It has been almost a month since I felt the happiest I have ever in my entire life and even now when I recall it, I can revisit the feeling just by thinking of that one moment in time.
TLDR: I trained really hard and set my focus and got a result that I never even really dared to allow myself to dream. Well, sometimes I did….when no one was in the room or could overhear me…just in case it might not happen, or, even more alarmingly…become a reality.
The week leading up to the competition was perfect. I have never experienced anything like it in the years that I have competed and it all added up to make for a wonderful outcome. It just goes to show how many things need to fall into place to pull something like this off. Of course you can up your odds by doing absolutely everything you can to be prepared but when the things that are out of your control fall into place also, well thats totally a gift to be thankful for.
I had a row to myself on the 14 hour flight over to Abu Dhabi. I stretched out and slept well. This played a huge part in my quality of rest and avoiding the effects of jet lag on arrival, allowing for a stress free week.
I cooked my meals prior to boarding the plane and took with me loads of green veggies to snack on, eggs to munch on, blueberries as treats and low cal hot chocolate for killing cravings. All of this ensured my weight didn’t spike during transit & I arrived right on weight & hydrated without retaining fluid. A win in the bank for me, usually I’m like a water ballon with kankles but we planned for it and avoided it. Yay team!
(Dr. Hannah’s advice was, as always, perfect for me and got me the results I was after).
Your world, even when travelling, can become very very small.
I checked into my room quite late and my room mate (Canadian black belt and awesome human that I have been trying to meet for a few years, Alison Tremblay) was delayed in arrival. I had the room to myself and settled in. Did a few trips to the buffet. Hung out with other black belts at the dining room…John Satava and Gianni Grippo from Marcelo’s, Tammi & Mikey Musumeci, Xande, Saulo, Mackenzie… it is a surreal world at the Officers Club. Or as I like to call it, the black belt hotel. Miles and miles of white marble and seemingly a million chairs to sit around in. All under the roof that is shaped like a giant stingray. Its all very odd but very impressive. The view of the Grand Mosque from the foyer is something to see. The BJJ arena in a giant brown air balloon adjacent to the hotel, also a sight. And an oven. Oh wow was it warm in that thing.
Mainly I hung out with the other Aussie black belts: Lachie, Tingy, Vincente, Bob. All legends in their own right. We talked mainly about food fantasies as everyone was forced into waiting a few days to weigh in. When you’re restricted in food the topic becomes fascinating. Your world, even when travelling, can become very very small. Toast and butter sized small but the obsession is real.
I got to weigh in on Thursday at 4pm as I was fighting my first match on the Friday. This meant I had time to watch loads of my friends compete. Super exciting for me is seeing the Australian girls and the friends we’ve made through Australian Girls in Gi out there and kicking ass. We’re taking over I tells ya!
Demi smashed her way into the purple belt finals once again. A place she’s very familiar with no matter where the comp is, what size the comp is, the prestige of the comp. She’s a finals bandit. She didn’t take the title this time (she has previously) but to be in the finals so consistently really says a lot. Pretty sure that the silver is burning a hole in her pocket so big that she might just kill someone at Worlds in a few weeks to stop feeling the burn of that silver. I’m excited to see it too. Go Demi go!
All my mates fought well. Erin, Sarah, Margot, Coco, Melissa, Rod Costa (Silver), Gil Blanch (Gold), Levi (Bronze), Bruno (Gold again!). It was awesome to be there to see. The Aussies did exceptionally well all ’round. We medalled in all belt devisions, mens, womens, adults, masters, para athletes, kids and teens. It was a very consistent story.
Considering Australia has only just started sending more numbers out to these events, it really is impressive. The ratio of medals to competitors, also outstanding.
A full list of the results can be found here.
Keeping on track with meals I weighed myself after breakfast in my room on test scales on the Thursday. I was 2kg under a feeling fantastic. I drank coffees and waters and knew that it was all the hard work put in over the past 8 weeks that had gifted me the luxury of not having to be dehydrated or hangry for the day. It certainly helped with keeping stress levels down. Investing in my future self back on those tough days, I was so so so grateful for the Jess that didn’t give in to cravings. She’s a good egg that chick.
