Featured Black Belt: Ashlin Kanawaty Franco-Behring Jiu Jitsu


Dear Grappling and BJJ  fans,

This time GRAPPLERSPLANET.COM brings to you an amazing B.J.J black belt, Ashlin Kanawaty, she has achieved a lot in this sport as a learner and a competitor, but has equally been a solid figure in representing the Heart, passion and dedication into this amazing sport and lifestyle we live every day of our lives.

She has been recently Promoted to Black Belt Rank and we are proud to bring to you a ONE on ONE interview with her, so we can all get to know each other better.

GP:  How long have you been doing B.J.J and how did you find it?

AK: I’ve been doing B.J.J for almost 10 years now. In short, I don’t know how I can live without it, but to elaborate a bit more, it’s become more than just a martial art/sport to me. B.J.J has been described as a “way of life” by a lot people, and I easily identify with that statement. It has had a great influence on my attitude on and off of the mat, the way I interact with other people and the friends I keep.

As a sport, naturally there are some challenging aspects to it. Not being the most athletically inclined individual, training in a gym full of big strong men was hard at the beginning (and still is!). But that is after all the goal of B.J.J, to “out-play” your opponent. I am constantly reminding myself of that fact and I try not to use my opponent’s strength as an excuse when I don’t succeed. Strength is equally as valid a tool as speed and flexibility, two highly revered qualities in our sport.

GP: What do you like best about Jiu Jitsu?

AK: I’ve never really thought of myself as an athlete – I’m not very good at other sports – but what I enjoy most about B.J.J is the intellectual element of the game. B.J.J is like the physical equivalent of chess. You play your move – pose a question to your opponent – and they answer it with another question. You can create strategies to lure your opponent into traps and present diversions to gain headway.

Another aspect that I really appreciate is the countless ways there are to individualize your game. Everyone develops their own brand of B.J.J over time, usually a function of their body type, athleticism and personality. The numerous perspectives mean you never stop learning, which I think is a reason why black belts continue to practice the sport long after being granted their professorship.

GP: What is the true meaning to having a black belt in your eyes?

AK: At the most fundamental level, having a black belt means you know and understand basic, and complex, principles and techniques that compose the art. Its not just about knowing the game that works for you, but the game that other people play too. That comes with experience and from rolling with a diverse population of grapplers.

In addition to knowing your material, innovation is an important, but probably the most difficult, task that befalls a black belt. B.J.J is still an evolving art, which means that there is still a lot of work to be done in the development area. Taking the time to experiment to try new things is crucial in keeping your game sharp, unpredictable and fun.

Beyond the technical stuff, the black belt represents achieving a certain level of emotional intelligence. By this I mean the ability to communicate effectively with students and other instructors; it means learning how to nurture the fast learners in your class, helping the student who is struggling to overcome some sort of block/plateau in their game, and effectively dealing with people who are determined to give you a hard time. Acquiring all of these skills can take a long time, so the best advice I can give is not to rush yourself and enjoy the journey to your black belt.

GP: Have you done other grappling styles?

AK: I have not seriously delved into grappling outside of B.J.J, unless you consider judo, which I did for two years at Queen’s University. Of late, however, a great portion of my time has however been devoted to striking. I’m enjoying it very much and I think it is a great compliment to B.J.J.

GP: What advice do you have for new students, white belts in training?

AK: To do anything to the best of your ability takes three things: time, effort and perseverance. Putting your time in on the mats, and using that time efficiently ,is the key to success. Not giving up is also key. There are times in your B.J.J career where you’re going to hit a block, inevitably, and your first instinct will be to just stop training. Don’t. Sometimes its good to take a step back and clear your head, but never let your feet get cold if you can avoid it.

GP:  Have you competed B.J.J on an international level? If you could list a few of your results.

AK: Although I have competed at a number of local venues, in both B.J.J and judo, my experience outside of Canada has been limited. I was fortunate enough to compete in the Mundials and the World Cup back in 2003 when they were both still in Rio De Janeiro at the blue belt level. I was 17 at the time and unfortunately I did not place.

Between then and now, I have had to focus a lot of my time on getting my education. But now that I have my black belt and more time/funds, I am planning on competing on outside of Canada more frequently. Specifically, I plan to attend the Pan Ams, the World Championships and a couple of other tournaments in the US.

