Sophia McDermott
Photo courtesy Sophia Drysdale

Sophia Drysdale (nee McDermott) will be leaving sunny Las Vegas to return to her native Australia to host a Brazilian jiu-jitsu training camp for women February 15th and 16th. Sophia is considered a trailblazer by female grapplers down under so we had her answer a few questions prior to her departure.

The FightWorks Podcast: How has the Australian Girls in Gi experience changed since its first camp a few years ago?

Sophia Drysdale: The organization has grown rapidly over the past few years. Jess Fraser, the founder is extremely pro active about making sure AGIG reaches every female who trains jiu jitsu. It has grown from being a women’s internet forum to an organization that runs camps, work shops, women’s only tournaments and sponsorships to enable girls to be able to attend international training camps and competitions. It is an incredibly supportive group that makes any women in the sport feel like they belong regardless of rank or affiliation.

The FightWorks Podcast: What’s on the agenda at this year’s Australian Girls in Gi?

Sophia Drysdale: This year is their biggest year yet, starting off with the largest all women’s BJJ camp in the world. Throughout the year there are women only tournaments scheduled and sponsorships offers. Additionally just like last year, AGIG will be bringing across a crew to train at the Zenith camps in preparation for the largest tournaments such as the Pan Ams and Worlds etc.

The FightWorks Podcast: In 2010 you received your black belt from Robert Drysdale. Has your idea of jiu-jitsu changed since that promotion?

Sophia Drysdale: I have been training as consistently as possible since receiving my black belt even though I have given birth to two babies. It has been a very difficult journey trying to juggle motherhood and training. Not being able to train has made me realize how much I love it and how important it is for me. I make sure no matter what that there is time for me to get on the mat, no matter how exhausted of busy I am.

The FightWorks Podcast: From a teacher’s perspective, how does teaching jiu-jitsu to a room full of women differ from teaching a mixed gender class?

Sophia Drysdale: To be honest I feel a lot more empowered teaching to a women’s only audience since I can relate exactly to their issues that they may be experiencing on the mat. The issues that come up for women are very different from a man’s.. and understandably men often don’t have an answer. Additionally women don’t often have the courage to ask these questions with a male teacher especially in a male dominated environment. Having another woman to teach enables other women to become more confident as individuals and as athletes which is why I find it more empowering.

The FightWorks Podcast: From a student’s perspective, how does learning jiu-jitsu in a room full of women differ from learning in a mixed gender class?

Sophia Drysdale: I personally have not done much learning in women’s only classes since all my training is done mostly with men only because I started at a time when very few women were training. However, I have done a lot more teaching in women’s only classes and I can say that the students are happier and more relaxed and less tentative. I have observed that when they are rolling together they don’t hold back but often they hold back when they are rolling with men. The piece of advice I give to other women during training over and over is to be more aggressive and to lead the fight.

The FightWorks Podcast: Tell us about the female jiu-jitsu scene in Australia. What are the hotspots and are there any names we should be on the lookout for?

Sophia Drysdale: Jiu JItsu in general in Australia is growing and growing. I would suggest that it is the 3rd most popular country in the world with Brazil 1st and USA 2nd. Since the launch of AGIG the amount of women training in Australia is close to the number of men. Additionally nowhere else in the world, even in Brazil will you find so many women participating in the all women events such as tournaments and camps. This has really allowed some up and coming athletes to shine on an international level. Jess Fraser is blue belt World Champion, Livia Gluchowska is blue and purple belt World Champion, Fiona is purple belt Pan Am and No Gi Worlds Champion and Maryanne Mullahy is a brown belt no Gi World Champion in weight division and in the Absolute. These girls have a really promising future in BJJ.

The FightWorks Podcast: Will we see you in action at any IBJJF events like the Pans in March or the Worlds in June?

Sophia Drysdale: Yes I plan to compete in both! Now that my youngest baby just turned 1 things are a little easier for me. I am rusty on the competition circuit but I will do my best. :)

The FightWorks Podcast: Anything else we should know Sophia?

