Saturday Spotlight

Spotlight Saturday: Samantha Oram



  1. When and why did you start BJJ?

I started jiujitsu on the 6th of January 2016 and it was totally a random decision to start BJJ. I was always asked to start by one of the girls on the team (Sara), who has been there since the class started, but I never thought I would ever stick to it. This is especially true with the gym being about an 40 minute long car journey; but the journey seems to get shorter and shorter every time I drive there!

2. Did you have any previous martial arts experience? What was it? 

I had no other martial art experience whatsoever, apart from my boyfriend being a high level MMA fighter. I had watched lots of MMA fights with him, and had the odd play fight when he gets annoying! When I was younger I used to do dancing, and lots of horse riding I used to own my own horse, but other than that, no other sporting/martial arts experience.

3. What do you love about BJJ?

I love everything about BJJ, it is so interesting and confusing at the same time, but the thing I love the most has to be competing.

4. Where do you train? Tell me about your gym/training partners. What makes it special?

I train at The Dungeon BJJ and MMA academy. It is in my opinion the best gym in the U.K and the results from everyone on the team prove it. They are 3 gyms altogether, but the main gym is based in Sunderland. The other two gyms are based in Thornaby and Consett. The head coaches are Aaron Naisbet and Sean Colfer, who are both black belts. Even though there are 3 gyms at 3 locations, we are all one big gym/family.

My training partners are mostly all female; we have a huge and successful ladies team based in Sunderland, with 10 ladies in total. We all have such a great bond together and always so supportive towards each other in everything we do. 8 out of 10 of us have competed and done amazingly well, especially Rebecca Purvis who is only 15. She competed against a girl of a higher belt, and won gold and silver at the Europeans last month. There’s also Sara Colfer who is the first female from our team to medal in an IBJJF competition, coming away with a silver after some very tough fights against highly skilled girls. I am proud of everyone in my team and so happy to have them all as training partners.


5. What would you tell yourself when you first started BJJ?

This is such a hard question! I would tell myself that you will find weird shape bruises in the strangest places haha! But seriously I would tell myself it is the best thing you would ever do and you will not look back!

6. What has been the hardest part of training BJJ for you?

Having a full time job is the hardest part because all I want to do is train! I recently changed jobs so I could train more regularly and get into a routine, as my old job I used have to work weekends and some days until 8pm, which meant I had to miss a night of training, whereas my new job is monday-friday 9-5. This means free weekends – more competitions waaahhooo!!!!

7. Have you competed? What do you like/hate about it?

I competed in my first competition on the 8th of May 2016 which was Versus Grappling in Newcastle and I loved it, I was sooooo excited! I love everything about competing, I never get nervous which I find strange as it is such a physical sport. I always get so excited to compete, from the moment I find a competition I can do, to the moment you slap hands on the mat.


8. What was the best BJJ-related memory from 2016?

I have lots of great memories this year, my highlights are when I got my first stripe in May at the Leon Amancio seminar at our gym; winning my first gold at the Blackpool Open; competing in the IBJJF; receiving my second stripe on the 14th of December, and being sponsored by Vicky Lynch of Additional Lengths Hair Extensions who helps me towards all my competitions. I wouldn’t be able to compete so much if it wasn’t for her help you will see me wearing ‘remi-catchet’ patches in the upcoming competitions representing her business.


9. Do you prefer gi or no-gi?

I prefer no-gi as I find it a lot easier for some reason I feel like I can move a lot more and a lot faster than I can in the GI! I always seem to do better in no GI at competitions which I find strange as we don’t have a no GI class for the ladies at my gym, the only time I get to do no GI is at open mat! I do love GI as though! It’s all great.

10. Is it hard being a female BJJ practitioner? Is there some things that you think are different to your male teammates?

