Sophia Drysdale started jiu-jitsu in 2002 in Melbourne, Australia. She had been in gymnastics for about 10 years when a long-term injury forced her to retire. She was looking for something that was physically and mentally challenging, and her search stopped the day she found BJJ.
Sophia trained in Australia for 5 years, and after doing very well at local tournaments she decided to compete overseas. She won her first Pan American Championships as a blue belt and then again as a purple belt two years in a row. That is when she decided to move overseas to focus more on training.
Sophia moved to the US in 2007. For the next few years, however, she was dealing with a series of major injuries that halted her competition career temporarily. In 2009 Sophia started training in Las Vegas with Robert Drysdale, and received her black belt in 2010. Two years later she won a gold at the No-Gi Worlds right before becoming pregnant with her first child. A year and a half later she had another baby. This year Sophia has been busy teaching women’s jiu-jitsu seminars in Australia, Mexico and the US, and she is back on the competition scene. She added Pan Ams gold, and the Worlds bronze to her impressive list of achievements.
Although she still trains very hard and competes, her focus is a little different. She wants to teach more, and help inspire and empower women. She wants to show that you can be a mother, and an athlete at the same time. Even though she did not take home a gold this year at the Worlds, we are pretty sure she was the only mother on the black belt podium. Considering her youngest is only a year old, and she had stopped breastfeeding 6 months earlier, that is quite an achievement.
What was the most challenging belt level for you?
My brown belt was the most challenging belt because at the time I was overseas on my own searching for an academy that I could call home. I had suffered from some really bad injuries, such as torn cartilage in my ribs, complete shoulder separation, and herniated disc in my neck. Competing was also tough because brown and black belt were in the same division. Mentally it was tough to deal with being an up-and-comer, and knowing that I was competing against some of the most seasoned black belts who I had idolized throughout my journey.
What advice would you give to women who are struggling?
BJJ is always tougher for women since we are the minority on the mat. I would say that most women have dealt with sexual discrimination, being ostracized or bullying of some sort. But this is changing. Today the journey for women is much easier than it was back when I started.
There are so many more women who train now, and they have formed solid training groups which is a huge help. Additionally, there are more female black belts, so there are more role models who teach women’s classes and seminars.
This is important on so many levels because women see that it can be done. You can achieve your black belt, be a world champion, a teacher, and a mother! Seminars are an opportunity to pass on techniques that are better suited for women. I teach techniques that have taken me years to refine, and I know they work! Seminar, camps and open mats provide an opportunity for women to cross train, learn, share, and grow together and build lifelong friendships.
BJJ is a way of life. If things get rough, there is nothing wrong with taking a break, and getting back on the mats when the fire is strong again. Also, changing your attitude at certain times can help. If you are feeling bad, tired or weak, it is better to focus on having a great workout, and spending time with friends rather than focusing on winning all your matches. Having a strong support network helps tremendously. It is much easier to overcome obstacles if you have an empathetic coach, a friend or a partner who understands the sport and what you are going through.