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Ash-8-Months

I promise this isn’t some kind of mummy blog rant. I’ve never had the urge to write publicly on the topic of pregnancy and parenthood, but recently some friends have encouraged me to share my experiences. They said it would be helpful for women “like us” to read, so I’ve jotted down some observations and thoughts – I hope some of you find some of it useful.

Last week Ash turned nine months old, and in exactly a week from today I will be on my way home from my first official day at work in almost a year. Lots of people have been asking me how I feel about it, and while I will undoubtedly miss Ash, I am  looking forward to it (it helps when you enjoy what you do for a living).

It will be great to get back to contributing to positive social change, being inspired by my talented colleagues, and exercising the professional part of my brain. Importantly for me, the work aspect of my life hasn’t been completely on hold while on parental leave. I’ve been chipping away at developing a start-up social enterprise with a good friend of mine who happened to also be on parental leave at the same time.

Over the past nine months we’ve spent many days pushing prams together while brainstorming, feeding our babies while planning, and writing to-do lists while cleaning up vomit. It’s been so much fun!

I also decided to do a bit of tutoring at uni to bring in a few extra dollars, and have a break from full-time parenting duties. Fortunately I was able to teach classes in between Ash’s feed times, and feel relaxed about leaving him, knowing that he was with his wonderful grandmother.

Interestingly, when I tell people about working while on leave, most of the time they respond with something like “How do you manage all that? Aren’t you too exhausted to think about work? I can’t believe you can handle a newborn baby and work at the same time!”.

I guess I could take it as a complement, but these comments are usually promptly followed up by more generalised advice such as “don’t think about work while you’re on leave, enjoy your time with your baby”, or “you should really forget about doing the housework, you need to sleep when the baby sleeps”, and “don’t worry about exercising, your first priority is looking after the baby”. Sigh.

Clearly it never occurs to them that my way of coping, managing, and mothering may be different to theirs, or social norms.

Some days all I want to do is clean while Ash sleeps, so that when he wakes up I can enjoy the environment around us. Sometimes I am physically exhausted, but have lots of ideas that I just have to get out of my head and onto a google doc before Ash wakes up. Other days I sleep when he sleeps.

I think it’s really important to do what makes you happy, especially when you’re sleep deprived, a little isolated, and going through a lot of physical and psychological change.

For me, having professional projects and “work” to focus on has really helped keep me grounded, intellectually challenged, and feeling like I hadn’t had a complete identity change the minute Ash came into the world.

There is no single, better, or right way of spending your time. This clearly isn’t rocket science, but then why hadn’t anyone, any blog, or any book suggested it to me before?

In light of this, I thought I’d share some of the things that I found really helpful when I was pregnant, and in the early days when Ash was born.

But before you read on there is one very large caveat to all this – I am extremely fortunate to have a fantastic husband, an amazing mother, a caring father, a supportive workplace, and good mental and physical health. Without these things, the list below would undoubtedly look very different.

Seeing a kick arse GP

A visit to a GP is typically where your pregnancy journey will begin, so having a good rapport with them is pretty important. They’ll likely influence your decision making and set the tone for your pregnancy early on. One of the most helpful things my GP did was to firmly tell me not to read too many pregnancy or parenting blogs, and under no circumstances play Dr Google when it came to health-related issues. After that appointment I promptly unsubscribed from a bunch of sites that were doing little more than causing me mild anxiety about all the things that could go wrong with me, my baby and my relationship while I was pregnant.

Listening to the experiences of like-minded women

I’m fortunate that most of my closest girlfriends already had babies, or were well on their way by the time I fell pregnant. They have been an invaluable source of information and ideas for me, and a great sounding board.

I should stress though that I chose pretty early on in my pregnancy who I would listen to and who I would politely smile and nod at, while disregarding everything that was coming out of their mouth. There’s no shortage of opinions and views about pregnancy and parenting out there, and most people don’t hold back before telling you what you should and shouldn’t do. That’s why I think it’s really important to stick to a few trusted sources, and ignore the rest!

