An Athlete You Need to Know–Meet Miyo Strong

Miyo and her youngest daughter, Maya

             Miyo and her youngest daughter, Maya. Photo Credit: The Infinity Machine

Sometimes you meet a person who you are so blown away by that they make you nervous. The nerves aren’t any fault of the person’s, it’s just that their existence and accomplishments leave you in awe, which makes you a bit anxious. It’s a good feeling though–a physiological sign that you’ve found someone to hold onto. These people make you want to do better. To be better. That’s how I would describe Miyo Strong, or @Utahjitsmama–she’s a well-rounded, talented, brilliant woman. She’s a mother, master photographer, amazing friend, and competitive Brazilian Jiu Jitsu athlete. She’s the kind of person who disarms you with her kindness, but you’re kind of nervous, and usually in awe.

Miyo is a fierce advocate for women’s empowerment and jiu jitsu is her medium of choice. I took some time to interview Miyo about her history with jiu jitsu and her future as a competitor. I know Miyo from Absolute MMA, our home gym in West Jordan. Get to know her here, and you’ll definitely want to check her out on Instagram and Twitter. If you’re lucky, you might get to call her your friend:

SLC Feminist: When did you start doing jiu jitsu and what got you started?

Miyo: I initially started taking jiu jitsu classes in college almost twenty years ago.  I had finally left an abusive relationship and decided to make some major changes personally. It was a huge leap of faith walking into a close combat sport dominated by men, especially after my experiences, but it ultimately led me to some of the most important people in my life.  To say I am grateful for jiu jitsu seems so grossly inadequate.  It helped me to regain my self-esteem, sense of safety and control, and it enabled me to build trust in men again both physically and emotionally.

SLC Feminist: Why do you recommend other women do jiu jitsu?

Miyo: There are so many benefits for women!  If you can find the right gym with the right people then it is a very safe environment for women to be exposed to close contact, realistic, intimidating situations with men where self-defense can be practiced.  The sport is also growing so quickly that it is now possible to find women’s only classes if training with men is not an option.  It’s also important for women to experience the physicality of jits. Fitness and a healthy lifestyle can have a hugely positive affect on your self esteem.

SLC Feminist: How has jiu jitsu helped you in other areas of your life?

Miyo: It has helped me deal with outside pressure and stress in a healthy way.  It has been my sanctuary when life is continually chucking lemons at me and making lemonade isn’t cutting it; choking people does.  When I train jits I am forced to truly focus on being present because if you don’t then you or your partner could get seriously injured.  That energy spent focused on jiu jitsu clears my head a bit and gives me extra patience in my tank.  And I will be honest, sometimes I need to be pushed physically to exhaustion and tears in order to have some mental clarity about other outside issues.

SLC Feminist: What does an average week of training look like for you?

Miyo: Right now I am in competition season so my training takes up more time than usual.  I cross train strength and conditioning at GymJones one day a week and trail run 1-2x a week on top of my 6-7 classes of jiu jitsu at Absolute MMA, wrestling and judo.  The sessions last
anywhere from 75-120 min and always leave me 100% exhausted and happy.  There is technique review and then live rounds, or ‘sparring’.

Miyo applying a rear naked choke in competition

           Miyo applying a rear naked choke in competition. Photo Credit: The Infinity Machine

SLC Feminist: Who are your jiu jitsu heroes?

Miyo: Mackensie Dern, a twenty-two-year-old multiple time world champ.  She is small in stature and is continually at the top of the podium no matter the weight class. Grand Master Flavio Behring, one of only a handful of red belts in the world and a personal friend/mentor.  He will be eighty soon and still travels the world teaching the art of jiu jitsu, I can’t even fathom the positive impact he has had on the jiu jitsu world in all the decades of his teaching. Rob Handley, my current Professor, coach and friend.  He is a decorated athlete that has dedicated so much of his life to helping others become successful in jiu jitsu.  He helps me believe in myself and in my jiu jitsu.  Without his encouragement and support as well as butt kickings, I would not be where I am today.

SLC Feminist: Tell me a little bit about your experience with competition.

Miyo: I have a love/hate relationship with competing.  By nature I am a pretty competitive/driven person but I am also very afraid of losing, of getting hurt, of letting down my teammates, coaches, family etc so my anxiety level goes through the roof every competition I enter.  However, the challenge of getting ready to compete as well as the act itself can garner so much personal growth I recommend it to everyone that trains to compete.  You learn a lot about yourself when you compete, strengths and weaknesses are exposed and how you cope with either is something you can’t hide from.  Competing is uncomfortable, it’s hard and it’s risky.  All are great reasons why you should do it.

I have traveled to Arizona, Las Vegas and California to compete.  There are small local tournaments as well but to be exposed to the top level of jiu jitsu you have to travel to the large international tourneys.  I have my sites set on competing(and winning) at World’s in 2016.

SLC Feminist: Do you consider yourself a feminist?

Miyo: I have always identified myself as a feminist but multiply it by 100fold now that I am raising 2 incredible humans that happen to be female.  There is nothing they can’t or shouldn’t be able to do, think, accomplish, have, create or love simply based on gender.  And I would feel the exact same way if I were raising males.

SLC Feminist: If you could have dinner with any three women, dead, alive, or fictional, who would
they be?

Miyo: Tough question! Frida Kahlo; My seven-year-old self; Beyonce!

SLC Feminist: Anything else you want to add?

Miyo: The main point for me is setting a good example for my daughters.  They are my WHY in most things jiu jitsu related.  There are lessons that have to be learned by observation and lifestyle not just lecturing. My girls see me struggle on the mat, they see me win and lose.  They see me make healthy choices with nutrition and sleep habits.  They watch as I battle injuries and feeling discouraged.  They see the stress and strain as I try to balance a career, a family and a sport I love.  They will never see me give up.  They will always feel loved and important yet the level that I hold them accountable will always be high.  They are capable of so much more than they know.  They can do anything they want and find success in any area with enough hard work, dedication and support.

Make sure you follow Utah Jits Mama on Instagram to see what she has going on!

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