She travels the globe, dominates tournaments and is the driving force behind Australian Girls in Gi. Here's BJJ Black Belt Jess Fraser's story.
IN THIS EPISODE YOU WILL LEARN:
- The necessity of female martial artists sticking together to overcome challenges
- Cross training in other martial arts gyms: great for community or a retention killer?
- How male martial artists can improve their teaching skills with the ladies
- What injuries can teach you about training martial arts
- What the meaning of a true martial arts family is
- The one core skill set martial arts instructors need to drive transformation
- And more
*Need help growing your martial arts school? Learn More Here.
You wouldn't believe: I walked in with this sling on and these guys, they remember you and they remember your whole name and they remember everything about you and they run across the room to hug you. It’s just the most incredible thing.
Hello, this is George Fourie from martialartsmedia.com and welcome to the Martial Arts Media podcast, episode number, lucky 13. Today I have a different guest with me – different in the sense of, not a martial arts business owner, although she has a leading organization within the martial arts industry and she's also a martial arts expert, Jess Fraser. And once again, the attempt was to go one angel and the conversation really evolved into some deep elements and there's some real gold there for you as a martial arts business owner.
The reason why I want to do interview Jess is because she's quite the jet-setter. She travels all over the world, I've been following her on social media for a while and if she's not in New York, she is in Canada, she's around America, Las Vegas. She is in Bali, she's in Melbourne – so she's truly living the martial arts lifestyle of just being passionate about training and learning, and also, have a great organization, Australian girls in GI, which we're going to talk more about.
So, first up, some news and what's been happening. You might have seen posts around, depending on when you're listening to this of course, about a survey that we've been running at martialartsmedia.com/survey and it's all about discovering what it is that you as a martial arts business owner need or struggling with, your pain points and what the obstacles are. Then we can find out where things are going wrong, what do you need help with: then we can interview better guests and of course, we can deliver better content and better solutions and the result of that is putting together a web class that is going to be invaluable by the way it’s going now.
And I'm not saying that to toot my own horn here: it’s shaping up to be a very valuable piece of information that I'm going to give away for free that most people would be charging a lot of money for. That's just from comparing to what the information that is floating around the internet at the moment and what people have been told to do with marketing their martial arts school, I can tell you that it could be a good game changer for you. And that's not me to hype up the training, it's truly a decade worth of experience and other people's experience that has gone into this.
So, I'm really looking forward to releasing that. Depending on when you're listening to this, we'll keep this survey going, because no matter when you're listening to this, we'll keep it running so that we can keep adjusting our approach and keep interviewing more guests and keep optimizing the delivery of our content, which is what you would probably have seen in the solo type shows coming up and the solo videos: it’s all based on the feedback that I'm getting through this survey. So thank you for that if you have completed it.
If you haven't, it’s at martialartsmedia.com/survey, it will take you about two minutes – much appreciated if you can do that for us. If you're enjoying this show and you would like to leave us a review, we would much appreciate it, it truly helps us in the rankings. You can go to martialartsmedia.com/itunes, I put the link there, so martialartsmedia.com/itunes and that will lead you to iTunes, just leave us a review. A five-star review would be magic, but an honest review would be appreciated. All right, so that's it from me, please welcome to the show Jess Fraser.
Good day everyone. Today I have with me a different guest. If you've been following the podcast for a while, we've been talking a bit to martial arts business owners, martial arts school owners and getting their perspective on how they run their business, how they do their marketing and all the rest. So today I wanted to turn the table and I wanted to bring in an expert martial artist, but not just anyone: someone who travels the globe, truly lives the martial arts lifestyle. I don't think she's ever in Australia – well, I did catch her in Australia now and I want to welcome you to the show, Jess Fraser – how are you doing today Jess?
JESS: Great George, thanks for having me.
GEORGE: All right, cool. So a bit of an intro, but first and foremost, from your side, who's Jess Fraser?
JESS: That's a big question, isn't it? I guess for the purposes of today, the easiest answer is: I am a black belt, I have recently received my black belt from my coach Justin Sidelle, who is based out of Bali MMA. He's an American guy, he's from San Fran and he's now based out there, so that sort of sums up what I'm like. I'm quite international and a bit of gypsy, which some people think is a bad thing and I think is a really great thing. But yeah, I travel the world training Jiu Jitsu . I've been based out of Australia for a long time, but for the past 14 months, I've been traveling exclusively for Jiu Jitsu and plan to do so for the next year or so again.