Writing up my birth preferences

I was hesitant about birth plans, but I really liked the idea of Simon and I both knowing my birth preferences. For me it was about understanding some of the decisions that I might need to make during labour, and discussing them with Simon and our midwife in advance. For example, what pain relief options I would like to try during labour, whether I wanted to have vaginal exams during labour (and whether I wanted to be told how dilated I was), preference for skin-to-skin contact with the baby immediately after birth, how I wanted to birth the placenta (and what to do with it afterwards), the list goes on!

One of the most useful sources of information I found in preparing my birth preferences were the prenatal yoga classes I attended with Vedanta Nicholson. Not only were these classes a fantastic way to relax and learn essential active birth skills, but Vedanta gives you really practical, evidence-based information about labour and birth in each class. I also found the following books incredibly useful – they all helped to inform my birth preferences:

One of the things I learnt about birth preferences, is that they can be helped or hindered by hospital policies. For example, some hospitals in the ACT don’t allow water births, and they all have various standards when it comes to medical intervention during labour.

A couple of my girlfriends had gone through the Birth Centre at Calvary, and highly recommended it. After chatting with them I thought it would probably suit me, because I was keen to have a vaginal birth with little or no intervention if possible. I must say that I received amazing care from the midwives, nurses and doctors at Calvary – and I saw quite a few after a 30 hour labour that ended in an emergency cesarean section!

Even though my labour didn’t end as I would’ve liked, I found the entire experience absolutely empowering and mind-blowing! Anyway, that’s another blog post

Once Ash was finally born, there were a few key things that I found helpful, particularly in the early days:

Focusing on the positives – there are lots!

While I spent the first few months post-partum feeling frustrated about being so physically inactive while my body recovered from the Cesarean Section, and adjusted to keeping another human alive (outside my body this time), I kept focusing on the fact that we had a gorgeous and healthy little boy in our lives. This simple mantra gave me a clear reference point when I was thoroughly sleep deprived, full of raging hormones, feeling fat and lethargic, and at times, completely unsure if Simon and I were “doing it right”.

Forming a parental brains trust

Simon and I are really lucky that the group of parents we did our hospital classes with started a really supportive and candid closed Facebook group so we could stay in touch. While I’ve never been big on the concept of “mother’s groups” or discussing difficult and personal issues with perfect strangers, this crew was (and still is) a great support for Simon and I. It’s been so interesting to chat with other parents about everything from sleep, to teething, nappy options, health issues, weaning, first foods, childcare experiences, and everything in between.

Finding my new training routine

Having gone from doing functional fitness, Capoeira, and Brazilian Jiu Jitsu regularly pre-pregnancy, to being restricted to “just walking” for 6 months post-partum, I had to rethink and reimagine my ideal training routine. It went something like this:

When Ash was about four months, I started to do some one-on-one personal training sessions with my man Simon. My focus for these sessions is mobility and light strength work. When I am super tired we run through a series of stretches, focusing on unlocking all my tight and tangled spots (there were lots).

At six months I felt I could add some more dynamic, whole body movements into my training. So I was super excited when I returned to FuncFitness to train once a week, it’s one of the friendliest gym communities in Canberra. The culture of where you train is always important, but even moreso when you’re getting back to training after a break, and are feeling super unfit.

Most recently I’ve started doing some one-on-one Muay Thai sessions with my friend Mitch Langman. Some days we work on the psychological aspects of my training, sometimes we spar, sometimes we run drills on the focus pads. One of the things I love about training with Mitch is that regardless of what we’ve done during that hour, I always leave with a smile on my face, feeling a billion times better than when I first walked in.

So what’s next? I’m absolutely itching to get back into some Capoeira and Brazilian Jiu Jitsu at Elements – I’ll find some time somehow!

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

Starting a game with Contra Mestre Loki, Canberra, 2011.

Starting a game with Contra Mestre Loki, Canberra, 2011.

Being injured sucks. It’s a place that nobody wants to find themselves in, whether they’re athlete, couch potato, or anything in between. 

As I approach the 3-year anniversary of one of the biggest challenges of my life, I thought I’d jot down what I’ve learnt about injury, recovery and the importance of being innovative with your training. Hopefully this post provides some food for thought for folk out there facing similar challenges.

