Fighters Against Cancer and BJJ Competitor Kailani Yee

Kailani Yee is an incredibly accomplished Brazilian Jiu Jitsu fighter. At just 11 years old, she has competed in some of the world’s most prestigious tournaments. She is a dedicated student with training and fighting being her top passions. What makes Kailani unique besides her extreme level of focus and competitive edge, is her sense of compassion that has compelled her to create Fighters Against Cancer. is a website dedicated to raising awareness and donations for children fighting against cancer. It also allows other children who compete in martial arts a platform to showcase their accomplishments and find a community of other youth fighters.

Here’s a little bit about what inspired Kailani to start her project:

I shaved my head to donate my hair to a little boy or girl who needed it a lot more than me. Shaving my hair was a good start, but that would only benefit one kid. I wanted to do more. I wanted to use my passion for martial arts to somehow help others. That’s when I came up with the concept for this web site. At large tournaments I met kids who had sponsorship. I thought what if I could sponsor some kids who were sick by raising money to help pay for their medicine. My Jiujitsu instructor makes websites so I asked her to make this one. I wrote letters to Hospitals asking if they could find kids to help. – Kailani Yee,

I briefly interviewed Kailani, but to learn more about her and her project please visit her bio page.

What year were you born and where are you from?
I was born in 2003 at Berkeley Alta Bates Hospital, same hospital my dad was born.

What martial arts do you do, how old were you when you started? What do you like about them and why did you start doing them?
I do Brazilian jiu-jitsu from age of seven. I also do Muay Thai and boxing since a few months ago. I used to do Karate from age 3 1/2-7 years old. When I did karate, I liked it but I was always just waiting for the sparing, that’s when I started jiu-jitsu. I love jiu-jitsu mostly because a little girl like me can have a big chance against a heavy boy. When I started Muay thai, I was hoping to get something out from years of karate, and that’s exactly what I got. Just started training with Coach Dee for boxing. I want to be an all-around fighter.

What advice do you have for other fighters out there?
My advice to other fighters out there is “you win some; you lose some but don’t give up because if you give up you will never know if you’ll win the next time. Plus you always learn from your mistakes, it just makes you stronger.”

When you aren’t on the mat, what other things do you like to do?
On my free time, I still like to be active. Some things I like to do are rock climbing, biking, swim and other stuff just like any other ordinary kid.

Who are some of your favorite fighters?
Some of my favorite fighters have to be Ronda “Rowdy” Rousey and Michelle Nicolini. I also went to a Michelle Nicolini seminar and she was awesome! I watched every single episode of the Ultimate Fighter “Rousey vs Tate”.

It’s nice to be able to kick-off October, which is also Breast Cancer Awareness month by promoting an awesome fighter with an awesome project. Please consider making a donation to Kailani’s project which 100% of the proceeds go directly to the kids. I would like to take the time to also personally thank her parents who are both medical professionals for supporting her dreams and making this all possible.

If you are looking for other ways to support families who are struggling to pay for the expenses for their children’s cancer treatments and get some exercise while you are at it, check out Bay-Fit Challenge: Zero To Street Smart.

Zero To Street Smart is a fitness and self-defense training fundraiser to assist families dealing with the high cost of cancer treatment. Participants in the event will receive access to our training curriculum via closed Facebook community. You will have one month to hone your skills. On Saturday, October 25th, come test yourself at our live fitness and self-defense obstacle course. If you can remember your skills under duress, you’ll have them when you need them! This program is hosted by Bay-Fit, Bay Jiu-Jitsu and The Heroine Lab for Family Reach. No one turned away for lack of funds.

