Art, Jiu Jitsu, Life: An Interview with Zed Alexandra
Zed Alexandra is an Artist and an Athlete.
She divides her time training passionately both pursuits in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada.
Connect on Instagram @zedalexandra
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LEARNING BJJ: What made you get into jiu jitsu?
ZED ALEXANDRA: It was not planned and it was totally by accident. At the time I was in a studio I really couldn’t afford, like an art studio. I felt really directionless and I didn’t know what was happening with my life. It just so happened that the studios were on top of the gym. So, I walked by the gym every single day. It was just this one day I walked by, and this guy smiled at me and walked into the gym. And I said, You know what, maybe I should try a free class or something.
So I started in boxing and I was in boxing for four months. It was when I started to get some cardio work that I started noticing the jiu jitsu mats and seeing how wasted everybody was. I was like, Why is everybody so tired, and why does they look so exhausted? I want to know what they’re doing over there. So I tried it once, and then that was kind of it. It was like, Oh shit, this is what I’ve been looking for, for so long.
LEARNING BJJ: That’s awesome. That’s how most people’s stories go. They say, What is this? And then it turns into full blown addiction. [laughs] Your art is absolutely beautiful. I came across it on Instagram, and I see you have quite a few followers on Instagram who obviously really like what you do. How did you decide to have Instagram be the way that you’re dispersing your art in the world?
ZED ALEXANDRA: Oh, that’s a good question. I had a really rough time just figuring out who I was and how my art could not just be how I could express myself, but how it could be of help to people. Basically, as I came up going to art school and all that kind of stuff, I always struggled with that and I never felt like I had a style that belonged in galleries, and I never felt that I completely belonged anywhere in terms of an art scene.
When Instagram was developed, I was pretty slow getting on there. I had it and I didn’t know what to do with it. Again, I had no direction; I was just putting in my sketches or whatever I was drawing at the time, but it was really unfocused and suddenly, when I began to draw jiu jitsu, it started to take on a form, and since then I’ve really utilized Instagram in reaching out to the jiu jitsu community. Since my art I feel now has much more of a focus, I use Instagram to just be able to present myself in a way that was not available for me at the time, like maybe five years ago or so. I was basically invisible. I still have a very modest following, but the people that do follow me - they’re solid, they’re sticking around.
I would rather have a smaller amount of followers that, you know, comment and engage and talk to me, and truly support me than like, thousands, even though that’s sort of the goal, right. I want to have like, millions of followers but I know in the end that the people who I want to reach and connect with are in the jiu jitsu community because we just have this special thing going on, and I hope that Instagram is going to allow me to reach more people that way. [laughs]
LEARNING BJJ: Do you do other kinds of art? Is jiu jitsu your main focus now, or is there stuff you’re not showing us?
ZED ALEXANDRA: That is pretty much my focus now. I’ve been through so many incarnations of myself as an artist. I’ve had a long, long history of depression and anxiety, so for years, nearly decades, I was drawing very dark stuff. I was using a lot of charcoal, and there was a lot of pain associated with my images, and I was in that for a really long time. There was, like, no colour in my work whatsoever.
Even my friend mentioned the other day, we were in a group chat, she went to my Instagram, because I do have some stuff from a few years ago on there, and she managed to scroll down all the way. She was like, Holy Shit. You see what happened to you after you started jiu jitsu. Your art changed. It completely changed who you were. Your art from before to when you’re doing it now, it completely transformed you.
LEARNING BJJ: Wow.
ZED ALEXANDRA: I started using colour. I used a lot of yellows and whites. Everything, my entire life, just got lighter. Basically what art is for me, it’s like a reflection of my own state of being and my mind. It’s something that I can’t really control. A lot of it’s unconscious; what I want to draw or why I’m drawing something.
So, I don’t really have any secrets, or secret work, ‘cause I’m always willing to show it and to present it to people. Right now, all that’s on my mind is developing a better life and keeping on that path. So, all the art I have is just all about jiu jitsu 'cause I have so much love and support from that aspect of my life and it’s just showing through my work.
