Hi Sophia, First of all I have to say thank you very much for taking the time out of your hectic schedule to have a chat with us here at Open Guard. It is an absolute honour to have one of the most well-known and respected names of the Australian Jiu Jitsu community not to mention Australia’s first female Black Belt join us.
Having started training BJJ in Australia in 2002 after a successful stint in gymnastics and an unfortunate shoulder injury, what was your motivating factor to have a shot at BJJ?
Training was all I knew and after gymnastics I was looking to find something that was as technical and physically challenging that I could focus on. I fell in love with BJJ on my first day and remained focused ever since.
How daunting was walking into the gym for the first time? Was there many women in the sport when you began training?
For me it was not daunting since I was with my boyfriend at the time who introduced me to the sport. But I can imagine that for women going alone it would be very intimidating especially if there weren’t many other women. There were enough women training sprinkled throughout the gyms but the culture back then was very different. BJJ was essentially a ‘boys club’ so being a women there you had to prove yourself to the guys and be like one of them to find your place in the hierarchy. It was a very tough journey in the beginning and I know if I had not had the disciplined gymnastics background and the physical strength that I had developed from that, I probably would not have lasted.
The growth of women training and competing in BJJ over the past few years has been phenomenal worldwide and is really great to see some of the top Aussie ladies doing amazingly on the world stage. What do you think is the driving factor behind the growth in the women’s competition scene?
The growth of women in the scene comes from other women who are stepping up and taking leadership roles who have created support groups and women’s events such as women’s only classes, camps and seminars. I guess I paved the way in the sense that it is possible to compete overseas and do well and attain a black belt but there are other women who have made a profound difference in the community. Jess Fraser who is the founder of Australian Girls In Gis has single-handedly united female BJJ athletes from all over the country to create a force so strong and empowered that women’s BJJ in Australia has become a thing in and of itself. Affiliation, academy, age and rank don’t really matter. So long as you do BJJ you are accepted and a part of something. This in turn has drastically decreased the dropout rate and allowed many more women to start up.
Having mentioned the Australian females doing so well in competition worldwide, which ladies do you enjoy watching most on the mats?
The standard of women in Australia is actually very high. The ladies that are making the voyage to compete internationally are holding their own with the best of the Brazilian and USA female competitors. I am really proud of each and every one of them and whenever I come to Australia I enjoy training with them all.
Having spent quite a considerable time in the USA, how does the Australian Scene compare to the scene in the USA and can you see us getting to the same stage as the US? What needs to be done to achieve this?
In some ways Australia is more progressive than USA in the sense that there is a unifying body in a way which is Australian Girls in Gi. The USA has groups that are sprinkled everywhere. So in essence what the USA needs is an American Girls in Gis! But what gives the USA the advantage is that the population is so much greater so wherever you go, generally speaking there are just so many more women and therefore more competitions, camps, seminars and events.
When you originally started training Jiu Jitsu did you envisage that it would have provided you such an eventful journey as what it has given you?
My journey certainly has been eventful. It has allowed me to travel the world and teach, to learn so much about myself and others and also to meet my husband Robert Drysdale (who I am now divorced to), settle in the USA and have children. But competition wise, I actually thought I would do better since that was initially my main focus. However I have had a series of road blocks, political issues (because I am not Brazilian) and extreme hardships along my journey that prevented me from achieving more titles.
When you take a look back over the years at all of your accomplishments is there any one particular that really stands out?
4 x Australian National Champion
4 x Pan Pacific Champion
4 x Pan Am Champion.
Master World Champion
Worlds Silver x1, Worlds Bronze x2
2 x No Gi World Champion.
My journey the past few years has been very difficult since I was running the academy, having babies and trying to train and compete with no support or family here in the States. So I would say that my best achievement is winning the Pan Ams at Black belt (2014) with a 3 year old and a 2 year old (just turned 2) and then taking Bronze at the Worlds (2014) since I was the only mother on the black belt podium for all the weight classes. I want to show all the ladies out there that becoming a mother doesn’t mean that you have to stop doing what you love.
Obviously every time you step into competition in BJJ it is never easy, however who has been the most difficult opponent you have faced, and who do you enjoy facing the most if you had to pick one?
All the ladies are tough especially when you get to the black belt level since they are all seasoned competitors at that stage. My toughest opponent has been myself and my own mental struggles with competing and believing in myself.
Not only are you an Amazing BJJ coach you are also a highly knowledgeable and qualified fitness professional. If you were talking to a white belt who was just starting out and was determined to compete at the highest level, what advice would you share with them in regards to strength and conditioning for BJJ?
Strength training in particular is essential for all female athletes if you want to have a competitive future in this sport. Without a strong frame you will end up getting injured over and over. Body weight strength which involves the whole body, activating the core and stabilizers is the best way to train. I just wrote an article about this for Breaking Muscle magazine actually which was published in their USA, UK and AU editions. Here ya go! http://breakingmuscle.com/strength-conditioning/stimuli-strength-stability-a-3-point-system-for-performance-training
The BJJ journey was not meant to be easy, however if you were or could have been told any piece of information early on in your journey that would of made things fall into place quicker what would that be?
Interesting question… I don’t think there is anything anyone could say to make the journey easier. Training and competing at the highest level is tough and there is no magic pill. Hard training with focus and dedication and a belief in yourself is the only way to the top.
I was also under no illusions that living on the other side of the world on my own and trying to make ends meet financially would be easy either. This is a journey I took on whole heartedly in all its glory and hardships and it has made me a much stronger person because of it.
With the continued growth of Women in BJJ thanks to the various Girls in Gi groups around the world, if there was a lady sitting on the fence about whether she should begin training or not, what words of encouragement would you offer, and how would you suggest dealing with the first time on the mats?
I would tell her that this journey is a wonderful way to discover more about herself and that the techniques she will learn to be able to effectively defend herself will help her become a more empowered and confident woman which will affect everything else in her life. I would also encourage her to focus on all the other goodies that come along with being a part of the BJJ community such as the lifelong friendships the opportunity to travel, increased fitness and strength and overall wellbeing.
What’s next for Sophia McDermott, be it in BJJ or any other aspect of your career?
Since my divorce and no longer running the Drysdale academy I have been focusing on building my new brand which encompasses all things BJJ, Health, Fitness, and Nutrition with a spin on Pregnancy. My focus is to empower others, especially women. My aim is to release/offer content that can help empower through knowledge whether it be through the articles I write, products I release of camps and seminars I teach. The camps I have been teaching have been a huge hit. These lifestyle camps include accommodation, food and training. The ladies attending get to learn BJJ, all about nutrition and spend quality time on themselves. Every time I have released a camp all the spots have been sold out in the first day! It is wonderful that I can offer something so valuable to all these amazing ladies.
Sophia thank you so much for your time today, is there anything you would like to add, if people are interested in booking seminars how can they get in touch with you?
Yes please follow me on my Facebook page: Sophia Drysdale
Website: Sophiadrysdale.com for all updates, news and events.
For those who would like to receive my weekly newsletters I discuss all things BJJ, health and nutrition with advice, fitness tip and recipes. You can subscribe here: https://sophiadrysdale.squarespace.com/subscribe/
Once again Sophia thank you for joining us here at Open Guard. We wish you all the best in your future endeavours and look forward to catching up with you again in the future, be it here or the USA.
Thank you for the opportunity!