I'm a black belt in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu , I'm also the head and founder of a huge organization called Australian Girls in Gi, which is Australia focused, but of course has female members from all over the world. And basically, we're a gym and affiliate neutral community organization that fosters the growth and development and retention predominantly of women in the sport of Jiu Jitsu . So that's kind of being my greatest achievement in life, both of those two things. And I'm living the life based on them.
GEORGE: All right, awesome. We're definitely going to expand on the girls in GI, but for now, just a bit more about your martial arts career. You do travel a lot, so I take it there's a lot of competition involved in tournaments?
JESS: Yes, well, there was. I started competing very early on, I think 10 months into my journey, I was doing the ADCC trials and came second in that. And then about a year later, I was later in Abu Dhabi representing Australia as a blue belt, so it's been a lot of competition for me, but mainly it was because I felt like to lead an organization like I wanted to, I really needed to be an authority in some way.
And because I didn't have the belt that I wanted to be the leader that I wanted, I felt like I had to prove myself through competition. And I guess over the years I realized that maybe don't mean as much as how you treat people and what you give to the community and how you are within the community, you know? Maybe it does, but you don't need to exclusively be a competitor to be a great leader.
At the time as a blue belt or a purple belt or a brown belt even, I felt like I needed to compete a lot, so my competing was prolific. I've been to Abu Dhabi three times, I won the trials three times, which is a pretty good run. I'm a NAGA champ and all that kind of stuff, I've done a bunch, like the advanced division of NAGA or whatever, I've been to the world's a bunch of times and I've won medals there. And I've won medals once I've gone over to Abu Dhabi, I've done all that kind of stuff. I've never taken the top spot, I would love to, but at the same time, I'm in the game, you know?
I'm running with the pack and I'm proud of that, and I've been at each belt level. Yeah, that's kind of being me as a competitor. I have a background of, I came from a background of teaching krav maga, I was an instructor in that for a long time and before that, I was a yoga instructor. So my life for the past 13 years has been quite physical and the last 10 years has been in self-defense and martial arts as a whole.
GEORGE: OK. I find it interesting that you say that you had this bigger vision all along and that you felt that doing all these achievements in martial arts was what's going to allow you to be recognized as that leader. Am I right in saying that you didn't really feel you could be the leader that you are with your organization based on your martial arts credentials?
JESS: Yeah, I felt like, maybe it was just a personal perception, but in Australia, I'm the 12th female to earn her black belt in Australia. We couldn't even fill a bus, you know? There's not many of us and there're not many brown belt women, so it's really quite new in Australia to have a female black belt at the table, as it were. There are so many male black belts here, the community is actually really strong and really large, but as far as females, not so much. I sort of felt a bit of a , who are you, but who do you think you are, to start this organization that was a bit challenging for some of the old school guys.
And I say guys, because I mean the guys, it wasn't the women who were stopping me from doing it. There was a lot of pushback about creating an organization that was about breaking down the walls of cross training and really bringing women together to train. Now, I had to. It's not like Australian Girls in Gi was aimed to only be, oh, we're all about unity and all gyms should come together. The fact of the matter is there was just the only female at each gym, so if we wanted to train with other females, it was out of necessity.
That kind of cross training and all welcome policy, it's not that I was ever going to exclude anyone, but we desperately needed the coaches that were men to give us the green light on that, you know? It's only just now in the last year or so that female coaches are emerging in Australia of higher rank. I felt that as a lower rank, I didn't have the authority of the black belt or the 20 years in martial arts or whatever. I did have a lot of experience in yoga and krav maga, but we all know that that's not necessarily transferable, definitely not physically.
I felt like I had to do my time and earn the respect of the community, and whether that be proving myself out on the mats, or proving myself with my rank or the quality of my Jiu Jitsu or whatever, I just felt like I had to just not get anything wrong, you know? Not cause any dramas with anyone, try not to cause any politics, just really toe the line so I can let this thing happen. I also think that even if I was a competitor that was losing a lot that would be cool for the community too, at least they'd see me trying and failing and that in itself would lead other women that wanted a hero in that department as well, you know?
So either way, it would have been fine, I need to be trying, I needed to be perceived to be trying, so I could be really a part of the community. From the get go, from my very first competition, I competed, and then I was straight on one of the tables saying, hey, do you need some help and I was always volunteering and I was helping on events, from the get go, just trying to be as proactively involved in the community as possible, whether that be out on the mats or reffing or whatever – I just needed to be everywhere to try and make this thing happen for Australian girls in GI. And it worked, whether my process was right or wrong, it doesn't matter, we've ended up in a really great place.
GEORGE: Ok, it's got to be hard to avoid politics – I said we'll get to this later, but we're talking about it now, so we might just expand to it and then go back to the other stuff we want to discuss. I can see how there's got to be some politics and a feel of a business threat of a way, there's this organization under your own organization and what does it involve? How do you get this message across, to explaining to people what it is about and how it might benefit their organization with Australian girls in GI?