INTERVIEW: Amanda “Dr. BJJ” Thornton

The first time I met Amanda, was in 2011. I was looking for a new gym because my old one had closed. My friend Sarah Boyd has taken me to a few places to train and we stopped by Stephan’s class in SF. Everyone I met there was polite and technical. I liked it immediately. I ended up rolling with Amanda, who was a blue belt at the time, now purple, and she immediately set a collar choke and almost put me to sleep in the most gentle manner possible, but let go before I went out. I asked her why she let go, and she said my eyes were rolling back. I appreciated her courtesy and technique. That choke made an excellent impression and I shortly joined the gym having the pleasure of training with her and many other talented grapplers regularly. Amanda has one of the toughest guards to pass and I learned a lot about dropping my hips by working with her. She’s strong as an ox but doesn’t muscle people. Sensible and direct, you really couldn’t ask more from a training partner. Never once can I recall anyone getting injured while rolling with her and she is able to go toe to toe with the big dudes. She is dangerously calm and is able to get the spazziest of spazzes to relax and roll smooth with her. She is definitely missed here on the West Coast.-ST

Name Amanda Thornton
Age 30
Do you have a BJJ nickname? Hah. No. I’ve been called “That girl” or “The girl” frequently though.
FFP: Decided to give her one! Ha.

How long have you been training?
Started my second year in medical school- 8 years?

What initially inspired you to start BJJ?
The lifeguard at the pool that I frequented (after running my first marathon and trying to rehab and cross train enough for my body to forgive me) invited me to his class because he said that good swimmers were usually good at BJJ. And I just liked it.

What continues to inspire you to get on the mat?
It’s a thinking game for your body and it involves interacting with people in a way I don’t get to do in my job or by training by myself- I always biked, ran and swam, but I missed the element of learning a new skill I got with dance classes. Plus, keeping up training helps me stay calm and focused when I’ve been in really stressful situations all day without an appropriate outlet.

How do you balance training with a highly demanding career?
I’ve always set an hour or two aside to work out- I need to exercise the way some people need to drink coffee. It helps me focus and work more efficiently later. Then I’ve had a series of really understanding coaches who know that I may come late and miss events because of work, but it’s not a measure of my commitment to the sport. Also, it helps that even if I miss BJJ practice, I’m either going for a run, bicycling or doing Something for cardio so I stay fit even if I can’t make practice due to work. I know that I can’t advance as quickly as people who have time to train every day, but I’m patient since I plan to be doing this for a long time.

What are some of the positive attributes of training (personally as well as from the standpoint of a medical practioner)?
I think BJJ is great for body awareness- in the sense that you have full control over your body as well as an understanding of how to control someone else’s body. It also gives me a goal weight and, during residency especially, a reason to eat healthily even when stressed because I didn’t want to gain or lose any weight. My favorite BJJ skill is the conditioning to get up quickly and safely when knocked down and to hold your ground when someone is trying to push you. Around 3 years after I started training, I was racing my cousin in the park- wearing a dress, the race was completely impromptu- and I tripped over something in the grass when I was going at a pretty high speed. Before BJJ, that would have probably resulted in skinned knees, a ripped dress and probably another broken wrist, but I had been conditioned for falling so well that I actually did a forward roll and popped right back up, still running, a little dusty but unscathed. It happened so fast I wasn’t quite sure what happened until my cousin told me I’d just done a roll and kept going. I really think that BJJ teaches you to protect yourself in so many different ways.

What are some set backs or challenges you have faced in BJJ an how did you address them?
The biggest challenge is getting to practice regularly. Then injuries- especially when you’re smaller than others and plan to be practicing for a long time- always come up. For injuries, I always make sure I pay attention to myself, tap often and fast, and cross train if I can’t go to practice because I’m injured. Just because I can’t roll doesn’t mean I don’t need to work out. If I’m rehabbing something, I rehab at the gym as much as possible, so the time I would have spent at practices gets spent trying to get Back to practice.

What are your top 5 words of wisdom for people to stay healthy while they train? Maybe something specific on how to avoid skin infections?

  • It’s a community of close contact, so a clean gi, no rolling with a cold and paying attention to my own skin prevents me from getting sick or getting others sick. I also shower after practice as soon as possible- it’ll go better for everyone in the long run and 5 minutes of skin scrubbing with a shower saves me from a skin infection later.
  • If you’re hurting, decide what you can and cannot do in practice, tell your training partner and then stick to it. If it means no free rolling, then drill. If it means no drilling, then do cardio. There’s no need to get deconditioned just because you can’t roll. There’s also no need to roll if you’re just going to spend a week recovering from your new injuries.
  • Warm up. Stretch. Cool down. No, serious. Warm up. Stretch. Cool down. Don’t skip it because you’re tired.
  • When you’re training, remember that it’s a contact sport, not a fight. Your partners and your body shouldn’t be unnecessarily battered by the end of it. If you always are, figure out why and change it.
  • If you notice a weak side or area, take extra time to correct it. Weak spots are the first place you get injured when you’re tired.

