As we enter the final month of 2013, we welcome both Christmas along with our latest Martial Artist of the Month, writer and BJJ martial artist Sally Arsenault!
Hello Sally, please can you tell us a bit about yourself?
I’m 38 years old and I work as a tax auditor for the provincial government. I’m also a purple belt in Brazilian jiu jitsu under Renzo Gracie black belt Kevin Taylor at Titans Fitness Academy in Halifax, Nova Scotia. I teach the women’s class there three times a week and I write a weekly martial arts article for Breaking Muscle.
How old were you when you got into martial arts and what made you want to learn?
Here’s the long version: I was always a small scrawny person until I turned about 25 and gave up smoking. Then I started getting a little chubby and tried to figure out what to do about it. I started walking for an hour a night at first, then when I moved to Halifax, my friend Ronna inspired me start training at a local fitness centre. We both worked there one day a week for a free membership because we were so broke and on the days she worked, she would come and stand outside the window and crack up watching me try to follow along in step class or cardio kickboxing or whatever it was I was failing at. I soon realized the only thing I could do half decently with my lack of coordination was lift things up and put them down again. So I lifted weights for about 10 years. Now I know that my form was awful that whole time so I’m learning to do it the right way. No wonder I kept getting hurt!
In 2007 I was robbed at gun point for the first time, then it happened again in 2008 at the video store I worked at part time. I realized that deadlifts wouldn’t save me from being raped so I looked around for a martial arts school.
Which martial art did you learn first?
I had just started hearing about the UFC so I Googled MMA. When I made my first phone call, the guy told me that I should probably try Muay Thai because women weren’t really into BJJ. I quickly realized that I’d never knock anyone out and transitioned to BJJ because it would give me a better chance of winning against a random attacker.
Have you entered any competitions or done any demonstrations?
I competed for the first time as a blue belt in November 2012. I competed in gi and no gi and got bronze and silver respectively. I competed in an IBJJF tournament in February 2013 and got a gold medal but there was only one other woman in my division. I did win two matches because I competed in the Absolute also but it still kind of feels like a default medal. My plan is to compete in New York where the divisions will be fuller.
Which is your favourite weapon and why?
The only weapon I’ve ever used is my body but I think I’d prefer a gun.
Which martial arts are you currently studying and at which clubs?
I mainly study BJJ at my home club, Titans Fitness Academy in Halifax, NS, but I often train at Marmac Athletics in Truro, NS on the weekends.
Which is your favourite technique?
My favourite technique is the triangle choke. I worry that if I try to use it during an attack that I’ll get slammed on the pavement but I guess if it was during a rape, I’d be on a softer surface. I can’t see myself getting into a street fight at any point.
Who inspires you in the martial arts world?
Everyone who steps onto the mats inspires me. I should say, everyone who legitimately tries to improve themselves by learning a martial art. I have no respect for “martial artists” who make up fake disciplines and try to sell it to people who don’t know any better.
Beginning martial arts is a big step for a lot of people and the ones who keep going, day after day, week after week, year after year inspire me. They don’t have to win a world championship, they just have to show up to get my respect.
What are you most proud of in your martial arts career?
When I began training, I felt that I didn’t need women to train with. If BJJ was supposed to help me defend myself against a man, why did I need female training partners? I assumed having other women around could lead to drama, which I try to avoid. Some women are so catty! I also thought if a woman wanted to do BJJ but felt awkward rolling with men, she should just suck it up and deal with it or go do something else.
Basically, I was biased against my own gender. I’m telling you this because I see it in other women, too, and I wish that attitude didn’t exist. When I hear women proudly say that they only train with men I wish I could tell them they don’t know what they’re missing!
I’m proud to say I’ve overcome my ignorance and realized how valuable female training partners are. A man will never be able to mimic a woman in training. They often underestimate how powerful some women are. Also, I’ve missed out on working many offensive tactics into my jiu jitsu game and muscle memory, just because I don’t often hit them with my male partners due to size and strength differences. With the support of the owners of Titans Fitness Academy, Renzo Gracie black belts Kevin Taylor and Peter Martell, I’ve started a women’s only BJJ class at my club to help other women learn the fundamentals and hopefully progress into our co-ed program. Along with learning to be beasts on the mats, I hope we will all learn together to support one another and build the same bond I now have with my male teammates. Is there a female version of bromance?
Have you any advice to give to other martial artists out there?
My boyfriend says he doesn’t know how I stayed in jiu jitsu all this time. I’m so much smaller than everyone else and my teammates are so skilled and technical, I don’t get many submissions in class. I usually only submit people when I visit other clubs or compete in tournaments! But I love jiu jitsu. I love to roll, even if I’m not winning. I think fighting gets rid of a lot of that daily frustration I feel and I love that I’m learning something new every time I step onto the mats. There’s also a special bond that forms among teammates that you don’t find elsewhere. My advice is to not get discouraged if you’re not a natural champion and dominating your classmates when you train. What you’re learning is valuable, even if it seems as though you’re not learning anything. Just keep going. It’s worth it.
What’s your favourite martial arts film?
My favourite martial arts film is Kill Bill 1&2. That Beatrix Kiddo doesn’t play. I like that about her.
Thanks very much, Sally, for your time!
If you’d like to be considered for Martial Artist of the Month , be sure to drop us an email.