JESS: The thing is, the gyms that aren't open to cross training and aren't opening their doors either way, in or out, just aren't involved and that's totally fine. I'm not a missionary, I'm not trying to convert them. If that's what that style of gym requires, that's totally what they want to do and I'm not interested in pushing back on that, I'm not trying to make a change, I'm trying to foster help for those women out in the community that doesn't have another female to train with and their coach is like, you know what you need? You need to roll with another chick! I want to be able to solve that problem for her.
So the gyms that are really into it and feel safe and secure with open doors policy or a visitors policy or travelers policy, they're really involved. And what we can say absolutely is proven, is I can prove to you student retention. So if you're a coach and very often business owner, which is often the same person, I can prove to you that I can positively influence retention of your members. Now, we all now that that's just as difficult as sales, and just as important as sales, is to keep them. So if I can help you with that, I can help your income! Simple as that, the amount of women that's in the sport that tells me, look, Jess, you're the reason that I'm still here, is ridiculous!
They call me , they have me as a service where they can message me, they can contact me online and stuff, and when they're having a hard time or really feeling like they want to give up, they reach out either to me personally, or the AGIG community and we keep them! We save them.
GEORGE: OK, cool. Sorry to interrupt, but because we've gone down his track, now we've just got to take one step back: how does it exactly work, what exactly is the organization about?
JESS: So what it is, predominantly, like my day-to-day is an online forum that's very heavily moderated on Facebook, so we have a public page that people, like fans and mainly male teammates ad stuff and fans of female Jiu Jitsu and that kind of thing, they follow that and they can see our events coming up and see the photos and what we're getting done on the public page. And then, that sort of filters down as the second tier of the thing and it's the members. The members are all in a closed group, it's just one of those group forums on Facebook.
Each person that sends me a request gets a relatively large letter of terms and conditions as a response when they send that request, though. It's full of things, like terms or conditions of involvement. Now, there's no fees or anything to be involved in AGIG at all on that level, but we do ask, I do kind of list what I require out of members and that is like politics free, no bitching, no reporting to your coach that you roll with some girls and her arm bars are bad – there's none of that.
We're a unified group and try to lift each other up as a whole and then the group is used for discussion and not defamation, so the girls can use the group online to discuss problems they might be having, as a teammate or a technique or whatever it is. Kind of like the conversation that most guys would have on the mat after the training sessions or in the changing room after the training session – when you're the only chick on the mat, or the only chick in the changing room, you miss out on all of that conversation or perhaps you're not invited to the meal after training or whatever, so we provide that online.
We provide that communication and support and debriefing, very often there are positive things that the girls say after their training, like they finally got a sweep on some massive blue belt guy or whatever it is, and we all cheer for her, she's all happy, you know – that's what we do on day-to-day, that's the support on day-to-day. The group on Facebook is predominantly women, but there are male coaches in that group, like kind of invitational, like silent witnesses in the group so it is really important that the space is a space where women ask questions of women that answer and that females get the opportunity to see that in fact, like all the other women their peers do have a lot of authority in this field and are problem solvers and experienced and all that kind of stuff.
So it's really important that the male involvement in that membership online forum is quite silent, but those guys also really benefit from it, so they're getting to know they can go to understand things in Australia with this being so young. These guys are learning how to teach women as well, it's not an everyday thing for a lot of them, and a lot of these people are really remote. In Australia, the key places that you'd be doing BJJ would be probably the major cities, but there's heaps of Jiu Jitsu along the coast, you know?
And a lot of the coaches are purple belt guys and they don't have a lot of support, maybe they're one trip away to a black belt occasionally, they might have one female student and they've never taught a female before, they don't even know how to deal with her size or whatever, so we're supporting everybody in that way, the teams that want to be involved. So that's the online presence, but then my actual life, my real work, I create face-to-face events.
We do female-only competitions throughout Australia, but I try not to focus on the competitions to be honest, because I think that's not what everyone wants to be doing, but it is what a lot of people want to be doing, so I try not to focus fully on that, but I do provide it as a service if they want it, mainly for the little girls. The under 12 are the most popular because mine's the only comp where they don't have to fight boys, which is like a Godsend for a lot of them. I do round robin style things, for ages 5 and up, so we do get a huge adults presence to that, but we also get predominantly little girls, they just want to have a wrestle with a girl, and it very often doesn't happen at the comps for them. So I do that.
