Finding the Fighter Inside

AMANDA KIRKMAN, 32, spent most of her life as a ballerina, from age six to 21. But for the next nine years, she was not very active. During that time the Colorado native moved to Memphis and fell in love the city and, in time, a new sport.

Once settled, Amanda, a real estate agent for Keller Williams, joined Memphis Fitness Kickboxing. The studio also offers jujitsu classes, and Amanda took a chance on it. From that first class, Amanda was hooked. After taking it seriously for two years, she earned her blue belt in August 2016. With a hierarchy of five belts, Amanda is working towards her third, a purple belt.

Jujitsu is a Japanese system of unarmed combat and physical training. Athletes do a series of six-minute rolls on the floor, wrestling one another into various submissions. While offering an incredible cardio workout, jujitsu can be compared to weightlifting where the resistance comes from other people instead of weights. “Think of it as trendy wrestling,” Amanda says. “It’s wrestling, but it incorporates some MMA and Ronda Rousey-type elements.”

“I’ve gained a lot of muscle mass by doing jujitsu, and I’ve had to adjust my mindset on what my physique should look like.”

In March 2016, several people from the studio branched out and started Midtown Grappling Academy. Although jujitsu is a male-dominated sport, Midtown Grappling Academy proudly has about 50 percent female students.

Having been a ballerina most of her life, Amanda had to retrain her mind on the ideal body type. Amanda was accustomed to the long, thin, lean shape of a dancer. Since beginning jujitsu, she gained about 30 pounds, mostly in her quads and glutes. “I’ve gained a lot of muscle mass by doing jujitsu, and I’ve had to adjust my mindset on what my physique should look like.”

In addition to working out, Amanda eats a strict paleo diet. Since jujitsu is a sport known for injuries, she believes her diet helps combat inflammation and reduces the risk of injury. She usually begins the day with a half-cup of oats with powdered peanut butter and cashew milk. After her midday jujitsu class, she typically eats a whole cantaloupe followed by a lunch of brussel sprouts and salmon. Dinner “gets a little fancy,” Amanda says. The self-proclaimed chef often makes shrimp pad thai with noodles made of yams, lettuce wraps, or curry soup made with cauliflower. She tries to avoid all processed foods and sugar.

While Amanda is working toward an eventual black belt, she says, “I remind myself not to focus so much on the end goal but to truly enjoy the journey. As long as I’m learning each day, how the journey ends does not define the experiences I’ve had throughout it.”

By Christin Yates. Photo by Philip Murphy.

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