Interview with the Inspirational Adrienne Gardiner Till

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This month I am talking to the wonderful Adrienne Till who runs a different kind of martial arts class, women’s only bjj class and Stretch & Roll exercise sessions. They are for women only, and are designed to help vulnerable women as well as those with maybe some self confidence issues or anxiety. Someone who can explain this better would be Adrienne herself….

So, Adrienne, what brought you to Martial Arts?            women's only bjj class

PTSD, post traumatic stress and trying to find a way to help my recovery after I had something very bad happen.

Who was your teacher?

I train BJJ, Brazilian Jiu Jitsu. I was awarded my purple belt by Chico of Checkmat Bristol BJJ. That was a very proud moment for me. Currently though, I am not part of any one club, there are some local clubs, Artemis, Sweatbox, that I’ve joined in on the open mat rolling sessions with and I do this as much and when I can…, and I am teaching as an independent instructor at Impact Gym on a Saturday morning teaching children’s Jiu Jitsu…7-14 year olds, and 2-6 year olds, there are two classes that I teach there.

Do you feel Martial Arts has helped you to overcome your difficulties? And is it solely through martial arts or I imagine some other factors as well?

Training BJJ has definitely helped. Because of what I had happen, it will never go away completely, because the trauma from the attack affected everything in my life. It’s taken me a long time, a lot of recovery, a lot of coping mechanisms put in place, a lot of work for me to get to where I am today, in this moment. What BJJ did for me was to eventually stabilize and get my weight back up to what it should be. BJJ is good for fitness for people losing weight, but it is also really good like for in my case where I was anorexic because of the PTSD. In order to train as often as I did in the BJJ, I needed energy which meant I needed to eat. The Jiu Jitsu and returning to work is what helped to stabilize that.

The other thing Jiu Jitsu has done is that it has allowed me to work on my panic, I knew that the best way for me to recover, to start my recovery was to work from the positions I found the worse, and to face my fears (which were more than fears because of what I had already had happen). BJJ works and starts pretty much on the ground and that was my worst ‘fear’ place. Some people say you should learn how to protect yourself stood up first and this is fair enough, but for me, and maybe it is because of the trauma, but I felt like I needed to work backwards. I needed to sort the ground out first and then work my way back up to standing. That’s not an easy thing for people to understand but for me and maybe for some other women too, working backwards is key.

Other factors that helped… counselling, lots, going back to work, scuba diving… if you suffer from panic attacks, have trust issues, can’t do eye contact.. please give scuba diving a try, it doesn’t have to be outside, it can just be inside in a swimming pool for one hour once a month… that’s what I did… that would make for a really cool interview!

How did you find the training at first? What did you get from it and when did it start to help?

The training was very hard at first. BJJ takes a lot of your energy anyway, especially when you are trying to get to grips with it (no pun intended!). I found it even harder. I chose, I made the decision to go into a class that was mainly filled with men. My reasoning was that my trauma, my attack, was done by a man, so for me it felt important to face that especially in a class environment where I would need to learn to train and roll with them on the ground in certain positions that I knew would trigger a lot of panic in me. It took me a long time before I could relax enough to roll and to see the techniques and positions and it also meant I had to learn to trust the men I was training with, and vice versa, it would mean the men/guys I was training with, realizing that I did have some issues, problems, because I couldn’t always hide it, the panic would take over, but for them, to show me by being my training partner and by interacting with me, making me feel welcome in the sessions, in the club, that they were people I could trust enough to be on the ground with and that I really wanted to learn what I was training.

What did I get from it? Learning to manage my panic, learning that even if I was stuck on the bottom, with someone mounted on top of me, and I couldn’t get out or get the person on top off, that I could still breathe… and that by doing that, I could give myself a few vital seconds, a minute to work out what I was going to do next to deal with the situation. Self Defence, self protection for women when it comes to BJJ should not be all about being able to make every technique work and definitely absolutely being able to get someone off of you.. because in real life, when you are being attacked it won’t. Not if the other person makes sure you can’t, and other factors are involved, where you are, what you are wearing, how scared you are….

It also helped me gain in confidence, in myself, in what I was doing.

Are there or were there any downsides?

