Podcast Episode 2: A Toolkit For Boundary Setting with JKD black belt Eve Parmiter

Have you ever felt uncomfortable with a sparring partner who has gone too hard? Agreed to ‘flow roll’ only to find that your partner is definitely going hard? Or, have you struggled to articulate how you feel with your training partner when you’ve had a shitty day that you know will effect your training?

Join Eve and I for I Hit Hard’s second podcast, focusing on setting boundaries in a martial arts/combat sport setting. Using Eve’s experiences as a JKD black belt as well as a master practitioner of cognitive hypnotherapy, this episode looks at a few tools people can use to set and maintain their boundaries in a space where our physical and mental limits are often challenged.

Interview: Brenda Guiled on the Karate Way, Okinawa and Dance

I was lucky enough to stumble across the delightful, generous, warm and wonderfully sharp person that is Brenda through a Facebook group for women who practise martial arts. In a discussion on the role of martial arts in recovery and healing from mental illness, Brenda posted her short piece on the body-mind-spirit connection, plotting out her journey as a martial artist in correlation with the unity of body-mind-spirit. I was moved by her love for karate and the way she conceptualised her relationship between these three elements of herself. Following on from this early interaction, Brenda and I have been exchanging ideas and emails around karate, martial arts and her book ‘Dancing in the Kara of Te’.

(Brenda is a black belt in Okinawa go-ju (hard-soft) kara-te with over 23 years of experience and is the founder of Salt Spring Shorei-Kan dojo on Salt Spring Island, Canada)

Dancing in the Kara of Te opens with a look into the first written account (in 1816) of Okinawan dance and kara-te. The dance witnessed by a British colonialist was performed by a remarkable Okinawan man called Maehira. I wanted to know more about Brenda’s relationship with Kara-te and its roots in Okinawan dance.

(Naha port, Okinawa, from Captain Basil Hall’s journal depicting his 1816 encounters in Okinawa)

I realise that you mention in your writings that you don’t feel sufficiently historically grounded to render a deep historical recollection of Okinawan kara-te. However, I found your account very informative and riveting …

Brenda: Much appreciated, but such caution is necessary. The Caucasian-Canadian wife of the good friends who hosted me in Okinawa took me to task about any non-Okinawan daring to say anything about the place and people. To my shock, she ended our friendship over my refusal to state any opinion about one of our very senior white-guy teachers performing a kata to western music. I was a junior belt then, so didn’t think it my place to say, plus she and I both knew that he had cleared his music choice with the Okinawan head of the entire international organization. When you lose a friend over such a thing, it’s very daring to write anything about Okinawa, even as a tourist who hopes that in-depth, on-going study allows for careful comment.

I would very much like to understand your opinion on the presentation of kara-te as uniquely “Japanese”, and whether you think that this term is historically placed to encompass kara-te’s Okinawan roots. Does the idea of kara-te as Japanese obfuscate its origins and cultural grounding?

Brenda: Absolutely. Even in “The Karate Kid” movies, old master Miyagi rejects being called Japanese, insisting on “Okinawan”. In Okinawa, albeit for only one brief visit 25 years ago, I saw, heard about, and talked with numerous young Okinawan women who refused to date or marry Japanese men. A movie that embodies the dichotomies and confusions about the Okinawan-Japanese-American amalgam is “Hotel Hibiscus”, 2002, which I can’t find to stream, download, or buy now. Too bad. Here’s a summary.

I watched it with my sensei, a rare Japanese man to marry an Okinawan woman (met when he was studying the history of Okinawa and karate for his master’s thesis at Okinawa’s Ryu-Kyu University). He helped me understand much of the symbolism and depth that I’d have missed otherwise, starting with the hibiscus being the Okinawan symbol of loss of “mabui”/spirit, i.e. death. Scroll down to Mabui here, where the movie is mentioned.

If you have time, please read Gichin Funikoshi’s autobiography, which covers the difficulties Okinawans faced when taken over by Japan. You can get a used copy for a good price here. He also makes clear, by stating three times in different ways, that the karate way is not competitive. He’s spinning in his grave over how it’s been turned into a win-lose sport by Japanese and American interests who have severed the movements of the art from their Okinawan roots and purposes. What most of the world knows today as “karate” shouldn’t bear the name. It’s fine for what it is, but it most definitely isn’t karate, which, by definition, is the karate-way.

In terms of understanding dance and kara-te, do you find it useful to separate the two?

Brenda: Impossible. There is no separation. “The essence of the karate way,” my teacher’s teacher, Seikichi Toguchi wrote, “is the ability to smile at any occasion.” Not that you do smile, except when appropriate, but that the ability is always there. That’s the dance inside – the karate way, which is a deep expression of the Okinawan way. There is no karate itself, there is only the karate-way, which has a dance inside, or it’s just movement craft, not even an art.

What do you think would be the outcome of teaching martial arts as being integrated with dance? You mention in your writing that you believe that teaching the inner kara-te dance could help students aspire to a kind of flow and integration of dance with their martial arts –

Brenda: First, the karate way is not a martial art. There’s nothing martial – Mars, the god of war – about it. I consistently call it a self-defence art, which it most certainly is, plus a whole bunch more, because it’s always karate-DO, or the way, the path, the journey of body-mind-spirit integration where one never throws the first strike, then invoking every possible strategy to avoid striking to get to win-win solutions. These strategies go through four stages: getting away, changing the dynamic with good humour, positioning to de-escalate, then taking physical control such that the person feels inordinate pain, with the risk of breaking themselves if they dare to move. Only when dire injury and death are in the balance is it okay to strike, then striking and killing are done as quickly and efficiently as possible, to end the problem mercifully.

‘The first priority of kara-te is to serve justice – to do oneself justice, as well as our relationships, our community, the world beyond, and the art itself.’ This is such a beautiful mantra to live by! I’m really curious, how do you feel you’ve been able to apply this to your own kara-te journey and wider life? How has this mantra transformed for you as you’ve made your way through your kara-te journey?

Brenda: Nothing has transformed for me. As a kid, like all kids, I had a profound sense of what was fair and not fair. I never let go of my “justice antennae”, nor my certainty when others are played for fools, dupes, suckers, scapegoats, powerless beings, as well as demi-gods, above others, etc. It’s the ultimate disservice to the human soul, leading to all the ills of the world.

At age 10, I started to actively consider what it takes to be a good teacher – to pass on the best of what we know and have learned. While taking an M.Sc. in Education, I learned about many, many teaching theories and applications. While some addressed justice indirectly, none had any overt method for ensuring that it’s done, for all students individually and collectively, for the subjects at hand, for the greater world and good. Only when I stumbled into the traditional Okinawan karate-way did I find the philosophy and tools needed to do this. Despite having some crappy teachers, with the egos of too many of them destroying everything they’d worked for and hypocritically said they believed in, the art kept shining through.

The karate-way, when understood and lived, becomes a self-correcting art. The answers are within it. This makes it a self-teaching art, a self-purifying study. Thus, the karate-way purifies the body-mind-spirit integration of those who follow this path. Which is to say, it has clarified who and what I have been all along, no transformation whatever, rather coming into my own. There is no arrival, because there’s no such thing, just continual strengthening of the foundation of justice, so that key truths come clear, from which trust can grow, leading to win-wins every step of the way, inside and out, for one’s self, those encountered, the community, and the larger world.

