Jessica dos Santos is the reigning International Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu Federation Pan American featherweight No-GI champion. Andy Nystrom / staff photo

Jessica dos Santos is the reigning International Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu Federation Pan American featherweight No-GI champion. Andy Nystrom / staff photo

Dos Santos prepares to defend her Pan American Brazilian jiu-jitsu title

Sao Paulo native trains at Redmond T3MA dojo.

Miriam Cardoso stretches her arms out to emphasize her point: If you want to experience the final taste of victory — “the miracle” — you have to endure the hard work to reach the pinnacle.

Seated in the front office of T3MA in Redmond, owner Cardoso discusses the joy that emerges from being a black-belt Brazilian jiu-jitsu champion and guiding featherweight Jessica dos Santos along her path to the top as well.

The martial art of Brazilian jiu-jitsu can act as a microcosm for life, said Cardoso, a five-time world champ in the light featherweight division. Athletes learn from both the wins and the losses.

“You just risk, and from that, you learn to risk in other things from your life,” said Cardoso, 33, who hails from Rio De Janeiro and has lived in the United States for 11 years. “In the end, everything can work out for your own good, then you’ll learn how life happens. From all the bad days and the good days and that’s what builds you” and makes someone a good person.

Sao Paulo-born black belt dos Santos, 28, has resided under the tutelage of professor Cardoso for the last three years at the Redmond dojo and notched her first International Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu Federation Pan American championship last September in New York. She won in the “no-gi” competition, where participants can’t grip each other’s kimonos during battle.

Dos Santos aims to defend her Pan Am title five months from now as well as go for a crown at worlds, where she placed third in “gi” (gripping allowed) last year.

“After not getting first place (at worlds), she was very hungry for that one here,” said Cardoso, pointing at the Pan Am gold medal and unleashing a smile. She describes Brazilian jiu-jitsu as a mix between judo and wrestling where athletes engage in ground fighting and use throws, chokeholds and joint locks until time expires or one person taps out.

Also a Brazilian jiu-jitsu professor at T3MA — which has dojos in Redmond, Bellevue and Kirkland with 400 total members — dos Santos has won copious titles over the years in Brazil and Abu Dhabi, but with the Pan-Am victory she was thrilled to break through and win a major title in America.

“I really believe hard work always pay off, so that’s one of the things my professor (Cardoso) teaches me, too. I just give it all of myself, my soul for the tournament and I work hard every day, every morning,” said dos Santos, who lives in Redmond and also possesses an infectious smile while discussing her craft.

She enjoys training with Cardoso and others at T3MA and carries that teamwork with her into competitions.

“I had so much energy giving me strength to keep me going and going and going,” dos Santos added, specifically about the Pan Ams.

Dos Santos’ jiu-jitsu journey began at age 14 in Brazil. She loved to exercise and wanted to be a dancer, but one of her school professors pointed her toward jiu-jitsu and she was soon training and later competing. After winning her first tournament, she made plans to become a black belt and gain even greater success.

Brazilian jiu-jitsu changed her life, and she’s been able to support her mom back home with money earned through sponsorships and victories. Dos Santos’ mom is excited upon hearing of the triumphs, but said she misses her daughter — one of six sisters. Dos Santos tells mom to be patient and that she’ll be back home soon.

“I get everything as a gift from God for me, bringing me around people is amazing,” said dos Santos, who praises Cardoso for helping shape her attack plan on the mat.

Dos Santos laughs when noting that her feet are often sore from Cardoso getting her in foot locks.

In 2016, Cardoso’s sister, a black-belt Brazilian jiu-jitsu competitor who lives in Abu Dhabi, informed her about dos Santos and she eventually made her way to Redmond to continue her training.

“It was really good for me to take the shot and invite her to come, because it’s great, she’s representing the gym really well,” said Cardoso, noting that dos Santos rises at 4 a.m. each day to train and always gives 150-percent effort. “She’s very persistent, she listens very well.” And dos Santos is exciting to watch come competition time, Cardoso added.

Redmond resident Cardoso came to the United States at age 22 — seven years after beginning her Brazilian jiu-jitsu training — and also supported her family back home through the same avenues as dos Santos.

Cardoso opened her business seven years ago and is thriving in the owner and professor roles, but she also occasionally competes for fun. In the dojo, though, she literally “donates” her body and fights dos Santos hard because her competitors will do the same.

“I had a lot of wins and lot of losses, too, and I learned from both, so being able to share with somebody that’s open to receive from me was a win,” Cardoso said.

Jessica dos Santos, top, and Miriam Cardoso get in a workout at the T3MA dojo in Redmond. Andy Nystrom / staff photo

Jessica dos Santos, top, and Miriam Cardoso get in a workout at the T3MA dojo in Redmond. Andy Nystrom / staff photo

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