When I first started competing, it was all about learning more quickly. When I started winning, I caught the medal bug and wanted to keep going. That has changed a bit in the last few years and I have been having difficulty defining what motivates me to keep at it.

External motivators are only good so long as you are in that particular environment at a certain point, it has to go deeper. For example, training with Team Lloyd Irvin leading up to Worlds has been a huge game changer for me. I call it the Jiu Jitsu pressure cooker – it’s far harder physically, but much easier mentally. I haven’t been able to make it out to see them for a while, but I need to put myself into that mental place and be responsible for my own drive. Then when I am able to go to TLIHQ I can contribute to the overall drive, instead of just feeding off it.

Okay, enough wind up. I just got out of a counseling session and we discussed specifics about things leading up to Pans next week. She was able to guide me to identify what is firing my inner motivator.My coach and team have never put the “value based on performance” burden on my shoulders. They see me training every day and know what I am capable of on my good days and on my bad days. Any performance pressure I feel, is completely self-bestowed. Here is the thing though. My coach and teammates have put so much into me over the years that THEY deserve to see me win. I want to validate that all the time they put into me was worth it.

Also, I did not realize until our annual team training that there are actually people who look up to me. If someone is going to have that kind of trust in me to use me as an example and role model, I had better do my best to live up to it!

So Close!

The Countdown is ON!

At this time next week, I will be on my way to California for the IBJJF Pan Championship tournament! I’m right on track with my weight, have energy for days, and am really looking forward to closing out a division with my team mate, Katie! There will be a live stream available for all the matches, so when I get my details I will make sure to share them.

This will be my 6th time competing at the Pans. My goal is to compete in the adult divisions all the way through at least one year as a black belt. When I competed in Atlanta I had one of the girls react in shock to the fact I was in the adult division. I suppose 32 seems old to a 19/20ish year old!


Abu Dhabi

Today I got my plane ticket to the Abu Dhabi World Pro booked. This has been a Jiu Jitsu bucket list item for years – and I decided to just do it. Maximus Kimonos has been awesome enough to supply me with a white gi for use – along with some cool no gi stuff. Give them a look-see and mention my name to get a 10% discount. I can say the gi is super comfy and very light weight!

I’m not yet sure which of two possible days I would be competing at the World Pro. My flight gets me in too late for day before weigh ins the first day, but in time for the same morning weigh ins. Of course if I compete the second day I will be all good for the day before weigh ins. Lodging and my flight to NYC still need to be arranged, but one thing at a time!

Team Training, Pans, and Abu Dhabi

This weekend we had our annual team training session! Hundreds of people were in attendance, 40-something black belts, and 30+ women!

Ladies Crew
With Omar Post-Promotion
With Ann-Marie Burnitt
The highlight of the day for me, was getting to see my friend Omar receive his black belt. I’ve learned a lot of my guard game from him over the years and he has been sneaking his training in around med school.

During the rolling portion of the day, I spent most of the time sparring with our out-of-state black belts and then getting attacked by our kids. Little flying squirrels of fury! It’s great being a part of the group! Team training also marks one year since I was given my purple belt by coach!

The Pans Championship is just around the corner and I am very excited to be going out there once again! I’ve had to change up my diet the past few weeks in order to work my way back down to the light weight division. I spent the last year in the middle weight division but I am ready to be light again. The Abu Dhabi World Pro is coming up as well, and I registered for the 62 kg division. I found a super good deal for a flight to Dubai and will be able to purchase it once my income tax rebate comes through.

The Training/Work

Currently what I am doing is heading to the gym early, getting an extra hour of drilling work or cardio in before taking our morning training class. After class I have about 10 minutes to get off the mat and on my way to work. I work the afternoon and get off just in time for the evening sparring class. I have also started helping out with the intro class held just after the sparring class. The intro class is very good because when I’m asked questions, it forces me think about the principles behind the movements.

After this week is over, my hours are dropping substantially at work. I am not looking forward to the drop in pay, but on the bright side, I will have all day Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday to get extra training sessions in. I have started teaching private lessons periodically as well, so that will leave more time to expand my availability for that!