The karate-way is also a dream, a spirit, a ghost, a shadow-art. We can only achieve these things when we acknowledge these things and learn to dance with them.


If you’re interested in reading Brenda’s book ‘Dancing in the Kara of Te’ in full, you can purchase the book on her website here.

Interview: Mariana and Fran from Esfinges, on Historical European Martial Arts

Historical European Martial Arts (HEMA) is something that I only recently learnt about. I was aware that people practice different forms of sword fighting, and in fact I did a little fencing myself when I was younger, but little did I know that there is a thriving, passionate community of people fighting in a similar way that I am in the martial arts that I practice.

Where there are martial arts, there are women martial artists – and HEMA is no exception. There are thousands of women who practise across the world, mastering historical weapons such as the federschwert, messer, dagger or shortsword. Others engage in historical grappling sports such as Ringen – a German wrestling sport from the Late Middle Ages and German Renaissance periods. What makes these martial arts specifically ‘HEMA’ is that the martial arts they practice are based on historical texts from past centuries of old methods of fighting or combat that may have either gone extinct or contributed to the formation of the contemporary martial arts we see today.

Determined to find out more about women who practice HEMA, I found Esfinges (Spanish for sphinxes) – a dedicated international network for women in HEMA, founded by women HEMA practitioners. They provide a space for women to ask questions and read about others’ experiences within HEMA. They also host a variety of awesome live events, including competitions and regular training sessions.

I’m excited to share with you all my interview with two of Esfinges’ founders: Mariana and Fran. Their love for what they do, and their drive to make HEMA a place that is inclusive and encouraging of women fighters, is inspirational and crucially important.

First of all, would you be able to tell us a few lines about yourselves?

 Mariana: My name is Mariana, I am from Mexico but I’ve been living in the USA for over a year now, I’m 27 years old, and a recent college graduate in International Relations (my love), painter and graphic designer (my hobby) and HEMA-ist for the past 10 years! (my passion). I currently work as a Fencing Instructor and freelance designer.

 

Mariana from Esfinges

 

Fran: My name’s Fran and I live in the UK. I work in admin, have two kids, a dog, I write books and short stories, and I run The School of the Sword and Waterloo Sparring Group.

 

Fran from Esfinges

 

How did you first get into HEMA? Where and how did it all begin for you both?

Mariana: I was on my search for an appealing martial art, at that time during a ren-fair (Renaissance Fair) I saw a group doing stage combat and I remember saying out loud how I wish swordfighting were an actual martial art. A person behind me (who had been in the USA and learned about HEMA almost by accident) told me it was. My friends and I hired him for a workshop alongside several people from the ren-fair. Both my club (founded by me and my brother) and another 4 clubs were founded afterwards (being the first HEMA clubs in existence in Mexico as far as I’m aware!)

Fran: When I was pregnant with my daughter, my husband Pim and I went to a re-enactment event (similar to USA ren fairs) where Schola Gladiatoria had a stand running small tournaments with LARP (live-action role playing games) swords and light gear. He thought this was great fun and they gave him a flyer, but it was a bit too far and we were about to have our first child so it went on the back burner. Just over two years later when my son was born, Pim looked up HEMA and found that there was a school near us. My parents agreed to have the kids for an evening and I would take him along. I sat and watched his first class, then enthused about it to my parents when I got back. They told me I should do it too – having been nothing but a mother for two years straight, and they were right!

What attracted you both to HEMA as opposed to say, karate or judo? Was the historical element particularly important for you?

Mariana: It was a combination of several things, the lack of “personal space” in the martial arts I had tried wasn’t very appealing to me at the time, and the concept of rank exams in front of an audience was too stressing on my teenager over-conscious self. On the other hand I had always had a love for history, the romance behind knights and the excitement of understanding how so many of this weapons that looked so impractical to me (like pole arms) were actually used. So as soon as I had the offer to try it, it was impossible for me to say no, and as soon as I started – I simply couldn’t stop.

Fran: The history and the scholarship was definitely a big draw. There lies a key difference between learning what sensei tells you to do, or smashing one another with steel or foam weapons…and focusing on what the fencing masters centuries ago were trying to achieve – you want to get it right, and you want to be authentic. It draws you in on several levels.

As HEMA practitioners, what role do you play in telling the history of the martial arts you practice? Do you sometimes see yourselves as ‘historians’ of sorts?

Mariana: I think more than historians we are a mix of storytellers, archeologist and time travellers. Translating and interpreting the manuals and making them work, having to think not only on a sense of what works mechanically but also keeping in mind the historical context making us dig into how people lived back then, to the point ancient people are no longer “these strange people of the past” but more like “just another person but without the Internet or pens”. On the other hand it also builds a connection to other cultures; We might not be as similar as some Asian martial arts, but we are not that different either, the human body only moves a certain way.

Fran: It’s important to me to explain to new students at my school that we are teaching as closely as we can the same material that was being given to students just like themselves over 400 years ago. I get the books out on day one, and get them taking notes – the books are the link between them and those people who studied under Marozzo and Manciolino all those years ago.

 

I know that sometimes roleplaying/cosplaying is a big part in how people interact with and get into HEMA. Could you tell us a little bit about your experience with role playing? Do you think it has contributed to your relationship with the martial arts you practice?

Mariana: That’s… An interesting question. HEMA has had a long bipolar “fight” when it comes to how we relate to geek culture. Roleplay/cosplay/larp etc., all of those things are “games”. HEMA is not, yet it used to be commonly confused, so through its evolution HEMA has had a hard time to establish itself as a Martial Art and Sport (let’s not forget we have tournaments) that it is. Nowadays I believe that the distinction is properly establish, and while it still causes me to twitch when someone ask me if HEMA armored fencing is the same as LARP or BOTN for example (which are perfectly fine activities! Just not what we do!) now it’s a lot more easy to show people material for them to really understand the differences between these activities.

That being said, a lot of us enjoy or have backgrounds or have gained a lot of students through roleplay/cosplay/larp, etc. So while we want to make it clear we are not the same, we welcome everyone!

Fran: I play tabletop RPGs: D&D and call of Cthulhu, but the only link for me is that a lot of HEMA people are equally as nerdy and it’s something we often have in common. I am keen to not blur the lines between re-enactment/cosplay/HEMA etc – from the outside they all seem to be the same thing anyway, so defining HEMA as a study in historical swordplay rather than a chance to dress up is necessary in my opinion. Otherwise it detracts from the task before us.

That said, having taught a lot of newbies from different backgrounds I have developed a keen eye for what makes a good beginner – and LARPists are often the best, particularly those who have done a lot of foam weapon fighting. They have excellent timing and movement, and a real urgency that is necessary in martial arts.

Moving onto Esfinges! You guys are the first female network for HEMA women practitioners. That’s amazing! What made you feel that you needed to start this network? 

Fran: I got on board shortly after Mariana came up with the idea, I will let her speak about her experiences and why she felt it was necessary to begin. I personally thought it would just be fun to get all the women in HEMA together and make new friends, but as time has gone on I’m learning more and more that our work is vital for the growth and proliferation of HEMA, and the continuation of women in historical martial arts.