I also do seminars all over the place, because I want to share my Jiu Jitsu with these girls, I got to black belt with the help of this group, so I want to share my black belt with them, that's really important to me. I also travel Australia, doing events so that every single woman gets to roll with a female black belt. I give my body to that, I really want them to know what they're gunning for, and to that end, I try to stay really good at this sport, so what they're gunning for is really high quality and it's really important to me that that's what they see, and that's setting the bar.
I spend a lot of time and money cruising Australia, trying to get that to happen and then I do also run camps and they're awesome. The camp in Melbourne, which is coming up in January, and I think we've got maybe 25 tickets left. That camp in January is huge, it's 4 days, I think it's 6 instructors, 5 assistant instructors, it's non-stop Jiu Jitsu and socializing and it's all accommodation included. it's all meals included, it's out in the bush setting and there are canoeing and pools and it's just the best thing ever, so that's the big thing that I spend most of my year working on.
And also, I do camps in Bali, so I've got one coming up on the 21st with Luanna Alzuguir – hall of fame, everybody knows Luanna, she won ADCC three times. I'm doing a camp with her, which is quite a different style camp, and that's coming up in Bali like I said, 21st of November till the 25th and that's a total DIY thing. You do your own accommodation, your own food, you just meet us at the gym each day. So that's what I do, I make it happen for the girls.
GEORGE: Awesome. I'm going to be getting back to this one more time, but I want to stop at Bali quickly because I've been following you on social media and I see you travel a lot.
JESS: A lot, yeah.
GEORGE: You pretty much live in Bali. I think I saw you in New York as well, around the States, I think there was a time you were in San Francisco or Canada, I can't remember which one.
JESS: Yeah, yeah.
GEORGE: So all over the place. Now, with all this traveling, what is the biggest benefit that you're getting, what is the biggest learning experience that you're getting from traveling and training in all these different locations?
JESS: The biggest thing that I learned this past year, what I did is, I was a brown belt when I left Australia and I really felt, again, that I had to prove myself a little through competition. The biggest lesson for me obviously is that I don't, but I went on a big journey, I kind of packed up my life and left my lovely boyfriend and left my job and my house and everything and sold everything to go on this big mission to do a lot of competition.
I had a lot of world's and Pan Ams and all the NAGAs and STRAGA open, and everything you can possibly think of. Abu Dhabi, everything, paid for, booked, everything, and I went on the journey, and I sort of started in Bali and really worked out that that was my team and that Justin and I really worked well together. And that we will continue to, whether it was remotely or not. He's a really great coach from a distance as well, he's such a great mentor to me, he's always challenging me and asking a lot of me technically and he's really expanded my Jiu Jitsu.
I started there and then I came back to run that camp at the beginning of the year in January and I jet-setted again and went to Hawaii and Hawaii was amazing. I was kind of unsure, not really knowing what I was doing. I was sort of being a bit like a Pokemon, finding them and fighting them, you know? I was just cruising around, trying to get to every gym possible in the world and just roll with everyone. I just wanted to feel what other people are doing and see how they're staying inspired and stuff because I was feeling a bit stagnant in Melbourne when I decided to leave everything behind. I was just on a mission at the time, I was preparing to compete.
I got to Vegas and I hurt myself pretty badly, pretty quickly. I ruptured my bicep, I did a pretty major tear on my left shoulder and ruptured the bicep on my left arm, so I was out of action for a long while and had to find a way to come to terms with that, that I packed up my whole life to travel for Jiu Jitsu and was sidelined for the first 2 weeks. And then, within four months, the bicep fully ruptured and it was the weird thing, it was kind of hanging on apparently by a thread, and on a Thursday I fully ruptured it choking someone. On Monday, because it was fully detached, I was rolling again, and I was at Marcelo Garcia‘s academy by that Monday.
I guess the big journey for me has been about finding a way to be in this sport without being a competitor, even though I want to be really good at it. Just discovering how other people are approaching that, big lessons about acceptance and friendship and support in the sport and what is truly important to me, because even in the four, four and a half months I had off, my life in Jiu Jitsu didn't change. In fact, my involvement in Jiu Jitsu didn't change at all, so it really taught me that the physical side of it is just sort of like the way to be involved in the community.
It became much more holistic for me and I am now sort of traveling more in Australia, now that I'm traveling Australia, I'm traveling more for the relationships than the sport. But I guess big lessons for me were about balance in life and maybe not putting all your eggs in one basket and even though I was injured, I was traveling and there's no way that you can wake up in the morning in Vegas as an Australian and think, oh God, it’s all bad – it’s all good! You're not at work, and you're traveling and you've got all these amazing people that you can go and see, and I just think that this community really can lift you up, even in some pretty bad times.