The Musings

My instructor has told me that, at this point in my Jiu Jitsu journey, I have a solid foundation of basics without too many gaping holes in my game. Now it’s just a matter of practice, fine tuning, and mat time. Taking that to heart, I have been observing my own rolling sessions in the gym. Winning in the gym isn’t the goal – betterment is. So I am watching my training partners to see what they are doing that is giving me trouble. If I know what it is they are doing to shut down my game, I should be able to figure out how to adjust for it. If I can’t figure it out, I bring the problem to my instructor and he shows me a simple adjustment that fixes it.

That being said, I’m ready to bring on the competition. What I have to do is take what I have been doing and learning, light the fire under it, and bring the heat.

Upcoming Events

Well first off, Merry Christmas to all! And if you aren’t the Christmas type, I hope you had a good day off from work!
The gyms were all closed yesterday, so I went to see the new Star Wars movie again with a team mate. Today it is back to the grind! BJJ gym is still closed today, but I am meeting up my regular drilling partner before heading off to my shift at work. Gotta get those reps in!
The current attack plan for the first few months of 2018 is:

January 15-22 – European Championships in Lisbon, Portugal.

I can only afford to be there for the days that I could possibly compete. Gotta get back to work by the 21st. At least jet lag doesn’t exist to me anymore for a Europe trip (after a few trips to Asia).

February 3 – Atlanta International Open

This is an easy day trip for my crew since it is only a 3ish hour drive from Nashville. I’ve kept my one day off from work as a Saturday – so I can make it easily to these day trip events without having to barter time off from work… I’ll be doing plenty of that already this year.

February 17 – Team Shawn Hammonds Team Training

One of the funnest events of the year! Last february we had over 30 black belts on the mat and so many people that it was just wonderful chaos! I was promoted to purple belt at the 2017 team training and I look forward to seeing all the promotions this next year!

February 24 – Mexico City International Open Gi and No Gi

Past experience has taught me that I need to arrive several days early in Mexico City – in order to adjust to the altitude. I haven’t worked out a flight yet, but it is on! Barring work putting their foot down (I have a pretty flexible job).

My concern here is whether there will be any purple belt ladies competing here or not. But I think it will work out! Plus it will be great to see friends again!

March 7-11 – Pan Championships in California

I’m waiting on the preliminary schedule to be released before I start thinking about booking a flight. Gotta go out there, smash, and then get back to work.

Since I am a part timer at work, I’m fairly flexible with time off. I just have to at least make an effort to find someone to cover my shift and I’m good to go. I’ll be making trips as short as possible though because I do need a cash flow to make all this happen. It’s a balancing act that I think I have finally gotten worked out!

I will hear from the Japanese Embassy in a few weeks about my application. But I’m not gonna just sit on my hands in the meanwhile! Gotta keep moving and trying to be a little bit better every day! (Except for yesterday… yesterday I ate half a pie)

New Routine

The past few months now I have finally gotten something I have wanted for years: a self-motivated drilling partner who is enthusiastic about getting up early for an hour or so of extra work on the mats before morning class!
So every morning, we get in at least an hour of work -focusing mainly on transitional movements. It has been paying off since he went from silver and bronze at a local event to gold at the IBJJF Cincinnati Open. I managed a bronze in the open and got an “attagirl” from coach. I don’t think coach has ever seen me work a passing game at an event before, but he said I looked really smooth. I even got compliments from other girls coaches for fluidity in transitions. So… gonna keep at the morning drills!

My current daily routine consists of a 6 am wake up, drilling starting at 8:30, sparring class at 10:30, and work from 1-5. I can fit an evening training session in periodically but I find with the early morning wake up (gotta take the bus from across town), I get pretty wore out by the time I’m off work. When I get closer to events I push through for several nights a week, but when I’m not feeling the pressure of a looming events I just go home and get some sleep. Yea, im getting old; ready for bed by 9 now.