Mariana: I will do my best to keep this story short, but no promises:

Back in the day, when HEMA was young and I lived on my cloud of happiness running my own club and knowing pretty much everyone in the community, This girl called Ruth told me it would be cool to make a Facebook group with all the women in HEMA in Mexico, and who knows, maybe talk about what hairstyle is best to keep your hair away from the fencing mask, etc. She needed my help as I pretty much knew almost everyone, and she didn’t. I though the idea to be entirely idiotic, absurd, and ridiculous. Few months after I went to my first international HEMA event, and in a crowd of 60 people, only 4 of us were women. For the first time I was conscious of this disparity, so I messaged Ruth back and told her I would be onboard as long as we made it international, so together we created Esfinges. I wanted to know why there were so few of us! After some time Ruth found her passion to be elsewhere and left, but I now had too many questions to just drop the project.

I started paying attention every time I invited women to training sessions, and I realized there were a lot of taboos and stigmas from society about women doing fighting activities, and I couldn’t stand it. Without going through names I started noticing absurd situations where women had to quit HEMA because of boyfriends threatening to leave them if they didn’t stop training because they couldn’t stand seeing their girlfriends with bruises. A girl left HEMA after 3 years of practicing because her parents offered her a new car as long as she quit HEMA and joined a “real women” activity like dancing. Women who were interested but “they were women so they wouldn’t be able to do it anyways” and women who loved it but got tired of all the stigma and treatment they got from the “outside world” about them doing HEMA.

To date my main goal with Esfinges is to have a tool to make clear and loud to the non-HEMA world that women (any woman! Girly, manly, queer, big, small, religious, atheist, etc.) CAN AND WILL DO HEMA, and that we kick ass at it. I want us to break the stigma about what is a female activity and what is a male activity, and I want us to provide a space in which women feel identified with and welcome, so if they happen to have to deal with the outside world telling them they can’t do this, they gather enough strength for them not to quit, and show the world they can! And they do it pretty darn well!

In all honesty, I never thought this would get so big, and we ended up dealing with more projects and needs than what I first planed, and while I still hope for the day Esfinges is no longer needed (I aim for it to not exist anymore one day). Right now it has become a monster. But I see it as my baby monster, so I’ll stick to it!

I think support networks for women martial artists are very important, whether you’re practicing HEMA, or a martial art like Brazilian Jiu jitsu. It’s a way for women to know that they’re not alone, and that there are many women out there who share or have been through their experiences (both positive and negative). Have you seen this happen through Esfinges? Could you tell us a story that stands out to you about women who have connected through Esfinges?

Fran: The stories that touch me most deeply in Esfinges are the private messages and posts we see from those who have wanted to quit, but found the strength and the will to continue – or found a better environment –  thanks to us. Plenty of women find what they are looking for in HEMA – and they are very lucky – but there are plenty who have adverse experiences, because of club environments, relationships with other students and instructors, or just plain old sexism. And it’s a testament to their passion and enthusiasm for HEMA that they don’t just walk away – many do. There are a lot of hurdles for women to overcome to get started on a HEMA career, and they don’t disappear once they’re started. Often we find we are the lifeline, and I don’t use that word lightly, that allows them to stay in HEMA. We are the hundreds of supporting voices that believe in them when it feels like nobody else will.

Mariana: Adding to what Fran said, I will talk more on women on the “outside” of HEMA. I love when women are interested but not sure they can practice HEMA, then they find Esfinges and realize there’s nothing extraordinary about the people who practice HEMA, they are people like them. Students, workers, stay at home parents, regardless of religion, regardless of skin color, size, sexuality, gender identity etc. So then they finally feel the bravery to go to their first HEMA class, and join. I’ve been amazed to realize that Esfinges has been inspirational not only to women but to other minorities and how it allows people to see the value of having more women in their clubs and learn how to be more welcoming and inclusive.

On the other hand, what hurts me the most is seeing women who even while already in HEMA, they are so feed up with what society has told them, that they feel unworthy of being good, they doubt too much when they have the chance to be instructors and coaches, or when they feel they know and could do more but don’t have the strength to go or ask for it. We don’t see enough women instructors not only because there’s not many women doing HEMA, and there’s even less who had done it for a long time, but also because many, during their entire lives were never told they could be bold, strong, capable leaders or that they are as important and deserve as much respect as anyone else in the room (the saddest part is knowing I have been in all those positions myself). It’s especially hard and common when clubs have new members and there’s every now and then, or very often depending in which country you live, this one guy who don’t want to train with you or teach you because you are a woman and that to their eyes, means you’re less capable.

How do women experience HEMA? What are some of the boundaries you’ve both encountered training in HEMA? 

Mariana: I started my own club with my brother, so when it came to my club and my environment, I was always welcome, however it was very hard for me when I had people who were onboard to come train to our club and as soon as they figured I was one of the instructors they left. However my brother gave me a great lesson.

Once upon a time, one (big) guy arrived in class for the first time, he said out loud he didn’t wanted to work with me because he didn’t want to hurt me. After telling him I had 5 years of experience he proceed to say “but you are a woman” my brother came to me and told me “I want you to go, throw him, throw him as hard as you can, just beat him and have no mercy” and so I did. In fact, this happened many, many times. The result was one of 2: they learned the lesson and treated women with respect and fight them as they would fight anyone else, or they left the club that same day. That day I learned that while there are boundaries, we are the ones who allow them to stay or force them to leave.

I’ve been told the only reason I achieved things in HEMA was for “being pretty and cute”, I’ve been told women shouldn’t fence men, I’ve been told that my opponent were “easy on me” if I won a fight. Outside I’ve been told that “no man would ever date me” as long as I practiced HEMA (joke’s on them, I have an amazing husband!) In college one guy started to harass me because of the fact I did martial arts, to the point he tried to forcefully kiss me to prove I wasn’t going to be able to defend myself ( I smashed the back of his head against the wall… he never got close to me again 😉 ) Even my parents got comments from other people for letting me do HEMA!!!! Worst of all, I’ve believed those things myself…. And so many other things…. But as my brother taught me, every time I find a boundary I go, throw it, throw it as hard as I can and just beat the boundary with no mercy.

But that being said, it is necessary to state: none of those bad experiences compare to the fulfilling experience, the personal growth, the achievements, the joy, and the love HEMA has brought me. Where some might be sexist and stupid and unfortunately loud, there is also a welcoming, loving encouraging community built by women, men, queer people and just about anyone who wants to join it. Full of diversity, beauty and most importantly: FULL OF SWORDS!!!

Fran: I had the best start in HEMA as a woman, because the founder and head instructor of my school was a woman. Caroline Stewart was my role model and now I’m a leader at the school I feel it’s my responsibility to be a role model to others. That said, even as a woman in a leadership role, with 8 years of experience as a competitor, instructor and organiser; even with a spouse who is world renowned as both a competitor, instructor and researcher, I still experience sexism. Whether it’s being undermined for being a woman instructor, or even sexually harassed, or just battling the voices in my head telling me I shouldn’t be doing this…those boundaries are real. And that’s as someone speaking from a position of privilege, so it’s my strongest passion to kick those boundaries away whenever I see them. HEMA is an overwhelmingly white and cis-male hobby, it can also be a very macho hobby – a place full of very strong masculinity. That is something that can be attractive to all the sexes, but if it is a dangerous and toxic masculinity, it can be very excluding and damaging.