I traveled and I went and I saw my family, that's why I ended up in Canada and then I trained with a bunch of teams in Montreal, even though I couldn't roll. There was a top team in Montreal, they took care of me. I couldn't roll, I couldn't do anything. I couldn't because I was in danger of making this arm worse that we thought it was going to get better. And they just let me come in and drill. These were complete strangers and they helped me get through a really really hard time in my life. They had a rack up at the back, so you come in for class with these guys and Fabio is an exceptional team leader.
He would let me come in, welcome me with open arms, he remembered me from an Abu Dhabi fight, I fought one of his girls in Abu Dhabi, a purple belt. And she was on the mat, preparing for camp and instead of automatically assuming, oh, you guys will be in the same division, which we would have been for world's, he was like, come on in, jump on the mats!
And they had a sports rack in the back of the gym, so I'd come in and we'd do drills that would not hurt me every day for an hour and then when the guys got to roll, I'd just do squats. So it was a really nice couple of months with those guys, they really supported me to get me back to the mats. And they did, I got to a point where I could roll light and then I fully ruptured the bicep and as soon as it was gone and I knew I could roll, I was on the plane straight to Garcia!
GEORGE: This is going to be maybe a tough one, but let's say you take Marcelo Garcia out of his gym: what is it that stands out with training there in comparison with other gyms?
JESS: Paul Schreiner is the short answer!
JESS: For me, I love Marcelo and like everybody, I look up to him in a huge way. I think that his Jiu Jitsu is absolutely beautiful, I think that his attitude is absolutely beautiful. I see him manage a room of people that are all elite, there's some bad ass guys in that room, and girls, real good people. And he's managing all these egos so beautifully and he does it with such good grace. Him and his wife, they're just doing an incredible job with that gym. I don't know much of the back workings of that space, but I've always been really welcomed in there and I'd been out there, it's almost three years ago now, but at the time I was there, I'd been out there two years before for world's prep. And these are people that let me come in as a purple belt.
I paid my fees, which doesn't really allow me how I was behaving as a purple, but I paid my fees, turned up pre-worlds prep and was just trying to tear through everyone. I was like, I'm getting ready for world's, it's my time to bash people! It's like, you pay the fees to the gym, but there are these people there that train every day, it's their bodies you're using for that pre-camp. Maybe they didn't sign up for your pre-camp. Maybe your pre-camp doesn't mean as much to them as it does to you and I look back now and I think it was a really unfair way to behave.
So I went in there this year and was like, you wouldn't believe: I walked in with this sling on and these guys, they remember you and they remember your whole name and they remember everything about you and they run across the room to hug you. It’s just the most incredible thing and most incredible sport, they're kind of like my heroes that I follow on Instagram and stuff. From my first experience from feeling like that with Marcelo's, where it was so warmly welcoming, I wanted to go back there.
But the biggest thing for me, and I love Marcelo, I'm not saying it like I have favorites, but for me, the first time I was there, Paul Schreiner just blew me away as a coach. He is just exceptional and he's dedicated his life I believe to becoming an exceptional coach, he's continually upskilling as a coach. I'm sure as an athlete he just loves the sport so he just gets better by design, but this is a man that invests in the coaching aspect, which I find is really rare across the board.
GEORGE: How does that differ? What exactly do you mean, how does his coaching compared to another coaching?
JESS: I think that he is really well studied in communication and I asked him quite a bit about it because I went back there for him. I wanted to just sit myself in front of that guy and go – just teach a man, I just want to see you teach. I want to see your process and I want to see what you do. Of course, when I hurt myself at the beginning of the year, I had to make a decision on how I wanted to be involved in the sport and I couldn't be involved that year as a competitor and maybe never again, I don't know. I'm 37 and I'm broken, maybe this is why people quit competing.
That's something to come to terms with, but as far as my interest and what I learned was, I don't want to just be an exceptional athlete, I want to be an exceptional leader and a coach. And I don't think that just comes from being good at a sport. I trained for two years to become a teacher of yoga and we weren't just learning how to do the act of yoga, we were learning how to teach and how to communicate with different personality types. It was two years full-time study, and I just haven't seen really many of my coaches learn how to teach.
They might be really great at the sport, but I would like to see, and this is what I search for, exceptional coaches. And I don't think that that just happens accidentally by having a cool personality and being charming, I think that happens when people are really interested and they're upskilled in both departments. Not just physically as a Jiu Jitsu practitioner, they really are learning how to communicate. There're heaps of courses online that I've seen that are available that people just don't utilize, and they should. I can't just expect to use Facebook and think that I'm going to influence the world if I don't go find out how social media works. Get upskilled, whatever I'm going to do, learn about the thing!
