Persistence and Passion: BJJ Coach Val Worthington

Coach Valerie Worthington opens up about about making the scary leap to follow her BJJ dreams, coaching others, and the beauty of emotion.

Editor’s Note: We know listening to podcasts isn’t everybody’s thing, but we don’t want you to miss out on any of the amazing conversations we’ve had with coaches and athletes over the last couple years. So, we’ve been transcribing all our podcasts for your reading pleasure.

First up is our very first episode, where Chet Morjaria and I chatted with BJJ black belt Val Worthington. You can listen to the podcast here, read the text below, or even do both if you’re into the karaoke-style thing.

Becca: Hello, everyone and welcome to the inaugural episode of Breaking Muscle Radio. I am your host, Becca Borawski Jenkins and our co-host is here with us as well. Say hello and introduce yourself, Chet.

Chet: Hey, it’s Chet Morjaria here.

Becca: Alright, so for our very first episode we thought it would make sense to talk with one of our very first writers, Valerie Worthington. So, for those of you who don’t know Valerie, here’s the deal: Val is the only BJJ black belt I know who also has a PhD. So, needless to say, a black belt and a degree in educational psychology make for a unique perspective. If you’ve read any of Val’s articles on our site, of which there are quite a number, then you’ve seen how she applies her learning theory to BJJ, life, self-realization, and things like pork roll and karaoke. So, without further delay, let’s say hello to Valerie.

BJJ black belt Valerie Worthington

Valerie: Well, hello. Thanks for having me.

Chet: Hey Val.

Becca: It’s very good to have you here today, Val.

Valerie: It’s great to be here. Thanks again so much for the invitation.

Becca: So, let’s just start kind of with the central theme to everything you’ve got going on in your life which is Brazilian jiu jitsu. So, can you tell us when you first got into jiu jitsu and why it was the thing that stuck for you versus other sports you’ve done.

Valerie: I can certainly give it a try. The second question is the one that I will probably spend the rest of my life answering. I got involved in Brazilian jiu jitsu in the late 80’s when I was in graduate school. I had become fairly sedentary because I wasn’t very good at being in graduate school, so I let it take up most of my time and once I got a handle on that, I realized that it was important for me to strike a balance between a life of the mind and being a little bit more physical. I’d always done sports and things in high school and college and so I started out with running and I ran a couple of marathons. I liked having something to work toward. I liked having a goal to work toward but I tired of running pretty quickly and then I decided that a martial art would probably keep my interest for a longer time because there was more to learn.

 “Jiu jitsu was almost subversive in that it showed me how happy it was possible for me to be and then it also highlighted how unhappy I was in other aspects of my life.” 

People spend their lives trying to understand and pursue a martial art so I went with muay Thai and liked kicking and punching things but the really bad joke that I make is that I didn’t really like so much getting kicked and punched. (Becca and Chet laughing) Yeah. So, the place that I did muay Thai also had Brazilian jiu jitsu and those of you in the know will know that some of the drills and the warm-up exercises can look pretty crazy and so when I saw the crazy things those people were doing I thought, “I have to give that a try.” So, I did Brazilian jiu jitsu and quickly left muay Thai in the dust and I think the reason or one of the main reasons that jiu jitsu has been such a persistent part of my life is because there is always something new to learn. And another reason is that it’s unlike anything I’ve ever tried before. So, there’s always more I need to ask of myself and the context is completely different from anything that I’ve ever experienced prior to that. Although now, of course, jiu jitsu academy is pretty familiar to me. So, I think it’s just endlessly fascinating both in terms what you can learn technically but also in terms of what, if you’re willing, you can learn about yourself.

Becca: Yeah, I think it’s interesting that you found jiu jitsu because you were looking for a balance between the life of the mind and the physical body and yet that’s also a struggle within jiu jitsu itself too, no?

