clock menu more-arrow no yes

Filed under:

The Jiu Jitsu Nomad: Erin Herle’s intriguing journey

New, comment

Erin Herle has won multiple BJJ competitions and continues to contribute to mental health awareness at the same time.

Erin Herle brings an intriguing outlook to both Brazilian Jiu Jitsu and life as a whole.
Nico Ball

When talking about professional athletes, a segment of the conversation usually touches upon the mental fortitude that’s needed to become a champion. While we recognize that mental strength is expected, we rarely shine a light on the importance of mental health within those same avenues of sport. This is what make Erin Herle’s journey through Brazilian Jiu Jitsu so compelling and different than many of her peers.

Herle is well-known through the BJJ industry as a multiple-time champion. She’s earned titles across her career within the colored belts and as a black belt. Her victories include IBJJF No Gi champion in 2015, European Open champion in 2016, and Sao Paulo Open champion in 2017 – each of which came as a brown belt. As a black belt she won the IBJJF South American championship in 2017 and placed second at Euros in 2018. This type of success shouldn’t surprise anyone, as Herle dedicated herself to this craft when she discovered the martial art back in 2008 which started with a trip to watch Pans.

“I remember seeing female matches and asking a million questions about the rules and whatnot,” Herle said. “Although I never participated in sports outside of peewee basketball in 3rd grade and a lifetime of Girl Scouts encampments, I felt that my rough-housing with the guys had prepared me for that type of training.”

More than a year would pass before Herle would dive into Brazilian Jiu Jitsu, but once she did the lifestyle of BJJ truly did take over. She initially trained with Romulo Barral before starting her journey that would see her train with a variety of names in the sport, eventually earning her black belt from “Cobrinha.” Along the way she would leverage her training into various entrepreneurship opportunities that included creating a BJJ magazine called “Pulling Guardzine,” writing for Gracie Mag and creating content for Budo videos. Herle had to hustle to make her way in BJJ but her commitment to doing so helped build the foundation that led to much of her success.

“As with most people who choose to live the full-time Jiu Jitsu lifestyle, I deal with financial constraints,” Herle said. “People like to say ‘there’s no money in Jiu Jitsu’ but I disagree. It’s an entrepreneurial life and there’s a hustle involved. You have to find and make your own opportunities. You need to know your worth so living the freelance lifestyle, whether it be teaching Jiu Jitsu or writing, I have to dictate what amount I’m willing to work for; there are so many routes.”

Those different routes have led to Herle continuing to carve out an intriguing position within the BJJ world. But this conversation needs to go well beyond what she does in competition, but include the work she does through teaching and establishing the non-profit #SubmitTheStigma.

“I created #SubmitTheStigma after my dad passed away from suicide in July 2015,” Herle said. “I have his mental issues and his personality and his looks. My aunt likes to say I’m Robin 2.0 – the more refined version. So his passing deeply affected me in a way that I still can’t describe fully. With that being said, his death was a catalyst for me to speak about mental illness and suicide.”

Mental health and suicide are two important topics that need to be discussed openly in our society. According to the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, 44,965 Americans die via suicide each year. This is an issue that has touched millions across the world and within every professional industry. Herle’s work is helping bridge the gap between suicide prevention, mental health awareness and training in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu.

“Training Jiu Jitsu alleviates a lot of mental health issues given the amount of physical exertion involved, community support, goal-oriented curriculum, and the fact that there’s longevity,” Herle said. “I began training at a time that my Generalized Anxiety Disorder was at a high. I had come off a drug study where I was finally diagnosed officially and the drug made me crazy. When I trained, I forgot about all the social anxiety and awkwardness because Jiu Jitsu itself can be awkward.”

The work that Herle has done through #SubmitTheStigma has helped raised awareness and funding for suicide and mental health awareness. For example, she raised more than $6,500 for the National Alliance on Mental Illness after her father’s death. The work that she’s done has helped create a space for the conversation about mental health and has reached beyond the borders of the United States.

“People reached out and shared their own stories of depression, suicide, and the like. And I realized there was a much needed band of support within the Jiu Jitsu community to reduce stigma and encourage people to feel comfortable in their own skin and minds,” Herle said. “The name #SubmitTheStigma is obviously a play on words for Jiu Jitsu but it also starts with a hashtag because it is meant to be shared. As of now, there are patches that have been sent to more than 13 countries around the world.”

Erin Herle is a dynamic competitor on the mat and a very intriguing persona off of it. Her experiences and outlook have molded her into an athlete that’s worth our attention for a variety of reasons. But when it’s all said and done, the contributions she has provided through #SubmitTheStigma point to a larger calling than what occurs in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu competitions, while in search for the space to be herself.

“I want to help people feel comfortable in their own heads whether they suffer from mental illness or not. I want to be a voice for those who struggle as well, proving that you can both be successful and be yourself. I want to be relatable to people so that I can show them they can find their own success,” Herle said. “Sometimes I’m immature, sometimes I’m negative and self-pitying, sometimes I’m a comedian, sometimes I’m a professional athlete. But I hope that all of those represent who I am; which is a nomad on the search for connection.”