Jiu Jitsu and Aspergers pt 2 – It Fits


I really wasn’t expecting such a huge response from part 1! I thought a few of my friends might read it and find it interesting. Let’s just say the last week has been a bit overwhelming. Thank you everyone!

My parents read it as well, and I guess I just took for granted that they should understand me. My Mom said she wished I had written that out years ago for them and she is currently composing an article on what it was like raising an undiagnosed spectrum child. I’m quite interested to learn her perspective!

All right, that said, on to part 2. If you haven’t already, check out part 1.

Human Contact

My biggest challenge when starting Jiu Jitsu, was my sensitivity to human contact. I don’t really even know why, but I’ve always been very aware of my personal “bubble” and would cringe and flinch away if someone else initiated contact. It’s weird I know. I love hugs, but have to be the one initiating them. I don’t know how to describe it other than it mentally hurts me and almost feels physically painful if someone else initiates contact.

Somehow, Jiu Jitsu has actually helped to reduce this sensitivity and I think it is the fact that BJJ gives me a flow chart of movements to follow. I’ve learned that for every action my opponent makes, I have at least two options that I can respond with. I don’t have to freak out because I know the appropriate response in a format that I understand.

This has helped me relax a lot with human contact even outside of the gym. I still have my off days but, for the most part, I don’t tend to jump when someone decides to spontaneously hug me.

Social Skills

This is another biggie. I’m blessed to have lived in Nashville for going on seven years now and have been surrounded by amazing people who love me. I make a social “boo boo” and they usually just shrug and say “well, that’s just Nicholle” and move on. (Shout out to my amazing friends!)

Still, I have never felt like I was able to really meld myself into a social group. I mentally knew I was included and accepted, but never really could fit. Believe me, that has been the source of many tears over the years!

The combination of my conversational deficits and inability to read (or speak) non-verbal language, partnered with my one track mind really doesn’t make for a good party conversationalist. I have to choose between not speaking at all (appearing shy); or letting my one track, non-graceful thought train loose on the world (appearing arrogant or stuck-up). Given the choice, I prefer the first option. I’m not shy, but must appear so in order to keep my slip ups to a minimum.

Enter Jiu Jitsu!

When I got into Jiu Jitsu, I found myself surrounded by a community of people who didn’t find it odd that I wanted to talk about “bio-mechanics behind the proper placement of feet for the most energy efficient results when doing a tripod sweep”. In the past, I would discover an amazing concept, share it with someone, and be met with just a blank stare. Now, I am greeted with enthusiasm, and usually an exchange of even more cool information!

Oh wow! So this is what a real conversation is like! It is a lot easier when I am surrounded by people who are just as obsessed as I am. It makes me feel normal and accepted.

This helps me out immensely because I get to practice having actual real conversations with people! Since I started training, I have been getting better at holding conversations outside of the gym as well. Practice makes perfect!

No luck improving my non-verbal communication skills so far and I’m kind of giving up on the whole idea. Instead, I have started letting people know when I meet them that I take things literally and at face value. This foreknowledge helps to clear up misunderstandings much more easily.

Sensory Overload

Big competitions are interesting. I find the best thing I can do to keep from being overstimulated is to work at the competitions. If I have something to focus on, I am able to block out all the excess sensory input. I particularly enjoy working as a Ring Coordinator for IBJJF competitions. I love to set things in order and that job requires a huge amount of organization skills to make everything run perfectly. Good fit no?

If I’m at a tournament and am not working, I will be cheering on a team mate (or anyone I know). Without an “assignment” I’m usually wandering around like a lost puppy trying to find some task to do. It’s impossible for me to relax in such a busy environment, so I opt for distraction. Headphones and a book is my favorite combination.


About a week after 2013 Worlds, right before I got my blue belt, I had one of those “ah ha!” moments. Suddenly, I saw the moves I had been learning and practicing for the previous year in a whole new light.

Everything has a pattern. I remember arguing with my Dad that there is no possible way that a computer program can do something randomly – there is always a formula that the computer uses (aka: a pattern), and that formula is concrete, so it can’t produce something that is random.

Rabbit trail aside: I’ve started to see the pattern of Jiu Jitsu. I don’t understand it all yet, but I can see it when I roll and little bits and pieces are coming together. This really excites me!

The Journey

I started Jiu Jitsu because I wanted to challenge myself. I wanted a physical activity with a goal in mind – but I’ve always been horrible at sports. In P.E. I was always the last kid picked, even after kids half my size. I had enjoyed TKD as a child however and decided I would go the martial arts route. So glad I did!!!

My coach, Shawn Hammonds, is amazing! I have never had a coach or a team before, and that is really what initially got me hooked and kept me coming back. They challenge me in a way that I have never experienced before, and I like it. I’d always craved someone to push me just a little bit harder, instead of being satisfied with what I had already done. I don’t think that’s a trait of Aspergers – maybe there is more to my personality than just that eh?

One of my favorite things, is that I’m allowed to have a bad day around my team. I can totally break down, freak out… whatever. They just shrug and it’s back to normal the next day. I don’t have to stress over being perfect and always on guard like I used to always be – except for when sitting on the side of the mat after class… you never know when someone is going to randomly jump on your back while you’re just chilling!

