A black-belt with over 14 years experience Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu amongst other disciplines. She holds titles for the UAE Grand Slam and IBJJF European and even the IBJJF World Championships; in amongst training she juggles coaching her students inside London and teaches women’s self-defence, so do not mess with her students!
It is my pleasure to introduce Joanna Ziobronowicz on the ‘The Insider’.
Leila: Tell us who you are, where you are from (or where you reside) and how long you have been training?
Joanna: My name is Joanna and I’m a martial arts coach. I was born in Poland, but expatriated to the UK when I was 20 with the aim to train Jiu-Jitsu in London. I have been training at the Roger Gracie Academy for the past 15 years, with some breaks in between.
Leila: You’re a very smart lady, you have a BA and a Masters, what did you study?
Joanna: I did my BA in Tourism and graduated with a Masters degree in Phonetics at UCL.
Leila: Where do you currently train?
Joanna: I currently train at the Roger Gracie Academy HQ in London.
Leila: You have some of the best-known coaches in the world, what is that like to have them as your mentors?
Joanna: I purposefully chose to train at this particular academy, as I wanted to learn from the best in the sport. Once you commit, you become part of the team and it is a pretty close-knit community.
When people ask me what is it like, I really have no straight answer, as it feels so normal and the rewards are obvious – the amazing quality of training and opportunities.
Leila: You teach too?
Joanna: Yes, I coach kids and adults on daily basis.
Leila: How did you discover your passion for Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu? Do you have any other disciplines or superpowers?
Joanna: I practised many disciplines throughout my life, but martial arts have always been my ultimate favourite. I started with kickboxing, went on to train capoeira, aikido, judo, and eventually discovering Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, to which I properly committed in 2006.
Leila: What has been your most unforgettable moment in BJJ to date? You’re an IBJJF World and European Champ, an amazing accomplishment, that has to be somewhere on the list!
Joanna: Every win feels good, but but nothing compares to winning the Worlds!
Leila: What is the one thing about your sport that frustrates you the most?
Joanna: For such a fascinating and life-changing sport as Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu it is a big shame there is still very little recognition and coverage of it in mainstream media. What comes with that is very limited financial help for the aspiring and competing athletes.
Leila: How long into your training did you start competing?
Joanna: I started competing in 2004, as a no-stripes white belt J
Leila: How do you find the world of competition? Do you get nervous?
Joanna: I do get nervous before competitions. I think it is natural. However, there are ways in which you can learn how to control it, so that stress does not compromise your performance.
There are very few things in life that can be compared to the feeling of excitement before and after the matches. Plus the knowledge you take away from it, it is precious.
Leila: How do you overcome your nerves before a fight? What advice would you give other competitors in hopes of calming the dreaded nerves?
Joanna: What I always tell my students who want to compete is that they must do the prep work. For example, cardio must be on point. Even if the opponent turns out to be stronger, or more experienced, the trust you build in yourself through hard work and preparation will boost your confidence exponentially.
I also advise to use breathing techniques and meditation to ease the nerves, as it helps tremendously.
Leila: Competition can be a bit of a rollercoaster, have you always had a lucky strike at achieving gold? Any advice for those who are working towards that gold medal?
Joanna: Even the biggest champions have lost their matches in the past. As a matter of fact, many of them have failed many times before they achieved greatness.
Consistency and perseverance is what you need if you want to get to the top. Believe in yourself no matter what. Imagine it in your head. Think what kind of work it will take to get there. Write it down, if you need to. Picture it vividly in your head. Visualizing and living the dream will ultimately lead you there.
Leila: Do you generate a game plan for your fights and do you keep it consistent or change it up?
Joanna: I let my Jiu-Jitsu develop in a natural way, but at the same time I try to be all-rounded, to be able to attack and defend from multiple positions.
My game plan will consist of the strongest positions and techniques I will try to impose on my opponents, but these will vary as my Jiu-Jitsu constantly develops. Techniques I used as a blue belt, for example, won’t be the same as those used in competition at brown belt level.