For me, it’s very clear that Paul is investing in how to coach and I did ask him about it, he said that he studied a lot about how Iyengar yoga practice is done and how they approach teaching this thing. It’s very perfect, very detailed practice. I don't know much about the rest of his background, but it’s very clear that he's not just upskilling and not just focused on the sport, he's focused on how to communicate the sport to others, which is what a coach is. If you take Marcelo, long long long story short, if you take Marcelo out of that gym, oh man, there's layers under that. You take Marcelo out, you've got Paul, you take Paul out, you've got Bernardo. You take Bernardo out, you've got Marcus Dimarco, who is ridiculously good – all of these men are really fantastic like athletes and coaches, but for me, it's Paul Schreiner that just blows my mind.
GEORGE: So, it’s all in the communication, in the process, not as much the expertise, but the delivering of the expertise.
JESS: Absolutely, absolutely. For me, one of my first coaches, and he's still a coach, my coach Martin Gonzales at Vanguard in Melbourne, one of the things that he said to me years ago was that he sort of finds potential offensive, that potential is actually a waste if it’s not realized. It’s a waste, potential should be just the precourse to something great, you should be able to do something with it. And if you don't, that's on you. It’s not the greatest of things, I sort of see athletes that are really good at this sport are not necessarily the greatest of communicators.
They have the potential to be, they have all this information that they could hand over to you, but if they don't, it's value to them and them alone. And that's totally fine, that's the kind of athlete and person that you're going to be, but it’s not the side of sport or the community that I'm looking for. It sort of comes down to, again, with Australian girls in GI, there's two groups: the teams that really don't want to be involved in that sort of thing and the teams that do, and that's cool.
I'm all for the teams that do, the ones that want to cross train and get involved: they're my tribe, they're my people, let's do great things together. And I'm kind of leaning towards in having mentors and leaders that weren't necessarily the greatest of all time, even though, obviously, Marcelo is amazing, but I want them to be the greatest of all time at sharing. Sharing the information and what is truly beautiful in a coach is if they're the greatest in the world in sharing information, but they also have the greatest Jiu Jitsu behind them.
And I used to look at that sort of backward, I used to look for the best in the world, athletes, but the reality is, a lot of them that have got to that point have done so by having to be really self-focused. I wouldn't say narcissistic, but they had very self-focused lives. And to flick that switch just because they've retired might be quite hard for them. I don't know, it’s just stuff we haven't looked into and haven't unpacked yet. I don't think that just because you grew out of competition, whether it be through age or injury that makes you an exceptional coach, no.
GEORGE: Excellent, that's insightful. A few more questions on that now: the reverse of that – what's the worst practice that you see in your travels? Don't hold back.
JESS: The worst practice, how do you mean?
GEORGE: Why would you avoid training at a certain gym? Is it a commonality that you see around the world, whether it’s in New York or Bali or anywhere, that you feel it’s not acceptable, it’s not a place that you would train for that reason?
JESS: Ok, so somewhere where you wouldn't revisit?
JESS: To be fair, everywhere I had on my list was great, and I had a massive list, and it changed from time to time. I really want to do a huge east coast of America tour, there're some people over there that are just off the hook. There's such a great run of people if you go all the way from New York down to the tip of Florida – man, it just never ends, but I just ran out of time and money and stuff. But everywhere I went was really great. I chose names definitely, even though I've just said I shouldn't do that, but I've had these dreams of meeting certain people for a long time and so I kind of had a list of names that I wanted to follow.
And I did ask a lot of questions, there were some people that I had the plan to go to, and a couple of people said, well, I don't know, maybe his online presence is great, but he's not very good of a teacher. So I listened to people, I listened to my peers for guidance, and never really hit any roadblocks. I hit two problems in San Diego that I would say I wouldn't return for. One of them because of expense, there's a couple of gyms there that I just can't justify it – it’s Jiu Jitsu, you know? I've already spent $6000 to be there as an Australian and I can't justify $80 a day, I just can't do it, which is really disappointing. So I guess just out of necessity, there were a couple places I couldn't return to.
There're a couple of places that would require you to either remove your patches, which I am never going to do for anyone, no one's going to tell me to remove my patches. That's fine, if that's what they don't want in their gym, or a higher GI at an exorbitant price, I remember where they would be a brand, so you get stuck in this loop of getting sort of sold to, so you have to buy all their equipment so you can train with them. And that's fine if that's what they want to do. Like I said, if people want to be involved, they want to be involved with my thing and I guess that's what this business is doing as well, just setting the price at what they believe is the value of their academy and I agree with them, it’s absolutely worthy of that price – I just can't pay it.