I do think it can be hard for females, as I don’t think they get as much respect as males. For example I got a load of rubbish from a ref at my 3rd comp, at Empire, he mocked me losing my match, and he mocked my team mate for wanting to get a picture on her phone. That can put a girl off competing, and I can’t imagine him saying that to a male competitor! Males also have more weight classes and better prizes, but I have to say the BJJ competition’s are slowly growing for the women it be interesting to see what 2017 brings for us ladies!


11. What are your goals for 2017? Do you plan to compete?

My goals for 2017 are to do as many competitions as possible, and to do the absolutes as I have never done one before! I also want to get better in the GI at comps.

12. Take down or guard pull?

I don’t actually have a preference I just go with the flow, sometimes I might pull guard sometimes I might try for a takedown. I just wait and see what the other person gives me and react from that.


13. Where would you like to see yourself, in terms of jiu-jitsu, in a years time?

In a years time I would like to see myself competing in a couple of international competitions, going around the world meeting new people, attending one of Mackenzie Derns seminars, and I would also love to do the female bjj camps in Amsterdam.

Written by Samantha Oram,

Edited by Bryony.

Until next time,


Saturday Spotlight

Saturday Spotlight: Joe Butler



  1. How and why did you start BJJ?

I couldn’t find anywhere to wrestle in Lancaster, so decided to start BJJ! After a couple of years wrestling in Manchester while at uni there, (minus some time where I broke my leg after a dicky takedown), I was hooked on grappling. I was aware of BJJ through watching the UFC and having a few friends who were competing in MMA, however, I didn’t really know about submissions, or that whole side of the game that unfolds on the ground.

After university, I moved back to Lancaster, and there was about a year where I was doing no martial arts, just lifting and running, Then I discovered that Kieran [O’Brien, Kaizen co-founder], was putting on some MMA classes at Lancaster University Sports Centre, and out of boredom and a desire to fight, got involved. Shortly after that Kaizen begun, and I’ve been training BJJ exclusively ever since!


Joe at his old wrestling gym.
  1. What has BJJ come to mean for you since you started?

After starting with nothing but good fitness and the positional control that comes from wrestling, I’ve fallen in love with BJJ! Any kind of fighting/training to fight is fun, but the prolonged, smothering wars of attrition and limb chess just suits me down to a T. I enjoy it much more at this point, being good enough now to really experiment with no ego and string together far more stuff on the ground.


  1. How do you think it’s changed you (if it has)?

I’m aware, more than ever, of the huge distance in front of me in this BJJ journey. I’m excited about meeting people far ahead down that road, which, if anything, has been extremely humbling.


  1. What advice would you give yourself a year ago, if you could?

Experiment more, risk letting yourself get tapped in rolls more. Casual rolls are exactly when you should be out of your A game, testing new things, and getting beat all the time before you master it.


  1. Tell me about your gym/teammates

I train at Kaizen Academy, Lancaster. It’s a great group of people and a great atmosphere. There’s some people I’ve been growing with since I begun, who I compete alongside and have risen with together, each of whom provide a unique aspect as a training partner. I can always count on having rolling partners on my level, and those who are both more and less experienced. On top of that Michael Wood, our head BJJ coach, is pretty much everything I could ask for in a trainer; his extremely logical, almost video game like approach to BJJ, is something I really feel like I thrive under. Also, I guess like everyone who does BJJ for long enough the gym becomes a social hub too!


  1. What have been you best/proudest achievements to date?

Being one of the first “Kaizen” blue belts after a year obviously! Every competition gold… Not vomiting and quitting after getting kneed in the balls in the no-gi for the BJJ 24/7 NW Open, and then going on to get gold in the Gi!

Oh, and cutting my hair.

Joe winning gold at the NW Open
  1. You just got promoted to blue belt, talk about what that feels like.

It’s just a refocusing basically. This is the path I’m on, no doubt anymore. Time to think ahead and plan accordingly, work on new areas.


  1. What aspect of your game is the best?

Top pressure, guard passing. Things I learnt in my wrestling days and use to my advantage.

  1. What aspect do you need to work on?

Guard, leg stuff. I even pull guard now, something I would never have dreamed of a few months ago!

