Last month I had the pleasure to visit Team Kaze located in the White Mountain Region of New Hampshire. The leaves hadn’t turned yet but the sky was a crisp clear blue and it was a beautiful drive from Boston to this very out of the way dojo. I arrived at 11a.m., prepared to meet for the Saturday morning class. I was pleasantly surprised by the photo gallery of the owner Sensei Greg Williams. He was pictured with the likes of Professor Wally Jay, founder of Small Circle Jui Jitsu, Willy Cahill, Olympic Judo Coach, Chuck Norris, American Martial Artist and Actor and Royce Gracie, UFC originator, before anyone even knew who he was!
Sensei Williams was kind enough to invite me up to this remote part of the state to help train his student Heather Lambert. She will be fighting on Combat Zones Oct 22 card against Shannon Harney of Dragon Within. Shannon is no stranger to the cage with a 2-1 record. However, this will be Heather’s first amateur MMA fight.
Sensei Williams has said he wants the best for his students and being so far up in the mountains of New Hampshire he felt it would be in Heather’s best interest to give her as much knowledge as possible even if that meant bringing someone else in to train her.
To help Heather prepare I spent most of the afternoon focusing on Heather’s stand up. I worked on developing rhythm, timing and distance in a Muay Thai fashion. I held pads for her developing her striking and having her focus on balancing and sitting into her punches. We also worked on angles and passing, followed by striking on the move to frustrate an aggressive opponent. We did countless three minute rounds putting it all together and she was picking it up fast!
After two hours of pad work we both entered the ring for some light sparring. We started with just jabs, wearing no gloves in order to look for openings and practicing head movement. After a few rounds we added crosses, then teeps (front push kicks). Heather was like a sponge soaking up all the non-stop information.
We spoke about commanding the cage and when to shoot in for take downs. It was also an opportunity for Heather to see where she was vulnerable when kicking or striking. To become a more centered fighter she would have to rely on footwork, balance, knowing her range and timing when to strike. After three straight out non-stop hours we were ready to call it a day and meet later for dinner, however if I wanted to continue, I think Heather would have been game!
It is truly amazing, what a fighter will do to prepare for a fight, but what is more striking is the desire to learn. Men and woman alike get hooked in this sport like nothing else. They may start off timid then all of a sudden something clicks and they find themselves wanting to take their training to another level and to test themselves. I could see that desire to learn and take it to the next level in Heather, I suppose that’s why her coach Sensei Williams was so willing to set up this training session for her.
Following a relaxing dinner I had time to ask Heather and her family a little about her MMA career and get a glimpse into the other side of this fierce woman striking pads earlier. Here is what she said:
Shelley Devine: How does it feel to have your first MMA fight?
Heather Lambert: Its very exciting, I’ve been waiting a long time to actually get a fight. Its been hard to get one that will actually happen. There’s not a lot of girls who want to fight so its been hard to get a match up.
Shelley Devine: Can you give me a little bit about your background training?
Heather Lambert: I started training in a cardio kick boxing class. Then I changed over and started taking grappling. Then after that I started with full contact kick boxing and I just fell in love with it.
Shelley Devine: How long have you been doing that?
Heather Lambert: It’ll be 2 years in October
Shelley Devine: You mentioned earlier that you did a NAGA Tournament How did that go?
Heather Lambert: the first one I fought at was fly weight and I took second place. That was my first NAGA tournament it went really well. The second one was at light weight and I took first place. So and both of those I submitted my opponent with arm bars, one from the bottom and one from the top.
Shelley Devine: Tell us how you got into MMA? What was the catalyst, did you watch the UFC or see any other females fight? What was the driving force?
Heather Lambert: I hadn’t really seen a lot of female fights, after I started MMA we researched it. We got to see some more with woman fighting. But we watched some of the UFC but it was mostly seeing the guys fight at the dojo I go to. Getting to see that, I just thought that it looked incredible. It put everything together and it was everything I was training all at one.
Shelley Devine: I’m sitting here with your family, you’re two kids, and husband. What do they think about you doing this?
Heather Lambert: My daughter, she thinks it’s great! She told me that she’d be so proud of me if I got a fight. My son is more on the fence, he goes back and forth. He worries about me getting hurt. Umm and my husband, he’s been up and down with it. (laughs) It depends day to day, some days he’s great but he has been supportive through all of it. He hasn’t ever tried to talk me out of doing it or tried to stop me from taking classes and stuff.
Shelley Devine: Is he afraid that you might get hurt?
Heather Lambert: umm I don’t know if he’s afraid, well can we ask him??
Husband: I’m not afraid of her getting hurt.
Shelley Devine: what are you afraid of ? ( everybody laughs) with her, doing MMA? Her liking it! Its more her liking it.
