St. Louis's Power Couple: The Bishops

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In St. Louis, Missouri resides the Bishop family who among many things are a married couple who train Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu together. Both training under the Gracie Humaita team they’ve developed a life centered around the art, which has sprung many competitive titles, a website and much more. I caught up with them to talk about all of these things and to get to know them both a little better.

So how did you both get started in Jiu-Jitsu?

Tyler: I was an accomplished athlete growing up, and always wanted to be involved in a
competitive atmosphere. In college I decided to discontinue my football career. Jena and I had been dating since I finished high school and her cousin did Jiu-Jitsu at local Gracie Humaita academy. I thought it might a great opportunity for myself to find a new form of athletics to connect in to. I decided to show up to class one day, and that’s when my obsession started. I knew then I could be an athlete for the rest of my life. Jiu-Jitsu and I found each other at just the right time.

Jena: Tyler was training about a year before me.  He spent every spare second at the academy and like most girlfriends I would get a little irritated because I wanted him to spend more time with me. He would come home from class and practice his new moves on me and I made him teach me at least how to defend myself against his attacks.  My interest started to grow from there and I finally went to a class with him.  I was the only girl at the time and that was really intimidating.  I think I sat in the corner during sparing for the first few weeks.  When I finally gained the courage to start rolling I instantly fell in love with the art.

Did you both start together or did you meet thru Jiu-Jitsu?

Tyler: Jena and I started dating about 1 year prior to myself starting Jiu-Jitsu. Then, I got a 1 year head start before she joined me. I was a blue belt around the time she started training, then we got our purple belts and brown belts together. Now, as of July 13th, she has passed me up by receiving her black belt before me. I am proud of all she has accomplished. Through her, I see all of the beautiful things the Jiu-Jitsu that we have learned and practiced together can do.

Jena: No we met at our church and after he started training I started as well.

You both train out of St.Louis, which isn't a Jiu-jitsu hot bed like Southern California oreven places along the east coast, what would you account for your success in Jiu-jitsu up to this point? 

Tyler: Recently I had the pleasure of talking at length with Rafael Lovato Jr. about the same thing. His answer probably describes my sentiments on the subject. He told me that when he was coming along in Oklahoma - and was away from his main instructors - he had a tremendous hunger for Jiu-Jitsu knowledge. He described soaking up, and greatly appreciating and valuing the knowledge he received. Many that train in “hot beds” don’t really appreciate the knowledge the same way that we do on our own. If you have all the knowledge in the world around you, maybe you take it for granted and don’t retain some of the details or appreciate the techniques the same way we do. I’m not sure.

Also, I will say this. Our academy in St. Louis will be on the map soon. Our instructor, JW Wright, has built a phenomenal team. He is a great teacher and competitor himself (JW won the Pan Am’s [masters, black belt, featherweight] in 2011), but his character has brought some of the best athletes in the area into one location and taught them Jiu-Jitsu. We have a great team that produced two World Champions this year (Nick “Moose” Schrock, and Jena). Our team is still an infant, but I can tell you personally that there are multiple guys in group that have world champion potential.
Jena: We have an incredible team in St. Louis.  I am very fortunate to have JW Wright as an instructor. He has created an environment for all students to grow together. He encourages us to study Jiu-Jitsu and make it our own.  Being a female, its’ rare that I have an opportunity to train with high level females. That being said, I think that training with primarily guys has helped me in my career that much more. We have a good selection of smaller guys at the academy and they really help push me in my preparation for competition.  I had the opportunity to train in San Diego at the Humaita headquarters before the World Championships this year, and was able to tighten up all lose ends in my game.  I cannot thank Regis Lebre and Royler Gracie enough for the help they gave me in my final preparations for the Worlds.

Is Jiu-Jitsu your full time job?

Tyler: I suppose it is now. I had a full-time job in which I worked at home for a consulting firm for the past few years. After this year’s World Championship I informed them that I would be pursuing a Jiu-Jitsu-based career as my primary focus. I still do some work for them, but primarily I make my living writing for Jiu-Jitsu publications, running my website, teaching classes and private lessons, and helping to run the new KOZEN Fighter Grappling tournaments. Making Jiu-Jitsu training a primary focus in life is what I believe helped Jena become a World Champion this year, and I want to do the same.

