Written By: Natalie Whitson
The earliest establishment of Brazilian Jiu Jitsu in Oregon is lost to the mists of time, but dates back at least as far as 1992, when Matt Thornton established the Straight Blast Gym in Portland. The first male black belt in Oregon (under Chris Haueter), Matt has in turn awarded twenty four black belts to others. His students include John Kavanagh, Karl Tanswell, and other great teachers and competitors. To this lineup, add Amanda Diggins (Loewen), who became Oregon’s first woman black belt in 2014.
I caught up with Amanda a few days after her recent victory over Sarah Kaufman, during the 5th edition of Chael Sonnen’s Submission Underground event in Portland. Amanda teaches out of Straight Blast Gym, where she has studied for eight years. She got her start in the sport when she realized that she wanted to do something physical. Amanda picked a random gym around the corner from her work, enrolled in a class, and dove head first into the game.
Jiu Jitsu has changed Amanda’s life by teaching her the importance of challenge and humility. While intensely competitive when she was younger, Amanda better understands that a person’s self worth shouldn’t depend on the results of a casual roll or match in the gym, or even a competition. Instead, Jiu Jitsu is a community of different people from different backgrounds coming together to become better on and off the mats, build a deeper sense of trust, and develop an understanding that one cannot grow without another.
Advice that Amanda has for other women includes finding a supportive gym. “Rolling (doing Jiu Jitsu) can be challenging, so just remember YOU can choose your rolling/drilling partners. It’s important for you to be able to talk to you partner about what kind of roll you want to have, and what is expected.” Finally, although life can get in the way, Amanda reminds us the gym will always be there. “If you can only go once a week, then go once a week. Find different ways to continue falling in love; there are endless pieces waiting to be simplified and implemented into your game. Don’t give up.” Amanda can be followed on Instagram (Amanda_sbg), and Facebook (Amanda Diggins and facebook.com/amanda.loewen.9)