Truro native Jake MacKenzie has found incredible success in Brazilian ju-jitsu and now his wife Melissa Britez Costa is also making her mark in the sport.
The pair has just returned to their home base in Rio de Janeiro after a golden performance at the 2017 London Fall International Open last week.
“It is one of the bigger tournaments in Europe and there was many competitors from all over the world there,” Jake said via online chat. “Melissa and I both had three matches each and both won gold in our divisions.”
Jake won in the lightweight (under 167.5 pounds) black belt division. Melissa won in the featherweight (135 pounds) blue belt division.
“We usually coach each other from the sidelines but this time we competed at the same time. It was an amazing feeling for both of us to win, and it was a very tough challenge because of the level of the competition and because we weren’t able to help each other from the sidelines.”
Jake, introduced to Brazilian ju-jitsu as a kid, came to Brazil at 16 for the first time to experience the training and competition in the country at the heart of the sport.
“I ended up staying a couple months my first trip and came back next year for another trip for about double the time,” said Jake, now 32.
“By 19 I was living most of the year in Brazil, training two to three times a day and competing in 20-25 tournaments a year. This year I made it into the Top 8 competitors in the world in my division, and have won the majority of the major events here in Brazil.”
For Melissa, the route to success, and meeting Jake, followed from a desire to find a sport and getting advice from a friend who recommended ju-jitsu.
“I started training in 2013 but had to take some time off because of work and school,” the 27-year-old said in the same social media chat session.
“My friend started training at the gym that we both currently train at. She told me about the high-level training and that the gym was a factory for champions, and showed me a picture of some guys from the pro training session. There was more than 30 guys in the picture and I saw Jake in middle of everyone, and told my friend jokingly that he was my husband.”
The offhand comment soon came to be true.
Romance aside, training led to an affinity for the sport. But actually competing required getting over some nerves.
“I have been training very serious since last year and been competing at the international level for the last 12 months,” Melissa said. “I didn’t even think about competing at the start. I was very nervous about competing and really only thought about training as a hobby.
“I had some early success at some of the local tournaments in Rio and really enjoyed the experience. Jake encouraged me to start training full time because he believed I had a lot of potential and the last year I have dedicated myself 100 per cent to training and competing.”
While Jake is her main coach, Melissa has high praise for the other coaches and teammates at their Grappling Fight Team gym in Rio.
“I have lots of high-level coaches that also help me from day to day at the gym, but Jake has had the biggest influence on my ju-jitsu. I am so thankful to have such a great coach who is also an amazing husband.”
Both are now training and competing full time, Jake said.
“We train two to three times a day, five days a week and compete at least once a month.
“We really enjoy getting up and going to the gym together. We have a great support system at GFTeam and we love the daily routine of training and preparing for the tournaments together.”
Jake also gave a shout-out to his family back home in Nova Scotia.
“Family is everything,” he said. “I couldn’t have had one per cent of the success that I did without my family. They were the best support system I could have ever dreamed of. I really believe that most of my success is accredited to the fact that I always had my family supporting and believing in my dream. I have many ups and downs in my career, and my family’s support and love was always a constant positive that kept pushing me forward.”
He also wanted to share some love for those who set him on the path to Rio.
“Also would like to thank Kevin Taylor and Peter Martell from Titans Brazilian Ju-jitsu who had a huge impact on my career and really laid the foundation to my skill set. Their gym is the best-kept secret in Canada, and Nova Scotia is very lucky to have two the top coaches in Canada still running an amazing program after 25 years. I would recommend their gym to anyone looking to get into the sport.”