Jena: You could say that, I am also a personal trainer but most of my time is spent with Jiu-Jitsu.  I teach a women's only class at Gracie Humaita St. Louis, and do private lessons/seminars as well.  I also help run the KOZEN Fighter Grappling tournaments.  Jiu-Jitsu is definitely the emphasis in all of the work I do and even a lot of my personal training clients are Jiu-Jitsu practitioners trying to get in or stay in shape for competition.

I had to go back and look at a recent post from you Tyler but here is what you said,
 "All but one mat empty, Referees wearing gis because they themselves are competing soon, and certain staff members that are more concerned with Pizza than the paying competitors. There's a better way folks. KOZEN Fighter is a healthy solution to a better tournament experience." Can you both talk about this and also the new KOZEN fighter Grappling tournaments?
Tyler: Sure. I posted that because Jena and I had just gotten back from coaching some students at a popular grappling circuit tournament that was in St. Louis for the day, and we were very disappointed with what we saw. That event puts a lot of money into its brand, but the experience leaves a lot to be desired from a competitive and professional standpoint.

Jena and I are partners in the KOZEN Fighter Grappling series - which is a new tournament series for competitors of all ages and skill levels designed by Jiu-Jitsu people to be of the highest quality and professionalism. The group that has helped organize this new series is of very high character. We are going to emphasis safe and fair kid’s competition, competitive and professional adult and master’s competition, and the integration of innovative technology. We think this blend will create a much better experience for everyone involved. I think the experience will be great for anyone who has been disappointed in how a Jiu-Jitsu tournament has been run in the past. We have been helping some of the other members of this group run competitions for over a decade, and we felt like all the partners involved could do a better job than anyone else out there if we were to all work together.

Our first event is in Kansas City on July 27th. We will be in Springfield, MO on September 7th, and then St. Louis November 2nd. In 2014 we will have one a tournament a month in places like; Atlanta, Chicago, Nashville, Asheville, Oklahoma City, and more.
Jena: I think Tyler's response covers it pretty well. KOZEN Fighter Grappling series is looking to provide a positive and competitive Jiu-Jitsu tournament that, win or lose all parties involved will walk away feeling good about the experience.

Do you both try to create your own identity within Jiu-Jitsu on and off the mat or do you embrace being a married couple inside the Jiu-Jitsu community?

Tyler: People at the academy joke that Jena and I are never apart, but it’s not a joke because it’s true. We spend almost every waking second together. We have a very special relationship. We are each other’s yin and yang. Our identity is the same on and off the mat; Jena is my best friend, wife, and training partner. I treat her with respect and honor in all three of those domains, and I believe that she is always all three, whether we are training on the mats or not. We believe our relationship is an integral part of our personal ministry in which we can help people improve their lives, relationships, and health - so why not embrace that?

Jena: Tyler said it best.  We love having a platform as a married couple in BJJ.  The few times I've shown up to bjj classes without him people tell me that I look lost, and definitely feel that way.  My Jiu-Jitsu would not be at the level it is at without him. 

Tyler I'm sure many people know you by your site What inspired you to start it and what do you enjoy most about it.

Tyler: One of my sponsors encouraged me to start it a while back as a resume for Jena and myself (that’s why our name is in the URL title), but it evolved quickly. I like to study Jiu-Jitsu competition. I wanted to get an edge, and wanted to see everything with a bird’s eye view, so I began publishing a lot of my research material. The response was so great that I wanted to see how far I could take it. Now, we have done things that are unprecedented in Jiu-Jitsu. We have studied competition in a way that no one else has before, and no one else probably wants to, haha. We have such a comprehensive system that we use for studies and metrics that I believe eventually will impact the sport forever. I love that others embrace this, and am very grateful that so many people view our site. I am always amazed by how many people come up to me at tournaments and events and tell me how much they have enjoyed our material. It is a very humbling thing.

Jena you’re quite the accomplished competitor and also an American female black belt which is still even rare today. Do you feel any added pressure or responsibility?

Jena: I'm sure that at some point I will feel a little more pressure because of this, but I just got my black belt. So honestly, I feel like I have nothing to lose. Don't get me wrong, I love to win and want to continue to do so, but I really don't feel any added pressure at this point.  I think a big part of competing is the mental game, so I try not to let any outside factors control how I am going to compete.

I'm sure you get this a lot but what is it like training and competing together?

