Last week, the jiu-jitsu community lost one of its most incredible members. Nichole Ozzy Ossman was one of the toughest women on the east coast BJJ scene. She was a blue belt. She was a member of multiple gym families, including Mark Shraders MMA, the Grappling House Gym, and 10th Planet. And she was my best friend.
A lot of you guys have already seen a tribute to Ozzy being posted around the web by countless people, including Eddie Bravo. In a way, it makes me happy. She loved being recognized for her jiu-jitsu, and she was ecstatic to have her picture featured in a previous Jiu-Jitsu Times article. But even though Im grateful for all the love shes received, this isnt the reason I wanted people all over the world to know her face and name.
For those of you who havent seen that tribute, Im going to make this honest and brief: Ozzy— my jiu-jitsu sister, my partner in crime, my rock— committed suicide at age 23. No, no one saw it coming. For right now, thats all Im going to say about it.
You see, as glad as I am that people are sharing Ozzys picture and using it as a way to spread awareness about suicide and encourage people to get help (seriously, please keep sharing it), I also want to take this time to give her the kind of recognition and fame she would have wanted. If you knew her, I want you to see what jiu-jitsu meant for her, and if you didnt know her, I want you to understand what the world has lost. More than anything, I want to celebrate her.
Ozzy first picked up martial arts to learn how to defend herself. By the time I met her a few months later, she was still a white belt but a damn good one. She was progressing ridiculously fast, and a lot of that came not only from her passion for what she did, but also her willingness to try new things. So many people tend to stick with what theyre good at, but Ozzy found what she was uncomfortable with and did that instead. The result was a fighter who could land a decent armbar, but took way more joy in pulling off a bunch of complicated sweeps and guard passes in order to get there.
It comes as no surprise, then, that Ozzy was someone who enjoyed the journey just as much as the destination. This was particularly obvious in the numerous jiu-jitsu-related roadtrips we took and the not a problem attitude she had towards driving for hours just to visit a gym and expand her BJJ family. We traveled to different gyms and all kinds of tournaments together, the journey there filled with excitement and the return trip filled with exhaustion as well as the kind of happiness you can only get after rolling with one of your favorite people.
No matter where she went, Ozzys joy and passion were contagious. Everyone remembered her for her light-up-the-room smile and all the crazy stuff she somehow managed to pull off while rolling. And man, this girl never stopped rolling. She was always the last person to get changed after class because she kept going long after the timer went off. When we competed in grueling sub-only tournaments, she went for nearly an hour multiple times a day against people who, based on experience level, should have been able to clobber her within minutes. She never tapped out because she was tired or in pain— she tapped when she was worried about getting injured and missing training as a result.
Ozzy and I often had to compete against each other, so in a way, I got a front-row seat in her competitive journey. In the span of three months, I went from being able to dominate her pretty easily to really struggling against her. This girl wasnt just progressing— she was flying. She was long overdue for her blue belt by the time she got it a couple of months ago.
Even though I technically outranked her, I was the one who looked up to her when it came to jiu-jitsu. She was everything I wanted to be in a fighter: resilient, creative, determined, fearless. She went out of her way to teach others what she knew. She was someone who said yes to new techniques and new adventures without a moments hesitation. She was the kind of person you wanted to call a training partner, a student, and most of all, a friend.
Ozzy and I didnt know each other for very long: only a little over a year. But when I was with her, I felt like we were long-lost sisters separated at birth. We suffered torturous weight cuts, grueling tournaments, and numerous travel mishaps by each others sides and in the end, the tears that ended up on our faces werent from misery, but from laughter. We supported each other through everything with words of encouragement and the promise of a well-deserved milkshake. She was just that kind of person who went out of her way to ensure that you had a smile on your face every second that you were around her.
In the way that some friends talk about being bridesmaids at each others weddings, Ozzy and I often talked about one day opening a gym together as black belts and getting matching jiu-jitsu tattoos. They were fantasies of ours: dreams that were far enough in the future that it was OK to talk about them without having to really think about the process it would take to get there. It was a someday, it was an eventually. It destroys me now to think about how its now a never.
The pain Ozzys loved ones are currently going through isnt something Id wish on my worst enemy, but were pushing through it knowing that the honor of having known her is worth the agony of losing her. Every time I train or compete or breathe, Im going to do it with the intention of getting one step closer to achieving the dreams we wanted to accomplish together. I will carry her with me in everything I do for the rest of my life, but especially when I roll.
As you continue to share Ozzys name and dazzling smile to help others get the assistance they need, please do it knowing that shes not just some random face on the internet— shes the type of person the world needs a lot more of.
Above all, take the time to tell everyone, including and especially your jiu-jitsu family, how much they mean to you. Use the phrase I love you with reckless abandon. Take group photos and selfies with each other without caring what other people think. Make memories together as a team, and take mental snapshots of all the little moments that are actually big moments. If you dont have the time to get to know your teammates better outside of class, make the time. Do all of this not in preparation for the worst, but in celebration of the best.
Ozzy and I did all of this every time we saw each other. At the time, it was simply something that helped construct a beautiful friendship, and now, its the only thing getting me through her absence. Her jiu-jitsu family will make it through this not one step at a time, but one roll at a time. We will fight the way she fought and love the way she loved in an effort to brighten the world the way she brightened our lives. And well do it together.