Less than a year into training, I expanded my team and added Raijin Fight Wear to my corner. It was a chance meeting on Twitter for which I am so thankful! I was amazed that a company would want to sponsor me, as a white belt, before I had even competed internationally! We exchanged messages and they told me that they loved my enthusiasm and would love to have me representing them. They have been cheered me on and encouraged me all through 2013 and then signed me on again for 2014. They are a quality company that matches my “strive for excellence” personality well and I plan to represent them all the way to the black belt podium and beyond!

My team has gone through a lot of transition in the last year. I may write some about it later, but that would be a monster of a rabbit trail right now…

What Now?

I’ve decided that there is just too much to say about this topic to fit it into one or two posts – so I’m going to make it a series that I’ll add to a little bit every Saturday. The rest of the week I’ll be doing my regular updates and random ramblings. If anyone has any questions about anything I talk about, please don’t hesitate to ask me. I can’t guarantee that I’ll know the answer, but I will do my best to find one!

13 thoughts on “Jiu Jitsu and Aspergers pt 2 – It Fits

  1. etali

    Thanks for this post. It’s really interesting! The part about human contact was particularly interesting. I’m sort-of the opposite of you in terms of human contact – I hate light touch (although I can cope with it in BJJ), but I feel very comfortable mounted/under side control and have done since day one. The pressure/contact isn’t a problem for me, and the fact that you’re feeling someone rather than having to look at them makes everything so much easier for me.

    I train Muay Thai too, and honestly I’m only doing that out of stubbornness because I hate being bad at things. Muay Thai is horribly embarrassing and stressful for me because I’ve spent most of my life looking at the floor instead of looking people in the eye. Looking at someone’s face to punch them just won’t click in my mind.

    Did you have that kind of problem when you were doing TKD?

    • Nicholle

      I have started taking private Muay Thai lessons in the last several months as well. I really can’t make eye contact with people, but I’m ok with it with Thai because I’m not really looking “into” their eyes. Just using the center of their head as a base point so I can keep an tabs on their shoulder movement without having to look all over the place.

      Not a problem in TKD. I was legally blind and couldn’t see people without glasses. Lasik fixed that 8 years ago.

    • Amanda

      Wow! You could be my doppelgänger ( except for the part about being organized).
      I just found out that I am Atypical ( ASD – high functioning) at the age of 45, after my 13 year old son was diagnosed.
      Everything that you wrote about social interactions, emotion, overstimulation, and special interests could have come directly from my brain. You expressed it perfectly.

      When I tell people that I am socially awkward or not good at social situation, they never believe me. So I explain : I am only good with “ my people” and BJJ people are my people !
      It wasn’t until after we realized that I am ASD that I realized Why.
      And for all of the difficulties that ASD brings when it comes to social interaction, anxiety over changes to schedules/ new situations, and problems with emotions, I wouldn’t change it for the world. The ability to see patterns has given me a gift when it comes to problem solving and diagnostics that most people don’t have. And for that, I feel blessed.
      Thank you for sharing this and hopefully helping the world understand us a little more.
      By the way : many women born before 2000 were misdiagnosed or went undiagnosed / unrecognized. You may want to add : for anyone who is reading this and feels the same way , you may want to speak to a mental health professional about diagnosis of ASD in adults.

      • Nicholle Stoller

        Aww I’m glad you were able to relate! Putting words to feelings really helps and finding someone else who feels the same way really is validating!
        This is a pretty old post so I’m not doing any more edits to it, but I might include that information in some future updates!

        Stay awesome!

  2. charlessmithorg

    What a great way you put it, I too have to choose between not speaking at all or letting my “one track thought train loose on the world.” Silence is golden they say. Thanks for writing, Nicholle! .

  3. MammaBear

    I’m a mother if a child on the spectrum and also an avid Bjj-er so this post was really enjoyable and interesting to me! I can’t wait for my son to be older so I can introduce him to the delight which is bjj and posts like these by wonderful people like yourself give me hope that not only will he enjoy bjj, but that it will help him in other areas of his life as well.

    Thanks a bunch!

  4. Anthony Guevara

    You wouldn’t know I’m not “normal” unless you have a long winded conversation with me. The more we interact the more you see that there is something wrong with me. I have been doing g jiu jitsu for 5 months that and I am absolutely obsessed!! I go 5 days a week for 2-3 hours a night. I think about it day and night, I watch videos at work, etc.

    This is my second BJJ school. I left the first because I was having issues with people not wanting to roll with me. It was hard fitting in with the chicks the students formed and I felt like people were avoiding me. Some even refused to roll with me. It made it a struggle to go everyday and it left me frustrated, depressed and I felt like shit! I have been at this school for three months now and the owner always makes sure I have someone to roll with and I am beyond appreciative and grateful! But I feel so disconnected with 90% of the people and it’s obvious a lot of them avoid me. If it weren’t for the owner I would most definitely have the same issue as I did at the other school.

    When we have to switch partners I go over to the side and grab my phone and wait for the owner to pair me up. I do occasionally go over to people and ask them if they’ll partner up with me.

    I think I should tell everyone I have Asperger’s and I hope that it’ll make it easier on me because now people will understand.

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