There was a time for Katie Rhodes where her journey through life felt unsure, unsafe, and even unsteady. It was a realm devoid of trust.
“I had a difficult situation in my life where as a result I didn’t trust the world and I didn’t feel safe in the world,” she told Hayabusa during a recent, exclusive interview. “So I decided to try martial arts because I thought that it could potentially give me a sense of power over situations.”
The person in the mirror was me
That was in August 2017 and since that time, Rhodes has a brand new outlook on life. The change – both mental and physical – has been so profound, she took to Reddit to express her joy.
“I've never been overweight until a year ago, but I've definitely never been "slim." Have always been at the upper end of normal BMI,” her Reddit post detailed. “I went shopping today for cheap clothing (I've had to donate/sell my entire wardrobe, because it's starting to look unprofessional on me) and literally could not get over that the person in the mirror was me.”
That person staring back at her in the mirror is resilient.
Rhodes went from practicing Jiu Jitsu just a couple days a week to a full-on schedule of six days a week. The significance in this is not only the time commitment required, but also the fact that when she started, she didn’t want to be touched. By anyone.
In a slow, but steady pace, Rhodes began to lose weight and her body fat percentage dropped by 12 percent. Not only has there been a transformation of her body, but it has led to a change in the way she executes Jiu Jitsu. Instead of using side control to keep her opponents at bay – her go-to move because of her once typical size advantage – she modified her style and added a faster pace to her strategy.
I feel a lot more capable
Additionally, since so many of her training partners are men, she’s learned how to use leverage to control them.
The culmination of each of those changes has led to a much more positive life experience.
“I still walk through the world with caution, but I feel a lot more capable in handling situations if they would arise,” she said. “I do overall feel more confident as a person. I think that it has changed my personality to some extent where I’m more open. … And I’m sometimes amazed that I can actually fend off men that are 100 pounds heavier than me through leverage.”
The University of Missouri PhD candidate found a safe haven in her Jiu Jitsu school, Gracie Humaita Columbia, led by head instructor Shawn Woods. She found a place where there was genuine concern and action taken to ensure she was learning and progressing through the “Gentle Art.”
Finally being able to do cool things
“It felt like a community in and of itself within the Jiu Jitsu gym,” Rhodes said. “People would volunteer roll with me and the instructors would, too, and people seemed to actually care for me as a person and my progression. That made me really comfortable at the gym.
“Loving Jiu Jitsu came gradually from that. If you enjoy the people and you enjoy the environment, you start to enjoy what you do in that environment.”
That love of Jiu Jitsu didn’t come easy. For the first two months, Rhodes felt like she had been in a car wreck. Her body ached. She had been a long-distance runner in the past and her level of cardio was excellent. But with Jiu Jitsu, she was using her muscles in a much different way. There were exercises she had to do at Gracie Humaita that were worlds apart from what she was used to.
Possessing the will to stick to all the changes she encountered, Rhodes found she was able to accomplish a number of feats she never imagined. Additionally, she gained a new appreciation for the human spirit and body.
“I feel good about how I look, obviously,” she said. “That’s one component of it, but I also think that it's making me appreciate my body and what it can do. Part of losing all that weight was finally being able to do cool things like push-ups, which I never could do. Or a few pull-ups, which I never thought I could ever do in a million years. It makes me appreciate what my body can be capable of if I put my mind to it.”
She invested not only her mind, but her heart, too.