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The Next Generation of Legends: Women in Martial Arts Redefining the Game 

Updated: Apr 12

women martial artists

Black Belt Plus

In the dynamic realm of martial arts, a new generation of super athletes is emerging and they're rewriting the script on what it means to excel in this ancient discipline. 

These remarkable women have devoted their lives to the art of combat, and their dedication is yielding extraordinary results. Through teaching, competition, and captivating movie performances, they are not only pushing the boundaries of their sport but also inspiring countless others along the way.

As we shine a spotlight on these trailblazers, we pay tribute to their unparalleled skill, unwavering determination, and boundless passion for martial arts. From mastering intricate techniques to breaking down barriers in traditionally male-dominated arenas, these female martial artists are leaving an indelible mark on the global stage.

Join us as we celebrate the best of the best, the fearless warriors who are redefining the landscape of martial arts and paving the way for future generations of athletes. It's time to meet the women who are transforming the world of combat sports one kick, punch, and submission at a time. Here are the the women in martial arts - the next generation of legends.

The list does not constitute ranking

  1. Uta Abe  

  2. Anissa Meksen

  3. Caitlin Dechelle 

  4. Rayna Vallandingham

  5. Kiyou Shimizu

  6. Yorgelis Salazar

  7. Janice Hung

  8. Julia Moreci Guanzon

  9. Randa Richards

  10. Jewelianna Ramos Ortiz

  11. Ffion Eira Davies

  12. Smilla Sundell

  13. Mackensi Emory

Women in Martial Arts

Uta Abe 

Home: Japan 

Style: Judo 

Titles: Olympic gold medal and quadruple world champion

In her mid-20s, Abe Uta is already considered legend status, and on her way to GOAT status in Judo. 

Abe Uta, a name synonymous with excellence in the world of judo, has etched her place in history as one of Japan's most formidable athletes. Born and raised in the heart of Tokyo.  She made history in 2017 by clinching victory in Düsseldorf as the youngest-ever winner of an IJF World Tour event, a feat that underscored her prodigious talent and indomitable spirit. 

Her success at the World Junior Mixed Team Championships in the same year further cemented her reputation as a rising star in the judo world.

Uta's meteoric rise to prominence reached its zenith at the Tokyo 2020 Olympics, by clinching the coveted gold medal, captivating the hearts of her nation and the admiration of judo enthusiasts worldwide.

A quadruple world champion, she dominated the international judo scene in 2023, 2022, 2019, and 2018, consistently showcasing her unparalleled skill and mastery of the craft. Remarkably, many of her victories coincided with those of her esteemed brother, Hifumi Abe, adding a unique familial dynamic to their shared success.

As she continues to carve her legacy in the annals of judo history, Abe Uta remains an inspiration and global ambassador for the sport of Judo. 

Uta Abe 

Copyright: IJF 

Anissa Meksen

Home: France/Thailand

Style: Kickboxing 

Titles: ISKA, WAKO and Glory World Champion

Record:  118W  35KOs

One of the most decorated female kickboxers in the world, Anissa has won 118 matches with 35 KOs and is considered the top women’s pound-for-pound kickboxer since 2017. 

She is also equally as good in other combat sports, as she also owns a World Championship in savate and holds a French Boxing Championship.

At age 12, Anissa Meksen took a liking to kickboxing thanks to her brother, Mehdi, and it’s something that she pursued for the rest of her life.  But despite becoming one of the top teenagers in the sport of kickboxing, Meksen never put her schooling on the side. The Parisian would obtain two degrees – one in Sports Performance and the other in Training Methodology. 

In 2014, Meksen became the WMPF Muay Thai World Champion and was also named the MuayThai TV Fighter of the Year. Two years later, she claimed the WAKO Pro Flyweight World Championship, and the French striker would follow that up by winning the Glory Women’s Super Bantamweight World Title and the IKSA K-1 Bantamweight World Championship.

Anissa Meksen

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Caitlin Dechelle

Home: Atlanta GA

Style:  Karate

Titles: NASKA World Champion 

Caitlin Dechelle is an actress, stunt woman, and world champion martial artist that has appeared in over 40 film and TV productions.  She began her martial arts training at 6 years old and throughout her competitive career went on to win 94 NASKA and World Titles, making her one of the most decorated female martial artists in the modern day era. 

Born in Miami, FL and is based in Atlanta, GA. She is a brand ambassador for Rockstar Energy, Century Martial Arts and Garden of Life. She co-starred with Jackie Chan in "Chinese Zodiac." She played "The Geneticist" on MTV's "Teen Wolf" Season 5. She is an award winning stunt woman; recognized for "Hawkeye," "The Mandalorian," "The Hunt," "Agents of Shield," "Altered Carbon," "Wonder Woman," "Midnight Texas," "Furious 7," and many more.

Caitlin Dechelle

Rayna Vallandingham

Home: USA

Style: Tae Kwon Do

Titles: Tae Kwon Do and XMA world championship

Rayna Vallandingham is the youngest black belt martial artist to attain 12 World Championship Titles. In 2011, at age 8, Rayna won 4 World Titles in Little Rock, Ark making her the youngest black belt ever to win a Championship. The next year (2012) she won 6 more world championships (Triple Crown in Traditional, Creative Weapons, XMA Forms, and XMA Weapons), and in 2013 she won the XMA Forms World Championship. She appeared in Phillip Rhee's film "Underdogs" as Leticia. She is a Brand Ambassador for the American Tae Kwon Do Association. Today she has a massive international following across social media with over 2M followers.

