How Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu Helped This Indigenous Lady Recover From Alcoholism and Domestic Abuse | Kola Shippentower's Story
Kola Shippentower is leading by example and proving that indigenous women can also be strong and resilient. Thanks to Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu and support from her family, she has managed to change her life for the better by committing to her sobriety and leaving an abusive relationship.
A proud native and a passionate practitioner, Kola shares her thoughts on the benefits of martial arts, and the life experiences that lead her to become the powerful mother, training partner, competitor, fighter and inspiration that she is today.
Visit the bottom of the page for audio transcription of this interview.
Submission Shark Community | Instagram: @kolashippentower
Full Name: Kola Shippentower
Belt Color: Purple
Professor: MMA Coach Wade Sauer; BJJ Jeremy Harrington & Gustavo Pries
Short Term Goals: Roll like my life depends on it!
How long have you been doing jiu-jitsu for?
I’ve been training in jiu-jitsu since 2012.
Where do you train out of?
Do you prefer gi or no-gi?
Have your instructors helped you in other aspects of life other than jiu-jitsu?
Jeremy helped me start my jiu-jitsu journey, I was struggling with alcoholism. He helped me find some focus and stay motivated on this journey. Wade is an awesome coach & an amazing friend, because of the athlete/coach relationship we’ve built I’ve been able to confide in him in some of my most difficult times, he comes at me with some straight-up wisdom & truth.
What are some lessons you learned from jiu-jitsu that apply to everyday life?
Stay patient. Wait out the storm, cause on the other side it’s gonna be sweet & smooth.
How often do you train?
I train in jiu-jitsu once a week & in boxing twice a week. I’m currently training for a physique competition, hoping to be stage ready by May. Competing in jiu-jitsu as often as possible. Hoping to hit IBJJF on Feb. 22nd in the Portland Open and planning for Master Worlds.
What made you want to start training?
I had started in MMA, never thought about a gi, didn’t know what it was. Lol. I started because Jeremy told me it’d be a game-changer. I like a new challenge, I threw one on & fell in love.
Do you plan on training your whole life?
What’s it about jiu-jitsu that makes it so addicting?
The lifestyle that comes with it. The community. You can easily apply everything you learn on the mat to everyday life!
What has jiu-jitsu done for your physical health?
I’ve lost sooooo much weight. Lol. And it’s helped me stay sober.
Has jiu-jitsu benefited your mental health?
Absolutely! I mean, I’m calmer, more patient, happier, more collected, methodical.
Kola Shippentower Competing at Grappling Industries Portland 2020 (No-Gi Advanced 165lbs+)
If you could restart your jiu-jitsu journey, would you do anything differently?
I would’ve started sooner!
What’s your advice for someone that’s never tried jiu-jitsu before but is interested in trying it?
Just get in there and do it! Don’t overthink it, you won’t regret it.
Do you have any aspirations in jiu-jitsu?
I’d love to reach a black belt level.
What’s your favourite move?
Baseball bat choke!
oh, 2013 Kola. I’m so sorry! So sorry for all the crap I put you thru. So sorry for all the shii I made you put up with. But...we pushed on!
Today! Check-in went good...found out I’m still 21% Body Fat but I put on 3lbs of pure muscle. Ya Girl is rocking 154lbs of muscle all together now!
Don’t ever give up on yourself. Don’t settle for anything but the best. Take care of yourself, your mind, your body! I can now look back at this picture and just chuckle. A good reminder of where I’ve come from, but damn it if 2013 Kola had no idea where she was going!
If you didn’t discover jiu-jitsu, where do you think you’d be now?
I’d be lost. I’d be struggling. I could very possibly be dead. As a Native American woman, there is a target on my back. And with the #MMIW cases rising, I’ve felt prepared to face any of the obstacles that come with that risk. My training will always be something I can use, that will literally save my life.
Always be opened to trying new passions, especially if it's already brought an abundance of happiness and fulfilment in many of those that do try it. Jiu-jitsu has become a form of both physical and mental therapy for many practitioners and Cruz Soto is an excellent example of this.
From struggling with previous injuries to finding new inspiration for life, Cruz has dedicated his life to being an active practitioner.
We discuss topics from depression, back injury rehabilitation, the importance of living an inspiring life, and much more! Check out the rest of this article for an inside look into the thoughts of a passionate BJJ practitioner.
Would you like to see the sport become more mainstream?
Yes! I think more kids & parents should become involved. It’s an amazing sport to bring everyone together.
Have any of your training partners pushed you to reach your full potential?
Yes, especially now! My team is a great group of guys who only want growth and progress.
When you were first starting, what was the most difficult concept of jiu-jitsu that you had trouble getting?
Slowing down, I was a straight-up brawler. I wanted to be aggressive and fast, but I didn’t think anything through, I just went for it. So slowing down and learning the moves was tough.
If you could roll with any practitioner, dead or alive, who would it be?
How long have you been powerlifting for and what's it about it that you enjoy?
I power lifted for about 6 months. I loved it because it was just another challenge, another way to compete. The strength I built in that sport definitely translated over to jiu-jitsu.
What makes you want to inspire and motivate others?
Initially, the want to inspire or motivate others wasn’t really there. But I am lucky to be alive. And if I can share my story to help at least one other person then I feel like I’ve served my purpose on this Earth.
Most important I want to inspire & motivate my 3 boys, show them that no matter where they come from, no matter the background of our people, we can do whatever we set our mind to.
Is there anyone that has inspired you on your journey so far? What would you like to say to them?
