Last week I sat down with rising Norwegian competitor, Aashild “JD” Traedal. We talked about her recent victory at the IBJJF No-Gi Worlds, as well as her training regimen, thoughts on the art, and her advice to women in BJJ.
A prolific competitor, Traedal has racked up medals at the IBJJF No-Gi Worlds, the IBJJF European and Asian Championships, and that was just at blue belt. Now, less than six months into her purple belt, she’s already the no-gi world champion at her weight class. And she’s just getting started.
Jiu-Jitsu Times: First off, let’s get the basics out of the way. Who are you, how long and where have you trained, and what are some of your accomplishments in BJJ?
Aashild Traedal: I’m from a small village on the west coast of Norway. I’ve been training jiu-jitsu for a little over four years. I stumbled upon it at a gym I was visiting in Tucson, Arizona. I found a gym back here in Norway, Frontline Academy. Eventually, I decided to go to school in the US. I moved to Tucson for a little bit to study and also train jiu-jitsu at Northside BJJ under Professor Sean Huff, and since I graduated I’ve continued to train.
JJT: Do you consider BJJ your fulltime job and are you set on making it a career?
AT: I want to make it a career. As of right now, when I’m in the States, that’s what I do. I’m a Norwegian citizen, so when I do go to the states, it’s to train and compete and then I spend a couple months of the year in Norway where I work and basically make money to maintain the BJJ lifestyle. But eventually I wanna slowly get some local sponsors, hopefully of course get picked up by one of the bigger ones, that’s the goal.
AT: I want to make it a career. As of right now, when I’m in the states that’s what I do. I’m a Norwegian citizen, so when I do go to the states, it’s to train and compete and then I spend a couple months of the year in Norway where I work and basically make money to maintain the BJJ lifestyle. But eventually I wanna slowly get some local sponsors, hopefully, of course, get picked up by one of the bigger ones — that’s the goal.
JJT: What is your personal jiu-jitsu game like right now, and has it changed drastically over the years?
AT: I have a certain submission I like. You can ask anyone that knows me and they will say ”bow and arrow.” I actually tried to set up a no-gi bow and arrow in one of my matches at No-Gi Worlds.
My style I guess has changed a little over time. The first gym I trained at in Tucson was more top heavy, old school, a lot of pressure-passing, so I was definitely a top player. That’s where I got into that whole bow and arrow business. Right now, the school that I train at is more bottom game, sweep heavy, and I’m working on getting better at that.
Honestly, if you ask me to describe my style right now, I don’t know what I’m doing. I’m just trying all kinds of stuff. Trying to piece all those different styles together. Trying to be playful. But definitely in a competition setting, I’m probably gonna try and pull out my top game.
JJT: How did you prepare for the No-Gi Worlds and what are your keys to smart training?
AT: I’m kind of a “last minute” type of person. I wasn’t even supposed to be in the States. My preparation goes the whole year. I train a lot. When I’m in the States, I train twice a day. I can’t even count the hours in the week. Back home in Norway, I’m two hours from the nearest dojo, so the jiu-jitsu training is a little more sparse. But I think my preparation is what I put out the whole year.
When it gets close to tournament time, I get a little nervous and I think, “What the hell am I doing here?!” Then I go through that mental preparation of going through matches in my head. When I get to the area, sometimes I’m talkative, but other times I just want to get in my own head.
A key to my training? Good training partners. I get my a*s kicked every day. We have a lot of really good people that train at Northside. It’s just grit, I think. Unless you’re at a bigger academy, for a lot of smaller schools, there’s not going to be a lot of girls. You’re gonna be outweighed and outnumbered. So it’s just resilience and grit. You gotta be willing to get murdered every day and then show up the next day.
JJT: What are your competitive goals for 2019?
AT: I haven’t written them down yet, but I’m going to the Europeans in Portugal this January. I’m still a very fresh purple belt so I don’t have any expectations. I did well this past year, but I realize I’m still very fresh at this.
I do plan on going to the ADCC Trials. That is going to be for experience only. I know for the women it’s only two weight classes, and I train with one of the women from Tucson that’s going. She’ll be in my weight class (lightweight, 141 lbs.)
I am probably doing Pan Ams and possibly the San Jose Open. And of course, Master Worlds in Vegas. I have two bronze medals as a blue belt and I have unfinished business there. I guess that’s my white whale.
One other goal I have is to get into Fight 2 Win. I’ve done some of the sub-only tournaments in Tucson, but I want in on the bigger stage.
JJT: If you had a magic wand, what’s the one thing you would change about Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu?
AT: Heel hooks for everyone! Seriously though, heel hooks. Ummm, this is probably going to be a little cheesy, but as a competitor, it is VERY expensive to compete. So I do wish that some of the entrance fees were a little lower.
JJT: Do you prefer to train with women or men, or do you care?
AT: I’ve asked myself that question quite a few times actually. What I realized the first few times I competed, it’s very different to go 100 percent with someone who is exactly your size. It was very difficult to find the space that I usually find with guys that are taller than me. So I definitely see the benefit in both.
What I do learn from training with guys is, obviously, that I can take a bit of a beating and that it makes me stronger. But we have some good women that are my size and my skill level both in Tucson and back home in Norway.
JJT: Men sometimes assume women are interested in self-defense when they start BJJ. Is this something you’ve experienced, and how do you deal with it?
AT: I’m definitely a competitor, so that’s my main reason for training. I’ve always been a competitive person so that’s what triggers me. I can definitely see the benefit in jiu-jitsu for self-defense, but I don’t think it should be advertised as just from that standpoint to women.
I feel like it can just as well be advertised as “Hey? Do you want to show some girls up on the mat? Come and have fun.” It shouldn’t necessarily be about self-defense, even though that’s an important part of the art.
I do some security work at concerts, and I’ve never had to use my jiu-jitsu. But honestly, I feel more confident in the job. I know that I can, for the most part, handle the situation. I guess that’s the bonus.
JJT: What’s your advice to women in BJJ?
AT: I guess it’ll have to be the classic “just don’t quit.” Like I mentioned, I get crushed a lot. Sometimes I look like a world champion rolling around on the mat, and then a few days later everyone beats me. Everyone.
So I guess my advice is just sticking with it and trying to make it fun. I sometimes forget that it’s supposed to be fun I set the bar very high for myself. I have my days where I go home and cry and I’m like “******* it!”
But I’ve met so many great people through jiu-jitsu. I’ve gone to a lot of great places already, and I plan on going to a lot more. I have friends all over the world that I can connect with. If I want to go to somewhere in the Caribbean I know some people there. If I want to go somewhere in Europe, Italy, or Asia I can literally find people everywhere.
As for competing advice: if you’re just starting out, go and have fun. Don’t try to cut weight or do any of that crazy stuff in your first tournament.
When I was a fresh blue belt, I competed in a higher weight class just because I didn’t want to worry about my weight and sucking at a new level in competition. It’s not for everyone, but if you’re thinking about it, just go and try it and then you’ll know if you want to do it again. But it’s definitely good for the mind and spirit and ego. I always find the gaps — that’s what drives my passion is to learn is competing. Sometimes winning, sometimes losing.