Widely regarded as one of the top lightweight black belts in the world of jiu-jitsu today, Jena Bishop will be representing the United States at the ADCC World Championship finals later this year, an event that is the equivalent of the Olympics of grappling.
Bishop built her career while representing the Gracie Humaitá team flag. In her past few events, however, we noticed Jena commanding the Alliance Jiu-Jitsu Academy’s eagle. Although team changes have become something to be expected out of most modern-day high-end BJJ athletes, the proud Missourian had been holding the Gracie shield high for the past 12 years and we knew this could not have been an easy decision to make. For that reason, we reached out to the former IBJJF World No-Gi, Masters, European and Pans champ to hear her story.
“Tyler and I recently made the decision to change our academy and team. As with anything like this, it was not for one particular reason, it was a lot of different reasons all bundled together. We had been Gracie Humaita team members since we started jiu jitsu. We did not take it lightly and consulted many people we respected within jiu jitsu and inside of Gracie Humaita itself before making the decision to continue our journey elsewhere.
We moved to San Diego because it’s SAN DIEGO. There were a lot more opportunities in jiu jitsu here, but Tyler’s career also was a big factor in why we wanted to move. I’m not sure a lot of people realize all the things he does (we do) outside of jiu jitsu, but these things were all contributing factors as well. We left our academy in St. Louis – which was a Gracie Humaita academy – after a decade of forming close bonds and life-long relationships. Although we miss our academy (family) there dearly, the decision to move to Southern California has been one of the best we’ve ever made.
When we moved, we originally began training at Gracie San Diego because we had trained there before in preparation for major tournaments. We were welcomed there and brought into instructor roles right away. No academy is exactly the same, but we adapted quickly to the differences between our new academy and old one. But after 2 years, we realized that there were a number of things that were leading us to feel like we weren’t representing ourselves as authentically and openly as we had hoped in San Diego. I wanted to be a competitor and a student. Tyler was the same. He has a real career and loves to train and stay involved in jiu jitsu, but we both felt the pressure of responsibilities and restrictions that weren’t part of we had sought originally in San Diego. Despite that, we fell in love with our students and friends at the academy.
In preparation for No Gi Worlds in 2018, I felt I needed supplemental training. Our academy had canceled most no gi classes and I needed a place to get additional no gi training in. A friend we knew through our sponsor, Fuji, told me about the No Gi Worlds camp at Alliance San Diego and invited me to come for a day.
The head instructor at Alliance San Diego is Johnny Faria. Tyler and I have known Johnny for a long time while ( he was at the Gracie San Diego when I first started visiting for Worlds training). He used to visit us in St. Louis and he and Tyler had a close relationship.
My first experience there reminded me why I loved jiu jitsu and competition. The environment was super-friendly, but everyone was there to train hard. The vibe of the academy reminded me of what I had at Gracie Humaita St. Louis. Johnny had always been close with our family in St. Louis and so it immediately felt like home when I was training there.
After training there a couple of weeks, I knew this was what Tyler and I had originally imagined our jiu jitsu experience in San Diego would be like. Tyler realized this and felt it would be best if we made a change. Together, we agreed that we wouldn’t be fast to make this choice; however, we were encouraged to make this decision sooner than we originally intended. After a lot of careful consideration, discussions with people we deeply respected, and the blessing of those we cared about most in Jiu Jitsu, we ultimately decided to change teams and begin training at Alliance.
Alliance San Diego is a very positive environment that is full of good people and everyone there is like-minded. I love the freedom I have on the mats. I feel like I’m growing as a competitor and as a person. I’ve seen the results in my competition performances already. I was the only one from the gym preparing for ADCC and everyone was super helpful in helping me prepare. Johnny is there first one there and last one to leave. Always leading by example and that makes it easy on the rest of the black belts. I love having an entire team that has my back and are confident in my skills as a competitor. Being in an environment like this is key for me.
I really love the fact that Alliance is a very “open source” academy. We cross train with people from different gyms in the area and share techniques. Everyone is there to learn and improve themselves and each other. This was a mentality we have had since the beginning. JW Wright, who we both received black belts from, was always telling us to learn from everyone and to train with as many people as possible. He is a fearless leader and would train with anyone that walked on the mats and learn from anyone willing to share techniques. We saw this same spirit at Alliance and have been pleasantly surprised to see so many legends inside of the association sharing this same ideology.
The move wasn’t one we took lightly. I have so many good friends and relationships with the students at Gracie San Diego, but at the end of the day I believe that real relationships will last regardless of where you train or who you train with. Our best friends, Nick “Moose” Schrock, and his wife started with us in St. Louis and now live here in San Diego with us. They train at The University of Jiu Jitsu. In a lot of ways, our flag is jiu jitsu. Teams are there to support you.
When we moved from St. Louis we learned a lot of helpful lessons. In changing teams, we’ve learned a lot more. Tyler and I have a motto that governs our entire life, “treat people right, and do the right thing”. We aren’t perfect but truly let this guide all the choices we make. Jiu Jitsu in a lot of ways is the art of learning.
This was not something that was done out of malice or a falling out. Tyler and I are focused on the positive. We want the best for everyone. We are happy with our direction and excited about the future.”