My Dad, he’s such a strong individual, faced with so much adversity but he’s resilience & strength is always what shines through.
When you first walked into your gym you expressed that you didn't want to compete and just learn self-defence. What inspired you to give competitions a try?
My original MMA coach. He called me one night, he was at a fight event 45 mins away. He said another girl had backed out of a fight and that they needed someone to fill in.
He said I was more than ready & that I should make the quick drive to hop in. My Mom told me “Now Kola, you’re not gonna know what it’s really like until you try it. You’re not gonna want to go your whole life wondering. Just go! You’ll do great!”.
What are your thoughts right before you enter a cage or step onto the mats for a competition? Do you ever get nervous?
Nerves passed about 2 years into the journey. Now I’m usually thinking about who I do all of this for. “You’ve got 3 boys back home that are waiting for that call, to hear that all the hard work you put in was worth it and that you won. You’ve got a whole community of people relying on you to represent our people to the fullest. Let’s go fuck shit up!”.
Which competition/fight was the most memorable for you? and Why?
I loved my experience with King of the Cage. The promotion was so nice & accommodating. It was an awesome crowd and an awesome match. It’s the most prepared I’ve ever felt for a fight. That’s when I really gained the community’s support on this journey.
What would you tell a woman that wants to pursue similar interests as you but is in fear of the stigma of being perceived as a "tomboy"?
People are gonna think that regardless. So do what you want & do what makes you happy. At the end of it, all are you really going to be worried about what people thought of you?
Was there a difficult moment in your life where jiu-jitsu helped you get through it? If so, please explain.
Struggling with alcoholism and domestic violence, jiu-jitsu came at the more perfect time. I lacked self-esteem and felt worthless. Training kept me sober, but the time on the mat is prepared me and helped motivate me to leave a toxic relationship for the sake of my wellbeing & my kids’ safety.
What would you tell someone that is going through an abusive relationship and doesn't know how to get out?
I would tell them that they’re worth more than what is happening. They’re worth more than whatever lies they’re being told.
What caused your alcoholism and how did you manage to become sober? Do you have any advice for someone that is struggling with their addictions?
Cultural and generational trauma! Being Native American, we’re born into a world that wants to see us lose, that wants to see us extinct. I decided to try drinking when I was 18 years old, I struggled with alcohol abuse until I was 25 years old. I went out one night during a local event, which is very huge in our town. Very much the cowboys & Indians scene.
I woke up on September 14th, hungover, hurt & feeling very much alone. Even though I had all of these friends, and family, and a relationship, I felt alone. I decided I needed to take a break.
I stayed focused on the NAGA Championships which were being held, a month later, in Miami. The competition came and went and I stayed focused on the next event. I kept competing at least once a month, to stay on track, here I am almost 5 years later.
For those struggling with an addiction, find something healthy to replace that addiction with. Find something to focus on, find something to be passionate about, whether it be a sport, art, music, your kids, family, anything.
What would you tell someone that is going through depression and is having a difficult time finding their happiness again?
I’d tell them to search for a “higher power”, whether they believe in God, Evolution, the Creator…humbling yourself to something greater than yourself can be so profound! It can help you gain a sense of purpose, a sense of belonging.
Which belt promotion was the most memorable for you and why?
As a white belt, I went to IBJJF Worlds, I placed Bronze that year in the super heavyweight division. When I flew back to Oregon I had a no-gi grappling match in a super fight against a professional fighter (I wasn’t pro in MMA yet).
The match was set for 30 mins, which was kind of intimidating. I ended that match in 6 mins. I won! And as I was trying to exit the cage, my professor Michael Chapman from Impact Jiu Jitsu stopped me and brought out a blue belt & belted me right there! It was amazing.
What would you like to say to Impact Jiu-Jitsu Academy for supporting you in this endeavour? (Jebidiah Osborn's BJJ Story)
To Impact, I would like to say thank you for welcoming me in and giving all of us students the space to grow. Thank you for supporting this school supply drive, while these children won’t know who the stuff came from it will still have a positive impact on them for years to come.
I thank every member of the school for contributing and I hope that I can live up to the standards of being a human being that they have set. All of the coaching staff are just simply some of the best people I’ve ever met which naturally attracts some of the best people I’ve ever met on the mats.
What is "Enough Iz Enough" and where can people find out more about it?
Enough Iz Enough is a non-profit community outreach/action organization that I co-founded in 2016. Following a shooting in our community, another mom & myself, we were pissed. We wanted to show these people that we were present & that we cared about what was happening in our backyard.
We hold all kinds of events for the community, anti-bullying seminars, MMIW events, sports camps, women’s empowerment events, the list goes on. We are on Instagram @eie541 we also host a podcast called the EIE Podcast on podbean.com
What would you like to say to all of the people that have supported you on your journey so far?
Thank you for being patient & kicking my ass in all the various ways that it needed to be done. Thank you for holding me accountable & believing me when shit got tough! Thank you for loving me at my darkest times & picking me up when I needed it.
Thank you for all of your thoughts, prayers & support for myself & my family, not just in my fighting career but in life as well. I love you all!
When the journey is over, how would you like to be remembered?
Strong. Resilient. Indigenous.
"she’s trying to build herself up.
her goal is to add value to others' life via her passionate demeanour.
don’t take her kindness as a weakness.
because nobody is built like her.
she’s overcome, she’s sacrificed, & she is still standing.
her goal is to be loved & to give love.
she’s fragile, but she’s a rock." - Kola Shippentower
Here are some other news articles featuring Kola Shippentower:
Strong, resilient, indigenous.
MMIW: the women she represents
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