Valerie: This is true and as soon as I said that I realized that jiu jitsu for me, and for a lot of people, is very brain taxing as well. It can hurt your brain as much as it can make your body sore. And, again, I think for me, at least at first it was because I had never asked my body to do any of the things I was asking it to do for jiu jitsu and then, subsequent to that, as my lifestyle started to change, I realized I was making more and more choices that would allow me to train and those choices were more and more off of what I would consider to be my beaten path or the path that I would have expected for myself and that causes all kinds of identity crises and questions about what I really believe and who I am and all those wonderful things. So, I would agree with you a hundred percent that there’s a big psychological/emotional component to jiu jitsu for me. I suspect for other people as well but I certainly can’t speak for anyone but myself.

val worthington, bjj

Becca: Let’s talk about that a little bit because now in your finding a balance both within and without jiu jitsu you went through a whole career change. When you first got into jiu jitsu, you came from a much more kind of corporate situation and I know you blog and talk about getting off the grid and going on your walkabout. Can you explain for people who don’t know about that, what that period was for you?

Valerie: Sure. In 2006, I was living in Chicago and I think I was on my second job out of graduate school and as you say it was a more corporate environment. A nine to five gig, clothes and all that stuff and I was really unhappy and I think I had a moment where I looked around at all I’d acquired and all the trappings of the life that I thought I was supposed to want. But I got those things and looked around and realized that they weren’t the things that I wanted. So, what jiu jitsu did for me, or to me, however you want to think about it (Becca and Chet laughing), is I would go to a job that was sort of gray and then I’d come out of the job and I’d go to jiu jitsu and then all of a sudden my life would be in Technicolor for about two to three hours while I was training. And then I’d come out of jiu jitsu and then my life would go back to gray. So, jiu jitsu was almost subversive in that it showed me how happy it was possible for me to be and then it also highlighted how unhappy I was in other aspects of my life. So, eventually it got to be, I would say, unbearable and I did the drastic thing. For me what was a very drastic thing: I quit my job and sold the condo I’d been living in in Chicago and used the money from the sale of my home to buy a car and to put my things in storage and then I drove around the country on a jiu jitsu tour. So, I started in Chicago and went west and probably visited maybe fifty different academies and had amazing experiences and met wonderful people and tried to figure out who I was. And I’m still working on that part.

Becca (laughing): Aren’t we all? Yeah!

Valerie: Yeah, I think so. I think we’re all in it together. But what that really did again for me and to me was to give me the opportunity to think about what was important to me and how I wanted to live my life according to the things that I valued. The things that I value didn’t turn out to be that much different from the things that I thought I valued it’s just that I come at them from a different orientation now and I have a lot more self awareness about the choices that I make. So, if I make a choice, and it turns out not to be such good choice then I don’t have nearly as much fear about changing my mind or making still another choice to modify that first choice. And it was because I loved jiu jitsu so much, and didn’t really love much else in my life, that I was almost forced to go toward the Technicolor and that’s what, again, jiu jitsu did to and for me.

“I would go to a job that was sort of gray and then I’d come out of the job and I’d go to jiu jitsu and then all of a sudden my life would be in Technicolor for about two to three hours.”

Becca: Yeah. No, that makes sense that that’s where you feel most alive and that’s what you’re going to seek out. Now, I know there’s probably a lot of people who hear what you’re saying about the gray versus the Technicolor and they’re like, “Wow, my life is really gray but I can’t do what she did. I can’t sell everything and take off. I’ve got family. I’ve got whatever.” What are your thoughts on how those people can find some of these answers in a way that’s not as drastic?

