Becoming a Brown Belt World Champion 2016

Jiu Jitsu • Jun 21, 2016
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Just over a week ago one of my dreams became a reality. I became a brown belt World Champion – a task that even a year ago seemed laughable to me. It took a lot of hard work, and that win meant so much to me on a personal level.

Many of you have asked me and wondered why I chose to do rooster weight. I think it’s important for me to write about it as honestly as I can, and describe the weight cut and it’s implications both physically and mentally.

THE WEIGHT CUT

I had toyed around with the idea in my head for a few months. Over the last year I increased my training (2 hard sessions per day) and since I have a very active job as a physio, which makes my energy expenditure rather large. I have been walking around under my light feather fight weight for a year, without much effort. That’s whilst eating pizza couple of times a week and desert pretty much every night. So I thought that with cutting out the extras from my diet, I could lose a few kilos. I also wanted to test out the rooster weight division for when I eventually compete as a black belt. On a personal level, I wanted to prove to myself that I can do it. I wanted to be disciplined in all areas of my preparation for Worlds and I wanted to know just what I’m capable of mentally.

I am not a dietician, so I needed help and guidance from someone who really knew their stuff. I sit at a very low percentage normally, so I wanted to make sure it wouldn’t be detrimental to my health.  I consulted with a GP, I talked about it with Lachie, my parents and my sports psychologist Anthony Klarica. I then started working with Reid Reale from Combat Sports Nutrition (who is a BJJ black belt and an Australian Institute of Sport Dietitian and a PhD Candidate). After some calculations of calorie and nutrient requirements and a DEXA scan from the team at DEXA Melbourne to see exactly how much body fat I could lose, we decided that I could possibly make that weight.

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The cut was complicated by the fact that I competed at Abu Dhabi Pro 6 weeks before the Worlds. The lowest weight division in Abu Dhabi was 55kgs, so I spent a few months trying to bulk up. As soon as the competition was over, my 5.5 week journey to 47kg began.

Reid wrote a very detailed and personally tailored diet plan for me. I was to weigh myself each morning and we planned to adjust the diet as we went, depending on how my body responded. As predicted, I lost the weight and hit every weight goal for about 3 weeks. However, I got to 50kg and then my body would have none of it. I got to a very low body fat percentage and my metabolism slowed, which made the cut extremely difficult.

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Everyone enjoying burgers and I’m crying over a side of jalepenos

Lean and strong at the start of the cut

Lean and strong at the start of the cut

Mentally it felt good to be so committed to something and initially I really enjoyed the process. It made me focused, ready and I loved experimenting with different low calorie recipes. I made some delicious lunches and dinners and I maintained a high volume of food. However, slowly my attention turned to always thinking about my next meal and dreaming of things like toast and butter, which I never normally eat. I started getting a little shorter with people, it was harder to focus at work and it slowly became difficult to get out of 1st gear at training. It also became harder to give attention to others and be social. But I knew that this would happen, so I stayed focused and knew it was only temporary.

THE CAMP

Lachie and I left for New York 2.5 weeks before the Worlds. We met Demi, Margot and Jess in Brooklyn. Myself and the girls trained at Marcelo Garcia’s and Lachie trained at Unity.

The 2 week ‘camp’ was probably the hardest thing I have ever done in my life.

We are not normal

We are not normal

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Always so good to see Jess again!

Thats how Demi rolls... wet gi acting as a jacket. Whatever goes in NYC, right?!

Thats how Demi rolls… wet gi acting as a jacket. Whatever goes in NYC, right?!

Whilst I was training a lot and slowly cutting calories, my weight wouldn’t change. This was very stressful to me, as I sometimes wondered if I would make weight. I was so lucky to have Reid to chat to and reassure me to stick with the plan – as we changed my diet closer to competition, the weight would come off. I just had to trust the science.

Perhaps the hardest thing for me to stomach was how my personality changed and how it affected the people around me. I am usually a little selfish and focused on myself at Worlds camps, but this time, I was not the nicest person to be around to say the least. Lachie was an amazing partner and even though he hated to see me like that, he supported my choice without judgement, and I will be forever grateful for that. I just wish I got to be a better person for my lovely friends who stayed with me in NYC. It was a constant struggle to; a) not eat more whilst in starvation mode and, b) generally not be a horrible human being.

Training gradually got more and more difficult. I had very little energy, but had to keep the rolling up and was determined to never skip a session. My central nervous system was suppressed, so it was extremely hard to roll hard and feel myself. Again, I was aware that this would happen, so I only panicked occasionally, knowing that my Worlds prep does not happen 2 weeks before the fight, but a year out. In reality, I was ready weeks out from Worlds.

I have to give special thanks to so many amazing training partners. As I was getting lighter and had less strength, most people noticed it and matched the intensity whilst rolling. Jess, as always, was a wonderful and a supportive training buddy. She tore her bicep and was unable to compete at Worlds herself, but gave me her time regardless. Margot – the BJJ technician often flowed rolled with me when I couldn’t do much more. MG’s wonderful black belt in Megan Nevill was great to train with – she could have just smashed me every roll, but chose not to, and I will always treasure that. All the other girls at Marcelo’s – thank you for being so lovely and considerate even when I was at my lowest.

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Whilst I still had the energy, we got to do some fun things in NYC too. Lachie took me to see The Book of Mormon, which was the funniest musical I’ve ever seen.

times square book of mormon

I explored Central Park and went on countless walks around hipster Brooklyn listening to bad rap pumping out of the SUVs driving past and watching kids play basketball on the streets. I might have shopped just a little too much – as I couldn’t taste or try different foods and restaurants, I spent the money on coffee, shoes and active wear instead.

coffee brooklyn

All was on track until 1.5 weeks before the comp day, when I tore my lateral collateral ligament of the knee in training. Right there and then I thought my Worlds were over. I still cringe at the sound it made as it happened. I cried like a baby on the mats, but I was lucky to have the support of Jess, Demi and Margot who Ubered me home so Lachie could have a look at the damage. We didn’t think the knee was totally loose, and with enough luck I would recover in time to compete. I found it difficult to walk for about 3 days, so training was out of the question. Of course, I had to keep burning calories, so I bought a gym membership and whilst others did BJJ, I sat on a hand bike, bike and later on treadmill for an hour, 2 to 3 times a day. I have never hated life more than at that time. I had no idea if I would compete, I didn’t know if I would make weight, and on top of that sitting on a hand bike is possibly the most boring exercise known to planet earth.

Did I think of moving up a weight class at that stage? Of course I did. But I am stubborn and I have committed to following the plan through and through, and there was no way I was going to let 5 weeks of dieting go to waste.

5 days after the injury I drilled a little with Lachie to test out the knee. I cried standing up from closed guard, I cried when I just couldn’t make myself shoot a double leg as my knee felt unstable, I cried when I couldn’t triangle and I cried because I felt sorry for myself. Basically I was a big mess.

