The phrase “too busy” doesn’t exist in Vannessa Griffin’s vocabulary. This jiujiteira works 32 hours a week (21 for a growing henna company and 11 teaching the kids’ class at Crazy 88 MMA), just completed her general studies program at Howard Community College, was accepted into UBMC, and still somehow finds the time to train a of jiu-jitsu. And just a couple weeks ago, all that hustle paid off when she became a world champion.
Griffin, a purple belt at the time of her victory, has never lived her life with a quitter’s mindset. She says that her mom had a rough childhood, and it didn’t get easier when Griffin’s dad passed away in 2000 when she was just three years old. However, because of both her mom and her stepdad’s hard work in the face of their numerous struggles, Griffin says that things got easier for her family when she was about ten years old. Still, even though life was anything but smooth sailing for her, she chose to grow from her problems rather than allowing them to beat her down.
“Being around such a hard working group of people rubbed off on me. I’ve also always been very patient and very hard-working,” she says. “I don’t like to half-*** things; it kills me. That combined with my addictive personality makes jiu-jitsu a perfect fit for me. Like my brother Tye Ryan Murphy always says, ‘You can’t cheat the grind — it knows.’ You can’t cheat jiu-jitsu, you can’t half-*** your training, you have to put 100 percent in or the percent you don’t put in will chew you up and spit you out.”
The gold medal that Griffin now possesses is hard evidence that nothing about her grind was half-assed. Her difficult training regimen that she squeezed in between work and school included strength and conditioning sessions in addition to the jiu-jitsu classes she attended and taught. But things got even tougher about five weeks before Worlds when she suffered a partial tear in her LCL. She was prohibited from training for two weeks, but never once let that stop her from keeping her sights on her goals:
The day after I found out there was a tear, I registered for the Worlds, cleaned up my diet even more than it was before, and waited. I was cleared three weeks before we flew out to train light and wasn’t cleared to train 100 percent until about two full weeks before we flew out. Those three weeks were the most critical and I made sure that I was focused on training and training hard, while also taking care of my knee.
All of Griffin’s hard work and sacrifice was put to the test when she finally stepped onto the mats at what many consider to be the most prestigious jiu-jitsu tournament on the planet. Although she says her first matches were “a bit sloppy and rough,” things got easier as she progressed. Before she knew it, she found herself in the finals against the same woman who had defeated her 8-0 in the semifinals the previous year. This time, though, Griffin had a plan after tweaking things the whole year in preparation for this exact situation:
Going into the match I listened to the advice [coach] Julius told me and got to my closed guard and finished the match via armbar with two minutes left. As soon as she tapped my teammates screamed and cheered for me. It was the best feeling ever, even better than winning the first time in 2015 since I won the finals by just an advantage. It was great to see how happy my team was for me and how supportive they were.
But things got even better for this champion. As she stood on the podium and received her medal, her coach promoted her to brown belt right then and there, with the sound of her teammates’ cheers growing even louder in the background. Griffin calls the whole experience “the best 20 minutes of her life so far” and already has plans to become a brown belt world champion and hopefully get promoted to black belt in a year.
This young woman is proof that achieving your dreams really is possible if you don’t make excuses for yourself, and she knows that with the right mindset, anyone can do the same.
My advice to others is to learn and understand what is worth worrying about and what isn’t. Worrying about things you can’t control is a waste of time… The hard training, nagging injuries, and exhaustion that comes with both don’t affect me like they affect other people, which is why I’m able to achieve such high levels of success and deal with the work it takes. I also do the things I’m supposed to do the way I’m supposed to. Running a kids’ program, training every night, going to school full time, and working a part time job is a lot to handle, but I make sure that I do everything I’m supposed to, when I’m supposed to, and how I’m supposed to, and it all works out.