of a flexible schedule to maintain my training regime and had the honour of training almost daily with the now teenage phenom Coco Izutsu – probably one of the smoothest and most technical practitioners I have ever rolled with. Every weekend or two, I would fly to Melbourne to crosstrain at Absolute MMA with the lovely Livia Gluchowska and Lachlan Giles.

After my stint in Australia, I decided to move back to Hong Kong. My current mission is not only to develop myself as a competitor and teacher, but a big vision of mine is to expand and develop the jiu-jitsu scene in Hong Kong, especially the women’s scene. I feel like the first impression most locals get of jiu-jitsu is that it is extremely rough and dirty and more comparable to MMA, and thus it usually gets the mention of the UFC. I really aim to change that and really showcase the art for what it is.

Hong Kong has become much more open with the open mat policy and cross-training. A big part of this is due to Viking Wong (founder of Jiu-Jitsu Sans Frontiers and Open Mat) and his desire to keep the doors open for everyone. I honestly think this is the way of modernising the art, and although I think some traditions are vital, to deny the evolution of BJJ goes against my values as a martial artist.

Professor Caporal has been a great influence in my life and BJJ especially at the beginning of my journey, but with the nature of my vision, and also teaching and training at different gyms, we had our differences and I had to leave Atos due to these differences. In May 2017, I joined Unity Jiu-jitsu under Murilo Santana; I had previously visited a couple of times but this would be my first camp with them. Since then, I’ve been back every Summer and Winter season to prepare for the biggest competitions of the year.


When did you become Nomadic in your approach to training?

I’ve travelled a lot throughout my life, but in terms of training as soon as I had the flexibility of not going to college everyday, I began to get extremely nomadic. I always had one main gym I would go back to; throughout my white – blue belt it was mainly Rodrigo Caporal; the progression to blue – purple belt was London based jiu-jitsu OG Jude Samuel and now in New York with Professor Murilo Santana. My training away from New York is very self directed and based upon workshopping with my training partners in Hong Kong.


You are the founder of Nømadic iD. What is it exactly and how did it start? 

Nomadic iD is a number of things. It’s a collaborative network uniting artists from different fields and disciplines, whether it be connecting martial artists with visual artists, or videographers with musicians and aerial artists; the possibilities are endless. Within our network, we also have our in-network nomads which we outsource to whoever may request or need their assistance.

The big picture : in the next few years I am thinking about creating a space that allows for that artistic freedom and collaboration to happen within a communal space, think co-creation. An extended circus to all arts. I want to connect more like minded individuals together who think in the same artistic wavelength.

Margot Ciccarelli winning Europeans 2017
Margot Ciccarelli winning Worlds 2018

You travel and train quite a lot. How does this benefit you? And how do people approach you, knowing that you are not there to stay?

People know that I’m not there to stay, but they always know I will be back. For me BJJ allows me to forge more connections not just between the techniques, but between people. Travel gives me perspective and I get to see a lot of my friends around the globe which is so nourishing. I get a lot of insight into training and nuances behind techniques in every country I visit, and you get to be a part of many people’s journeys in the art, which is an honour.

Worlds 2019. Everything about that. Mainly focusing on the Gi. That’s my goal to win. Every comp I do in the lead up is just practice for that. They are just test runs, so I can feel it out, learn about the level change as the sport progresses. The brown belt world champions of the year before last, won and medalled at black belt worlds, and the same happened the year before. The new up and comers are coming through, and there is a level change. The lower belts are getting tougher and coming up through the division. Amal is a brown and annihilated the black belt world champion at super feather in World pro. Black and Brown are interchangeable. It’s amazing to see the level get better and better in the women’s divisions.


You are competing at the highest level. How do you manage to keep focused?

I am self driven and I like taking up leadership roles. My focus comes from my mission, from wanting to master the disciplines that I love and from just enjoying the day to day movement. I love being so involved with the moment that everything else in your mind just dissipates – it’s a true feeling of bliss.


What does your daily routine look like? And how often do you train?

Currently in New York, I train between 3-6 hours of BJJ depending on the day, but I’m very careful to taper the number of hours. I am really not an advocate of mindless training. If my brain isn’t there, I know the session isn’t going to be productive for me.


Since coming back from Abu Dhabi, I’ve tapered to 3 hard days of training which may have the larger number of jiu-jitsu training hours. Tuesdays and Thursdays afternoons are reserved for the Circus Warehouse where I mix up my training a little with trapeze, ballet and tumbling. It helps free my body from a lot of tension that it gets from jiu-jitsu.


In Hong Kong, I tend to focus on teaching a lot more so my hours could even be 1-3 hours of training every other day.


Margot Ciccarelli and her cheering crowd
Photo by @nicholasgsw

How do you keep your body safe from injuries and strains? Do you do yoga? Is stretching a major part of your life?