Valerie: I think that’s a fantastic question and the first thing is to be willing at least to put yourself outside of your comfort zone, in my opinion. I certainly don’t recommend that everybody do what I did. I also don’t know that everybody who might be listening or has thought this way is quite as unhappy as I was. So, I have a couple thoughts about this. So, the first thought is, doing what I did was the absolute most terrifying thing I’ve ever done. But, it was made up of a bunch of really really small seeming terrifying things. So, you don’t need to make a huge branch sweeping gesture, you can just make a gesture. And if it’s something that punches your stomach and you think to yourself, “Oh, I really don’t want to do this,” then that’s probably the thing you need to do. For instance, if you have a full time job and you have a family, and you have a lot of obligations, but, man, but you really really want to write, and the thought of even calling yourself a writer is absolutely terrifying to you, let alone going to a meet-up or going to a group where you know there are writers. If those are the things that terrify you, then those are the things you need to do because those are the things that give you the signal that you’re pushing yourself. And, if it were easy to do all the things that we want to in our lives then everyone would be super happy but there is really something to be said for the status quo because its familiar. That’s certainly how it was for me.

“[BJJ] showed me how happy it was possible for me to be and then it also highlighted how unhappy I was in other aspects of my life.”

So, I would say, go toward the discomfort as uncomfortable as it is, it’s good for you. The other thing is I have… and I think I’ve written about this book… I’m a big fan of a book that’s called Finding Your Own North Star: Claiming the Life You Were Meant to Live and it’s written by a life-coach named Martha Beck. And I’m a total Martha Beck fan-girl, at least in terms of this book because what I like about it is that, first of all, is that it is very funny. It’s very accessible and you get the sense from her, again, that we’re kind of all in it together. So, when she says, “You need to do X, Y, and Z,” it’s because she’s made herself do X, Y, and Z fifty times and the other thing that I really like about this book is that she gives the reader actual action items. I’m all about action items. So, “Yeah, I want to change my life. I want to be happier.” What are the five things I can do this week to make myself happier? And those are the types of things that she helps break down. So, those are the two things I would say: make yourself uncomfortable and look up Martha Beck.

Becca: Chet, I’m just going to go ahead and let you start. I think you have some really good insights because you mostly know Val her through her articles, and therefore you have some really good questions.

Chet: Yeah, Becca. Thanks. I am coming through a completely different perspective and I’ve been reading up and I’ve noticed a couple of things in your writing, actually. You talk about the opportunity that BJJ gives you to learn about yourself and learn about the technical aspect. And something else you’ve written about is learning from your mistakes. And so something else, another theme that I spotted in your writing is starting off in BJJ as well. So to kind of pair those two together then, I wanted to ask you what aspect of BJJ you feel is important for a newbie to get off on the right foot with and which aspects of the sport is it ok to learn from your mistakes from.

Valerie: Oh, good question. I think I’m going to come at it from a slightly different angle. And so here’s how I’ll answer that and you can tell me if you like this answer and if not and then I’ll say something else. (laughing) One of the things that was really striking to me when I started jiu jitsu, and keep in mind I was probably, well, I was going to say I was late in the game, but I think it just it depends on who you ask. I was in my late twenties when I started jiu jitsu. So, I was not used to not being particularly good at something. It wasn’t because I had avoided trying new things, it’s because I lived enough life to demonstrate to myself, and to others, that according to certain criteria I was pretty capable. Then jiu jitsu came along and all the things that I was good at or I had demonstrated some facility with, some ability with, had nothing to do with jiu jitsu. Nothing. Nobody cares if you’re a doctor. Nobody cares if you are in Mensa. What matters when you do jiu jitsu is how good you are at jiu jitsu. So, what I would recommend to people who are thinking that they might want to start jiu jitsu is not only to be open to being bad at things but to embrace it. Because there’s something actually really freeing, particularly when you have responsibilities in your life, about being really bad at something and having nobody expect anything other than that from you.

“So, I would say, go toward the discomfort as uncomfortable as it is, it’s good for you.” 

Chet: Yeah.