Please note: I don’t have a background in medicine, health or sports science. In this post I explore my personal experiences, and what I’ve learnt along the way.

The back story

One of my first Capoeira classes in Brazil with my brother (Kojak), Emma (Rupunzel), Mestre Cocoroca, and myself.

One of my first Capoeira classes in Brazil with my brother (Kojak), Emma (Rupunzel), and Mestre Cocoroca. Laranjeiras, Rio de Janeiro, 2002.

Anyone that knows me will verify the fact that I am a giant Capoeira nerd. From the moment I first walked into a Capoeira class and heard the twang of the Berimbau at age 20, I was hooked!

To me Capoeira has always been about much more than a physical discipline or even a cultural practice. It’s not about the gradings, festivals, games, music, language or dance.

Being a Capoeirista has allowed me to delve deep into the heart of who I am, and explore every facet of my identity. Through my practice I have seen with absolute clarity my flaws, talents, and creativity.

This art form also connected me with people who have undoubtedly shaped my life. It has been the catalyst for positive change in my self perception, the way I deal with friendships, and the world. Capoeira has walked with me through some of my toughest moments; helplessness, heartbreak, death, and betrayal.

Above all else, Capoeira is my way of consolidating my experiences in life, processing them, and celebrating them.

The initial diagnosis

After more than a decade of training Capoeira every other day, and dabbling in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu, Muay Thai, and surfing, I’d had my fair share of minor to moderate injuries. I’d experienced the frustration of needing to rest, rehab, and climb my way back to where I was before. But nothing really prepared me for the diagnosis I received in mid 2011, and the events that followed.

I was playing a Capoeira master, who applied a take down on me that saw me land awkwardly and smack the outside of my right knee on the wooden floor.

After a couple of weeks of swelling and pain, I went to see a physio, who treated me for an impinged fat pad. After a couple of months of rehab and rest, I was back on the mats, feeling strong and pain-free.

Just when I felt I was getting my groove back, I dislocated my knee cap when doing the splits after class. I was comfortably stretching in the splits and went to square up my hips. As my right leg moved with my hips, my knee cap seemed to “stick” in the mats, forcing it out to the side.

Yep, that hurt.

Over the coming days the swelling and inflammation worsened, and I returned to the physio. She sent me to get an MRI because she was concerned about why my knee cap had dislocated so easily, and because the knee joint had experienced multiple traumas.

Weeks later I sat in the sports physiologist’s rooms, anxiously waiting my turn.

With an almost expressionless face and with no preamble, she bluntly delivered the news, blow by blow:

  1. I had developed significant osteoarthritis in my right knee, particularly under the patella. I’ll never forget the way she said “your knee looks like it belongs to an ex-rugby player”.
  2. I should never do any martial arts ever again, or any exercise that involves lunging or squatting.
  3. Panadol was going to be my new best friend – forever.
  4. The condition and pain would only get worse over time.

I was gutted.

With tears in my eyes I asked her if there was any shred of hope for an alternative treatment, surgery or more positive long-term prognosis, to which she said “no, that’s the way it is with arthritis. There is no cure and it will only worsen the older you get”.

The surgery 

My mum is a “never give up” kind of woman, and she certainly doesn’t take no for an answer, at least without making sure she’s exhausted all other options first. She’s also very well connected here in Canberra, and within 24 hours of my diagnosis, had spoken with a golfing friend who also happened to be a top orthopaedic surgeon.

Still doubtful as to whether the surgeon could help me, I made an appointment to see him. The long and short of it was that there were a range of surgery options available to me, but none would restore my knee to its former structure, and none came with any kind of certainty about whether I would actually experience any kind of pain relief, let alone get me back to training.

He sent me home after a cortisone injection to see how I felt, and ponder whether I wanted to opt for surgery. The most minimal form of intervention was an arthroscope where he would “reshape” the underside of my knee cap, which in the MRI scan looked a bit like a jellyfish, the tentacles being the damaged, misshapen bone that was grating against the rest of the joint structure.

Being in pain every day can be pretty motivating. After the mild relief that the cortisone injection provided had worn off, I was just about willing to try anything to improve my situation.