Demi and I decided to spend the day chilling on the rooftop of her hotel, swimming and catching up in the sun, plotting about Worlds and international travel. We hit the buffet at her place and inhaled a few desserts then headed over to weigh ins.
Weigh ins done and dusted there wasn’t much left to do but wait.
I’d like to say I was nervous and focused but really, I was so relaxed and happy to be there that I chilled out in my room, watched movies and Facebook messaged most of you.
The next day was AWESOME.
I was to be one of the first matches, along with Liv, Lachie and a few other Aussies. Its a shame to all be on at the same time and I didn’t get to watch them fight but I could see them from across the room prior to our matches commencing.
I have to say that standing there in the dark, waiting to fight, waiting for the live streams and televised cast to commence, with the music going nuts, seeing my friends also standing waiting for their moment…it was just about the coolest shit I’ve ever done (I say just about because the next day was THE coolest shit I’ve ever done).
I waited for the lights to come up, breathed in the moment, and couldn’t stop smiling. I was there, and I was fucking DOING IT. The ref waved us on to the mat and I took my sweet ass time to slowly walk onto the mats, savouring every second of having the unique privilege to be a black belt competitor at an international competition, for the very first time.
…seriously…it still hits me in the feels…its the biggest feels I have for anything…you’ll have to give me a moment…
You know, regardless of outcome later on that feeling had already hit me then. For sure I know now for really real that the outcome doesn’t matter. It was about a lifetime goal of being THAT person in THAT moment and realising it really is me, that I’d done what I genuinely never thought I could. And it felt (and feels) so good. Wins and losses beyond that are simply that, an outcome. But they cannot define me. Who I am and what this sport has allowed me to become, is what truly defines me…but I’m off track…
Back to the match.
I remember glimpses of this match but I’m sure its a skewed memory. I haven’t yet watched to review it, which is cool because there is my impression and then theres reality. Usually two very different things when it comes to competition matches. I find the mismatch intriguing.
Though I truly felt really clear headed and calm and present, I’m sure my adrenaline was going nuts. I am sure of this because the woman underneath me panicked. I could hear it in our breathing clear as day. She wasn’t panicked when we started out and I realised I was probably putting about 80 tonnes worth of my own adrenaline and panic right into her.
I was back in her open guard after an initial fast smash to top half, I was slow on my knees and her legs felt strong. I remember hearing my own breathing and thinking ‘thats funny, that’s how JT makes me breathe between intense cardio sets’…it sounded planned and yogic but I promise you none of that was conscious thought. By contrast she sounded bad. Slight vocal chords mixed with panic. It is a sound I relate to well as I have had the same many may times under my training partners, Tim and Kieran, in the lead up to this competition.
I passed her to mount and my next clear thought was ‘holy shit, I’m going to win this match. And its going to happen now.’
I feel for her. That mount must’ve felt awful. I sat up and faked a bully style choke, right hand deep in the collar (I don’t really remember this detail, I just know thats the only way I would have set it up) knowing that she wanted out and would push me away before my second hand could grip correctly. She pushed hard with straight arms but my next memory clear as day was ‘I can’t get the right arm because she’s turning the wrong way’. It took her two massive pushes for me to realise what is pretty logical. Take the left arm Jess. Not natural or preferred side so I didn’t trust the first push. We rolled strangely and I’m fairly sure I went belly down, or some bastardised version of it (like I said, not my preferred side but I will absolutely take what I can get). She tapped. It was done. I think we were about 3 minutes in…so I’m missing a LOT of detail. haha, I look forward to seeing it. Maybe none of that happened at all. But my hand was raised and I was pretty happy with a 7-0 match ending in a sub.
I went backstage and was absolutely bouncing off walls. I waited to see who my next match up was. 10 minutes later Tammi Musumeci’s name came up on the board for me.
She’s a badass and I knew if I were to win my first match it was likely I’d face Tammi.
She’s the Queen of Bolos…I had a big fight ahead.