Drilling at Unity and hiding my sadness

Drilling at Unity and hiding my sadness

But each day, the pain subsided and the knee felt a little more stable and I thought with enough luck I would be ok. I kept drilling and sitting on that damn bike, and then 5 days out of fight day I flow rolled and managed to stay in one piece. There was still hope.

The weight was still not really coming off and I kept getting weaker and more annoying to be around. I remember I cried when I smelled chicken in a chicken shop… because I REALLY, REALLY wanted some fried chicken. I would also sneak into the kitchen to ‘gorge’ on chilies, kimchi and jalepenos. I sometimes felt guilty for having too much chewing gum as all calories counted at that stage. I also missed a train simply because I had no energy to keep up with normal walking pace. It was a sad, sad week.

Weight was not coming off and there was not much left to lose

Weight was not coming off, but I really didn’t have much left to lose

THE COMPETITION

We flew to Los Angeles 4 days before my fight and I was super excited for a change of scenery and also because I knew I only had 4 days until I could eat! Longbeach was a breath of fresh air and it was great to catch up with our Absolute teammates and stay in a super spacious loft. Finally, with 4 days to go, Reid changed my diet and I started to see the weight drop off as planned.

2 days worth of food - thanks Musashi!

2 days worth of food – thanks Musashi!

We trained at open mats hosted by The Jiu Jitsu League (Atos) each night, where I had my first real rolls and my knee help up relatively ok. Again, I was touched by how considerate some people were with me and rolled lightly and allowed me to build my confidence. Special mention goes to one of my idols Luiza Monteiro, who didn’t put any pressure on me where she had every right to, and encouraged me in every way possible.

On Friday, I watched my teammate Demi Butler win her first well deserved World Title in purple belt. Demi had a tough year but she went out there and showed the world just how good she really is. She is a beast in training and I cried happy tears with her as her hand was raised. 5 minutes later, Shantelle Thompson (another Absolute teammate), also won gold. She competed beautifully and it was her second World Title! I was totally inspired by these ladies and couldn’t wait for my own turn.

@ Macofoto

You did it Champ! @ Macofoto

The night before my comp day, I was allowed to eat a taco. And a snickers. And peanut butter. And so with the second mini snickers, my personality started to come back. I smiled. I wanted to fight. I was so ready to go.

After a late night consult with Reid, it was decided that I would do a 45 minute sweat session to dehydrate a little (no more than 1 kg), just so I could afford to eat more in the morning for breakfast. I will never forget the faces of my teammates as I run up and down the stairs and did hip escapes in a sauna suit.

As I went to bed that night, I was so damn proud of myself because I did it. I knew I would make weight. I knew I would compete despite my injury. And I also knew that not many people could get in the way of my dream the next day.

Here are some photos of me the night before the competition. I am extremely lean, but not dehydrated, not pumped and not photoshopped.

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I have prepared myself to possibly feel terrible on the day AND I knew that I might have to sweat some weight off if  woke up overweight. But I also knew that I only had 2 fights and I have trained in way worse conditions. I was ready to perform at my best, but feeling the worst. That’s what I trained to do for all these weeks.

I woke up super early because of jetlag, but felt great. I put my tracksuit on and went for a slow jog on the beach followed by an espresso. My body felt loose and my mind was sharp. I was focused and happy. I was scarily light (woke up 47kg and went down to 46.7kg later in the day), but with some carbs in me, I felt unbelievably strong for that size.

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I made weight easily and as soon as I got into the bullpen, it was game on. To wake up my central nervous system, I was slapping my cheeks hard and listening to loud music on my headphones. I was pretty aware of talking to myself, perhaps even out loud, but I couldn’t have cared less if anyone was listening or not. No one will ever know just what it took to get to there and no one could have possibly known how much I wanted that title. I wasn’t really nervous, but I was pumped and just wanted to fight. For the first time, I believed in me and backed myself 100% and it did not matter to me if anyone else did.

My first round started well with a clean guard pull. I played spider guard and looked for a sweep or a triangle. After a minute or so, I shot for a triangle, but couldn’t cut the angle to finish it as my knee hurt, so I switched to an arm-bar from inside the triangle set up and got a quick tap.

@ Luke Burnham

@ Luke Burnham

@ Luke Burnham

@ Luke Burnham

I felt like I had gas for days, so I was ready for my final as soon as I walked off the mats.

Lachie and I eating souls together before the final. Photo @ Luke Burnham.

Lachie and I eating souls together before the final.
Photo @ Luke Burnham.

We shook hands and double guard pulled. I quickly started attacking a foot lock, gaining 2 advantages after a few attempts at submissions. I contemplated coming up for 2 points, but I really wanted to finish. I decided to trust what I know and after a couple of minutes of grip fighting, I eventually adjusted my opponents foot under my armpit and won by a straight ankle lock – my signature ‘dolphin’ move.

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@ Luke Burnham

win back

@Luke Burnham

Liv win final

@Mike Anderson

Liv win

@Macofoto

The feeling of happiness, relief and personal achievement that I felt in that moment is hard to put into words. This World Title was the hardest of them all, due to the preparation, the injury and the mental battle with the weight cut. I celebrated big and wore my heart on my sleeve.

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@Mike Anderson

Hugging Lachie after my win was the best feeling in the world. We are a team and the medal is as much his as it is mine. He has been there every step of the way and sharing the moment with him was priceless.

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@Luke Burnham

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@Macofoto

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3 gold medalists from Absolute MMA - a remarkable achievement!

3 gold medalists from Absolute MMA – a remarkable achievement!

THE AFTERMATH

After the medal presentation and letting my family and Reid know that I made weight and won, it was time to eat. We drove to In n Out Burgers, and I ordered pretty much everything. The scariest thing was that nothing tasted like anything but sugar and salt. And it was delicious, yet terrible at the same time.

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After everyone was done competing, we drove to Compton to Hawkins House of Burgers, which was an interesting experience in itself. I should have stopped eating then, but I needed a Ruby’s Diner Reece’s Pieces shake as it’s my tradition after winning Worlds. It’s fair to say I felt ill, bloated and my stomach was in all sorts of pain. But it was so worth it!

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For the next 2 days Lachie and I stayed in Koreatown, hung out, relaxed and ate some amazing food. We felt so gross that we ended up training at Cobrinha’s – it is always such a pleasure to visit the academy and catch up with everyone.IMG_3333IMG_3312 IMG_3323

I was 3 kgs heavier the next day and my face looked less gaunt. Within 2 days of eating, I was back to my normal light feather weight. It took me 3-4 days for my stomach not to ache every time I ate, and it was interesting to see my joints swell up in the first 2 days after the win.

I know I had a lot of people worried about me and my health in the past few weeks, which is fair enough. What I did was very extreme and I would encourage anyone thinking about cutting weight to consult a doctor and a dietician.

To answer some of your questions:

  1. I do not have an eating disorder.
  2. I do not have body dysmorphia.
  3.  I didn’t enjoy the way I looked being so lean.
  4.  I didn’t like not having the energy for life during the cut.
  5. I am back to my normal weight now.
  6. I still love and enjoy food and training.
  7. I didn’t get sick during or after the weight cut.
  8. I am wholeheartedly happy.

