Exclusive Interview with BJJ Legend Danielle Martin

Image Courtesy of True Boundaries
Former Pro-Surfer. Jiu-Jitsu World Champ. Advocate. Mom.


It seems that there is virtually nothing that Danielle Martin can’t take on. Faced with setbacks and hardships, she drives even harder... with a bright smile on her face. I recently had the very fortunate opportunity to speak with Danielle about her incredible life and how she continues to inspire others with her wisdom and strength.


"Being a professional surfer was something I had wanted to do at a very young age. There weren't many women in the water when I began surfing but I always had a lot of love and support from my surf teammates as well as sponsors in the sport. I was fortunate to be one of the three first females that SURFING Magazine ever spent money and even time on. It was a great career and the sport itself is amazing. I got a lot of confidence growing up in the ocean and battling for waves of my own.

I first started Martial Arts as a teenager. I was 17 when I first started Karate. I loved the discipline aspects of it as well as the competition. It came easy to me. I loved the kata and even the full contact fighting. Martial arts have always been something I respected and admired. It was an activity I could learn that served multiple purposes all at once. I could compete, I could learn how to defend myself and I loved the art aspect. I won state championships in Karate and when I walked away from it due to travel and my work, I always looked back, wondering when I would be able to return.

Image Courtesy of Bullshido
When I was introduced to BJJ, I was fascinated that there could be a martial art that was created around the smaller person defending themselves against the larger, even stronger person. The fact that technique and leverage would beat strength. I first saw BJJ on tv during one of the first UFC's when Royce Gracie was fighting. I recognized the Gi and that is what caught my attention. I loved his stance and posture he took against these larger and very tough opponents. I couldn't believe the way he moved and the technical aspects of the fights. I thought..."I need to do this." 

I wasn't a huge fan my first few classes, guys were sitting on my face, I was being choked by my own clothes and I didn't like being mounted. However, I was addicted but couldn't continue training because I was attending UCLA and playing softball for the Bruins. That was probably 1997 and I didn't start training consistently until 2006. I've been training regularly since besides having to take time for injuries and sickness.

BJJ is an honest sport, the mats are a level playing field and everyone's journey up the levels is different. It took me almost 10 years to get my black belt. It's a tough sport for anyone and even tougher for a woman. It takes a lot of courage and trust to train with men and even more to keep coming back when you get smashed a lot...and you will, A Lot! It has helped me to know my limits outside the mats and to stay calm and not panic in life. It puts perspective on things and allows a person to grow in ways you never knew you would or could.

I love BJJ and am a better person because of it. I love the competition aspects of it as well. I've been a competitive athlete all my life and this was an attractive part of the martial art that I look forward to very much. Competition for me is a self-test. A challenge to my Jiu Jitsu and what I can be better at. I've learned way more from the matches I've lost then just from winning. Falling down shows us that we're human and the way we get up, reveals our character. How we get up is what defines us. As hard as it is to lose, I have always walked away learning something. It's a compelling sport for sure. Competition is hard and time-consuming. There's a lot that goes into it for sure. I can compete in either middle or light weight because I weigh in between the two with the Gi. I walk around between 136-140. 141 is cut off with Gi for light weight. Technically I am a light weight but the Gi weighs 4-5 lbs. I lose that if I want to be light weight and stay where I am if not or if I fight no Gi. Losing weight is hard on me, I walk around a pretty lean person as is. It's all about diet and proportion. I drink a ton of water, eat certain things and not others and start pretty far out from the fight so I don't feel depleted. We can train our bodies to do anything if we prepare properly and are disciplined. I don't like dumping weight last minute. I'm not focused or at my best like that. I play how I practice and The preparation for BJJ fights is typically harder than the fight itself. The fights I've lost were because I wasn't diligent in my preparation. I could feel it going in. It's amazing how spot on our intuition can be.

The sport of BJJ has grown a lot and there are so many fancy techniques these days. I'm much more traditional and like the triangle, armbar from anywhere and the bow and arrow or cross collar chokes. I keep it simple and efficient. I go hard and rely a lot on my speed and cardio to push pace. I love pushing myself in that area and hunting for the submission. I'm not one of those people who has ever gotten the submission quick. I love the chess game that is BJJ and the human will to push harder when we have to. This is truly a brilliant art.

