by Samantha Seff
Recently, I was very fortunate to attend a seminar a few hours away by 2 of my most admired people in the Jiu Jitsu community, black belts Kristian Woodmansee and Elisabeth Clay. I had known Kristian for quite some time, having previously hosted him at a seminar at my academy, and it had been one of my all-time favorite instructionals to date. I had crossed paths with Clay at many tournaments and gyms, but this was my first opportunity to learn from no doubt one of the best women in the sport directly and I was lucky enough to have her graciously give me an interview after the 3-day seminar came to a close. Before I go into some of the things we discussed, let me start by introducing readers to the numerous credentials of Ms. Clay.
Those familiar with the sport are well-aware of the numerous accolades garnered by Clay. Catapulting on the scene with a win at the ADCC West Cost Trials at age 16, she rose to the forefront of the Jiu-Jitsu community. Clay represents the Ares BJJ affiliation and has won top tier medals since juvenile and blue belt at the biggest tournaments in Jiu-Jitsu such as Pans and Worlds at gi and no gi in both her division and the open class absolute divisions. She has conquered many famous opponents at the highest level and competitions in F2W (Fight to Win), WNO (Who’s Number One), and Subversiv as well. She earned her black belt by Samir Chantre in November 2020 and continues to make waves in the sport as she approaches her 1 year anniversary at this rank.
Always a highly competitive athlete, Clay made the transition from gymnastics to Jiu-Jitsu at 11. She talked with me a bit about how the competitive nature and hard work associated with gymnastics fueled her fire for throwing herself full force into Jiu Jitsu. This is important to remember because she spent much of her childhood in Alaska and had to actively seek out good training and mentors in order to cultivate her strengths and hone her skill. She even frequently traveled to the Ares BJJ headquarters in California in order to ensure she was doing everything within her power to get the most out of her training. We stan a Queen who takes control of her destiny.
When she won the ADCC trials at such a young age, it became a huge deal. This led to a fair amount of press and coverage in regard to her career in the sport and helped her become a recognizable name amongst Jiu Jitsu practitioners. I, myself, was very familiar with not just her name, but many of her accomplishments and feats she had accredited to herself already. Especially in the Women’s BJJ community on various platforms on social media. Her match against Gabi Garcia at WNO was the talk of these pages on social media for several days, with many people, myself included, feeling like her numerous submission attempts were more than enough to credit her the win, but the judges gave it to Garcia, leaving a sour taste in many mouths as talks of favoritism came into play. Regardless, her skilled technique and relentless pursuit to try and finish an opponent with a sizeable stature disparity earned her the respect and admiration of many.
The best thing about speaking with Clay, was that it felt much more like an amicable conversation rather than a drawn out interview. We shared a lot of the same thoughts when it came to training and competing and it’s comforting to know that at the root of it all, many of us feel the same. We talked about how some of these large-scale competitions get built up so much in our minds, and that to the outside person, no one really cares like you do. Sure, your coaches, teammates, and family care, but not in the way that you think. By that, I mean that if you come up short, you may feel like you let everyone down. Unless you outright give up, this could not be further from the truth. Sometimes, it just isn’t our day, but we talked about the most important thing is just dusting it off and getting back in the gym to train and compete again.
No one quite remembers your losses like you do, and the same thing goes for the wins. We discussed how it can be super disheartening when you build up this competition in your head as something huge, and it can be utterly heartbreaking if you don’t achieve the desired results. But the more you compete, the more opportunities you have to win again; it’s the law of averages and playing the odds. Then, when you begin winning, people forget about the losses. No one quite remembers the losses like you do, and that must mean the same thing goes for the wins. I was telling her about how the losses seem to haunt us and we can end up lingering on them for weeks, but that’s really not true for anyone else. I realized this when I won my biggest opportunity fighting for Invicta, and 2 days later, it was already old news that no one was talking about. It was a huge wake up call to me that it must mean people really didn’t focus on the wins either. She said the same was true for her win at ADCC at only 16. That sure, people cared and were talking about it, but within a week, it wasn’t even a big deal anymore. Really helps take the pressure off ourselves when we view the bigger picture.
Same thing goes for who you are as a person. Sure, the vast majority of people reading this magazine are familiar with the big names in the sport. We will fangirl learning at seminars from them, watching their matches on Flo Grappling or in-person at tournaments, and hungrily viewing their tutorials. But then if you are ever fortunate to be out in public with them at a non-BJJ event, look around and see how many people recognize them. We went out to dinner after one of the seminars and I swear I wanted to shout at the venue that they were in the midst of a total BJJ goddess, but truth is, most wouldn’t even appreciate the presence of the badass they were graced with at their establishment that evening. It’s wild to me knowing how badly I look up to and admire these people and all that they accomplish and the random person on the street would be like “who?” They don’t know what they’re missing.
Same goes with the fighters I get to meet and train with at the highest level. NBA and NFL players are lauded upon and so easily recognized and praised, and I know some of the most badass UFC fighters that no one would even glance in their direction. Only a very minute handful are recognized, and it’s crazy to me the skill and accomplishments some of these people obtain that the plebeians of the world just don’t understand. Even Gordon Ryan, one of the most recognizable people in the sport, doesn’t get accosted in public as much as the popularized sports in America.
Perhaps the best piece of advice I got from Clay outside of the pressure we put on ourselves, is, to quote her directly, “train with the f***ing men.” There are a number of reasons women get into the sport. Not everyone wants to be a world class competitor, and that’s okay. But if you do, you will be doing yourself a disservice by never training with the men. Hell, even if you are getting into the sport solely for self-defense purposes, if you aren’t ever training with the guys, you are at an extreme disadvantage should you ever have to apply what you are learning. I suggest once or twice a year at least, grabbing the large white belt male and rolling. It will be the closest controlled simulation to a real-life self-defense situation. You don’t want to find out if you actually need to use your training that you are under prepared and unable to perform.
This does not mean you have to train with them constantly, or that you should ever feel obligated to train with anyone who puts your safety at risk when we all have normal lives we have to go back to. I will say that some of my best training partners for fights and competitions are men, and I would be remiss to not take advantage of that. Clay told me that her best training partner is her boyfriend and they do not hold back at all when grappling and prepping for comps. I am very fortunate to train at a gym that also has high-level female competitive athletes, but it’s always good to get different looks from a diverse group of people with different strengths and body types.
At the end of the day, these world-famous athletes are real people with real failure and successes just like us. What predominantly sets them apart is their mindset and willingness to do what it takes to improve day in and day out. Take her advice, and train with the f***ing men, dust off any bad performances, and get back in the gym ready to work. If you are lucky enough to ever attend one of her workshops or seminars, I implore you to take advantage of it. I can’t wait to apply her technical Jiu-Jitsu wisdom to my game and to carry the knowledge and confidence she imparted on me as well. I attended that seminar as a fan of her work and I left there as a fan of her as a person as well.
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