Four years ago Jessica Duncan, a lifelong athlete and fitness enthusiast, had a feeling her training at conventional gyms had plateaued. Wanting something to take her fitness to the next level she came to KnuckleUp, attracted at first by the gym’s renowned Kickboxing and Muay Thai programs. She enjoyed the Kickboxing program so much that someone mentioned to her that she should also try the gym’s Brazilian Jiu Jitsu. Jessica, a natural competitor, immediately took to the new sport and has never looked back. She says her life changed the moment she first stepped on the mat. I spoke to her recently about her journey with the KnuckleUp BJJ program.
I did a month of personal lessons with instructor Gui Curry to introduce myself to the sport. Then I dove into Master Murgel’s classes. I really liked it and I competed in my first tournament almost exactly thirty days after starting Master Murgel’s class. I lost by advantage but I got hooked. I loved the adrenaline of competing. You could say I got the Jiu Jitsu Bug.
In addition to the physicality, strategy and frequent chances to compete that are a part of BJJ, the team aspect of Brazilian Jiu Jitsu appealed to Jessica strongly.
I’ve always really enjoyed being on a team. I did track in High School and I’ve always loved competing. I realized that Jiu Jitsu was something that I could do as an adult and still work and go to school and also get to be on a team and get to compete. So it was the best of both worlds. Starting Jiu Jitsu was definitely a complete win for me.
Once she started training and competing, Jessica developed a fast paced style which takes advantage of her small stature, speed and natural athleticism.
In scrambles, my speed is good which compensates for my being small and also my legs are really strong. So I always try to keep my legs underneath my opponent. Which is why I like playing guard. I feel very comfortable controlling my opponent with my legs. If I can get any sort of high guard or try breaking their posture and sucking them into my high guard, I’m usually very good at getting triangles and things like that, and if the submission doesn’t work then I’ll look for the sweep.
Jessica likes to go for submissions in her matches, ending them as quickly as possible.
I like to try to end the matches quickly, so I look for submissions right off the bat. I try to catch my opponent off guard before they’ve settled in with their grips and things like that. So the quicker I can end the match the better in my opinion.
Jessica was recently promoted to Purple Belt and as her rank increases she is steadily adding to her skillset on the mat.
Over the last couple of months I’ve really learned to keep pressure on my opponent, to stay low and control my opponents … I need to keep it low and heavy and not give up my advantage. I’ve been trying to master this general approach and apply it to many different positions.
Playing from the top position and trying to maintain a dominant position, as opposed to working underneath from the guard, presents a challenge for the diminutive Purple Belt.
Passing the guard is mentally taxing on me because when you’re on the bottom you can get a submission really fast but passing is more of a process. You have to stick with it. You have to go inch by inch. But I’m actually starting to enjoy learning how to play on the top and use pressure, which is difficult because I’m small, but it’s also kind of cool and rewarding when it pays off.
Jessica noted the big advantage KnuckleUp Head Instructor Master Ricardo Murgel and the rest of the team gives her.
Every day that I go to train I know that I am training directly under a Brazilian Jiu Jitsu Coral Belt. I’m getting his knowledge directly from him. At a lot of the larger schools you’re not working directly under the head master. You’re working ten people removed. You’re getting their interpretation of what the top guy has taught them. But here (at KnuckleUp) you’re getting exactly what the technique should be. That’s a huge opportunity for students.
Jessica’s four years of training all came together recently when she traveled to Chicago to compete in the IBJJF Chicago Open. Although this was her first Jiu Jitsu competition as a Purple Belt, she saw great success in the tournament and won medals in two divisions.
I was really nervous because it was my first tournament as a Purple Belt. I’ve competed in Chicago numerous times and I’m very familiar with all the girls in my bracket and there were four or five of them that I know had been to the podium multiple times at the Pan American Championships and the World Championships and they had a lot of titles. So it was kind of intimidating diving right into the next level of Jiu Jitsu against these girls.
In Chicago, her tendency to go for the quick win paid dividends early. And Jessica won two of her fights via submission with a slick technique that Master Murgel demonstrated to her some two months earlier.
Master Murgel always tells us “don’t get stuck on one position.” There are always multiple opportunities to attack your opponent. So I always try to have two or three things I want to go for if my first submission attempt isn’t working. I used this particular transition in training a few times and knew I could pull it off so I was excited to actually implement it in a tournament against high-level opposition.
The first time I got it was like two minutes into the match and the second time was in less than a minute. I ended up getting second place in my division and also something that was very exciting for me is that I made the podium for the open division. It was really cool and challenging because I was the smallest girl in the Open Weight division and it was stacked with talent.
One of the most dedicated and diligent of the KnuckeUp’s Brazilian Jiu Jitsu students, Jessica is performing better and better the higher the level of competition she faces. This is always the sign of a excellent competitor.
I really enjoyed the opportunity to partake in such high level Jiu Jitsu and it wasn’t like anything I had experienced before. It made me realize that my Master and my team all really prepare each other well for competition and it shows when we get on the mat.