Jess Fraser is a pretty inspiring woman. She’s a brown belt in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu (BJJ), and founder of Australian Girls In Gi (AGIG), a community of women who practice BJJ. AGIG supports female grapplers, and runs a bunch of cool community initiatives like their upcoming Camp in February.
I chatted to Jess about her evolution as a martial artist, the world of BJJ, and found out more about AGIG.
Can you tell us a bit about your journey into martial arts? When did you first start training?
I first started training combatives (read kicks and punches plus some extra fun stuff like weapons disarming and third party protection) in Krav Maga back in about 2005.
I got a solid year in of training before I got distracted by a relationship with the wrong guy, stopped training, and lost my way a little. Wrong guy broke my heart a year or two later and I’ve been fighting ever since. Lol. Thanks wrong guy!
I made the switch and started training Brazilian Jiu Jitsu (BJJ) in 2010 just before my 31st birthday. It has become the most pivotal choice of my life to date.
What draws you to BJJ?
Strangely I knew it was BJJ I wanted to do way before I researched what it was. I think this is more common than people think for taking up hobbies that become passions.
Oftentimes people voice wanting to try breakdancing or capoeira or parkour or the like without fully understanding what is involved – my mantra was always ‘I wanna try BJJ’. At some stage, I took the leap and booked a trial class.
What draws me to it now and everyday since that first experience?
It is so obviously impossible to complete. I craved a challenge and this is truly it. No matter how good you train to get, you can always get better. I love this somewhat zen experience of seeking elusive perfection. The pursuit of the impossible purely for the enjoyment of the pursuit.
BJJ allows you truly experience and embody the joy to be found in the journey and understand it is far more satisfying than the destination. A true life lesson. I feel this whole heartedly these days. Something I never truly understood before this sport.
Do you think martial arts is a male dominated sport? Or do you think that’s a misconception?
Martial Arts is a male dominated area. I don’t just think that, I know that. Regardless, what I also know is BJJ is a sport truly designed for women.
The game is played predominately with the strength and dexterity of the hips and legs (where we are commonly very adept). The rest of the game is strategic multitasking (again, perfect for females).
You aim to shut down your opponent’s game and territory while at the same time defending your own. In amongst this mental battle you can also stop the game whenever you want or feel you are in danger or just before anything bad happens. We ‘tap’ once we are caught, rather than get hurt. It’s a great experience to tap to someone that really trapped you with something intelligent. You both feel good about that. And vice versa.
BJJ also holds great cross over to self defence. I can roll and train just fine with guys 30kg+ heavier than me, completely safely as I am trained to protect myself and can do so.
BJJ is a physical representation of a psychological exchange of traps and game play. Women were built to excel at this sport both mentally and physically.
I believe if more women understood what martial arts can truly offer them, the genders on the mats would be represented more equally but for now, yes, there’s a tonne of blokes.
Not a bad thing really but it’s crazy that more girls don’t come to even it out.
Why did you start Australian Girls In Gi (AGIG)? How does AGIG support female grapplers?
I started AGIG in 2010 as a network that could potentially allow me the opportunity to train with more women and talk to other girls about the sport I am so obsessed with.
Since that initial idea AGIG has developed and matured and grown in its focus. Often AGIG’s growth and change of direction has reflected my own personal progression in the sport. We are both much more certain and confident and relaxed these days. We’re definitely at brown belt level and striving for black.
Five years on and the community is now many things to many people. Girls can pick and choose how much or how little they are involved with.
AGIG is a website that ladies can draw amazing resources from. It is a public Facebook page that allows friends, family and team mates to see our achievements and events announced and share and support them along the way. It is a closed online peer support discussion forum with 850 current active members that is actively moderated and safe and full of mentoring and sound advice. It is an annual female only training camp in Melbourne. It is a winter training camp in Bali in 2015 (the first). It is monthly (and more) open mat training sessions throughout Australia. It is a group to identify with proudly. It is part of these girls’ identity as athletes and people. Something to be proud of and the girls definitely wear their patches and tees with pride.
The AGIG logo on a gi or bag or car or rashguard helps identify the wearer as a safe, approachable like minded person that is probably your new best mate. AGIG often financially supports athletes to travel for both training and competition as well as offering sponsorships to women our group feels are super deserving.
AGIG is a solid and established community now. A huge one that is well respected worldwide. As a group we ALL work together on the core goal, retention, development and happiness of the women in our sporting community, both actively training and not.
You have a camp coming up this month – how do the camps work? What do participants get out of them?
The annual AGIG Camp is our largest event of the year. 100 tickets are already sold. Females from all over Australia, Asia and New Zealand come for the three days of non-stop action.
The Camp is a mixture of physical training and educational seminars that are sports specific. This will be our 5th Camp and definitely the biggest and best.
Last year’s theme was Community and Acceptance. It aimed to solidify our group as one of women who are able to support and appreciate each other even though we are often meeting each other in a competitive environment. Lessons learnt on the mat that are worthy of having for the bigger picture of your life.
We are very proud of the results that came from Camp 2014.
This year’s theme is Learning. The girls will be taken through different styles of teaching and encouraged to experiment and interpret the same information in new ways. Filming, note taking, trial and error, etc will all be encouraged. Each session will build on the theme of experimentation and seeking information.
We have a professor speaking that holds 10 degrees and is currently working on a double PHD. He also trains BJJ.
He will speak twice throughout the weekend on themes such as How to Learn and How to become a more teachable student. Fascinating and game changing stuff.
The opportunity that this will give the girls to further develop throughout the year within their own team environment is almost too exciting to quantify.
I cannot wait. Neither can they! Looks like we’re almost sold out.
What would you say to someone who is considering taking up BJJ?
Join AGIG and start hassling us for an AGIG friendly gym in your area.
The girls recommendations are to be trusted and they are all very keen to help and super approachable.
Give a class a go. Definitely. All gyms will offer you a free trial class, try before you buy means you have nothing to lose!
Take a mate if you’re feeling a little unsure (or make a new one via AGIG and take her!) and be prepared to laugh more than you learn on that first night. You’ll have an epic work out but it’s totally okay that you don’t ‘get it’ that first night.
Just enjoy it. It’s like playing with your nephews and nieces with crazy wrestles but it happens to be with other adults.
Anything else to add?
If you’re keen to come to camp and are worried that you don’t know enough, worry no more!
We’ll teach you throughout the weekend. Plenty of our girls had their first session at camp and years on they are still training.
Check us out at www.australiangirlsingi.com