Sometimes the biggest obstacle is the most obvious. We can be too stubborn, prideful or self absorbed to realize it. We displace blame or lie to ourselves, but at the core we know who the culprit is. It is ourselves. Most of the time we are the only ones standing in our way. It takes an amazingly strong and honest person to realize that the biggest challenge we face is ourselves. Gina Franssen is one of those rare people that have the ability to look herself in the mirror and call herself out on her own B.S. She is not a survivor, she is someone who thrives!
Gina is a black belt under professor Chris McCune a Rigan Machado Affilate. She is the owner and head instructor at X2 Fitness in Minneapolis Minnesota. She has been training in Jiu-Jitsu for fourteen years and two years ago she received black belt. We had the amazing opportunity to speak with this inspirational women.
How did you Jiu-Jitsu journey begin?
Gina: My Jiu-Jitsu journey began fourteen years ago. I fought in Western style boxing at the time and had no interest in learning the grappling arts. I was assaulted by someone that I knew well who happened to train in Jiu-Jitsu and that changed my entire outlook on the ground game…boxing does you no good when you’re on your back. I was terrified and intimidated, not only by the very real possibility of that type of situation happening again but also of the art itself so I decided to face my fears and go into the fire. A year after the assault, I decided to learn the art of Jiu-Jitsu. I told myself that when I received my blue belt, it would signify my moving past the assault and I would stop training…but I fell in love with Jiu-Jitsu. I like to think that Jiu-Jitsu found me, not the other way around.
Do you think it is beneficial to have females to train with on a regular basis?
Gina: Having other females to train with is a must, in my opinion. Just like it’s important for males to train with other males. It’s important to our progress to see where we are with our peers. With that said, it’s incredibly important for females and males to train together. There are different reasons why each one is important to our Jiu-Jitsu: competition training, being able to work our positions and movement without getting smashed, learning to get smashed and being able to handle ourselves (both physically and mentally: being comfortable with being uncomfortable), building character and grit, the self defense aspect.
You are one of the few female black belts that have successfully built a strong academy, what is the secret to your success?
Gina: X2 Fitness has been open for four years. Initially, my vision was to have a female only gym when I opened X2 (in all honesty, I had no desire to own a gym but I was “strong armed” into opening it by two ladies very dear to my heart – B and SJ. That’s a story all on its own. It was the best decision I have ever made, strong armed or not.) Two years later, I made the decision to add co-ed classes to the schedule. I felt it would be a good opportunity for male students to learn from a female instructor as well as females and males having the opportunity to train with and learn from one another. The female to male ratio at the gym is three to one.
I believe that good leadership, trust and a strong sense of community/family is what makes a successful team and gym. Having a place where females can fail (failing is a key component to learning and succeeding) and work through the difficulties until finding their own greatness, their own success is incredibly important. I hold my team (and myself as well) to high standards, I expect a lot because I know they are capable of meeting those expectations and in turn, they hold themselves to those standards. We keep each other accountable. Nobody gets a free pass. We make each other better, on and off of the mat.
Do you think it is more difficult for a female to own and operate an academy?
Gina: I believe that female gym owners and instructors face different challenges than our male counterparts. I believe there are different challenges that we face as female Jiu-Jitsu practitioners. Owner, instructor or practitioner, the struggle is real. I could delve into the long list of challenges, frustrations, disappointments and annoyances that females in Jiu-Jitsu encounter…but why? We all know it’s there, most of us have experienced it at one time or another and we’ll most likely experience it again. I have had conversation after conversation with female Jiu-Jitsu practitioners regarding the topic of mental longevity. “How do you deal with it?” “How do you handle it?” “How have you stayed in it for so long?” The answer is patience, persistence and piss and vinegar. Otherwise known as grit . I love what I do, more than I can ever express. I love the hard work, all of the time and energy I have devoted to Jiu-Jitsu. Jiu-Jitsu has frustrated, annoyed and challenged me more than any one person ever could. It has, in turn, made me a better person, a stronger person, a softer and more patient person. Instead of focusing on the challenges we face as females, we might be better served to focus on how we view those challenges and what we choose to do with them. Do we use it in a positive or negative fashion? I prefer to let it fuel my fire, not squelch it.
What personal challenges have you faced in your journey? How have you overcome them?
Gina: The biggest challenge or obstacle that I have faced in my Jiu-Jitsu journey is myself. Jiu-Jitsu has forced me to get out of my own way, time and time again, on and off of the mat. Being terrified to start training, being the only female on the mat at times (we’ve all been there before), working hard for promotions, injuries, opening and operating a female focused gym, six surgeries in a two year time span. All of those things were and still are challenging, they can be very trying on a person’s will and spirit. I racked my brain to choose which one was the most difficult or most challenging and while doing so, realized that no matter what the circumstance, I was the only thing standing in the way of the desired outcome. How bad do you want it and what are you willing to do to get it?
How to get out of your own way….I believe it’s a work in progress for all of us. We all have our own way of dealing with hardships. I allow myself 24 hours to feel bad and then it’s time to do work again. There have been many times when I let my frustration get the best of me. I felt like walking away from Jiu-Jitsu and all of its challenges, everything it represents in my life, in my journey but that would be like walking away from myself. I like to say that I am married to Jiu-Jitsu and always will be…we just sleep in separate beds sometimes. It comes down to this: I don’t like feeling as though I allowed something or someone to get the best of me, that something or someone could cause me to doubt myself, to give up on myself or my purpose. That is what motivates me. It’s not about showing them, it’s about showing me.
What advice do you have for newcomers?
Gina: Some things that may be helpful when first starting out (or even later on in your journey)
– Seek out/find a coach who inspires you.
-Seek out/find a gym with a good community feel, good culture.
-Seek out/find a gym with a strong female presence.
– Go to seminars, train with and learn from people from other gyms.
-Take ownership of your training.
-Be willing to fail a lot, that’s how you learn.
“My hope is that by sharing my love of Jiu-Jitsu with others, especially other females, it can do for them what it has done for me. It can change your life.” -Gina Franssen
It is said that we are in fact our biggest critic. No one has greater expectations for ourselves and pushes us hard to obtain our goals than we can. Perhaps that is because we know just how rich that untapped potential is. We can all take a page out of Gina’s book. Less whining and more grinding. Ultimately, the bottom line is that it us up to us and how we answer the question, how bad do you really want 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.