Competing against the best in her sport, on a continent in another hemisphere, junior martial artist Katrina Weilbacher defeated every competitor, winning her division in the largest Brazilian Jiu Jitsu tournament in the world: the Mundials, held every summer in Rio de Janeiro.

Against opponents who had trained in the style much longer, Weilbacher won convincingly, defeating two of her four opponents by submission to capture the gold medal in the blue belt division. Her total fight time was only twenty minutes over the four matches: four minutes less than it would take to win by points.

“Winning a championship feels really good,” Weilbacher said. “The girl I faced in the final had won the gold medal the year before, so the whole tournament was really exciting.”

Brazilian Jiu Jitsu is a grappling-based martial art that emphasizes ground-fighting and submission holds. The sport has been gaining in popularity over the last few years, with a number of gyms teaching the style in Santa Barbara.

“It’s probably one of the most demanding sports for breathing and cardio,” Weilbacher said. “Your muscle strength is used every minute. If you get into a fight, it usually ends up on the ground, so Brazilian Jiu Jitsu teaches you a lot of submission holds and ground fighting techniques.”

Although Weilbacher is considered the top female athlete in her division, she achieved this lofty status in a remarkably short sixteen months. She took only eight months to earn her blue belt, a rank that can take as long as two years to achieve. Weilbacher credits her intense training regimen for her meteoric rise to the top.

“I trained every day for the first eight months until I got my blue belt,” Weilbacher said. “Since then I’ve trained about two to three hours a day.”

Weilbacher’s previous training as a triathlete has worked in her favor to help her develop the athletic skill needed for Jiu Jitsu.

“A friend I was training with introduced me to Jiu Jitsu as a way to improve my cardio,” Weilbacher said. “It definitely helps; your cardio gets better, and your conditioning gets better. Now I’m doing competitions almost every month, so I’ve put triathlons on hold for now.” Weilbacher says she recommends Jiu Jitsu to someone looking for a good form of exercise, increased self-assurance, or actual self-defense techniques.

“I think for anyone who wants to do self-defense, feel more confident walking around, or women who want to feel more comfortable walking alone at night, this would be something to look at,” Weilbacher said. “It builds confidence, makes you more aware of your body and your surroundings, and it makes you more athletic.”

Weilbacher is currently training several hours a day at Paragon gym in downtown Santa Barbara to defend her title at next summer’s Mundials, although at this pace, it would not be surprising if she did not get the chance. By the time next summer rolls around, Weilbacher could likely have transitioned to the next division.