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
- 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!
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).