To me there is a very thin line, with regards the jiu jitsu. BJJ is used quite a lot as a means of self Defence, protection on the ground, especially for women. And I would say that is true.. to a certain extent. You still have to know your own limitations, and what the other person is capable of doing. Jiu jitsu is good because it helps to condition us, gets us used to being bruised, and pinned, and thrown about, and we learn how to cope with that and how to get up and out from those situations, but it can also make us less likely to react at the earliest time when we might need to… because we get used to being able to go longer, for example, before we need to tap out and reset. You don’t get to do that in an assault situation. There is no tap out, no resetting.

Did you compete at all, any medals on the wall?

I chose not to. That’s not why I wanted to train the BJJ.

Have you ever had to use your art?

No, my attack was before the large amount of BJJ I have now trained. Would I be able to use it if I were attacked again? Maybe, maybe not, maybe a little bit, maybe a lot, maybe not so much. A real life assault situation is always going to be an ‘it depends’ question and answer, because there are just too many variables, too many other factors involved.

My stretch and roll exercise however, yes, I pretty much use that every day for my own strength and conditioning. As well as the PTSD, I have trauma based fibromyalgia and basically my body doesn’t work as well as what it used to before I was attacked. I devised every movement in my Stretch & roll exercise so that it could be completely adaptable, so that it could be a physical workout, but also for mental time out, relaxation, mindfulness, focusing on your own body awareness, learning to work with your own body rather than against it, building up resilience, being able to keep going when it does get tough, not so easy.

Were there any classes like yours for you? At what point did you realize or decide you could expand this into something for others too?

After I started training the BJJ and as my confidence began to grow and being able to find certain ways of coping to help with my own PTSD, it started me thinking about what I had found helpful when I was training, what I didn’t find helpful, how could I encourage other women who had had similar or other experiences or who maybe just didn’t have the confidence to do the jiu jitsu on the ground. There are women only jiu jitsu classes around, I am the co-founder of a women’s only open mat rolling session group who meet up every few months to roll and socialise with women from Jiu jitsu clubs all over Bristol and outside of Bristol, but I wanted to find something that would bridge the gap between a normal workout exercise, that I could keep for the women who just wanted to do that, but allowing for the sessions to be expanded so that if any of the women were interested, then over time, if they wanted to, I could begin to show them the basic positions in Jiu jitsu on the ground, and from there, if they wanted to learn more, I could signpost them to a local BJJ club and/or they could join our ladies open mat rolling group. But the emphasis is on the beginning, the main Stretch & roll exercise workout… learning this can help a lot. I have seen it with the women I have been working with in the sessions and I have also seen how it has helped me. I had the idea for what I wanted to create for a long while, and my website I hope reflects that. I wanted to create something that was a little bit different, that could be accessed easily, I do classes and home sessions, the prices are as low as I can make them, and I wanted the sessions to be sessions where the ladies, women who come in, take my movements that I’ve designed and adapt them to working with their own bodies, because that builds confidence and awareness and strength.

How old is the club now?      women's only bjj class

I’ve been teaching the Saturday Jiu jitsu children’s classes at Impact Gym 10-11am for 7-14 year olds and 11-12o’clock for 2-6 year olds) for over a year now and all of the children are amazing. For the past six months just over, every first Sunday of the month I run a children’s version of the Stretch & roll exercise class in South Bristol (9-10am at The Park Community Centre, Knowle, dance studio 2).. my Thursday evening ladies stretch & roll exercise class in South Bristol I have been doing for over a year now (7.30-8.30pm in the dance studio room at The Healthy Living Centre, Knowle West Health Park, Knowle), and I have some ladies who do their sessions in their own homes. If there are any ladies who live and work in other areas of Bristol, who would be interested in a session, please let me know as I do sometimes have access to other locations, eg. Treatment rooms, halls/venues, that I could look at using. I’d like to make the sessions as accessible as possible.

Who is your Stretch & roll class for?

It is for any women who have panic, anxiety, depression, mental health, trauma issues. For any women who would like to build body confidence, who would like to become more resilient with things generally, for any women who would like to do relaxation and mindfulness, for any women who would like an exercise workout to music where they can go at their own pace and build up their pace, for any women who would like to look at learning some basic jiu jitsu on the ground, and it’s for any women who already train martial arts and or do yoga, as it builds on timing and focus and concentration and is good for conditioning. So basically, yes, my classes are for all women. Any ladies who would like to come along.

How long did it take from that light bulb moment to the excellent website and taking your first class?

I had the idea for quite some time but I wanted to create it in the right way. I wanted to create something that was special, that could remain personalised to every woman who uses the class/session.

