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.

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