I was gang raped at fifteen. I was a freshman in high school. My assailants did not serve time. No one believed me. I changed schools. I grew older. Life marched on.
I moved to Seattle Washington at thirty. I was stalked by two different men while coming home from work. I called the police and my employer, voicing my fears. I was told there was nothing they could do. That was that. I grew older. Life marched on.
I started jiu jitsu at thirty seven after I was nearly punched in the face in a homeless shelter I volunteered for. Something in me snapped. I went home. I cried. I watched judo videos until I ran across a Japanese game show where a young female brown belt named Mackenzie Dern glomped down on this second degree judo black belt like she hadn’t eaten in weeks and he was the four course meal. I bought a gi online and toured my local gym. Life was getting a major ‘F*CK You’ this time around.
Do you know how hard it is to walk into a predominately male martial arts studio and buy in to the protocol that they will be in your personal space? When I first started jiu jitsu, I relived my sexual assault every time I went. When class was over, I actively chose to walk home, in the dark, so I could sob in private, so I could let the spiritual wounds that I actively ignored, seep and ooze. I did not roll for seven months.
I mourned that fifteen year old girl for seven months. I mourned for the help she never received, the justice she would never have and the shame she carried in silence for twenty two years. But we both never stopped going. We both knew peace dangled within our grasp in that renovated garage; we just didn’t know how.
My answer came sooner than expected.
My local gym advertised its first Tap Cancer Out Annual Grapplethon in our sister affiliate in Vancouver BC. That was the moment that my tears dried. When this spark, this tiny, minute spark asked a question:
‘Would you finally roll if you were the top fundraiser? Would you face your fear and start your own healing process if you knew someone else would live through your effort?’
No one in my gym really knew me, due to my own manufactured distance, but I knew that I wasn’t ready to roll unless I fulfilled a goal specifically for me. I didn’t tell any of my teammates anything. I just signed up for Tap Cancer Out, swallowed my pride and told everyone who would listen what I wanted: to win a new gi to roll in.
And I won. I was goin’ to Canada.
Despite my husband’s adamant wishes, I took a bus to Vancouver alone, stayed in an Air BnB with two snugly pitbulls and vomited the night before the Grapplethon. My husband didn’t understand my persistence that I face this alone. A wise man once gave this sage piece of advice:
‘Sometimes the people around you will not understand your journey. They don’t have to. It’s not for them.’
This was my own rite of passage. My husband would have to be angry. This was for me.
Terror does not encompass the tendrils that pried my eyes open and kept them glued to the ceiling that night. I relived that fateful day a thousand times, but I kept reminding myself that I had face this, I had to jump off the deep end. If I didn’t bombard myself I would never stick with this art or anything else. My demons would die on the mat tomorrow and I would take their ashes and use them to rebuild my spirit.
Seven am. I showered, grabbed my bag and walked a mile in Canadian cold to the gym. I didn’t eat, I didn’t talk. I changed into my gi, took a deep breath and I rolled.
And I rolled again. And again. And again. I rolled while seeing the twisted grimaces of my assailants on the heads of kind strangers. I tapped and kept going. I rolled for four hours, had my first meal in 36 hours and then went through four hours of clinical.
When the Grapplethon concluded, while everyone settled to break bread and watch the fight on of the wall, I retreated to my room to embrace my canine companions, to nurture the bruises on my entire left side and soak in Epsom salt, victorious. I don’t recommend anyone fighting their past this way; I just know how I work and I always take the hard road.
I never felt more alive, more at peace than in that moment in time. I waited for my tormentors to barrel through the door, ready to drag me back into personal purgatory, but nothing came. It was just me, the encroaching Canadian winter and steam.
You may ask: how did you change? It’s been a year since your baptism on the mats; how did you evolve?
First, I started brutally and efficiently firing people who were negative in my life. It didn’t matter if they were friends, associates, former co-workers or family. The wake up call was swift and concrete: I had boundaries and standards. If they were crossed or desecrated in any way, you were cut.
Second, I forgave myself and my assailants; not because they deserved it, but because I did. From that day forward, I looked in the mirror every morning, stared into my own eyes and told myself that I was beautiful. Two months later I meant it and smiled. I now eat better, I drink less, I walk tall and I do my own thang.
Third, I did my best to surround myself with positive people, folks who would push me to be my best self. I found mentors in the comic industry and science fiction community. Friends in the weird corners of the world found me. We bonded, grew and uplifted each other. I went to therapy on their encouragement and finished my rounds with flying colors.
Last, I promised myself I would strive to get a black belt in jiu jitsu. Not because I am a black woman. The belt does not matter, nor the praise. I desire to put in the physical toil as a humble offering, a exchange of thanks, to a practice that taught me failure, kindness, patience, consistency and bravery are what elevates one to greatness that the world benefits from.
The day would come where I knew I would write this. While cathartic, I hope I can inspire you to take that first step towards healing. If you are suffering, please, please, please, I beg of you, do not suffer alone. You have every right to not be afraid. You have every right to be beautiful and whole, because you are beautiful and perfect despite your struggles. You are amazing.
Jiu jitsu helped me…and maybe it can help you. We all have stories and wounds; you no longer have to hide them.Take your time, find the right place, surround yourself with good people, come to this site often and give yourself permission to be glorious.
As Professor Brian J. Johnson told me:
‘Welcome home. It’s good to have you back.’
Before you ask, yes, I cried when he said that too.
Jada ‘JC’ Brazil
Jada ‘JC’ Brazil is a voice actor, writer and cat lover in Seattle, Washington. JC is a second stripe white belt under Professor Brian J. Johnson of Northwest Jiu Jitsu Academy. She also has over a decade experience as a project manager in the Video Game and Tech industry. Thankfully, she doesn’t do that anymore. When not wrasslin’ in sweaty pajamas, she is writing comics, reading comics, lifting weights, playing video games and talking into a microphone. Her website is Cake N Iron (www.cakeniron.com) and her Instagram is @ashymcgee.