How One F2W 135 Competitor Is Spreading Her Love Of Martial Arts To Help Others Learn Self-Defense

Image Source: Fight 2 Win via Stacey Councilman/Facebook

Fight 2 Win 135 will be starting in just a few hours, and as usual, we’ll be seeing a star-studded main event (Nick Rodriguez vs. Victor Hugo!) backed by a steady stream of matches between talented local competitors. Among them will be an action-packed purple belt match between Brooke Mayo and Stacey Councilman, and while this match may take place closer towards the beginning of the night, don’t make the mistake in thinking that these athletes should be ignored.

Councilman, for example, is indeed a talented competitor. But her greatest achievements so far may not lie in the multiple medals she’s collected over the years in competition, but in her efforts to grow the jiu-jitsu community and help teach self-defense tactics to those who need them most.

Councilman started martial arts back in 2012 when her daughter (who was nine years old at the time) started training to help her with social issues at school. Seeing the perfect opportunity for some bonding time with her daughter, Councilman started training, but eventually realized that she wasn’t satisfied with what she was learning through Kung Fu.

Fast forward to 2014, her CrossFit instructor (who also taught a few martial arts, including jiu-jitsu) switched things up one day and suggested that the women in the class spend their time learning BJJ that day. For Councilman, the rest is history — she and three of the five women in the class kept up with their no-gi jiu-jitsu training, often doing it multiple times a day and seeking out other training opportunities hours away to help boost their knowledge. It wasn’t long before Councilman started finding success in competition as a white belt, and soon, she was introduced to the gi.

“Two of my friends at that time were also members at Rice Bros… When I think back on the day I first put on a jiu-jitsu gi that day, I have to laugh. I was uncomfortable and annoyed at people using grips,” she says. “I also had no idea I was in the presence of jiu-jitsu legends. To me, they were just ‘Redding people’ — super laid back. I remember Rod Rice getting down on the mats with me to refine my technique in side control and showing me how to use grips on the gi. I remember how crazy knowledgeable Tanner, Sam, and Matthew were.”

In 2015, Councilman left Redding and moved to Roseville, CA, where she found Rocklin-Infinite Jiu-Jitsu, where she’s stayed ever since. Now a purple belt, she’s built up an impressive resume throughout her journey, winning World Masters in 2018 as a blue belt; silver at No-Gi Worlds in 2016, 2017, and 2018; double silver at No-Gi Pans in 2018; and most recently, gold at Pans as a purple belt just last year.

Image may contain: 4 people, including Stacey Councilman, people smiling
Image Source: Stacey Councilman via Facebook

Councilman isn’t just involved with jiu-jitsu on the competitive side, though. During her pre-BJJ time, when she was practicing Kung Fu, she started to gain interest in motivating other women to try martial arts so that it could give them what it had given her. “I had never in my life felt as confident as a woman, then when I started learning martial arts. My self-worth shot up. I had gone through some personal things that shattered my self-worth, and I knew in my heart I could help other women feel the same through these beautiful means.”

Councilman began training Krav Maga after meeting Ryan Spink, who had developed a program called Integrated Combat Systems University (ICSU) that helped others develop practical, realistic self-defense tactics. Councilman would go on to become a director for ICSU, and later on, she’d used what she’d learned through a variety of martial arts (and the knowledge she’d developed through her work with ICSU) to found the Warrior Forged Project. The WFP, which is a nonprofit, focuses on teaching vulnerable people (whether that’s women, kids, or men) self-defense and empowerment through the combination of a variety of combat systems and martial arts. In the Project’s first year, 2017, Councilman and her team hosted fifty women’s self-defense seminars.

Councilman places high emphasis on the quality and education of the WFP’s instructors. “It’s mandatory for our instructors to have continuous growth and training in their martial arts and defensive tactics. They have to maintain training AND re-certify as instructors through our ICSU courses. Our information is never outdated or traditional… it is always modern and up-to-date.” Like any nonprofit, though, the journey has been uphill, and behind all the inspirational stories, there’s struggle. “It’s an organization that takes a lot of work, and volunteers get burnt out. It also takes money, just like any business. And because we work for free, it is costly. We depend on fundraising and donations to get us from town to town, and that’s not always easy to get. In fact, it’s never easy. We need grants, but that takes grant writers, and we are spread thin for help behind the scenes.”

Never the type to stop and rest, though, Councilman isn’t letting these challenges hold her back. In fact, she and the rest of the WFP team will be pushing forward this year to expand the Project in new ways and integrate it more with the jiu-jitsu community. Councilman is joining forces with Karen Peters (co-founder of TAP and the women’s Master movement), Nicole and Denise Houle (founders of Elevate Jiu-Jitsu Magazine), Diane Maier, and Candace Stump to form the Women’s Jiu-Jitsu Alliance: a non-profit that hopes to unite and grow the women’s jiu-jitsu community. “We used ‘alliance’ in the name because it’s three organizations coming together with similar missions who are also open to other organizations that align with the nonprofit to joining as well,” says Councilman.

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Image Source: Stacey Councilman via Facebook

The WJJA is still in its infancy and will host its first open events in spring this year, and one of Councilman’s strategies is going to be to host a women’s open mat after a self-defense seminar and promote it as an introduction to jiu-jitsu for women. “I can get brand new ladies off the street and interested in doing BJJ in a safe healthy environment with other women that do BJJ. It’s going to be huge for the women’s BJJ community.”

Councilman’s confidence that the WJJA will have its intended effect isn’t baseless. She’s already had success stories come out of her work with the WFP, and as her efforts grow and more people become involved, she knows she’ll be seeing even more women starting and continuing their jiu-jitsu journeys. “A young lady that went to a WFP seminar 3 years ago in Lodi, CA, never would’ve stepped into a BJJ gym,” she recalls. “After going to our seminar, she had the courage and motivation to go to jiu-jitsu. A couple months ago, I was training with UFC fighter Aspen Ladd at an open mat in El Dorado, CA, and this young lady approached me. She told me after going to my seminar, she had the courage to join WAZA BJJ in Sacramento and just got her blue belt! She doesn’t know this, but I cried. Even if it was just one, just her, this whole story of WFP and BJJ would be worth it. But it has been several of these stories. And this is why I do what I do. “

Now, Councilman has a lot on her plate, but her first order of business is her F2W match tonight. She’s going into the event having been battling bronchitis for the past week and has immense respect for her opponent. “Brooke is a pro MMA fighter and a purple belt (who in my opinion is overdue for her brown belt) so she will be a really good challenge for me,” she says.

As Councilman looks ahead to the 2020 competitive season, she’s optimistic and passionate. “…My focus is on having fun and being the best version of myself,” she says. “Last year, I feel like I put too much focus on ‘winning,’ and to be honest, I win more when I just have fun. For example, 2019 Pans was my first gi tournament as a purple belt. I went into it super excited to just be able to compete as a purple belt… no expectations of myself, just do good jiu-jitsu and have fun. And I won.”

You can watch Councilman vs. Mayo, along with dozens of other exciting matches, when Fight 2 Win 135 streams live tonight from Sacramento, CA, on FloGrappling!


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