A Word on Ladies Classes

In the last week we have done a soft launch of our new ladies only Jiu Jitsu classes. Myself and our other lady brown belt, Madison, are running two classes week to start out. This has brought about a good amount of discussion as to the validity of ladies only classes and rather than debate on social media about it, I’m going to just lay out all my thoughts here.

img_2503-1> begin rant/sermon> First off: I am not a girl power feminist. I don’t believe we are the always the victims or entitled to extra special treatment. I believe in equality – but alike and equal are not the same things. I believe that it someone holds the door open for me, it’s polite to accept the gesture but I don’t demand it. I believe that if I want something badly enough, I will find a way to make it happen. I believe that, as a whole, women are stronger than they think they are – and that we should find our way to discover that. I believe that women should train in co-ed group classes. I believe that ladies only classes are a critical part of growing a strong ladies team. I also believe that these classes are extremely important to the growth of a martial arts gym as a whole. I don’t believe that Jiu Jitsu is for everyone: I believe everyone should try it, but it’s a special kind of (mostly good) crazy that sticks with it.

Main Points (if you want to skip the prelude/sermon)

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From my first month

Jiu Jitsu is an intimidating sport to begin with for anyone. And with the majority of classes at my academy being roughly a (generous) 10:3 ratio of men and women, it is safe to call it a male dominated sport. A lone woman walking into a Jiu Jitsu class for the first time has extra layers of worry to combat. The mere offering of a ladies class makes it seem much more of an inviting environment as a whole.

After doing this for so many years I sometimes forget how intimate and vulnerable it is – and especially with how American society seems to sexualize any sort of physical contact; especially between men and women. A ladies only class helps bridge this gap – familiarizing us with the movements and terminology while easing in the concept of physical contact. After training for a little while, you understand that it’s not a sexual thing and it becomes a non-issue.

This is magnified for many women who have been survivors of abuse – be it sexual, physical, or emotional. I know many who try to use Jiu Jitsu as a form of exposure therapy to help combat their PTSD: to feel safe and in control of themselves again. The beginning phases of learning Jiu Jitsu – getting dominated and smashed for an hour or more at a time – is a hot zone for panic attacks, flashbacks, and other trauma related reflexes. This is not something she may ever want to voice to her team mates, she might just disappear without a word. Having a ladies only class available can create a sense of therapeutic safety for these individuals.

img_2862-1On the lighter side: it can be super refreshing to just have a break from the testosterone. I worry that I might begin growing a beard from all the man sweat that has been soaked into my system. Ladies tend to be much more social in the Jiu Jitsu community than are the men – call us pack animals if you will. Even though most of my main training partners are men, I always find it refreshing to spend quality time with other Jiu Jitsu ladies.

IMG_3351For personal or religious reasons, some individuals do not train with members of the other gender. For the men, this isn’t that big of an obstacle since they can easily train an entire class only partnering with other men. I have several wonderful team mates who do not roll with me and respectfully bow instead of shaking hands – I just return the gesture and carry on. For women, since there are fewer of us (sometimes one or none in a group class), co-ed classes classes may not be a consistent viable option. However with a good ladies only class, these individuals can have the opportunity to train as well if they wish.

For Beginners Only?

IMG_1300I don’t believe that a ladies only class should consist of only beginners who are passing through a way station to the co-ed class. I want my class to be a place where we can grow together and then go out and destroy the guys with our awesome powers of angles and leverage. I want to keep it applicable for both the day one beginner, and the long time veteran.

To the men who have supported this new class and program – thank you for seeing the big picture! To the women who are invested in helping it to grow – you are the reasons we do this.

Current Class Times:

Fridays @ 12:30 with Madison

Sundays @9:30 with Nicholle

After we move to the new facility we will probably shift the Sunday class to later in the day since we will have our own room and fewer things to schedule around.

Inconceivable!

Last week something happened that got me all kinds of riled up. I still don’t even get why someone would try to do this, but they did. This is the tale.

The Nashville IBJJF Open is coming up this weekend and everyone is doing their final prep work and weight cuts. I am one of those people who check the registration list several times a day to see if any new ladies have signed up in my division. For the longest time it was just myself, and one of my team mates. I signed up for master 1 and she signed up for adult – so we could share the love with as many people as possible in the open weight class divisions.

Finally, someone else signed up in my weight class, but in the adult division. So I just moved back to the adult division for the match up. Another lady signed up to make us three. We all know and have fought with one another before and it amazes me how hard we can work to kill each other while still being friendly.

