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Gi Real - Ashley Green

Gi Real, the story of Ashley Green

/Meeting Ashley Green

Ashley showed up on my radar when she competed against one of my students. Competition has a way of bringing people together. They connected. Ashley stopped into my gym. I have been tracking her progress ever since.

The Brazilian Jiu Jitsu Grand Rapids project has a vision. A city recognized for top-tier Jiu Jitsu, producing high end athletes, coaches, and well-developed youth programs. In many ways, Ashley is a reflection of this vision. She believes in Jiu Jitsu. She believes in her team. Most importantly, she believes in herself. She has risen to become the number one ranked blue belt in the world through relentless hard work. She has helped pave the path for all of us, by proving that excellence comes from within.

It doesn’t take long to understand where Ashley finds her success. My job is to navigate the conversation into places that force reflection. To step inside the mind and extract an untold story. What I found was a masterclass in mindset. A mental framework that defines clear boundaries around world-class performance. I poked and prodded, seeking to explore every edge of a well constructive perspective. Ashely’s openness and honesty were a hospitable guide. When the mind has a singular focus the tour has a single pathway to explore. This is the power in her story. Dedication so strong and goals so clear there is no room for anything that could serve as a distraction from her vision. An important insight that transcends Jiu Jitsu, and is a window into who Ashley is. Someone with strength and determination who found Jiu Jitsu, fell in love, and turned herself loose on the sport.

This is the story of Ashley Green.

/Finding Purpose

I have a passion for solo travel, and I knew if I wanted to travel to all of these countries by myself I should learn a form of self-defense.

Everyone is drawn to the mat for different reasons. Sometimes it’s about the past, and sometimes it’s about the future. Self defense can serve as a tool to face your relationship with both. Ashley came to the mat with the intention that Jiu Jitsu would complement her goals. A future traveling the world with the skills to hold her own. With time, traveling became the complement.

Self-defense is the reason why I started training Jiu Jitsu, but I will say the reason why I continued training is a different reason. This was in 2020 and I was going through a period where I was suffering from extremely debilitating anxiety, where I was having panic attacks. I couldn't leave my room without having a panic attack….
… I found when I pushed my body training hard with Jiiu-Jitsu, all of that anxiety went away.
…this was a period of my life where I couldn't leave my room without having a panic attack. It was hard for me to even drive a car. I was having such insane, physical anxiety symptoms.

When you come to Jiu Jitsu you will find what you are looking for, and discover more than you imagined. Reasons for staying on the mat often diverge and evolve with your experience. For Ashley, her reason became her health. Jiu Jitsu heals you. There is no prescription or plan. It simply finds a way to help you heal.

I had no idea I could ever find something like that. I was already weightlifting. I was already running, but I didn't get the same type of satisfaction out of lifting weights, or out of running that I did from Jiu Jitsu. It was a totally new feeling that I have never experienced before. It sounds kind of cliche, but I knew right off the bat that this is what I want to do. This is what I want to spend my life doing.

There is a challenge for those of us who try to spread the art, highlighted in Ashley’s discovery. How do you convey the benefits of Jiu Jitsu? You can spend your life in sports and not experience the place you go when slipping into the gi. The martial artist must tell their story. They must be the spokesperson that lives by example and pays it forward.

When you land on something that has the power to change you, you owe it to yourself to plant your roots. These seeds of change look different for everyone. Time, energy, money. Balance and off balance. No matter how you make it work you will find a way to grow. Ashley was unencumbered, partially by choice, partially by a world shutdown. She was not far from finishing her international business degree at GVSU, but online classes didn’t meet her needs. Always seeking to advance her position, she went all in. Trading one student role for another and setting herself on a course she hasn’t looked back from.

It changed my entire life, and if It is this type of thing exists, and other people could experience it for themselves, then I want to spread it as much as I can. If Jiu-jitsu can help other people as it did for me, then that's all I care about. I want other people to experience the exact same thing.

Ashley found her path to healing, her love of Jiu Jitsu, and her desire to be a spokesperson for the art. Ashley found her purpose. In an art that never ends, your purpose is nurtured and has lots of room to shift. Jiu Jitsu will find a way to adapt as you adapt. As you uncover another part of yourself that needs to be fulfilled, you discover the depths of Jiu Jitsu and what you are capable of.

/Catching The Bug

I won all of my matches. I think I had three total and I won pretty easily, and I had never had a feeling like that before, of winning and standing on a podium. Even though it was just the Fuji tournament. It wasn't much, but I had never had such a feeling of accomplishment before and it felt incredible. I craved it so much more, I started seeking out more competitions.