GP: How do you see B.J.J and grappling evolve in the next 5 to 10 years from now?

AK: A good question As B.J.J is expanding and gaining popularity worldwide, I see the sport heading in the same direction as a lot of other martial art organizations (eg. judo or karate). There will eventually evolve a structured system whereby there are international, national and provincial/state levels of government (we are already in the midst of this) that will have records of the competition history of each competitor. To compete at higher and more prestigious tournaments, you will have to qualify by earning points at the lower level tournaments.
I think that these councils may also strive to enforce a unified curriculum that they would expect all dojos to follow. I suspect based on the way a majority of schools run their dojos, this will be limited to sport Jiu Jitsu/grappling, and possibly eliminate the other more traditional aspects of B.J.J such as self defense. I think the content of the curriculum will depend on the relative contributions between North America and Brazil.

GP: What do you think is missing in B.J.J to make it an Olympic sport?

AK: Unfortunately I think it will be a long time before B.J.J becomes an Olympic sport. Karate has been a worldwide sensation for about 50 years now and it still has not found a place in the Olympics. Probably the most significant factor will be popularity and awareness of the sport. I’m not sure of the specifics, but I believe the International Olympic Committee which decides these types of things has certain requirements about the prevalence of the sport worldwide. I don’t believe B.J.J has reached this standard yet, and it will probably be a while before it does.
A crucial part of obtaining a spot in the Olympics will also probably include having that structured international organization with national and state levels of government. The I.B.J.J.F is well on its way, and given enough time, I think they will get there.

GP: What is your favourite submission, escape and sweep?

AK: For me, submissions are the best part of B.J.J. If I had to pick just one, I am partial to chokes which use the gi, especially from the back position. I have found the most effective choke (and easy to do) is the double lapel choke from the back. I don’t know if I have a favourite escape. I think escapes are probably the most important part of the B.J.J game because they save you when you are in trouble and they are the first thing that you should familiarize yourself with when starting out. My favourite sweep is probably the sickle sweep. I use it a lot in my game and it works a fair percentage of the time. I also really like using the scissor sweep. Even though it is one of the first sweeps you ever learn, it is the last sweep you will end up trying to perfect. Though seemingly simple, there are a lot of little details that most people don’t pick up until much later in their B.J.J career. Catching someone with a perfect scissor sweep is a very satisfying feeling.

GP: When did u start B.J.J? Where and under who?

AK: I started B.J.J in 2002 when I was 15 under Shah Franco back at his old academy at the Yonge and Lawrence in Toronto. We trained in a small basement space affectionately known as “the dungeon”. I was fortunate to have the most influential years of my training with other well-known black belts Profs. Marco Costa, Richard Nancoo, Antonio Carvalho, Justin Bruckmann, Matt Macdonald, Jessie Richardson, Fernando Zulick and several others. Each of these professors has established their own unique brand of Jiu Jitsu and academies in our community. They have all had a great impact not only on my Jiu Jitsu, but on the person I am today.

GP: What do you train your students to be? What is your objective with your students in general?

AK: I have a similar philosophy as my Professor Shah Franco on this matter: I train my students to be Professors. I place great value in the academic approach to B.J.J because ultimately, if you can understand B.J.J at that level, then you will succeed in competition, teaching and self-defense. What is the academic approach? I’m not sure it has been specifically defined, but in my mind it means covering the four main topics in traditional B.J.J as stated in the Franco-Behring curriculum: grappling, judo, self defense and the progressive system. It is also my personal opinion that all B.J.J black belts should have at least a basic understanding of striking, especially as it relates to self defense, although that is a very subjective statement and I’m sure there are a few people out there who would disagree with me.

I think it is also important to have a rasp of competition style B.J.J. When my students have an upcoming tournament, we will switch to a more competition style of training. Though I don’t aim to specifically produce competitors, I believe that the experience of competition gives one insight into the martial art and equips a professor to teach competition Jiu Jitsu to his/her students. It also provides one with valid action in the sense that your training has a practical application and it gives you an idea of where you rank among your peers.

Thank You SO much Prof. Ashlin, this Question and Answer experience was awesome!! You are a true example in this sport and community. We at GRAPPLERPLANET.COM management, wish you all the best of successes and long B.J.J life… OSSS!!!

GREGG @GP Management





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