Would I do it again?

Probably not, or at least not anytime soon.

Was it worth it?

It was, in every possible way.

I stand by that, even if I didn’t happen to win gold. The cut allowed me to get data on how my body responds to different foods and diet and from there I will be able to extrapolate what’s the best way to do it in the future, should the need arise.

Most importantly, the process has taught me what I’m made of. The amount of discipline and self-belief I needed to get there was huge. I had to get out of my comfort zone and dig very deep both physically and mentally. It has made me care less about the opinions of others and highlighted the importance of a good team around me.

It has taught me that I am a tough woman and a fierce competitor, and that despite various obstacles, I can put myself in the ‘zone’ and do my job. Finally, it allowed me to experience the joy of winning a World Championship, and nothing and no one can ever take that away from me.

Abu Dhabi World Pro 2016

Uncategorized • May 8, 2016

Even though I only got back 2 weeks ago, it feels like a lifetime! I am so focused on Worlds that it’s hard to look back, but when I do, I have nothing but smiles and great memories from this year’s World Pro.

I decided to leave a few days earlier than everyone to get some good training in Dubai and Abu Dhabi. My travel companion Margot kept me company the whole time – whether it was training, bolo-ing, joking around, shopping, eating and riding magic carpets.

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magic carpet

We were lucky enough to train at Nougeira’s team in Dubai and catch a couple of sessions  coached by Leo Vieira. I got to roll with some great black belts and sharpen up my game with drills. We met so many friendly and wonderful people there, but special thanks go to Eric Ramsey for looking after us, taking us around Dubai and driving us to Abu Dhabi.nougerasdubai

My favourite training was a competition session with Mackenzie Dern, Braulio and Davi Ramos. I feel pretty lucky to have shared the mats with these legends, let alone to have trained with them.

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When Lachie and the rest of the team arrived I had another fantastic training session, rolling with Lachie and Tingy and work-shopping some ideas with the lovely MG crew.

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I was so excited to compete this year. As a new brown belt in a brown/black division, I didn’t feel much pressure, but my goals were to be tenacious and aggressive and give it my all. I entered open weight, knowing that if my first round was going to be too large or dangerous I would scratch. I drew a seasoned black belt who passed and choked me easily, but I came away uninjured and inspired. It was a wonderful feeling sharing the warm up mats with my idols and also with fellow Aussie brown belts Hope and Kate. We all improved a lot in the last few years and Aussie BJJ is going from strength to strength.

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The next day I was ready to fight my weight division. I was a little more nervous, which is great as I fight better that way. Again, I drew a Bazilian black belt and I knew if I beat her I would get to fight my favourite BJJ fighter Michelle Nicolini. That was a massive motivator to go out hard and leave everything on the mats!

I pulled spider guard, eventually working my way to a half guard with a good underhook ready to sweep. I came up with a single leg but couldn’t finish so I retracted back to single x. From there I tried hard to get foot locks, to no avail and finally went to 50/50. With a minute to go I wanted a sub or sweep, but nothing close eventuated. I felt in control the whole time and I think I did more, however I was still surprised when the decision went to me. I got used to losing ref’s decisions, so understandably I was very happy to have a win at such a big stage.

Photo by Jude Abadi

Photo by Jude Abadi

I achieved my goal of winning my first fight and as predicted my quarter final round was against Michelle. I was probably a little too star struck, but feel very fortunate to have had this experience so early in my brown belt career.

Michelle played her famous shin on shin guard and I never got the grips I wanted, which resulted in me getting triangled.

I am convinced next time I will do better and as always I have learnt so much from the experience.

Here is a highlight of the under 55kgs brown/black division from Abu Dhabi.

I am back home now, and all focus is on Worlds. We leave for NYC in 1.5 weeks and I have never felt more driven as I am now. I am training hard 2 x a day with full intensity, I’m resting well and my diet is on point thanks to Reid Reale from Combat Sports Nutrition.

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I cannot wait to compete at the Mundials… I’m pumped and ready.

As usual thank you to my sponsors:

MA1 Apparel

Absolute MMA

Musashi

DEXA Melbourne

Combat Sports Nutrition

34s Core Tactics

panckaes

Where did the first 4 months of 2016 go?

Uncategorized • Apr 10, 2016

2016 is flying by so fast that I have not had time to update my blog. Between working as a physio, teaching pilates, teaching BJJ classes, privates, running the business and training 2 x day, I don’t have much energy for anything else.

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Right now I am right in my competition preparation. Abu Dhabi Pro is just 2 weeks away, where I will be competing with the best black belts in the world and many of my idols! I’m so excited to have an opportunity like that so early into my brown belt.

After Abu Dhabi, I will be home for 3 weeks, then we are off to NYC for the Worlds camp. We booked a cute place in Brooklyn, so it should be good fun exploring the area as well as training hard. Can’t believe it’s nearly World Championships time again, but I seriously can’t wait to compete with brown belts this year.

The competition year started off for me with the Abu Dhabi Pro Trials. Absolute MMA sponsored 10 athletes to go up to Sydney, which is an amazing recognition for the competitors. Absolute won 5 of the 15 packages available (Lachie, Craig, Ben, Demi & Nikki), as well as the best team award. I didn’t have a great competition myself. I think I fought well in under 61kgs open, but lost a ref’s decision in the crucial match, despite numerous sub attempts. I also lost the open weight final, but at least improved on some of my previous mistakes. You win some, you lose some, that’s the way it always goes in sport. I learnt a lot in the process though, which is the most important thing for me. In the end, I am going to Abu Dhabi anyway and I’m stoked about that.

Photo by Macofoto

Photo by Macofoto

Photo by Macofoto

Photo by Macofoto

Photo by Macofoto

Photo by Macofoto

Photo by Macofoto

Photo by Macofoto

Photo by Richard Whetton

Photo by Richard Whetton

Abu Dhabi absolute

In training, we have been doing a bit of ADCC style rounds with heel hooks and leg locks, so I couldn’t wait to jump in to the Grappling Industries Sub Only to test out my game in no gi. I had 7 matches in the open and my weight division and won all but one by subs. I am LOVING no gi at the moment and really enjoying learning heel hooks – it changes the game completely.

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In addition to our advanced ADCC sessions, I have been wrestling 2 x a week, and I’m finally starting to feel more comfortable on my feet. I find it improves not only my stand up, but also my scrambles, grip fighting, aggressiveness and spatial awareness.

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In early March, Lachie and I were thrilled to be involved with HeartKids BJJ Super Hero Throwdown and help to raise money for the Heart Kids Foundation, which is dedicated to providing support to families of children with heart disease. It was a lot of fun, and I loved dressing up as Rey from Star Wars and taking on the Raptor. That was the only time that Lachie let me beat him up! Gotta take what I can get I guess.

heart kids Heart Kids jarret 2 Heart Kids jarret B heart kids poster

At Easter I hosted an advanced girls’ training camp that saw some of Australia’s best females all rolling together. We trained 2 x day and hang out. I got to have many tough and technical rolls with women of different styles and weight divisions. Many thanks to my crazy and super technical friend Margot and Hope (and Mia) for coming to Melbourne from interstate. I love that we can compete against each other as well as being good friends and great training partners. In my eyes, that’s how we will continue to shine on the international stage.