FFP: Apologies for the lack of recent updates. I recently got married and have been working on family stuff, new job shift etc… Slowly but surely I will be posting regularly again. Keep your eyes peeled for a recap on the Michelle Nicolini SF seminar and some other cool things! Also big CONGRATS to World Champion and new black belt Rikako Yuasa.

Interview: Competitor and Instructor Christie Sullivan

Ralph Gracie San Francisco 2012 Women's Team

Christie Sullivan is a Purple Belt (awarded in 2010) who fights and teaches for Team Ralph Gracie San Francisco. I snapped this quick photo on 120mm film of Christie and some of the other Ralph Gracie SF girls during our lunch break at the Leticia Ribeiro Women’s Camp SF 2012. Dang heavy bags casting shadows all over the place!

FFP: How did you first get into BJJ? What were your first impressions of the sport? How have they evolved over the years?

CS: I started training Jiu-Jitsu in 2006 during my sophomore year of college. My boyfriend at that time would rave about this sport, which many people had never heard of at the time– Mixed Martial Arts (MMA). I learned Jiu-Jitsu was a major component of MMA and it was also considered to be one of the most effective forms of self-defense/fighting. Also at the time, a technical instructor from Ralph Gracie was opening up a new school right near our house. I remember how enthusiastic my boyfriend was about training and convinced me to go with him to try out a class. I was always a bit of a tomboy at heart because I was raised by a single dad, but I’d say I was more a girly girl and was focused on my studies.

I remember learning the armbar from mount and the upa – but most of all I remember that I loved it immediately. My first impression was that nothing had ever made me feel so physically and mentally challenged at once. There were a couple blue belts there that I thought moved like water around me with their “fancy” moves and I wanted to be just like them. I started training 2-3 times every week from that day forward, and once a blue belt, I began training 4-6 times a week. We were two of the academy’s first few students. I didn’t realize it at the time, but to this day I am so grateful he wasn’t the kind of person who wanted his training to be his “guy thing”. Even though our relationship ended a few years later, we are still dear friends. Oddly, he was the one who stopped training after a couple years. He is still very supportive and checks in on my training and competition.

My impression of Jiu-Jitsu has changed significantly over the years. As I white belt I was eager to learn as much as possible, was fearless, naïve and wanted to be one of the old timers. As a blue belt, I became addicted to training. This was the stage where I began to revolve my life around my training routine. The jobs I chose, where I lived and my career path, all came second to training. This mindset carried into the first year of purple belt. Last year I felt I had to restore some balance in my life. I decided to keep my same intensive training schedule, but to also focus more of my time off the mat with my family, new friendships, and re-visited my plans to apply to law school. It was also a dream of mine to be a part of a women’s program. I’ve had ideas in my head for a long time about what the environment would look like. I’m happy to say it’s now a reality and growing fast.

What were some of the personal challenges you had to overcome to get where you are at now? How has BJJ contributed to the quality of your life?

I have supported myself financially since high school and earned scholarships to put myself through school. I believe everyone is given opportunities to thrive and succeed, no matter how much adversity you come from. It is learning to recognize them and run with them that sets you apart. When I was introduced to Jiu-Jitsu during college, it forced me to hone my time management and efficiency to a T. At the time I was studying at UC Berkeley, so I packed all my classes into three days, worked two-three days and trained four nights a week.

I believe that focused goals, good time management and passion can breed success for anyone. Jiu-Jitsu has contributed immensely to my life. It is a major pillar in my life. I fall back on it for strength and guidance in everything else I do. I see the principles of Jiu-Jitsu in relationships, my schooling and career. The biggest lesson is to never give up when you get broken down or lose. It has reinforced perseverance through many types of challenges.

What inspired you to start a women’s class? How has it been received? Can you tell me a little about the women on it, age range experience etc…Who are some of your mentors?

From my own experiences and what other females have shared with me, there are a myriad of reasons why women start Jiu-Jitsu, what motivates them to train and why they might not stick with the art. It can be something that entirely prevents them from starting or something arises during their time training. I don’t believe the quit rate is any higher of a percentage for women than for men, but I think it oftentimes is for a different set of reasons.