Again, I haven’t seen the match but I have told my version of the match to others that have. They have told me my memory is not at all correct. So here’s my version, because I feel thats true to story telling and my experience. Its okay that I’m wrong.
Tammi sat to guard very quickly which I was expecting. I wasn’t expecting her to do it without any grips at all though. I went right into warm up drills mode and started by grabbing her hands. I figured if she couldn’t grip me, her guard wouldn’t start.
Of course quickly we were in her DLR and the bolo defence plans were in full effect. I remember her turning my knee with a super deep elbow grip on my right leg. I also remember thinking ‘fuck, we’re going into it pretty hard’. She chased the back and I dove for her foot, not because I thought it was possible to sub but because I needed the path to my back to slow the hell down. I opened my hips and shoulder walked hard and she missed the back take, leaving me on bottom, 2 points down but regaining my guard.
Mercy upon mercy I was on the side I love to play half guard from. I wrapped her up, both legs I believe and koala hugged her into what is now one of my favourite moments ever during competition. And I swept her. This absolute legend of the sport. I frikken swept her. It was crazy. I’m so fkn proud of that.
So I ended up in her closed guard. Obviously a shit load of mistakes allowed that to happen. I knew she’d want me to stand so she could play DLR and though I knew this, I decided to do exactly this. I still don’t really know why. It was the worst of decisions.
But hindsight is a pearler for wisdom…
We fought. I thought she then bolo’d me to back take to choke but I’m told we were both in guard and I did a bunch of weird shit that makes no sense then came up to get my back taken, before being choked.
I’m sure my version is not correct and the real version is exactly that.
I got super distracted during the reset. Maybe that is where I lost my train of thought? Maybe I was just still losing my mind about actually nailing a sweep at a World class black belt level…I don’t know but the common truths are this…back taken, and choked.
What is amazing is the RUSH of joy I felt. I came backstage and was just so excited about the match. It taught me so much.
It taught me that these matches are winnable. These black belts are beatable. It IS possible. It requires better strategy and decision making but on a physical level it is entirely possible. They are not magical. They do not kill you. You do not die. You simply lose if you can’t win. And that for me was a life altering moment.
Losing that match meant I was put directly into the bracket for bronze as Tammi beating me put her into the final. This event runs an entirely new division for all the competitions that did not make it into the finals match. Because of my win in the first round I had a bye first round of the second bracket (someone pulled out) and would face the winner of Luiza Monteiro and Laurence Fouillat.
Laurence won the match on points.
We were to face each other the next day on the main stage.
That night I spent a good six hours replaying the match with Tammi in my mind. I realised a few things that night. Firstly, I chose the wrong strategy in the moment it meant the most and though my technique always needs improvement, making the wrong decisions at the wrong times can’t be overcome by even the best of technique.
My next goal is to work on fixing this and to try to understand why I made the decisions I made and forgot to utilises techniques that I not only know and do better, but why I got so tunnel visioned even though I was feeling super present and clear.
So in those hours and hours it came to me clear as a bell.
I also started to feel the beginnings of something I had never really allowed myself to feel before. I started to WANT the medal the next day. It was terrifying. Not the match but to really want the outcome to go my way. In so many ways I have worked really hard my entire life but for fear of disappointment, I have never, ever allowed myself to long for and really truly WANT to be that girl that wins. To be that person that gets what they want. Sure, I have had ample successes along the way with jiu jitsu and other pursuits but I have always worked hard, head down and been pleasantly surprised if the outcome is good, very rarely even publicising or showboating. It has always felt like ‘yes, thats probably really good but thats just what requires happening here. Thank god its over and I didn’t fail.’ For me it has never even entered my mind that I’m allowed to wish for a Rocky moment. So when this thought crept in, of coming home empty handed…..vs. the sheer joyous and insane fantasy of coming home and seeing the smile on my team mates faces, or my coaches face, or JT’s face…when I handed them my bronze medal, well, I was almost too scared to even humour the thought, as if saying it out loud would for sure make it disappear…thinking it even once may ruin it too….