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Playing Bumdrums on Demi

Playing Bumdrums on Demi

I competed at Synergy Pro in Adelaide yesterday. Synergy Pro are one of the few competitions that put on equal prize money for men and women, so I decided to take a day off work, fly to Adelaide and support the shit out of the guys who support us. I had two exciting and tough matches, but since there was no one in my weight we only had open weight. I won the No Gi final by an ankle lock and lost the Gi final by a choke in the last 19 seconds after being up on points. Lesson learnt… Don’t stop till the buzzer goes, and conversely keep fighting till the end. I’m so glad to have all these competitions to make mistakes, try new moves and to gain more and more experience with every fight.

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I have so many more exciting things happening this year. After the Worlds, I have been invited to compete at the Copa Podio selection tournament for the women from Australia. 5 of us were chosen, which is an amazing opportunity. Unfortunately for me it’s an open weight format, so at 51kgs it will be a very difficult job as I will have to give up 30-35kgs. However, I am so happy for both Lachie and Craig to be picked to represent Australia to fight the ‘Vikings’ in Norway.

copa podioIn September, Lachie and I are off to Japan to compete at the Asian Open. This is my favourite competition to date, so I’m really looking forward to it.

On a personal level, I am really enjoying working on a lot more balance in my training. I’m having many more light rolling days, analysing more videos, visualising and specific training rather than hard rolls every session. I am really watching my fatigue levels and pick my days. When I’m fresh, I go hard and fight for each point. When I’m exhausted I flow roll, practice speed and movement and I always make sure I dedicate a couple of days to specifically training just one position over and over again. This is making my BJJ journey a lot more fun.specific training

Besides that I am loving coaching and teaching privates. It really makes me think about jiu jitsu in a more and more technical way, but also forces me to be more clear, simple and logical in my explanations.

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So next stop is Abu Dhabi, where I plan to train a lot and compete with everything I have. I want to be tenacious, aggressive and assertive and I can’t wait for the challenge. With such great coaches and team behind me, it will be that little bit easier.

coaches

absolute

2016 AGIG CAMP – a coach’s perspective

Uncategorized • Jan 24, 2016

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If you have been living under a rock you wouldn’t be aware that last weekend a jiu jitsu camp happened. Jess Fraser from Australian Girls In Gi organised 135 women to train, roll, learn and hang together for 3 whole days. It was a mammoth task and as far as I’m aware it’s by far the biggest event of it’s kind in the world.

A few months ago Jess approached me with an offer of a teaching position at the camp. I was a little sceptical at first, as in the past it was the likes of a black belt World Champion Sophia Mcdermott who taught, but I slowly warmed up to the idea. And I’m glad I did.

The coaching team comprised of Australian home grown black and brown belt women. Maryanne Mullahy is my team mate, a multiple time World Champion and one of the nicest people you will ever meet. Esther Tavares-Tutida is Australia’s 2nd female black belt, a mother of 3, my training partner and one of my favourite people ever. Hope Douglass is a brown belt, who is a pioneer for women’s BJJ in Sydney and a wonderful teacher. Jess Fraser needs to introduction, she is just badass. And then there was me. We all agreed to teach different parts of our game to both beginners and advanced women.

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During the introduction speeches, I didn’t quite expect how proud I would feel of myself, of us, and especially of Jess. Just 5 years ago, Jess, I and maybe 3 others used to get together to roll on yoga mats, in a dingy yoga studio, because it was a neutral space. We were all blue belts, and not very good ones at that. The first camp that Jess organised was taught by a purple belt and had 30 ladies, which we thought was incredible.

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Fast forward 5 years and my competitors have become some of my best friends. I have no words to how much I look up to the women I got to teach with. Putting aside the 6 World Titles and 10 World Championship medals we share between us, these ladies are simply amazing. Each has a different story, various achievements, careers, and paths we took to get to where we are. So when I sat alongside these legends and realised that 2.5 years ago, I was just another blue belt, I felt freaking proud of myself and of us. I certainly didn’t have to look far for inspiration last weekend…

I kicked off the camp off by teaching my favourite guard – single x, x guard and it’s variations. Even though I prefer passing, I think everyone should know single x – it’s basic, simple and very high percentage. It was certainly a challenge to cater for so many women, all of different experience and skill level. Whilst not wanting to bore the advanced girls, I couldn’t make things too complicated for more novice participants. Those who know my teaching style, know that I pay a great amount of attention to details. I am a perfectionist, but even more so, being 52kg I cannot afford to rely on size or strength, so I have to get the details right for things to work. Over the last year, I have grown to really enjoy teaching and it was a pleasure to see people grasp the concept at the end of the session. I am forever thankful to Jess for entrusting me to share some of my knowledge during her camp.

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It was also fantastic to see the other coaches’ styles, games and details over the weekend. What a wonderful way to showcase the Aussie women to the world.

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I didn’t sit out of a single roll for the 3 days and I’m so excited for the future of Australian women. So many up and coming blue belts and teenagers, whom will be kicking my butt sooner than later.

Apart from lots and lots of BJJ, I enjoyed socialising, making new and diverse friends and letting loose on the dance floor. I met ladies who will go on to become World Champions and women who taught me more than I ever imagined about balance, peace and pure joy of training.

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In all, the camp was such a positive and empowering experience. Australia is so far removed from the rest of the world that I think we cannot afford to not stick together. Proof is in the pudding – just look at the coaching team. We all train together at times and support the shit out of one another and get results on the international stage.

I think Jess deserves a giant medal. And lots of recognition.  And copious amounts of wine.

I am so proud of you!

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Check out the preview to Darran Petty’s AGIG Camp documentary:

If you would like to learn more of my tricks, come to a Women’s Only Class each friday at Absolute South Yarra. All affiliations welcome!

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The beautiful photos are by Fiona Gumboots. You can purchase your own copies here.

Special thanks to AGIG Camp sponsors:

Grappling Industries

Jess Fraser

Atlas Brand

GRRRL Clothing

2015 and it’s unforgettable moments

Uncategorized • Jan 1, 2016

2015 was a busy and a fabulous year… can’t believe it’s already over.

Photo by Richard Whetton

Photo by Richard Whetton

The biggest surprise happened to me only 2 weeks ago, when Lachie awarded me my brown belt. I feel like I literally just started BJJ and not so long ago brown belt had a magic ring to it. Now it’s my reality and I can’t wait for the challenge.

This belt is the first coming from Lachie, which means the world to me. I know he has high expectations and it’s an amazing feeling that the Raptor thinks I’m worthy of a poo coloured belt. I don’t often think about belts or stripes when training, as it’s never been my motivating factor or a goal, so it took me by surprise how emotional I got and how much it meant to me as he tied the belt around my waist.