It was looking like it would just be us three when a fourth lady signed up the day before the registration deadline, and I  was super excited (one of the guys at the gym said I was like a kid at Christmas) until one of my team mates commented. “What her? Didn’t she get her brown belt last month?

A quick look at her accounts and confirmed that she had indeed been promoted the previous month. My rage set in as I debated on what I should do. I decided to give the benefit of the doubt and waited until after the athlete correction deadline – just in case it was a paperwork or registration mistake. With that deadline past, I sent an email to the IBJJF along with screen shots and photos. Here was my closing statement:

“I hate accusations but if this is true, it is disrespectful to the other opponents in the division as well as her team, coach, and the spirit of Jiu Jitsu. If I am wrong in this accusation, I will personally apologize to “_______” and to you all for making you invest time in looking into this.”

A day later, I received a short reply thanking me for my email and to let me know they were looking into the matter. I also then heard from one of the other ladies in the division who had noticed the same thing I had. Her team head was looking into it as well.

So she ended up getting pulled from the competition. I don’t know what happened at that end of the discussion, but I don’t really care to dig into it.

Here’s what I don’t get…

There aren’t an overwhelming surplus of ladies in my area that are above blue belt. I think we have three female black belts within a 2 hour driving radius. It is a small, close knit community with good camaraderie and sportsmanship all around. I don’t understand how someone could think that we wouldn’t notice that someone was cheating. Whatever the intention, mis-representing your belt rank is cheating.

I fought a brown belt when I was a blue belt, but it was an open division and there were no shadow games going on. I will stress that I don’t care what actual belt rank someone is; I will fight whoever wants to slap hands with me. However, someone who cheats in this way, does not deserve a match.

I also can’t get over how someone would go back and put on their old belt when they spent all that time, sweat, blood, and tears to earn that new rank. It is just a piece of cloth, but the value is priceless because of what I have spent to earn it.

In case you couldn’t tell, I purposefully left the name, and team affiliation out of this post. It has been dealt with and I don’t see the point of spreading internet filth. Think of this as a “Big Sister is always watching” cautionary tale.

Winning Through Failure

I remember when I first started training and everything was just so hard. I got smashed every round and it seemed like everyone around me picked up techniques ten times faster than I did.

I failed a lot.

We seem to celebrate wins and try to forget the failures. Part of me loves the feeling of getting completely destroyed in class; knowing that I went through a hard thing and came out alive on the other side. Winning rounds is nice, but that’s not the only point of training in class. I train to be better the next day – and to do that, I have to put myself in an opportunity to fail.

I like to compete as well, and I would rather fail in class than on the competition mat. In class, we are working and studying together for our exam. I’m alone on the competition mat, but the preparation in class will make or break the final result.

As a purple belt, I’m kind of in the middle ground now of the ranks. I could go a whole class and do nothing but dominate, depending on who I roll with. That is the easy to do, and sometimes I need to do that to remind myself of how far I have come in the last 7 years. When I get serious about competing though, I have to seek out people who are better than me in order to push through my limits and set new ones.

My current competition goals?

Next month we have the IBJJF Nashville Open here in town. We won the team award at the July event, and we need to all work hard to defend our home turf.

In January I am going to the UAEJJF Abu Dhabi Grand Slam and then going straight from there to either the European Championship or the Fujairah Open. I haven’t hashed that out completely yet.

In February, the UAEJJF Mexico National Pro is in Mexico City and then the South America Continental Pro is in Bogota, Columbia.

March: IBJJF Pans will be some time in Los Angeles

April: UAEJJF World Pro in Abu Dhabi

May/June: IBJJF World Championship in Los Angeles

There will be others but that’s all I have for now. Should be enough to keep me occupied! I started my new job as a Massage Therapist working at a spa just two nights a week. It’s enough to pay for my bills and save up for airfare to events – while letting me train full time again. I just finished morning training and am gonna go for a bike ride and recover a bit before evening classes begin.

July Japan Itinerary

It has been a very busy last few weeks! I am getting ready to compete at the IBJJF Nashville Open, and then leaving the week after that for the UAEJJF Tokyo Grand Slam event.

As of right now, I am registered for the master division at the Nashville Open. However, I have a team mate who may take over my spot and I’ll move to the adult division (I prefer it there anyhow!)

