On June 25th Girls in Gis is hitting the Pacific northwest for the most sought after event in the region. Girls from all over the Pacific northwest will come together from far and wide to learn from some of the most accomplished female black and brown belts in the area which include black belts Cindy Hales, Amanda Loewen, Michelle Wagner, Leah Taylor, Hillary Wright VanOrnum and UFC fighter Sarah Kaufman. This is not an event to be missed! We had an opportunity to catch up with our host and discuss the upcoming event and get to know what makes them tick.
Cindy first started BJJ as a distraction from a job and day to day life that was unfulfilling. Initially, she mainly enjoyed the physical aspects of BJJ and liked getting in shape and feeling more engaged, confident and strong. Over time, she began to appreciate the mental aspect – the problem solving, the strategy, the physics and anatomy lessons, the honest self reflection, the camaraderie and teamwork in the school and in the community.
“BJJ has a depth to it that is hard to explain. If you let it, BJJ can truly change your life in so many ways. For me, this is the best part of BJJ, the continual learning and growing as an athlete, a person, a teammate and a leader.”
According to Cindy BJJ has changed tremendously since she started in 2001. The sport game has evolved a ton technically. Cindy also thinks that in the gym and day to day BJJ life, things have also changed quite a bit. BJJ training is more accessible to the general public, to women and to kids. This is a huge step forward for the growth of the sport. But there is always room for growth.
“It is really exciting to see all of the new moves and games people are coming up with. I would like to see more open rule sets in tournaments to allow for additional natural evolution of technique, not hindered or misdirected by restrictive rule sets. I would also like to see things continue to head in this direction with more safe spaces to train quality technique for everyone.”
Cindy is a full time instructor at Gracie Barra Seattle. She says that the most rewarding part of teaching BJJ is being a part of each students growth. She gets the most joy out of seeing a shy, nervous, unsure person come out of their shell and become a confident, happy and vibrant part of the community through learning BJJ and the lessons taught within.
“I used to say that I love teaching kids the most. I am not sure if this is true or not. I just love teaching and training BJJ to anyone who wants to devote time to learning and growing. It is rewarding anytime anyone learns one of my moves or finds something I show them helpful. I enjoy just being a part, small or big, of other people’s journey and seeing where they take it.”
Some may say Cindy has accomplished more than most dream of accomplishing. She earned her back belt in 2006, has had a successful MMA career, fought against some of the best fighters in the world and does what she loves every day.
But for Cindy she is just getting started. She is reaching for the stars. Some of her personal goals include traveling the world teaching seminars, train with her BJJ heroes (Megumi Fuji, Marcelo Garcia, Ryan Hall, Terere, and many others), own her own school, compete as much as possible, win master worlds, starting a non profit to make BJJ more accessible to at risk/underprivileged youth in PNW, have the deepest and most successful kids program in PNW and train a kid all the way from white to black belt (all kids belts included). Most importantly Cindy wants to continue training everyday until she dies.
Amanda Loewen is a black belt out of Straight Blast Gym headquarters in Portland, Oregon where she works. She began training size and half years ago. She says she used to work around the corner from the gym at a fresh water fish store, and figured she should check out what was happening in there. Needless to say, six years later she had no idea how much that action would change the course of her life. Jiu-Jitsu has changed her life in all aspects.
“I have met some of the best people because of jiu-jitsu. I am a happier person because of this martial art, and the people that have impacted my training are what makes training worth it. I wake up every morning to teach awesome people, and go to sleep thinking about what I could have done to be better.”
She thinks that it is important for women to train with women, because its fun. Although women have come a long way in the sport, Amanda says she would love to see more opportunities for women in the EBI tournament.
“I love the no-gi aspect of jiu-jitsu, as well as the gi but think it would be awesome to see more women involved. Equal pay in general would be nice, It doesn’t really make sense to me why we don’t already have that. I also think it would be cool to get some exposure for some of the up and coming women in jiu-jitsu, the people that you haven’t already heard of.”
Michelle is a black belt out of Foster Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, she is is a Systems Engineer in IT, and adventure seeker and a work out enthusiast. When she not rolling or working, she spends time at the LocalsGym.com working out. She loves to hike, dive and spend time with her fiancé going on as many adventures as they can make up.
