She doesn’t play Jiu Jitsu. She is the BJJ ! She has oriented her life to better live it. Formed by legendary fighters such as Luis Heredia and Leticia Ribeiro, the South African talks about the essence of her involvement, the heart of her Jiu Jitsu which allowed her to win 4 World championships and the ADCC. Her game, her souvenirs, her advices… Penny Thomas gives her little secrets.
By Ludovic Mauchien
Attack or defense
“I guess it depends on what mood I am in (she bursts out laughing). If I have a long day and I am kind of lazy, I would be definitely defensive, but for sure, I like attacking as well, especially in tournaments where I try to be more on the offensive side. I am always like looking to set up triangles and armbars. Triangles would be my most common finish in tournaments. The last few years, I was trying to be more attacking and staying on top. I tried to develop that in my game and being more like Roger Gracie’s style.”
Guards and co
“I love playing guard (she laughs). That’s the 1st part of my game to be developed, because I was a lot smaller than most of the guys training in South Africa. That’s my favourite position to close. Open guard, X guard, De La Riva guard… all these positions. AsvI am flexible thanks to gymnastics, it’s easy for me to be inverted. I am really comfortable upside down.”
Gi or No Gi
“I prefer Gi. I like to have a little more of a bareer between me and my partner (she laughs). And I love the grips, I love the control with the Gi. But I also really like the flow with No Gi too.
It’s easy for me to transition between both. My weekly schedule may not have a No Gi training, just a couple days in a month. I don’t need to train so much No Gi. You can train in Gi and you are good for both”.
“When it’s time to compete, I really try to get more angry, get more determined and focus. I tried to be more aggressive. I try to block everything out. I am just thinking about winning, about my game, about moving, about catching a submission or some opportunity. I get very clear-headed. I just have that on my mind. I try to not talk too much to anyone. I just want to think about winning, to have that one job to get done”.
Gymnastics and BJJ
“It definitely helps me. I practised gymnastics from 5 to 11 years old every day. I was in the Junior Olympic national team in South Africa. I learnt how to have good training reflex, focus and discipline from gymnastics.
It was easy to translate. My flexibility comes from it. I can keep my hips very large to ground and very touch on people. I also have good balance from gymnastics. I have good coordination. I was strong. I transferred all that.
I think gymnastics is a great foundation for every kid to start sport. And after then, they can choose what they like. But they would already have good basics.”
Yoga and BJJ
“Yoga brings several things to my Jiu Jitsu. Breath control is really important. It also teaches you about mental focus, about blocking out everything else that is not necessary and having just one thing in your mind. It’s a great mental training.
To practise Yoga, in addition to BJJ, is definitely a good balance for all of our joints and muscles. In Jiu Jitsu, everything is kind of rounded. You keep your shoulders fold, you chained down. Your stances are very rounded. You keep everything protected, your neck, your arms… On the contrary, Yoga opens you. You can pull your shoulders back, open your chest, straight in your back, let your neck be back and long…
Then, the flexibility, of course, helps so much to be open in your shoulder and your hips for Jiu Jitsu. You can escape more positions if your shoulders are flexible. You can keep tighter on your partners when your hips are open”.
Her favourite fighters
“I have a lot of Jiu Jitsu guys that I admire. The 1st one I had really looked up to was Jacare, and then Roger Gracie. When I started to compete and go to Brazil, those guys were competing. They were like the bests of the bests.
I really love Jacare style. He was my favourite Jiu Jitsu fighter for a long time. But I also like more classical Jiu Jitsu, like Rickson’s style. I like MMA style too, kick, takedown, lock… like Roger Gracie’s game. And, with the development of guard, I like Cobrinha”.
Her girl champions
“I really like Michelle Nicolini. She is really little but she is very strong. Dern McKenzie as well. She came up. She used to train with us in San Diego. She developed so much the last 3 years. She is also like Nicolini : attacking non stop and having an exciting game.
I also appreciate Beatriz “Bia” Mesquita and Leticia Ribeiro, from the Gracie Humaita team. Leticia competed for so long. She was one of the 1st female black belt. I became very good friend with her. I am under her pretty much. She gave me my 1st and my 2nd degree on my black belt”.
Born on 2nd July1979 in Durban (South Africa)
Height : 5 feet 7 in
Category : 150 lbs
Grade : 2nd Dan
Teams : Gracie Humaita, Rickson Gracie, Maui JJ
Main teachers : Luis Heredia, Leticia Ribeiro
Gi : 1st in 2004 (blue), 2005 (purple), 2007 (brown), 2009 (black). 2nd in 2003 (blue), 2008, 2010. 3rd in Open in 2009.
No Gi : 1st in 2007. 2nd in 2008
Panamerican championships. 1st in 2006 (purple), 2007.
Winner of ADCC (2007), NAGA Hawaii Gi and No Gi (2007), Grapplers Quest (2008, 2009, 2010)
To read :
Her Chinese portrait
Penny Thomas, Born to be wild