 

Do you feel that you’ve been able to overcome these boundaries? And if so, how did you do it?

Mariana: I don’t know if I’ve been able to overcome them entirely, but I’ve learn to challenge them, I’ve learned that for every time I believe I’m not capable I need to try. For every time I feel like crying because I’m afraid to hit someone, I need to go and hit them even if I have tears in my eyes. For every time I want to put the word “women” on my fails, I need to remember it’s a failure that humans – regardless of gender – have had before me. I’ve learned that there’s no way for me to know if I can do HEMA or not, If I don’t do HEMA. And that I will never been able to know if I am good enough, if I don’t train as much and as hard as I can. And that I won’t know if I can’t inspire others, if I don’t try to inspire others.

I try to put into actions what I believe in. To remove the excuses society placed for me to be lazy and to make of any environment I’m involved into an environment that breaths inclusivity and openness. Breaking boundaries can be achieved by simple things that seem dumb, from changing that one flyer promoting your club by having a woman instead of a man, (or a woman and a man!). By cutting through social taboos and talking openly to your students about how cramps and periods and hormonal changes can affect your training instead of talking about it as a deep dark secret only with the female students. Sure, there are more “complicated” actions that can be taken, but no big goal is reached without tiny steps. And those tiny steps will show you what’s next.

However the most important part for me to break boundaries is: talk to people, ask questions, and open your ears and your heart, challenge everything. Many people creates or perpetuates toxic attitudes not because they are inherently bad, but because that’s what they were taught all their lives, because they don’t know other ways, or they don’t even realize they are being damaging because they don’t live our lives or feel our experiences. We must learn to be approachable and to approach others. Ask first, then Listen, Ask again, Listen again, and then make your argument. Every now and then things get solved not by telling our needs, but by explaining to others where those needs come from and why we have them.

Remember how I was surrounded by an environment in which I was questioned for doing HEMA? Those same people, that same environment, has been transformed into a group of people who believe women can and should do this if they want. Minds are not solid, everything can change.

Fran: My current issue with the HEMA community at large is lack of women instructors at events. I saw two events in the UK recently where one had 2 female instructors out of 40 (and everyone was white, able bodied, straight and cis as far as I know, but that’s another issue), and another which had zero women teaching. By my estimate we have approximately 20% women in the HEMA community, so this isn’t even representative of us as a community, let alone as the human race. My quiet protest is to put on events with only women instructors – not as a gimmick or anything drawing attention to that fact, just trying to redress the balance.

People have said “women just aren’t interested in HEMA”, this patently is not true, far from it. Last year on Esfinges’ public page we ran a month-long event called Give a Girl A Sword (GAGAS). We have run this in previous years and the idea is everyone brings at least one female friend or relative along with them to class, so they can try HEMA for the first time – and hopefully keep going. This time people took it a step further: several clubs around the world – from Chile to the Philippines, Spain and the UK – ran women’s beginner classes. In several cases that I know of they were completely overwhelmed by the response. One club in Chile was expecting around twenty women, and they got over a hundred. A club in London had to put on several extra nights to cope with the demand. So quite simply, representation matters – and if you market HEMA to women, they will come, in ARMIES.

 

As founders of such an important network, how has Esfinges changed your lives? Has it impacted the way that you train?

Fran: I strive for parity in beginners courses, in instructor quotas, in competitions. I am enthusiastic about open lines of communication, about mentorship, I encourage my female students to discover their hidden talents, to be their true selves, and to encourage other women. The women that take the brave step of starting HEMA deserve all the support they can get, so they can show others that it can be done.

Mariana: Now more than ever I care about being inclusive and to build healthy environments and break preconceived ideas or “who’s more capable” and “who’s more talented”, if I run an event, I make sure it’s clear and loud that it’s an activity for everyone. As Fran said, strive for parity and encourage people to reach the best of their capabilities. I want to create an environment in which everyone supports everyone, women and men equally, where there’s a constant understanding and dialogue. Were we no longer feel threatened or questioned or judge what we decide to do with our lives or on how we perform for no other reason than our gender.

Esfinges was a blessing and a curse, I now live in a constant awareness of my environment, but I now have tools to work with different environments and working and learning on building them to be better.

And finally, what advice would you give to other women looking to start in HEMA? 

Mariana: Just do it, all you need to practice HEMA is wanting to practice HEMA. And once you try it, if you didn’t like it – was it because of HEMA itself, or something else? If the answer is the second reason, then do it again, differently, elsewhere. You don’t have to be good, you don’t have to be great, and you just have to enjoy it. Talent, athleticism, capability comes with time and practice. If there’s no one to teach you in the near area, research, find a seminar, start on your own. When there’s a will, there’s most likely a way, and people willing to help you (like us!).

Fran: Try it out, see if you can find a club near you – if there are several try them all. Every club culture is different and you will find one that suits you best. It’s not just about the weapon being studied. When I ran By the Sword in March (an all-women’s event with all women instructors) we had a Q&A panel with all of the instructors  and someone asked a similar question. The main thing I would say to those women, and to the voices in the heads of those women is “you deserve to be here”. You deserve to be here as much as the tall athletic guy who wins all the medals, you deserve to be here as much as the veteran who has been teaching for decades, you deserve to be here as much as the instructor running the class. Find your tribe.

If you’re interested in starting in HEMA, or are curious about Esfinges, visit their website here.

All images in this post are taken from Esfinges’ gallery, or directly from Fran and Mariana. http://esfinges.net/gallery/

Episode 1: ‘What Makes a Good Teacher?’ with Susie from Pretty Deadly Self Defence

Welcome to I Hit Hard’s first ever podcast! We hope to use our podcasts to platform incredible women from a range of martial arts, combat sports and self defence disciplines around a variety of topics related to navigating the fight world as women, and beyond.

Our first podcast today is with Susie from Pretty Deadly, a self defence school based in Berlin. Pretty Deadly focuses on training women from any background in self defence based on real-life situations. This is no ordinary self defence school, with Pretty Deadly addressing not just the physical dimension of defence, but arms their students with a strong grounding in understanding boundaries, trust and summoning inner power and confidence.

Susie herself has a background in Ninjitsu, having trained in the martial art for almost 18 years and even helped to establish Bosen Chicago Dojo in the US. Susie is also a violent crime survivor, and she has used this experience to sculpt Pretty Deadly into what it is today.

Brazilian Jiu Jitsu Life Drawing

All photos of the life drawing class by Kari from Come to Life

Recently, I had the pleasure of modelling for a local life drawing class run by Come to Life in Croydon, South London. This wasn’t an ordinary life drawing class, because both Laura (who invited me to model with her) and I posed in our gis for the class to draw us in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu positions. In our gis, the class were able to focus on the folds and contortions of our uniform, as well as the dynamic positions we held.

Unfortunately, Laura and I were pretty unwell on the night, but it was a great experience to have people draw us in our martial arts clothing. We did a few different poses, including an armbar, a morote seoi nage throw and a few guard passes. In the second half of the class, I posed in my rashguard, which included triangling a pillow for half an hour (I admittedly dozed off at this point, the position was surprisingly comfortable!). Throughout, Brazilian rap and hip hop boomed in the studio, setting both the pace and the tone of the class.