When I was a purple belt, I was diagnosed with Lyme disease. I nearly died. I believe that aspects of Bjj helped me to navigate and leverage what I could to battle it. That and my love for the water and the sport helped me to get well. Lyme disease is debilitating and I would 100% of the 20%, sometimes 5% of whatever I could to get by some days. Adversity is a gift and Lyme disease only made me respect the fragility of the human life and all I had even more. It made me want to be better in every way. It made me a better Mom, a better friend, and person. I could say a lot of things and complain but all I have to say is that I'm grateful. Grateful for being able to put that Gi on and go teach the kids class I was teaching at the time. Grateful I had the nurse that kept me going daily on IV's for 13 months, 5 days a week at my brown belt ceremony.  I dedicated that to her and my doctor. It's a terrible disease and I'm actually co-writing a book with my doctor now to help others that are living with Lyme or who have just been diagnosed. It will lay you out. I got back up every time is has laid me out. Bjj is one of the things that helped me through it for sure. My two boys were my first reason to live.

Life is short and when we are young, we don't yet have that perspective. Everything seems to take forever and it seems as though life moves pretty slowly. It's not until we are a little older that we experience the gift of wisdom and life experience. The old saying "I wish I knew then what I know now..." Comes up a lot in my head. I'm a proponent of sharing what I've been through and what I know with our youth, empowering them with tools that they all have and pointing out their God-given strengths. I'm a huge advocate of kids investing in themselves and spending less time on their cell phones and video games. Investing in learning to protect themselves. I've seen numerous situations where martial arts saved someone's life. I'm not talking about the self-defense physical aspects, but the mental and emotional aspects of it changing lives. Martial arts academies become a second home sometimes, a place one can come and learn, connect and grow. A safe place and a lot of the time a second family. I promote health, physically, mentally and emotionally. It should be taught in every school and provided for everyone. It teaches respect for oneself and for others. I love to empower others and love watching kids get started in life with confidence. Confidence leads to being secure and being secure allows one to live and be kind. Kindness in itself is compelling.
Image Courtesy of Lisa Lisa Pics

I'm a huge fan of women in the sport or art of Bjj. I feel it's the most efficient martial arts for females because it's about technique and leverage, not strength. We will never overpower men no matter who we think we are. Men are physically stronger than most women. I'm sure there are the rare exceptions but by nature, they out strength us. Being able to be on the ground and comfortable with a man between your legs is empowering. To understand how to create space or close in on it in a matter of seconds is liberating. I think all women should try BJJ. It's not easy walking into any school and training with men in these positions. I get it. 

However, you can't get used to it until you try it. My advice always is to do background checks on the people running the school and the owners. Just because they have black belts doesn't make them "good people". You'd think they would be since they're in the business of teaching people how to defend themselves but I've seen and experienced differently. Do your research and go where there are good and reputable people running the show. Especially for women. It's a male dominated sport and men have a tendency of sticking together. If you're in the wrong place, this can and will work against you. Find a good circle of people to train with and you'll be happy and rewarded for your hard work and commitment to this sport. It will change your life for the better.

I love Bjj, it's the gentle art that's for everyone. I appreciate the techniques and worship the process. Climbing the ladder to my black belt and even now as a black belt learning, I am so grateful and challenged every time I step on the mats. The UFC has brought a lot of attention to our sport and I look forward to the growth of it over the years and where it will go. I love the characters in the UFC, it's a good show and so much hard work in the training for the fighters. Fighting is a vulnerable sport and vulnerability is compelling to watch. My respects to them all.


Invicta for me is invincibility. I know from injury that I'm not invincible. However, my spirit is. I will always push hard, always be loyal to my team and my art form and my ways of going about these things. I'm grateful and appreciative of my opponents and opportunity. I'm grateful for my health and make no excuses for my failures. I get back up and keep moving forward in pain and in triumph. Life is what you make of it. I choose to make mine. I aim high and I fight hard. I hope to leave this world a better place and hope to influence my boys to do the same. That can only happen through actions and that's something I'm more comfortable doing than not, taking action."

-Danielle Martin

For more information on Danielle be sure to visit her website at: www.trueboundries.com. You can also find her on Facebook and Twitter.

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