If we were to hand out awards to one of the strongest and most determined women in jiu-jitsu, Jen Hall would be a sure-fire winner. Hall, who was first introduced to jiu-jitsu in 2004 while training taekwondo in college, has faced multiple injuries in her jiu-jitsu journey, but throughout it all she has maintained a positive attitude and showed fierce determination.
Not only is Hall an accomplished black-belt competitor, but she’s also a trailblazer. Hall was one of the first women jiu-jitsu advocates and bloggers in the community. With her husband, Ryan, she heads the 50/50 Brazilian Jiu Jitsu academy and runs the blog bjjcailin.blogspot.com. Samantha Faulhaber, a black belt with Gracie Humaita, interviewed Hall to talk about everything from blogging to running an academy. The two are co-hosts for the Girls in Gis D.C. Special Event, which will be held on May 20. Read on to hear about Hall’s experiences owning an academy.
You started blogging when there were few, if any, women-centric BJJ blogs out there. How much easier or harder is it to track down information today versus when you started?
It’s definitely easier to track down information today than when I started blogging in 2009. I didn’t even know of anyone else really doing it when I first started. There were not many websites or companies geared toward women at all then. At that time, I hadn’t even heard of any female-taught seminars or [knew of] women’s open mats existing.
And just two years prior, I remember watching Michelle Nicolini win the open weight at Worlds [World Jiu-Jitsu Championship] 2007, and no one on my team at the time would believe me that a small woman had won the division. No one knew who she was, or who any of the ladies were for that matter. It’s amazing to see how much has changed in just a few short years!
You were the first person to interview me. You asked me at the time, ‘What is your favorite feeling when training?’
So I want to ask you the same question. And also tell me about your favorite move to execute on the mat, whether it be a submission or anything else.
It’s been so long since I’ve been able to really train hard, that I can hardly remember [Laughs]. Brain injuries are no joke! But I guess I’d have to say my favorite feeling is when you get to roll with someone your size who is so technical and smooth that your match seems to flow like a dance. You never stop moving and responding to what they are doing. Whether you win or you lose, it’s so fun to train like that!
However, since I don’t get to do that super often,, as far as regular training, for me, hitting an awesome throw or an overhead style sweep is the most fun. But maybe that’s also because I hate having those done to me the most [Laughs].
In a few sentences, what would you say to anyone thinking of opening their own academy?
First off, opening your own academy is way more work than you think it’s going to be before you start. It’s basically a 24-hour, seven-day a week job. And it’s not just the business side or the coaching aspects that take up your time either.
Sometimes we joke that the perfect place for a therapist would be located inside or next to a BJJ academy. So much of the time, what is holding someone back from success is mental or emotional [blocks], not technical. So if you’re still in school, I’d pursue a psychology degree; it would probably be more helpful to run a BJJ school than a business degree [Laughs].
And of course running an academy is also super fun and rewarding in so many ways! Your employees and students become part of your family. You don’t bat an eye about traveling five hours in the car one way to coach them for 10 hours. It’s often exhausting and awesome all at the same time [Laughs]. I love it!
What makes you happy?
I’m not really the depressive type, which is definitely good because I don’t know how I would have survived all my injuries if I were. Since I can’t train right now, the yoga studio is definitely my happy place these days. Making sure that I take a step away from the day-to-day to do something just for me, at least once a week, keeps me sane when I get overwhelmed with the 24/7 career. And of course spending time with my husband, just talking, with no one around to interrupt (not a common occurrence in our lives) makes me happy. We’ve been together for almost 11 years, and he’s my favorite person with whom to discuss pretty much any topic.
And lastly coming home to my puppy is absolutely one of the best parts of my day every day. When I see how excited she is when I come through the door, it just makes everything else seem less important.
What do you look forward to most when you teach?
I don’t think I have a favorite thing to teach. I love top position, bottom position, escapes, takedowns — you name it.
But I’d have to say that my favorite aspect about teaching is that moment when your student hits something for the first time that they’ve been working on for a while. Whether they are a child or an adult, a white belt or a purple belt, they look up to see if you noticed. They are super excited about it, and know that you will share in their excitement too!
I love seeing their smile of accomplishment, the result of all their hard work and dedication. And the amazing thing about jiu-jitsu is that no matter what your level, there’s always more to learn. So you get to enjoy that feeling over and over again!
Samantha Faulhaber is a black belt with Gracie Humaita
Samantha currently residing in Philadelphia. She has also lived and trained in Salisbury, Maryland, San Diego, spent 3 months in Adelaide, Australia, and taught seminars in Norway (thanks, Magga!). An accomplished competitor, she’s a 4x finalist at the World Championships and Pan American Championships and went to Abu Dhabi Pro once after winning the San Diego trials. Most of her passion now lies in teaching and helping people have the healthiest existences they can.