I am starting to stress a little bit over the lack of opponents signed up for the Tokyo Grand Slam. There are a good number of ladies signed up for the next weight class down, but I don’t think I could make 55 kg (121 lbs) without ending up in a hospital. A lot of jobs in Japan pay monthly at the end of the month, so I’m sure after payday there will be more people signing up! Worst case scenario, according to their guidebook purple belt ladies can be combined with the brown/black division; which would be a great opportunity for me to get a preview of things to come!

At any rate, this is my planned itinerary for the Japan trip.

July 22: Leave straight from work for the airport and catch the last flight of the day to L.A.

July 23: Depart from L.A. for Manila

July 24: Arriving in Manila in the evening, check into hotel and wander around for a few hours before passing out.

July 25: Depart Manila in the morning and arrive in Tokyo early afternoon. Check into hotel, shower, and walk around at an easy pace. Goal is to stay awake until at least 8 pm.

July 26: Take train to Kamakura, enjoy the beach and the local sights. Goal is to get enough sun to help reset my internal clock, without getting burnt.

July 27: Hike Mt. Takkao and just wander around in the mountains. Might get some Onsen action.

July 28: Weigh ins are this evening. Activity levels leading up to weigh ins will depend on how my weight is after the hiking adventure the previous day. After weigh ins, I will eat Okonomiyaki and rest.

July 29: Competition day – gonna kick some butt! After competing I will go get a Waygu beef bowl and then visit Monster Ice for some shaved ice desert.

July 30: Take train to Kawaguchiko area and check into new hostel. Explore the five lakes area and take in the scenery.

July 31: Get up early to catch the first bus to the Mt. Fuji 5th Station. Ascend at a leisurely pace and reach the summit mid-afternoon. Spend at least an hour at the summit before descending. Onsen time that evening.

August 1: Early afternoon departure flight from Tokyo to Manila. 4 hour layover before continuing on to L.A. – arriving late evening.

August 2: Flight back home to Nashville

August 3: Morning training, then back to work at my job in the afternoon. Caffeine may be required.

 

A few weeks after returning from this trip, I will be making an exciting career change. I have reactivated my Massage Therapy license and will be working out of my YMCA. I currently work at the front desk there and can’t be an employee and contractor at the same time – so I’ll be hitting the new gig full steam out the gate! My oldest nephew is planning to be visiting me around this time as well – so it will be an awesome month! So far I am planning to compete at the Master World Championships as well, but I will have to wait and see how business and finances are panning out around then.

Abu Dhabi – Days 4 and 5

Day 4 began with an early arrival at the competition venue.  Since I am not a brown belt yet, I was not able to enter the competitor area to help my crew warm up, so I wandered into the spectator area and found some more of my Jiu Jitsu family to mesh with.

Usually at these multiple day events, I end up zoning out by the last couple of days. Not so here! I was so inspired and impressed by the matches that I stayed focused throughout the whole day. I was super proud of my friends and team mates who were competing today, and it only inspired me to keep getting better and come back stronger next year!

 

After everyone was done, our little group decided to mosey over to the Grand Mosque a short taxi ride away from the competition venue.

I had gotten a lot of questions from people about my visit to the Emirates. The top question I received was “don’t you have to wrap up and wear the scarf?” My response was, “No, I’m not muslim. I will however wear one if I visit a mosque – that’s just the respectful thing to do.” Just like doing the ritual cleansing before visiting a shrine in Japan – I need to respect the culture I have chosen to immerse myself into.

That rabbit trail aside, yes, they do have appropriate ladies apparel available at the entrances to the Grand Mosque. First I went through a small security screening and then I was directed toward the room where they had a long rack full of clothes available to lend. It was a bit chaotic in the room so I just grabbed one off the rack and put it on over my clothes and headed outside to meet the guys.

The mosque was breathtaking.

 

Abu Dhabi Grand Mosque

Everything was in beautiful symmetry and I could feel the peacefulness of it, even in the throngs of fellow tourists who were wandering all over the place. It was a shoes off area as well, so it was nice to walk around in bare feet. We were there just before sunset and the lighting was amazing. At sunset, the call to prayer was sung and I just observed and soaked up the atmosphere.