That was me as a traveler – if I lived locally, yeah, I would probably train there, but I just can't afford the drop in prices, so that was a road block for me. Having said that, I'm happy to pay. I've paid my way around the world, I didn't expect to walk in and have any handouts anywhere. I've definitely paid everywhere I went and I pride myself on that. I don't want to be in anyone's pocket, it's just, I know my limits with costs, you know?
So that was one thing. I also had a really nasty interaction with a very well regarded black belt at some point in my travels, where he really questioned me about being a nomad. We trained and he's been a hero of mine for a long time, so I was really hurt by it, but I understand what happened now. I came as a visitor and definitely they allow visitors at that gym and welcome them, but I believe that that is just because that's just the way that the sport has gone and they're sort of backed into a corner to not be closed doors anymore because of their fame.
But I don't believe that the head of that system likes it, I think he, in fact, resents it a great deal. He took me aside and kind of shamed me in front of a bunch of people for being a gypsy, for having more than one team patch on my back, for being on the road, a whole bunch of stuff. Said to me, look, I can tell in your Jiu Jitsu, I can tell by the way that you feel when you play Jiu Jitsu that you've either never had a master, or never let anyone be your master. Really kind of domineering, quite intimidating, very upsetting conversation, where he tried to question everything about me.
And that's fine, that's cool. I know self-defense, and I mean that on an emotional level, so I was just like, oh cool, that's really interesting, thanks for that and just left. That's fine, but that I found quite alarming and now that I've been through it I find that that was, you asked me earlier about the big lessons of the trip and I really thought on that one for a long time, cause I really loved him, I had all of his books, I really loved him and it was very evident that women on the mat were challenging to him and he called me a gypsy as if it was an insult and all that kind of stuff.
And then my beautiful coach in Bali, Justin, when we spoke – and I never mentioned who the person was but we spoke and I said I had a kind of a hard encounter and I spoke about a couple of things and he was like, yeah, but you're a gypsy, it’s the best thing! So I had these two men call me a gypsy: one thought it was beautiful and one thought it was horrifying, so it was quite interesting. But again, it comes back down to this thing: there're lots of academies and lots of humans that really respond well to kind of a dictatorship, they want to thrive in that environment.
These are guys that would probably thrive in the army too, but there're lots of humans that can't thrive in the army and can't thrive in that environment. So I see myself and people like me within the community that really liked cross train and travel and make this a lifestyle, not a membership. We really need that, say Studio 540, oh my god! That to me is the most progressive, amazing place, I love what they've done down there.
There's a whole bunch of coaches and they're all elite and there's Leticia Ribeiro there and Justin Flores is there, it’s so good. It's a melting pot of shared interest and shared the joy for this thing by the beach. That's everything to me that sums up why I love Bali MMA, you know? And why I love training up here in the Gold Coast and all over Byron, all this kind of stuff. It’s a lifestyle for me and being called out for it, saying it like I was doing the wrong thing by not having respectful lineage or loyalty, I was really taken aback by that with this.
He's a professor and he's somebody I looked up to for a long time, so the big lessons for me, I guess apart from acceptance of myself and my role in this community was I started to see the correlation between, everybody says, it’s my family, the team is my family, they talk about his family thing and there's all this push for respect and lineage and in fact, I kind of looked at that and I dissected it and looked at the idea of family and the fact that not all of us – and I'm not talking about my family because my family is wonderful, but not all of us are lucky enough to be born into the perfect family.
Not all of us are lucky enough to have two parents that stay together and are loving and are brave enough and are bold enough to get us through everything that we need to get through. Maybe there's fraction in the family or maybe the parents weren't even there or maybe there's a problem with your brother or whatever it is, but there's plenty of people that don't have the perfect family and don't have the luxury of it and to me, I've started to see family in that way. Lineage, definitely in the Jiu Jitsu community is a luxury, it’s actually a privilege.
These men that are so stern about it, you should have one master and one lineage and everything else or whatever they say, some kind of swear word or something, some kind of insult about changing teams. The thing is, if you were lucky enough to get all the way through with one coach and one master that your really like and you still like his Jiu Jitsu, that is a privilege like no other and you should be happy as hell. It’s amazing. And you know what? I'm jealous because some of my coaches have failed me. The reason I bounced was because my coaches failed me, one of my coaches had a complete mental breakdown. It’s hard to stay loyal to a guy that's no longer in the sport.