Competition is an interesting component of the game. Some people love it. Some people have zero interest in it. This really reflects how inclusive Jiu Jitsu can be. Everyone can come to the mats with different goals and reasons to keep going. A single competition can change your entire trajectory, or be a blip in your experience. Ashley’s first competition was at the encouragement of her coach. Sometimes that's all it takes. A little leadership to nudge you in the direction you didn’t know you needed.

For Ashley, this was a seismic shift. Jiu Jitsu made her feel good, but was about to take on a role in her life she didn’t expect. She found a purpose. Then she found another.

I was getting that same feeling of accomplishment, and feeling so good from winning that I kept seeking more and more. I wanted to go from Opens, to competing at Pans, to competing in Europe, and seeking out Brazilian Nationals. I wanted to keep going to a level higher, and it all started because of that one little, small Fuji competition.

That little Fuji competition had a big impact on Ashley’s journey. This is an important lens into Ashley, and Jiu Jitsu. I asked Ashley what she thought would have happened if she lost that first Fuji competition. Would she have taken the same path? Would she have kept competing?

I guess I haven't thought about it like that

This is an introduction to her excellence. Several years from now Ashley will be a black belt world champion. It’s easy to pry open the future and declare these things as fact. The future is void of the reality that keeps us in check. We can declare anything. It’s harder to find a champion, peel back their history, and find a moment that was a split in their life story. History’s narrative is full of lost details, varying perspectives, and alternative scenarios. Life is cumulative. It builds up, and we often don’t have an understanding of its stages until we are in the next.

In the future, we can peel back Ashley’s history and stop here. We are not stopping here to reflect on the podium shot. We are reflecting on her mind state. Winning was the only option. This was me poking and prodding at her story. Was their self-doubt?

When I compete, I have already won. I have already won before I go out on the mat, and I have to have that mindset in order to perform well. So, in my mind there is no reality where I go out on that mat and I lose.

Jiu Jitsu didn’t give Ashley a championship mindset. Ashley came to Jiu Jitsu a champion. Jiu Jitsu was simply the medium for her to express her fortitude. Early in her story, this is already an incredible accomplishment. Ashley went from battling severe anxiety to pushing herself through a competition bracket. From not leaving her room, to commanding a podium. This is a journey that has to happen within. Every day Ashley chose to push herself forward.

I give everything to Jiu Jitsu. I rearranged my entire life in order to keep training.

From one competition to the next. From Fuji, to giving her life to a dream. These steps happen in progression, albeit a fast one for Ashley. Ashley fell in love with Jiu Jitsu. She fell in love with training, winning, and driving herself to the top spot.

I love winning. It feels great. It's awesome. But that's not why I want to be at the top. I want to be at the top because it gives me a platform and people will listen to me. When you win people listen to you and respect you, when you have built this platform. If I'm at the top, it allows me to say what I want to say about mental health, depression, and about bridging the gap between Jiu Jitsu communities. It allows me to say what I believe is right and it gives me a platform to say that, and people will listen because they'll see where I am in Jiu Jitsu.

Ashley's purpose expanded. Her drive is about more than herself. She knows the power of Jiu Jitsu, because she feels it every day. Usually, twice a day. She wants others to feel the power of Jiu Jitsu, and to have a platform to push the issues she values most. To win the attention of an audience she pushes herself one victory after another, inching her way closer to the platform she needs to complete her expanded purpose.

/Extracting Lessons

Endless training and competition will hit a set of human boundaries. Losses happen. Exhaustion happens. What happens to the mind that doesn’t lose when it loses? Ashley is an open book, sharing the hard moments and lessons learned. To understand the architecture of Ashley’s mindset, you have to navigate her reflection. This is where many of her boundaries are born. I opened the door by asking about a competition nemesis, not knowing where it would lead. Was there someone she met on the mats who pushed her limits? Who was in the way of her goals?

Her name was Laura. I got my blue belt in December of 2021, and my goal ever since that happened was to be the number one ranked blue belt, and I knew I was going to have to face Laura eventually. So, I faced her in Rome at Europeans in 2022. I built it up so much in my head. This is why from now on I no longer ever look up my competition

Lots of work is ground into the mats all over the world, but it's the competition lights that take our attention. It’s designed to be so. It’s our time to spectate, check out skill levels, and see how people around the world are performing. With competition under a microscope, the competitor's skills are often enlarged. The best moments of skill execution cut into highlights and reels.