When I started training full time in San Francisco, I noticed that there were only 1 or 2 women at each regular class, but I could name at least 30 women off the top of my head who trained between the SF and Berkeley academies. Just like the men on the mat, they were of all ages, backgrounds and body types.

I went to Kurt Osiander, our head instructor in SF, and asked if I could organize and create the class. I’ve had ideas about what sort of structure and learning environment I wanted it to look like. He was very supportive of this idea. At Ralph Gracie, the dream of a women’s class and team is now a reality. Our class has taken off and we are growing fast! The average class size is anywhere between 8-13 girls. The experience level is anywhere from women who are there for their first day to colored belt competitors. The class is structured to drill fundamentals, sequences, positional sparring and regular sparring.

Having a women’s community allows women to improve more of their offensive game because we can train with women of similar body type and weight. As a competitor, it feels very different to compete against a small and technical girl, they move entirely different and leave much less space. When you are on the mat training with men, you can develop strong defenses, but practicing hitting your sweeps and submission is often more challenging. Practicing on a similar body type allows you to perfect it and then you are more likely to be able to use it on different body types.

The females I look up to in the sport are Leticia Ribeiro, for being a pioneer in Jiu-Jitsu for women and Mackenzie Dern for her impressive tournament success and likeability off the mat.

Separately, I admire those in the art who live a balanced life and are admirable human beings in how they conduct themselves off the mat. There is more to life than Jiu-Jitsu.

What are your general and personal aspirations for the sport? What words of advice do you have for women who might be curious in trying BJJ?

My aspirations for the art are to be healthy enough to train until I’m a little old lady!

I would like to inspire other women to train and support them in their own training journey.

In regards to the sport, I am constantly working on being more comfortable in competition. I don’t think I’ve been able to display my level of technique because of how engulfed I feel with nerves. I am committed to working through that and being able to perform at my best. I had a lot of close finals matches in 2012. I would like to continue to improve in competition and reach the top of the podium more often in 2013. I think I’ve put in the hard work and technique to expect this of myself. I would like to win multiple IBJJF titles during my competition career and one day earn my black belt.

Advice I have for women who are curious about trying Jiu-Jitsu:

-Jiu-Jitsu is probably not how you think it is! You might think it looks weird grappling on the ground or training with other men, women, whomever, but as soon as you try, you’ll feel the organic elements of the movement and the empowerment you gain from learning the potential of your body and mind.

-You will be very sore and you won’t understand a lot for the first year, that’s ok, keep drilling and training and you’ll have big “ah-ha” moments where you will find a breakthrough in your training.

-Research many schools and try out a handful before you sign up. You can switch at white belt and most people won’t care, but when you earn a belt from an instructor, it’s harder to make the move—but not impossible. Most people choose a school for its location. This will not always be what is the most important for you in the long run. Ask yourself what you want out of training and how often can you commit? Do you want a strong competition program? A school with a women’s program? A very technical school? A more MMA based school? These are all very important. Try to ask around to get as much information as possible. If you don’t know anyone in Jiu-Jitsu, ask the instructors and a few colored belts on your first class.

-Make your training non-negotiable, if you decide 2 days per week, or 4. Stick to it, don’t even allow yourself to decide every week whether you are going. Just get there and you usually won’t regret it.

Advice for those women already in Jiu-Jitsu:

-Never give up. There were many times I wanted to throw my belt away and give up. I’m so glad I didn’t. Jiu-Jitsu is a bunch of plateus, with steady increases of improvement, so be easy on yourself if you feel you have reached a plateau. Ask your training partners to explain how they are catching you, how they defend what you are going for, if you like to play on your back, start working on your top game. You might get caught more but you’ll improve on the holes in your game.

-Drill, baby drill! and watch high level matches in the academy or online. I drill 3 passes, 3 subs, 3 sweeps, 10-20xs each, 2-3xs a week. After major tournaments, I watch the black and brown belt fights online, especially in the women’s divisions. I wouldn’t recommend instructional videos as a white belt, but there are great ones out there for blue & above. You should learn your fundamentals before you try “fancy” variations.