Valerie: And of course, in my case, it was an ego thing and I’m sure that if you’ve read some of my stuff you will see that I quote some old stuff: “Leave your ego at the door.” But, in order to get better at life, we need to be willing to set our egos aside and learn and this is actually a beautiful opportunity to do that, precisely because not much is expected of us when we’re starting out. So, it could require a shift in attitude and I think I’ve written an article about this. About how we really do, in some ways, become a different person if we’re successful in other areas and then we step on the mat with a white belt around our waist. So, embrace being that other person, that person who has had kind of the world ahead of them, all kinds of things to learn. If we show the right attitude people are willing to help us along the way and so I think I’ve sort of completed your question because if we’re going to do anything, we are going to have to be okay with not being good at things and with learning from mistakes. I think the key is having as positive of an attitude about that as we possibly can. And that, I think, is the challenge. Do you like that response?

Chet: Cool. I like that response. Thank you. I think I know what you’re going to answer to this next question but I’ll ask it anyway because you spoke about action points before and it’s probably not a good example but if you could give one piece of advice then to a new student, like me, what would it be?

Valerie: A new student to Brazilian jiu jitsu, I’m assuming.

Chet: A new student to BJJ, yeah.

Valerie: Okay. Again, or kind of similarly, I would suggest at large that you open yourself up to the process. That you just be open to everything that you’re learning. Now, that being said, if that’s going to be an okay thing, then it’s important for you to have done some research ahead of time to make sure there’s a good fit between you and your needs and the personality and the expectations of the academy that you decide to join. So, assuming that you’ve done some due diligence – that you’ve asked around and you’ve conducted your research – and you’ve found a place that you feel comfortable is going to feed your safety and your well-being first and foremost, then you can open yourself up to the process and have as good of an attitude as you possibly can and laugh off as many of the mistakes as you possibly can. And just pay attention and be observant and go regularly and take notes. And I know that I’m giving more than one action item but they’re all kind of under this one umbrella.

val worthington, bjj

“if we’re going to do anything, we are going to have to be okay with not being good at things.”

Chet: The beginner mentality.

Valerie: Yes, exactly. Enter it with a spirit of excitement and of exploration as opposed to a spirit of fear and anxiety about what everybody else is going to think of you. Because, truth be told, for a long time, what people think of you is probably not much. Not in terms of “I don’t think much of that person” but in terms of “I don’t think often about that person” because they’re going to be doing their own thing. So, do your own thing and enjoy doing it.

Chet: Cool. I love that. It’s really interesting to me there that you were talking about open and laughing and crying and just embracing the emotion as well because personally that’s something that I find really captivating in your writing and the fact that it comes from such a personal and emotive place. And it makes me think, because I’m a lifter, myself, I find that a calm approach is better than an emotive and aggressive mindset and it’s best to approach with a calm and considered approach. I guess the difference between me and you or my thought and your thought is that my opponent never changes. It’s always a lump of metal. So, I’m interested to know a little bit more about how you feel the emotions play into competitive BJJ as you advance from that beginner mentality. When would you say it’s okay to show emotion and when would you say it’s good to hide it away?

Valerie: Yeah. So, feeling emotion and showing emotion are two different things and add to that the third thing of being aware of the emotion that you’re feeling and what the drivers are for it. Those are really complex. Being self aware enough to know that “I’m frustrated because I can’t get this technique to work” as opposed to “I’m frustrated because I had a crappy day at work and I brought that out onto the mat” as opposed to “I’m frustrated because I haven’t had much sleep” etcetera, etcetera. Keeping those kinds of things out, in my experience it’s important to know where you’re coming from and what your needs are and whether and to what extent you’re getting them met. So, when I say that it’s important to be able to feel your emotions, I don’t necessarily mean that it’s important to express them all over the place, willy-nilly. And my preference, if at all possible, is to keep things light or to make sure that I’m focused depending on the tone of a given class. But the tears and the anger, and believe me, there’s plenty of both, in my past and probably in my future. Those things I’m going to try to either leave off the mat or I’m going to try to compartmentalize and table them or I’m going to try to channel them into what it is I’m trying to accomplish. So, I know that different people have different procedures or rituals that they do to psych themselves up for competition or prepare for competition or to even step on the mat. For me, it was many many times it was all I could do to get myself on the mat because I was so intimidated.