There is some irony to this. Jiu Jitsu is a great equalizer. Two people engage and the armour of ego is stripped away. Your faults and theirs are partly the point. Nothing exposes the fallibility of being human as quickly as human chess. These are the moments when two people are exposed for who they are, accept it, and decide to grow together. When Jiu Jitsu is a dance on the screen, this is lost. The athlete appears to transcend beyond a physical performance that seems familiar. Who is the athlete? Are they stoppable?

Ashley’s first bout with Laura was in Rome. She lost the match, but felt the human Laura. Realized Laura had not transcended beyond the realm of human performance, but simply worked hard. Laura was a 2x world champion. Ashley was a fresh blue belt. The tale of the tape seemed stacked, but Ashley worked hard too. Jiu Jitsu is an equilzer.

By the time we had a rematch at Pans, I felt 100% ready to face her. There was no hesitation. There was no pedestal I set her on because she was ranked number one. I did the Jiu Jitsu I know and love - and putting the focus on that was how I was able to come back and beat her.

Listening to Ashley tell her story about Laura says a lot about competing at a high level. Ashley didn’t talk about the strategy or techniques required to win. Ashley talked about her evolving perceptions and mindset. Of Laura, and herself. Laura was humanized. Ashley worked just as hard as anybody. Likely harder. When they met again, Ashley won. Jiu Jitsu is an art of connection. There are endless lessons to be learned, but you have to connect.

I had been competing so much, I was so exhausted. I wanted to take a break from competition. I remember at Worlds, I was caught in her triangle and I wasn't even thinking about how to get out of it. My thought when I was caught in her triangle was, why isn't she pulling on my head and finishing the submission? I wasn't even trying to get out, I had more so given up on myself more so than giving up on the match.

Ashley and Laura met again at the 2022 World Championships. These are the rounds of battle required from a true nemesis. A back and forth that drives you to be better. A target that moves as you develop and evolve. Of course, the nemesis develops and evolves too. Laura had been humanized, but so had Ashley. She pushed herself passed her limits.

So I've realized this is all a learning experience for me, because for the year of 2022 I literally tried to do every competition known to mankind. By the time I got to Worlds at the end of the competition season, I was exhausted. I was completely exhausted because for the competition season of 2022, I was doing Opens, I did local competitions on top of that, and then I finished the competition season with Worlds. By the time I got to Worlds, like I said, I was so exhausted and so depleted, I wanted to take a break and I wanted to rest for a little bit.

Some lessons are hard learned. Jiu Jitsu requires connection, most importantly to the self. Many limitations are a matter of perception, but natural limits clearly exist. Energy is finite. You have to find the place of optimal growth where you don’t crash and burn. Sometimes you find the place by crashing and burning. Exploring the boundaries of yourself, possibly with the helping hands of a nemesis.

So, this year for 2023, what I tried to do was pick out the higher caliber competitions. Picking out the Big Four: Europeans, Pans, Brazilian nationals, and Worlds. I didn't make it to two of those four because I was dealing with health issues. I realized for me to get where I want to go, I don't have to travel to every single Open.

When you are unsure what is required of you to meet the highest expectations, you can cast a broad net. Working everything, everywhere, all the time. Along the way your net picks up a lot of experience that isn’t necessary, burning through your finite capacity. You learn to assess quality. You learn to refine your focus and maximize your efficiency. This is the essence of Jiu Jitsu. Lessons in life live in parallel to the lessons in the fight. Jiu Jitsu is always giving.

Learning requires reflection. Ashley beat her nemesis. Her nemesis beat her back. Ashley pushed her limits. Her limits pushed her back. This is another moment that shines a light on Ashley’s character. Ashley’s tone doesn’t change. When she discusses her failures or successes she speaks as a champion. In her mind the fights haven’t ended. Her victory is a process, as she has climbed the ranks and set sight on the next level of competition. Setbacks have given her the insight she needs to climb. With setbacks and insight, her mindset has evolved. She already had the mindset of a victor. With experience, it has matured. She has created her own mental blueprint that will guide her ascent and build her dreams.

/Mental Architecture

A mindset that wins. This is easy to state, but difficult to construct, execute, and turn into real results. Ashley turned this into being the number one ranked athlete in the world for her division. What is the blueprint for building this mental architecture? To be sure, the foundation of Ashley’s game predates her exposure to Jiu Jitsu. Her drive forced reflection, and she has developed a robust mental framework.

