Girls in Gis Colorado is set to host it’s next event in Denver at Easton Training Center. The place where it all started! We are honored to have four amazing hosts representing Easton Training Center. Black belt Julie Hoponick and purple belts Amy Fidelis,Mary Hatcliff and Kim Allen will be our guest instructors for this event. We caught up with them and they had some great knowledge to share from their Jiu-Jitsu journey.
Amy Fidelis has been training Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu (BJJ) for 7 years. She was 33 years old when she began her BJJ journey.She trained Muay Thai for a year before she transitioned to BJJ. As a kid she did some Tai Chi and Judo with her dad. She says she started because her dad was a martial arts instructor and her mother trained. Because of this she knew how life changing it can be. She is currently a purple belt at Easton Training Center.
According to Amy, women and girls should know how to move against a larger, stronger person. Something that she says isn’t easy, but if you stick with it you learn the value of hard work, discipline and perseverance. Jiu jitsu has also helped Amy in a ton of other areas. Her mental health, professional life, nutrition, relationships, you name it. She says It’s a joy to share it with others.
“The end result is self-confidence and self-awareness. The mat is a rare place where a woman can be accepted for being physically strong and use her weight to her advantage. “
Amy says it is important to train with all different types of people which include women. That training with other women can be beneficial because they may have the same questions you do, or learn in the same way. She says that she thinks they also understand vulnerability in a different way and that training with a smaller woman can help you understand what it might be like for your larger male partners to train with you. The application of strength, weight distribution, technique and speed might be different.
Amy also says building a community of women helps new folks see that there is a place for all of us. A majority male environment can be intimidating.
Over the years Amy says she has often wanted to quit, especially early on.
“Jiu jitsu doesn’t come naturally to me and that hurts my ego. It’s a long road, and your partners are improving as you do, so it’s hard to get a sense of how far you’ve come.”
She says she stays motivated by celebrating the success of her training partners. Having an “if they can do it, so can I” attitude helps her keep going. She also sets realistic goals for herself. For instance just getting on the mat is a goal some days. She also stays motivated by keeping in mind how BJJ helps her overall health and well-being. She says being married to a black belt is also a strong incentive, although they don’t actually train together that often. She also finds strength in the community to keep her going.
Mary Hatcliff has been training just over 7.5 years. She is a purple belt at Easton Training Center. She says she started training as a form of self defense from her brothers,They both started before her and would use her as their uki, they can still catch her, but it’s not as easy.
Mary has traveled to Brazil several times and spent extended periods of time training there. She says there are many differences between BJJ here and there. However she thinks one of the biggest difference would have to be the level of intensity down there.
“I can probably count on one hand the number of times I’ve had a light roll. I usually have to train and prepare here in order to keep up with the guys and girls down there.”
With that said, however, she would also say that injuries are less common, because there is a respect between you and your opponent, it’s intense, but not malicious. She also feels like there is less of an intimidation factor between men and women, they don’t really see gender when you’re on the mat, so girls are almost never chosen as a last option, which is nice.
She says there are definitely certain aspects that present challenges in being a female in BJJ. One of the big ones is definitely weight cutting. For instance she says she has heard many men tell women “5lbs, that’s nothing”, but for women, sometimes that 5 can feel like 25 and it just won’t come off. As far as actual training, she says there are definitely things that women have to be a little more aware of. For instance there are some guys (thankfully not many) who will take their aggression out on a female opponent if she has bested him. Or the converse where men will train as if they are training with a small child while training with women, She says she has seen and experienced both, and she dislikes both equally.
“I don’t necessarily think that BJJ is more challenging for women, I suppose we just have different challenges than the men, for all of the things that women face as challenges there are just as many that men face that women do not.”
Mary had some great advice for newbies. She says just try it! 99% of the people you train with are going to help you and make sure you are learning and having fun. She understands many women are intimidated by rolling with men, but says there is no need to because once you’re rolling gender slips out of the window and most guys won’t even notice that you’re a female. All they’ll notice that you’re working towards bettering yourself just like they are.
Kim Allen began training at the age of 31 in January 2013. She is a purple belt at Easton Training Center. She says her relationship with Jiu Jitsu was love at first choke. For as long as she can remember she would rough house with the boys, even at the age of 30 she could be found wrestling her friends. She says This made the transition to Jiu Jitsu quite natural.
She says she had always been an athlete, but nothing had captivated her like Jiu Jitsu; she had finally found what she was looking for and she loved that so many females were involved. According to Kim, what she finds the most interesting about Jiu Jitsu is the movement. There are an infinite number of ways to move the body and she says she gets all giddy when she thinks of her grappling partner as a dance partner. Additionally, she says she loves that Jiu Jitsu has a beginner’s mind set and that even as a black belt you can be a teacher and a student of this beautiful art.