-Write down your short and long term goals. I can’t emphasize enough how much this improved my game, tournament success and mindset. We need short term goals for our game to improve and long term goals to remind us to push through those plateus and reach those dreams.

-Have fun! Make sure the journey is fun and healthy, otherwise the belts and titles won’t mean as much.

Ralph Gracie San Francisco Women's Team

Photo by Hiroshi Matsui.

Bay Area Boxer: Casey Morton

I met Casey Morton many years ago while I was training at Fight and Fitness gym in San Francisco. The moment she walked into the door, she became completely obsessed with boxing. We became sparring partners and started to share bruises, blood and friendship. I remember exchanging punches with her and we both would egg each other on and encourage one another with good knocks to the skull enjoying every moment of it. Watching Casey’s career advance over the years has been fantastic and I am so inspired with the level of dedication she has for the sport. This is equally matched with the amount of heart she has not only for competing, but for sharing her passion with others. Casey has spent many years in the social work field as an advocate for homeless and at risk youth. I have had the privilege of seeing her in action both in the ring and working with kids and can testify she is extremely gifted in both fields.

FFP: Can you give me a brief fighting biography / career highlight snapshot?

CM: I began training out of Fight and Fitness gym under Paris Alexander in San Francisco. I had my first amateur boxing match after two and a half months of training. I was so excited to fight I could not wait to get in there.

It’s been two years that B Street Boxing in San Mateo, under tutelage of Eddie Croft and Dan Wong, is where I call home.

Following my first month under Eddie, I won the 2011 Northern California Golden Gloves Championships, open class. I also won the 2011 USA Boxing Regional Championships because I jabbed my opponent every time my coach told me to.
This year, I won the 2012 Adidas National Boxing Championships and was awarded best female fighter in my division (Open class ages 17-34).

Why did you start fighting and why do you continue to do so?

I found boxing at a dark hour in my life. It saved me from a negative lifestyle and continues to teach me how to be a better person each day.

I aspire to become a world champion and inspire as many people in the most positive ways possible in the process. Get that “ripple effect” going.

Who are some of your biggest influences? What about their style to you love?

Sugar Ray Leonard and Floyd Mayweather jr. are at the top of my favorite fighter list. Both have so much natural speed and ability. I love Sugar Ray’s movement and rhythm. Floyd never fails to fascinate me with his flawless style and confidence. So many people over look the power of the mind. I watch their fights on a regular basis and am still in awe every time.

I’m always anxious to see the game plan Andre Ward beautifully executes for each opponent. I love his fight against Arthur Abraham the most. It reminds me of my coaches words… “all you need is a jab”. I love Andre’s overall game.

I relate to Arturo Gatti starting as a brawler (beginning his pro career) then transforming into a boxer once he started working with trainer Buddy Mcgirt. Watching his performance in the Mickey Ward trilogy gave me hope that, given proper instruction, I too can and will transform.

I love watching Legendary boxer Alexis Arguello, as well as pressure fighters like Julio Cesar Chavez. Mike Tyson, Kostya Tszyu, Meldrick Taylor, etc… There are so many more that fascinate and inspire me.

I get a lot of inspiration from my teammates and add bits of their style to my game. Ashanti Jordan’s rhythm and left hook, Jessie Lopez’s beautiful movement, Ricardo Pinell’s combinations, Charles Campanon’s jab, etc.. I’m also fortunate to have Melissa Mcmorrow as my primary sparring partner and teammate. We support and push each other to improve.

I often study my coach Eddie Croft’s fights. He has a versatile style and the ability to adapt to any opponent. If you understand boxing you have an idea of how much skill and natural ability it requires to execute his tools.

Do you have a definitive style as a boxer?

My style is still undergoing transformation. When I first started boxing, I looked as though I was in a bar fight all the time ha ha. I didn’t really get the concept of “hit and don’t get hit” (it was usually hit and get hit ha ha) until my coach Chris Cariaso put focus on fixing my footwork and overall movement. We’d study fights like De La Hoya vs.Trinidad, and Gatti vs Ward.

The awesome thing about fighting in the national tournaments is they expose you to so many different styles and body types (tall and lanky, short and stocky, etc..). It forces you to see what parts of your game need work so you’re able to adapt on the fly.

