How Jiu Jitsu Allowed Kayla to Reach Beyond the Borders of Her Small Hometown
“I would not be the woman I am today without Jiu Jitsu. Growing up in a small town felt limiting. The openness that Jiu Jitsu offers wasn’t something I was familiar with. Men and women typically had very distinct roles and expectations. Finding Jiu Jitsu gave me a sense of freedom I had not had before. It’s allowed me to become a respected competitor, a coach, and a business owner.” - Kayla Patterson
Kayla Patterson is originally from Dyersburg, TN. With a desire to experience the “big city”, she moved to Memphis when she was just 18. There, she started a career in cosmetic dentistry. At age 19, she got in a car accident that left her unable to exercise for about 12 weeks due to an injury to her knee. Looking to get back in shape once she healed, she started out with boxing, but was ultimately drawn towards the jiu jitsu classes that her gym offered.
Her observation of the class was of “much smaller people physically dominating much larger people. It was a puzzle I couldn’t wait to try to solve.”
While it was sometimes intimidating and sometimes frustrating to be the only girl in the group, she found her footing, and “a few classes and a few panic attacks later and [she] was hooked.”
Learning How to Improve as a Woman in a Male-Dominated Sport
Though jiu jitsu is becoming more and more accessible, even in small towns, it is still very much a male-dominated sport. That’s not to say there aren’t highly skilled, legitimate female athletes in jiu jitsu. It’s just to say that for many women starting out, finding fellow female training partners can be quite difficult, especially in more rural areas.
Kayla describes her own experience as: “Starting out was hard, because I didn't have other female partners. Like a lot of girls, I was the only female at my gym. Guys didn’t always know how to roll with a girl. Then, when I competed, I put a lot of pressure on myself. I would feel like I let myself, my coaches, and my teammates down if I lost. Instead of focusing on having fun, I worried about disappointing people.”
On one hand, she already felt quite grateful for everything jiu jitsu had done for her, such as: instilling a sense of confidence, providing discipline, and keeping her grounded through struggles with anxiety and ADHD.
On the other hand, she still wanted to push herself further, but she couldn’t see herself progressing and achieving her goals by staying where she was. Of her first loss at EBI, she said “I didn’t really have a camp for it, and didn’t feel super prepared.. I decided, if I really want to make a go for it, I need to buckle down.” So she did.
You Have to Be Willing to Go for It
Kayla’s version of “going for it” was quitting her job in dentistry, selling the majority of her belongings, and moving to California to train jiu jitsu full time. Your version of going for it can be whatever the next step is for you in your own journey - big or small.
If you’re brand new to jiu jitsu, perhaps that’s simply taking the leap to sign up for a free trial at a nearby academy. If you’re a woman experiencing some trepidation or frustration around attempting techniques on a bunch of sweaty dudes, your leap might be taking some online courses that allow you to build up your confidence first.
Kayla actually has her own course here on Jiu Jitsu X: Go to Game - Kayla Patterson’s Go To Submissions and Guard Passes. If you’re looking for some techniques that don’t rely on strength, speed, or flexibility to work, it’s worth a watch! She’s chiseled away at the immense library of techniques that make up jiu jitsu, and hand-selected these “go-to” options:
Guard passes using over unders and double unders
The deadlift flip
Sweeps and submissions from single leg X
Submissions from mount, closed guard, and the back
And the “gargoyle” position
You’ve heard from Kayla herself that she struggled against large men for years before having access to female training partners - so you can rest assured she knows what works against stronger opponents! You don’t have to be willing to move to a city to improve your jiu jitsu.
She claims to have “a pretty straightforward and basic game. When playing guard I love to attack from the high guard, usually going for my hide the shoulder series. From top position I look for pressure passing entries. Balance has never been a strong point of mine, so low and slow forward pressure is where I find the most success.”
Just like Kayla has, it’s important to develop an understanding of your own strengths and weaknesses.
You’ll Go Through Periods of Self Doubt - It’s Part of the Process
It takes a lot of determination to move across the country, away from everything you’ve ever known. And most of Kayla’s family members had all grown up in and stayed in the same small town in Dyer County, TN for the entirety of their lives. It was fairly unusual for anyone to leave, and nearly unfathomable for someone to up and move as far away as California.
Kayla knew she “was going from being a big fish in a small pond, to being a small fish in a big pond. I had doubts about my own abilities. I think anyone who has to make a big jump is going to have doubts. It’s just about overcoming them.”
When Kayla started training in California, she “felt like a white belt some days”, but was ultimately more inspired by her new training partners than discouraged by their higher skill. She was especially impressed by the female competitors she now had the opportunity to roll with on a daily basis.
Many of the athletes she had looked up to from all the way in Tennessee were now her regular training partners.
Becoming the Teacher You Needed When You First Started
Women supporting women has been quite the trendy saying on social media platforms for some time now. Kayla is someone who actually embodies it.
As a competitor, she was part of the first few all female EBI cards starting in 2017. Always a gracious competitor, win or lose. More recently, she has turned her attention towards teaching and coaching.
After meeting her now husband, she left California for a 6 month stay in Canada at the beginning of 2020. That abruptly “turned into a 2 year stay due to lockdowns and travel restrictions.” Rather than wallowing in the frustration of not having access to competitions, she began making plans to open her own academy, Ground X Jiu Jitsu.
And she has even bigger plans for the future:
“I want to travel to small towns where they don’t have a lot of women in Jiu Jitsu and inspire the girls there. I want to show others that your dreams aren’t that far away, if you’re willing to step out and go get them. It’s gonna be scary and nerve-wracking, and you’re gonna question yourself a lot, but just go for it.” - Kayla Patterson
But for now, she’s simply “loving this ride”. You can follow along in her journey on her Instagram page. And feel free to take the leap over to Kayla’s course page to watch three totally free techniques!