2016 getting brown

It has been a little over a year since opening doors to Absolute South Yarra and what a journey it has been. I love and value every single member – the community we are creating is what Lachie and I have always wanted. The training is hard, we have so many technical and accomplished fighters, the competition squad is the strongest in Australia, but most of all, it feels like family. I am personally super proud of having around 20 ladies training regularly, compared to just me this time last year. (PS. Come back to Australia Laura, we miss you!)

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When I had to look for inspiration this year, I didn’t have to go far. Lachie has had major breakthroughs and led the team like a boss. Competing at his first ADCC, beating Edwin Najmi, competing at EBI and arm barring Rani Yahya are just a few of his accomplishments. What’s worth mentioning is that Lachie not only trains and coaches full time, but is also writing his PhD, presents at conferences, does physiotherapy research and works as a physio for the Australian Judo Team.

2016 boa

I had some massive ups and downs this year. I finally won a trip to Abu Dhabi, only to lose my first fight on the big stage. From there I flew to Japan to compete at the ADCC Trials in Tokyo. The excitement of beating a black belt rooster 2014 World Champion was quickly squashed by the disappointment of losing to Rikako Yuasa (2015 black belt World Champion) in the final.

I won a silver medal at the World Championships, which was extremely bitter sweet for me. I fought well and dominated first 3 rounds, and then made a lot of mistakes in the final, which resulted in me getting choked. I have fought Thamires many times in Brazil and each time there was nothing separating us. Coming second has fuelled my fire even more though, and I feel like I have come a long way in the last 6 months.

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I finished the year off winning 4 gold medals at Pan Pacific Championships, winning all my fights by submission and 3 golds at the Melbourne Open. I made mistakes, but I took risks and tried new things I’ve been working hard on.

I overcame a few injuries this year and managed to stay somewhat sane. It’s crazy to think I competed with a hand fracture at the Abu Dhabi Trials, Abu Dhabi Pro, ADCC Trials and Worlds, only taking my splint off as I stepped on the mats. I’m happy to say I am now healthy, strong and ready to kick butt.

Professionally, I have enjoyed being a physio, teaching pilates and treating combat sports athletes. Teaching BJJ has been an amazing personal journey for me, as it took me a little while to believe in my skill and knowledge. I absolutely love coaching our women’s squad as well as mixed classes and I find it extremely rewarding.

2016 coaching

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To top it off I got to do fun things such as make a fool of myself translating live at the UFC Melbourne, training with Joanna Jedrzejczyk, doing a few photo shoots and having a camera follow Lachie and I around for a documentary due to be released mid -year!

2016 musashi photoshoot

2016 is already promising to be an adventurous, competition jam-packed year. I am so excited to see our club develop further and to start competing at brown belt, where things get a little more serious.

Thank you to my sponsors who supported me this year – MA1 Apparel, Musashi and Core Tactics.

Thanks to every single person who made this year as fantastic as it was. I am very lucky to have family, friends and business partners who are honest, smart, fun and keep me in check.

Bring on 2016!

Photo by Richard Whetton

Photo by Richard Whetton

IBJJF Melbourne Open and my pure exhaustion

Uncategorized • Dec 6, 2015

Last weekend I competed at my last comp for the year – the IBJJF Melbourne Open. It only happens every second year, so I was looking forward to it. As usual, the entries for purple females were low, but at least I was going to get to fight some new faces.

Photo by Richard Whetton

Photo by Richard Whetton

I was sitting 1 kg over my fight weight for light feather, and in an effort to sit a little bit above my whopping body fat percentage of 8.5, I entered feather weight. It was nice not worrying about my weight or being any leaner than necessary. Unfortunately for my competitor Tish, who is usually closer to rooster weight, I was a lot heavier than her.

I won our fight by a quick ankle lock.

FullSizeRender (16)Open weight gi wasn’t my best performance. Although I won my two matches, I was lazy in the final and content with just winning – an attitude which doesn’t sit well with me. Obviously credit to my super tough opponents (especially Mary, who is a new purple belt and a beast) but on a personal level, my fire just wasn’t there. It’s interesting to fight that way, as I am aware that not every competition will be perfect and not every time I will be able to replicate the same internal drive. I promised myself I would go in with a different head space for no gi.

Photo by Richard Whetton

Photo by Richard Whetton

Photo by Richard Whetton

Photo by Richard Whetton

Photo by Richard Whetton

Photo by Richard Whetton

Photo by Richard Whetton

Photo by Richard Whetton

MO2

Photo by Richard Whetton

FullSizeRender (17)I fought light weight in my no gi match, due to lack of competitors. Mary is tough and strong (and lovely), so I was looking forward to another fight with her. I swept, passed and mounted, but couldn’t set up a sub. Mary recovered guard in the last minute, but eventually got DQ-ed for a reap from 50/50, which is a crappy way for me to win a fight.

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I was the only competitor who entered open weight no gi, so I didn’t get to fight for a chance at a 4th gold medal.

I ended up with 3 golds and one default gold. I wasn’t proud of an awful lot from my performance, apart from finally pulling off a Leandro Lo sweep I have been drilling for ages and a no gi pass inspired by Marcelo Garcia.

X guard sweep

Lachie did great in gi, but he also didn’t have the best competition in no gi. I think cutting weight and focusing on sub-only EBI rules has changed his strategy a little and made him perhaps less sharp for IBJJF rules. It’s great to have him as a role model though and see how he gets over hurdles like these. He is now on a whole new level of readiness and aggressiveness for EBI, which is awesome to see.

I was also extremely proud of my teammates. Nikki won 3 golds in blue belt and Sarah, who is one of the most diligent students I know, smashed her white belt division and won the whole thing. To top it off Maromba/Absolute won the team gi and no gi trophies!

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During the last week I had the pleasure of training with Sophia McDermott, who inspired more than I could have imagined. She is precise, strong, flexible, and has very purposeful BJJ. Her game is very similar to mine (of course I lack the lethal arm-bars), but she is just much better. To top it off, she is a beautiful person and I admire her ability to bring the best in everyone around her.

This caps off my competition season for the year and I am truly and totally exhausted. From more work hours, to teaching, training, seminars and no days off, I feel mentally and physically spent.  I took the weekend off and thought hard about what I need to do to step it up a notch in BJJ. The answer is A LOT. I am making a drilling and specific training plan, as there are many holes I need to fill in my game, not only knowledge but also execution wise. Knowing just how much I am lacking in so many areas makes me super excited for the next few months.

The best thing is that I am surrounded by wonderful teammates who put in the mat time with me, and push me to my limits. My club Absolute South Yarra is my second home and my team are my family.  When we opened doors a year ago, I really had no idea on the wonderful journey Lachie were about to embark on. The community everyone is creating has so far exceeded my expectations and I am so proud of how far we have come as a club.

Purple Belt Dream Team plus a few)

Purple Belt Dream Team plus a few)

Lachie is now in San Diego to finalise his prep for EBI in a week’s time. He trained so hard for this, gradually cut close to 10kgs and his BJJ is looking better than ever. Can’t wait to watch the event!