This year was a big year for women’s boxing as it was the first it was featured as a sport in the Olympic games. Can you talk a little bit about the evolution of women’s boxing since you have been involved, predictions for the future?

There have been many female athletes who’ve paved the way for us in male dominated sports over the years. I’m fortunate to witness the first year females are allowed to box in the Olympics, as well as see legendary boxer Lucia Rijker become the first woman inducted into the World Boxing Hall of Fame October 24th, 2009.

What’s on the horizon for you?

I’m always keeping busy in the gym. Taking as many fights as possible to stay ready for the pros.

I also love teaching boxing and am fortunate that it allows me to train regularly. I’ve been running the boxing program at FTCC in Daly City for two years and also work with the 5-10 year old’s at my gym. I feel blessed to be a part of helping others maintain and achieve their goals. Weight loss/healthier lifestyle, battle self esteem issues, self defense, become champion of the world, etc… Sky’s the limit.

Shout outs?

Thank you to God for saving my life with the sport of boxing. Thank you for surrounding me with more love and support than I could have ever imagined. I’m grateful for my colorful life and all the amazing people in it.

I’m grateful to work with amazing strength and conditioning Dan Wong. I see the gains of the time he puts in with me each week in my performance. With coach Dan, Eddie, and the rest of my team in my corner, “Impossible is nothing”.

Norwegian MMA Fighter Celine Haga

I first saw Celine fight at Jewels 9th Ring in Tokyo, 2010. She originally hails from Norway where MMA is technically illegal, but has an extensive, professional fight career in Japan. She has been traveling and training the world this year and I finally got the chance to roll a little bit with her. Don’t be fooled by her modest size, she is massively strong and has excellent ground skills with a highly developed butterfly guard. I was shocked when she told me she has just been grappling for a few years. She takes to it like a fish to water. With 12 fights under her belt as a professional MMA fighter, I look forward to watching her career continue to grown along with the technical ground game she has developed. She trains under veteran MMA fighter Joachim Hansen with Team Hellboy, who are on the forefront of Norwegian MMA blazing a trial for their fellow country men and women.

BJJ Fighter: Veronica “Vr0d” LoCurto

Veronica is awesome. She is one of the halves of the most excellent, women’s MMA news source which is both informative and hilarious. I met Veronica back in the day when Lana Stefanac was co teaching a women’s fight class at Gym 445. We both started with Lana as white belts, training together for years. As a purple belt, she has a few championships in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu and has also fought professional MMA. When she is not training, she is helping out at WMMARoundUp keeping us all up to date on the latest news with the equally awesome Kristin. Veronica’s other interests are medieval weaponry and the guitar. A big thanks to one of my long term rolling partners who is as technical and strong as she is graceful. The badassery is at an eleven here people.

Photographer’s Note: Shot these quick at dust on expired 120mm film Kodak VC 160 with a Yashica D minimum aperture f/3.5. It doesn’t have infinite focal range and is limited in many ways, however works really well for tight, intimate portraiture and I am really enjoying the circular blur it gives objects passed the short depth of field. I usually shoot with the Hassleblad 500 cm but it is sometimes too damn heavy to lug around.

MMA Fighter: Erin Toughill

Just 6 years after the UCF was founded, Erin Toughill made her MMA debut in 1999. Toughill is an MMA veteran with a record of 10-3-1 and a boxing record of 8-2-1. Toughill began boxing at the age of 18 and started Brazilian Jiu Jitsu soon after. She currently holds the rank of brown belt. Some of her notable opponents have included Jan Finney, Megumi Yabushita, Marloes Coenen, Jen Case and Laila Ali (boxing). As we all tune into Invicta 2 and Strikeforce in the next couple of weeks and watch WMMA take the spotlight with some terrific action, let us not forget those pioneers who paved the way for the sport. They not only had to battle their way through the intense training and dedication it takes to be a professional athlete, they had to deal with a great deal more of sexism and general ignorance regarding the sport of MMA. We salute you!

Photographer’s notes: Finally getting the hang of this Hassleblad, swapped out the focusing screen with a half prism, changed from viewing prism to waist level finder, shooting out doors for better lighting and depth of field. This was a good day! I got to shoot both Erin and Alexis in one sitting and am super please with the results. After over 2 years I am finally getting a hang of this big ole camera. Kodak Tmax, hand processed, scanned on Imacon.

