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It’s amazing how you can go through your every day life and not realize the impact certain people in your immediate circle of family, friends and co-workers have in the universe. You would think that with the physical closeness experienced when training Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, making close friends would be easy as 1-2-3. Interestingly, even with the close contact we have with our training partners and classmates, it still takes time for less outgoing people to break out of their shy shells to socialize let alone develop close relationships.

What does make this process a lot easier is the result of the genuine people we share mat space with everyday. We all have a handful of these people in our gyms — they go the  extra mile to make new  or lower ranked students feel like sticking around after being smashed by the rest of the gang, and convert surface level training relationships into life-long friendships. Kristine Felts of Fort Worth, Texas is one of those genuine people. Based on feedback from her peers, we’re excited to introduce this month’s Fenomenal Woman — World meet Kristine Felts!

We spent some time with Kristine and her husband Gary this week and did some digging to learn more about this woman.

Fenom: Hi Kristine! Tell us about yourself and your BJJ training life. How did you get started? How long have you been training? Where do you train?

Kristine: I have done martial arts all my life, but what got me into this sport was my spouse. We just got married and had moved to Waco where my husband went to Baylor for grad school. There were not any martial arts schools around that we could afford so we were working out on our own. Then one day he comes up to me and says, hey I want you to come try out this club activity I have been doing, they need an assistant advisor and I think the stuff they are doing is really cool.

I didn’t fall in love with it immediately. In fact it was closer to 6 months before I could appreciate it. I was still training other striking disciplines when my husband asked over one of my coaches/training partners. He had us put on MMA gloves and had me start out in my guard. He then told my training partner that he was to try and hit me 3 times on the head, (lightly hit me in the head) and my job was to keep him off of me and not to get hit. We did this for 10 minutes and he never landed a blow. That’s when the lightning struck for me and I was hooked.

I now train at Peak Performance under Paul Halme in Fort Worth, Texas and currently hold the rank of purple-belt. We have a lot of awesome guys here in DFW. I also get to train at Travis Lutter’s academy in Fort Worth and also at Octagon MMA in Dallas Under Bruno Bastos. It’s amazing the kind of talent these guys bring in from all over the world.

Fenom: How do you balance your regular family life with BJJ? What are some of the challenges and rewards?

Kristine: It’s hard juggling the family with BJJ. Don’t forget the fact that I have to share with my husband Gary. He still does the sport with me. We don’t have any family that lives in the area that can help with Samantha so we have to split up training time. We get out the calendar and pick out our tournaments and then we work on the training schedule. We trade days as needed and make sure one of us is at class the majority of the week. I have to say that my spouse is a lot more consistent then I am. A lot of the time I try to supplement my training time on the mat during day hours with other moms or work at home women.

A lot of times I had to bring Samantha with me and usually that meant a short work out with the girls and then off to run after the baby. Luckily I have some great friends who are very understanding and help me out as much as they can. My friend Pilar, who is also a brand new blue belt at our school, baby-sits for me. Now that I have Samantha enrolled in a mothers day out program I now have two days a week that I can train at other schools that have day classes.

Fenom: Do you think all women should compete? Please explain your answer.

Kristine: Most definitely; I can’t stress enough on how important it is for a women to compete. At most gyms there are not a lot of women to roll with and the ones you can work with over time will figure out your game so I find tournaments a great way to test my game. I never get discouraged by a loss and I never get elated by a win. I look at each tournament as a chance to see what worked and what didn’t and move on. All the girls I have coached or talked to along the way I try to stress the importance of not putting to much stock in the outcome of a match.

This sport is tough enough on us women as it is, (most of my training partners out weigh me by 40lbs and up, sometimes I get tapped by a white belt by the most sorriest submissions; like a figure four arm lock, with them in My Guard! explain that?) so don’t create another obstacle that can beat you down.

The second great thing I love about tournaments is it gives me a chance to meet other women form different places. My last tournament I did in Japan I meet another competitor who is now a great friend and I can’t wait to see her and the rest of her gym again when they come to the states for Pan-Ams.

Fenom: Can you share some of your short and long term goals for your personal BJJ journey and your family?

Kristine: My short and long term goals are kind of the same. I want my brown belt. That being said I have no expectation of getting it in the next few years but I also don’t want to string it out for forever. I have joking told my Coach Paul that after I get it I’ll have my second baby. He has jokingly replied back that if that is the case then I shouldn’t expect it anytime soon because he just got me back.

Fenom: If you could name the one thing you love most about training BJJ, what would that be?

Kristine: I absolutely love it when I get the chance to train with other girls. When you start breaking into the double digits I get really pumped. I don’t need to take anyone’s head off, but I do get a ridiculous grin on my face that some have commented on as being scary. I started this sport when there weren’t a lot of women around and you only got to see each other at tournaments, so the atmosphere wasn’t always so nice. I love how much that has changed over the years. At the Women’s Jiu-Jitsu Championship tournament in 2010 the atmosphere was so completely different. It really felt like the women were there to try their best and cheer on everyone. It was definitely a build up environment, as opposed to, let’s just win it and go home.