I competed in the Asian Championships this year as a middle weight and brought home a silver medal. I felt really good and strong at that weight – without sacrificing speed. I am contemplating continuing the next competition season at middle. Plus is that I get to compete at a very natural weight for myself – where I’m usually training at. Down side: no abs… but aesthetics have never been a huge deal for me. I’d rather be strong and enjoying my Olympic lifts. Can’t do those and make light anymore!

There is the very real possibility that I might move to Japan for a couple years starting this summer. I received a very strong recommendation for an exchange program and will hear back from the embassy in a few weeks. The final decision if I am offered a spot on the program would depend on location in Japan – whether there is a good Jiu Jitsu academy nearby for me to train at. There are so many factors at play that I haven’t even shared much about this option publicly. All I can say is that I will be giving this next competition season everything I have. It’s scary, but it is good to have options! One thing that will never change is that through all of it I will eventually earn my black belt from my instructor Shawn Hammonds.

Well that’s it for my “sitting at the bus depot downtown” update. Maybe I’ll come up with something more eloquent later?​

Sometimes Patience Pays Off

img_1295This has been a very busy year of transitions for me… one of the big ones has been being promoted to my purple belt in February! I tried to write this post right then and there… but life happens in its overwhelming way. I’ve since then gone from one crazy phase to another. Things are finally starting to become clear and I can start sharing again.

A lot has happened and changed in the past 6ish years of training. There have been some pretty awesome “on top of the world” days, and there have also been periods of time where I was within a hair of throwing in the towel and calling it quits. The past two years have been more of the latter than the former. However, it has been long established that I am far to stubborn to quit.

Goals have shifted around a lot from when I first started training in Jiu Jitsu. Today, I feel like sharing the story of how I actually got started (and hooked) on this life.

It was sometime toward the beginning of 2011 when I realized that I was out of breath just walking up a flight of stairs. I had one of those epiphany moments when I realized that I needed to do something to change this for the sake of my own health. So I started going to train at a gym several days a week. However, I soon became so stinking bored. I had no goal. I didn’t care about my weight, or aesthetics – and didn’t even own a scale at that point in my life. I was also severely intimidated by all of the equipment at the gym and couldn’t ever do any sort of exercise when other people might be around (I still fight that insecurity today).

I quickly determined that I needed something somewhat familiar, challenging, and with a more concrete goal structure that I could relate to. My mind went back to the years I spent training Taekwondo and Hapkido as a teenager, and it just seemed like a good idea! Of course, I wanted something more physically challenging as an adult… and I remembered hearing about this “MMA” thing and decided that sounded like a good challenge! So I just did a google search for MMA in my area, and went to check out the first place that popped up on my list.

img_1374Let it be known, I was absolutely terrified walking into the gym for my first meet and greet. I’m amazed I even walked into the building in the first place! Yet somehow I ended up not only walking in, but hitting some pads and then signing up for a membership using the last of my paycheck. I started out in the MMA program, thinking that I would gravitate more toward the Muay Thai classes as opposed to Jiu Jitsu (it looked weird!)

My first class was rough physically. I remember being so gassed after the warm ups that I was legitimately disoriented during the instructional portion of the class. That is really all I remember about my first week of training: dying during the warm up and then blinking like an idiot for the rest of class because I didn’t have enough oxygen in my brain to do anything else!

When I finally got to the point where I was actually aware of my surroundings, I discovered that they had sneakily been teaching me Jiu Jitsu moves along with jabs and crosses. I realized that I was okay with this! I also wanted more than two training classes a week, so I asked to join in with the beginner Jiu Jitsu classes for more training hours. At the end of two months, I was training at least once, sometimes twice a day. Still dying every class – but enjoying finally feeling like I was being challenged and seeing myself making concrete progress with something!

img_1309At this two month mark, I was told I could start attending the more advanced classes with the option to begin sparring. I would, however, have to purchase appropriate equipment. My decision was made to officially begin Jiu Jitsu training for a very simple reason. Once again, I was in between paychecks, and it was cheaper to buy a Gi as opposed to Muay Thai gear.

Seriously, that was the reason.