I personally believe you can't have a Plan B.
You have to make it work. There is no backup plan.
You're going get what you want one hundred percent of the time because it literally has to work. Because what's the Plan B in my case? I don't have one.

An important aspect of Ashley’s drive and focus is where she has positioned her life. She has free climbed the cliffs of competition, and as she ascends there is no room for error. She has intentionally forgone the safety of ropes to hold herself accountable. There is courage in this, and an undeniable confidence in who she is. Is it irresponsible to leave it all on the line, or to leave your dreams on the table? Ashley is clear.

I put everything together myself, and I honestly feel as if the most important aspect is to have fun with what you're doing because if I wasn't having fun there's no way I would want to show up. So I prepare my own training schedule and I've realized that I have to mix it up. I can't do six days in a row of Jiu Jitsu and not get bored.
…the type of training I'm doing, I'm having so much more fun. As long as I'm having fun with what I'm doing, then I'm never not going to want to show up. So I look forward to showing up every single time.

Amidst the grind is a recognition that passion lies in doing what you love, and you have to keep loving it. Somewhere in intense levels of training, there is a balance that doesn’t manage time, but rather passion. Keeping her love of training at the forefront of her plan is Ashley’s key to going hard, and never stopping the going.

I asked Ashley what happens after her goals are met. What is the vision beyond the vision?

I will say, as of now I don't see past that
As of right now, the only thing I see and the only goal in mind is to be that number one ranked spot at purple, brown, and black. I know once that happens then I will have a lot of opportunities come my way.

What happens at the end? When goals are met and visions are realized. Focus must look into the future and outline the parameters of intention. Ashley’s vision has an endpoint. Looking beyond this is a distraction. She trusts her work will find another mountain to climb, but she leaves this to trust in order to isolate her energy on the fight in front of her.

I believe that confidence comes from my training itself. If I'm putting my absolute all into every single training session, if I'm showing up for myself…
I didn't end up losing but I did have a period of, oh shit my lasso sweep failed, what am I going to do? But that's when it comes to trusting your training and doing the next step of what you were doing in the training room.
It builds such a confident mindset that by the time you step on the mat to compete. There's no other outcome than winning, then coming out on top if you follow through with everything you said you were going to do in the past.
…but I choose these things, I was powerlifting in the past, and I chose to run a marathon last year, because I think it's those things that help callous your mind. If you prepared yourself insanely well prior to getting on the mat, then there's no reason you should doubt yourself.

The mental game is about more than perception. As Ashley has built out her mental framework she has earned her confidence. This is part of the program. She understands that a victor's mentality is simply a formula, and what comes out is a product of the variables she puts in. The variables are mixed. They are purposefully difficult. The challenge is a strategy to fuel her mental strength.

Ashley's tunnel toward a multi-rank world champion is thoughtfully narrow. The walls constructed only allow for one direction, and one outcome. Every restriction placed on herself has a purpose. She knows what helps and hurts her performance. She knows what she needs to push her limits, and not crash and burn in the process.

/Gi Real. From Then Till Now

My dad always carried around a goal book he took everywhere he went. Anytime he was inspired, he would jot down a goal to be completed at a later date.
The first one that comes to mind was his desire to road trip to Fairbanks, Alaska. From a really young age, I remember how he always talked about his desire to drive to Alaska and camp all across the US and Canada. We ended up doing this road trip when I was 12. It was completed in 3 weeks. One week there, one week stay in Alaska, and one week back.

Jiu Jitsu finds a way to help you grow. Whoever you are, Jiu JItsu will nurture your best self. Ashley was already driven. It’s in her blood. She grew up watching her father accomplish everything he set himself to. As a child your parents define what is it that people do. Bars are set, and you grow into adulthood with a choice about the person you want to become.

I have this video of myself, from the second day I had ever trained Jiu Jitsu, of me talking to myself saying it feels like Jiu Jitsu gives my life a purpose. It feels like this is what I want to spend my life doing. Almost three years later that's still very true.

Brazilian Jiu Jitsu gives you what you need. You may need to be physically active. You may need an outlet. Jiu Jitsu can be a hobby, or you can turn yourself into a world champion. Ashley’s story demonstrates the ways in which Jiu Jitsu takes your strengths and gives them a place to bloom. She is now deep into her dreams of Championship performance, but still wants everyone to see themselves in her story. She shares her story for Gi Real to connect. Not to be like the Laura on a pedestal, but the human Laura. Ashley is like all of us. Needing purpose and fulfillment, and finding it an art that always gives.

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