Perhaps the most exciting part of being a part of this class was seeing everyone’s sketches of Laura and I. It was moving to see something that is an art in its own right (Brazilian Jiu Jitsu), be translated into another person’s artistic expression on paper. Anything that has physical expression, including martial arts and combat sport, can be seen as a form of art.

There is definitely something special about drawing the human form as it is performing a martial art. Not just in how the physical body is depicted as it enacts the techniques of a martial art, but also in how the artist interprets the ‘intent’ carried by the martial artist on paper. Specifically, ’martial intent’, which I would describe as the will of power and the transfer of energy by martial artists through their body into physical strikes or motions. I wonder how that kind of dynamic intent can be translated on paper?

Whilst this time Laura and I were in static poses for this particular class, I would love to be the subject of study (and the art student behind the easel!) in a class that looks to sketch martial artists in action.

Banting Recipe: Low Carb Apple & Cinnamon Nutrition Bar

I love nutrition bars, or at least, I love the idea of them. I’ve always struggled to find one that genuinely has a low sugar and carb content. Most nutrition bars on the market cater to creating sugar-induced quick energy spikes pre- or post- training, and for someone who is insulin resistant this is less than ideal. As a result, I have very limited choice when selecting one from the supermarket or store to try.

Thus far, there have been only two brands of bar that have almost met my low sugar, low carb requirements: Kind bars and Fulfil bars. Kind bars are on the higher end of my ‘acceptable amount of sugar’ scale, averaging around 16g carb and 6g of sugar per bar. Fulfil bars are significantly lower, averaging around 11g of carbs and less than 3g of sugar.

I was convinced that Fulfil bars were the post-training snack of my dreams, especially with their high protein content. However, on closer inspection I was not fully happy with the ingredients list. In particular, I was suspicious of the presence of erithrytol in the bars as the main source of sweetness. At the time I hadn’t heard of erithrytol, but after some research I found that it has fuelled some contentious discussion in the health and fitness community.

Erithrytol politics aside, I just wanted a good nutrition bar that I could rely on, particularly after training. And then I had a light bulb moment – why don’t I just make my own? I could make a batch every Sunday and take one out with me every morning before work. And that’s exactly what I’ve been doing since.

Ingredients:

  • 80g roasted hazelnuts
  • 80g almond flakes
  • 80g almond flour
  • 1 1/2 apples
  • 96g xylitol
  • 1 tsp cinnamon powder
  • 130g salted butter
  • 1 cup of water

Serves 10 (60g per bar)

Prep time: 20 minutes

Cook time: 20 minutes – Oven setting: 180 degrees (gas mark 4)

Total time: 40 minutes

Instructions:

  1. Pre-heat the oven to 180 degrees (gas mark 4)
  2. Remove the skin of the apples with a peeler or knife, and cut them coarsely.
  3. Put the apples in a large pot with the cup of water and bring to the boil.
  4. Put the butter in with the apples and water and stir until melted.
  5. Put the lid on the pot and reduce to a medium-low heat to allow the apples to soften. If bubbles rise to the lid of the pot, you will need to reduce the flame.
  6. Pour the xylitol into the pot and stir in for a few minutes until dissolved.
  7. When the apples have softened, use a masher to mash the apples until it becomes a thick sauce. It doesn’t have to be smooth, I liked leaving mine with chunks of apple in it.
  8. Leave the apple sauce to cool in the pan.
  9. Use a pestle and mortar or grinder to grind the hazelnuts until it has a crumb-like consistency.
  10. Add the crumbled hazelnuts, almond flakes and almond flour to the apple sauce mixture.
  11. Add the cinnamon powder to the mixture and stir until all ingredients are evenly distributed.
  12. Divide the mixture into measured portions and shape on a baking tray with baking parchment. Remember, the more accurate the weight of each bar, the better you can calculate the macros!
  13. Bake until golden for around 20 minutes. And then eat them. All of them (I’m joking, kind of).

Nutritional information per 60g serving:

Calories: 287

Fat (g): 25.3

Carbs (g): 14.8

Protein (g): 5.6

Sugars (g): 2.6

-If nutritional posts are something you’d like to see more of on I Hit Hard, leave a comment to let me know!-

Fighting Through Mental Illness: how martial arts helped with depression and anxiety

When I strike, a calmness washes over me. The full body focus I experience enables me to fully immerse myself in the present. Nothing compares to the sensation of being in-tune with my physical self, my surroundings and the power my body is capable of exerting, all at once. It lights a fire in me that stabilises my senses and grounds my emotions. As I fight my energy often wanes, but the ecstasy of being in the moment pushes me further. Not over an edge, but into a post-tired state, where I discover I can go physically and mentally further than I’d ever imagined. Fighting has allowed me to trace and learn my physical and mental boundaries, and appreciate how far I can take myself.

In Brazilian Jiu Jitsu, rolling has shown me a new kind of intimacy and mindfulness of the self and of the person I am rolling with. I am guided through a mental landscape that requires my thought processes to travel to the tips of my toes and fingers. I grip, dive, enfold and, often, stumble. I have found the collision and melting of bodies into one another as I roll meditative. I love the shapes I can form with my partner, and discovering that I can attain consciousness at multiple physical touch points. On the mats, I feel like I’m suspended in the ocean, which can sometimes be overwhelming, but I’ve learnt to let that feeling pass through me. I’ve learnt that it’s okay to feel like you’re drowning. Rolling has taught me to let go of anxious states of mind, and to know that they don’t last forever unless I cling to them. Letting go, mentally and physically, has been transformative.

It feels amazing to fight, to learn about myself in ways I didn’t know were possible, to love what I can do and be excited by my own potential. Through martial arts, I’ve found myself thinking: Yeah, I did that – and I am capable of so much more.


Many women live with mental illnesses, and I am one of them. I feel vulnerable talking about my mental health so publicly, but in the spirit of International Women’s Day, I want to share my experiences with depression and anxiety to show that what makes us vulnerable can also lead us to find great strength and grounded-ness. I firmly believe that had I not spent so many difficult years battling with depression and anxiety, I would not be the person I am today, and I would not have the motivation nor the tenacity that I carry with me to train hard in the martial arts I practice. I also see martial arts as being a pivotal part of my mental health journey, having been a means through which I have freed myself from many of the toxic narratives that had kept me in a depressive and anxious state for so long.

I remember reading a Guardian article a year or so ago that described having depression as akin to looking through thick ice. It resonated with my experience of living with depression so well: peering out at the world through thick, opaque ice that made everything on the outside appear distant, foggy and blurred. When you’re depressed, the way you view what is around you changes, as well as your sense of self and your perception of your place in the world.

I think I had been depressed for several years before I was able to truly see myself as having depression. I first accepted that I was depressed when I found commonality with some of the close women friends I had made at university who were experiencing similar mental health struggles to my own. At that time, the labels ‘depression’ and ‘depressed’ were unfamiliar and bitter in my mouth. But, like the heaviness in my lungs and stomach that I carried with me day-in and day-out, I absorbed these words and tried to make sense of them.

In my late teens and early twenties, I couldn’t get out of bed. My body and mind felt harnessed to my mattress, and I had no will or desire to move until 2pm or so in the afternoon. This wasn’t helped by my inability to sleep. I would hyperventilate in my room, anxious, afraid and desperately lonely. I was scared about what was happening to me, where every day became a struggle to the point where I thought I was going insane. When you’re in the thick of it like I was, it’s so hard to pin-point what is happening to you and why. There is a lot to uncover when you experience mental illness: where did it come from? Why am I experiencing these things? What does it all mean?