You can get our new Velachieraptor rashies made by our sponsor MA1 here!
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The surreal experience that was UFC 193

Uncategorized • Dec 1, 2015

Life has been a bit surreal in the last 2 weeks…

Melbourne was electric in the lead up to UFC 193. So much media attention was given to MMA, mainly because it was the first UFC event in Melbourne and because two women’s fights were headlining the event.

ABC Lateline news interviewed Australian Girls in Gi (organised by Jess Fraser) about women in martial arts, and the positive effect it has on the community as a whole:

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I was also interviewed for the Daily Mail:

http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-3302923/UFC-champion-Ronda-Rousey-credited-rise-Australian-women-combat-sports.html

My idol Joanna Jedrzejczyk landed in Melbourne a week before her fight and wanted to use the Absolute gym for training. I was thrilled to be able to open the gym for her and watch her train. To my surprise I was also asked to do a few light and fast BJJ rounds to help her prepare – my aims were to not let her up, when we started against the cage and to stay on top on the ground and move as much as possible.

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Her work ethic is insane. Joanna is strong, fast, obviously extremely technical, tough and determined. But the thing I felt and noticed the most was how real and kind she was. There is just no bullshit about anything she does. I was already a fan-girl before, but now my respect for this woman has increased 10-fold.

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During the week, Joanna’s coach Pawel trained with us at Absolute South Yarra. As I got to know him a little, I realised how passionate he is about his job and what a brilliant mind he has for MMA. It was incredible to have a little insight into what Joanna’s team is like.

The night before the fight, Pawel asked if I wanted to translate the fight for TV. My heart started racing, as I was unsure my Polish would be quite good enough, but I wasn’t going to say no to such a rare opportunity. The plan was to pick up my ticket from Joanna’s hotel and have someone from the UFC contact me once I got to Etihad Stadium.

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As I started walking towards my seat, I realised I was sitting ringside, with Joanna’s family. Certainly not your everyday life…

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Finally, one of the UFC producers came to speak to me and and explained what my task was for the night. I was to translate Joanna’s corner’s instructions during the bout breaks. I would be sitting next to Joe Rogan and going live worldwide.

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To say that I was having a minor panic attack is an understatement. I’ve never translated on live TV before. In fact, I’ve never translated. I haven’t even spoken Polish with proper grammar for about 19 years. Nor have I sat ringside at an MMA fight.

I kept trying to tell everyone that I needed more that 5 minutes training, but I was assured all I had to do was to sit and talk. Easy, right?!

I thought this can’t be more scary than competing at a Worlds final, but the truth is, it was. Mainly because I was utterly unprepared. But I took a deep breath and decided to give it my best shot.

When I put the headphones on, things got real. I could hear Joe Rogan in my left ear. In my right ear, both the Polish and the Canadian coaches were coming through. I could also hear the 60,000 people around me. And the producer coming in and out. I had to lip read the Polish coach a lot, as I found it difficult to concentrate and listen to 6 voices at the same time.

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During the break after the second bout, the camera panned to Joanna. The producer informed me that this was my cue to speak. I tried to emit the excitement in my voice, but as soon as I started, his voice came in my headphones saying I was not to describe what was said but translate word for word. Not easy with no practice. By the time it took me to make a coherent sentence in my head that the general public would understand in English, 5-10 seconds have passed, and then the 1 minute break was over. I was terrified at my poor performance. At least I got to enjoy the rest of the day and watch some amazing fight, whilst still cringing at myself.

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I watched Ronda’s fight fight ringside and tried to capture the excitement and disbelief on camera, as she was knocked out. What a fight!

UFC 193

After the fight, I got to spend a little time with Joanna and her team and eat some burgers before we said our goodbyes at midnight.  I feel very privileged to have had the opportunity to meet her, watch her prepare and fight and more importantly get to see her for who she really is. What an absolute legend of a person.

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It was an incredible experience being a very small part of UFC 193. Having women on the card and seeing how much respect they get makes me so damn happy. These ladies work incredibly hard, are amazing role models and inspire not only me, but many other women in the community.

Check out the UFC 193 Embedded Vlog below:

To add the to this surreal experience, our good friend Stehphen Halpin is currently filming a documentary about Lachie’s road to Eddie Bravo Invitational. He is the first Australian to be invited and is a great representation of Aussie BJJ.  As a result, Lachie and I have a camera following us around – from training, to work, to home, to family dinners. It’s a very odd feeling, but I’m excited to see the end product.

If you would like to contribute to the production costs, please click below:

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Pan Pacific Championships 2015

Uncategorized • Nov 3, 2015

Last couple of months have been busy. Work and BJJ have kept me occupied as well as the excitement of Lachie competing at the ADCC in Brazil, my best friend Amy getting married and the announcement that Lachie has been invited to compete at the Eddie Bravo Invitational. SO many good things happening.

pan pacs liv lach

pan pacs amy lachI have recovered from my injuries and am pretty close to 100% now. I ended up having about 7 weeks off and then slowly got back to drilling, specific training and eventually rolling. My rib took a good 8 weeks of healing before I could lie down and play guard with minimal pain. My torn MCL still gives me trouble when I try to knee cut like Leandro Lo, and after much denial, I have accepted that I am in fact not Leandro Lo. Positive side to this story is that I now pretend to be Murilo Santana as I try to learn how to over under and double under pass.

I was itching to compete again, as it has been the longest time I’ve had between competitions in my BJJ career. My last comp was the World Champs in June, so I was anxious to get my competition cobwebs out.

Although the numbers at this year’s Pan Pacific Championships were low for purple belt women, I was excited to fight 2 ladies from Perth, whom I’ve never rolled before. As always, I had specific goals in mind and for this competition they were:

1. Finish all my fights with a submission

2. Hit a Leandro Lo sweep (single x/x/spider hybrid)

3. Sweep or submit with a kimura from the bottom

4. Enter 50/50 from a safe position (single x or x guard) and sub with a footlock

Gi weight divisions were up first. I won my first fight by a bow and arrow choke from the back after sweeping, passing and mounting. My second fight started well until I went for a half guard sweep and lost control of my opponents knee as I started to come up. During a scramble, I was caught in a kimura. Luckily for me, just about everyone at Absolute South Yarra is obsessed with kimuras from everywhere, so I’ve had more than my fair share of experience in being in them. I patiently waited for an opening and managed to get out. I then proceeded to pass, mount, take the back and choke from the back. It was a pleasure fighting such tough ladies.

Photo by Macofoto

Photo by Macofoto

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Photo by Macofoto

Photo by Macofoto

Photo by Macofoto

Photo by Macofoto

Photo by Macofoto

Photo by Macofoto

Photo by Macofoto

Photo by Macofoto

Photo by Macofoto

Photo by Macofoto

Photo by Macofoto

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No Gi was up next. I tried to wrestle a little in my first fight, but couldn’t get anything to eventuate. Wrestling is something I am working hard on at the moment and I definitely hope to see some improvement in the stand up part of my game. After a while, I pulled single x and swept. We ended up standing once more, so I pulled again, this time securing half guard. I found the kimura grip and managed to sweep with it, transitioning straight to a submission from on top. In the final, I had the same opponent as it was a 3-person division. I pulled quickly and locked up a triangle, ending the fight with a triangle/armbar.

