A Testament to Movement Training: Shannon’s Story

Samsara athlete Shannon O'Grady reflects on her passion for jiu jitsu, lessons from competition and training as an athlete today.

Discovering a Life-Long Passion

My love for moving my body started with running and evolved into all things endurance, especially if mountains were involved. At age 38, I discovered jiu jitsu. I became obsessed with how the martial art combined flexibility, strength, whole body movement and strategy. 

Proving Grounds Invitational (PGI) was formative in my early years of training.  Unlike most local tournaments where anyone can sign up, it’s an ‘invitational’ – meaning that you either apply to be on the card or you’re invited to fight.

I fought on my first Proving Grounds card as a blue belt in an 8 woman in the <130lb bracket and managed to squeak out a silver. That experience taught me a lot about the competitive mindset that works best for me. I don’t go into competitions thinking I’m the best or that I will win, I go in with the goal of doing good jiu jitsu, my jiu jitsu.  

Proving Grounds 7

Proving Grounds 7 had a quintet-style (teams of 5), submission-only format with 4 teams. Submission-only means you can only win if you submit your opponent or essentially make them tap out with a choke or joint lock. Because there is a total team weight requirement as opposed to individual weight classes, teams are often made up of a range of smaller and larger competitors, which means you’re not always matched up with opponents of the same size. 

Prior to the competition you come up with a fight order for your team, 1-5. The team that is first to make it through the other team’s 5 competitors moves on to the finals. As #5 in our line-up, I was the smallest competitor on my team, second smallest out of all 4 teams, and definitely the oldest.

The tournament starts with your 1st fighter going against another team’s 1st fighter in a 7-minute match. If your #1 submits their #1, they get 1 minute rest and then move on to the opposing team’s #2 fighter, and so on. If there is no submission, the match moves on to the next fighters in each team’s line-up. 

Moving on to the finals came down to me going against the fifth fighter on the opposing team a significantly bigger and very tough athlete. We started the match and I immediately sat to guard (on my butt) knowing that if I didn’t she could easily throw me. While I initiated an early leg attack, she escaped and dominated me for the next 5 minutes of the match. 

Learning from Sport

The study of jiu jitsu has many lessons, but two of the greatest are resilience and perseverance.  I managed to survive several aggressive submission attempts and just kept repeating to myself, ‘I’m ok, I’ve been here before, I’ll find my moment.’  And then my moment came. I found an opening and attacked her leg. She tried to escape but failed and tapped with 30 seconds on the clock. The entire room erupted in cheers and we were onto the finals.

In the finals, I quickly found myself back on the mats. In order for us to win, I’d need to submit four members of the other team. 

After winning two matches against bigger opponents in a serious demonstration of skill and strength, I went to face my third opponent — also bigger than me. Though I felt it hard to calm my breathing and slow my heart rate, I could feel the energy of the crowd behind me. 

It was a good match, but she was able to gain top control and submit me via a shoulder lock. Our team had lost in the finals, but collectively those four teams of women had shown just how exciting and technical women’s jiu jitsu is and that was something we all celebrated.

A Family Affair

Jiu Jitsu has now become a family affair with my husband and both of my kids now training, but we also climb, hike and ski together — the ‘together’ part being what’s most important.

My daughter Sloane started training jiu jitsu when she was 4 and has found a love for it that is all her own. I don’t force my kids to train or compete and I was happy to sign her up for her first tournament when she asked at age 6. I was there when she scored her first point, won her first match and got her first gold medal. She doesn’t always win but I can always count on her giving it her best and that makes me proud.

When the PGI directors asked me if Sloane wanted to do a superfight at PGI 7, I said I’d need to ask her first and she jumped at the chance.  Her drive inspires me and I couldn’t think of a better way to celebrate our shared love of jiu jitsu than being on the same fight card — something that’s a first for PGI.

Training as an Athlete Today

I’m 44 and feeling my age. While I can still hold my own against younger folks, I often notice less energy when training and injuries seem to take longer to heal. I’m learning that it’s important for me to try not to do all the things hard, all of the time. I run, I lift, I climb a bit, and I practice jiu jitsu 6-7 days a week.

I’ve found that it’s extremely important for me to bring down the intensity on many of these activities and prioritize the energy (and time) that I have. Training with Samsara has helped align my strength and cardio work with my jiu jitsu training, while not overpowering it. The movement based training feels like it’s synergistic with much of my jiu jitsu movement and I’m excited to see how it continues to help me progress my art.