Rayna Vallandingham

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Kiyou Shimizu

Home: Japan

Style: Karate 

Title: Kata Champion/ JAPAN National Team 

Kiyou Shimizu, a Japanese karateka competing in the women's kata event. She won the silver medal in the women's kata event at the 2020 Summer Olympics in Tokyo, Japan. She is also a two-time gold medalist at the World Karate Championships and a three-time gold medalist at the Asian Games.

Kiyou Shimizu

Yorgelis Salizar

Home: Venezuela/Miami 

Style: Karate

Titles: 7-time Pan-American Champion, 2 time K1 Premier League Champion 

Salazar is a world's top-ranked Karate athlete in the -50kg category, number 1 in the -50kg category for female Kumite in the World Karate Federation (WKF).  She started practicing karate at a young age in Venezuela. Known for her signature “hook kick” she is an international star on the rise and new to the the radar of many Black Belt readers. 

Yorgelis Salizar

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Janice Hung

Home: Philippines

Style: Wu Shu

Titles: International Wushu Champion, 10x Gold Medalist in Wushu

Commercial model and actress based in the Philippines, Hung began in Wushu as a child in elementary school when the Wushu Philippine Team came to her school and demonstrated Wushu. She fell in love with this sport and over the course of two decades has mastered the art form and now is taking to the silver screen. 

Janice Hung

Julia Moreci Guanzon

Home: USA

Style Tae Kwon Do 

Titles:  World Champion Martial Artist, Tricker, Former NFL Cheerleader

A former competitive gymnast and  NFL Raiders Cheerleader. She was inspired by her father and brother to begin her journey in martial arts. Her dedication has achieved a 4th degree black belt. 

Her world titles include NBL world title champion in musical open forms, she also competed on the NASKA circuit and brought home five grand champion titles.  

Julia Moreci is also the founder and owner of Infinity Martial Arts in San Jose, CA where she dedicates her time and energy to the craft of martial arts and teaching others.

Julia Moreci Guanzon

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Randa Richards

Home: UK

Style: Ninjutsu

Title: 10th Degree Black Belt

Randa Richards is one the highest ranking female Ninjutsu masters in the world certified by the Grandmaster of Ninjutsu Masaaki Hatsumi of Japan. With a more than 200,000 followers on Instagram, Randa and her partner Michael Jones are building a modern movement for Ninjutsu practitioners. They run Kunoichi/Shinobi Dojo, Cardiff Martial Arts Academy in South Wales, U.K., and currently conducts training seminars around the world preserving this ancient art. 

randa richards

Jewelianna Ramos Ortiz

Home: USA

Style: Karate 

Titles: World NASKA Champion

At the tender age of 3, Jewelianna embarked on her martial arts journey under the guidance of her parents. Hailing from Miami, Florida, with Puerto Rican roots, she honed her skills and began competing at the age of 8, swiftly amassing multiple prestigious world titles. Her passion for martial arts led her to traverse the globe, not only as a competitor but also as a revered seminar instructor.

Transitioning seamlessly into the realm of film, Jewelianna made her mark after relocating to Atlanta in 2018. Since then, she has crafted an impressive portfolio within the action industry, boasting notable credits including "Black Panther: Wakanda Forever," "Miss Marvel," "DC’s Blue Beetle," "CBS True Lies," "Red One," "Wolf Pack," and a myriad of other projects.

As a multifaceted talent, Jewelianna continues to evolve, excelling as a stunt performer, actress, and influencer in the martial arts.

Jewelianna Ramos Ortiz

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Ffion Eira Davies

Home: Wales / USA

Style: BJJ

Titles: 2x World IBJJF champion gi, 4x No Gi world champion, ADCC world champion

Ffion Davies, hailing from Wales, is a distinguished grappler and Brazilian jiu-jitsu (BJJ) black belt under the tutelage of Darragh O’Conaill. Recognized as one of the premier featherweight competitors of her era, Davies initially honed her skills as a judo player for the Wales National Team during her formative years.

Transitioning to Brazilian jiu-jitsu, she quickly made a significant impact within the sport, accumulating notable victories on the International Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu Federation (IBJJF) circuit. Representing the esteemed East Coast Jiu-Jitsu Academy (ECJJA), Davies solidified her reputation as a formidable force in the world of BJJ.

ffion eira davies

Smilla Sundell

Home: Thailand

Style: Muay Thai 

Titles: Muaythai World Champion and 2 One Championship Champion.

Smilla Sundell is a Swedish Muay Thai kickboxer currently signed to ONE Championship, where she is the current ONE Women's Strawweight Muay Thai World Champion.

In 2022, Sundell became the youngest person to ever win a world title in Muay Thai by defeating Jackie Buntan to win the inaugural ONE Women's Strawweight Championship at 17 years and 5 months. In 2023, she is ranked as the number one female featherweight (57.153 kg) Muay Thai practitioner in the world by the WBC Muay Thai.

Smilla Sundell

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Mackensi Emory 

Home: Los Angeles, USA

Style:  Kenpo

Titles: Multiple NASKA World Champion 

Mackensi Emory started training in martial arts at the age of 6 and is currently a 3rd degree black belt in Kenpo through Kyoshi Dave Kovar of Sacramento and is also the creator of the Flow System with kamas.  She is a member of Team Paul Mitchell Karate and has traveled the world performing, competing, teaching seminars & private lessons. Today she resides in Los Angeles pursuing a career as a stunt woman.  Acting and stunt credits include “The Women King," "Star Wars Jedi," "Survivor," "Yellow Jackets" and "The Gray Man."

mackensi emory

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