The focus of this Spotlight piece is on current IBJJF NoGi World Champion Jena Bishop. I’ve known Jena and her husband Tyler for a little over a year now. I feel like enough time has gone by now that I can write this piece about Jena with the amount of detail necessary to give it the honest effort it deserves. I previously wrote a blog when they initially arrived titled The Bishops, which covered their move and how having them as instructors has benefited the school’s overall vibe. Due to my schedule, Jena has now become the instructor that I’m around most. We both teach our respective Kid’s and Junior’s classes on Tuesdays and Thursdays, she also teaches the Women’s and Adult’s Classes the same nights and often jumps into NoGi on Friday Nights when Tyler teaches.
Simply put, the kids love her. Not just HER kids but MY kids as well. Our kid classes overlap, mine starting at 4:30 and her’s at 5:00. There have been times when one of the kids in my class will rush over to her when she walks through the front door. I remember one of my kids running off the mats to say hi. I’m left standing there like, “you don’t know her, she’s not even your instructor!” In general, Jena is patient and understanding with the kids. She has a great ability to break down the techniques she teaches, so they are easier for the kids to digest. She often breaks them down into smaller segments and has them rep those before adding additional movements.
The classes are just fun. Even on those days where you know the kids aren’t as motivated as they usually are, she has a way of pulling it out of them. After my class is over, I find myself watching her teach. I sit on the edge of the mat with my legs crossed and take mental notes of how she handled a kid that might be having a hard time. The amount of detail and options she may provide to a kid that competes seriously. Seeing the amount of care and time she devotes to a student that may not have the confidence in themselves to effectively pull the technique off.
One of the biggest additions to the school is the Women’s class. To say that it’s been successful would be an understatement. Jena has created a dedicated group of female grapplers ranging from White to Purple belts who come in and just have a good time training. Some are purely hobbyist and come in for the workout and a chance to learn how to defend themselves, while others are fierce competitors. As an outsider looking in, the ladies look tight knit. After every class they get together and take a group picture or pull off some creative Boomerang video to share on Instagram.
I’ve actually brought up the idea with the guys of copying their Boomerangs, no matter how feminine the activity might be. It’s still in the works so don’t be surprised if we make a weekly thing.
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Being at Gracie Humaita, I’m afforded the opportunity to train with many high level practitioners at various belts. Of these people, Jena had a hugely successful 2017 campaign. She won American Nationals, Pans (Masters 1), Europeans (Masters 1), Masters Worlds (Masters 1), and NoGi Worlds at Black Belt. This was the first year that I was able to see someone at such a high level, train up close and personal. Most fans only get to see the finished product, the jubilant expression on someone’s face when they win a world title or medal. With Jena, I was able to see the ups and downs. I got to see her wince and strain against the aching muscles and lingering injuries, but no matter how banged up she was, she just kept going.
I would see her and ask, “have you seen a doctor yet?”
With a big smile on her face, “No, I don’t wanna hear them tell me that I can’t train.”
“I guess that’s one way to go about it. You should probably see a doctor, though.”
Training with her is always hard but it’s also fun. Every time we spar I tell her, “today’s the day.” I’m in essence calling my shot and letting her know that today would be the first day that I would submit her. It has now turned into a running joke between us, one that has yet to materialize unfortunately. She’ll laugh, we slap hands, and then she’ll go about dismantling my attempt at a guard I have. At some point during the roll I’ll finally say, “OK, maybe not today.”
Plainly put, Jena is a gem. Many of our students really don’t know how lucky they are to have her as an instructor. Schools often don’t have a women’s class, let alone one lead by a world champion black belt competitor. She’s a wealth of knowledge that cares about her students deeply. She’s always available to answer a quick question or merely a laugh. Any time the kids are competing, she’s there to settle their nerves and comfort them after a tough loss. For me personally, she’s become a role model as an instructor. Whether she realizes it or not, I find myself borrowing from her. Whether it’s technique or the way she conducts herself during a specific situation. I’m thankful and fortunate to have her around.
Thank you, Jena for all you do.