I have 'known' the blogger BJJ Grrl for many years, having first encountered her online back when she was still writing a weightlifting blog. Since then, she has become one of the most important people in the BJJ blogosphere, consistently putting out posts every week. Leslie was a big part of the reason that Virginia was high on my list of places to visit in the US, so I was thrilled to get the chance to finally speak to her during my trip last month. I'll be putting up this interview in two parts, kicking off this week with a chat about how Leslie got started in both blogging and BJJ.
Can: How did you first get into martial arts and jiu jitsu?
BJJ Grrl: I started doing taekwondo in college, because I'd always been interested in doing martial arts. I got injured playing soccer and couldn't play soccer anymore, so a friend of mine offered to beat me up.
Can: [Laughs] Literally like that?
One of the guys from the club came back to do a self-defence seminar. After the seminar, he taught a short jiu jitsu seminar – he was a blue belt at the time. I actually really liked it. At the end, he said "Does anybody want to try rolling?" I said "Sure!" and rolled with another guy who was my size. I usually can't tell if somebody is my size, but he was really my size.
We rolled and I was able to sweep him, so I was thinking "I'm able to do this stuff, this is awesome!" Around that same time, I had started lifting: in my parents' basement they had some weights. I began blogging work-outs from that. I was following a program and a lot of people were doing it, so that was my online journal along with all of them.
But I was starting to outgrow the weights, there weren't enough plates for me. I looked around for something else to do and decided I'd probably go do CrossFit. It was coming up to the end of the week: on Monday, I was going to start CrossFit. Saturday was the seminar. I got introduced to jiu jitsu and thought "this is really fun."
Then my Dad came home that night and said he meant a fella named Tim Mannon, who was a black belt in Brazilian jiu jitsu and they were moving into an academy just down the street. So my Dad said "I know you like martial arts, what do you think about that?" So I replied, "I'm going there instead."
I already had the online journal for lifting, so I started added my jiu jitsu work-outs on there: we were supposed to track everything we did. I began phasing out taekwondo, as it wasn't nearly as much fun. Then as I was doing jiu jitsu more, we actually started lifting. The first gym we were in had some decent weights and a big tyre out back. As we were lifting there, I stopped lifting at home: I'd get home, do one dead-lift, I'm done.
Those things started phasing out, so I was just doing jiu jitsu on my blog, on the weightlifting blog. I realised I should switch it to a jiu jitsu blog.
Can: What was the incentive to do it online, rather than just keeping your journal in a book?
BJJ Grrl: When I started, it was with an online community of people who were lifting, so we were all posting on our threads. I couldn't always log into the site, so I would keep it in a Wordpress site, just for me.
Can: How have you found that has influenced your training, in either positive or negative ways?
I think it helped me pay a lot of attention to what I was doing, as I was basically going to have to reteach myself when I got home so I could write it down. But then there were times when I'm rolling with someone and I'm thinking how I'm going to write it down: I'm not paying attention to the fact that he's about to choke me. [Laughs]
Can: This is why I wanted to talk to you, this is like hearing myself. That's exactly the kind of thing that I'm thinking! [Laughs]
BJJ Grrl: Sometimes I'm thinking "Just shut-up in there and roll, we'll dissect it later."
Can: When I'm watching a demonstration, when they're teaching technique, I'm thinking "Ok, their hand is there, so what do I describe that as? Far arm, the opposite arm, right arm?"
BJJ Grrl: Yeah, I think it helps sometimes with technique too, taking notes. The seminar today [with Dave Jacobs, back in April], I'm really thinking of things like 'far side armbar', or 'far side arm', not just watching him do it. You know those people, I see this in class all the time, they will watch it, they go back to do it, and then they're "Wait, which arm do we start with?"
I'll answer, "We start with this one," because I've already written it down in my head. So in that respect I think it really does help. But yeah, the part where you're writing the roll in your head as it happens? Trying to remember the cool things?
Can: I find when I write it down, I want to have something to work on. I'll normally have a specific goal in mind, thinking about how I can progress that and what can I take from the roll. So you're finding it's more just interesting stuff that sticks in your head, it's not particularly "I did this, and it helped me with this technique"?
BJJ Grrl: Yeah, it's usually things that happened, or "I hit this armbar we drilled this morning, isn't that awesome?"
Can: Your blog, and we've talked about this before, does a great job of building a community. It seems a lot of people really felt engaged in your journey through jiu jitsu, which also helped them: you were saying things that they related to. Did that act as a motivator to change the blog or indeed just keep it going?
BJJ Grrl: To keep it going, as sometimes I would say things on that blog and think "I am on the only person in the world who ever has this problem. No one else ever gets in this situation, everyone else is breezing right through it."
But so many people would come back and say "That's exactly what is happening to me too!" So, I'm like "really, I'm not the only one who has that problem? Ok." Especially when it comes back from higher ranks who've been through it sometimes.
When I first put up the training with women page, so many people, like Jen Flannery and a couple of black belts even, Hillary Williams commented on it. There were a whole bunch of women commenting on it, saying "That is exactly what it's like."
Part Two now up, here