#132 Penny Thomas

by Caleb on August 31, 2008

jiu jitsu penny thomas
Penny Thomas (far left) holding her first place trophy at the 2007 ADCCs in New Jersey.

Penny Thomas left her native South Africa behind to pursue better training in Brazilian jiu-jitsu years ago and after much hard work has captured some of the most coveted titles in jiu-jitsu and grappling, including gold medals at the 2007 Abu Dhabi Combat Club, BJJ Mundials, and Pan-Ams.

In this episode of The FightWorks Podcast we sit down and learn her story, from an emergency spinal surgery at the age of 12 up to her inspirational performances in jiu jitsu competition. Penny will also answer a handful of great questions submitted by you, the Mighty 600,000 about:

  • training BJJ as a woman
  • vegetarianism
  • yoga and flexibility for jiu jitsu
  • of course, tons more

In addition to our conversation with Penny Thomas, we will also review a couple of interesting emails sent in by the Family, and give an update on The FightWorks Podcast jiu jitsu gi patches.

Oh and one more thing to Jay from New Hampshire, who called The FightWorks Podcast toll free number ((877) 247-4662) yesterday and left a voicemail for me to ask Penny about yoga and lower back pain: I interviewed Penny back on Thursday but I will try to put your question in front of her sometime soon! And above all, thanks for calling in!

[iTunes] Subscribe to the Podcast directly in iTunes (recommended)
[mp3] Download the show


Excerpt from Interview

Penny Thomas: I am Penny Thomas, I originally from South Africa, born and raised over there. I started jiu-jitsu about eight years ago. A friend of mine learned with a set of Carlson Gracie instructional VHS tapes and him and his brother played together in the garden and worked on their techniques. They were both from a kung-fu background and they developed their jiu-jitsu just with books and DVDs over the internet. There was nobody teaching in South Africa. They started to travel, do seminars. Royce Gracie gave Micah his blue belt and then Micah came back to South Africa and he started a little group of five guys that were training out of a kickboxing academy. I was training kickboxing there, and I saw these guys rolling on the floor. The kickboxers were like, “Oh look at these guys rolling on the floor, they’re so gay!” I decided to try a few classes and I loved it. We started to travel to Brazil each year to compete for the Worlds. The first competition I had in jiu-jitsu was the Worlds. I think that was in 2003. Since then I’ve been traveling all over, to the UK to train, and then I came over here to America a couple of years ago to train full time, so that is kind of how it started.

The FightWorks Podcast: There’s a blogger called Slideyfoot. He’s a prolific writer online. The first question he has for you is, “Has Penny experienced much sexism in the course of getting her black belt? For example the constant drooling over Kyra Gracie that you see online, or the ‘Ooo I would like to be in her guard’ sort of comments.”

Penny Thomas: Not really, I mean I have trained with guys most of the time. In South Africa there were no other girls who trained jiu-jitsu, so I trained with the guys so I am fairly strong. I work out a lot, I do a lot of cross training, I do CrossFit, I do weight training, I do yoga. So I have always been able to hold my own against men. If any of them have ever had any issues, we’ll go train, and it’s clear that girls are at a level where you can beat a guy of the same weight. I have competed in men’s divisions before. In Oahu at the Triple Crown I took second place. I beat a guy, a brown belt who was the same weight as me. You know I don’t think there is much of a difference [between guys and girls who train jiu-jitsu], you know if a girl is strong and technical. You know you do get some guys, there’s one guy here at Saulo Ribeiro‘s academy that there is different levels for male and female belts. But I am going to show him (laughs).

Penny Thomas video

{ 6 comments… read them below or add one }

slideyfoot August 31, 2008 at 12:45 pm

Cool interview! Always great to hear the female perspective on BJJ. I thought Penny’s responses were especially encouraging to other women out there who might be thinking about getting into the sport.

Just in case people aren’t aware of Nick’s blog, he has posted up lots of great stuff on The Jiu-Jitsu Brotherhood.

Derek September 2, 2008 at 5:55 pm

An equally great interview with Penny Thomas as the one with Felicia Oh.
I really appreciate their expressive views and experiences with how BJJ works in the bigger picture – life, the universe and everything.

The best podcast, keep up the great work.

from 1 of the 600000

Trey Whitaker September 8, 2008 at 3:40 pm

Another great podcast. My sister Penny was especially stoked since she didn’t know about PennyFighting.com. Until now, she’d had a fan of B.J. Penn (‘Team Penn’) and the Los Angeles Dodgers’ Brad Penny. Now she was a new number one.

Sam September 19, 2009 at 9:46 am

In most professional sports men and women don’t compete against each other due a power and strength difference in favor of the men (e.g., professional boxing, MMA, NFL football, etc.). In BJJ, a woman can defeat a man of the same weight if the girl trains regularly and is a good technician – power is of less importance. However, the men prevail the majority of the time. Additionally, the men that do lose are usually the non-athletic type with poor conditioning. Penny is outstanding, but she is getting doing some boosting/bragging. To that end, place Penny against only in men in grappling tournaments and MMA – she will get a reality check.

slideyfoot September 27, 2009 at 3:31 am

Women can beat men in BJJ, and in any other sport which relies on skill rather than pure strength. Penny is an inspiring example of that fact. Hillary Williams has done it too: there are plenty of other talented female athletes out there.

Sure, men tend to be stronger, and strength is obviously important, but if it was a guarantee of victory, Marcelo Garcia would never win absolute titles.

John July 14, 2010 at 12:32 am

female bjj players are still rare. too many girls just come to a BJJ academy and quit the second or third lesson. its a shame

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