“[I]n my experience it’s important to know where you’re coming from and what your needs are and whether and to what extent you’re getting them met.”

What I guess I’m trying to say is that I’m making a distinction between feeling your emotions and expressing your emotions. I’m guessing that people who do what you do, Chet, is feel emotions related to their practice but maybe it’s about knowing the drivers. Knowing that there’s kind of a time and a place for all of them and learning more about when that is and where that is and how you can focus that so you can make sure you’re performing to the best of your ability in the moment.

Becca: Yeah, I think we’ve all had that day that, no matter what the sport, you wind up in the locker room or the bathroom crying by yourself, right? (laughing)

Valerie: Uh, yes.

Becca: I’m curious because I know, we’ll talk about it more in a little bit, about women being in jiu jitsu because I know, when you started, there were probably very few women involved. So, do you see a difference in the level of emotion either expressed or allowed in co-ed classes versus women’s classes?

Valerie: Oh, that’s a good question. I hadn’t really thought about that. I think that what can happen more nowadays, is because there are more women, but since there are more women that there’s more maybe a support network. Also, there may be more modeling of behavior. So, two things. First of all, I think that everybody is different and I’ve seen probably as many emotional outbursts from men on the mat as I have from women and the ones from men tend to be anger as opposed to tears. Although I’ve seen some tears from men, too. And, the other thing is that everyone is different.

Becca: When you have a student get emotional when you’re teaching, how do you handle that?

Valerie: In different ways. The first thing that I realize that I have to do is put aside my own defensiveness or my own “WTH is going on here” and really really try to be in sync with the person who is expressing the emotion at the time. I wrote an article about one student I had who really had a public and large meltdown on the mat and what I did in that case was just pull them aside. And when I see different people, sometimes I think as a coach you can sense the energy, kind of like animals know when an earthquake is coming, you can sense either from the look on someone’s face or from the way they’re talking or from the way they’re acting that it’s time to pull them aside and have a conversation. And on more than one occasion I’ve done that and we sort have made it safely to the bathroom or to the side of the mat before the rumbling starts. So, that’s the thing that I’m going to try to do is first of all be understanding that this person needs or wants from me or someone right now so I might be able to provide it. Second of all, I’m going to try to get them to a place where they feel safe expressing what they need to express. Then, third of all, we will try to address what the issue is. We will try to identify it first because sometimes the outburst doesn’t really have anything to do with what the underlying issue is but eventually we’ll get to it and then I’ll give the person the opportunity to kind of take a couple deep breaths then go back to class. I think that any activity that you’re pushing yourself physically and asking a lot of yourself, a little bit more of yourself than you did the day before – you’re going to be tapping into your physical reserves, you’re going to be exhausting yourself – and that means your resistance is going to be down when it comes to dealing with these big waves of emotion. I’m not afraid of big waves of emotion and I think it’s important to show a student that it’s okay to have them but that we need to make sure that we handle them in the right way.

“It’s important to show a student that it’s okay to have [emotions].”

Becca: So, one of the things like what you’re saying, there’s a physical evolution and a whole learning curve that happens when you’re an athlete in any discipline. That’s a part of where the frustration comes from is all the ups and downs of the learning curve involved, Do you think that your background and your understanding of learning theory and the science behind it helps you as an athlete and as a coach?

Valerie: I think a couple things do. I am the child of two retired psychologists. So, when I was growing up, there were a lot of clients coming to my house so I learned to speak in a soothing tone and get coffee for people while they were either my mother or my father for their appointments. And so, as a result, I’m not afraid of … well, I am afraid of it but do it anyway… looking at my own psyche and kind of poking around in there. I’m not afraid of what I see when other people are poking around inside theirs. So, that has been incredibly helpful. I think it has made me more empathetic and has made me a better listener. With the learning theory, absolutely. When I started jiu jitsu I saw so many applications of what I had learned in graduate school and was able to write about them and was able to take ideas and play with them and write them out and see how they sound to me. There is just so much learning that goes on in any athletic endeavor if we allow that to happen and, like we were talking about, it happens on so many different levels. So, I would say that my background helps me, but I also know plenty of wonderful, empathetic, intuitive, insightful coaches who don’t have the same kinds of life experiences that I do, necessarily, but still do amazing work with their athletes and illicit amazing performances and a lot of hard work both in terms of the chosen athletic endeavor and also in terms of trying to grow as a person.