It was a relief to win two more Pan Pacific Titles, but more than anything I was happy with the way I fought. I made mistakes, but tried some new moves I have been working on since the Mundials.

Absolute divisions were scheduled for Sunday. It was a very long weekend and I was truly exhausted by the end of it. Unfortunately no one entered apart from my team mate Kim and I. I always enjoy fighting Kim – she is tough as nails and a great sport. In the no gi, we double guard pulled, but I forced single x. Eventually I transitioned to 50/50 and got a quick foot lock. While watching Lachie execute the Darragh O’Conaill x-guard sweep variation during one of his matches, I knew I wanted to pull it off as well. So in my gi fight, I set up my x-guard with the grips ready to sweep, but I wasn’t getting the reaction I needed. Instead I entered 50/50 and went for a foot lock again, getting a quick tap.

pan pacs x guard

Such pelvis. Much thrust.

Such pelvis. Much thrust.

pan pacs 14That was the end of my Pan Pacs. I was happy with always trying to upgrade my position and submitting in all my fights. I have been working extremely hard to become a submission fighter and push myself to always go for the finish in training. It makes me take more risks, makes me understand more BJJ and makes my journey a whole lot more fun.

Absolute MMA had a small team this year, but we were very successful. Our purple belt squad was the real Dream Team with nearly everyone winning their gi and no gi divisions. I’m pretty lucky to get to train with this fabulous men every day.

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Lachie won his weight and absolute no gi fights with impressive BJJ. As always I’m super proud and want to be a bit more like him when I grow up.

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Our girls did amazing – for many it was their first Pan Pacs. I’m so happy to see our women’s team growing.

In the end we ended up taking home the 3rd place trophy for both our men’s and women’s teams, which was an excellent effort with such a small amount of entries.

pan pacs 12The following week Lachie and I headed to the Gold Coast for the 2015 Sports Medicine Australia Conference, where Lach presented a part of his PhD. The 4 days were full of work, learning and networking, but we did manage to squeeze in a couple of training sessions. Thank you to Vicente Cavalcante and Fabio Galeb for their hospitality and amazing training.

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Met my match in Margot!

Met my match in Margot!

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It was also a treat catching up with my most loyal and first Australian friend Mariana, who opened her house to Lach and I and showed us around her hood.

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I’m back training hard again and fixing my never ending mistakes and learning more and more new things.

Here are a couple of highlights:

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My complete failure at dealing with injuries.

Uncategorized • Aug 9, 2015

I have so far considered myself pretty lucky injury wise as an athlete. I’ve pretty much abused my body since I was 7 years old. On average, I spent 25 hours a week training at a high level sport for the last 24 years. Yep, you read it right… 24 years! When I put that in context that’s around 31,200 hours of intense training, without so much as a month off.

I’ve had my fair share of niggles along the way – ranging from tendinopathies, stress fractures, muscle tears, labral tears and overuse injuries. Yet I have somehow avoided major injuries, where I needed more than 2-3 weeks off complete training. Considering how much I train, I definitely beat the odds.

In my 5.5 years as a jiu jitsu fighter, most of my injuries happened this year and particularly this month. And I have taken it pretty hard. I’ve realised that I am not very good at dealing with it at all.

I broke my hand at the start of the year, but it is still not completely healed and causes me a lot of pain to the point I’ve had to change my grip game quite a bit.

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After the World Championships, my shoulder gradually started to play up, but within a week it couldn’t even handle rolling with the lighter girls. I tried drilling for a week, but to no avail. I couldn’t sleep pain free, do my hair, take my bra off, let alone train. Luckily, I got treated by one of my colleagues and took some time off training to concentrate on rehab.

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I eased back to rolling and clearly recall driving to the gym and telling Lachie how happy I was to be pain free for the first time in months – my hand was slightly better and I could do nearly all positions despite my shoulder still giving me a bit of trouble.

That night I broke my rib. I jumped guard to finish a guillotine and got accidentally slammed. I don’t think I’ve ever felt more extreme pain as it happened. That night I couldn’t sleep, roll over, sneeze or take deep breaths. Painkillers did nothing to ease my discomfort and I wondered if I would ever recover. It definitely made me have more empathy for my football player patients, who commonly injure or fracture their ribs.

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Due to the fact that I am stubborn and probably a bit stupid, I only had a few days off and then told myself that I can do top game at training. I started drilling and specific training starting from on top and finishing as soon as I passed or got swept. I got so excited about getting better at my top game and problem solving every little detail of my game, that I completely ignored the increase in pain after each training session.

On Saturday whilst training with the advanced girls, I could only do top game yet again. As I went to knee cut, I heard my knee pop loudly. I knew I tore my medial collateral ligament straight away. So I rested for 5 minutes and tried to convince my brain that I’m ok. I modified my game even more so that I didn’t torque my knee at all and continued rolling.

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I have finally come to one conclusion. I AM NOT VERY BRIGHT. Not at all. Not even one bit. I am lying here with a healing fracture in my hand, a bad shoulder, labral tears in my hips, a broken rib, a torn MCL of the knee and a cold. And all I can think about is what I can train this week. That is just not normal. If I were my patient, I would slap me in the face. Hard.

For those of you who don’t know me – I am a physiotherapist. I diagnose, treat and manage athletes from recreational to Olympic level. I am very strict with their recovery, return to training and competition, and expect them to follow my instructions to the t. I trust my knowledge and skill.  So why am I so appallingly bad when it comes to looking after myself?

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Well, I have come to realise, I am petrified of failure. Not training means not improving and I hate the idea of not getting better every day. Even though I know that I can learn just as much from watching videos and observing others roll at training AND give my body a well deserved rest, I cannot seem to put money where my mouth is.

I am also addicted to endorphins and struggle to feel as good about myself without exercise. It has gotten to the point that I feel guilty if I ‘only’ train once a day instead of twice whilst working full time. Alarm bells are ringing, right?

Exercise and BJJ is such a big part of my identity that I fear I won’t know who I am without it. Which is silly, because I know exactly who I am with or without sport in my life.

It is finally time for me to grow up and stop kidding myself. I need the time out to heal physically and get better mentally. I know I will recover and I will actually improve my BJJ. I have no major competitions planned in the next couple of months, so it doesn’t interrupt my season in any way. I can actually take my time rehabbing, getting stronger and catching up with family and friends. I am going to enjoy this time, instead of wallowing in my pity and I’ll come out a million times better on the other side.

So apart from eating ALL the cake (I’m already very good at that), I’m interested to know how you deal with injuries that require time out from sport, work or family life? 

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On my reality of sexism…

Uncategorized • Jul 5, 2015

There has been a lot of talk of late about sexism, the role of women in sport and their place in society in general. Things are slowly changing, but gender inequality is still way too obvious even in a developed and economically thriving country such as Australia.