I try to do mobility work whenever I can. I think any athlete would benefit from implementing some mobility work into their routine. Educating yourself about your body is always an excellent idea.


One of my main training partners in just about everything in Hong Kong, Stephanie Lee, (also co-founder of the Hong Kong based movement facility Trybe) has taught me a lot about mobility and understanding how to make drills more efficient. You often hear it as ‘smart training’ and 100% it is. My guard is based a lot around flexibility so I feel like a lot of the drilling I do is kind of like dynamic stretching if my partners are heavy enough.


Tell us about how you deal with defeat. 

I’ve faced a lot of big competitions with bad injuries. Rising up through the ranks I definitely did take it harder. I don’t think I understood at the time that good jiu-jitsu alone doesn’t win you matches. You can have great jiu-jitsu and bad timing, or a lack of athleticism that could lose you the fight. I remember one year at blue belt, I was bawling after one of my matches at Worlds, I felt like I let everyone down. I went straight back to dieting the day of competition, I felt like I didn’t deserve to treat myself because I lost.

Now, win or lose, I’m unfazed by it all, I just calmly assess what led to that result. Even if I win, it doesn’t necessarily mean that I don’t analyse my match. You need to be constantly assessing yourself win or lose to progress.

Do you have advice for part time female BJJ athletes?


‘Be fearless’ is probably going to be a very common answer. I personally think you need fear to grow. You need to be afraid and do things anyway. That fear will challenge you to rise up to the challenge.


Whether part time or full time, I think if you want to succeed, you need to be so deluded that you will make it that you just seem like you’re dreaming.


Define your goals. Not everybody’s goal is to be a world champion. Maybe you just want to feel like your jiu-jitsu flows. Remember that you shouldn’t compare yourself to someone full time, I see this far too often. Even if someone has a full time job and they train everyday, that’s literally considered full time. Don’t get stuck in that trap – we are all individual, and it isn’t a competition to get better than someone else. It’s so cliche but you’re competing against your yesterday’s self.


In terms of competition, there are people who think I’m not good enough, but honestly, I am so convinced that my jiu-jitsu is good enough to take on the world. Competition results are dependent on a multitude of factors, it isn’t just about good jiu-jitsu.


Believe in yourself more than anybody else will. If you can become that persuaded that you are able, you will be able to do anything you want to in your lifetime.

What do you think differentiates an athlete from a champion?

I think an athlete enjoys work. They enjoy the athletic lifestyle and the hustle, the grind, the determination. A champion is not that different, but they are relentless and will get back up every time they fail.


What are your future plans?


I’m looking forward to competing at the highest level and you will see me on the top of the podium at black belt Worlds in the next few years. I am going to be teaching a series of workshops and seminars internationally in the coming months and bringing some world class teachers to Hong Kong this year. I’m also excited to spend more time with my students and play a more integral role as coach later this year.

Bringing some interesting projects to the jiu-jitsu world in particularly in collaboration with BJJ 4 CHANGE and Nomadic iD – so keep your eyes peeled for that!

Margot Ciccarelli competing
Photo by @nicholasgsw
Margot Ciccarelli competing
Photo by @nicholasgsw
Margot Ciccarelli posing for @unityjiujitsu @hyperfly @wantvsneed
Photo by @nicholasgsw

W O R L D S 2018

We spoke to Margot right after her win at the Worlds. 


“I was standing outside of the Pyramid on Friday just about an hour before I was due to fight. Just looking at it, the blue summit, literally a metaphor of what I had to scale. I’ve been trying to scale to the top for years. When I say top, I don’t mean just the top of the podium, I mean the top of mastering myself, the top of my being.


I started pacing up and down just below the staircase leading to the entrance of the Pyramid, getting myself ready to go inside. Once I stepped inside, I knew it was go time – it was the final 5 minute pep talk from me to me. I told myself a week earlier I was ready, I just wanted to fight because I was ready. My weight was good, my mind was good. 


I had 5 fights and each player had a different feel. I describe players having different elements that encompass a full competitor’s Jiujitsu profile. Some elements including : strength, speed, agility, balance, technique, strategy. Each player had different levels of each element, it’s a live puzzle to be solved in real time. Overall, I was very calm and composed in every fight; in my head I had 5 fights and I was focused on getting to the fifth fight. I had an exciting finals match with Nicole Evangelista, young phenom from the Caio Terra Academy; it’s always a pleasure competing with her as she’s one of the most technical girls to fight. I’m not very expressive in winning or losing, if I get 1st , 3rd or nothing, I have the same resting b***h face expression haha. The most prominent word that comes to my mind for this Worlds is relief. Relief that I finally did it after overcoming a bad concussion last year that blew me off half the season, relieved that the time and work I invested in this nomadic lifestyle is paying off – I am doing this on my terms.

Margot Ciccarelli posing for @hyperfly @unityjiujitsu @wantvsneed @thenomadicid
Photo by @dolavision