MMA Fighter: Alexis Davis

Follow her on twitter @alexisdavismma
If you are a women’s MMA fan, you will most certainly recognize this fighter. With an 11-5 record, black belt in Japanese Jiu Jitsu, 4 stripe brown belt in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu and some very solid striking skills, she is the #11-ranked pound-for-pound female MMA fighter in the world by and the #6-ranked 135-pound female fighter according to the Unified Women’s MMA Rankings ( Maybe you got pulled into the drama, bright lights and trash talking that defined most of the hype around Strikeforce: Tate vs. Rousey, but I guarantee the fight that had you out of your seat and truly proud to be an MMA fan was the Women’s Bantamweight bout: Canada Sarah Kaufman vs. Canada Alexis Davis.This was on the prelimenary card, so maybe some of you missed it. I can testify as a former MMA fighters and BJJ practitioner, it was a shining example of the technical athleticism that MMA has to offer. It was an all out war, a brutal and beautiful exchange of striking and eloquent groundwork. When it comes to the spectator driven nature of the sport, Davis always delivers with spectacular action. I really like Kaufman and Davis as fighters who have a no bullshit approach. Their merits are proven in the cage, as it should be in a “shut up and fight” style. Theatrics of smack talk should remain in the realm of day time soaps and WWF. I like my MMA pure and focused on the talents of the athletes. Canada is definitely doing something right.

I have recently had the tremendous honor of meeting and briefly training with Davis. Quiet and reserved off the mat, greased lightening on it and a complete beast in the cage. Her fights are akin to attending one of Hannibal Lecter’s dinner parties, highly entertaining, well mannered, sophisticated and you will most certainly get your fill of delicious carnage. She most recently competed in the BJJ World Expo Superfight down in LA against world champion black belt Kyra Gracie, which was yet another stunning display of her outstanding ground game. Davis caught Gracie in an exceptionally deep arm bar set up which Gracie struggled to stack her way out of for over 2 minutes of the 10 minute match. I won’t spoil the rest if you haven’t see it yet, but it needs to go on your must see list as well. I can’t really say enough good things about this fighter and I very much look forward to her July 28th Invicta Fighting Championships 2 co main event match again AACC veteran, Hitomi Akano. ( I predict a ground battle with lots of lower body attacks and a very technical fight. Best of luck to both fighters and all the women on the Invicta card.

Mothers’ Day Special: Youth BJJ World Champion Alyssa Wilson & Her Mom, Tanya Wilson

Youth BJJ Champion Alyssa Mia Wilson and Mother Tanya Wilson

I met BJJ player Alyssa Wilson at American Cup this year. The first thing I noticed about her was her awesome style, fresh hair cut and that she exuded confidence. After watching a few of her matches, it was clear that grappling was truly her element. She tore through her division, defeating several boys with great ease, one of which had beat her at a previous tournament. This 10 year old, yellow belt was executing bow and arrow chokes with text book perfection. It wasn’t until I got home and did some research that I learned not only about her truly impressive record, but also about how extraordinarily humble she was which makes her all the more cooler! Coming off her recent Abu Dhabi Pro gold and now her American Cup gold, Alyssa clearly has a great head on her shoulders and some pretty amazing parents. I was fortunate enough to get to interview her and her mom Tanya, just in time for Mothers’ Day too! Remember BJJers say thank you to those inspirational women in your life and call your mom this week.

Interview with Alyssa Wilson

FFP: Alyssa, what year were you born, where are you from, who are your main instructors and academy?

Alyssa: I was born February 13, 2002 and I’m from Lawndale, CA that’s in Los Angeles. I train at A-Team Jiu Jitsu in Westminster CA and my coach name is Ali.

FFP: What is your record and what competitions have you done?

Alyssa: I don’t really know my record or how many tournaments, it’s a lot. But I have 38 gold medals, 25 silver, 22 bronze, 2 belts and 2 samurai swords.

FFP: How old where you when you first started BJJ? What were your first thoughts and feelings about it?

Alyssa: I started when I was 4 1/2 years old. When my dad took me in my first school I remember thinking it was cool when I saw all the people training only I didn’t know what they were doing, but I thought it was cool.

