So, Have You Ever Tried BJJ?

What led you to take your first BJJ class? I stumbled into mine accidentally.

I rocked up to my gym in Melbourne for my usual kickboxing session, but I had read the timetable wrong.

“There’s no kickboxing on tonight, but Brazilian Jiu Jitsu is about to start – go jump in with the guys!”

I remember feeling so awkward, paired with a dude who was telling me to sit on him, grip his arm between my legs, press my chest into his back and try moving around whaaaat? SO many giggle moments for both of us and the poor guy may have copped a stray knee to the groin a few times too, oops.

I knew nothing about BJJ or grappling/wrestling or judo, but something about that class (other than the God-awful BO smell) stuck, and by my second class I had given BJJ a good google, and even bought a gi.

I’m a weird advocate for the sport. I kinda suck, struggle to make class consistently, don’t follow ‘the scene’ obsessively.. but I know how much I get out of training on a physical and mental level and am always keen to spread the love.

BJJ inevitably comes up in conversation when I’m meeting someone new. In this case that someone was a random Aussie girl I had followed for years on Twitter and vice versa.

She was in London, we caught up (met for the first time! Oooher) I mentioned BJJ and two days later she was wearing one of my gis and rashies, and attending Fightzone’s first Women’s Open Mat. Boom!

She had a blast, and seriously I couldn’t think of a better first jiu jitsu experience than with a mat full of friendly, uber supportive women.  I have a feeling I’ll be spying some BJJ tweets in her feed in the future.

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Meet Marie

I came away from my long weekend in Strasbourg with another girl-crush – I have these frequently in BJJ. There are so many awesome women in this sport helping to enrich the experience for the rest of us, regardless of our rank or motivation to train.

In this case, the incredibly warm welcome I received from Marie-Laure Kocher has stayed with me, and made me realise how much of a difference a gesture as simple as a smile can make when directed at a club newcomer – even more so when that newcomer doesn’t speak the local language!

So here’s a little more on the lovely Marie.

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I first discovered BJJ as I studied in La Rochelle, a city on the west coast of France. One day during a judo class, I sparred with a guy who rolled in all directions like a cat (Guillaume Baudoin who is now a BJJ black belt and instructor at Spirit JJB). He just arrived in the city and wanted to open a BJJ academy. I was a bit bored with judo at that time (I practised for around 12 years) so I took benefit of this opportunity to discover a new martial art.

The BJJ scene in Strasbourg is beginning to grow. There is the Gracie Barra academy (around 60 members) which was the first in town. Christian Sardella has done a lot to develop BJJ in the area. Now there are two sister academies in the south of the city. Recently a Brazilian black belt has opened BJJ classes in a kickboxing/MMA gym.

I don’t know that much about the BJJ scene in France. There are academies in the biggest cities, but it’s not as developed as in countries like the UK, Germany or even Switzerland. Actually martial arts are not that popular in France. I would like to discover more academies in France over the next few years, and visit Florence Couzin’s academy (one of the first, if not the first, female BJJ black belt in Europe, she also won the worlds as a black belt).

My biggest challenge in training BJJ was first stepping on the mat being the only woman in the class, then returning and continuing to train. It is sometimes hard to be the only girl on the mat (still the case today). By the way I wrote an article about that on my blog which represents my experience as a beginner.

The best of my travels late last year (which included Australia) was definitely the BJJ people I met along the way. Each of them made the visit unique. I wrote articles about every academy we (my boyfriend and I) trained at. I experienced BJJ in a different way.

If you’re coming to Strasbourg, you must of course explore the city center. It’s really nice to walk around or to bicycle around the middle age streets, buildings and the riverside. Historic places to see: the Cathedral, la Petite France, and the “Neustadt” quarter. There are some interesting museums for people who like history. Also go to the European quarter (with the UE Parliament and the European Court Human Rights) and the Orangerie park.