I also love my little family at my gym. It’s nice to talk, exchange ideas, and help out your fellow man, or woman. Sometimes I get a few minutes after class just to hang out or go eat with the crew and it’s awesome. I call it my grown up time.

Fenom: How did you train when you got pregnant? How long time did you take off and was it difficult to get back into training? Any tips for other mothers?

Kristine: To be honest I got pregnant right after a failed attempt to Pan-Ams. I had registered and the payment had processed on my check but I wasn’t on any list to compete. I was told there was nothing they can do, so we decided to continue with the rest of our vacation to Barbados. After I we came back I took two weeks off from training and noticed that I missed a cycle so I took an at home test (like three times after the first one came up positive) then called the doctor and had a blood test done. As soon as it came back positive I called my coach and let him know I was going to be out for a year. I didn’t want to train pregnant at all. Even though my OBGYN said it was fine for a few months.

I have done other martial arts before and had a situation where a friend miscarried because of a freak accident. I would not want to put any of my training partners in the same situation. So I decided for myself that becoming a mom meant it was time to grow up and do the responsible thing and focus on the kid. I knew I would be back when the time was right. Luckily I have a wonderful husband that helps me with this. P.S. do not go back into training to quickly. I tried to jump back into the saddle a few months after having Samantha and ended up separating my Pelvis, (translation, a separated pelvis = 5 months of no BJJ to heal and then a lot of PT to fix the problem.) I didn’t feel like my old self for almost a year.

As always, we love to hear from the husbands…. here’s some kind words from Kristine’s husband Gary:

Fenom: What is like having your wife train BJJ with you? Share some highlights and some challenges.

Gary: It’s wonderful having her so much involved in something I like to do! Or maybe its the other way around!?  I highly recommend it to any couples out there. Its so nice to have something we can both discuss and work at together.  She’s a great competitor, and its an indescribable feeling to have her there for me, to give me a push or some sympathy when I need it. I also couldn’t be more happy to be there to watch her do so well, its a special feeling seeing the woman you love, your cute little wife, beat the crap out of people!  It never gets old!

We have had a lot of good times together, training as a couple, and very few real challenges. Of course there’s always a little competitiveness between us, but over time we really have evolved to support and challenge the other in a very positive way.  I’d say the biggest
challenge has been for me to be clam when some panicky white/blue-belt is roughing her up.  She’s very talented, and can handle herself very well, but its very hard for me not to grab a chair sometimes.  Every once in a while I may have embarrassed her by stepping in, but some guys just don’t understand how they should behave in practice!  They should let go of this fear of losing to a girl, its actually not that bad!  As of late, I think
they might prefer me to step in, she has been on a tear.

Fenom: What are some of the positive effects BJJ has had on your family life?

Gary: It’s been a great source of positive activity for us, both physically and mentally.  I feel that it is VERY important for a mom to have something outside of her kids and family life to excel at, to grow as a person, and be challenged.  There are nights that I come home and she is drained from messing with the kiddo, but a quick trip to BJJ and she’s feeling a ton better, got a great workout, and is developing really important skills. It’s one thing to work-out, but its another thing to be growing in a world wide sport, and I think that brings a lot of balance for her after dealing with a toddler all day.  What’s special about Kristine is she knows that even though she may be tired, that training will give her more energy  She
knows you have to give it to get it, and doesn’t lose sight of that regardless of how bad the day was.  Her positive outlook and drive has helped me be more consistent and upbeat as well, when’s she has this positive energy going its easy to join in and then everyone is doing great and getting things done!

Fenom: Kristine is doing so well in the BJJ scene. Clearly you must be very proud. Please share some of the things that make you most proud of Kristine.

Gary: I couldn’t be more proud.  One of the main things I loved about her when we met was her drive and determination, and she has really shown it in her BJJ training.  Most people don’t know this, but Kristine spent close to 10 years in a striking discipline before we started BJJ, and most people, after being a very successful competitor in one martial art, would have a hard time swallowing that and starting over in another.  Not her.  Once she knew she liked it, she has been on it ever since.

Of course I feel she’s very talented, I think everyone would agree she is.  But I’m really proud of her perseverance.  Talent will get you places, but only if you keep at it, and it is so easy to get a big injury (she’s had a few) and give up, or come off a pregnancy and not really feel like doing it anymore.  She has had to suffer with changing locations several times because of my work, injuries, having a child who was not an easy baby, and yet she is still at it, and doing really well.  There are people who started after her that are higher ranked, but she doesn’t let that bother her in the slightest.  She knows that she does everything she can every time she can do it, and I really believe that attitude is what
makes her so special.  That’s the attitude that will keep her doing this her whole life, I think that kind of mind set is what makes a master.

I’m also really proud at how she reaches out to people, she’s a fierce competitor, but also a great friend to anyone and everyone that she meets.  Just recently, on a trip to the Asian open, she made friends with a girl she had just had a match with, and it turned out we met her entire school, her instructor, trained with them for a few days, and she initiated it all, and I’M THE ONE WHO SPEAKS JAPANESE!.  A lot of people get bogged down in this school versus that school and not talking to competitors, but I’m really proud that she doesn’t do that.  She wants everyone at their best, so she can get better as well.

A Special thanks to the Felts family for giving us a glimpse into their lives. Powered by She!