Sophia Drysdale: I am launching a website soon about fitness and health and training and pregnancy. Throughout my journey with the babies I have been asked so many questions about training and ways to keep in shape while pregnant etc… This website has diet advice and training videos and blogs. I am very excited to be able to give back and to share my knowledge and help motivate and inspire other women, athletes and mothers.

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Robert Drysdale
Robert Drysdale

In March Zenith Jiu-Jitsu head coaches Robert Drysdale and Rodrigo Cavaca will be preparing their young team for the International Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu Federation’s Pan Championship with a BJJ training camp in Las Vegas. ZJJ was formed in the fall of 2013. We wanted to learn more about the new team and its camp and received these answers from Drysdale.

The FightWorks Podcast: Tell us how Zenith Jiu-Jitsu came to be.

Robert Drysdale: Me and Cavaca first spoke a few years ago about the possibility of working together. We have a lot in common and a similar vision of BJJ. It just made sense. Coming from the same school (Brasa) and having the same teaching/training methodology and ethics. We both have a great relationship with our previous team members from Brasa and Checkmat but we decided it was time to pursue our own paths and strategies.

The FightWorks Podcast: Alliance Jiu-Jitsu has a base in Atlanta under Romero “Jacare” Cavalcanti and another in Sao Paulo, lead by Fabio Gurgel. Is this the same model Zenith Jiu-Jitsu is pursuing, with you in the United States and Cavaca in Brazil?

Robert Drysdale: Exactly. Cavaca holds the fort down there while I do the same here. We also have schools worldwide where we have blackbelts that do an amazing job representing ZJJ. I feel we have a great team and much will be accomplished in the upcoming years. We have a plethora of upcoming blue, purple and brown belts. That’s where our strength lies, in the future of BJJ.

The FightWorks Podcast: You’ve had years of experience in competition jiu-jitsu. Knowing what you know now and looking back at other BJJ camps you’ve participated in, what should the ultimate training camp for a big jiu-jitsu event would look like?

Robert Drysdale: I think it has been a refining process. A very thorough selection if you will. Not only has JJ itself been refined and evolved but the training methodologies have improved along with the techniques. An ideal camp goes year around in my opinion. I personally dislike the idea of getting ready for a tournament. It leads people to believe that they only have to train hard before a big competition. I prefer a mind set where hard training goes year around. The eve of a big competition is only for getting in peak shape, verging on over-training and sharpening what you have been developing the entire time.

The FightWorks Podcast: If memory serves, the last time you competed in the IBJJF’s events was in 2007. That ended in a silver medal in the Super Heavy division and Roger Gracie took the gold. Do you plan on competing any more in events like this?

Robert Drysdale: I do. I love JJ for what it is. The strategical battle, the complexities of the techniques the endless possibilities and combinations. JJ is infinite times infinite. I could never move away from it. However at the moment I have different goals set for myself. But I am still 32 years old. Plenty of time to win medals.

The FightWorks Podcast: Competition jiu-jitsu changes rapidly. What differences have you observed over the past several years?

Robert Drysdale: The same differences people in the mid 90’s observed or in the early 2000’s. JJ is constantly changing. To say that it is different now should go without saying. It’s always going to be a changing game. That’s the beauty of it. Some people fall into the fallacy of “new” or “modern” JJ or that “now” it’s different. These are only temporary labels until the next trend comes along and everyone realizes what was obvious from the beginning: It’s only JJ.

The FightWorks Podcast: Do you have any estimates of how many competitors Zenith might have at the Pans, and who some of the big names will be that we can expect? Any secret weapons who will surprise us?

Robert Drysdale: We definitely have some big surprises for the BJJ community this year. Those are a secret for now. As for the number of competitors, it’s hard to say. I can only say this though: We plan on competing against the big dogs this year.

The FightWorks Podcast: What have you been up to off the mats over the last couple of years?

Robert Drysdale: Training more than ever. Refining my JJ while learning other skills. These years training and fighting MMA made me understand JJ better. A complete different perspective of the art.

The FightWorks Podcast: Thanks for your time Robert. Best of luck to Zenith.

Robert Drysdale: Thank you. All the best.

Robert Drysdale on the podium at ADCC with Marcelo Garcia and Andre Galvao
Robert Drysdale on the podium at ADCC in New Jersey in 2007 after winning the absolute division.


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