I had the arthroscope in November 2011, and the initial recovery period went well. A month or so later, frustratingly, I was still experiencing significant inflammation and swelling around the knee, which was making any kind of exercise tricky.

Learning to “do it differently”

At this point I don’t know what was more difficult for me, the physical pain, grappling with the uncertainty of what lay ahead, or redefining my identity as a Capoeirista. I’m forever in debt to a handful of very good friends, who played an integral role in my rehab, recovery, and discovery of alternative ways to be happy, healthy and train hard.

Here are a few key things that I believe that helped me immensely on this journey:

  1. Adopting a low inflammatory diet: cutting out as much sugar and saturated fats as possible to minimise insulin spikes and subsequent inflammatory responses in the body.
  2. Squatting and weight bearing activities: despite the fact that the sports physiologist had told me to steer clear of squatting and lunging, I learnt to start slow, and build up the muscles around my knee joint.
  3. Learning about different types of pain: it’s true to say that some days it hurt to walk, let alone do weights or any kind of training, but I over time I learnt the difference between a full on inflammation and just general arthritis pain.
  4. Taking high doses of fish oil, glucosamine and chondroitin: like, a lot of it.
  5. Sleeping more, reducing my stress levels, and getting acupuncture when I was really inflamed or swollen. This proved more effective than any anti-inflammatories or pain relief medication.
  6. Learning to weigh up the risks: at first I would worry a lot about trying something new at training, or whether to train at all because I was afraid of being in pain. A good friend of mine who is well versed in managing chronic pain and an inflammatory condition taught me how to objectively assess risk VS reward, and to not succumb to fear!
  7. Not looking over my shoulder: another good friend of mine who is a physio and yoga teacher told me something really simple, and it has stuck with me. That is, that our bodies are living organisms that are forever changing. Sometimes it’s positive change, and sometimes it’s devastating. Change in our bodies over time is inevitable, so we should never expect them to perform or respond in the same way forever.

After about 18 months of ups and downs (and no Capoeira), I noticed that the periods of time that I was pain-free were growing. I started to  challenge my knee with new exercises and movements, and felt confident in pushing the boundaries of my initial diagnosis.

My awesome partner and my coach instilled in me a belief that I would get back to doing what I loved most, and more! I began to feel the strength building in my legs, and I started to experiment with Capoeira again. I am still working on my “new game” and train as much as I can (pain free of course).

I can now comfortably squat, lunge, skip, jump and run, and have gained full flexion back in my knee. I’m stronger than I’ve ever been in my life with a dead lift of 122.5kg, back squat of 80kg, bench press of 60kg, and push jerk of 55kg. I’ve also started to train BJJ again, with the assistance of chunky knee pads, and some awesome training partners.

There are no guarantees with my knee, but I’ve decided to set my sights high, and roll with the punches.

Moments after receiving my blue belt in 2007.

Moments after receiving my blue belt in 2007.

Playing Contra Mestre Ourico at the Capoeira Aruanda Batizado in 2010.

Playing Contra Mestre Ourico at the Capoeira Aruanda Batizado in 2010.

Meeting one of my Capoeira heroes, Mestre Acordeon (centre) with Contra Mestre Borracha in Melbourne, 2010.

Meeting one of my Capoeira heroes, Mestre Acordeon (centre) with Contra Mestre Borracha in Melbourne, 2010.

Playing music with Simon at Bondi Beach, 2012.

Playing music with Simon at Bondi Beach, 2012.

Martial Women and Girls, April, 2013

A lot has happened since the first Martial Women and Girls event in January, so I wanted to give you a bit of an update.

We held our second event

Our April event was jam-packed full of awesome! We tweaked the program based on our January participants’ feedback, and engaged some seriously talented ladies to lead our lightening workshops to explore the theme of ‘combat’ in their individual artforms.

Pia and I also did some radio about Martial Women and Girls in the morning with ABC 666‘s Mel Tait which was great fun. Some listeners ended up coming along to participate in the event later that day which was an unexpected but awesome outcome!

Our lineup of highly skilled and talented women for the day included 2008 Judo Olympian, Steph Grant, Muay Thai teacher and fight trainer, Jenny Blasi, Brazilian Jiu Jitsu coach, Jenni Walke, and amateur boxer, Julie Simms.