Chet: Which topic has been from this sport psychology perspective and this background that you have, have you found significant and maybe even unexpectedly has impacted your BJJ and your coaching?

Valerie: One of the big ones – and this, I’d say has come more from conversations I’ve had with my parents – is the issue of interpersonal boundaries. A coach can mean so many different things to so many different people and sometimes we can get ourselves into difficult situations if we don’t establish appropriate boundaries. Sometimes those boundaries shift. Even with a relationship I have with one person, it could shift in some way. But, it’s important to – as a coach, I believe – to have a sense of what I think is an appropriate interaction where my coaching begins and ends and whether there is room for other types of relationships with that person in a way that is going to be safe and ethical for both people. That was one that was really a surprise to me. To realize how important it is to have a good sense of what your own boundaries are and to realize that enforcing them is not mean. It is healthy and it is an important thing to model for people who might want to follow in your footsteps or do something similar where they’re trying to help other people come along.

“A coach can mean so many different things to so many different people and sometimes we can get ourselves into difficult situations if we don’t establish appropriate boundaries.”

Becca: So, personal boundaries is an interesting aspect to jiu jitsu given that it’s a really physically close thing. It’s emotionally close. There isn’t a lot of space between people on a lot of levels in jiu jitsu. Which makes the whole issue of gender relations complicated and interesting and enlightening all at the same time. So, one of the things you’ve written a lot about over the years is being female, training with guys, and how all this relates to jiu jitsu and I know over the past couple years, there have been some unfortunate incidents that have evolved the conversation. Can you tell me how you think things have evolved in the last year or so and if things are looking more positive – if the communication has helped things?

Valerie: That’s a tough one for me to answer in terms of the entire community. One of the things that I can say is that the articles that I’ve written about those kinds of incidents, the articles that I’ve written about my personal beliefs that – I mean it sounds so trite but if we want to see change happen in the world, what would be the change you want to see in the world? It’s so hard to do those things and police ourselves and be diligent about our own behavior but what I have seen is at least a willingness on the part of the people who read my articles to consider what that means – to consider what it means for them to be part of the solution rather than the part of the problem. It’s incredibly painful and difficult to acknowledge things like – I wrote an article once where I sort of came out as a closet sexist, sometimes. There are times when I do things on the mat and in general that are probably sexist. And I don’t like that about myself but if I don’t shine a light on it then it won’t go away. So, I’ve heard enough from people who’ve read stories like the ones that focus on those kinds of really tough issues to know that people are thinking about these things not necessarily only because of what I’ve written but because the people who are interested in exploring those kinds of issues really do want to be part of the solution.

Chet: Thanks. Let’s keep with this sort of wider picture and talk about grappling contests. The company that you run and the parent company of Women’s Grappling Camp. So, I guess along with the landscape of jiu jitsu and gender, which has kind of changed over time and evolved over time as well, the idea of the camps and the company itself has perhaps evolved over time. Can you tell us a little bit about what the original concept and intention you had in mind was?

