Fort George G. Meade, Maryland --
As a light feather-weight Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu competitor, Senior Airman Tori has competed in numerous tournaments around the United States, attacking her opponents with a barrage of arm bars and triangle chokes. And, believe it or not, the Airman bringing on this flurry of ferocious furor is less than five feet tall and barely 115 pounds.
In November 2016, Tori stepped up to the big stage, the International Brazilian Jiu-jitsu Federation New York Pro. Stacked up against 10 elite grapplers, Tori rolled hard and prevailed, submitting her opponents via the triangle choke. Along with her teammates, they clinched first place in their divisions.
When not competing, this linguist and resource advisor from the 94th Intelligence Squadron, inspires those around her.
The question is, what began this Airman’s journey, and what led her to possibly joining the top tier in the 2017 World Jiu Jitsu IBJJF Championship?
70 ISRW/PA: Can you tell me a little about your background, your hometown, and what drew you to Martial Arts?
Tori: “I grew up in Weatherford, Texas (just outside of Fort Worth). I had always wanted to do Martial Arts growing up, but because I was on the dance team in high school, dance took up most of my time, and I couldn't afford to do both. I always told myself that I'd get into it after high school.”
Why did you join the Air Force and what is your job?
“I joined the Air Force because I didn't want to jump into college right out of high school. I needed a break from school and didn't have anything else to do. I always wanted to learn a foreign language, and the Air Force pretty much guaranteed me a job as a linguist. I am a Cryptologic Language Analyst also working as a Resource Advisor for the 94th Intelligence Squadron right now.”
How do you feel about competing in Martial Arts?
“I try to attend most of the competitions that my teammates are also going to, money permitting. We get a group of people together and go out there and support each other during our fights. The camaraderie plays a big part. I've tried avoiding competition because I'm honestly not competitive by nature, but usually give in to the peer pressure of my coach and end up signing up anyways. He says in order to have a well-rounded game and advance your Jiu Jitsu, you need to incorporate all aspects into your training regime. That includes working on your Jiu-Jitsu in class, studying outside of class and testing yourself in tournaments. For me, that meant facing my fear and putting myself out there in the competition scene, which I desperately avoided at first. Generally, per my coach, one competition is comparable to three months of training.”
What got you into Jiu-Jitsu and how long have you been training and
“I actually joined my gym because I wanted to get into kickboxing. I had no idea what BJJ was. When I first walked into the gym and saw everyone rolling on the mats I was confused and I couldn't understand what they were trying to accomplish. I mostly stuck to Muy Thai my first year there and sprinkled in a few BJJ classes here and there, just to say I tried it. When I started seeing improvements and feeling more confident, that's when I fell in love with the sport. There is always something to work on and room for improvement, so I decided to switch over to BJJ full time. I had already gotten my Level One in Muy Thai. I started training in 2014, so I've been doing this for basically two and a half years now. I started competing as a white belt at the end of 2015 and got my blue belt this year.”
What is your biggest accomplishment in Jiu Jitsu?
“In my recent close-out at the International Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu Federation's New York Pro, I submitted both of my opponents via triangle. Competition is intimidating to me. It's always nerve-racking, and I would freeze up at my other competitions before, knowing that I wasn't performing at the level I could be. To know that now I can perform the same way I do in class at regional level is reassuring. I've always felt accomplished just signing up for a tournament. It's a big step and not a lot of people take it.”
What do you currently do in training that is key to your success?
“Honestly, just keeping accountability of what I'm learning and applying the techniques in class. It's overwhelming the amount of technique you can learn, and it's hard to retain it all. I force myself to work on the areas I need improvement in and not get too ahead of myself doing moves I don't need to work on. Focus is key. My coach… gives me personalized feedback, inspirational talks, and occasionally peer-pressures me into signing up for a competition I otherwise would never have, encouraging improvement. I wouldn't be where I am without the awesome coaching or my amazingly supportive teammates.”
What is your biggest challenge, and what do you do to manage it?
“My biggest challenge is the mentality. Jiu-Jitsu requires a lot more from you than just physical strength. There are a lot of times when I just don't feel like going into class or I'm exhausted or I want to give up because of the stress. The biggest roadblock is when I feel like I'm never going to get better at something. It's all temporary though. Sometimes you just got to push through when you don't want to. It's rewarding to look back and think "I'm glad I kept going!" Looking back at the progress I've made is what keeps me motivated. When I step on the mats, I feel like I'm at home away from home.”
How do your Air Force career and Jiu-Jitsu fit together?
“I work during the day and spend my nights at the gym right now, so it's pretty seamless. I'm happy with my schedule. I used to work the night shift, and it was harder to make class times, so I appreciate the time I have now. Everyone at work is really supportive of me, too.”
What was the best advice you have been given by someone?
“My coach is always telling me that I just need to believe in myself. It's really simple, but effective. I tend to build mental blocks and need to remind myself to let them go. You can always push through. As the saying goes ‘a black belt is a white belt that never quit.’”