I’ve had some passionate and stimulating conversations with my male and female friends, training partners, colleagues and family.  I have listened to countless stances and opinions. It has taken me a little while to realise where I sit in all this and exactly why I’ve had to educate myself a little more about the topic.

You see apart from the obvious pay gaps in sports, I have never REALLY felt the effect of sexism. I have NEVER felt that I can’t achieve something or that I am somehow worth less than any other human being on earth. Sure, I’ve encountered more than my fair share of little snark comments from a lot of ignorant people, but those have never deeply affected me on a personal level.

So I’ve had to ask myself, why is that I never felt like I can achieve less being a woman?

Let’s go back to the beginning.

I grew up in Poland and later immigrated to Australia, so it must be assumed I’ve lived a privileged life so far. I am not, nor was I ever rich in what we relate to in our 1st World society, but I was born into a family who gave me a home, food, water, access to education, fostered my interests and most of all provided me with opportunities. The truth is I’ve had a better start in life than 90% of other human beings.

As a young kid I was brought up to believe I can achieve anything I want. In fact excellence was expected of me. It was up to me to choose an activity, but if I chose to commit to it, it had to be 100%.

When I chose gymnastics and trained 32 hours a week by the time I was 8 years old, my parents allowed me to do what I so dearly loved as long as my marks at school didn’t drop. I simply continued to improve at school and at gymnastics and very quickly learnt how to manage my time, so that I could strive for success in all areas of my life.

During my time as a gymnast I was surrounded by strong women who ruled the gymnastics world. Many were definitely NOT my role models, but they did teach me how to be tough yet feminine, strong yet soft, and that to be the best I had to become utterly passionate about my ‘work’. 

Gymnastics in Eastern Europe was popular and it was not uncommon to see my idols on TV and to meet them in real life.  I travelled to many competitions around Europe, mingled and competed against girls from different cultures. I formed tight bonds with my female training partners, who always had my back. We SUPPORTED each other and COMPETED against each other at the same time. 

Whilst competing, I lost A LOT. In fact I pretty much never won as a young gymnast. And so I grew resilient and I learnt to enjoy the journey and the grind more than the destination. 

From the age of 7, I knew that an incredible amount of hard work, patience and total immersion in whatever I chose to do, equaled results. 

I grew up with my brother who is two years older than me. Like all other siblings we loved each other but naturally argued a lot. Through our bickering I learnt how to stand up for myself verbally and physically until I could hold my own with the older kids. My brother simply expected that I keep up with the boys when running or racing on our bikes.  However when I didn’t, not one person made fun of me or made me feel inferior.  Other days I would happily play dolls with the girls, which also felt like the most natural thing to do. I watched my little sister grow up graduate with two degrees and travel the world by herself with her own money from the age of 15. My family never had limits to what was possible. 

I was often told that I was capable, intelligent, strong and tough. That’s right, note the full stop at the end of that sentence. Not once in my childhood was I told I was capable, intelligent, strong and tough FOR A GIRL. Not once was I told I could do anything EVEN THOUGH I was a girl. That never even entered my mind. In my mind, I have always been and always will be just another human being – not a woman, not white, not small, not straight, not anything that will put me in into any other label or a category.

So when I graduated high school and started track cycling, it was a slight shock to the system on how it was to be a woman in a male dominated sport. The blatant ignorance and even dislike of women’s cycling was striking. Yet, it never deterred me from following my dreams. Among many wonderful men in the sport I also looked up (and still do) to incredible women such as Anna Meares. I shared many kilometres, lactic acid vomits and laughs on hard, long rides with training partners such as Apryl Eppinger, who has always had my back.

While I excelled at sports my friends of both sexes finished their university degrees and got ‘real jobs’. Some in finance, some as lawyers or doctors, others in retail or hospitality. It has never mattered what my friends did for a living, but what did matter was that there was no limit to what we thought we COULD do.

As I went through my 5 years of university, I’ve had a number of wise, intelligent and nurturing lecturers and tutors. Both men and women. All pioneers in their fields. Gender never came into play when it came to physiotherapy and science.

I’ve held jobs as a head physiotherapist at two different football clubs over the last five years. I’ve felt that my professional opinions were always valued and heard. I’ve managed to stay myself and never felt the need to become more ‘blokey’. I thank the men and women whom I’ve had the pleasure of working with for always allowing me to be myself.

I started jiu jitsu just over 5 years ago and was the only female in my club for a while, as is the case with many women in the sport. BJJ as a smaller woman is hard. It’s a grind and things don’t work for a VERY long time due to size and strength differences. It is so easy to get discouraged, however I have found that it was the support and kindness especially from my MALE training partners and coaches that made me stick at it.

It is only now that we have ladies training and competing together and organisations such as Australian Girls In Gi make it all possible. I couldn’t be happier to have so many talented female training partners and I value them more than I ever thought possible. Having someone closer to my weight, flexibility and strength makes for an amazing rolling partner. I am really enjoying encouraging my girls and other females in the sport. Someone else’s success will never take away anything from my own, so I will support the shit out of other women, just as many have done for me.

I am aware that I have been very fortunate to have great mentors in BJJ from the beginning. My previous coach Thiago Stefanutti entrusted me to run his classes when he was sick or away. My business partners Simon Carson and Lachlan Giles not only agreed on me coaching the female team at Absolute South Yarra, but have also given me the responsibility to teach a regular jiu jitsu class once a week. I used to feel inadequate and actually APOLOGISE to people who came to my class, until one of my training partners pointed this out to me. One day not that long ago it all hit me – I know some stuff, I’ve won some things, I have a little bit of experience and I am qualified for the role. If I wasn’t, I simply wouldn’t have the job.

Lachie who is my partner and my coach, always expects the best of me and my jiu jitsu. I don’t think he will ever stop telling me that I am just as capable to train as any other elite grappler. If I complain about my lack of strength or size, he points out that the Miyos don’t actually use power to take the back. To him, gender has never stopped anyone from being able to learn and improve.

In all, I think I am extremely fortunate to have had such good people in my life  to learn from. I also think I may be completely ignorant to little acts of sexism that I experience in every day life. I either ignore them as I don’t believe them to be true, or I stand up for myself. Some would say that would make me naive, but the truth is I CHOOSE not to take things personally.  As a result I live in a reality where I value my self-worth and consider myself to be an equal member of society in my professional and personal life.

Wouldn’t it be wonderful if we could start with educating young girls, boys and youth who will one day grow into adults and parents? Wouldn’t it be amazing if each person felt like a valued member of their family, friendship group or society? Wouldn’t it be nice if both men and women agreed that equal opportunities and pay was just a part of life, and not something to fight for. 

If we made each other feel heard, important or intelligent, just like I felt when I was a small girl, perhaps change would have a rippling effect and infiltrate the very core of our culture.

Disclaimer: This is simply my story and my own experience. I acknowledge that things may be very different in other cultures, professions and sports. I am not arguing that sexism exists, just that we can start changing it once and for all.