Every so often we have the pleasure of blogging about another blogger. Allison McClish shares her Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu journey with other women on her blog and contributes her time to a small group of dedicated women training with Fabio Novaes in Lakeland, Florida. We caught up with Allie to learn a little more about our friend on the East Coast!
Hi Allie! Please tell us about yourself.
If you saw me outside of class, you probably wouldn’t expect me to be involved in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu. I’m short, a stay-at-home mom and when I’m not at BJJ, I’m either chasing after my six year old son Noah (or my husband JJ), or else I’ve got my nose buried in some book. But, I absolutely love BJJ and am a blue belt under Fabio Novaes at his school in Lakeland, Florida.
Before I started BJJ I had no idea what it was. I was not looking for a martial arts class. But I was a youth pastor and two of the kids in the youth group were taking an after school BJJ class and they basically harassed me until I agreed to come. I went to one class and was instantly addicted. That was two years ago. The after-school class was taught by two of Fabio’s students; a brown belt named Ben Aubin who has since gotten his black belt and a purple belt named Mario Menchaca. I still train with them at Fabio’s.
What do you do besides train BJJ? Work? School?
I spend most of my time with my husband, JJ, and my son, Noah. They are the loves of my life. Other than that, I am pretty nerdy. I love to read and write books. I love movies and going out with the girls. Hiking is one of my favorite things to do. Horseback riding is also a passion of mine.
Do you do any other sports?
All through high school and college, I played a lot of different sports: softball, volleyball, racquetball and lacrosse. But now, BJJ is the only other obsession I really have time for!
You started the girls class aka barn-jitsu. Tell us more about it and how it became an actual women’s class in your school.
Barn-jitsu happened kind of by accident. Me and a few of my fellow bjj-obsessed friends, Stephanie McClish, Phil Richardson and Kara DeBats, had talked for a while about turning my old barn into a bjj gym for our own use. But, as we started working on it, we decided it would be fun to open it up to our friends. I was a youth pastor at the time and several of the kids were interested in trying bjj out. For some reason, the way things turned out, we had mostly girls—and mostly college age girls, at that—coming to the barn to learn.
When I stepped down from my position at the church and found myself with a whole bunch of extra time on my hands, Fabio suggested that we start a Women’s Class at his school. I had to stop myself from jumping and down I was so excited. We started the class almost two months ago, now, and I have been loving every minute of it.
What were the obstacles and how easy/difficult has it been to keep the ladies coming back week after week?
Wow, that’s a good question. BJJ is hard, both physically and emotionally. I think the first hurdle that women have a hard time getting past is the issue of personal space. Men seem to wrestle around with each other from boyhood on, but for many women using their body weight to hold another person down and invading someone else’s personal space is pretty foreign. That’s one of the reasons why we started the Women’s Class, so that these ladies would feel more comfortable during the initial space-invasion crisis.
Another big hurdle I have noticed is that many women feel bad about being aggressive. They tend to be more concerned about their training partners comfort than about using their weight to keep pressure or about applying the technique correctly. I can’t tell you how many times I have heard “sorry” and “I don’t want to do that because it might hurt her”. Once they realize that they are not “being mean” and that they can practice these moves safely with their teammates, they become more confidence and start to assert themselves. After they get over that fear, they turn into what the boys at our school affectionately call “Bear Traps”. They look so nice and sweet and then the next thing you know they’re tapping you out.
The last big hurdle I’ve seen doesn’t hit the girls until somewhere between 6 months to a year. I haven’t seen it yet in my girls because they are still new. But for me, and my other training partners at Fabio’s, I have seen a pattern where you start out in BJJ and become quickly infatuated with it. You’re learning so much and seeing so much improvement because you’re going from knowing nothing about the world of grappling to discovering all the positions and submissions. But then, once you’ve started to make progress, you hit a wall. Suddenly you feel like you’re not getting better or actually getting worse. You think you suck and that BJJ might not be for you. We call it “hitting the wall”. But from what I’ve seen and experienced, that usually happens when you are learning new ways to move and are actually getting ready to take your game to the next level. I always tell my friends who feel this way to keep pushing through. That feeling that you can’t get anything right will pass and you’ll feel like a whole new world of grappling has opened up to you. And then you’ll hit the wall again.
Do you compete? Do you push your women to compete? How much of the teaching is focused on self-defense and how much on sports Jiu-Jitsu?
I do compete, but only once or twice a year. So far, I’ve done four tournaments. For me, competing has been instrumental in helping me overcome my fear of failure. It has taught me to do my best but to be ok with not coming in first all the time. It has also helped me see what areas I need to work on more and where my strengths lie.
I make sure to let the girls know that they CAN compete in tournaments, but competing is totally optional. Most of the girls are surprised to know that they can compete even at a beginner’s level and want to try it at least once. To me, anyone who steps out on the mat to compete has my respect whether they win or lose because they were willing to face something so intimidating. But if a person has no interest in competing, there is no pressure for them to do so.
As far as the focus of the class, I tend to lean more toward self-defense. We talk about what you would do in different scenarios or how bjj techniques would be applied in a real-life situation against someone bigger and stronger. But, for the girls who do want to compete, I’ll mention things during technique drilling and grappling like, “That would get you four points in a tournament” or “you would have just lost two points for getting swept,” just so that they are thinking about it.
At this point, since most of the girls in the class are new to bjj, we are focusing on how to move between positions and establish control as well as how to escape from bottom positions and submissions.
What do you see yourself in 5-10 years? Still teaching? Training?
Oh man, I really hope so! I love learning BJJ as well as teaching it. For me, the two go hand in hand. Teaching helps me solidify my own technique when I have to explain it to someone else. Plus, nothing beats that moment when you see that light bulb come on when someone “gets it”. Their excitement is contagious! The more passionate a student is, the more they are having fun and gaining confidence, the happier I am. As far as training goes, I will keep showing up at Fabio’s until he kicks me to the curb.
Thanks for sharing Allie and good luck at the Miami Open!