Erin Cathrine Nygren

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Interview by Women Who Fight
July 2018
Erin Cathrine Nygren
Photo by @ribeiro_photo

Eirin Cathrine Nygren is a Norwegian BJJ competitor. She has been four times European Champion in belts Blue, Purple and Brown (twice). She received her black belt in 2017 and since then has opened up her own BJJ gym in Örebro, Sweden, which is part of Frontline Academy. She always is looking to improve her game, incorporating new techniques and learning from the losses. Her attitude to fighting her superstar opponents is ‘they are incredible so there’s nothing to lose, you go in there and you try to think that it’s a win-win situation.” She has an indiscriminate attitude towards rolling partners, as she simply wants to roll with everyone! We can learn a lot from her positive attitude and love of this sport.


How did you begin your BJJ journey?

I started my journey in 2008, my boyfriend at that time introduced me to the sport. Devi Ahuja (purple belt at the time, and later the first female black belt in Scandinavia) was starting a women’s only class and I was basically forced to join. I didn’t really want to, since I was playing handball and was happy with that. After one training I was hooked, I quit handball and never looked back. Best decision ever!


I did my first competition after 1 year and loved it. I have been competing ever since, and in 2017, I not only got my black belt but I also opened my own gym together with my boyfriend (thanks to his passion we have one of the best and most beautiful gyms in Sweden). I have a gym in Örebro, Sweden and it’s part of Frontline Academy. This is also where I started to train back in 2008 and I’m really proud of the fact that I got all my belts from my instructor and good friend Teta (Eduardo Rios). This is a big deal to me, as Teta is the best instructor I have ever encountered and he has taught me everything I know. There is nothing in my game today that isn’t influenced by him.


Where do you get your competitive streak from?

I’m born with it. Seriously, I called my mom to ask if I always where competitive, she just started to laugh. She laughed so hard I almost got a little embarrassed. Before when I was younger it was all about winning, however that is not my main focus/goal with a competition, my goal is always to challenge myself and always give my best, 100%! But I will not deny, I like winning as well!


How you do you stay focused with such incredible opponents?

It’s just that, they are incredible so it’s nothing to lose, you go in there and you try to think that it’s a win-win situation. It’s a cliché, but it’s really true you either win or you learn. At least that is how I try to think, but of course it’s hard. Sometimes you lose focus, and start to make excuses and then you have already lost the fight in advance. I also try to make goals that I can control, like “today I will give 100%” that I can control, I cannot control what the other person does so a goal like “today I will win” it’s hard to live by, since it also depends on the other person. I always try to give 100% of myself in my matches, if I can walk of the mat and feel that I did that I cannot allow myself to be disappointed even if I lose the match.

Eirin at Frontline Academy HQ
Photo by @riosgear
Eirin at Frontline Academy HQ
Photo by @riosgear

What’s your training schedule like?

Since I also work 100% and teach I don’t have time to train as much as I would like. Therefore it is very important for me to have quality in my training. I try to do some BJJ each day, sometimes it might just be 45 min of drilling, but then I am fully focused for those 45 minutes (don´t speak or bother me when I train, I will bite… haha). It varies between 45 min and three hours depending on my work and teaching schedule. I also do strength training 3-4 times a week.

Right now I’m injured so I have been drilling only for some months, and doing a lot of rehab and strength training.


Sometimes men will strength it out the whole time or just be limp which makes the roll frustrating. How do you train intelligently with men, to get the most out of it?

Usually, I just tell them to go normal, and if I think they go like crazy I tell them, and make suggestion on how to make it better. If I get afraid of injury I also stop the roll. If they just use a lot of strength to get out of a position I think, “whatever, your problem”. You eventually learn who to roll with and not.
One tip I have is to be honest and try to teach bigger guys how to roll with you. Ask them to use movement and speed and not try to hold you down. You both have to accept that when you are bigger and much stronger the roll often must be on the smaller person’s grounds.


How do you stay focused and strive for excellence in your training/competing?

This is a hard question, and I really don’t know how to answer. I just love being on the mat, it never feels like a sacrifice to go train or travel for BJJ.

Ladies at @royalcampjj!
Photo by @ribeiro_photo

What have you learnt from your Master’s in Leadership and Organizational psychology that relates to your psychology around a big match?

Not much, but I felt that my BJJ journey has taught me a lot in my work career. It has made me fearless and outgoing, I’m not afraid of having a presentation in front of a lot of people. I don’t get nervous unless I compete.


Have you encountered much sexism in your experiences in BJJ?

No nothing. All my male training partners have always been very respectful and this has never been a problem for me in my academy – Frontline Academy. I have always been treated as an equal, both on the mat and outside of the mat.


On the other hand, I have experienced rude men that don’t train BJJ, that want to try to grapple at parties or just jump on you to prove that they can “win”. That is for me one of the most awful thing I know, and one reason that I don’t like to talk about my background in BJJ to new people (men) that I meet, for example at social gatherings.

How do you feel weights improve your training and how often do you do it?

I train a lot of weight training, mostly because I love it. I don’t know if it improves my BJJ that much, but it keeps me from getting injured and that is very important. This is the first time in 10 years I have had a serious injury.


What is your message to women who feel that weights make them less feminine?

I think they should try it and see for themselves. Being strong and feeling confident is the most awesome thing ever, and for me that makes me more feminine.

Eirin training
Photo by @skofrisone

You mentioned in another interview that Scandinavian women have a very positive attitude to training, can you talk more about this?

What I truly believe is that all the Scandinavian BJJ women I know are not afraid of training hard. We want to roll with the guys, and appreciate that they go hard with us. That’s why I don’t see that big need for women training exclusively with women, (especially in my academy) we want to be equals and train together. To me it’s so important to roll with the guys and I know that they feel the same, that they can learn so much through rolling with women. I think this is very important, especially if we want to be part of the BJJ community on the same premises as the guys we need to train together. I always try to train and roll with everyone that I can!


And also, if you come visit my academy please do not be shy. Here black belts roll with white belts, and it’s totally fine to ask a black belt to roll! As I said, I would love roll with anybody!


How do you adapt the techniques you learn to your body type? At what belt did you begin to be able to do this effectively?

I don’t know if I am able to do it to 100% still, but I think my game developed a lot at purple belt, and at brown my top game got a lot better. I do a lot of smash passing which is not very typical of my body type, so I always say that I am a heavy weight in my head.


I think I started seeing more what techniques very good for me at brown belt, before I just tried everything. I do still try different techniques since I truly believe that it is important to have a broad perspective and understand all types of BJJ, you never know what or who you will meet in competitions but also when I´m teaching.


I also teach the kids classes and that is one of my biggest passions now, it’s so much fun and we have a great group of kids that train almost as much as the adults!

Eirin demonstrating a technique
Photo by @ribeiro_photo
Eirin demonstrating a technique
Photo by @ribeiro_photo
Eirin competing
Photo by @kentahammarstrom