Petite France Photo: Courtesy of the Strasbourg Tourism Office
Petite France
Photo: Courtesy of the Strasbourg Tourism Office

Strasbourg and all Alsace is famous for its cuisine and wine. People should try for example a real Tarte flambée, a choucroute or a Baeckeoffe, munster cheese. To drink: riesling, gewurtzraminner and, of course, a beer with Picon 😉

Strasbourg is really nice in the summer. When it’s sunny, locals like to be outside and have a drink. There are many nice bars around the city center. During the summertime there are also a few growing music festivals in Strasbourg or close to the city.

Photo: Courtesy of the Strasbourg Tourism Office.
Photo: Courtesy of the Strasbourg Tourism Office.

In December, it is all decorated with Christmas lights (and a huge Christmas tree). There is a big Christmas market in the city where you can find local food, warm wine and handcraft.

Christmas Market at the Cathedral Photo: Courtesy of the Strasbourg Tourism Office.
Christmas Market at the Cathedral
Photo: Courtesy of the Strasbourg Tourism Office.

I can’t wait to catch up with Marie again in the future at BJJ Globetrotter events. Be sure to pay her club a visit if you ever find yourself in Strasbourg.

BJJ Girl Problems

I love this post on BJJStyle.com – hair, bruises, period woes YES! But it was point no. 1 I found myself referencing on the tube ride home from a party tonight.

Making small talk with a random guy, conversation turns to interests, I mention BJJ and get the “Ohhh I’d better not mess with you then!” line.

Normally, I kind of laugh it off and keep chatting about whatever. This time, with the BJJ Girl Probs list fresh in my mind I called him on it.. “Why do guys even say that? If I didn’t do Jiu Jitsu would you be messing with me??”

The answer – Um, Ahhh no I mean.. Well, I guess it’s kind of like a pickup line, sort of thing..”

Conversation kind of dried up after that – sorry dude.

Surprising Myself

I did it! It has been a long time coming, but I finally mustered up enough courage to enter my first Gi competition on the weekend and I did much better than I expected.

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I wasn’t exactly prepared – I decided to compete only two weeks prior, and then hurt my back so figured I’d have to pull out. But I felt okay enough the night before, and this comp was what I knew I needed to do to boost my progression and show my coach I actually want to improve.

I was a stressed-out bundle of nerves come the day of the Southend Open – I’d talked myself down so much during the week, I’d gone from ‘I’m aiming for better than bronze’ (there were only three of us in the weight category) to ‘I just want to put up a good fight, not get stuck underneath the whole time, maybe not get subbed in the first five seconds…’

My first fight was the hardest, but I lasted the whole five minutes, and was actually leading at the start before losing on points.

Photo: James Dennis/Southend Open
Photo: James Dennis/Southend Open

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Photo: James Dennis/Southend Open

I was only supposed to fight twice, but after the second fight which I won on points (woohoo!) the organisers asked for girls to enter the Absolute category.

I was already in the heaviest female weight division of the day so why not, right?

Photo: James Dennis/Southend Open
Photo: James Dennis/Southend Open

I won my first two fights (though again no subs) and ended up facing the same woman as before for 1st/2nd place.

To be honest I was dog tired by the final and mustered as much energy as I had left, but she got an americana … pretty quickly, and it was all over.

Photo: James Dennis/Southend Open
Photo: James Dennis/Southend Open

I didn’t mind though, she was a beast – and I was already over the moon with how I’d performed. I didn’t do anything uber spectacular in the fights but I was able to keep my balance and stay on top a lot of the time, and I managed scrambly-but-successful guard passing!

Of course my coach was right – I’ve learnt so much from the experience and now have a platform from which to start being that bit more specific with how I train.

A chat with a teammate later that day is what will really stay with me though.. she said I have to cement this moment in my mind, hold onto the happy, confident feeling and only look forward. Build on it now, don’t go back to that uncertain, self-doubting place I was in before.

I’m going to stay as far away from it as I possibly can.

Photo: James Dennis/Southend Open
Photo: James Dennis/Southend Open

Post-Class Euphoria

Yay endorphins! I really really enjoyed class tonight. It’s not something I’ve been able to honestly say for awhile – usually I’m too busy feeling so ridiculously useless on the mat, and lamenting my lack of progress.