  1. Where do you want to be in a year’s time re: BJJ?

I want to have a series of wins under my belt (pun firmly intended) at blue.

  1. What’s your favourite sub/guard/sweep?

Sub: Americana

Guard: Butterfly-Half

Sweep: X-Guard

  1. Have you been to any seminars/other gyms?

I dabbled around some MMA gyms in Manchester for a little bit, and went to a couple of different classes here and there. I even trained for a few weeks in London while working the bar at a festival, under a really chill Brazilian black belt doing a class at a nearby gym. I’ve trained in some nice, friendly places, and in some more egotistical, stereotypical, “MMA douchebag” type places. Nowhere really has had the sheer breadth of experience and knowledge that I’ve found at Kaizen though.

  1. Gi or no-gi?

Probably no-gi, coming from a wrestling background, but Gi has really been growing on me lately. Lasso guard is pretty decent and I like me some bow and arrow chokes.

Joe training in the Gi
  1. What are you hoping to accomplish in the next calendar year?

Grow my hair back!

I want to move down a weight category so get down to 73.5kg. It would also be sweet to dominate some blue belt comps like I have white.


Written by Joe Butler,

Edited by Bryony.

With thanks to Laura Jenney Photography, James Karlsen-Davies, and others for the photographs.

Until next time,



General · Saturday Spotlight

Saturday Spotlight: Emily Smyth


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!

Em with various World Champions… y’know, as you do.

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,


General · Saturday Spotlight

Saturday Spotlight: August 2016



I had my first BJJ class about 18 months ago at The Forge Martial Arts Gracie Barra in Sheffield, under John Goldson, and I’ve never looked back. The gym recently changed ownership and our head coach is now Paul Cole, although the name has remained the same. I’ve been lucky enough over those eighteen months to train with all sorts of people, both at my own gym, at fight camps, and when visiting other gyms.

Maia 2

After being a white belt for just over a year, I was awarded my blue belt in March 2016 by John while we were in Tenerife at our club’s annual trip there to train with Ben Poppleton. It was a complete surprise and it took a while to get used to looking down when wearing the gi and seeing anything other than a white belt!

Maia 1
Having just been awarded my blue belt!

I had first started competing in October 2015. Since then I’ve competed in 12 more tournaments, taking 17 golds, 3 silvers and 1 bronze.

(Bryony’s note – I tried picking all her medals up at once when visiting Maia. Hint – I couldn’t).

I remember my first competition was a bit of a mess. I panicked, pulled guard and then sat there, didn’t even attempt a sub or sweep, because my brain just went blank! The adrenaline was crazy. Afterwards I remember thinking, ‘maybe competing isn’t for me…’, but I kept at it and eventually it all started coming together. I still get nervous, and competition day is always stressful as hell, but I’m starting to enjoy it a little more. This is mainly due to the fact that I have such an amazing team at The Forge who are unbelievably supportive, and who fight their hearts out on the mats alongside me at competitions. I think it’s also helped massively that the John Goldson style of jiu-jitsu is to cause as much discomfort and pain as possible, which has probably toughened me up! This coupled with the fact that the guys in our gym don’t discriminate against women in any way whatsoever and happily smash me up and down the mats on a regular basis!!! Paul hasn’t been my coach for very long but he’s already played a huge role in my competition prep and in the actual coaching during tournaments when he can sit mat side. I feel very lucky to train at such an amazing club.

Maia 4

I’ve met so many awesome people through the competition circuit, some of whom nominated me to join The Whisky Wolf #Matpack, which has been so much fun so far. Rich Harris has built a great brand and it really is an honour to represent it. The BJJ community is like one big, slightly odd, family, who show affection by trying to kill each other. Then after we’ve finished trying to do that for six or so minutes we hug it out and then go eat food! It’s always a really friendly atmosphere at the competitions I’ve been too, despite the fact we’re there to compete.