FFP: What advice do you have for other BJJ athletes out there?

Alyssa: I would tell other BJJ athletes to work hard, do your best, and have fun.

FFP: When you aren’t on the mat, what other things do you like to do?

Alyssa: When I’m not training I like to read and go to the library, ride bikes with my cousin memorie, play with my puppy Weezy and my sisters. But I really like to go visit my friend Norm at his shop Will Rise, I get to work and help the guys there and do a bunch of art.

FPP: Do you have any sponsors and people you want to thank?

Alyssa: I have a few sponsors. They are Moya Brand, Grappling X, Revgear, Painted Demons, and Dr Kessler. I want to say thank you to all my sponsors, Pete at Nakama, Jakobe, my coach Ali and my mom and dad ‘cus they take me everywhere for Jiu Jitsu.

FFP: Who did your awesome hair cut?

Alyssa: I got my hair from Willow Smith, I liked her style. But when I get it done, I go to my Dad’s friend Jeff’s barber shop or sometimes to other Barber shops!

FFP: Tanya, what inspired you to get Alyssa into the sport?

Tanya: We decided to get Alyssa in Jiu Jitsu because she always liked to wrestle around and jump on everything. She had so much energy that dance class any gymnastics didn’t interest her. So my husband decided to walk her into the local Jiu Jitsu academy by our house and it turned out to be one of the best things we could of ever done for her.

FFP: Why do you think it is important for her to be involved in it?

Tanya: Its always important for kids to be involved in something whatever it may be, I think it helps them grow as a person. For Alyssa she’s always been independent and a people person, so being involved with this sport has just worked really well with who she is as a person. She has made so many friends it’s unbelievable.

FFP: How has it impacted her life?

Tanya: Jiu Jitsu has given her so many opportunities its been really great. We never thought she would be where she is now when we first started her. She has gotten to travel, met a lot of people, made a lot of friends and just accomplished so much by working hard and training. She really loves it and my husband Danny and I are extremely proud of her. She still has a lot of growing and learning to do in the sport, but we know she will go all the way!

FFP: Did you compete as an athlete growing up?

Tanya: Growing up, my mom was great but not really that encouraging to get into sports, so I didn’t do much outside of dance in high school. I make sure I’m always there to support and encourage Alyssa no matter what and I feel that’s why we have such a strong bond. She knows she can come to me for anything and I’m always gonna be there for her.

FFP: Do you have advice for parents out there?

Tanya: I don’t really like to give advice to parents, because at the end of the day that’s your child and you’re gonna always do what you feel is best for them, whether it’s good or bad as a parent you’re always learning and growing just like them. So who am I to tell you anything? I choose to be open minded to my daughters so they can express themselves and find who they are whether it’s mixed match clothes or shaving the side of her head. I myself am learning too as a travel down the road of being a parent. The only thing I can say is always love your child and give them the foundation and support so that they feel confident enough to find who they are and find whatever they are going to be great at.

(Photographer’s Note: this was the first time I took the Canon 5D out for a spin. I was playing around with a Nikon lens adapter which forced me to shoot all day in MANUAL including focus. Please forgive the poor quality photos. I usually shoot film for this project and am bummed I didn’t bring the Hassleblad to take her portrait, next time! Word to the wise, always bring a camera with you.)

Check out Alyssa’s blog here.

Uploaded by DTxWiLSON on Jan 1, 2012


Bay Area Fighter: Pam Tao

Pam Miyuki Tao Krav Maga Brown Belt

I met Pam Tao back in the day when I moved into San Francisco and began training at Krav Maga SF around 2004. We have developed a strong friendship over the years and Pam has been a big source of inspiration personally and athletically. When I was pro fighting in 2008, Pam helped me hone in my diet and continues to do so with her Paleo wisdom. She is an avid Cross Fitter, personal trainer, nutritionist and Krav Maga brown belt not to mention one of the most deadliest person I’ve met pound for pound at 5 feet tall. Hardcore. She likes to tell me that in 10+ years, I will be dealing with the issues as an athlete she is facing in attempts to explain training with longevity in mind. Currently on the road to recovery from knee surgery, Pam is just the type of bad-ass Senpai we all need in our lives.