The little martial arts girl

Heavy rain falls over Stockholm this morning in June and we hurry in under the roof of SATS SoFo. Gabriella has just finished a Striking session in the gym’s new concept SATS Martial Arts and we sit down on the mat as soon as everyone has walked to the locker rooms. We start talking about her calm young years in a terraced house area in Spånga in the mid 80s. It’s obvious that Gabriella and her two siblings noticed their father’s burning martial arts interest early because when they turned six he introduced every one of them to Judo. The gym, located in Vällingby, was called SportGarden and chief instructor was the legend Lennart “Lillen” Collan and Gabriella has only good memories of those days. “I had already started with gymnastics and I liked to exercise and stay active. Both gymnastics and Judo were great training forms to develop body control and motor skills. It was fun to train but it was also a social activity since I met all my friends there, and I remember it to be extra exciting when we went away for training camp.”

”Dad was training both Ju-jutsu and Judo and was a member of the Swedish National Team. Mom on the other hand was not interested in Martial Arts at all so I guess they complemented each other. I did other things with Mom, she was the person I turned to as a teenager whenever I needed to talk. Dad has strengthened me in other ways and always supported me with my training. They had different roles back then, but now their similarities are more than their differences.” When Gabriella became a teenager she got interested in another style at the airport called Goshindo. She describes it as Judo with punches and kicks added to it and to us the concept sounds like shootfighting in a traditional gi.


During the teenage years Gabriella also joined her friends for soccer practice and her weeks were characterized by a lot of training. But during this time she also got to experience the hard side of life. “When we started 7th grade we came to a school with both secondary school and high school. There was a group from the high school who bullied me and my friends and they kept doing it for quite some time. It was really tough, especially when you think about how sensitive that period of time is when you’re trying to adapt to secondary school. You’re a young teenager who’s trying to find your role and identity, and on top of that getting harassed by people who’re older than you. It was a rough time and we had to have meetings with the school staff and the parents before it calmed down after a year or so.” I ask if it never led to her judo throwing someone of the bullies, but she admits that she has never fought outside the dojo. Except with her siblings of course.

To crash and come back

With the years Gabriella got more and more motivated to compete and due to the lack of competitions in Goshindo she started with MMA and boxing. There were not many girls in MMA at that time so the boxing ring was the place where Gabriella finally got to measure herself against others. She continued to train MMA simultaneously which wasn’t appreciated by the boxing coaches who thought she should only focus on boxing. It resulted in less attention and support from the gym and Gabriella finally decided to give up boxing and go all-in with MMA. The step from Judo and Goshindo to boxing and MMA never felt big. “I could adapt well and learnt new techniques quickly. Our trainer Lillen had been a lot in Thailand and incorporated many Muay Thai techniques in the Goshindo training, so I was used to them. The body control and mindset is the same independent of which Martial Art you train.” Gabriella started competing in MMA and Shootfighting, she trained really hard and her development curve was pointing straight up.

A little more than a year ago, Gabriella’s body started protesting in different ways. Her pulse could skyrocket by just walking up the stairs, her vision got blurry, she got nauseous, lost hair, was shaking and felt depressed. The doctors concluded that her thyroid gland didn’t produce enough hormones and she got medicine for it. She continued to push her body on the training mat but in spite of the medicines her body felt weaker and weaker. On day when her alarm went off she couldn’t get out of bed, and it continued like that for months. Her father drove her to all the doctors’ appointments and it was soon concluded that Gabriella was burned-out, she had pushed her body too hard for too long. “It has really been a pain and the road back has been very long. It’s difficult to do such big changes in your life; you’ve got habits and behaviours that take long time to replace. I was lucky to get help from a special clinic for professional athletes. When training is such a big part of your life you can’t just take it away like the regular doctors suggested. At the special clinic they had a better understanding of what I was going through and what the training meant for me.”


”Dad and I had already bought our tickets to the World Championship before I got sick and I kept thinking that I might recover in time for the competition. But in the end I had to accept that it wouldn’t work, but I decided to still join the team even if wasn’t going to compete. I was afraid that it would make me feel terrible, being there unable to compete, but now I think it was a good choice, to take part of the experience and hang out with the National team. A while after the WC I was allowed to start training very light and I could slowly get back to work as well. Today I feel much better but it’s important to be careful and all the time listen to the body’s signals. I’m much more sensitive now, my body’s threshold is lower than it was before all of this. If I’ve pushed myself a little bit too hard one day I’ll be destroyed the next day. It’s all about finding the balance and maintaining it, and I’m still trying to do that. At the moment I can manage to training sessions per day even if some sessions are short or that I train easy by myself instead of training at the gym with the others. But I’m so happy that I feel better now!”

The MMA National Team vs. Pro debut

The Swedish National Team in MMA has existed for about three years now and the selection is based on the principle that whoever wins the National Championship gets a slot. Gabriella has been selected since the start and her dad Christer is one of two National Team coaches. “The first year we had training sessions with the team but the set up is different now. The idea is that everyone trains at home with their own coach and them we meet up, put the team together and go to the competition. We have different team meetings now, for example lectures with PO Lindvall, team building sessions or information meetings. Team building feels important even though we compete individually. We’re still a team that represents Sweden and we stand behind each other. To feel that we have each other’s support brings comfort and contributes in a positive way at competitions.”

