Meet Madeline Hughes: mom, nurse, and Brazilian jiu-jitsu fighter

After watching her son train in a Brazilian jiu-jitsu class, Madeline Hughes decided to give it a try. Now, she's prepping for an international tournament in Boston next month.

Madeline Hughes has been training in Brazilian jiu-jitsu for almost 3 years

Madeline Hughes is competing in an international Brazilian jiu-jitsu tournament in Boston next month. (Malcolm Campbell/CBC)

Madeline Hughes was taking part in a martial arts boot camp put on by Islander and UFC fighter Jason Saggo when she first caught a glimpse of Brazilian jiu-jitsu.

She thought it might be a good sport for her kids to take up, so she enrolled her son.

"[I] was watching his classes and was really interested and just wanting to get on the mats myself," she said. "So I got a gi and tried it out."

Madeline Hughes says she fell in love with Brazilian jiu-jitsu because of the mental component of the sport. (Malcolm Campbell/CBC)

Two and a half years later, she's in the final stages of her preparation for an international Brazilian jiu-jitsu tournament in Boston next month.

"I'm always training all the time but the intensity, I guess, has picked up a little bit with this competition in mind," Hughes said.

She's training between 15 and 20 hours a week, working on her jiu-jitsu technique and her general fitness level.

Making time

The 38-year-old mother of three is a registered nurse and a clinical nursing instructor with UPEI, which makes her commitment to the sport all the more impressive to her instructor.

"It takes extreme effort, it definitely does. And dedication. You have to put some parts of your life on hold, which is very difficult to do. Especially someone like Madeline who has children, impossible to do," said Paul Abel, Brazilian jiu-jitsu professor at Gracie Humaita P.E.I.

"Other people might be able to put those on hold but she can't, she's got to soldier through. So I don't know when she sleeps, I really don't."

Abel said Hughes is breaking new ground for female fighters from P.E.I. by competing in an international tournament.

Paul Abel, professor of Brazilian jiu-jitsu at Gracie Humaita in Charlottetown, says Hughes is breaking new ground for female fighters from the Island. (Malcolm Campbell/CBC)

"Madeline's definitely the first female [from P.E.I.] to compete in this level of competition," he said.

Abel is hoping for a win, but said the results aren't necessarily the most important part of the competition.

"It's a lot of work, it's a lot of prep. I'm very proud. Whether they win or lose, it doesn't really matter," he said.

"It's all about how they get ready, as far as I'm concerned, and the effort that they put in ... It's nice when it's a 'W' but it's not the most important thing."

Size isn't everything

Hughes said it was the inclusiveness of the sport that drew her in, and as she learned more she became hooked.

"Really it's for anybody, any age, any size. The beauty of jiu-jitsu is it's a self-defence that's based on the fact that somebody that's much smaller can defend themself against somebody that's much bigger," she said.

"So as I've learned and gained some more technique. Even though I'm pretty well the smallest at the academy, I can handle people that are a lot bigger than me."

Madeline Hughes says one of the things that drew her to the sport was that even as a small fighter, she can hold her own against bigger opponents by using good technique. (Malcolm Campbell/CBC)

She said she's looking forward to fighting against other women at similar skill levels — something she doesn't usually have the chance to do.

"There'll be a lot more women in my division than there are locally," she said.

"Actually being able to fight in my own division instead of having to go up to a higher weight class or fight against people that are higher belts than me, that I usually have to do locally."

Master Royler Gracie presented Madeline Hughes with her blue belt. Gracie is a four-time world jiu-jitsu champion, and is the son of Helio Gracie, who along with his brother is credited with inventing Brazilian jiu-jitsu.

Falling for the sport

Although the sport is taxing on the body, Hughes said it's the way she has to use her mind that makes it unique and enjoyable.

"I think that's why I fell in love with jiu-jitsu so much is that it's as much a mental game as it is physical and it's very challenging in both areas for sure."

Madeline Hughes' 13-year-old son Simon also trains in Brazilian jiu-jitsu. (Submitted by Madeline Hughes)

She said she's hoping that as the sport grows in popularity, some of the myths and stereotypes about it will disappear.

"It's often a misconception about martial arts and combat sports in general that the people that do combat sports are really aggressive or angry people that want to hurt people and that's not it at all," she said.

"The people that I've met through jiu-jitsu are some of my best friends now and some of the best people I've ever met."

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