Jordan Novak: From Children’s Book Writer and Artist to Gentle Artist

Children’s book author and illustrator Jordan Novak has only been training Brazilian jiu-jitsu for two years, but she’s already making a name for herself in the Northeast United States competition circuit. While training under Professor Dave Maver at Renzo Gracie Warwick, Jordan has applied the same discipline and passion she used to hone her skills as an artist to becoming a gentle artist on the mats. Her dedication for BJJ has compelled her to train 113 days straight and embrace the grind as one of the few women on the mats at her academy. Through her hard work and commitment, she quickly graduated to competing and medaling in expert no-gi divisions as a white belt and blue belt and is currently prepping for The ADCC East Coast Trials.

How did you discover Brazilian jiu-jitsu and what attracted you to the sport?

When I was a little kid, I did Tae Kwon Do for a few years and occasionally we would do something they called “jiu-jitsu wrestling.” I didn’t know anything about jiu-jitsu, but I immediately loved rolling around on the ground way more than kicking and punching. That was the last I heard of it until 20 years later, a guy in a bar told me he was waiting to pick his kids up from a jiu-jitsu class in my town. My childhood memories came rushing back, and I had been looking for a new athletic activity since I hate the gym and the volleyball league I was in at the time was an hour away. I called the next day, signed up for my first class, and I’ve pretty much lived at the academy since.

How long have you been training, what is your belt rank, and what are a few of your major competition accomplishments during your brief BJJ journey?

I just had my two-year anniversary and I’m a one-stripe blue belt. I started competing at the expert level (no-gi) a little over a year ago at all of the local (NAGA, Grappling Industries, Fuji, etc.) tournaments. I’ve taken gold or silver in all of those competitions, which was a really great intro to competing at higher levels. That got me into the first NAGA Pro Series as well as two Fuji Pro superfights, so I’m 3-0 in that world. 

You haven’t been training long, but have been making waves on the BJJ scene in no-gi expert level competitions. When did it click that you have potential, and what made you compete in the expert division at competitions while you were a white belt?

I haven’t been training long, no… but I live on those mats. In my first year of training, I had a streak where I trained 113 days straight, and it only ended because I fractured my sternum in training the day before a competition. And I went back to training with the broken sternum the next day. 

I didn’t think I was especially good at jiu-jitsu for a long time because I train in an academy of straight-up killers. But I was the only woman in almost every class for the first year I was training, and I think that skewed my perspective. I eventually had a white belt match against a girl who was something like 22-0, and my professor kept telling me he knew I could beat her, and when I did, I started to gain confidence. The move up to expert happened when I didn’t have any matches in my division (as happens a lot for women’s divisions!). I hadn’t lost a match at intermediate in a while, so we figured it would be a good experience if nothing else.

Dave Maver is an incredible coach who never lets us settle for easy competition. He pushes us, so we push ourselves and each other, and it really does produce results. Doing well against brown belts even when I lost as a white belt motivated me in ways wins over white belts never could.

What are your major goals for 2021 and beyond, and what adjustments to your training have you made to reach these goals? Are you working on any specific positions or techniques right now?

I’m doing ADCC qualifiers in November and I want to win those and eventually, ADCC. This circles back to Dave setting those standards high.

I definitely want to keep doing more pro-level competitions and get used to that atmosphere and pressure. I’m working on my mental game specifically right now because I can’t possibly train harder on the mats. Getting those nerves under control could be the difference between a W and an L in most cases. All of these ladies at the top are amazing athletes. It’s just a matter of who can bring the A-game when we step on the mats and keep the edge in those few minutes. I don’t want anxiety to take away from all of the work I’m putting in during training, so the goal is to conquer the nerves completely and just enjoy competition the way I enjoy everything else about jiu-jitsu.  

As for specific positions, I’ve been enjoying getting back to more chokes from front headlock lately. I’ll sometimes abandon entire chunks of my game because I get excited about something new, but when I remember to put it all together and look for every possible submission and not just my current favorite, that’s when the magic happens. 

How did you break into creating children’s books, and what is the processing of writing and illustrating books gear adolescents? 

That was very much like getting better at jiu-jitsu. It was just grinding. I learned as much as I could and would draw and write for hours every day. I went to seminars and sat in critique groups and honed my skills more and more until I was able to sign with an agent and eventually get published. I treated it like a job, and that’s what it became. (I actually work full-time for one of my publishers now.) 

I get obsessed with the things I’m passionate about and I am just relentless until I achieve a goal. And even when I get to the goal, I tend to feel like I need to aim higher, rather than feeling like I’ve accomplished something. It’s a blessing and a curse.

Any plans to do a children’s book on Brazilian jiu-jitsu or martial arts?

Interestingly enough, my very first picture book was called Mosquitoes Can’t Bite Ninjas! This was before I even trained jiu-jitsu, so it’s funny that I had a children’s book in the martial arts category. 

As for a new book on the subject, I’m very focused on training right now, but I can see it happening in the future. When I have time… One day…

How has training Brazilian jiu-jitsu benefited your life and helped/inspired you as a writer and artist?

Jiu-jitsu gave me a level of confidence that carries through every part of my life.  As a woman, you get used to certain things being considered “dangerous” and you avoid them and that’s just normal. Even the idea of living alone made me somewhat nervous.

Of course, that had always been my reality, so I didn’t really notice it, but when it was gone, it was very noticeable. I just know I can handle a lot more than I thought I was capable of now. It’s very freeing. 

I also have this huge, incredible community that I see come together every time one of us needs something. So it’s both being a stronger individual and being a part of a stronger whole. Nowhere else have I seen people come from so many different walks of life to form a family. I love how all of the nonsense and labels don’t matter at all. We show up for each other and that’s what counts. 

You have a lot on your plate with your career, family and training. How do you balance all of it from day to day and week to week? Any tips or advice you have for others who are also trying to manage the same time commitments and challenges?

My calendar looks insane! I literally plan my days to the minute. I have to decide every meal I’m cooking a week ahead of time because I only have time for one grocery trip. It’s all just planning. I plan the week ahead every Sunday and I make certain things non-negotiable. Training, coaching, sleeping, working, even being with my kids has carved out time. I don’t have a lot of wiggle room when I need to go to the dentist or something, but when things are important you find a way to make them work.


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