I knew that what I was experiencing was related to the toxic and volatile relationship I had with my body. I despised my physical self, having absorbed from a very young age that my body, in all its fatness and largeness – was monstrous, grotesque and unacceptable. There was a voice in the back of my mind narrating this hatred of myself every waking second of the day, thoughts like: ‘don’t walk that way, you’re disgusting stomach will show’, ‘you can’t sit like that because it will make you look horrific’, ‘you would never be able to wear anything like that because your body is too ugly’. It was a lot to deal with, mentally, and looking back I have no idea how I dealt with it.

A sketch I drew in 2015 depicting my conflict over ‘self love’

It was only after university that I begun to look to exercise as a serious outlet to support myself. Before starting martial arts, I found that my initial venture into exercise and fitness only reinforced my toxic relationship with my body – do it to the point of exhaustion, or punish and reprimand yourself. Eventually, my curiosity lead me to begin lifting weights in my local gym. Weight lifting was the first form of exercise that had a positive effect on me because it highlighted an attribute of myself that I’d always been proud of – my strength.

Martial arts went several steps further than that, and it has taught me many things over the years. Most importantly, it has shown me that:

  • I can be dynamic and open with my body. Since I can first remember I have been taught to compartmentalise my body and contort it into acceptable shapes and sizes that were palatable to others. This, many women are socialised to do, and it became central to how I existed as I grew older where the apparent unsightliness of my large body continued to be emphasised by others. Moving in combat slowly bore away at these narratives in my mind, as it enabled me to move my body in ways I had been afraid to in the past. It no longer mattered that I jiggled when I pivoted my hips, my mind was too focused on perfecting my jab. I didn’t care anymore that my stomach rolled with me when I narrowed my body into a fighting stance, I just wanted to optimise my basic position work.And I felt good about it, knowing that moving in such a way was turning me into a better fighter. In turn, I began to appreciate what my body could do for me. I inadvertently was retraining my mind to think about myself positively – something I had no will or means to do previously.
  • I can love myself, fully. ’Ananya, you have to find a way to love yourself and be kind to yourself,’ said my counsellor for the hundredth time. I was infuriated and confused by the ease with which she expected me to achieve this, because when I thought about myself it was so far away from being full of love and kindness. I felt repulsed by myself. How could I turn that around? Martial arts have taught me that attaining love for oneself is not something someone can force to happen – it is a process. For me, it had to come through something else, as willing myself there by mindful thinking alone was clearly not working. That something else, a vehicle through which I could love myself, has been fighting. It’s hard to write down exactly where and when I began to love myself, or exactly what part of my martial arts journey was the spark that ignited that ability in me, but all I know is that I do love myself now. From my experience, I think a huge component has been the self-forgiveness I have learnt through martial arts. It’s okay to make mistakes and be imperfect, what’s important is what you learn through your mistakes and forgive yourself for making them.
  • I can unapologetically occupy space. My relationship with martial arts has always been about the occupation of space: as a woman in male-dominated clubs and as someone who struggles with body image and self-esteem. Crucial to my mental health journey, training in martial arts has taught me to own the space my body occupies. Having grown up obsessing over needing to contort, starve and beat myself into being smaller and slimmer, valuing my body for how it is naturally has been indispensable to my mental well-being. I feel proud of my height, weight and shape, and the fact that I take up space. I no longer feel that my body is a hinderance to who I want to be, or dissimilar to who I am on the inside. Fighting has created an equilibrium where my mind and body work in unison in order to be optimised in training. This has translated into how I view and hold myself in general, no longer apologising for my physical self and the weight that I carry.

I feel moved by the growing number of people who are vocal about their relationship with mental health and martial arts. Campaigns like Mindmats and Submit The Stigma, as well as podcasts like Fight Like a Girl have been raising awareness about mental health by platforming stories of fighters affected by mental illness and how martial arts has benefited them mentally.

I wanted to share my mental health story on International Women’s Day because mental illness effects so many women around us. And those women who struggle, but still manage to train and fight, deserve to be celebrated and heard. I am one of many who have found martial arts and combat sport to be places where I can mentally grow and heal. Fighting has paved a way for me to turn my vulnerabilities into becoming my strengths: I have finally reclaimed my body from my anxiety and depression, and that is something I try to acknowledge every day.

If you have a story to tell about your mental health and martial arts journey, I Hit Hard wants to hear from you! We are looking to publish stories each month from women fighters on mental health. If you would like to submit a piece, get in touch by emailing: i.hit.hard.mma@gmail.com

Fighter Interview: Bushin’s Fiona Lee

Fiona Lee is a black belt in Bushin and Shorinji Kempo. By day, Fiona works as an auditor at an investment bank, assessing its internal controls and risk management practices. By night, Fiona is a fierce fighter and assistant instructor at Bushin.

 

What made you get into martial arts?

Well, I started martial arts in my first year at university. The short answer is (laughs) – I did it because at university we were told that in order to get a job, you need to make your CV look better. So not just studying, not just working, you have to have something else. So I thought, ‘okay great, what can I do that is something different that will make me stand out compared to everybody else?’. I went through the university sports schedule and found that they offered martial arts classes. My brothers did martial arts at the time, so I decided that I’d also try it out!

At university, I picked the first martial art that was early enough in the day, and that happened to be Shorinji Kempo (laughs), which is where I met Cailey. It (the Shorinji Kempo class) was at 6pm, I remember. My last lecture ended at around 5pm, so my logic was that the one after Shorinji Kempo, which was Aikido, started at 8pm and I didn’t want to have to be in the library for around 3 hours after my lecture! Shorinji Kempo left me one hour to study between my lecture and the class.

I do remember that my first class was so intensive – but I did like it, or else I wouldn’t have carried on – that the next day I wasn’t able to walk. It was that intensive that I had to walk up and down stairs backwards! But I still enjoyed it, so it must have been a good sign.

So what made you stick it out? When I was at uni I started an Aikido class, but never continued with it as I found it too intensive at the time – my legs could not stretch that way!

I stuck with it because I actually enjoyed being with the people because none of the club members were students and that was a fresh perspective. Having been around students pretty much all day, I didn’t want to be stuck with them. I got to talk to people who had seen a bit more of life and were older than me, and I could just talk to them normally.

It was also an escape from studying. I was beating myself up through studying, saying things like ‘you’re never going to be good enough to get a job,’ etc. It became the only world that I had where I had a bit more control and I knew what I was good at or what I was okay at – and that I could see myself getting better in it. It was quite ego boosting for me.

That’s nice though! A lot of martial artists I’ve spoken to have said that part of why they continue to practice martial arts is that it has helped them with their anxiety, or making them feel more self confident, for example.

I had a lot of anger, and I needed to get that out – so it was my outlet for that as well. With all the frustrations of life, I could take it out in a safe environment and through an acceptable outlet. And I was learning something too, and I felt good that I was good at something. It made me believe that I could do Kempo well, and so I started to really view it as my niche.