With more than 35 participants, many of whom hadn’t attended our January event, the group was a good mix of experienced martial artists, brand newbies, and beginners from Boxing, Brazilian Jiu Jitsu, Muay Thai and Gung Fu clubs around town.

Jenny Blasi, Muay Thai, 2013

Jenny Blasi, Dark Carnival Muay Thai, leading a demonstration on the combat principles of Muay Thai.

Jenni Walke, BJJ, April 2013

Jenni Walki, Elements Fitness and Martial Arts, facilitates a lightening workshop on Brazilian Jiu Jitsu.

Julie Simms, Boxing, 2013

Julie Simms, Winnunga Boxing, teaches the girls some basic drills with focus mits.

Stephanie Grant, Judo, 2013

Stephanie Grant, Hill Sports Academy Judo, demonstrates some spectacular throws with her training partner Mikali.

We were also lucky enough to have martial artist, yoga teacher and personal trainer, Barb Whiddon take us through the warm up on the day, and Capoeirista, Physiotherapist and yoga teacher, Emily McLoughlin guide us through the warm down and meditation at the close of the session.

Our next event is due to run in July, so stay tuned!

We secured a small grant to help build our community

Each year, the YWCA of Canberra calls for applications for its Great Ydeas Program, which provides local women with seed funding to get their project, small business, or social enterprise up and running, as well as support for professional development opportunities.

This year I was lucky enough to receive a small grant to build a dedicated website and marketing materials for Martial Women and Girls, which will get underway as soon as I return from Europe in July!

The Canberra Weekly ran a bit of a story about it it the last issue which was super cool. I loved that they used the pic of me kicking my partner Simon too 😉

Canberra Weekly article - Martial Women and Girls

So what’s next?

We’ll continue to hold regular events, build our online networks, and train of course! We’re keen to get a demonstration together for the 2014 Multicultural Festival, but that’s a little further down the track.

If you would like me to add you to our mailing list to receive updates about future activities and events then just leave a comment below with your email address.

Hope to see you on the mats!

Martial Women & Girls Workshop - Pia & Nu Nu

As I sat sharing a pot of Chai Tea with a fellow martial artist, Pia Waugh, I quickly came to understand our mutual desire to encourage more women and girls to get involved in martial arts in Canberra. The prospect of running a series of events with Pia was so intensely exciting, and at the same time I felt a little rocked by how quickly she had gained my trust, respect and confidence in collaborating with her. But this was the start of something great – I could feel it.

It wasn’t about competition, profile-raising, building a business, or any of that stuff you have to consider when you’re trying to make a dollar or two. We just wanted more women to experience some of the life-long benefits that martial arts can offer. Together we planned to create a space for women and girls of all ages, disciplines, and physical capability to come together to exchange skills, knowledge, and passion to build a stronger martial arts community in the ACT.

The first of our events was held in January this year, with over 35 women and girls in attendance. The vibe in the room was nothing short of awesome. I was so excited to see a whole bunch of faces I’d never encountered before, and at the same time have the comfort of a few of my best friends and training partners participating too.

Martial Women & Girls - January Workshop - Group Shot

The evidently vast age range of the participants which I estimate to be around 17-65, made me a little nervous at first, but the anxiety melted away as I watched people strike up conversations with one another, introduce themselves, and get comfortable on the mats.

After the intros and short demos, our participants enthusiastically dove right into a Brazilian Jiu Jitsu workshop with my mates Jenni and Sarah from Elements, followed by Boxing with Maddie and Muay Thai techniques with Nu Nu from Stockade, a Kyokushin Karate workshop with Claudia from Elements, and finally a Gung Fu session with Pia.

Martial Women & Girls - January Workshop

After some harassment I ran a short session on Capoeira music with the group, and I realised the women and girls in the room were not only brave, open-minded, and bold, but musically talented as well – not a bung note in the room!

We closed the afternoon with a short meditation, and had a chat about some of the drills and techniques we had explored. To me, the event was everything I’d hoped for and more, and some of the feedback we received still puts a big cheesy smile on my face. I just can’t wait for the next one in April!