It just seemed so wildly improbable to me to hit a podium at black belt. Ever. And that the next day I had an opportunity to…I truly couldn’t get my head around it. And as I did, the anxiety arose. For the first time really, which is a godsend compared to how I used to feel prior to competition.
So in those hours and hours it came to me clear as a bell. You have a 50% chance right now of taking home a tangible token of appreciation in the form of a medal to ALL of the people that have helped you get here and allowed you this opportunity. A 50% chance.
Now, you just have to make your odds better. And you do that by using solid strategy.
The words of my BJJ coach, Martin, from the Pro trials that won me my spot here (a mere 9 weeks ago but feeling like a lifetime). You don’t need to beat these girls, you just need to win the match’.
Everything I had learned from the days leading up to the trials to the match that I had most recently lost. Everything I had learned from my first competition until now. Every day I had worked on my fitness & headspace and health and weight. It all comes together now. Because if not now, then when?
It all comes together now. Because if not now, then when?
So come Saturday morning I was so happy. So happy to be there, so happy to be given this opportunity. Everything felt right. I was scared not to win, rather than being scared to lose…it was a very different feeling than I have been motivated by before.
For me, I knew I just would not allow her to be the winner. It was clear and I was ready.
I asked Aussie black belt legend Lachie Giles to corner me. He was a little under dressed in full Aussie style in double pluggers (thongs/flip flops/jandals). I gather he had to borrow a strangers shoes, no doubt some multiple time world champion and the things were super small…I’m so glad I influenced Lachie into mugging some unsuspecting bloke for his kicks so that he could come out into the arena with me. Priceless moments left right and centre that day.
They called my name and the guys explained to me I’ll be standing in a tunnel as they announce my name, the cameras will circle around me and then I have to follow the camera out into the arena.
The arena had been packed down to one mat and the entire place, cameras, TV crew, audience, sound crew etc etc would all be focused on only me and one other person, my opponent.
I am lucky enough that I have been in this circumstance before. I was a purple belt and at 62kg made my way to the finals of the 72kg division. At the time I was SUPER nervous. The cameras, the big stage, everything got in my head and I had a panic attack from the first grip until the last. It took me a full year before I could rewatch the match because the experience was traumatising.
For that experience, in this new moment, I was extremely grateful. Nothing would feel like that again. I wasn’t this time distracted by viewers at home, I didn’t care what they thought or about how I looked or how I should behave or if I looked nervous or if my jiu jitsu was shit or good enough or any detail outside myself. All I could think was ‘you have every right to be here. You’re exactly where you are meant to be. And it is my turn.’
I know. Its not the olympics and its not a gold medal but in that moment I was focused on winning something purely and completely for me. To prove so much to me. It could have been any event, big or small, gold medal or bronze, to simply show myself that MORE than I believed possible, is possible.
When they announced me as Jess Fraser from New Zealand I smiled and almost laughed. For me it was a sign of all the things that I truly am, coming together in this moment. A sign that Kirsty (Mather from NZ) was with me, clearly her sense of humour had made it all the way to the other side of the planet to support me.
That I was there, from Australia, representing New Zealand, entered under Phuket Top Team from Thailand, knowing I was representing Vanguard BJJ, Australian Girl in Gi, Bali MMA (and Olavo in Phuket), Top Team (who took me in and cared for me in Canada and in Coconut Creek)… I was legit the jiu jitsu gypsy that I was once accused of as if this was a bad thing. I knew SO many people who had helped me train and shared the mats with me ALL OVER THE WORLD were with me. And it felt so good.
So we went out. I was SO in the moment and present. She played guard. And my first thought was ‘holy shit, she is EXACTLY me.’ She felt strong, she felt super fit, she felt dangerous, she felt very experienced and very good. The wonderful thing for me is she felt like she was the perfect match up for me. It was like facing myself and seeing what would happen.
Nothing she did was super new school, no epic judo or lapel guards or anything that is overwhelming. Just straight up super well rounded BJJ. And I knew it.
It was going to be hard but I didn’t need to beat her or be better than her, I just needed to win the match.