I wasn’t necessarily any less useless tonight mind you, but I felt like I was ‘getting it’ where I normally wouldn’t. Ironically, we were being shown a technique with a few more steps to remember than usual. It may have had something to do with the gazillion brown belts and like, three white belts in attendance.. but I felt good!

Annnd then I bought Doritos on the walk home. But THAT’S TOTALLY OKAY RIGHT?! 

*Happy dance*

 

A couple of awesome things

  • I went to my first London women’s BJJ open mat last weekend at Horizon BJJ – got my butt kicked, learnt a lot about where I’m at and where I want to be. The Horizon guys seem great too, a really wholesome club that’s very welcoming – I’ll definitely be dropping by in future.

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  • I GOT A FULL TIME JOB! It’s only taken eight months, countless applications, unanswered emails and phone calls and very few interviews. Gosh London you are a hard nut to crack. And because the universe has a twisted sense of humour, two days after I accepted the job I got called to interview for another, AMAZING job *shakes fist* but, I’m going with my gut on this one. Right now the job I’ve accepted is what I need. It’s “9-5,” working with some pretty inspirational people and it’s going to allow me to train frequently, which means I can really focus in on some little goals – like my first gi comp, I’d like to get THAT out of the way this year. Another stripe would be nice, feeling like I deserve to actually have my first one.. this lax little white belt is getting to work.

*Crunch* “Ow!”

Well, this is one for the awkward and mortified files. 

I may have broken a training partner… her nose, I broke her nose and embarrassingly we weren’t even really truly, properly grappling at the time.

“Light/playful roll?” I’d suggested after class as we were going over the knee ride to far armbar transition we’d just learnt.

Living up to my slow off the mark reputation, she had mount in an instant – and we were laughing as I attempted to wriggle out from under her.

Hips up to buck her off, my head comes forward and… *CRUNCH* “oh my God!”
“Oh crap are you okay? Is it bleeding?!”

It wasn’t – but out came the bag of frozen peas and a mirror to check how crooked her nose was (thankfully it still looked pretty straight to me, just red and starting to swell).

I haven’t seen her since as I’ve had a cold and she has also been away from the gym to let her nose heal, but chatting over Facebook there appears to be no hard feelings. At least I hope there truly aren’t.

Just mortification on my side, and the awful feeling you get knowing you’re responsible for hurting someone.

Have you ever broken a training partner? Did it affect your future interactions/friendship on or off the mats?

Nice one, Ida and Shanti!

The awesome ladies behind the BJJ Autumn Bonanza I attended in Copenhagen are off to Abu Dhabi – winning their weight classes and closing out the open at the World Pro Trials in Portugal.

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Photo credit – Shanti’s Insta & Fbk

A huge thanks to Shanti Abelha for finding the time while in comp mode to answer some questions I had after the Copenhagen camp – on the training weekend, and the female BJJ scene on this side of the world.

  • You’ve held ladies BJJ camps before, what prompted you and Ida to start organising these events?

The whole “women’s BJJ camps” movement is fairly new, and actually something that I see has grown concurrently in Europe and the US, and only now is getting more popular in Brazil. I think it was around 2009 that some coaches started organizing women’s camps in Scandinavia, and Ida and I were one of the first to be invited to teach at these camps. It was great to have the opportunity to teach at these camps, but the natural step for us was of course to host our own camp at the gym we train, where we felt we could structure the camp as we thought best and be able to give women a great welcome to “our home.”

  • How much has female participation in BJJ grown from when you were moving through the ranks to now?

It has grown immensely! When I started BJJ, the highest ranking female in Scandinavia was a single purple belt. Now, we are five black belt women in Scandinavia, and more scattered around Europe. The growth and difference is also really apparent at the large IBJJF tournaments, such as the World Championships. This year, there were literally hundreds of girls and women competing at the World’s. When I won World’s as a blue belt in 2007, I had three matches. This year, some of the blue belt female champions had 6 fights to reach the top of the podium – meaning the category could have had over 60 competitors. The level is also really high throughout all belts, the women winning at the highest levels train full-time, and I see that the top girls winning at the lower belts have a very complete and tight game. But I don’t think that we have seen the end or even the top of the growth curve yet, actually I think that this explosion in women’s BJJ has only just started recently, and we will be seeing a lot more.