The 5th of July is the starting date for the World Championship of MMA in Las Vegas. Gabriella has the tickets and the only thing left is a few medical documents that need to be filled out. She will arrive a few days before the competition starts to give the body some time to adapt to the different time zone. The competition in her weight class is difficult to keep track of in a championship that grows for every year. “I know some of them from previous championships. But there are always some new fighters as the sport is constantly growing, especially on the female side. Last year I only had two opponents in my weight class and now it’s getting closer to ten. The fighters from Eastern Europe are always dangerous, along with those from Brazil and Italy. But I don’t care so much about the opponents, I focus mainly on myself.”


One of the most common questions Gabriella gets is when she’s going to have her professional debut; many consider her more than ready. She agrees that it’s about time but she has had her reasons to wait with the transition. “I will most probably go pro during 2016. If the WC is a success the step will be even easier mentally, then I know I’ve beaten the best opponents already. It’s been great to be in the National Team and it’s a big advantage to participate in good arranged competitions. I’ve wanted to have as many fights as possible to develop my skills and that’s easier to do as an amateur. These are the reasons I’ve wanted to wait but on the other hand I now feel it’s time, I’m turning 30 this year and I also want to have a family and kids which I can’t wait with forever. My goal is to get to Invicta and the UFC and the transition to pro is a necessary step to on the way.”

Right mind and right food

Gabriella comes across as a very calm person when we speak to her and she can also confirm that calmness is what she feels when she’s stepping in to the octagon. “In the beginning I was so scared to fight, I was so nervous. It’s just recently that I’ve gotten used to it and no longer suffer from death wish before the fights. Being calm helps me to focus and with a little dose of nervousness you stay sharp and alert. I don’t need to be angry or want to kill someone in order to perform. To enter a fight with aggressiveness and anger just makes you tense and you will spend much more energy than if you fight tactical and smart.”

”I’ve worked with mental training for a long time, but I started with it by myself, for example going through my fights in my head or thinking about the techniques I’ve learnt after a training session. When I studied at Bosön I received good tools and I’ve also learnt a lot from PO Lindvall who we met with the National Team. I believe mental training will be used by more and more fighters as people now starting to realize the importance of a strong mind. It’s not only in fights I’ve had good use of it, but also to handle stress in my everyday life. I’ve learnt how to get calm just through thinking and how to prepare myself before doing something I’m uncomfortable with. Previously, it was very hard for me to talk in front of people, but now I’m giving classes for a room full of strangers without any problem. I always try to think carefully before my training sessions what I want to focus on and also evaluate afterwards what I’ve learnt and what I should change until next time. I would recommend people who want to start with mental training to try meditation as a first step, to find a state of relaxation and clear your mind. I’d say mental training is the key to the really big success.”


I other interviews Gabriella has talked about having an anti-inflammatory diet, which we want her to explain. “It’s about excluding all food that triggers inflammations in the body, like red meat, sugar, pasta, flour etc. You replace that with food that brings a positive effect on the body, e.g. vegetables, white meat, healthy fats. There are long lists available on what’s good and what’s not. When I got sick I try to keep this diet very strictly to help my thyroid gland and the recovery of my body. Cutting weight is something we get used to in Martial Arts so whoever competes know at least a little about diet, and I’ve had plenty of extreme cutting weight periods and also occasions of food mania. Just like with training I try to find a balance with the diet to avoid these extreme peaks. I became a vegetarian when I was 12 years old but I’ve since then started eating fish and then also poultry. I’ve excluded gluten since it doesn’t work well with my body, but on the other hand I love candy. One day a week I get to eat whatever I want and then it’s all about chocolate and candy!”

Inspiration and Martial Arts at the mainstream gym

About two months ago the gym chain SATSA launched a new concept called SATS Martial Arts, which is offered at SATS Sofo by Medborgarplatsen. Gabriella got asked by the man behind the idea, Altan Celik, if she wanted to be part of it as a trainer which she agreed to. “My impression so far is very positive; we have a steady increase of members and only good feedback from them.mThe idea is to offer real martial arts training just like in a dojo and not like the normal “kick & box” sessions that most gyms have offered previously. We focus on good technique and do our best to have all members develop and progress. The level among the members is varying which makes it more exciting, and at the same time it requires me to be flexible and responsive. The advantage is that in martial arts you can never train the basics too much, the more experienced will be expected to perform at a higher tempo with finesse so that it’s still fun and challenging.”

Like always we are interested in what sources of inspiration Gabriella has and if there any particular fighters she follows. “I used to watch all the big MMA shows, but it has become less and less and now I just watch once in a while. I’m also terrible at remembering names so I have no clue about celebrities or what fighters are the hottest at the moment. But I watch sometimes and I save videos with things that inspire me or that I want to try in the gym. A big inspiration to me is my trainer Omar [Bouiche], he’s incredible! I’d love to read an interview with him at FighterInterviews, a deep interview where we get to know more about him that what we see on the mat, that would be very interesting!”

It’s time to turn off the tape recorder and let Gabriella run off to her treatment at Naprapatstugan. We wish her good luck at the World Championship and in her upcoming pro career!