Tips for visiting:

  • Remember you are visiting a sacred space for many people. Even if it is not a sacred space for you, be respectful as a visitor.
  • Don’t sit on the floor or on any steps.
  • Don’t walk in the central plaza. During the call to prayer, worshipers can walk on it on their way to the inner mosque. This does not apply to visitors and the security officers will stop you. (note examples in video)
  • Women need to keep their head covering on. Yes it can get warm when you are layering on the extra loaner abaaya. My recommendation is to dress appropriately from arrival and then you will not need to use the loaner.
  • There are descriptions of proper attire for men and women available on the mosque website. One of the guys in my group had to roll down his shorts to a more acceptable length.

Day 5:

img_2756This began with a taxi ride to my friends hotel where we all met up and ordered a taxi for a ride to the beach. A good number of the beaches in Abu Dhabi are private beaches for hotel guests only – however there are public beaches available. We were dropped off at Corniche beach which is for families. It cost about $3-4 USD to get in and then you can rent an umbrella and buy food and snacks there.

Corniche Beach - Abu Dhabi

It was like something straight from those fancy travel brochures that I sometimes drool over longingly. We hung out in the water for a while and then relaxed under the umbrellas.

After a few hours at the beach, our group split up with the guys heading back to the hotel for a desert safari, and the ladies going to the competition venue to watch the black belt finals matches.

The Competition:

Words can not describe how inspiring it was to witness the whole package deal of the black belt finals at the World Pro. The quality of the venue and promotion was just beyond what I’ve ever seen before. And what you see up on the big screen (that’s not an insert!), is shown on nationwide television live and replay. I am definitely going to be returning next year to compete!

It was interesting that 2 out of 5 of the ladies brown/black belt divisions were won by brown belts. With the growth I have witnessed in ladies Jiu Jitsu the last several years, I imagine it will not be too long until the brown and black belts will be separated. It’s quite recent that purple belts are separated from the brown and black belts – and those divisions stand on their own now.

img_2774After the last match, Itzel and I were quite hungry and went back to my hotel to try the dinner buffet. It was about $30 USD (he gave us the discount for first visit) and it was VERY good and worth it! I really loved all the little deserts that we proceeded to rank. I liked the carrot cake and flan best! Itzel went back to her hotel and I tanked out. It would be a long day the next day for me – changing hotels and then departing for the desert safari. Coming up next post!

Abu Dhabi Days 2 and 3

So I’ve already shared my perspective on the competition (read it here!) so now I will share a little bit about all the rest of the stuff surrounding the competition.

img_2606Finishing Day 1: After I competed, I went back to my hotel room. I was soooo hungry, but my need for sleep won out over the need for food. So I just downed a bunch of water and passed out from about 5 pm until midnight. I then looked at the clock, rolled over, and went back to sleep until 5:30 am. I did have the foresight to purchase food from a grocery store on the way to my hotel, so I inhaled a bunch of fruit and a rice biryani.

Day 2: My friend, Itzel, invited me to come train that morning with her. She needed to get some light rounds in with someone who wouldn’t break her – so I took a cab to meet up with her at the officers club where all the cool kids (aka black belts) were housed. They had matted out what looked to be a racketball court and it was just an open mat of awesomeness. I saw a lot of people I knew and surprised a few team mates (I’m talking to you DJ and Mike) who did not know I was competing. Of course, it was the black belt hotel so I was basically a minnow in a room full of killer sharks. And of course I loved every minute of it! After training we had food and just hung out for a bit before I started getting sleepy (stupid jet lag), and decided to take a cab back to my hotel.

Side Note: taxis in Abu Dhabi and Dubai are super convenient and cheap! I’d pay under $5 for a 15 minute ride. Cheap even by my standards! Most all of the drivers speak a good amount of English and I would just show them on google maps where I wanted to go and then off we went. The drivers generally do not talk with you other than to verify where you want to go and then to tell you the cost at the end of the ride.

 

Day 3: I met up with Itzel at the competition venue (we were hang out buddies this trip). She wanted to watch the country qualifiers because she would be competing against the winner on the following day. This was also her day for weigh ins so we waited around for that and met up with a few other friends who were also weighing in. She was good for weight and then we went and grabbed a bit of food from the trucks outside the venue. I got a shawarma – what kind I have no idea. I just told them to make it good because I was hungry. They delivered!

If you are a lady competing in Abu Dhabi, you are required to wear a bodysuit’esque style undergarment under your gi for weigh ins and competition. I squeaked through with just a rash guard, but apparently if your rash guard rides up you will be disqualified on the spot. The organization does have approved one piece suits available that you can purchase, and I know a lot of the ladies choose to wear a one piece bathing suit. So… bring on the wedgies!