  • How did yourself, Ida and Hanette decide on what to teach over the course of the Copenhagen camp weekend?

We are all well-rounded but also have our preferences for what we like to teach. It was quite easy to agree on actually, especially as Ida had baked apple pie for the three of us to enjoy while talking the program through. We all three place great emphasis on teaching good basics, on showing the positions we feel work best for us, and on making sure that it is something that anyone from any level could learn something from. Also, as we have quite a few women who have participated in previous camps, we make sure to have some variety and not teach exactly the same positions as in the previous camp.

  • Obviously the participants get so much out of these events, what about for yourself, Ida and Hanette?

I get as much out of it as the participants, and I am sure Ida and Hannette would agree with me! Firstly, just being able to gather so many female BJJ’ers in one room is a huge reward in itself. We all love teaching and sharing our experiences, so for us it is great to give something back to the BJJ community, see you all learning the positions and being so eager to learn even more. It is inspiring for us to see and be part of the current growth of BJJ for women, and see such a broad diversity in terms of which types of girls and women train BJJ.

  • What are your thoughts on the standard of BJJ women in Europe compared to those you’ve trained with and competed against from elsewhere?

I think the standard in Europe has always been high and will continue to be so. The European culture supports very much the idea of strong, independent women, and this is mirrored in the way we are treated in our gyms and the way we train. We have a lot of good female European competitors at all belt ranks – if you look at the results for the World’s this year for blue, purple and brown, there was a very good distribution of medalling participants between Europe, USA and Brazil. This trend will continue, and it is only a matter of time before this distribution will also be visible at black belt.

  • Any training tips for the girls post camp on how best to absorb and ‘lock in’ all the new techniques they learnt? 

There can be a lot to absorb during a camp that lasts a whole weekend! I think that if you want to make sure you learn and absorb as much as possible, you need “document” the techniques in some way – either writing in a notebook, or filming together with a training partner after class. And then repeat, repeat, repeat, also when you get back home.

  • When is the next ladies camp?

We aim to hold the BJJ Bonanza twice a year – autumn and spring. We have just talked about the date for the next camp, and it will probably be around February some time. We will be announcing it soon, so keep an eye on Facebook!

BJJ Bonanza – belated recap.

Oh, look!

It’s my long-awaited recap of BJJ Camp, Copenhagen!

 Briefly though, to cover off on some FAQs from family and friends..

–       I am loving London so very much.

 –       Yes, I’m gainfully employed – having fun and working with some great people at a hospitality agency HQ (managing staff recruitment and general admin), though the master plan is still to move into a Media Comms/PR role. The industry is a much tougher nut to crack than anticipated (said almost every Aussie in London ever, I’m discovering).

–       The feral flatmate refuses to acknowledge my nudges toward a cleaner, more considerate home life- but he may be moving out soon so, yay to the end of mouldy leftovers lying about the kitchen!!

–       I heard/read/tweeted on the big changes in Melbourne radio. Matt & Jo and Hughsey & Kate’s will be big shoes to fill. I’m very excited to hear how the market sounds in the New Year. 

–       Yep, it’s getting chillier.  Did someone say we’re expecting the worst Winter for decades? 

– I’m keeping those affected by the NSW bushfires in my thoughts – stay safe everyone and please give generously if you can.

  • To be honest the gorgeous city of Copenhagen in Denmark wasn’t high on my must-see list – but finding out about a ladies BJJ camp there had me booking my first ever EasyJet flight. Happy to report it was totally drama free, much like Tiger Airways in Oz just be sure to check in online, pre purchase any checked baggage and rock up nice and early.

Organised by Ida Hansson and Shanti Abelha, 8 x World Champion and 3x ADCC Champion Hanette Staack was the very special guest teacher for the three day training camp at Arte Suave.

 I arrived a day early to squeeze in some sight seeing – which as usual I didn’t plan, and regretted it later. Carlsberg Brewery! Lego Land! A Viking exhibition currently on at the museum! So many reasons to return with a proper touristy agenda next time.