Tyler: Like I mentioned, we do everything together so training and competing is just more of the same ebb and flow. Training together can be intense. Most people probably have no clue how athletic and technical Jena is. She is one of the most difficult people for me to deal with in the academy. If I get the better of her, I have to watch out because she might try to get me back when we get home (seriously)!

Fortunately, we share experiences and techniques with each other, and can often trouble shoot positions and difficulties faster this way. Imagine if you had a mini-you that you could bounce problems and successes off of every night. Now imagine that mini-you is a black belt, and a World Champion. I might be the luckiest person on the planet. Our Jiu-Jitsu develops very quickly because of this.

Jena: Again I couldn't agree with Tyler more.  He is my best training partner, and has been one of the biggest influences on how my game has developed.  We are lucky together.

What are your current goals?

Tyler: I want to be one of the best black belts in the world one day soon. Currently, my goal is a brown belt World Championship that I can hang next to my wife’s. Both of these goals are extremely difficult to achieve (and pretty lofty). Even if I do my best to prepare to be a World Champion, I must have fortune on my side the day of the event to achieve those results. I talked to my professor, JW Wright, a lot about my goals after this year’s World Championship, and I think to get to my goals I have to be more selfish about my training. I need to spend more time with the Gracie Humaita team in San Diego -with our top instructors and competitors; Regis Lebre, Joao Faria, Zac Maxwell, Gustavo Dias, and Master Royler Gracie. I love to compete and will do it for the rest of my life, so I am in no rush, but need to be acting with urgency. I firmly recognize that Jiu-Jitsu is so much more than competition. Together Jena and I view Jiu-Jitsu as a way to positively impact the world around us, but my personal goals will always be in some form of athletic accomplishment. It’s just part of my internal make-up. My dream is for my wife and I to win World Championships in the same year. So far, I am the one coming up short, but hopefully one day I will catch up to her.
Jena:  My next goal is to win the Abu Dhabi Pro Cup trials and make it to the Pro Cup.   I really want to try and compete more than I have in the past. The opportunities are just expensive. I'm looking forward to competing at the black belt level and obviously have a goal to be a world champion at the black belt level.  Outside of competing, I'd really like to help continue to grow women’s Jiu-Jitsu.  I would love to inspire more women to fall in love with BJJ like I have.  
Jena what do you think about the state of women's jiu-jitsu? Is there particular reasons women are not drawn to it as much as their male counterparts or does it simply just take time?

Jena: Women's Jiu-Jitsu is growing - and growing fast.  I think it just took a while to catch on with the women, because it is very intimidating to walk into a room full of sweaty dudes.  Like I said before, when I first started I was the only girl. I sat in the corner and only worked with Tyler because I was uncomfortable with anyone else being that close to me.  Let’s face it, Jiu-Jitsu puts you in some extremely awkward positions, so walking into a room and having to wrap your legs around a complete stranger can just seem too intimidating to the average woman.  When our academy started a woman's only class we had a male instructor - and as usual - class was just me and one other girl.  When I starting teaching the class it finally blew up, and now we have a lot of women training on a daily basis.  When you have a true women's-only class it makes a big difference.  

Tyler you mentioned having to be more selfish with your training, how do you manage that while still being a good teacher at your academy? 
Tyler: Haha, that’s the catch-22, right? Luckily for me I am not the head instructor. My professor JW does such a great job of understanding each student’s goals, and he does a great job of putting us in position to achieve them. For me, I often learn the most when I’m teaching (I realize details that are important, and make it a personal note to emphasize them when training), but the difficulty comes in my training and presence. I like to train with everyone at the academy, but when I am preparing to compete I have to stick strictly to my game plan – which means it can be a rough experience for my training partners. This makes it hard to train with some of the more inexperienced guys, as this is not their goal. So the hard part is balancing my training with trying to help the new generation of students. I think this is always a fine line.

Also, as I mentioned before, I need to make more efforts to be in San Diego with the Gracie Humaita headquarters. I feel like I develop quickly when I with the team there. These trips are expensive and take me away from my primary sources of income, so this is my biggest struggle. But I am always adapting, just like in Jiu-Jitsu. There is always an escape (Red Belt quote… anyone?).

Thank you both! Be sure to check out Tyler and Jena’s website for more info and videos as well!