I recently caught up with Brazilian Jiu Jitsu world medallist, Jess Fraser, ahead of an exciting event she’s hosting in Canberra this weekend. Here’s what she had to say about life, both on and off the mats.

Founder and organiser Jess Fraser is the woman behind Australian Girls in Gi (AGIG), a community of women and girls dedicated to empowering women to participate in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu.

A Canberran at heart, but currently Melbourne-based, Jess is back this weekend to host the exclusive AGIG women’s only “Open Mat” at Elements Fitness and Martial Arts.

Many of us have preconceived notions of what kind of women practice martial arts. They must be aggressive, masculine, or angry at the world, right?

Well, not exactly. Jess’ foray into Brazilian Jiu Jitsu came about primarily because she wanted to get fit, and brag about her skills to guys.

“The reality is that I was motivated mainly because I wanted to be a badass, to look buff and to impress boys at the pub with a rockin’ body, and tales of how ninja I was,” says the 27 year old.

“My priorities have changed since then. But the badass thing is still appealing!”

Having medalled at the Abu Dhabi World Pro Championships and won multiple state, national & pan-pacific championships here in Australia these days Jess is one of Australia’s most decorated BJJ practitioners and says that training is more than just her mediation.

Jess in action.jpg

Jess in action on the mats.

“It’s my personal development, routine and the most challenging and rewarding pursuit of my life to date,” she says.

“I also found the love of my life through this sport, and a community that is now my second family, and a team that I would do anything for. I get a lot out of it. I guess that’s why I want to give back as much as I do.”

One of the many ways that Jess gives back is through AGIG, which she says is having a positive effect on retaining women in BJJ clubs throughout the country. With a focus on women’s personal and physical development, AGIG comprises an inclusive and vibrant online community, and runs events and activities for women at all stages of their BJJ journey.

AGIG started in 2010 as a way to connect with other females that train. I was one of three girls that trained at my first gym, which, at the time that was seen as a large female team,” says the founder of the empowering female movement.

“I figured if there were more girls at the gym, there would be higher odds that I could find an exact clone of me to roll with. A luxury our male training partners can take for granted every day. Imagine!”

“I felt there must be more girls out there as crazy in love with fighting sports as me. Though they might be few and far between, I figured there should be a way to bring like-minded chicks together for all sorts of benefits: friendship, support, training, inspiration, competition, ideas, advice, guidance – all the things that contribute to AGIG’s most important goal: retention.”

Jess clarifies that AGIG was formed not out of necessity, but as a way to add value to women’s training experiences.

“Don’t get me wrong, we can also find all of the above in our relationships with male training partners and coaches, but all too rarely it comes from other females,” she adds.

“It wasn’t so much that I felt something was lacking on the mats training with guys, but that we could add more to how great this sport is for ourselves.”

Jess-kids.jpg

Jess is passionate about inspiring both women and young girls to take part in the martial arts sport.

While Jess regularly trains with men and women, she sees female-only training spaces as most valuable for both emotional and mental reasons. However, she also recognises that these spaces are the only way for some women to get their foot in the gym door.

“Plenty of my friends chose to train in women-only environments for reasons ranging from religion to simply feeling more comfortable, to working through trauma or Post Traumatic Stress Disorder,” she shares.

“Anything that allows ladies to train that otherwise might not, is a good thing.”

While BJJ continues to grow in popularity, and AGIG’s one thousand-plus following continues to expand, the BJJ practitioner acknowledges that there are still significant barriers for some women who are thinking about stepping onto the mats.

“I believe the biggest barriers are front doors and the fear of the unknown. The guts that it takes to go up to a gym and check it out, when it’s something you’ve never done before, is absolutely huge,” she says.

“If only girls knew that this sport is almost more suited to them physically, than men. Flexibility, speed, strength, hip movement! These are absolutely the assets I value in my game. Girls be rocking that!”

Beyond her AGIG network, it is Jess’ family that provides unwavering support for her career development.

“My nephew thinks I’m pretty much the champion of the universe due to the medals on my wall. My sister is a powerlifter, and has made it to national level so far. She’s me, but a lifter. We inspire each other a great deal,” says Jess proudly.

“My brother is an epic skateboarder, field and ice hockey player and now coaches soccer. He leads a group called Thirroul Needs A Skatepark; a sports-focused community group trying to raise funds and approval from the local council for a skatepark in the area for the kids.

“They also follow my competitive career pretty closely. Three medals in three years internationally—it’s been a good run and there’s always cake waiting for me on homecoming.”

On the mats, Jess cites both men and women as her mentors and role models.

“Dave Hart is my mentor, coach, boss, closest friend. He is vitally important to me. Martin Gonzalez is my partner and long time coach. He is the most brutally honest person I know,” she reveals.

“I think in this sport, honest feedback is the greatest gift you can receive. The trick is being able to hear it.”

Jess also finds inspiration in her other role models including Sophia McDermott Drysdale and Luanna Alzuguir, for more reasons than she can even begin to list. But says that are definitely worth Googling.

Jess and Sophia McDermott Drysdale.jpg

Jess (right) with her fellow fighter and role model, Sophie McDermott Drysdale

With a cool year planned for 2015, one that will involve a lot of travel with AGIG and More Grappling, new competitions for people of all ages throughout Australia and lots more community events (especially for girls), Jess says her journey will take a slightly different direction with a renewed focus on refining her BJJ game.

“I no longer want to prove myself to anyone,” she says.

” I just want to develop and diversify. I think you can kick ass without necessarily taking down names.

The essentials

What: AGIG Open Mat for Women – Canberra
When: 11am, Sunday 5 October 2014
Where: Elements Fitness and Martial Arts – 15 Moore St, Canberra City
What: Fun and safe warm up, followed by just over an hour of timed BJJ rounds in a safe and supportive environment.The day will finish with a closed-door Q&A session focused on unique issues for women within the world of grappling. All levels and experiences welcome. Children also welcome to sit mat-side. More info here.
Cost: Donate a note of any amount.

This article was originally published in Her Canberra

Advertisements