I’ve not-so-secretly dreamed of selling everything I own so my family can travel and train jiu-jitsu full time. I’ve also always had a gypsy soul, so when I first stumbled upon the Instagram account @jiujitsugypsy, I was obviously intrigued. I started following the account of Heather Raftery not really knowing much about her, but I quickly realized that she was more than just a catchy Instagram handle. She’s a badass black belt under the Atos flag in San Diego. Heather has made a life of combining her two greatest passions, traveling and Brazilian jiu-jitsu.
I spoke with Heather on behalf of Jiu-Jitsu Times, and she told us more about her unique lifestyle and her road to Worlds this year.
For the last year, Heather has lived comfortably with discomfort in her Volkswagen van, which she’s converted into a tiny home on wheels. She explains her living arrangements saying,
I’ve always been intrigued by minimalism and living with the least amount you could need. When I first bought it, it was completely bare inside. I redid the whole interior and put in a bed with the sole purpose of not having to stay in a hotel when I travel. It’s been really convenient, and I’m comfortable with discomfort, so it doesn’t bother me.
When asked how she sustains an income without a permanent address, Raftery was excited to tell me about her freelancing work doing investigative research, academic research, and writing for multiple websites and magazines. She says, “It’s all internet based work, which fits right in with my lifestyle because I don’t have to be in an office or one location all the time.”
My next question was how she continued to progress through the BJJ ranks without any significant time delays because of her traveling. It’s one of the things I’ve puzzled over in my own daydreams of life on the road. Raftery made it seem simple explaining that she only ever trains under one flag, and she only travels with a purpose (usually a jiu-jitsu competition). She takes as much time as she wants to explore the areas she travels to, but her lifestyle has not slowed her progress to black belt.
As Raftery prepares for Worlds, she shed some more light into what transformed her jiu-jitsu once she started training with Atos:
What really transformed my jiu-jitsu at Atos was really just being gritty. Committing to that takedown or that sweep and just moving on to the next move. Being adamant about imposing my game instead of reacting to someone else’s game. That’s always been my weakness.
Raftery is training in Worlds camp now, which means her schedule is packed! She trains competition classes and strength training at least four days each week, as well as yoga and salsa at least two days each week. She said she loves the “ying and yang” of incorporating dance and yoga because it helps her balance the intense mental challenge of jiu-jitsu.
Minimalism and “vanlife” as it’s affectionately called have allowed Raftery to focus on her passions. What are you willing to sacrifice for yours?
“Gypsy” has many meanings, most of which are not slurs. Here are the definitions from dictionary.com.
Furthermore, it’s not our word. The individual whom this article is written about calls herself the “jiu-jitsu gypsy.” If you have issues with the word, you should take it up with her.