Her guard was a nightmare. Loads of attack attempts and sweep attempts and I was stuck in her closed for ages, forced to play safe or she would end it right there. I got called for stalling and new that if I wore a penalty I couldn’t live with myself if I lost due to that penalty. I popped up immediately to beat the stalling clock which is risky in a dangerous guard. It wasn’t timed well, I just got up out of need. Luckily for me her timing was off and it meant I survived the risk.
I forced myself to top half guard for the advantage and was pretty certain I would be setting up a pass not to long after. She coiled, super strong and well and I was back in guard again like lightening.
But for the control point I hit I was up an advantage and more ready to make more risk.
We battled again, from the outside not much happening but so much happening within.
Again I smashed to top half guard. Another advantage and almost to time…
The ref called time. And I about lost my mind.
The ref called time. And I about lost my mind. There was a moment where I was checking for reassurance, terrified that this was all in my head and that it was about to be taken away from me. But I heard Erin cheering from the stands and I FUCKING KNEW.
The sound in my head was insane, the feeling insane. A roar of everything I’ve ever felt.
I now know elation. Its a real thing that fucking happened in a moment and I’ve never experienced it before.
The happiest moment of my life. Cryscreamlaughyellhappytears. No way! No WAY! Holy NOWAAAAY! WHAT JUST HAPPENED!!! WHHHAAATTTTJJUUUSSSTTTHAAPPENNED??!!!
The ref raised my hand and I cried. I think I was the only person in the bronze medal matches to be so ridiculously emotional. And you know what, it was worthy of it because it meant (and continues to mean) the world to me. It was my own personal Everest. And I was there in it. Living the best life my money can buy (its a line from the Bronx song I was listening to on repeat out the back and all during my lead up prep).
I came off the stage and Lachie was smiling and saying well done. And I thank him not only for his being there for me (the support makes a world of difference, knowing you’re not alone out there is huge). The look on his face was pretty clear, he was happy to see me so happy. It was a really generous moment and I loved seeing that in him. My happiness reflected.
Gustavo Falcirolli, though super professional at all times while working in Abu Dhabi as a referee ran across the room to give me a huge hug. We were all super emotional. He cursed me for making him cry over BJJ. Haha – got him!
I ran out the back and just started yell scream crying and Liv and I jumped up and down hugging and crying. It was ABSOLUTELY CRAZY.
All the epic black belt finals were on that day plus medals presentations for all of the completed divisions so you have this room FULL of the best black belts on the planet and here I am crying with joy and jumping around, clearly not the champion. haha. Yet all of the smiles back at me from these legends I now recognise as recognition of THAT feeling, that MOMENT, the feels where nothing could ever feel better. People are so happy for you in that moment & most all of those people have a strong first hand understanding of what winning something important to them feels like. No doubt thats the feeling that they are out the back waiting to chase once again.
It. Was. Worth. It. All.
All the missed meals, the hunger, the hard training, the fear, the discomfort, the pain, the sacrifices, the injuries, the grind. All worth it.
Not for the medal or whatever but for the feeling. It was all worth that feeling. Years of work. Countless hours. For a few moments that I can relive forever.
It hit me like a truck about 5 minutes later that my family would have been at home LOSING THEIR MINDS at the end of that match. I could picture my sister in Wollongong. My Mum. My brother. My cousins, uncle, Aunts….Kirsty Mather in New Zealand. The AGIG girls all over Australia. People legit bouncing out of their seats cheering that we did it. And thats the important thing, the we.
Knowing that, knowing how many people had just had that win right there along with me. I cried and cried and cried.
The emotion of it is still so clear to me, I feel it even now while typing. I well up often.
And I thank ALL of you for being there for me, for being there with me, for gifting me this moment and making it so special for me by you guys giving a shit about me and my happiness. You each made this the most amazing moment. Thank you. I can’t say it enough.
The medal ceremony was pretty awesome. I shared a podium with Bea Mesquita and Tammi Musumeci. I became the first Australian to ever stand on that podium as a black belt. Livia and I also being the first Australian females to medal at Abu Dhabi in the brown/black division. Lining up to get our medals together was pretty cool. Not something you get to share with a friend too often. Not too often you and your mates are part of a pretty elite list of women to finish on a black belt podium for anyone really. Very special indeed.
