Confident. Driven. Passionate. These are the words that lingered in my mind as I got off my call with Jill, a purple belt who trains out of Performance Jiu-Jitsu Academy in New Jersey under Professor Vintaloro. While we covered many topics during our hour-long chat, what intrigued me the most was the balance between persisting and surrendering that Jill had discovered through her training.
A competitive person by nature, Jill was no stranger to diving into different athletic pursuits. She had just started to find her stride with kickboxing when she was presented with the opportunity to try Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu. Not one to back away from new challenges, she gave it a go. Physically, it differed from anything she had tried before. Moving from the explosive, fast-paced action of kickboxing to the slow and technical movements being technical meant that Jill had to rethink not only her strategic approach to grappling, but also her mental approach.
This mindset shift took some time to get used to, but it became a pivotal part of her practice, progress, and success. From her previous athletic endeavors, Jill was used to dominating and pushing herself. This gave her a surge of endorphins and also allowed her to experience an immediate release of any pent-up emotions. However, Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu was more of a slow burn, so Jill had to learn how to take a calmer, more methodical approach. She also had to learn how to trust both herself and the learning process. This did not come easily at first.she realized that focusing on things that were not happening for her – not hitting a particular technique, not getting promoted, not being able to train due to injury – was taking away from the enjoyment of training. She knew she had to revise her mindset. That is when she decided to surrender.
She accepted the ups and downs of learning, the unexpected outcomes of a grappling session, and the assessment of her progress. In surrendering, she discovered her inner strength and learned how to quiet that inner dialogue that caused her to sometimes doubt her own skill.
Jill has been no stranger to hardship, having grown up in a household where alcoholism and mental health issues were present. These challenging circumstances left her with a lot of rage and emotional turmoil. Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu gave her the chance to surrender and accept these emotions instead of battling them.
The experience of slowing down and looking at things from different perspectives has helped in her professional work as a therapist, as well as her personal life, particularly in dealing with her divorce.
Ultimately, Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu provides many opportunities to learn a variety of life lessons. It also teaches you the meaning of camaraderie. It is hard to escape from the fact that you literally put your life in somebody else’s hands whenever you train. This level of trust and willingness to be vulnerable makes for a very special type of bond.
When Jill lost her mother to COVID-19 in April of this year, the grief she suffered in isolation was unbearable. However, to Jill’s surprise, her teammates showed up on her lawn (socially distanced and masked), armed with gifts, words of support, and solidarity. She had a team she could depend on.
In her nine years of training, Jill has found security in her practice, knowing that it will always be there no matter how difficult things get. Her mat time has taught her not only how to strategize, but also how to build an internal repertoire of skills that she can tap into whenever needed. While she still has her fighting, competitive spirit, she now balances it with surrendering and making the most of her learning and training experiences.
Ayesha is a purple belt and currently trains in Kuwait. She is an educator, writer, and speaker. Ayesha is the founder of She is Fierce, an organization that focuses on empowering women through Jiu-Jitsu, mindfulness practices, and written expression. Her other interests include writing, cooking, weightlifting, and yoga. After 20 years in education, she has shifted gears and is currently pursuing a Masters in Counseling Psychology with the hope to expand her work with women and continue to provide them with safe, supportive spaces where they can heal, grow, and thrive. You can learn more about She is Fierce at sheisfierce.co.uk or on Instagram @fiercefitfight & @plumpetalsfit.