CULLMAN, Ala. – She’s no stranger to competition. Melissa Haynes, a deaf and partially blind Brazilian jiu-jitsu (BJJ) fighter from Cullman, has a black belt in karate and two years of competitive jiu-jitsu grappling experience. She could take on a match blindfolded – which is exactly what she plans to do.
Haynes said her decision to grapple blindfolded was actually encouraged by her coach, Daniel O’Brien, owner of Triad Martial Arts.
“I started incorporating blindfolded grappling into my game the last couple of months. In my last competition, where I was looking was giving away what moves I was going for,” she said. “Coach has competed in a high-level competition blindfolded; you can focus on your feelings a lot more.”
When asked what she’s doing to prepare for her next match, Haynes said she makes it a point to train often, sometimes five or six days a week, and attributes that to the success she has experienced in a professional grappling setting. She made sure to note that being challenged is what keeps her motivated.
“I try to keep my training regular so I don’t have to stress about a plan,” she said. “Competition grappling is a lot different than training. I try to just go with the flow.”
After a match in Memphis next month, Haynes will be grappling with other deaf fighters for the first time this summer.
“I will be competing in the World Deaf Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu Championship in Texas in July. Fighters from all around the world come to compete,” she said, but as competitive as she is, when it comes to winning, she’s not really worried about the medals. “It’s really just showing that the deaf can do this… and jiu-jitsu is a better match for people with disabilities because it’s a more tactile sport. You depend on feeling more than seeing or hearing.”
Haynes’ advice for competitors who may be feeling discouraged?
“Just keep going. Everyone has their own weaknesses. Just show up.”
The 2023 World Deaf Jiu-Jitsu Championship will take place July 8-9 in Allen, Texas.
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