The moment made me reflect on the 5 short years ago that I surprised myself and became the first Aussie female to medal at the Abu Dhabi Pro. I was a blue belt and I won bronze in the Open weight (again representing New Zealand, lol).
Now I was sharing a podium with the best black belts in the World and being the first Aussie again to do so.
What I know this means is that those around me will be inspired and train harder than even I can imagine, to do better than me, to exceed my achievements (and many times over). I’ve seen them do it before and they will again. And this makes me super happy because what that means next is Aussies in the black belt finals. And what that means also is Aussie black belt World Champions.
I also know that I hit the Top Ten Ranked Black Belt Females in the World by placing in my division. Words cannot even express how huge this is. I am the first Australian to ever make the list and I am proud as hell to help lead the charge.
Very very happy if ANYONE please takes the bait and wants to beat me up that list!
Go get ’em Aussie!
The night and all the excitement afterwards was so much fun. The urge to be home IMMEDIATELY to be with all my nearest and dearest was overwhelming. I just wanted to race home, be there, share all of it.
My coach from Bali called that evening and he said something very important. “If you can make it to the podium, you can win it.’ And I believe that whole heartedly to be true.
Coming home and seeing everyone was just as wonderful as I had ever dreamed. More so.
My team was amazing. My coaches speech got me crying again. Seeing JT (My strength and conditioning coach) and handing him that medal just as I had imagined I would was just the absolute best. Seeing my nutritionist Dr.Hannah and drinking bazillion dollar champagne was so special and the rightest way to celebrate. The phone calls I received from everyone, the cards, the emails, the messages, the Facebook posts, the gifts, the flowers…
This has been the craziest ride and well beyond the limits of the Stations in my imagination. Well beyond. It has been so rewarding. I honestly never thought that bronze could mean so much to me. I honestly never thought black belt was even comprehendible let alone my league. I honestly never dared to dream so big ever. But holy shit, I will from now on.
My name is Jess Fraser. I’m 38 years old. I started jiu jitsu after I turned 30. I don’t train full time. I train jiu jitsu 4 times a week, often only 3. I have worked full time my entire jiu jitsu career. I had competed twice in almost 3 years at the start of this year due to injury and an assumption that I should probably retire…
And I just medalled as a black belt in a division packed with black belt Word Champions.
If any of you, days or years from now, are inspired by this to light that fire to believe in your own path to the top….please write to me and tell me that I helped play a part because to be in this, or part of this for someone else, well that would also be the greatest feeling to ever be found.
I am so excited for you & the Rocky moments yet to be experienced ahead. I wish us both many of them.
Family, friends, Australian Girls in Gi, team mates, training partners, teams. I thank you all. If I list names I fear failing to remember all and would rather not cause offence due to being a bit vague. Everyone involved knows exactly how much I appreciate them and their work. Thank you. Forever. xx
A thank you to all my sponsors and supporters below. A thank you to all my sponsors and supporters below.
If you want to book private lessons with me to discuss your goals, your direction and more. Please be in contact. Anything I am, anything I have, I want to share with you.
Shout outs to all my support crew:
JIU JITSU TRAINING:
Vanguard BJJ: Find them 400m from Richmond train station in Melbourne or head to:
STRENGTH TRAINING/FITNESS/BREATHING COACH/CONFIDENCE COACH:
James Tomlinson (JT) of Grapple Fitness for all things Strength, Fitness, Conditioning and confidence. Find him at: www.facebook.com/thetenacity/
Dr. Hannah for all things weight cutting, nutrition, health and sanity. Find her here: www.facebook.com/themodernamazon/
Braus Fight team for all my beautiful training gear:
Australian Girls in Gi for all my post training support and clothing (head to the AGIG store, buy the stuff and support my journey with every purchase). Find AGIG here:
Bali MMA, my team across the ocean, whom continue to call, message, video call, advise, support and coach me from afar. #BaliFamily, not just a hashtag.
Find them here: www.facebook.com/balimixedmartialarts/
And also to Mum. Always.