It took me a while to set up my website. I am not the most computer savvy person and I tried a few different website builder sites before finding the site I am on now. But the platform it uses, it made it so easy for me to create the colours, and the look and feel that I wanted for my website. I’m proud of what I have been able to create.

After that, it was important for me to find the right room for my main class. I believe in keeping things local and working with the local community, and the Health Park on a Thursday night was perfect. The room I use is bright and airy, we have a ceiling fan in the room which is perfect for the hot summer Thursday evenings (!), and it is heated for in the winter. There is good parking nearby, toilet access and for changing right by the room, if needed, and the room is a lovely private room. It creates a lovely space and atmosphere.

I started the home sessions because I was finding that some women had problems with childcare and panic issues where they found it difficult to go out of the house (something I went through myself for a while after my attack)… and it’s nice because I have a mix of the classes and home sessions. All you need for a home session is space for a yoga mat!

Do you award stripes or belts in any of your classes?

In the Saturday morning children’s classes I do, yes, I have my own stripes system. I see and watch and roll with the children who come in every week and so have been able to see their personal development and how they have evolved over the sessions, and I believe that the children who make the effort to come along to class and who listen and develop, should be able to see something for what they have achieved. Every instructor in every class will have their own ideas on how they award stripes and belts. My Stretch & roll exercise classes are not grading classes. They are all about personal development.. being able to see the ladies who complete the first six weeks, being able to see how they have changed, what they have noticed since they started the sessions, to go on and do more sessions. To see how they fit their workout into their lives to help themselves.

So, when we spoke earlier you said that the class isn’t necessarily martial arts right from the off, but preparing the student for that experience if needed, what can a student expect when they come to you, or is it different for everyone?

To a certain extent it will be different for everyone. It will depend on what the woman’s goals are and or what she is wanting to achieve and what brought her to my class in the first place. It’s made up however, the routine, of a series of moves that I have designed in such a way to fit together. On a very basic level, it teaches confidence, focus, relaxation, fitness, mobility, We need to learn the basics of anything before we can look at the more technical things.

Do they need any equipment to start?

A yoga mat if they have one but if not, I usually have some spare ones the women can borrow when they come in. Water, for water breaks, during the session… the session can be tailored so it can be a very gentle session to a session that is fast paced and non-stop.

Do you do private sessions as well as the classes?

Yes. The home sessions are all private sessions. Private sessions can also be booked for at other venues, if any women would like one. The way I run my Thursday classes is that I keep them small in numbers and it can vary each week. One week I might just have the one lady come in so it is a private session, another week I might have two or three or four ladies come in.

I saw MENTFITTZ come up a few times on the website, what is that?

It focuses on mental health issues, and is like a vision board journey workout. The way I run the MENTFITTZ is that women can use the MENTFITTZ as a stand-alone session, I am running the MENTFITTZ as a faster-paced blitzing session, or they can have the Stretch & roll session as a warm up, even though it’s a full body workout in its own right! And then follow it with a blitzing MENTFITTZ session.

Is there anything else that you offer, or that’s on your website?

Yes, I am putting together a collection of Jiu jitsu mugs… they are illustrations that I have designed created, with the help of a wonderful graphic designer. The mug designs can be found on my website, and a small donation from each order will be going to a local women’s charity called Kinergy who help women with rape, domestic abuse, other abuse issues.

I think it’s fantastic what you have on offer, and that you have turned such a negative experience into something so positive not just for you but also to others, you should be super proud and I hope your classes thrive. For any women out there who might want to come along and give your sessions a try, what would you say to them?

I would say, please come along and give my classes, sessions a try, and please try it for at least six weeks if you can, so that you can start to see the change and can see what it can do for you. It can be done totally at your own pace, it’s very beginner friendly but I can also make it more advanced for those ladies who already train in martial arts, do other gym classes. If any ladies do have confidence, trauma, anxiety, panic issues, then these classes have been especially designed. And I can and will be able to appreciate the problems they have with regard to exercise and in general, because I have been there too and sometimes on my bad days, I still have those moments myself. The stretch & roll is something I feel very passionate about. I use it myself and I would love for it to be able to help as many other women as possible.

When and where are the classes and what is your website address again?

Every Thursday 7.30-8.30pm for the Stretch & roll in the dance studio room at the Healthy Living Centre, Knowle West Health Park, Downton Road, Knowledge.

Also available as home sessions or at other venues which can be booked across the city of Bristol.

My website is

Thank you so much for your time and I hope people understand more now about the great work you are doing here, all the best for the future and thanks again. Mike