Unfortunately, hearing the stories of abused women in jiu-jitsu is becoming a recurring theme – this much I alluded to in an article I wrote last year, which you may read here.
More recently, we heard Claudia do Val, one of our sport’s foremost competitors, announcing her split from Ricardo De La Riva‘s team to join the Soul Fighters academy. Many in the community found the move to be odd one as Claudia had been the main representative of the De La Riva dojo in the international circuit for the past few years, currently holding the IBJJF super-heavyweight world title.
To explain her decision Claudia gave a few interviews to the sport’s media discussing the reasons for this split this past week, naming the lack of support from her coach during competitions as the main point of discord, emphasizing that she was the only athlete without a coach in her corner during the finals on the world championship.
In an interview to the Jiu-Jitsu in Frames YouTube channel published last Thursday, do Val also spoke of a new uniform policy applied by the team’s leader. This new policy prohibited her from wearing her sponsor’s gi in class, among other lesser issues.
But amid the many reasons she gave over these past few weeks, Claudia finally opened her heart during an interview for the program Unleashed – The Game Changers hosted by Paola Diana in London, England, where do Val spoke of the real “behind the scenes” reason for her departure from the famous Rio de Janeiro gym.
In this emotional interview, Claudia admitted to being abused by former professor Ricardo De La Riva in early 2015. During that time, she was struggling to deal with an abusive ex-boyfriend, a relationship she had ended in 2014 while suffering from bulimia, taking a tremendous amount of laxatives, daily, in search of weight loss as well as suffering from undiagnosed depression.
“2014 that’s when I got my brown belt and then, well… something really messed me up. That happened in 2015“, said Claudia in the interview.
Do Val said she was feeling mentally drained at that time and during a WhatsApp conversation, Master De La Riva sent a message to her stating: “I am going to your home so you can give me a massage“.
“I was very naive towards him and you can say I was stupid because I was 25 or 26 [years old] at the time. I was very naive because it never crossed my mind that I was a woman and he was a man because he was like my dad [E.N.: a figurative term of endearment] (…) That was the first time I was well… I panicked a little bit but I was like trying to convince myself that it was ok…. I was like ‘he is my dad, I mean, it’s normal if your dad goes to your house to have a massage’. But then I was like: ‘I hope he is just kidding’” – she said, adding that he sent another message saying he was arriving soon.
Claudia said she was a little upset, but at the same time, thinking it was just her father wanting a massage.
“He got to my home, he went over, he asked for a massage. My heart was like you know, almost leaving my body. But I was like: ‘It’s gonna be over soon, I hope he leaves and then the massage was over’. And then he was like: ‘Ok, it’s my turn now’. At that point on I didn’t know what to do with myself… There was something dying inside of me, I didn’t know what to do. He started touching me. I didn’t say no, I didn’t stop him… I was dying inside. I hated him so much because even though I didn’t say no with my voice, I’m sure that my body language was saying no because that wasn’t a choice. I was like a statue“.
And she vented: “I blamed myself so much for this because I didn’t say no with my voice. I don’t know if I can call it abuse because I wasn’t able to say no, but my body… I was petrified, I was dying inside“.
Claudia also referenced that the ordeal left her distraught given how much she regarded him as a fatherly figure for all the years she had trained at the gym. Another starking remark was how, in her desperation, she questioned if her Master’s support over the years had now come with a price tag, including the free membership she had enjoyed until then: “Is that the price I have to pay for training?“, she asked.
According to do Val’s testomony, after this shocking interaction, once Claudia returned to the gym for practice, the young athlete had a chance to explain to De La Riva that she had seen him as a fatherly figure and that such behavior was totally unexpected and unwanted. After this very decisive conversation regarding her feelings on the matter, the well known coach persisted, sending repeated messages asking to continue meeting up which she refused. He also attempted to visit Claudia at her home a few times.
“Sometimes he would say, during training, he would say stuff that only I would understand, you know, talking about what happened, and I would get so mad because he knew how much I didn’t want that and he would talk about it like how it was the amazing thing for me and it wasn’t“, she said.
How Does The Alleged Victim Feel About The Ordeal?
“I remember when I got my brown belt, in 2014. He actually said like ‘there is this person, she is like a daughter to me’. So, I was like ‘I’m not crazy, I’m actually like a daughter to him‘”, Claudia said.
Claudia hid this information for two years until she found the courage to speak to someone close. After leaving the DLR team, Do Val felt as though a few of her former team mates were less than amicable towards her decision.
“I’ve always been angry at myself for not being able to voice. I blamed myself for a very long time and then I think he understood that there is no point in this. He never said it to me but I think he actually got offended and angry at me because I didn’t… I think that’s why he was doing everything he could to push me out of the academy“, she said.
“I had him so high up on a pedestal – and that’s like, a lesson I learned from life: That is, never put people on pedestals anymore“, she said.
Currently, do Val is out of De La Riva team and, earlier this year, she won first place at the European Championship in the heavyweight master I category while representing her new team, Soul Fighters.
The original interview is available below. Claudia discusses her exit after minute 41.