I did get a lovely overview of the city with Copenhagen Free Walking Tours though – saw the Little Mermaid and where Crown Princess Mary and her family live at Amalienborg Palace.  Our guide Rikke explained how down to earth the Danish Royals and locals are; Mary and Fred’s eldest children attend a public school, and the family can pretty much cycle through the city without being mobbed by the public or the press.

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 Friday afternoon it was time to drag my suitcase to the gym for camp! So much for never planning to sleep on grappling mats again without an air mattress – just a sleeping bag and makeshift pillow resulted in an uncomfy couple of night’s sleep – but it was well worth it.

Myself, and safe to say everyone else had serious air bed envy.
Myself, and safe to say everyone else had serious air bed envy.

 32 ladies from nine different countries and 22 academies participated in the camp. All belts represented, it was such a privilege to have grappling time with so many highly skilled BJJ women!

There were five gi classes over the three days, and one no-gi – each class a good hour and a half, some as long as two hours with free rolling time in between for those keen to keep training.

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Hanette, Shanti and Ida took turns teaching some of their favourite techniques.

One month on and what do I remember? I’ll be honest, not a lot sitting in my room typing this – shame on me for not taking more notes at the time.

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On the mat though, I have a few extra sweeps to play around with – and some half guard positioning I hadn’t tried before.

 Hanette was very generous with her time – she came out to dinner with all of us on the Saturday night and made it her mission to learn everyone’s names by the end of camp (mission accomplished).

Hanette opened up about her own rocky Jiu Jitsu journey, with Shanti and Ida also offering words of wisdom and advice.

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From Ida, something I think many BJJ girls can say they’re the victims – or perpetrators of at some point; “Don’t be the b*#ch at your academy, pushing the new girls away to keep the attention of the guys on you. We’re not many, be nice to each other and help each other.”

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It was a very fun and empowering weekend, learning from such incredible women. There were also language barriers to overcome (I was reminded of the double meaning for ‘thongs’), sports bras and gis hanging off every possible drying space to keep track of, and we even had a very cute reason to eat cake just before all heading home. 

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AET Grading.

An Australian Elite Team grading is the stuff of legend. Among the BJJ crew I mix with, anyway.

Ninos doesn’t tell a student when they’re about to grade – he tells everyone else. The class begins as usual, but sometime midway through a demonstration he or she whose time it is will suddenly be pounced on by a pre selected student – a collective roar will go up, accompanied by the thunderous sound of bare feet and hands, slapping and stomping the mat in encouragement.

“The chosen one” quickly realises it’s time to put up their biggest fight yet and gets to work, while Ninos regally makes his way through the crowd of students selecting the next opponents.

On the battles go, until everyone has rolled with the suffering student. The most senior team members give him or her a hard time before it’s Ninos’ turn.

The crowd again roars as the head of AET shows how it’s done, and when he decides they’ve fought hard enough, a submission is applied which signals the grading is complete.

I was hoping to witness this and the hardcore belt whipping that follows before I left, and last weekend I was able to.

AET held an open day at the new headquarters; a bigger warehouse than the old digs, kitted out with arguably one of the biggest mat spaces in the country (and even then training can still feel crowded).

Around 300 people came – mostly grapplers and their family members from affiliates, but also rival club members, to show their support.

Three students graded, two to purple and one to blue.

Poor Dany dislocated his knee halfway through, but he continued on with all the moves he was able to do.

The line up at the end for belt whipping was pretty epic – whites and blues the full length of the mat with a second line needed for purple, brown and black belts.

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Photo: Courtesy of AET

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Huge congrats Tony, Jason and Dany! Photo: Courtesy of AET

Some really heartfelt speeches followed, then it was barbecue and open training time!

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I got to hang with a gorgeous bunch of jits girls, and received some tips from one, Emily – to get more comfortable on my neck/shoulders and in situations where I’m being stacked. (“bring your knees into your chest, people forget they have another joint between their neck and legs!”)

I’m gonna miss these kids.

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– How do your club gradings work?! Do you like the surprise approach?