As a middle-aged homeschooling mom of three, on first glance I may not fit society’s expectation of a Brazilian JiuJitsu practitioner or instructor. This is particularly true if people know that BJJ is a sweaty art and sport in which you wrestle against your opponent for positional dominance and work toward making them submit to joint locks and chokes. However, if these same people were to dive into the world of Brazilian JiuJitsu, they would find lots of people who may not fit their preconceived ideas about who populates the mats at the gyms around them. Our gym is made up of a wide cross-section of society; we span across generations, sexes, education levels, personalities, life stages, body types, races, and religions. There is a place for any interested person who is willing to work hard, be a good teammate, and put themselves out there to try something new. BJJ can fit many people’s abilities and needs, and while we all may have different goals, we rise together and support one another’s journey.
My interest in BJJ started 13 years ago in different city during the “lost years” of parenting babies. A friend of mine trained BJJ and asked me to join to partner with her, and I thought it sounded like something I would love. The time was not right for me then; my husband was in a demanding training program, my babies were little, and we were going to be moving away soon. The idea of training slid to the back of my mind, and life moved forward—we moved three more times, had a third child, and the kids grew up a little. I researched the BJJ options in Green Bay once we settled in, but I did not find a school that fit our needs at that time. A few years later, my oldest became interested in wrestling, and preferring BJJ to wrestling for her, I found that a new school had opened since I last checked. This school, Rilion Gracie JiuJitsu Green Bay under Professor Brady Buckman, would be where we found our gym home and began training as a family.
My kids began classes, and I was itching to start. Within a few months, all five of us were on the mats, spread over three class times. It was hard to make the time to get the younger two to the little kids’ class, the older to the big kids’ class, and my husband and I to the adult class a few times a week, but we put it on our weekly schedule and made it happen.
My observation in watching people start after me is that the students who continue training long-term are the ones who make a modest and consistent training schedule. This is what we did at first. We picked two time slots each week for each person and protected that time, making BJJ the default activity then, not interrupting that time unless necessary. My husband, oldest child, and I wanted to train more after starting to get the hang of what learning BJJ was all about, and we changed the schedule by adding time to allow that. By the end of the first year, we were training on average three sessions per week.
At a year in, JiuJitsu was strongly capturing my attention. I knew enough to get my first glimpse of how vast and deep the field of knowledge was; a realization I have anew every now and then still, and will as long as I train. I knew enough to be able to have some minor successes in wrestling with my training partners, even the bigger men. I wasn’t “winning” against them frequently, in the most literal sense, but I was seeing myself perform some of the moves we learn in the right situations, and I was learning to escape and defend against my bigger partners.
My second year of training consisted of hours more of watching the kids’ classes, pitching in at the gym with minor tasks while waiting for my kids to train, success in a few competitions, and persistent training. My blue belt promotion came around the end of my second year. As a blue belt, I began assisting with the kids’ classes, and under Brady’s wing I began learning how to teach, how to make safe choices for the students in their training, and I began to better understand how I need to study to learn BJJ more efficiently. I was now doing 5-6 classes per week, thanks to the addition of a few morning classes that my homeschool-mom schedule allowed.
By halfway through blue belt, I had progressed fairly quickly but was coming to an end of being able to just come to class and absorb what we were doing enough to progress at a rate I was happy with. A frustrating plateau in my progress encouraged me to buckle down harder and again learn how to learn BJJ, this time for the level I was wanting to achieve next, which was purple belt. I made notecards, wrote classes out, and diagrammed flow charts. I tried to move more efficiently and smoothly and connect moves in ways new to me, and to be more assertive with attacking. I had to learn to take the floaty information in my ADHD brain and make it connect in a way I could access it both to relay to other students while teaching, and apply it when rolling. I expect many rounds of re-learning how to learn, and trying to bust though plateaus as my JiuJitsu pathway unfolds in the future.
Just before earning my purple belt, our gym’s class schedule shifted, and I took on a greater role in instruction. The morning classes became mine to teach, I took over a few of the kids’ classes, and started a women’s only class. I have found that I love teaching. I enjoy taking my understanding of BJJ and rolling it around in my mind to find how to best relay it to other students. I love being able to share something that I get so much enjoyment from with others, and to help them piece it together. Teaching also helps me improve my own game by examining my knowledge from different angles and troubleshooting for my teammates.
In May of 2018 I was awarded my purple belt from Brady, and I am working hard to continue my learning and development as well as to become the best instructor I can be. I enjoy helping to provide a comfortable place for all students who are interested to come in and try Brazilian JiuJitsu. I am proud that my women’s class has brought in multiple women to try that may not have been comfortable doing so before, and that some have joined the gym and are beginning their own journey.
Brazilian JiuJitsu has enriched my life in many ways. It has given me a bolder voice for myself and more confidence in being assertive. I belong to a community at the gym who I love, trust, and value deeply. I appreciate that my family has a hobby we all share, and I particularly love that my teen daughter is my frequent training partner, giving us a bond like few other things could. I enjoy the mental and physical challenge jiujitsu offers, keeping me organized and fit. As a mother, I have developed an interest in my life that I am investing in for me, and I am showing my kids through my actions how to work hard, be gritty, have long term goals, and to keep working to chip away at them.
I can’t wait to see where else my BJJ journey takes me. It has been one of the most important things I have done for myself in my life.