Husband: (Smiles) Yah!
Shelley Devine: so you’re a mother of two, What did you do prior to training in MMA?
Heather Lambert: I’m a nurse.
Shelley Devine: You’re a nurse?
Heather Lambert: (laughs) Yah I am, I just finished up my school in May. I passed my boards in June.
Shelley Devine: Oh wow! Now you’re going into killing and maiming people (laughs)
Heather Lambert: yah its very contradictory, one of the guys said “ yah you can beat them then treat them.” (laughs some more)
Shelley Devine: Talk a little about your sparring partners. Have they been very supportive? And you recently mention you did an in house standup Smoker. How did that go?
Heather Lambert: That! Actually that was a little over a year ago. And Umm, It was actually when I started doing more MMA before I was doing straight kickboxing, and I got my nose broken. (laughs) It was interesting because I got to see what it was like to really have a fight versus just sparring. It was a lot more intense, but I loved it. It didn’t scare me or make me want to back down. It just made me want to train harder.
Shelley Devine: Is this a new found thing or is there anything in your background, your history; even when you were a little girl, that would have signaled you or made you think that “Oh I’m just gonna love this?”
Heather Lambert: I was a little bit of a tomboy and as a kid I did wrestling with a couple of the neighborhood boys on the lake we were on. But I never did any martial arts as a kid or anything.
Shelley Devine: Did you play any sports?
Heather Lambert: Yah I did track and I did field hockey and I did skiing in the winter and waterskiing in the summer.
Shelley Devine: so you’ve always been athletic, have you ever had any issues?
Heather Lambert: Gaining weight. Its kinda funny because one of the guys had to cut weight and I’m using whole milk, I was eating donuts. I do a lot every time after I work out I use whey protein whole milk and trying to eat good healthy calories to put the weight on.
Shelley Devine: What weight will you be fighting at for this fight?
Heather Lambert: 120
Shelley Devine: Have you ever fought in a cage or practiced in one?
Heather Lambert: no I haven’t so it will be my first time.
Shelley Devine: You’re having a fight coming up on Oct 22 for Combat Zone. It’s your first MMA fight. There is also a shallow pool of female fighters in your weight class in New England, but you and your coach have made it clear that as long as you can fight you will be looking for fights immediately after this one. What kind of role model do you think this can establish for woman coming up in the sport? or you have a daughter who trains in the kids classes. How do you see yourself as carving a path for woman in a male dominated sport?
Heather Lambert: I think for woman I want them to feel secure. I think a lot of women don’t have that especially when they go out. They are nervous. As for My daughter, she has a tournament coming up. She’ll be doing NAGA in Oct.
Heathers daughter Sydney is listening in on the interview, It was only natural to include another rising star.
Shelley Devine: So how do you feel about having your first completion in NAGA? And tell us how old you are.
Sydney: I’m 11. I’m excited! (smiles a great big smile)
Shelley Devine: Wow! I guess that answers my role model question, she’s following right in your footsteps!
Heather Lambert: (laughs) Yah, she came down with some other kids when I did my NAGA tournament and they were all very interested. So Greg started a kids grappling program. They had been mostly doing the jui jitsu but after that they began doing the ground practice on one day a week. And Joey my son does the jui jitsu too he’s been taking it longer than Syd, he’s got his orange belt and she’s got her yellow belt.
Shelley Devine: So It’s a family affair! And one last question, Who are your Training partners?
Heather Lambert: So for my MMA sparring, I have two male fighters who both have experience fighting. So I train with them and they’re the ones I do my MMA rounds with. We did for a while, have three different woman taking kickboxing class. It was nice to have them to spar with but they ended up not sticking with it. So since then, it ends up especially with grappling, it helps sparring with men cause the guys are all bigger than me, so I do feel that’s an advantage. But I do miss sparring with woman, so that’s why today was particularly nice, having you come out and getting to spar.
Shelley Devine: Its good for me too we still don’t have very many women although we do have a larger group in the Boston area but especially for you way up here in the sticks of NH there really isn’t anybody for you up here other than the guys training at the level you need to enter the cage. I’m glad they’re supportive.
Heather Lambert: Yah, Sensei Greg Williams and the guys at the dojo like Nate Amesberg and Rick Corrigan have been great to me. In a male dominated sport they all made me feel welcome to train with them and have helped me get ready to compete. Their support has meant so much to me, without them to train with I wouldn’t have a chance to do any of this. And the thing is when I started training I fell in love with MMA and now it’s hard to imagine my life without it. Now I just need to get in a cage and see if I have what it takes.
Shelley Devine: I’d like to thank Heather and her family for taking the time for this interview and to Greg Williams for setting all this up. It was great to work with you and I wish you great success in your upcoming fight.