Valerie: Sure. The original concept was the brainchild of Alaina Hardie, who is a brown belt under Felicia Oh and Mark Stables. So, she had come to Felicia and said, “You should do a camp for women.” So, this is back in 2008, I think. Felicia said, “Nobody will come.” Elena set it aside and then she came back and said, “You should do a camp for women.” And Felicia set it aside and said, “Nobody will come.” And, I should mention, Felicia is a black belt under Jean Jacques Machado and had a very storied competition career. So, eventually, Felicia said, “Okay, okay, okay. We’ll do this.” She pulled me in and she pulled in Emily Kwok, who is the first female Canadian black belt. So, the three of us ran our first camp in 2009 and we thought, “We’ll get like ten people.” We had to cap it at thirty. Then we did a couple more camps and the same thing happened. We realized that there really was a desire for women to have the opportunity to train with each other. Precisely because, particularly back then, most of the women who were training were the only woman at their academy. My thoughts about women’s grappling camp and what has subsequently become Groundswell Grappling Concepts, which is now me, Emily Kwok, Hannette Staack, and Lola Newsom because Alaina and Felicia had to step aside for various reasons. My belief about it was that it was never something that was supposed to be exclusionary. Not kind of a she-woman, man-haters club. It was a place for women to train with each other but then increasingly to, here it comes the word, but to feel empowered to make a positive difference in their academies and in their little part of the jiu jitsu world of male and female.

val worthington, bjj, bjj training

Valerie, Emily Kwok, and Hannette Staack

So, over time we realized that we have a message and we think it’s an important one. It wasn’t a message that was only for women but that men could benefit from it, too. As we did more camps, we heard more rumblings from more men saying, “Well, when’s there going to be a men’s camp or a co-ed camp?” We actually did our first co-ed camp earlier this year, in May, and it was mind-blowing. It was amazing to have the opportunity to sometimes talk about gender issues. To sometimes talk about issues everybody faces in jiu jitsu. But really, we hoped, make, give an opportunity for people to talk about the things they think about related to jiu jitsu when they’re off the mat and not focus on the things they do in jiu jitsu when they’re on the mat. So, what we are realizing is that the message is a good one for everyone – we think, at least and that there’s an attraction there and some interest there. We want to continue to meet what we perceive the need to be the need for this kind of information so we’re working on more offerings, more classes and certifications and resources and as we progress we want to, if we can, reach a wider and wider audience. We hope to do good in the jiu jitsu world and the world in general.

Becca: That’s awesome. So, pretty much throughout all the phases of your jiu jitsu life so far it’s been about that empowerment, about connecting the emotional, the intellectual, and the physical all in one place. It just happens to be in jiu jitsu for this group of people.

Valerie: I think that’s a great way of thinking about it. A passion, regardless of what it is, if properly channeled, a passion can do amazing things for people’s lives and it doesn’t have to be jiu jitsu. It can be weightlifting. It can be writing. It can be boating.

Insert name of endeavor here. And there’s a desire to learn more about how to do it well. There’s a desire to learn more about the culture that surrounds it. And there’s a desire to learn more about how to be a positive influence in that world among people who take it seriously and have decided to devote more than just kind of a small amount of time to pursuing it. So, I agree with you 100%. It think, and this was sort of another thing that was notable about when I first started writing for Breaking Muscle was that some of the people that I heard from the most about stories that I wrote were people who don’t train and have no interest in jiu jitsu, who don’t care who just won this or who just got promoted to that. They care about what I had to say because what I had to say resonated with them as people.

“A passion, regardless of what it is, if properly channeled, a passion can do amazing things for people’s lives and it doesn’t have to be jiu jitsu.” 

Becca: So, to wrap things up, Val, I’m guessing you are familiar with James Lipton Inside the Actor’s Studio. You know he always ends with his ten questions, right? So I thought it would be kind of fun to ask you, I don’t think I have ten – but kind of some shorter questions related to jiu jitsu. So, answer these as quickly or as long as you want. What is your favorite BJJ move?

Valerie: The head and arm triangle.

Becca: What is your least favorite move?

Valerie: Well, being under someone’s side control. That’s not really a move but I really don’t like it down there.

Becca: What do you love the most about jiu jitsu?

Valerie: There’s something new to learn to every day or there’s something old to learn in a different way every day, if I allow myself to.

Becca: What do you hate the most about jiu jitsu?

Valerie: That it doesn’t love me as nearly as much as I love it.

