Brazilian jiu-jitsu is about much more than medals and belts for Sheffield's Maia Holmes

Maia Holmes, pictured with her purple belt. Picture: Dean Atkins.
Maia Holmes, pictured with her purple belt. Picture: Dean Atkins.
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Just three-and-a-half years ago, Maia Holmes hit rock bottom.

She was in the 12th year of an abusive relationship and unable to see a way out. She had no confidence and suffered with anxiety and depression.

Maia Holmes pictured in action. Picture: Evie Photography.

Maia Holmes pictured in action. Picture: Evie Photography.

But a lifeline came in the form of Brazilian jiu-jitsu and 36 months on she was crowned the sport's European champion and has just become the first Sheffield woman to gain a purple belt - the second highest grading.

Maia, 32, of Hillsborough, said: "I was in a real hostile relationship and I was looking for ways to integrate back in to the world. He was really controlling and I sold jiu-jitsu to him by saying that I needed to be able to defend myself but the real reason was I wanted to get out of the house.

"I have always been interested in martial arts but I completely fell in love with jiu-jitsu when I started. I'd done other martial arts but jiu-jitsu was totally different."

Maia, who said she was physically and psychologically abused during the relationship, joined Five Rings Grappling Academy, near Crystal Peaks, in February 2015.

Maia Holmes pictured in action. Picture: Daniela De Jong.

Maia Holmes pictured in action. Picture: Daniela De Jong.

She said the sport taught her to trust people, believe in herself and more importantly, the strength and courage to end the abusive relationship.

"When I first started it caused a lot of problems because he got quite jealous of it but I refused to give it up," she added.

"The longer I did it for, the more confidence it gave me and after a year-and-a-half of doing it, it gave me the confidence to get out of the relationship, which I'd been in for 12 years."

Maia first competed just six months after starting her training and went on to win a gold medal at the European Championships in Portgual in January 2017.

When not training, which she does six days a week, she works from home as a beautician and she became the first woman in the Steel City to gain a purple belt on Friday, February 23.

"I'd been isolated from the outside world for so long that I think the nature of jiu-jitsu - because it's such close contact - really helped. You literally rub against each other and you've got to have a degree of trust with your training partners," Maia added.

"I wouldn't grapple with someone I didn't trust because you could easily break your arm. I think it's just the nature of how dangerous it is as well and how close contact it is. You end up forming such close bonds with people for that reason."

Maia said the sport had quite literally changed her life and added: "Where antidepressants and counselling had failed jiu-jitsu had succeeded. The mats became my therapy - they helped heal me and they have me confidence to reclaim my life."

She said she was continuing her training in the hope of working her way up the sport's grading system and winning even more medals.

"It just blows my mind that the sport is that new that it was even possible to become the first woman to get a purple belt in Sheffield," she said.

"When I have to have time off now if I'm injured it affects me mentally because it's such an outlet for me. You have to be fully in the moment when you're grappling. It doesn't matter where you are in your life, you have to concentrate on the grappling because if you don't you'll get hurt."

Maia said she 'was still working through towards recovery' following the relationship but jiu-jitsu had been a 'lifeline' in her ongoing recovery.

Her coach Paul Cole said: "Maia's development has been amazing. She has gone from doing nothing to winning the European Championships within two years.

"Her story just shows the power of sport."

Around 10,000 people regularly take part in Brazilian jiu-jitsu in gyms across the country, according to the sport's governing body UKBJJA.

Visit www.ukbjja.org for more information on how to get involved in the sport.