I took my first full fledged Jiu Jitsu class on January 22 2011, and it did not take very long at all for me to become completely addicted. I would attend a 6:30 am class, go home and nap until the 11:30 class, and then return for the evening training class as well. My first competition was March 11 2011 – and I remember being absolutely petrified. There were 4 girls total, and my first opponent was a 214 lb blue belt. The only thing I knew how to do was a triangle from spider guard. I remember my team mates in the corner yelling for me to “sweep her!” and I yelled back “What’s a sweep?!” I survived the experience and actually managed to win one match with my triangle from spider guard for a bronze medal. Going out to eat with my team mates afterwards, I felt like I belonged – which wasn’t a familiar thing for me. But I liked it.

So yes, Jiu Jitsu is addictive – but I think the people you meet are the ones who make it so.


So thank you to my Jiu Jitsu family! You are spread out all over the world and I love it! I can visit other countries, and have instant connection with people because of Jiu Jitsu – regardless of language, culture, or religion. My coach, Shawn Hammonds, has been my first experience of ever having a coach to push me – and I love him for it! My team mates in Nashville have been a driving force for me on those days when I just can’t find my moxy. I also get the privilege of Jiu Jitsu family in Maryland with Master Lloyd and all of the amazing people at Team Lloyd Irvin – even though I don’t get to see them every day, they are always constant sources of inspiration to do the best that I can every day! My goal is to be able to be as valuable to my team mates as they are to me – I don’t know that I will ever be able to give back that much, but I am going to do my best!

Of course, what sappy thank you post would be complete without mentioning my family! I’ve really been learning a lot about the value of family in the past couple of years. Do we get along all the time? Nope. Are we perfect? Not in the slightest! However, my family has unconditional love and we care about each other. So even if we don’t always agree, we always have each others backs and will fight to the death for one another. And that’s what family is. Whether it’s parents, siblings, aunts, uncles, grandparents, cousins… or my Jiu Jitsu crew; We are family.

(If you sang those last three words, whoever you are, you can count yourself an honorary family member!)


Interview with Nichole Herold

It has been quite a whirlwind for me these past several months, but I have been wanting to introduce everyone to an awesome team mate of mine. She is the original Nichole at my gym and over the years has inspired me so much by her dedication and willingness to just grind and stick it out, despite having so many exceptional reasons and excuses to let herself just fade away from our training mats.

Life happens to everyone, and everyone’s journey is different. That is the beauty of it. All that is required for us is to do the best we can with what we have. I hope that Nichole’s story can help inspire you to persevere and chase what you love!

Quick stats: introduce yourself!
My name is Nichole K Herold. I am a Shawn Hammonds one stripe blue belt in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu. I am 28, married, and Mom to a beautiful little one year old boy with Cerebral Palsy.

What was your athletic background before Jiu Jitsu?
I did Taekwondo from the age of eight to nine years old. I played a lot of team sports such as; soccer, flag football, and basketball from elementary through my high school years.

How did you wind up starting Jiu Jitsu, and when?
I started Jiu Jitsu in 2010 as a result of my love for Martial Arts that stemmed from when I was in Taekwondo. I was looking for something with a little more realistic fighting style.

img_2136Can you remember how it felt starting out? If so, can you describe it?
Starting out was a nerve wracking, and exciting thing for me. I was embarking on a new adventure so I had no idea what to expect. I was kind of just figuring out how everything worked, so there was a little bit of confusion for me as well. It was a great feeling of relief when people helped me how to find my place in this grand adventure

When did you know you were hooked?
I was hooked when I took my first full class. I was so frustrated with everything from work and school, but once class was over I felt this overwhelming sense of peace, relief, and stillness. It was something I had been searching a long time for, and I hadn’t been that happy in all that time.

What struggles have you overcome and persevered through during these past years?
Over the years I have dealt with being an on and off college student. In 2012 I found out that I had Crohn’s Disease and that put a hiccup in my training as well as I had to figure out my new diet and medication balance.