She had some recommendations for females who are thinking about trying Jiu Jitsu. She suggested that you attend your first few classes with someone you feel comfortable with. Whether it be a friend who is also new to Jiu Jitsu or a boyfriend who wants you to join the team, having support will likely make your first experience more enjoyable and less stressful. She goes on to say, if you don’t have anyone to go with, contact the gym directly and set up a time to meet with the program director and explain your situation. She says her experience is that gyms are very accommodating to new students and will go out of their way sure you feel comfortable. She also adds that Jiu Jitsu builds character and confidence, so do not wait to take your first class!
Like so many of us there are always ups and downs. Kim says her greatest challenge came in September 2015 when she sprained my MCL. She says she was devastated to think she would be out of training, away from her stress outlet and teammates, but it turned out to be the best thing that ever happened to her. During that time, her body and mind were under extreme stress from her personal life and it had manifested itself into several physical ailments, including a strained back, chest pains and sprained MCL. The time away from training allowed her an opportunity to evaluate her life, priorities and really listen to what her body was telling her.
For 6 months she participated in physical therapy, restorative yoga, saw a counselor regularly, and drilled a few times with her professor and teammates. She says when it was finally time to return to class, she realized she still had a lot of work to do.
“I was now facing extreme, debilitating anxiety that was exacerbated when rolling/grappling. I knew that quitting was not an option so I sought counsel and support from my professors, coaches and teammates. I changed my routine and started to attend morning classes which were less intense than the usual night classes. I also shared my story with my teammates and let them know what I was going through. At first it was difficult, but others started sharing their stories and it was apparent that I was not alone.”
She says her teammates responded by listening to her, encouraging her and taking care of herself when grappling. It has been 5 months since she has returned to training and she continues to make her mental and physical health a priority. She says she has made significant progress in her breathing, anxiety levels and inner strength. She even has plans to compete in the near future, something she hasn’t been able to do since early 2013. She is extremely grateful for her teammates, who are family, and for this opportunity to truly grow as an individual and a Jiu Jitsu practitioner.
Julie Hoponick is a black belt at McMahon Brazilian Jiu Jitsu in Fort Collins Colorado. Julie has been training around seven to eight years. She says she started because she was unhappy at work and was having a hard time being motivated to do things when she got off. She missed being part of a team. So she started training and the academy filled that hole in her social circle. She says most of her best friends have come from training Jiu-Jitsu.
Julie has seen tremendous growth in the years that she has been training. When Julie first started competing at blue belt there were around 6-7 girls in her division at Pan Ams, now there are anywhere from 20-30 girls in that same division. She also says that in these past few years access to technique has blown up. She remembers watching the same four Roger Gracie, Andre Galvao, and Marcelo Garcia highlight videos on YouTube over and over, because it’s all there was of any quality. Back then she said when you would put ‘Brazilian Jiu Jitsu’ into the YouTube search you were more likely to get Brazilian Butt workout videos. Now you almost can’t get away from it, it’s everywhere and in such a short amount of time.
She says she’d like to see BJJ keep gaining traction and she doesn’t think she is going to be disappointed. For Julie it’s been fun to watch the evolution and she can’t wait to see what the next next five years from now will bring. She says their are so many tournaments and ways to express what we do now.
“Jiu Jitsu changes so many peoples lives, I hope we never lose that piece.”
She says she wouldn’t change anything when it comes to the art of Jiu Jitsu and she thinks it’s on a pretty good path. Julie’s contribution to the community is Pressure Grappling. Her and a friend/training partner set out to improve the gear we train in. She says a lot of our first product ideas were because of issues women had with rash guards riding up and not fitting right. She says they want to develop products and practices that are game changers; technical wear, supportive sponsorship. She can’t wait to see what it all turns into.
Looking back on her journey to black belt Julie says all the highs and lows had to happen. According to Julie it’s easy to say it’s harder or easier for different types of people to train, but the reality is we all have a struggle. She says you just have to stick it out, it will get better some day.
“Enjoy the good times as much as possible. Being around your friends, winning, promotions all of that stuff, it’s short lived and you never know when things will change. Revel in it!”
Girls in Gis staff writer
Shama Ko is a brown belt with Gracie Humaita out of Austin, TX. She has been a Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu practitioner since November of 2003. She is a photographer, writer, community organizer and activist. She heads the Girls in Gis organization or as she calls it the “movement”. She describes herself as both a lover and a fighter. She loves to laugh and not take life too seriously.