Leila: How do you prepare yourself for your competition?
Joanna: BJJ and High intensity interval training are at the core of my preparation for competitions. Getting in as much of these as possible, without overloading the body too much.
I compliment that with a healthy diet and plenty of good quality sleep.
Leila: Do you modify your training and sparring at the gym/on the mats?
Joanna: Yes, we constantly modify it at our gym to meet the needs of current trends. We also do a lot of positional sparring.
Leila: How do you find training/competing in a sport that it is still highly dominated by male athletes?
Joanna: My problem with Jiu Jitsu has never been that it is male-dominated.
The problem is that it is very difficult to compete at a high-level Jiu Jitsu without financial aid. I think it pertains to female athletes especially, who sponsor their own travel and accommodation, yet rarely get rewarded for their achievements by organizations who run these events.
Leila: In some cases, women struggle to find training partners of similar weights and sizes, what advice would you give to them to structure their training to benefit them?
Joanna: Back in the days, when I didn’t always have female partners to train with, I would pair up with lighter guys and I never had a problem with that. I didn’t feel it compromised my training in any way. I would say, however, that any strength-building training (whether it is weight training, plyometrics, or functional training) would be greatly beneficial to all women practising jiu-jitsu as it will strengthen the body and help prevent injuries.
If female partners are scarce in the gym environment, I would also encourage girls to join some of the open mat events which (until the lockdown) have been running regularly in various parts of the UK. It is a great chance to spar and practise with females of different levels, belts, weights and sizes.
Leila: It’s something we see all too often, a good female athlete puts a male athlete in a difficult spot and in retaliation they will try and enforce a lot of strength, sometimes going too far. Have you had to deal with this in the past and how do you manage it?
Joanna: This is something the coaches should pick up on and react accordingly.
Leila: Have you ever had a serious injury that hindered your training? How did you handle the recovery process?
Joanna: When I injured my back some years ago I spent nearly two years swimming and practising yoga to get back in shape. The beginning was super tough, but eventually I accepted the fact that I had to take the time off and I found great joy in the newly found disciplines!
Leila: You teach women’s self-defence, which is awesome by the way. How did this passion develop?
Joanna: During my Uni years I worked in various nightclubs for the security industry. It was a good reality check when it comes to confrontation and tackling physical violence.
I realized that I had a limited understanding of real self-defence, as what I had learnt in martial arts was not easy to apply in real-life circumstances. I also felt that it wasn’t purely to do with the skill set. It also had to do with intimidation and fear. I knew I had to dig deeper to find the answers on how to deal with those situations.
I started researching and found a great course in Self-Defense run in the UK by some of the guys from SAS. It shed a lot of light on the topic and dealt with the legal and psychological implications as well. On the successful completion of the course I found the UK Women’s Self-Defense program. (www.womenselfdefense.co.uk)
This is something I feel very passionate about, as it addresses the vulnerable members of the public. I feel very empowered that I can incorporate my martial arts background, experience and research into this course to offer realistic solutions.
Leila: Do you follow a specific diet or watch what you eat, especially nearing competition time?
Joanna: I have been a pescatarian for the past 16 years (no meat except for fish) and this particular diet really works for me. I try to eat intuitively, allowing my body to tell me what it needs at a given time. I also enjoy cooking, which makes me more aware of what I eat, as I check the source of each of the products that I pick. I aim to go for local produce and free/range organic options for both ethical and nutritional reasons.
Leila: Important question, what is your favourite food?
Joanna: Sushi, chocolate, pad thai.
Leila: Favourite quote to live by?
Joanna: Realize deeply that the present moment is all you ever have.
Leila: Any particular mentions or shout-outs to sponsors?
Joanna: Thanks to my sponsor @truthnaturals for their continued support, check out their CBD products if you want the most natural quality sources of CBD. FOR 10% OFF – USE CODE [ JOANNA10 ]
That about wraps it up there…
Joanna is a huge inspiration for aspiring practitioners and competitors of all levels. If you get the opportunity to train with her, you’re lucky.
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