So having this, not grand master, but it’s pretty close, guy call me out for being a creonte essentially, OK I thought, well, you know, you're lucky enough to have a nice, perfect family with two parents and a brother and a sister and a dog, but the rest of us, us orphans that have to band together, our bonds are just as real and they're just as important and they're just as worthy and in fact, if you've got someone like me that's not had the best upbringing as it were in Jiu Jitsu, and she's still in the sport and she's doing great things for the community, I think that should be commended not condemned.
And I guess that's a big reassurance for me with Australian girls in GI. The amount of women that I know that had a boyfriend at their gym and then when the breakup happens, the boyfriend gets the gym and the breakup – how could she be loyal to her coach? How is she able to stay perfectly near the sensei kind of stuff, if she's also got this real world problem for her that means that her whole life's been turned upside down. She loses her friends and her teammates in that exchange and it happens!
It happens to women in this sport, I'm sure it happens to guys too, but more often I see the girls that have to move gyms and I think that those kind of people that stay in the sport, that's real loyalty. They're loyal to the sport and just because something happened at the gym doesn't mean they're in the wrong. I think there needs to be an alternative way at looking at cross training because some of us need to, some of us need to, otherwise, we wouldn't thrive.
GEORGE: That's excellent. Well, I've got to tell you, I applaud you for your individuality and to do that, you know, it's funny, we're probably going to end it here, but you almost talk about this whole dictatorship of martial arts, and it’s funny, you're part of this family, until you do your thing. It’s all family, but as long as you do family our way, it's OK, but if you do family your way, it's wrong.
JESS: Yeah, that's right!
GEORGE: That's true gold right there. Thanks a lot for your time, it’s been great chatting to you, I feel like we really hit the mark here in these last 20 minutes with your learning and your experience and I think it will be great, because the majority of the people that listen to this podcast are men and are obviously martial arts school owners and it will be a great insight for them to get a ladies perspective on how it is for you on your side and how things work. So with that, with the Australian girls in GI, how do people get involved with the program?
JESS: The easiest way I would say is to go to the website and then there's a bunch of ways to get actually involved with Facebook, but just so you don't have to remember all the different links or whatever, there are links on the website. The website is www.australiangirlsingi.com. That's the website, there's the get involved in Australia and you can become a member or a fan. The member takes you through to the forum, so that's the group. It would just be facebook.com/groups/australiangirlsingi, so if you sort of do Australian girls in GI in any formation on Facebook, you will find us.
But it's important to know that there is two different groups, different areas online in Facebook. There's the public page, and you will pretty clearly find that that's a public page, because there's no discussion going on, that's just where we put all of our updates so the world even knows that we exist, because otherwise if we're in this closed group forum, you guys don't get to see it.
The closed group forum is in that way for function, we're keeping the girls protected. You've got to understand that the first words, Australian girls, people searching for that group are not always desirable! I'm glad they're a fan of my work, but they're not the same kind of fans that we want, so I had to make it a secret group to protect the women in there. And there's a lot of women in there that write things that they don't want the public to see.
We're dealing with a lot of PTSD and anxiety and that kind of stuff, there's a lot of anonymous posts that people message me and they can post anonymously via me. So just jump on Facebook, just type in the words Australian girls in GI. You'll find us, there're heaps of events coming up, there's always events coming up in Australia and the only one that's quite international at the moment is Bali and that's in a couple of weeks. So that's the easiest way to find us, just send me straight a message, I'll always get back to people if they send it straight though the age and I can direct you.
GEORGE: All right, awesome. Jess, thank you very much for your time.
JESS: No worries.
GEORGE: And I hope to speak to you soon.
JESS: Yeah, great, thanks, George!
GEORGE: Thank you, cheers!
And there you have it, thanks for listening. If you'd like the transcripts of this show, you can go to martialartsmedia.com/13, that's the number 13. And I really enjoyed this chat, because it’s different to what we normally do, talking about the marketing side of things, and people's journeys and so forth, because this is a completely different journey and Jess is so well traveled and has got such a lot of experience dealing with different martial arts schools, so it’s great to get that perspective and most importantly of all, a ladies perspective, because in the industry that's mainly male dominated, for the most part, it’s great to hear the challenges that a lady has, trying to fit in with the whole martial arts arena and things that get in the way of politics and relationship and so forth.
There're a few things there that really take home with your marketing and especially the coaching side. The one thing that she mentioned was learning from all these experts, it’s not always about the expert, but it’s the delivery of the content, the delivery of the teaching. We all, as martial artists, we all want to learn and prove ourselves and we've got to do that in all areas in life: we've got to do that in our business, we've got to do that in our communication and everything else. So there we go – thank you very much for listening, we'll be back again, we've got a few more great interviews lined up, so watch out for those- looking forward to speaking to you soon – cheers!
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