Becca: What’s your least favorite thing about strength and conditioning?

Valerie: The anticipation. This doesn’t happen nearly as much any more but I remember knowing in the morning I would know I would be getting ready to do a squat series and not being able to sleep.

Becca: What’s your favorite thing about strength and conditioning?

Valerie: My favorite thing about strength and conditioning?

Becca: Yeah.

Valerie: That moment, just after a lift or after a set when you weren’t sure you were going to be able to do it. But you did it and then you get to sit down for a second and just have done it.

Becca: What’s your favorite cheat meal or food?

Valerie: Yes. (Becca and Chet laughing)

Becca: I’m stealing this one directly from James Lipton: what profession, other than your current one, would you most like?

Valerie: Oh man. Let’s see. I think I would like to be a writer, which I’m working on. But if I couldn’t be a writer then I would want to learn how to fix cars.

Becca: Oh, that’s awesome.

Valerie: I would highly recommend that nobody come to me for service. (Becca and Chet laughing)

Becca: You might be working on that one for a while.

Valerie: I know.

Becca: And last one: What’s one piece of advice you would give anyone, BJJ anyone. What’s one piece of advice you would hand out?

Valerie: There’s so many people who are so much smarter than I am about these kinds of things so I’m just going to steal. Ok, so I’ll put it this way – this isn’t a short way of putting it – but Warren Zevon – who you may have heard of, he was a musician and he wrote Werewolves of London and Lawyers, Guns and Money – he died in recent years of cancer and was given a diagnosis and was told he had about a year to live. He got together a bunch of his favorite artists and did all kinds of duets and songs and put together an album that is called Enjoy Every Sandwich. And the rationale for this was: you don’t know when your number is up. Not to be maudlin. You don’t know what’s coming down the pike and it could be a really really delicious sandwich. And, even if it’s not a delicious sandwich, enjoy it because it’s where you are right now and with what you’ve got right now. So, enjoy every sandwich.

Becca: Right. So, it’s the sandwich you’ve got today. That’s what you’ve got.

Valerie: Exactly. Exactly.

 “I think I would like to be a writer, which I’m working on. But if I couldn’t be a writer then I would want to learn how to fix cars.”

Becca: Nice. Well, thank you very much for being with us today, Val. I really appreciate you taking the time and being our guinea pig for our inaugural show and talking about all this with us.

Valerie: Oh, you’re welcome. And, again, thank you so much. I’ve gotten so much out having the opportunity to write for Breaking Muscle and of being plugged into this community with a group of like-minded people who are trying to be just a little bit better every day. So, thank you.

Chet: From me as well, Val. Thank you very much and for I’m sure, speaking about your camp, and giving me an insight how you can get started with the sport. There are going to be a whole bunch of people who are going to want to keep up with how you’re doing and learn some more. So, are there any more websites or projects you’d like to mention in terms of what you’re up to or what you’re about to be up to?

Valerie: We usually do three women’s camps per year. And one is in the summer and it’s coming up in Princeton New Jersey at Princeton BJJ in July and then we usually do a camp in November and then we usually do a camp in February and we are also planning on other co-ed events coming up and we’re planning to put together other resources that will be available. If people have questions, then they can contact us at and they can contact me at at my Breaking Muscle address. Yeah. So those are the two main things and we’re plugging away and trying to keep it going.

Becca: I have a feeling you will.

Valerie: Well, thank you.

Becca: Quite a group of ladies you’ve got going on there so I’m excited. Yeah. So that is it for today. So thank you, once again Val, for being here. Thank you, Chet, for being here with me also. And for all of you out there listening, thank you from Breaking Muscle Radio for joining us on our inaugural episode and we hope to have you back for many more to come.

Check out these related articles:

Photos 1 and 6 courtesy of Groundswell Grappling.

Photos 2 and 3 courtesy of Valerie Worthington.

Photo 4 courtesy of Charles Smith.

Photo 5 courtesy of Breaking Muscle.

Leave a Comment