Ashley Sage enters into America’s Best Karate in Chatsworth, greeted by 28 children who welcome her with big smiles and warming enthusiasm. She gives off both a loving but stern energy as she places her feet on the mat. Her students bow as a sign of respect and class is in session.
The studio is soon filled with punches and kicks from children between the ages of three to six years old. The room is bellowing with exuberant cheers of excitement. Sage’s piercing blue eyes are analyzing the movement and technique. She corrects mistakes quickly but the controlled chaos ensues once more.
Just two hours later after they are gone, the real work begins. Sage who is a blue belt goes from teacher to a student trying to perfect her craft of Brazilian Jiu Jitsu. She is the only girl training among 16 men, but for her this is more than about self defense. She rolls with the men and competes with every ounce of strength she can muster. Her ankles are bruised and her gi’s color is been worn down from the endless hours of the training.
The studio is now filled with the salty aroma of sweaty shin guards, pads, gloves and sweating bodies. The music of Guns and Roses helps heighten the intensity and action.
But for Sage the world of BJJ is a way of life.
She will be competing at a tournament hosted at CSUN on Oct. 22nd. The tournament will be hosted by the Jiu Jitsu World League and the Sage will compete in both the elite adult class as well as the elite youth tournament. Sage will be competing against opponents in her own weight class.
“It’ll be fun because I will have all my friends and family there,” Sage said. “It’s going to be a great event and I think I’m going to compete well. This time I’m coming in with a better mental mindset. “
Sage is considered to be one of the best grapplers in Southern California. She recently posted two second place finishes at tournaments throughout the state and wants to compete at the highest level.
“It’s a love that I carry with me,” Sage said. “Jiu jitsu is very therapeutic. If I’m having a bad day I’m going to roll. If I’m having a good day I’m going to go roll. That’s my Saturday night. I have friends that invite me to places but mostly I just want to go roll.”
Sage has been practicing martial arts since she was nine years old. BJJ which she started at 13 years old has helped her both on and off of the mat. In April her mother passed away from pancreatic cancer and so her intensity heightened to help handle her loss.
“Just coming [to the BJJ studio] really helped because I was dealing with a lot,” Sage said. “It really helped me focus more.”
It’s a love for children that has carried her to Cal State Northridge where she hopes to become an elementary school teacher because of her experience teaching martial arts. She walks up and down the halls of Cleary Court and the Education Administration buildings before heading back either home or to the studio to train students.
Her high level of patience comes from helping raise two younger sisters while her single mom went to work to pay the bills. She is highly respected among the parents who watch her show students to throw punches but also maintain inner-strength as the intensity slowly picks up. Priya Sodhi, has her two boys Krish, 7, and Yash, 4, train with Sage for the past two years
“I love her,” Sodhi said. “The fact that she is so personable and direct with the kids is what I like. Whenever she feels there might be trouble she doesn’t embarrass them. She handles it with them internally.”
According to instructor Nathan Carlen who met Sage when she was 13 years old. The intensity and competitive level was still the same that matched her fiery attitude.
“We like to joke with her sometimes that ‘her mouth’ matched her spirit,” Carlen said. “Nothing much has changed really. Ever since she first came in here she was always a hard worker. It’s just when you’re put into an environment you sort of just blend into it.”
Sage is hoping to get a first place finish in her upcoming tournaments after suffering multiple defeats. It’s a sport where losing can be mentally agonizing because of having to tap out. She admitted the constant losing was a struggle at first.
“I was super bad with my mental mindset when I did my first tournament,” Sage said. “I just sat on the bench until they called my name, went up and lost. I lost by a collared baseball choke and I lasted only a minute and half through a six minute round. I can roll all day but there is something different about doing in front of people. Everything is intense, you’re freaking out but I learned the way to get better is just by going through the repetition. “
Carlen thinks Sage will improve all the time but says she “needs to shoot the gun,” when she starts.
“Just go, that’s all she needs to do,” Carlen said. “I think she’s just used to rolling with guys so much that she maybe might not go as hard against girls because she’s afraid of maybe hurting them. She just needs to come out early hard from the very get go and she’ll be fine.”
Instructor Alexander Bondarenko is Sage’s main training partner and also trains with her Tang Soo Do and Dog Brothers martial arts. The duo will go from grappling to training for Dog Brothers which is derived from Filipino stick fighting. The two will switch up styles. Bondarenko’s goal is to become a full time instructor and also trains in Mixed Martial Arts and Muay Thai. He has fought in 10 amateur bouts and has only one loss.
He says training with Sage is a brother-sister type of relationship. The two will go past 10 o’clock at night training in which ever style the latter feels like choosing.
“When you have a training partner you get used to the way each one works,” Bondarenko said. “She has great arm bars and she has improved greatly since we have begun working together. Her timing needs a little work but there’s no doubt that she is on a path to success.”
Sage wants to do more then just compete in tournaments. She wants to use her talent to compete at the highest levels while still expanding her knowledge of BJJ.
She hopes to one day travel to Brazil and learn under some of the world’s finest instructors. If anyone’s expecting to see Sage outside of either school or her dojo, good luck trying to make plans. Her devotion is to family, her school and mixing it up from dusk to dawn.