So closes this chapter. For days 4 and 5, I will talk about competition results for everyone, a visit to the Grand Mosque (yes, I wore the veil), the grand finale of black belt matches on the big stage, a beach visit, and some cultural observations. I’ll then devote an entire post just to the desert safari adventure  before moving on to Dubai. So until then, here’s a teaser!

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Abu Dhabi World Pro Recap

I just made it back to the states after a very interesting 10 days in the United Arab Emirates. I will work on a few other blog posts detailing some of the non-competition experiences (food, desert safari, shopping in local markets, etc) – for now I will just be sharing about my adventures leading up through the competition event itself. So… prepare yourself for informal story time!

I booked my flight before the schedule was solidified, so I ended up arriving in the Abu Dhabi airport at around 3 am local time on the day I was to compete. No day before weigh ins for me – so I was very hungry and thirsty. Female hormones decided to time their surge during this critical stage, so I did not have the planned wiggle room for my weight.

I hung out at the airport for about 5 hours, charging my devices and staring with thirst envy at everyone else who happened to take a sip from a water bottle in my vicinity. Occasionally, I would stroke my bag of sports drinks and whisper a “soon my precious, soon”. When time finally came for me to make my way to the venue for weigh ins, I purchased a metro card and made my way out to the bus stop along with my suitcase and bag. I missed the proper metro stop and therefore ended up walking about 1.5 miles in the desert heat, dragging my suitcase over cobblestone (R.I.P suitcase). When I finally arrived at the competition venue and weighed in, I was a full pound under weight thanks to that desert stroll – so all’s well!

I had about 90 minutes before my division was set to begin, so I proceeded to down a bottle of electrolyted liquid and lie down with my feet up in the warm up area. At this point the giddiness began to kick in because I realized I had made it happen and I was really going to get to go out and compete.

img_2551My match was meant to be the 5th one in my division, but since it was the first match that the coordinator found, it got bumped to the first event of the day! So this means being escorted past the curtain out to the side of the mat while the tv commentators are talking and the crowd is starting to rumble in the background. I was grinning like a fool. So happy to be there after all the work I put in to make it happen. This was going to be me showing my best game.

Finally, the referee gives the motion to start the match and everything else fades away to a pinpoint of focus. I go from grinning fool to focused animal in the drop of a hand. My opponent came at me with fury and powerful technique. I responded instinctively, just doing what I know how to do (so many inversions!). When we reached 1 minute left I looked at the scoreboard and saw that I was up 2 advantage points and could coast the last bit if I wanted. However, that is how I missed out on a finals match in Cincinnati, so I kept going. My opponent knew she only had to pass my guard in order to advance to the next round and I could feel her determination and drive. Suddenly I saw an opening and managed to lock in a submission, rolling to mount to finish in the last 30 seconds of the match. It was honestly one of my proudest matches. It was a war from beginning to end with a worthy opponent whom I would love a chance to match up with again!

I was as elated and made my way back to the holding area when the adrenaline dump kicked in like it never has before. That along with the lack of sleep and recovery time hit all at once. I was very close to throwing up and had to lie down on the floor with my legs elevated. Thankfully since I ended up being the first match of the day, they had to process through the rest of my division before they came back to me again. It was a full 30 minutes before I could sit up without nearly blacking out and I have not been that close to backing out of a match before. However, I owed it to my first opponent to continue on and do my very best! So once I could sit up, I focused on projecting a strong solid front to any of my opponents who might be watching me. Just because I feel like I’m going to pass out, doesn’t mean I need to let people see that.

My name was called for my second match and I kept that mask on as I went out. I wish there was a triumphant resolution to this tale, but alas, I was immediately pulled into a triangle and had to tap to the pressure on my neck. I kept the mask on afterwards, thanked my referee and made my way back to find ice for my neck.

All in all, this was one of my favorite tournament experiences and it was an honor to participate in it! I also earned enough points to be ranked #6 in North America! I will be back. What I will do differently next time is just book a flight arriving much earlier so that I can have time to do the day before weigh ins and recover more completely. Mentally I was more focused than I have in the past year – I feel like I am starting to be confident in my game again. I will continue to improve and make myself better every day. My next goal will be to hit as many of the Grand Slam events as possible (Tokyo is in July), and also to wreck some havoc at Master Worlds.

Motivation

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!

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.

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.

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