Inside Columbia


Finding a New Passion: Amanda Johanning Uses Jiu-Jitsu to Empower Women

By Inside Columbia
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Photos by L.G. Patterson

Amanda Johanning never thought martial arts would be part of her journey. But the moment she first stepped foot on the mat, her whole life changed.  “I was hooked just from that very first day,” Johanning says, noting that it was more than just a hobby. “I feel likeI stumbled upon a pretty significant life passion.”

Her interest in jiu-jitsu all started as a fun activity for her daughter who was diagnosed with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, or ADHD. While watching her daughter’s class, a friend mentioned that an adult class was next, and that’s when everything changed. “I have no idea how she got me to say yes, but she got me into a gi (a uniform for training in Brazilian jiu-jitsu),got me on the mat and I had a blast,”Johanning explains.

Now the program director and business manager for Gracie Barra Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu in Columbia, Johanning says her life changed in multiple ways when she became involved with the practice. Of course, there’s the physical transformation. Her body shape has totally changed; she says he’s stronger and more flexible. But jiu-jitsu also has improved Johanning’s mental health. “I feel like this is one of the best things thatI could possibly do for my mental health,” she says. “It’s just a great outlet with a great support system.” It even has benefitted her social life, which was especially meaningful“coming from my role as a stay-at-home mom, which is incredibly isolating.” And yet, the most important change, Johanning says, has been the introspective ones. “I feel like jiu-jitsu has really helped me work on tenacity, my ego and how to check that, and kind of humble yourself into a place of learning.”

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That journey continued when Johanning decided to launch a women’s self-defense class, making it a personal goal to help build up women in the community. That’s why it’s important to her that the class be open to any woman in Columbia, regardless of whether they are a member of Gracie Barra. And there are no strings attached when attending the class, Johanning says. It’s simply an easy way to learn something new and strengthen your own defenses while expanding your social circle.

Johanning hopes women walk away from the class feeling more empowered.“I think that it’s important for everyone to have a sense of how to defend yourself if you need to,” she says.“Women are really the focus of whereGracie Barra, and Brazilian jiu-jitsu in general, is headed.”

With more women becoming involved through self-defense, Johanning says she hopes at least a few will fall in love with jiu-jitsu just as she did. “I love that it is truly a game of chess, but with your whole body and I love that the knowledge is never ending,” she says. For anyone considering jiu-jitsu or the women’s self-defense class, Johanning has a simple piece of advice: “Just try it.”

For more information on jiu-jitsu or the self-defense class, visit

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