I also found out very quickly in Kempo that I was very different to everyone else; a lot of techniques didn’t work on me because I have a low centre of gravity and am a bit more flexible than other people. I was also the only girl in the club for a long time and the only white belt in a group of black belts and brown belts. Accepting that difference, I kind of just got on with it, and thought to myself, well nobody is going to judge me for being wrong because I’m still new and I have a reason to be a little bit crappy?! And that drove me to be better and try and do it over and over again, and try and prove myself a lot more.

If you’re new to something and not sure what it entails, seeing someone who you think relates to you more, is important tweet this

So there were no other white belts besides you?!

Nope, it was just me for a good nine months, until after my first grading in the summer. So I started in January and six months later I did my first grading and then one by one more girls turned up, and people from different clubs started to join in the summer. It felt good at the time, like a different world. Somewhere where I felt comfortable and happy; an escape.

Do you think that it helps to have another woman who is more established in the club in order to encourage more women to join?

I think so. If you’re new to something and not sure what it entails, seeing someone who you think relates to you more is important. And seeing that if something doesn’t work, being able to think ‘if she can do it, then I can do it too’. It’s also good to have somebody to talk to, especially because techniques don’t work for everyone – we’re not all built the same way, we’re not the same height, same weight or people with the same physiology, so being able to share that with someone who is open to talking about it – not that the guys didn’t want to talk about it – but I think their approach was slightly different to that of a woman. For men, they can drive technique through with power, and it becomes a lot more like a ‘strength game’. Whereas for many women with a lot of the techniques that we do, especially with grappling for example, it’s not all about weight – it’s about how you move your entire body. You then quickly learn that you don’t need to necessarily use your entire arm strength against someone else – I can actually use my entire body weight against their arm. You end up being more in-tune with your own body. Some of the men that I trained with had stiffer hips, but could rely on their arm strength so they didn’t really see it that way, so it was good to talk to another woman who saw it the same way as me.

Why did you decide to move onto something like Bushin? It’s quite dissimilar to a more traditional martial art like Shorinji Kempo.

For a lot of reasons, I felt like I had to move on; I was going through a period of my life where things just seemed to stall. At that time, I’d finished my undergraduate, I didn’t know where to go in life and there were a lot of things happening at once. I was thinking, ‘what am I going to do with myself?’. And it sort of effected me emotionally, which went into my training as well, all while there was a lot of club politics going on too. I felt that it was important for me to take a break, just to figure out my next step. I didn’t want to carry on going through the same things where I felt frustrated, where I felt that I’d reached my peak a little bit. There was no-one there who I felt that I could train with who was on the same wavelength, and I was asking myself ‘should I try something completely different?’.

I think it was one of those crossroad moments where it was like, ‘do I want to carry on doing the old thing, or do I want to try something new and see what else I can do? Did I want to start afresh, like what I had when I first started Kempo?’. I needed to find something that makes me feel good. So, I decided to start with a clean slate, and start again.

But, it wasn’t easy! Coming from Kempo, Bushin was completely different, and if you ask Cailey, he’d probably agree that I wasn’t the best person in the room as I had a lot of old habits. I found it harder to adapt compared to the others who started Bushin as well. It was really difficult. I couldn’t figure it out in my head and I started over analysing things that I used to do in Kempo, like ‘you have to step this way, or your hand has to be over here’. But then I learnt with Bushin that I can actually learn to rely on my own intuition: if something feels right, then that’s what I should go with. I shouldn’t have to go down this ‘step here, move your hand here’ step-by-step thing if it doesn’t work for me. I had to learn to trust myself to say nah, I’m going to take a bit of a risk and adapt it my own way early and see if it works. If it doesn’t work, I’ll just try something else.

What is the one piece of advice you would give to a woman starting her first class?

I think you have to know why you’re doing it. If you’re just doing it because you feel unfit, that’s fine! You can do something that will help you get fit through martial arts – whether that be a full-contact martial art, or a boxercise class. I mean to be honest I had a pretty shallow reason for getting into it, ‘it’ll look good on my CV! It will help me get a job!’ – but it never got me a job interview, at all! I kept with it because I enjoyed it and I did it for me.

I think the thing I would probably say to anyone starting out is – do what makes you happy. If you want to do something that just involves hitting a couple of pads, that’s fine. Or if you want to do a martial art that involves more contact, that’s fine. If you want to do something where you really just want to hit someone in full-contact, that’s fine too — just do it in a safe way (laughs)! Just make sure you’re not breaking any laws, it’s fine as long as you find a safe environment for you!

Just do it, and maybe it will work, maybe it won’t. If it doesn’t work, find out why it doesn’t work and make it work! It made me less risk averse and more able to just do things. – tweet this

How much has your motivation to take up martial arts changed now?

It’s changed a lot, I think it’s taken a bit more of my life than I ever anticipated. Even though I had very shallow reasons to start a martial art in the beginning, doing it changed my perspective on life quite a lot, and the way I think as well. For example, when you try and break down a technique, I learnt to approach it in a very logical and systematic way, combined with intuition. And that’s how I try to approach day-to-day tasks now, and that’s how I am at work. I think that it really has affected the way that I think, the way I approach things. It’s probably even affected the way I talk to people as well! It really has infused with my way of life.

It also made me more confident talking to people from different backgrounds. That’s why I really appreciate starting out in a club where there were no students. Growing up I wasn’t very confident and I found it really difficult to talk to people at all – I was painfully shy. But then, starting university I decided that I was going to be a new person, as you do (laughs). One of my university lecturers told me ‘if you want to be confident, you have to fake confidence’, so I thought that if I wanted to talk to people from different backgrounds, I had to jump right in and just do it!

I take that approach with most things, especially in martial arts. Just do it, and maybe it will work, maybe it won’t. If it doesn’t work, find out why it doesn’t work and make it work! It made me less risk averse and more able to just do things.

Where do you see yourself in 5 years time?

It’s quite difficult, because I feel like I’m at the stage in my life where I want to focus more on my career. Getting to this point, I was just focusing on my ‘martial arts career’ as it were. And now, as I’m more confident in other aspects of my life, I want to invest more energy and effort into that. My work career is going to take more of a precedence now, so I’m probably going to have to dial back the amount of energy I invest into martial arts, but I’m not going to give it up – I’m just going to find a different way of approaching it.

I’ve passed that phase of thinking that I need to be the best and win competitions, I’ve already done that. That’s not my ultimate goal anymore. My goal now for my martial arts career is to find what I’m good at, and find new ways to be better at it. Also, I’d like to try different sports too. I tried Aikido for a while, but it didn’t really work for me so I stopped. I’ve now taken up yoga, which is completely different, but I feel that it will compliment my martial arts. It’s good for focusing on your core, so it doesn’t surprise me to hear that many martial artists are taking up yoga and pilates! I’ve also been going to the gym more to do strength training, which compliments what I do, but I’ve found that it also hinders me in terms of limiting my flexibility! So, I’m trying to find that balance. At this point in time, i’m still trying to understand what works for me rather than trying to be better than everybody else. I’m just trying to prove myself more and more.

