Making History in Jiu-Jitsu: The Path of a Woman Who Dared to Dream Big

In light of March being Women’s History Month, we decided to cover a Professor’s story that will not only provide inspiration for many people, but especially for the women of Gracie Barra.  Many know the competitive achievements of Professor Fabiana Borges. But, you may not know why her story is one of great accomplishment in the face of adversity. Along with her many accomplishments, Professor Fabiana Borges has competed at the International Level, placing at IBJJF Worlds and Pan American Championships and most recently took Silver at the European 2022 Championship as a Black Belt. (Read more here on how Professor Fabiana gauges when a student is ready to compete).

The Beginning of a Jiu-Jitsu Journey

Professor Fabiana is a fourth degree black belt and highly skilled competitor.  She grew up in the slums of Rio de Janeiro in a neighborhood called Morro do Fubá.  Growing up there did not provide many opportunities or big dreams to the little girls who lived there.  Fabiana recalls, “Growing up, there was no such thing as dreaming big.  The goals were not to be a doctor or a lawyer.  There were no such opportunities.  The goal was to just not be pregnant by 16.”


Fabiana started Jiu-Jitsu in 1999, at the age of 11, but not yet with Gracie Barra. In 2007, she traveled to the US to compete. Shortly after returning to Brazil, a friend told her to come to the US to live and train Jiu-Jitsu.  In August 2008, Professor Fabiana came to the United States with $400 in her pocket (that her mother had given her from cashing her last paycheck) and a thirst for something new. 

Fabiana shared, “I began taking opportunities that I was given, making the best out of each one that came my way.”

A Pivotal Moment

Fabiana first began training with Gracie Barra in Washington State.  It was at GB Washington State that she initially met Professor Marcio Feitosa, who had been invited to teach a seminar.  In 2009, Professor Marcio offered her an opportunity to come train and teach at Headquarters in Irvine, California; an opportunity she happily accepted. Once at HQ, Fabiana began as an assistant coach and when her English developed enough she started coaching on her own.  Fabiana also helped in a Program Director role for a period of time.

In 2010, Professor Marcio needed someone to run one of his schools in Austin, Texas.  He offered the opportunity to Professor Fabiana.  She moved to Texas and ran that school for 2 years alongside a male black belt.  In 2012, she was invited to help open the GB San Antonio school from the ground up as a manager.

We asked Professor Marcio about what he saw in Fabiana that empowered him to trust that she would be a success at each opportunity he offered; he responded:

“I believe in inner strength. One of the best ways for you to spot a strong person, is to observe the non complainers. Fabiana does not complain, is able to keep her vision at the big picture and works very hard to make things happen. It’s amazing to see the legacy she is building! I’m grateful for her friendship and for all those years that we have been working together.”

An Opportunity Presents Itself…

In early 2015, the first San Antonio school closed. Fabiana had been looking for a city to open her own school and saw the opportunity to head back to San Antonio. Although no GB school had ever been owned solely by a female black belt, six months after the school in San Antonio closed, she opened a new school in San Antonio, TX as the sole owner Black Belt.  

Many thought (including herself) that finding success would be a difficult task; as women have not traditionally been the main face of a GB school.  However, she proved herself and any doubters wrong.

Within 6 months of opening her school, her mats were so full that she had to double the size of her space.  After 3 years of running GB San Antonio and building a successful business, she opened her second school in Boerne, TX in Fall of 2018.  And in the beginning of 2022, Professor Fabiana is in the planning phase of opening a third school in Texas.  

Professor Fabiana Borges has broken the mold of what a Jiu-Jitsu school owner looks like. And although she is the first female to be a school owner without a male black belt by her side, she has a sincere wish that she will not be the last.  She has made history and laid the groundwork for more women to follow in her footsteps.

Let the dreaming begin and remember to dream big! As Norman Vincent Peale said, “Shoot for the moon.  Even if you miss, you’ll land among the stars.”

Blog Written by Dawn Korsen, a Gracie Barra Purple Belt