When she’s not surfing breaks along the Jersey shore, you can find Girls4Sport team rider Prairie Rugilo in the gym. Rugilo is the founder of New Jersey’s first all-female martial arts academy, Girl Fight Martial Arts. She started Girl Fight because she wanted to offer a comfortable and inspiring place for women to train in martial arts. The classes in Muay Thai kickboxing, mixed martial arts, self-defense and fitness are all taught by women, for women only.
Girls4Sport recently interviewed Rugilo about her training in martial arts and how the women-only academy benefits the women in her classes.
Why did you first begin training in martial arts?
I originally got into Martial Arts for the fitness aspect; I never expected to become a martial artist. In my early 20s, I was overweight and tired of hating my reflection in the mirror. I started running and going to the gym, but three months into it, I began dragging. I was losing weight, but I was also losing interest. I didn’t want to go back to being insecure about myself, so knew I needed something special.
At the time, I worked for the Brick Police Athletic League and they offered a judo and boxing program. I started mixing up my workout between the gym, judo and boxing. Several years later, I discovered Muay Thai. I have been training in martial arts now for nearly a decade.
What are the ways in which it’s changed you?
Well, it’s definitely shrunk my waistline! Martial arts has taught me discipline and determination. It has taught me how to will myself through tough times, in training and in life. If it wasn’t for martial arts, I may have never stuck to surfing. I believe paddling out on a big day, being stuck on the inside for 20 minutes, and taking one wave after another on the head is the equivalent of pushing yourself through a round of sparring.
How does the women-only academy benefit the women in your classes?
Unfortunately, a lot of women in America have insecurities about themselves. I believe there are many women out there that would love to learn a martial art, but the industry is predominately male-driven and often intimidating to the average women. Most women start a martial arts training for the same reason that I did: they want to get in shape. The last thing they want to do is train in a room with a bunch of fit young guys that are “fight” driven. Girl Fight is a safe environment that women can learn real martial arts without the “tough guy” attitude.
In what ways are your students progressing that may be different from what you witnessed in co-ed classes?
The girls have more fun with it when it’s “just the girls.” They train just as hard as the guys, but keep the environment humble. They like to know the details and mechanics of what they’re learning. These women support each other without being told to. If a student falls behind in an exercise or is struggling with something, the rest of the group tries to motivate her with words of encouragement, clapping or even finishing the exercise right next to her. It’s amazing to witness! In the beginning, I often got choked up by camaraderie of these women.
I started Girl Fight to inspire other women; I never expected to be so inspired by them. Many of these women are super women! They manage their family, maintain a household, go to work, some also go to school and they still find time to train. Of the guys I train with, most just go to work, train and then go home.