PODCAST EPISODE 3: Who is Bolsonaro and why should we care? With BJJ Black Belt Robert Drysdale

Brazil has just finished what has been a politically charged and violent presidential election, with one man coming out on top: Jair Bolsonaro. Bolsonaro’s campaign has sparked worldwide controversy, leaving many people concerned over the future of Brazil due to his inflammatory views on a variety of important issues.

And yet, there are numerous people in the BJJ and combat sport community who support his ascent to power, from members of the Gracie family to popular fighters like Cyborg, Andre Galvao, Jose Aldo.

Who is Bolsonaro, and why should we, women in the combat sport/martial arts community, care?

Join Robert Drysdale and I for I Hit Hard’s third podcast, focusing on understanding the politics of Brazil’s new president elect, Jair Bolsonaro. As both a Brazilian citizen and BJJ coach, Robert also shares his thoughts on the repercussions Bolsonaro’s politics may have in BJJ gyms, and why it will become increasingly important to fight for BJJ gyms to be inclusive and safe spaces for all.

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.

A Little About the Author

I’ve had a few blogs in the past (read: random fashion and lifestyle blogging whilst I was completing my studies), but nothing quite like I Hit Hard. Although I’d like this to be a space where many women can share their stories, I guess it would be a good idea to start with my own.

I skimmed the surface of my own journey in the I Hit Hard About page, but really, that’s just to give you an indication of why this website, and your experiences, are so important to me and to each other, within the fight community. I’d like to continue to use this space to leave a trail of notes about my ongoing journey, because I think that there are incredible commonalities between women, and their experiences, in the martial arts world, and I would feel humbled if even one other women would find mine useful or informative for their own path.

Although I’ve moved in and out of martial arts since I was around 8, I think that journey was not my own until I decided to look for a martial arts gym myself in September of 2016. At the time, I hadn’t stepped into a dojo or martial arts gym since I was 16.

For context – at 16, my dad had enrolled me in Jiu Jitsu classes whilst we were living on the Isle of Wight. I knew a little Japanese, and was looking forward to starting a Japanese martial art where I’d be able to practice the language along the way. I felt shy stepping into the dojo, everything felt unfamiliar, and there was no one else there my age.

In fact, I was the only girl there besides a very elderly woman who, credit to her, came regularly to train in spite of her limited mobility. We were more often than not partnered together, and this was a relief – the men in the class scared me. They stared at me in a way that I recognised as predatory. There was one man in particular who would often try to partner with me; he would sweat terribly and stare at my chest the entire lesson, never looking me in the face. It terrified me and I cried at home before every class. I was too embarrassed to tell my parents why I hated attending Jiu Jitsu so much. I felt conflicted, as a part of me simultaneously enjoyed what we covered in class – I loved the striking drills, and learning to use nunchakus was both a novelty and a challenge for 16 year old me.

I quit Jiu Jitsu. It wasn’t the art that was wrong for me, but the dojo. I’ve overcome a lot of different hurdles since then. I’ve struggled with generalised anxiety and depression for several years, as well as debilitating body and self-esteem issues. It has only been in the past 2 years or so that, through my own love and the love of those around me, I have nurtured a confidence and belief in myself that I’ve never had before.

It was at that time that I met my boyfriend, Taimour. Seeing his passion for Muay Thai, which he had been practicing for 6 years, made me want to rejoin a martial arts dojo again. Jiu jitsu, at this point, was no longer my primary interest. Having read the works and biography of Bruce Lee, I was on the look out for something akin to Jeet Kune Do. I wanted to think about functionality, conditioning and power.

My dad and I sat down in September 2016 and decided to find the ideal dojo for me by finding a Sensei who is a part of Bruce Lee’s legacy. My dad insisted that this is often the best way to find good trainers, particularly for JKD. There are several martial artists who operate in the UK and carry his legacy, having been trained by students of Bruce Lee, or their students.

A few places stuck out at the time, one being Bob Breen’s Academy. Master Bob Breen is a legend, having been trained by Dan Inasanto who was a key proponent of the Kali system, and one of Bruce Lee’s most successful students.

Another, was Bushin. Bushin’s head coach, Sensei Cailey Barker had been trained under Bob Breen himself and has black belts in a variety of different martial arts including JKD, Shorinji Kempo and Wing Chun. Other than Sensei’s lineage, there was something else that attracted me to Bushin straight away: the woman fighter in the promo video. I was completely awe struck by her – facing off three men in a dark alley with ease, disarming one of them who had a knife, ground and pounding another until he passed out. I saw a role model in her, and thought to myself ‘I want to be able to do that, to get as good as her’.

It’s easy to underestimate how important having a woman role model is, especially in a community where women continue to be marginalised, seeing a woman black belt do her thing is inspiring for newcomers like me.

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She, Fiona, was the first person I saw at my free trial session at Bushin, stretching to an unimaginable degree, whilst casually chowing down on a banana. She was brilliant and alongside the excellent calibre of teaching there, as well as the close-knit community feel to the class, I was hooked. I’ve never looked back since. Bushin has given me everything I craved from martial arts and more, and continues to challenge me to this day.

I have also recently joined London Fight Factory to pursue Brazilian Jiu Jitsu, and have been training there since August 2017. My boyfriend has been training at LFF since January 2017 and after visiting the gym to watch him compete, it wasn’t long before I was regularly attending Gi and No-Gi sessions. The community there is incredible – everybody supports one another and you feel uplifted by the camaraderie that founder and head coach Luis Ribeiro “Manxinha” has built into the foundations of the club. BJJ in recent years has attracted many women to join the sport and there is a good number of regular women fighters at LFF. I’ve also fallen in love with BJJ as a martial art: I love being able to use my whole body to engage with my opponent and the mindfulness involved in the practice of feeling and using your body from head-to-toe.

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Having taken ownership of my own martial arts journey, I’ve found a community where women fighters are valued and encouraged, which has given me the confidence to put my whole self into the arts I practice – in Bushin and now in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu too. Being in dojos that respect women and put that respect into practice is unfortunately rare, but I’ve been lucky enough to find two such places, both with communities of people who have become like second families to me.

I don’t want to romanticise my journey, there are sometimes instances of sexism that I encounter, but it is my understanding that this will happen where there are men – and martial arts gyms are full of them. What matters is how the gym deals with these situations, and most importantly that I know I hit hard regardless of what men think.