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For traveling jiu-jitsu heads, tech comes to the rescue

Six fighters founded Jiu Jitsu Junkie as a digital place to find “open mats” when on the road.

The Jiu Jitsu Junkie team. (Courtesy photo)

For serious martial arts practitioners, whose progress is directly tied to their commitment to practice, access to a venue for training is key, no matter where they are. That’s why frequent work travel made Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu disciple Amanda Orson, of Downingtown, concerned she wouldn’t have a place to spar with other athletes on the road.

Orson, the VP of growth at a stealth-mode startup who began practicing the sport in May, quickly learned that not being able to find “open mats” — martial art gyms open to anyone to come in and train — was a common gripe.

“After conducting a search in the usual places (Google, App store) and coming up with at best stale, at worst non-functional results, I asked our resident brown belt how she was finding them,” Orson told in an email. “She really didn’t have a method, just sort of knew people and would get informed.”

Alongside five other female jiu-jitsu athletes, Orson started a website called Jiu Jitsu Junkie aimed at helping athletes locate open gyms across the globe. The website offers a searchable database of around 100 open mats with insight on hours, fees and contact information. Users can find women-only open mats, narrow the results by gi or no-gi style and write reviews about the gyms.

“The team is one professional [Brazilian jiu-jitsu] athlete, one stay-at-home mom, two nurse, a behavioral analyst and me,” Orson said. “This is not a typical startup team, but in the last two weeks they’ve come up to speed on database management, outreach, business development, WordPress, Google Analytics. I am absolutely blown away by how fast they are picking up the skills and how hard they’re working in their spare time to make this useful for everyone”

When you find someone else that does jiu-jitsu, you immediately have a connection that has nothing to do with what you do for a living, where you live, or your political alignment.

The technical and app marketing specialist says this project isn’t a business move.

“We want to do this as a mitzvah for the community,” Orson said. “If we can recoup costs that would be great. If we can recoup and pay our gym dues that would be amazing. But if we come up shy of or in excess of that, we’re giving the rest of the money away to My Bruises Are From and Blackbelts for Butterflies.”

Pan American champion and Master World Champion Abi Pacinelli, 38, is a BJJ brown belt who also trains at Paramount BJJ. She was inspired to join the project because open mats are key for her ability to train with other women in preparation for tournaments.

“As a woman it helps to find similar training partners as we are few and far between,” the athlete said. “As the general population, open mats help you test your skills against non teammates who might be using a technique a slightly different way. They’re also a great way to meet people.”

Also on the founding team are Teresa Holt, in charge of research and academy outreach; Elizabeth Daniels Dayton, who runs content and analytics; Jackalyn Brannan, on the business development side; and Cathryn Millares, who handles the site’s social media presence.

Beyond the skill benefit of providing athletes with places to practice, Orson said the site leverages on the community-building potential of jiu-jitsu.

“When you find someone else that does jiu-jitsu, you immediately have a connection that has nothing to do with what you do for a living, where you live, or your political alignment,” Orson said. “It is open, friendly, and incredibly welcoming — even for the newest athletes.”


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