“I liked that it was all girls. This is an unusual statement for me to make but I think that this is one of a very few situations where just girls is beneficial. I would have otherwise felt less comfortable.” – attendee, January 2013

Martial Women & Girls - January Workshop - Jo & Em

“Thank you. Building a women’s martial arts community in Canberra is a fantastic idea.” – attendee, January 2013

Martial Women & Girls - January Workshop - Jenni & Romina

“I finally understand BJJ!” – attendee, January 2013

Big thanks to Sharen Scott for these great pics!

Capoeira – what’s there not to love?

This is a quick and dirty video I cut together of my awesome mates at Elementos Capoeira, Canberra. This was my first time mucking around with a GoPro (thanks Frank and Trill), and it also marks a long awaited return to the editing suite!

 

Simon-Le-Au-Sem-Maos

This week I had a chat to a Canberra-based Capoeirista who I know well (because he’s my other half and training partner), Simon Le.

How did martial arts find its way into your life?

I’ve always been a fan of Bruce Lee. As a kid I would watch martial arts films and imitate Bruce, Jackie Chan and Van Dam. Most martial arts kids who grew up through the 80s and 90s were probably fans of those guys, as well as Chuck Norris and Stephen Segal.

What is it that attracted you to martial arts?

I love the way you can train your body to make it do what you want. I’ve always been interested in human movement, and martial arts is my favourite kind. I’m always amazed when I see people who are really good at what they do.

When did you first discover Capoeira, and what was your first impression of it?

I think I first saw Capoeira when I was in year 9 or 10, and I saw only the strong on a VHS tape. I became a member of a video store actually, just so I could hire it.

I thought it looked like magic! I wanted to try it but there wasn’t anyone teaching it in Canberra at that time. My friends and I were dabbling in Wushu and Taekwondo, Karate and Kickboxing, and we did most of our training in the back yard, as well as with a female Wushu teacher here. She was on the same Beijing Wu Shu team as Jet Li actually, and she’s still very good.

What are some of the big lessons you’ve learnt from Capoeira?

It’s definitely taught me how to become a more confident person in life. I was a very shy kid. Capoeira gives you a strange kind of confidence, because you know you can do things that other people can’t! This is going to sound cheesy but it teaches you that anything is possible. Like I said when I first saw it i thought it looked like magic, now when I see even the most complex moves, I can break it all down and it seems reachable, and it’s the same in life. I owe a lot of that to Capoeira.

What’s one of the most positive things about practicing Capoeira?

It’s always the people. Capoeira will connect you to some very interesting people!

How has Brazilian culture influenced your life?

I think being exposed to Brazilian culture through Capoeira has taught me to really get to know and understand other cultures better. Also, from my Mestre I learnt that it’s best to keep an open mind, to always try to be patient, and to not hold grudges. When people do something negative, I tend not to hold onto that for long at all.

What’s your favourite kind of Capoeira game?

I guess it’s that kind of mix between Angola and Regional. A medium paced game where you get to really express yourself, have fun, be a bit cheeky and muck around, and not just fight all the time. Fight Capoeira is only fun for about 30 seconds I find!

Favourite Capoeira movement?

I don’t really have a favourite move, but right now it’s probably a one-handed hand stand, where I tuck my legs into my body. I like the feeling of it, and it’s one of those moves you can do from anywhere.

Advice to people that are thinking about trying Capoeira?

Don’t judge it on just one class, be prepared to open your mind, and have some fun!

Where can people find out more about your classes?

All the info is at: www.elementsfitnessact.com.au

This article was originally published on Vivacidade

Liam Resnekov

I recently caught up with Liam Resnekov, a Sydney-based, award-winning martial artist, Brazilian Jiu Jitsu (BJJ) black belt, and all-round top bloke!

When did you get into BJJ? How does it feel to be a black belt now?

I originally was doing Judo and Karate. My parents were Karate teachers and they would have magazines lying around. In 1992 I read blitz magazine with John Will and he was talking about these Gracie brothers and their art. He talked of a position that one could use to beat a larger opponent and the only way out was to know the escape from Jiu Jitsu. It sounded like magic to me. Now I realise he was talking about mount.