Maia 5
Hanging out with Emily Smyth at ADCC Stoke

I probably wouldn’t compete half as much if it wasn’t for Lawrence Dutton and the BJJ 24/7 team putting on so many well run tournaments up and down the country. The first of their Submission Grappling Series, which took place in February in Liverpool, was my favourite competition so far. I’m really looking forward to the next one on the 25th September where I will be competing in both the gi and no-gi divisions. Then there’s the North-West Open in Manchester, which is the last on their circuit this year.

As for the future; I just can’t see my life without jiu-jitsu in it. I love the fact that it’s a sport that has no age restrictions; people of all ages take part and there are highly respected BJJ players who are well into their seventh decade! You can do BJJ until the day you drop dead, which is what I intend to do. And if I can pick up a few more golds on the way then that would be awesome as well.

Written by Maia Holmes,

ed. Bryony

Car Wankers
Maia and I after the Kleos haul…

Until next time,



Saturday Spotlight

Saturday Spotlight: July 2016



When people find out I do Brazilian Jiu Jitsu, I often get asked why that sport in particular; what makes it special? Many people do not understand this martial art, some don’t even know what it is and some others feel it is too intimate; seeing people rolling around on the mats in very close quarters.

I, however, love it. I kind of fell into it so to speak, rather than making a calculated decision to start. I started out practicing a form self-defence at sixteen which segued into Sambo (a Russian martial art) for two years. I loved Sambo and my favourite part of the class was the hour long grappling session that usually happened at the end. No matter how battered or bruised I was for the following days, and even though I was one of the only girls in the class, I still looked forward to the next class. A few teachers even asked me if I was getting hit at home because of all the bruises! Naturally I told them that everything was fine!

Photos courtesy of Laura Jenney Photography

No one understood how a sixteen-year-old girl could enjoy such a sport and I was not able to communicate how good it made me feel. It wasn’t one of the “traditional” martial arts, which made it even more difficult to explain what it was. I had very big self-confidence and self-image issues and sambo started helping me to be more confident about who I was at 16 and who I was going to become. Sadly, we then moved to a country where I could not find a Sambo class, so I had to stop training. I tried many clubs, MMA and BJJ, in the various countries in which I found myself, but never felt comfortable in any of the clubs that found.

I finally found a home for my love of grappling when I moved to Lancaster, in the UK, at 23, where I would be studying at university. Kaizen Academy did not yet exist and the grappling classes were taking place at the Lancaster University’s sports centre. I showed up to one of the classes with little hope of liking it as the other has gone before, but boy was I wrong! When I stepped into that room everyone was so warm, friendly and welcoming and there were other girls there – several of them!

The teacher, Michael, taught his class bearing in mind not everyone had grappled before and I fell in love with grappling all over again. I had never had such a good session. As I found out throughout the class and others following, we were learning Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, and it was taught to us in such a comprehensive and obvious manner that it left me wondering why no one else has ever thought of teaching grappling in this way.

Cosima 3
Cosima at Open Mat

I am now 25 and practicing BJJ in a great community at Kaizen Academy, which opened in October 2015. My training partners are people who love training just as much as I do, if not more, and we are encouraged to experiment and discover things for ourselves – bring ideas to the open mat sessions and develop our own styles. When someone asks me now why I do BJJ I can finally give them an answer: This is my meditation and my therapy. Once I get on the mat, the stress and worries of life fade away and I can centre myself and recharge.

BJJ is like a game of chess – but sportier! BJJ has helped see that one cannot always use brute force (and that you don’t always have to!) and that, like in life, fitness and quick can help you more than over large muscles. On the mats respect for others reigns along with dedication, hard work, laughter and joy. Kaizen Academy is my second family and any woman, or man, struggling with confidence issues, or wanting to discover themselves, or learn how to defend themselves should definitely consider taking up BJJ. It has helped me in so many ways, more than I could describe, and I have a community of friends that I love.

Blog post written by Cosima, and edited by Bryony.

Signing off,

Cosima 4
Cosima and I