I think that sometimes, not just in martial arts or sports, you can end up chasing an ideal…

Yes, wanting to be the best and be recognised – ‘I know her, she’s the best’. But I’ve kind of passed that now. That’s never really been a priority to be honest, I just wanted to compete with myself more. I don’t think I should beat myself up anymore when I’m in competition with myself, I should just appreciate what I have at the moment and use that as a motivation to be better rather than believing that I’m not good enough and beat myself up in order to be better. It’s a different kind of mindset, because I’m getting older. I’m not going to be the best anymore because my body is already starting to fall apart! Like, I had knee problems, my knee snapped and I couldn’t squat for a while; I had a fractured wrist a year ago and it’s not the same as it was before. A lot of things have made me appreciate that I need to not be so harsh on myself and just understand that if I’m rubbish at something… That’s okay!


Does Fiona’s experiences resonate with your own martial arts journey? Let us know in the comment section below!

* Music in trailer video sampled from Object Blue‘s track ‘In the station of the metro‘ *

Banting Recipe: Homemade Basil Pesto

If you’re at home with an injured knee, what do you do? Make pesto of course!

I want to use I Hit Hard to share with you all some of my favourite low-carb high-fat recipes, including this pesto. Nutrition is super important to me as a martial artist, and food has always been a big part of my life – for good or for bad.

Pesto goes with so many different things, and it’s the perfect thing to whip up if you’re stuck at home and need something to make quick and easy meals with. When I lived on the Isle of Wight, my mum used to make wild garlic pesto from the garlic in our garden. She brought me up to experiment with recipes, and what she has taught me plays a key role in how I’ve curated my diet to compliment my training.

My favourite pesto recipe is actually one that my dad created. He’s totally into doing things by hand, so there are no blenders involved in this recipe!

Ingredients:

  • 1 1/2 cups (360ml) extra virgin olive oil
  • 4 garlic cloves, finely chopped
  • 90 grams (three 30g packets) fresh basil leaves, finely chopped
  • 100g of parmesan cheese, finely grated
  • 50g pine nuts, coarsely chopped
  • 1 teaspoon Atlantic sea salt

(I find coarseness of pesto to be a matter of taste, so if you would like to cut anything more finely or coarsely, go ahead, it’ll lend a different texture and taste to what you make.)

I’ve been on the “Banting” low-carb high-fat diet for around a year now, and it has turned my life around. This is the ideal diet to tackle my insulin resistance.

Going “Banting”, I’ve given up sugar, drinking alcohol, wheat, rice and all other major carbs (yep, that includes bread!). Since then, my energy levels have remained consistent, I no longer experience bouts of dizziness or bloating, and I’ve experienced a fantastic ability to train harder and more frequently without feeling too rundown.

Serves 20 (21g per serving)

Prep time: 15 mins

Cook time: none

Total time: 15 mins

Instructions:

  1. Wash the basil leaves with water and pat dry with a kitchen towel before you chop them.
  2. Chop the basil leaves finely and put into a large bowl.
  3. Use the fine grate on your grater to grate your parmesan, and add this to the basil when you’re done (how many times can I use the word ‘grate’ in a sentence?!).
  4. Pour the pine nuts onto your cutting board and chop using a large kitchen knife. I prefer them to be coarsely chopped, but you may want to cut them more finely depending on your preference. Stir the chopped pine nuts into the mixture.
  5. Finely chop the four cloves of garlic and add this to the bowl, too.
  6. Then measure your olive oil (I used a cup measure) and pour it into the pesto. Mix the olive oil into the pesto and adjust the amount depending on whether you prefer your pesto more “wet” or “dry”.
  7. Finally, sprinkle the sea salt into the pesto and mix thoroughly.
  8. To serve, use alongside any dish or use as a cooking sauce (the possibilities are endless…)!
  9. Best when fresh. Store in a sealed container in a dry place away from direct sunlight.

Nutritional information per 21g serving:

Calories: 178

Fat (g): 18.1

Carbs (g): 0.4

Protein (g): 2.2

Sugars (g): 0.1

-If nutritional posts are something you’d like to see more of on I Hit Hard, leave a comment letting me know!-

Ronin Reviews: New Wave Academy – Women’s Brazilian Jiu Jitsu Class

I love training at different clubs and two weekends ago I had a particularly good excuse to do so! My friend and fellow fighter at London Fight Factory, Laura Harvey, recently joined New Wave Academy Training Centre as their Brazilian Jiu Jitsu coach for the women’s classes. As I live in the area, I decided to wander down to NWA to support her first session.

To give a little context, Laura was one of the first women to join the BJJ classes at London Fight Factory. She was one of the pioneering women who worked hard to encourage other women to join the club and continue to practice the sport. As a result of these early efforts, London Fight Factory boasts a thriving community of women fighters. Alongside Helene Pei Pei, Laura also founded the Women’s BJJ classes at London Fight Factory that take place every Saturday morning, which now attract many women both new and experienced to roll together.

I was extremely excited to learn that Laura would be teaching at NWA. I had heard a good deal of positive things about the club, and was keen to come along for the women’s classes. The turn out for the first session was great and there was a mix of women from a variety of backgrounds: mothers who were interested in trying the class because their children practice BJJ; budding white belts who were eager to attend more sessions and up-skill themselves (hello, me!); women who came from other martial arts backgrounds like MMA; and NWA’s regular women BJJ fighters.

Laura handled the mix of abilities with care and determination, and I know that facilitating a class with complete beginners to the sport is no easy feat. What I really appreciated was that she took the time to break down the fundamental elements of BJJ for those of us for whom this was their first interaction with the sport. I was happy that Laura took the time to go through each component of the forward and backward rolls, the hip-up and the shrimp. From my experience, it is not being able to master the fundamental elements of the warmups that can make newcomers to the sport feel out of their depth unless it is carefully explained to them. I know that when I started BJJ it was the attention from my seniors in instructing me how to approach the warmup basics that made a huge difference to my confidence at the time.

The session was tremendous fun, and I enjoyed seeing the women who had never experienced BJJ find joy and confidence in being able to do some of the techniques we practiced. I liked that Laura lead the main technique of the session around achieving an armbar submission. A lot of people might lead a first session made up of mostly beginners by teaching a technique that looks solely at positional dominance, but I am a big advocate for integrating submissions into understanding the way that positions work.

Besides, whether people want to admit it or not, the high from executing a submission is a fantastic way to get beginners into the sport – nothing beats mastering a technique that enables you to submit your opponent. I think that this is particularly true for women who enter into a martial art like BJJ. Women are often lead to believe that we are physically incapable of incapacitating someone through physical force or technique (especially in a martial art/combat sport). To realise our capacity for strength (inner and outer) is one of the greatest, most life-changing experiences – and I have been lucky enough to undergo that journey myself through the martial arts I practice.

What I loved about my experience at New Wave Academy was that many of the women who came to the women’s session were parents inspired to try BJJ through their children who train on the ‘Warrior Cubs’ programme. A particularly fun result of this was that their kids watched them experience their first time trying BJJ. For example, one of the mums who joined the session was keen to try her hand at rolling, and at the end of the session, we rolled together. As we rolled, her son perched himself at the side of the mat and screamed instructions to his mum:

‘Mum! No, no, put your arm there! Mum, you need to keep your legs up! Yes mum, like that!’

BJJ is often referred to as a martial art that you practice for a life-time. Sometimes, it’s easy to lose sight of this when you’re 20-something and submerged in several martial arts. Training at New Wave Academy that weekend reminded me that BJJ has the ability to bring together people of all ages and abilities.

-You can join this class at New Wave Academy Training Centre from 1pm-2pm every Saturday-