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Dr. Kim Freeman, PhD is a four stripe brown belt, a mother and a philanthropist. She will be teaching a co-ed BJJ seminar in New Albany, Indiana, on March 12th and took some time off her busy schedule to talk about her life and training in Indianapolis. Everyone meet Dr. Freeman!

What do you do in real life besides training jiu-jitsu?

Currently I am a sales representative for the life science microscopy company, Olympus. I always loved science and knew it would be part of my future. I went to the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and attained a Bachelor’s Degree in Cell and Structural Biology while minoring in Chemistry.

I started graduate school in New York but had to take time off for the birth of my daughter and relocation after the 9/11 attacks. After settling in Indiana, I re-entered graduate school and attained my master’s degree through Purdue University in a Cell Biology program, specializing in Lipid Biophysics.

My Ph.D. is through the Indiana University School of Medicine in Medical Biophysics, specializing in Biomolecular Imaging. My doctoral worked focused on deep tissue imaging of the sympathetic (think fight-or-flight) nerves in the heart and how they changed with myocardial infarction (damage from a heart attack). Most of my imaging work used a Olympus multiphoton microscope so when the position with their company in the area became available it seemed silly not to apply. I never would have guessed that I would end up doing what I am doing; life leads us in strange ways sometimes.

Work, family and jiu-jitsu keep me fairly busy. Every month or two I sneak in some philanthropy though. This month my daughter and I packed food for the needy. In April I am helping frame and wall a house for Habitat for Humanity. Giving back helps a person appreciate what they themselves have.

You have been training for 17 years. How do you stay motivated to keep going? What setbacks have you experienced?

Setbacks; there have been a few! I started training towards the end of 1998 at a small gym in NY. The overall attitude towards women in jiu-jitsu was very different back then, at least amongst the lower belts. Most all of the brown and black belts I met or knew were very encouraging though. I do not know how many times I’ve “quit” jiu-jitsu. Too many to count probably. I’ve had some severe injuries that kept me off the mat for months at a time. Most of the injuries were caused by lunkheads not controlling themselves or purposefully going rough to shake me away from the sport. There was a lot less control in the sport back then. Leaders of the gyms were blue belts, not black or brown. There is a certain refinement that comes with vesting years into this sport. That refinement is much more noticeable in schools led by higher belts. That was a luxury not many had back then though.

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I took about a year and a half off for having my daughter. I was in a school that did quite a bit of warm ups, cardio and drilling so I was able to stick with that for several months before having to leave the mat. My daughter was born a few weeks after the 9/11 attacks which left us without jobs, or prospects of jobs. We picked up and moved to the Midwest. I joined my current gym in the spring of 2002 and have been with Indianapolis Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu ever since.

My then husband did not adjust well to family life which really limited my training time for a few years. My teammates were by my side though and after separation and divorce, I was able to get back on track with BJJ which has helped me discover how strong women can be. I bet most people take extended breaks from jiu-jitsu throughout training. Life happens. What matters more is that you come back to the sport. That you keep returning; persevering in the face of difficulty.

The motivations to continue on change constantly. As you progress in your jiu-jitsu journey, you grow and develop as a person. Therefore, the motivations for continuing the sport need to develop with you. Sometimes it is to overcome some internal demons, sometimes it is to prove something to others, sometimes it is for the comradery or it could be because your mind and body have learned to release stress when in the gym. After a while, it becomes a regular part of who you are. It is less motivation to stay in as it is an existential need to complete who you are as a person. BJJ transcends from something you do to being part of who you are. I don’t have a set motivation to keep going in jiu-jitsu, it is fully integrated into who I am. It is not the entirety of my being, but it makes me whole as a person.

What does your family think about BJJ? Does anyone else in your family train?

No one else in my blood line family trains. My daughter has been on the mat a month here or there, but has never stuck with it. My extended family has shown support now that I have climbed my way through the ranks which I am very thankful for. My nuclear family is not fond of it though. My jiu-jitsu family has been my lifeline. I am very grateful for all of them.

Do you enjoy competing? Do you remember your first tournament? What is your biggest accomplishment and what are you most proud of?

I used to compete quite a bit. My first tournaments were actually against men because there weren’t other women in my divisions. Especially after moving to the Midwest competing was limited. My divisions were empty most of the time and when there were other women, we did not have the luxury of weight classes or divisions. I took a few severe injuries because of it. My last tournament left me with some mild but permanent hearing loss. I have retired from competing because of that.

As for pride, that is a double edge sword. I think attaining my blue belt was amazing. I was under Marcio Simas at the time, back in 1999. I felt invincible, strong, and proud of this accomplishment. As the years progressed, I have been less proud of each belt. Not that they weren’t deserved, or unwanted; more because each was seen less as an insurmountable obstacle and more as an expected achievement. I have achieved more than most people every will, at my young age of (cough, cough, mumble). I expect myself to do more and go farther still. Am I glad to be doing it? You betcha! Would I continue without belt promotions? Sure thing. I just expect to achieve certain goals so it doesn’t seem like something to be prideful about.

Tell us a little bit about teaching jiu-jitsu. How often do you teach?

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I’ve taught at a few workshops and am starting to do a few seminars now. I really enjoy seeing young timid newcomers blossom and grow strong. This past weekend I did a workshop for new to the mat women. Four of them could not easily do a somersault at the beginning of the class. By the end of class, they had learned a few techniques, felt safe on the mat, rolled their first matches, and left smiling. They gained a touch of confidence and a little bit of awareness. Who knows if they stick with it? I hope they do. If they choose to though, I will be there for them to lean on.

Do you have any other hobbies besides jiu-jitsu?

There is something other than jiu-jitsu? I keep myself pretty busy but nothing I would call a hobby. I volunteer quite a bit for my community, helping take care of landscaping and the political mumbo-jumbo my condominium association has to deal with. Also, there is always something to do when you have children. My daughter is in the school band so I help there quite often. Before that there were sports or Scouts to keep up with. I’m a routine blood donor, having given over 10 gallons of blood or blood components throughout the years. When possible I go to my gym though. My jiu-jitsu family keeps me centered, humble, and encouraged.

Last words.

I greatly appreciate the support from Fenom! I had actually sent an email to a prominent gi company long ago about tailoring a gi towards women. The response was lacking, at best. It is great to see how women are not only becoming accepted in jiu-jitsu but encouraged and honored as well. There is seemingly no limit to what can be accomplished when people support each other and work towards the greater good.

Better tomorrows come from the actions and decisions we make today. Jiu-jitsu is a wonderful forum for this. BJJ tears away what we are not supposed to be and provides a supportive community to lean on while we gain the strength and perseverance necessary to be leaders in this world. Where we are today in jiu-jitsu seemed unfathomable just a few short years ago. Just imagine what it will be like in a few more.

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