Life just isn’t fair and we have no control over the cards we are dealt. However we do have control over how we play them and that is what determines the outcomes of our lives. We can either choose to go down a hard road or we can choose to uplift ourselves and overcome the odds. Tamara Spring-Water Benton is no stranger to overcoming all odds.
Tamara says as a kid she should have never had a fighting chance. Her mother gave her away at age 13 and she was homeless, then pregnant at 15 years old and had a child by 16 years old. She somehow managed to live on her own, work and go to school. Eventually she graduated college on the deans honor roll every semester.
Tamara found Brazilian Jiu Jitsu in December of 2006 when she accompanied her husband, a former wrestler, to a jiu jitsu class. Her and her husband were in search of something positive for him. He had recently been released from prison after a series of run ins with the law which stemmed from alcoholism. Their goal was to find something to help him stay sober. She says immediately after watching the class she realized that she could do it with him and so could their children. Not long after it became a family affair.
During the first few years of her training Tamara was under a professor that had some issues with addiction. Eventually he was forced to sell the academy and that is how Tamara became the owner of her gym. She says trying to learn how to be a business owner and still maintain a full time job to pay for the business was no easy task. They struggled for the first three years as the academy made no money and for the past five years she has worked to pay for the gym.
As a result of these sacrifices Tamara spent the better part of 2006 to 2012 as a white belt. During those six years as a white belt Tamara says that it was hard to advance because she was not able to be in class due to her obligations and working the gym. She says her husband who is a black belt at the academy didn’t want to belt her quickly or have it viewed as undeserving. This was very difficult for Tamara. She says that she is great at everything she does and it comes so easy, but with jiu jitsu it is harder and takes her twice as long as others.
“I have had to be a fighter all my life and nothing ever came quick. I am not a quitter and the time it takes to do something does not matter at all. It is your path to get there, how hard you try as you go and what you give to others along the way that matters.”
However through not progressing quickly she has learned that celebrating others victories is just as great of a reward as getting your own belts. She says she loves to see others learn and move up. She has come to the understanding that it is about helping others and teaching them that jiu jitsu is a life saving sport not just something for fun and medals. For her it was a way to kept her family safe, together and sober. Growing up a native American with alcoholism all around her she sees jiu jitsu as life giving and as sacred as church. It saves lives and can keep kids from walking the wrong path of destruction.
Looking back she wishes that she had started sooner and went to class consistently as a white belt. She says she always compares herself with others and sometimes wish she was just a member of a gym and not an owner or fight manager because the responsibilities get in her way. Although Tamara says she gets frustrated like everyone she is so proud of her accomplishments and that out weighs any frustrations she may have. Since starting jiu jitsu she has lost 50 lbs and quit smoking.
With the many hats that Tamara wears in her day to day life between working 50+ hours a week as a general manager in retail, running her gym Solid MMA and Cobra BJJ, managing fighters, her roles as wife, a mother and grandmother she says that there is never enough time in a day. However she is finds release and balance from chaotic day to day life by letting out her stress on the mats.
Although Tamara’s journey has been met with many challenges she says that jiu jitsu makes her feel great inside and out. It has given her confidence and peace of mind. Training jiu jitsu has given her a feeling of accomplishment and pride in that she can protect herself.
“The first time I tapped a man I felt so empowered and I remember saying wow I did that.”
Tamara had a choice. She could have gone down a road filled with hard knocks or she could grab life by the lapels and choke the crap out of it. She choose the later. Tamara says she intends to go as far as she can in jiu jitsu and will definitely get a black belt. She plans on staying in good health and taking care of her body so she can continue training as long as she can. Having overcome all that she has these seem like small feats compared to what she has already accomplished.
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.