When and why did you start BJJ?
I started training in June 2015. I get asked why I started BJJ quite a lot and I don’t really have a good answer! I had fancied trying MMA/BJJ for a while before I started training, maybe because I’d seen MMA on TV and I had always loved play fighting. I waited until I could actually afford it – a.k.a. not a skint student – before I opted for BJJ over MMA. I thought it would be less awkward going to a BJJ class for the first time and not knowing anything, compared to going to MMA class and not knowing any stand up, wrestling or BJJ! I also thought it would be less physically traumatic – y’know, not getting punched in the head or anything like that!
Did you have any previous martial arts experience? What was it?
I did Muay Thai for about 6 months when I was 14, but stopped because I began playing a more football and rugby! I didn’t do any sport for about 7 years after leaving school, before I started BJJ.
What do you love about BJJ?
I like how hard it is – both mentally and physically – and the variety that comes with BJJ. I probably make it physically harder then it needs to be, but I can’t help sparring like I’m in the final of a competition! I also love how it developes strength, stamina, balance, co-ordination, flexibility and weight distribution. Mentally I love it because it’s such a technical sport. I’m always thinking over techniques or my lastest sparring session/comp – why did they catch me in they same submission three times in a row? Why does a move work on person X but it doesn’t on person Y? What’s that half guard sweep I forgot again? Which hand do I grab the sleeve with? Am I mixing up two sweeps again? I like how much variety there is in bjj (if I was just doing one move/technique all night, everyone would react different, I would have to alter the technique slightly for different body types, for just one move there is so much variety, and then there are so many moves and counter-moves from there).
Where do you train?
Enigma gym in Blackpool (which is part of Lucio Sergio BJJ lifestyle) under Paul Rice. It’s quite an experienced gym – there are probably more black/brown/purple belts put togther than white belts. It’s also quite a laid back gym compared to some others (practitioners can wear any colour/type of gi; you don’t have to call him Professor Paul; we always have music on; sparring/yoga often continues after classes; we have a good laugh at training aswell- so if training hasn’t gone well at least I’ve had a laugh!) When I started I was the only female training there, now there’s two other women who train and two girls who have now started coming to the adults class!
What would you tell yourself when you first started BJJ?
How addictive it is and how much it would take over life and totally change my routine! And that it’s going to be a million times more testing than I ever imagined!
You’ve done quite a few fight camps/seminars, what were they like?
All very different (some have hotels, some are sleeping in the mats, some are one teacher, some have multiple, some are girls only, some are mixed). First one I went to was in Copenhagen, to womens only camp when I’d been training a few months. There was probably about 40 women there from all over Europe. A few of the sessions were split beginners and advanced and then we would do specific sparring in lightweight and heavyweight. These sessions were really good for me, as I am used to sparring with men most of the time so being able to practice with around 10 people of similar weight and ability was great!
Then I went to Chichester with Walter Barnes to train with Jack Magee (not really a camp though). Joined in the classes at Jacks gym ‘mad hatters’. Really enjoyed it down there because Jack taught a lot of different things to what I had seen before, (and as he’s very flexible, so some stuff that was good for me). Was nice to see some different stuff as I had just been doing the basics up to that point.
I lived in Cardiff for 6 weeks and trained at Rob Taylor’s (again not really a training camp). Was really good training down there, and there was a lot of girls to train and a lot of them were really into competing as well. Also good because could train at other gyms in CRA, and went to a Braulio Seminar and CRA Swansea which was really good.
I then went to Fighting Fit Girls Camp. This was good as it was local to me and I had the opportunity to try Judo, Muay Thai and MMA, as well as BJJ. I also recently went to Brighton Camp with Braulio and Daniel Strauss. They taught both a gi and no-gi seminar, all of which were very good! Also I had to attend a strength & conditioning session which ran way beyond the boundaries, to the usual exercises/warm ups we normally do at the gym. I just got back from training in Tenerife at Ben Poppletons gym, was really good. Spent most of the week looking at one particular concept – this was really good as it allowed it to sink in more, and gave me more confidence to try pulling it off. I first took part in a camp so I could train with other girls. I like to train with other girls as much as possible, mainly just because I have a lot fairer sparring matches against other girls. But after I’d done a few I started to like them because I enjoy training with people from different gyms (as I get to try my technique on someone who has been taught differently, and I get to meet other BJJ people). I also like experiencing different teachers (it means that I can learn different things and have things I already know and do explained from a different point of view).
You’ve rolled with Mackenzie Dern – tell me about that!
I was probably only about 3 months in, can’t really remember it!
How do you find competition?
I get sooooo nervous on the day of competitions, to the point where table staff, refs, other coaches have asked if I’m ok! I don’t really have a before comp routine (drilling, listening to music etc.), so I tend to just be walking/sat about getting nervous! Then as soon as I start sparring I feel fine, I think all of the nervousness comes out as aggression when I compete. Sometimes between fights I get nervous again, but not normally as bad as at first; probably because I’m exhausted at that point! I do really enjoy competing (if I didn’t I would have done as many since May) but I’m not sure how/why I enjoy them as spend most feeling sick with nerves! It’s also good for meeting other female competitors and seeing/catching up with BJJ people! I also like seeing my team mates compete.
Where would you like to see yourself, in terms of jiu-jitsu, in a year’s time?
In the next year I would like to do an IBJJF comp (and won gold!). I also want to learn to love the positions and techniques that I don’t like now.
Written by Emily Smyth
Edited by Bryony.
Until next time,