Getting my body re acclimated to Jiu Jitsu training wasn’t easy. Some days I would have a Crohn’s attack during class and be forced to stop training. Other days I would have an attack before class and be forced to turn around and go home because it was so bad.

img_2135In 2013 my then fiancé (now husband) and I both lost our jobs, right after purchasing our own house. I was forced to drop out of school and take a job as a corrections officer (which I absolutely hated!), the hours of which kept me out of Jiu Jitsu for about a year. That job caused me to sink into a deep depression and drink a lot – my family was extremely concerned for my safety at that point in my life. There were nights that I would drink a 12 pack of beer or half a bottle of whiskey so that I could sleep without nightmares from working at the prison.

Christmas of 2014 my husband and I found out that I was pregnant with out little one. For the safety of our unborn child, I quit drinking and turned in my resignation at the prison and started the journey to find myself again.

On August 6, 2015, I was 8 months pregnant when I delivered my son, Henry. I had to have an early emergency c-section due to a lack of fetal movement. We went to his well appointments and he wasn’t meeting all physical milestones for his age. After numerous doctor visits and an MRI we learned that Henry had suffered a stroke during the last trimester of pregnancy. My family and I were devastated and I cried for days.

img_2137At this point Henry began physical, occupational, speech, and feeding therapy. He currently has therapy four times a week and I have to help him stretch five times a day. At this point I had not been able to train any Jiu Jitsu for almost two years. The few times I could make it to class, Henry would become bored and irritable because he could not amuse himself, so I would have to leave early. It was one of the few things that kept me sane however.

Winter of 2016 I had enough of trying and told myself that if I could not find someone to watch him, I would have to quit training until he could begin kindergarten. I talked to my coach, Shawn, as well as a gym affiliate owner. They said we would work something out, and then the affiliate owner, Jason, told me that he had someone who would watch Henry for me during classes. So I changed over to our affiliate gym and officially began regular training again in January 2017.

Currently, I am able to make it to three classes a week and am back in school again, studying for my bachelor degree in Management and Human Resources with a minor in Cyber Defense. I will be then going for my Masters degree in Cyber Defense and hope to get into the field of ethical hacking. I plan to graduate spring of next year.

What are your top three moments in your Jiu Jitsu career thus far?
I would say the top moments are:
I didn’t quit.
I won an IBJJF Open as a white belt.
I made it to the quarter finals at Pans despite so little training. I was a corrections officer during that time and was able to train so infrequently that it surprised my team mates how well I did.

What were the three toughest points in your Jiu Jitsu career?
I can’t say that I have three tough points. I would say I’ve had a tough time in general getting to train because of life.

What made you decide to keep coming back to train?
That feeling I had when I first started training. I missed that feeling and yearned to feel it again.

How has Jiu Jitsu changed you as a person?
It has made me more patient. I’ve never been one to wait much on anything. It took me a while but I have calmed down a lot in the long run.

Would you do it again?
If I knew what I know now, HELL YES!! Good things come in different packages and at different times. It is frustrating to see the people that started after me be ahead of me, but God made everyone’s life different. My path is different from everyone else’s. I am proud of that and I own it! My time will come for my black belt, and when it does, I know I will have earned it!

If you could time travel: what would you say to yourself just starting Jiu Jitsu, one year in, and third year in?
Beginning: CALM DOWN! This is not a death match.
1st Year: Focus on one thing at a time. Get better at the things you suck at.
3rd Year: Keep pushing. Keep doing better. This is you all day, every day. Doubt comes and goes but as long as you don’t feed or give into it, it will hold no power over you.

Parting Words?
Much of life is about growth, love, laughter, and getting back up when you are knocked down. Finding out who you are and being comfortable with what you find is a huge key. Jiu Jitsu has been that key for me these past few years.

Belt color shows how much hard work and time you have put in, but the reason you see people reach higher belt levels is because they didn’t give up and they didn’t focus on the journey of other people. They focused on their own journey.

If you keep looking at other peoples journey, you are going to miss the lessons you should have learned that would make you a better person and better at Jiu Jitsu.

Just focus on you and be the best version of you each and every day. Take what you learned yesterday and focus on how you can improve on it today.

Click Here to follow Nichole on Instagram!