LEARNING BJJ: That’s awesome; thank you for sharing that. You had posted a status or something where you had written, “Jiu jitsu exists as constant self-reflection and an opportunity to know ourselves deeper though our connections so others. It is this human experience I wish to honour though my work.” Where does that desire come from for you?
ZED ALEXANDRA: Oh my. Now I’m getting in trouble for my artists statement. [laughs]
LEARNING BJJ: I think it’s a really beautiful statement that you’ve made, that it is the human experience of knowing ourselves deeper through jiu jitsu, that it is this experience you want to honour through your work. You could be making art about anything. It strikes me, Why art? Why this way? Why this thing?
ZED ALEXANDRA: I’ve just lived through so much and I’ve had many other kinds of experiences being a human that were really dark and scary. I mean, expressing those things is fine and it’s actually healthy, and it was good and it was necessary. But, doing it for, like I said, more than a decade, I didn’t realize how expressing those painful things actually weighted me down more rather than set me free.
There’s this concept of, Oh, if you just draw it or express it or write it or talk about it, it’s a catharsis and it will go away and you’ll get better, but it’s also a trap, because it starts to consume not only your unconscious mind, but your conscious mind, in developing, How do I express this painful thing? and you’re just thinking about it all the time, all the time, all the time.
I think with jiu jitsu, I finally - I found something that was shared with others that didn’t bring me pain. It was completely new. It was sort of like, walking into a room that you’ve never been in, and it’s just really quiet and nobody else is around, and you’re like, Holy smokes, what’s going on here? I don’t understand what’s happening. What are these feelings? I feel okay... Where’s my depression? I don’t know this feeling anymore.
Truly, for the longest time I didn’t know what it meant to be happy. That is such a precious thing to me. I’ve had such struggles with anxiety and pain and a lot of demons, so to be able to examine something that’s full of light and something that makes me happy and makes me connect with other people in a positive way and leaves me feeling at the end of the day that I’m loved and the people around me support me 110%, it’s a completely new way of living life and existing.
LEARNING BJJ: Do you have advice for others who are obsessed with jiu jitsu and who make art and who are maybe making jiu jitsu art or thinking about it?
ZED ALEXANDRA: My advice is that whatever you find that you know is right for you, to keep doing it, because I mean, I’ve tried so many things, I’ve had so many experiences, and a lot of my character was developed through rejection in terms of art. As I said before, I never felt like I belonged anywhere. I’ve tried many, many things with extremely discouraging results. Basically, a door would open a little bit, and then I'd try to walk through and get shut. Either I wouldn’t get paid, or the contract would fall through, or you know, no one would buy my work at a comic fair. All these sort of little small things that build up and make you start thinking, Oh shit, maybe I’m a terrible artist. What’s the point of doing this if nobody’s going to react to it? Who am I speaking to? But then once I found jiu jitsu, nothing was difficult anymore, you know what I mean? I feel like my art finally had a place that could resonate with people and I was, for lack of a better term, I was just accepted. I know that’s a very - like, "everybody wants to be accepted as a person and in their life" - and sometimes you would say, Oh, that’s kind of petty you should just be yourself and be okay with it. But everybody yearns for belonging and once you find something that speaks to you and you can speak through it, then just don’t stop going down that road because you’ll never hit a roadblock when everything’s right.
LEARNING BJJ: Do you have any idea of where your art is headed?
ZED ALEXANDRA: I really don’t know where it’s going, but for the first time I’m excited about that and it doesn’t give me any kind of anxiety. I’m not worried about it because in the last year I’ve seen so much growth, both personally and for my art, so there’s just no bad place to go. I feel like I’ve paid my dues to reach a place that’s good, and there’s going to be only good things to come. I have no fears about that anymore, which is pretty incredible. Most people didn’t know me before, but the shift that jiu jitsu has brought to my life is kind of earth-shattering, and I think people will be able to understand that.
If you are interested in commissioning a piece, or inquiring about a purchase from Zed Alexandra, email firstname.lastname@example.org, or reach out on Instagram.
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