MANILA, Philippines – Ask jiu-jitsu world champion Meggie Ochoa about her life outside the sport she loves, and she’ll probably have a hard time answering you.
Not that it matters to her.
Ochoa has found her life’s purpose in jiu-jitsu. What was just a recreational activity, she now considers her calling.
She uses jiu-jitsu to help end child sexual abuse and commercial sexual exploitation of children.
“Para kasing sobrang immersed ko na doon e. Sobrang immersed ako sa sport and advocacy na parang…hobbies?” said Ochoa. (I feel like I am so immersed in the sport and in my advocacy like…hobbies?)
Around 90% percent of her week is dedicated to jiu-jitsu and her advocacy, Ochoa said. That is, 45% for jiu-jitsu, 45% for her advocacy. The remaining 10% is for her family.
She is not complaining, though, since she is changing other people’s lives.
Finding her path
It all started after reading a CNN article about a Mexican woman who said she was raped 43,200 times. That woman, Karla Jacinto, said she was sexually abused by around 30 men every day in a span of 4 years.
Back then, Ochoa was participating in her second world championship late 2015. She was competing abroad using the money she got through crowdfunding, and was at a crossroads, asking herself why she was using doing it. Then she read the story.
Ochoa had sleepless nights, and felt she cannot live her life without doing anything about this.
Through research, Ochoa found out that child sexual abuse and commercial sexual exploitation of children are also rampant in the Philippines. In fact, in a Unicef report last December 2017, the Philippines was said to be one of the top global sources for child pornography.
Even children as young as two years old were subjected to sexual abuse and human trafficking through livestreaming on the internet.
“All along,” Ochoa said, “alam mo ‘yun, in-enjoy ko lang ‘yung buhay ko. Lumalaban lang ako, alam mo ‘yun? Shucks, nangyayari pala ‘to dito?” (All along, I was just enjoying my life. I was just competing, and shucks, this is happening here in our country?)
In February 2016, Ochoa said she surrendered herself to the Lord and it all became clear. She was meant to use jiu-jitsu as a platform to help those who were abused and traumatized.
The 27-year-old is a self-confessed jiu-jitsu “addict.” She even quit her job at Bantay Kalikasan 4 years ago to focus on her first world championships.
“Gustong gusto ko ‘yung job ko e pero mas minahal ko yung jiu-jitsu. Tsaka ‘yung naisip ko, parang hindi na rin ako bata. I’m in the last few years of my prime so kailangan kong ito ‘yung bigyan ng oras ngayon kasi ‘yung tulong, puwede ko ring gawin ‘yun at the same time eh. Puwede kong gawing mas full-time after I retire,” said Ochoa.
(I really liked my job but I just loved jiu-jitsu more. I also realized that I was not getting any younger. I’m in the last few years of my prime so I need to dedicate my time for jiu-jitsu since I can help at the same time. I can help full-time after I retire.)
Since then, Ochoa has won an estimate of 40 awards, although she said she does not count her accolades anymore.
She is a 3-time International Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu Federation (IBJJF) World Champion, and a two-time IBJJF Asian Champion. She also took home gold medals at the 2016 Asian Beach Games and 2017 Asian Indoor and Martial Arts Games.
While winning medals is not necessarily a bad thing, jiu-jitsu, Ochoa said, is “beyond competition” for her personally.
“It’s really more about empowering others, about making a positive impact on the lives of those that need it the most.”
Through jiu-jitsu, Ochoa has touched the lives of kids from Safe Haven. According to its official website, Safe Haven is a home for children who have “experienced severe trauma, abject neglect, abandonment, and various forms of abuse.”
Since December 2016, Ochoa and her team at Jiu-Jitsu Manila have been teaching Safe Haven kids the sport.
It was a challenge at the beginning, however, knowing that some of the children were hesitant to do certain jiu-jitsu moves because of what they have experienced.
But as soon as the children got the hang of it, they also fell in love with the sport just like Ochoa did.
“Nakausap rin namin ‘yung may-ari ng home. Grabe ‘yung mga sinabi nila. ‘Yung iba sa kanila, parang before ‘yung tingin sa sarili, sobrang baba. As in, parang, as in, alam mo ‘yung ‘pag may traumatic experience ka, ‘yung self-worth mo, ‘yung tingin mo talaga sa sarili mo, parang wala, as in ganoon, para akong wala,” Ochoa shared.