Michelle began her BJJ journey some nineteen years ago. She says she was looking for something to do and a good friend told her about BJJ. For Michelle it was love and first sight. From her very first class she knew that she was hooked and she was forever changed. Michelle says BJJ has definitely made her a better person.
“It has calmed and humbled me, has taught me to slow down and think in every aspects of my life, helped me define my life goals and has helped me become more successful in my career.”
When asked what she thinks is the magic bullet to get more women training and how to keep them on the mat her answer was sweet and simple.
“Get them on the mats and show them.”
It is just that easy.
It was the encouragement of her mother that ignited Leah’s martial arts career and desire to learn a form of self defense. Leah completed as a black belt in karate and then began training in a number of different traditional styles of martial arts as she traveled. She eventually fell in love with Jiu-Jitsu and SBG in Montana 7 years ago which led to her earning her black belt and an opportunity to teach Jiu-Jitsu and strength and conditioning coach full time.
Anything worthwhile doesn’t come easy. For Leah the greatest challenges she has have to overcome in Jiu-Jitsu has been injuries. She has had a couple of very physically debilitating injuries which she describes as humbling and depressing.
“They have taken me away from the thing I enjoy the most and at times even restricted my basic everyday life. I got through them by staying in touch with friends at the gym, coaching (when possible), and channeling all of my efforts into physical therapy.”
For fun Leah loves to roll at open mats, especially when there are no competitions coming up. She says some of the most creative Jiu-Jitsu happens in that environment. She also really enjoys snowboarding and has done it since she was 14 with her sister whenever and wherever she can. She describes the mountains in Montana are epic. Although she describes herself as being a terrible beginner surfer it’s lot of fun and she enjoys it.
Leah had some great advice for newcomer on how to stay motivated and how to progress.
“Have fun during training. Every day on the mat is a good one. I typically leave the gym feeling happier and more centered than when I came in. On the days that are a bit more frustrating, I find that I grow as a person. It is not always comfortable or easy. This type of progress can only truly occur outside of our comfort zone. I feel that jiu jitsu allows us to practice this skill each day.”
How long have you been training? How did you get started in BJJ?
I started martial arts towards the end of 2002. At first, I did just Muay Thai, then started adding in a little bit of grappling. When ZUMA moved to a new location in 2006 we started the Gi about 6 months later. I’ve been doing it ever since under Adam Zugec!
Did you ever think you’d be fighting MMA? How did that transition occur from dance to MMA?
It was never my goal to become a fighter. I started training because it was absolutely awesome and I felt so powerful and at the same time so stress free. I am a competitive person, so after challenging myself at some tournaments, I got offered a MMA fight, and thought it would be fun. I was right!
I initially started training because Adam opened ZUMA directly below my dance studio. I didn’t have very much time as I was in school, working, tutoring, and dancing at 2 different studios, but there was 1 class that I could take immediately before one of my jazz classes…so that’s how I started. The following year I only danced at 1 studio and trained more. The second year I stopped dancing entirely and added in the grappling.
Why do you think MMA has grown so popular among women in recent days? Do you think it will continue to grow?
It’s been great to be part of the growth of women in MMA and I do think we will continue to see it grow and develop younger talent now that the UFC has been behind us.
When do you anticipate your next fight and any word on who you will be facing?
I don’t have any exact details on my next fight. I have a few things in the works, but ultimately I want to fight to my potential, and in doing so reclaim the #1 spot in the world!!!
Have you ever competed in BJJ? Do you have any plans to?
I used to compete a lot in grappling and BJJ tournaments. I haven’t competed in BJJ since just before getting my purple belt, as I was focusing on MMA, but I would like to compete again in some BJJ to mix it up and have a totally different challenge.
What do you think makes a champion? What qualities should a champion have?
I think a champion needs to have a strong mindset, as well as a work ethic unlike anyone else. The drive to be champion is not something everyone has, and it’s not easy to achieve. You have to be passionate and dedicated above all else. A champion also needs to have humility, as anything can happen at any given time.
Join us and our hosts this weekend in Seattle for this amazing event. All ages, skill levels and females from all affiliations are welcome. 90 girls are registered so far and room for more!! So bring your girls, your mother, sister, daughters and let’s get our roll on.
Registration and info: www.eventbrite.com/e/girls-in-gis-pnw-special-event-seattle-tickets-25218856278