In 1998 I finally found a coach, Christopher Deweaver under Ze Mario Sperry and it was love at first choke. I thought to myself, I’m a judo guy, I’m going to smash these guys. Apparently I was overconfident and I tapped a lot that day, but I never lost my smile.

To be a blackbelt is great, it’s one of the few arts where it still means something. When I was white belt, there was one purple belt in Australia, John Will, my coaches were blue belts and they were gods to me. I only ever hoped to achieve blue belt. Then I got it and my goal was just purple, then I would be happy. And so it went and now I look down and I get to wear a black belt. The best bit is I will never worry about belts again, it’s just me and the mats.

Have you been to Brazil?

I have been to Sao Paulo and Rio. I can’t wait to go back, I’ve never been to Florionopolis but I hear it is heaven, but I need to learn to surf first!

How has hanging out with Brazilians influenced your life?

Brazilian people, like all cultures, come in such a wide variety. My experiences have always been great and my Professor Bruno Panno has been a great influence to me on and off of the mats. One thing that rubs off besides the love of surfing and fun, is the sense of pride that seems inherent in Brazilians. The same pride that often forces them to take fights they cannot win, but no one will ever accuse them on having no hearts. So I think courage, pride and a love of life is something that’s rubbed off.

Fala Portugues?

Um pouco. My goal for 2012 is to speak Portuguese!

What is your sub of choice?

Jiu Jitsu is like fashion, it changes with seasons. As a judo guy it was always arm locks, then as a light guy triangle chokes. For the last few years it’s been a special variation of the bow and arrow choke I call the ladder choke, its specialised to my build and game.

Who is your fave fighter?

Royler Gracie is the classic, to me he was the best Gracie, the guy who never turned down a fight. Nowadays it’s Marcello Garcia and Michael Langhi for their technique and the way they carry themselves.

What has been the most defining moment in your BJJ career?

Using BJJ in Vale Tudo/MMA. I believe the art should always be able to cross over easily. My first professional fight I took with 4 days notice. From the Gi to the ring with no adjustments and Jiu Jitsu protected me and took me to the submission.

What do you think about female BJJ practitioners?

I think BJJ is the most important thing a female can learn. In terms of self defence it is absolutely vital as it covers the defences to the main assault positions, particularly those of sexual nature.

I think it is difficult for girls to find the right environment to train as a lot of BJJ schools are boys clubs and the girls are not treated properly and it’s the job of the instructor to ensure that their gym affords girls the proper respect and attention.

For sport I use to think there should be equality in BJJ for men and women, that the game is the same for either. I have a lot of female BJJ and MMA students and over the years I have come to realise that there is a specialised game for females. Their flexibility, pace and temperament is different and the game must adapt for fighting against girls with their own unique attributes. I think it’s difficult for girls to go from wrestling guys straight to wrestling girls, just as it’s different for a lightweight to wrestle heavyweights and then compete in his own division. So we developed a specialised program for girls to learn Jiu Jitsu to combat both males AND females.

What would your advice be to someone who is thinking about taking up BJJ (you can provide a link to your academy website here if you like)?

Be aware that you might be taking up something that will outlast all of your other vices, that may outlast all of your relationships, jobs and vices. It’s addictive as hell once you get your groove and you have to be prepared for that!

Seriously though, the most important thing is to ensure that you are happy with the environment you train in, the people you train with and the coach you train under.

Be aware the first 3 months, despite your instructor’s best intentions, will be frustrating as your body and mind orientate itself to something very unique and special.

Lastly make sure that your goals are clear to your instructor and that they have a program to suit you and help you achieve those goals.

Most importantly come visit us at www.vt1gym.com and get on the mat with us. Laugh, cringe and connect with interesting people. That is the biggest blessing BJJ can offer.

What are you plans/goals for the next 12 months?

Personally I want to get back into the cage and compete at the mundials. I want to learn to speak Portuguese fluently to!

For my Academy, I would like to send a student to Abu Dhabi and have one of our fighters receive a UFC contract, neither of which are far off the horizon.

This article was originally published on Vivacidade

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