(I talked to the owner of the home. The other kids had really low self-esteem. When you have a traumatic experience, your self worth, how you see yourself, it gets affected. Some see themselves like they are nothing.)
“Pero noong nag-jiu jitsu siya, as in, grabe, noong nakita ko siyang lumaban, grabe, as in hindi talaga siya walang gana, ganadong ganado siya. Sobrang nakakataba ng puso na sinabi sa akin na, ‘Ate Meggie, ang saya lumaban, ‘no? Gustong gusto ko lumaban kahit na panalo o talaga.'”
(But one kid who learned jiu-jitsu, I saw that he/she had a lot of fight in him/her, as in, he/she did not feel like he/she did not enthusiasm, he/she showed a lot of zeal. And it warms my heart when he/she said, ‘Ate Meggie, isn’t it delightful to fight? I really want to fight even if I win or lose.’)
“So parang, ‘Wow, oh my gosh.’ The fact na something na mayroon siyang something na ganoon siya katuwa na ginagawa, alam mo yun, that’s something.” (And I was like, ‘Wow, oh my gosh.’ The fact that he/she is experiencing joy like that, that’s something.)
The Safe Have kids are already winning medals in various local jiu-jitsu competitions. But more than that, the children’s fortitude when facing tough positions during matches is more important in the bigger scheme of life, Ochoa said.
#latepost Jiujitsu is such a beautiful art and sport. When taught by the right people to the right people with the right attitude and behavior, it becomes a tool for change. Everytime our @safehavenmanila kids compete, my heart is filled with so much joy regardless of the result, although the results are always awesome. I’m just so so grateful to the Lord for the opportunity to share His love for them together with @atosphwolfpack @atosjjphilippines through jiujitsu. Last Sundayin the BJJFP International Open, they once again competed and all of them were amazing and showed so much heart and they just all show constant improvement and each one brought home medals again!! Oh Lord, You are one amazing God! Congratulations as well to all the @atosphwolfpack ladies who fought out there and who always carry themselves as true champions on and off the mats. So so proud of our @jiujitsumanila kids and beginners as well who competed, especially those who took the big step of doing it for the first time! Everyone’s progress is exciting!! Thank You to the Source of all things, whose plan is beyond what our limited human minds can fully grasp. I look forward to each step of that plan unfolding because I know I will be experiencing every moment of it with You. Because of Your love through our Lord Jesus that we cannot contain, we overflow and do everything out of that love. And living each day with that love brings us Spirit-filled joy that transcends all circumstances. @underarmourph @sanctband.global @sanctbandclubph @hyperflyasia #nlexcorp @anytimefitnessphilippines @anytimefitnessgh @anytimefitnesswilson
“Lessons like that, you bring that outside of the mats eh. For me, that’s what matters even more dito sa sport na ito (in this sport). It has that kind of empowering factor.”
Ochoa said some of the Safe Haven kids are aspiring to be world champions in the future. Almost all of them, meanwhile, want to share and teach jiu-jitsu to those who have gone through the same experiences as them.
“Ngayon kasi, empowered na sila enough to empower others, gusto na nila magturo. Pero they have to be equipped. (Now, they are empowered enough to empower others, they want to teach. But they have to be equipped.) So ‘yun ‘yung next phase. It’s equipping them to teach others, meaning other kids. That’s the expansion plan of Safe Haven,” said Ochoa.
Not asking for more
Ochoa said she patterns her life’s direction with God’s plans for her.
Although getting the black belt and winning medals are still a part of her jiu-jitsu career, building awareness about her advocacy is now Ochoa’s top priority.
“Parang nandoon na talaga ‘yung direction ng jiu-jitsu sa life ko,” said Ochoa. (That is where jiu-jitsu in my life is headed.)
As far as she is concerned, her life is all about jiu-jitsu and helping child sexual abuse and commercial sexual exploitation of children.
Ochoa admits she has no idea whether she will ever build a family of her own nor what will happen to her life in the future.
Still, Ochoa is at peace.
“Hindi ako nagsisisi. Kahit na ito na ‘yung buhay ko ngayon, grateful lang ako para sa lahat talaga. Hindi ako naghahanap ng iba pa.” (I do not regret anything. Even if this is my life now, I am grateful for all of this. I am not looking for more.) – Rappler.com
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