Big Things Come in Small Packages: The Purple Belt Rooster Weight Queen Kaori Hernandez
At just 19-years-old, Kaori Hernadez is taking the adult rooster weight division (107 lbs in the gi) by storm. She has been under the tutelage of her champion professor, Orlando Sanchez, of Gracie Barra Pasadena since 2011 when she was 11. Kaori says that Sanchez used to be a frequent customer at her parents’ business and that he would constantly tell her parents to take her and her younger brother to train. Once they did, she stated that she continued training because she liked the environment and the people. From there, a passion for Jiu-Jitsu developed and not long after that, so did a passion for competing.
After six months of training, Kaori’s passion for the sport did not go unnoticed by her professor. One day in training, he told her that she was getting good and suggested she start competing. The idea was brought up to her parents and after a bit of convincing, it did not take long for all of them to be in agreement that she should compete.
Kaori talks about her first competition and the feeling she gets when she competes:
“My first competition was July 23, 2011, at a local tournament at Pasadena High School. I took first place at that competition. With first place who doesn’t like competing? And on a more serious note, I love the adrenaline rush I feel once I hit that mat. The feeling of the world shrinking and the only things that matter are your opponent, the techniques and the knowledge you gained months or weeks prior to the competition. There’s no other feeling I know quite like the ability to drown out the world once you and your opponent shake hands. This does not mean that I wasn’t nervous. Despite being nervous about competing I continued to place first for the next two to three years.”
It was apparent not long after Kaori started competing that there was something special about her. Although her first few years were spent at the top of the podium, as she progressed through the belt ranks, she also began to experience some (but not many) losses. Here, she relates what she doesn’t like about competition and what she does differently after a loss:
“As for the things that I did not like about competing, who likes losing? On top of that, the days before the competition are the most difficult because of the uncertainty that builds and the stress that follows.
“Tears are something that no competitor wants to show but many, if not all find it inevitable. Something that I like to do is seek alone time, go back to the drawing board and see what I can improve upon. One thing that I do differently after a loss is that I no longer look at loss as a complete defeat; but rather as a way to be more disciplined, more driven, and more dedicated.”
Being a rooster weight, like the majority of all rooster weights, Kaori is often the smallest adult in training. When asked how she handles being the smallest person in training and how that helped her with BJJ, she related:
“I do not handle being one of the smallest in training, but rather I embrace and enjoy it. Being the smallest has allowed me to improve my game in many ways. It has motivated me to be stronger, more technical, and more precise. The only struggle is encountering those who like to use more strength than technique, rather than more technique than strength. My best training partners are found at Gracie Barra Pasadena, as they know me the best, and also know where my areas of improvement are. When you compete and win there will still always be things you could have done better therefore once I return to mats my professor and my trainer, along with my teammates help me improve where I was lacking.”
Like many champions, Kaori largely credits her professor and her strength and conditioning coach for her success:
“Training is everything in BJJ, whether it’s rolling on the mat or what you do in the weight room or what you do at home – it all matters. I have a great professor, Orlando Sanchez, the 2015 ADCC Champion, IBJJF World Champion, 3x IBJJF Pan Am Champion, and double gold IBJJF Brazilian National Champion. I also have a great and well-accomplished personal trainer, Ron Le, owner of the successful Ron Le Fitness: A Better Me Program. Orlando has been the crux of my training as he is the one who got me into Jiu-Jitsu. Like any man who is larger than life, a similar philosophy follows. His philosophy is “Champions in life.” His philosophy of “Champions in life” has helped to push and motivate me to be the best in not only BJJ, but anything else that I decide to venture on. Orlando Sanchez is not the only one who has helped me. Ron Le has also been essential in my growth as a person and as a competitor. Ron offered his help in 2013 after he noticed that I had a passion for BJJ. One area that we focus on is strength and conditioning. He has made me stronger both physically and mentally as he pushes me just as hard. Both men are not only excellent teachers, they are also my friends and family. As for what I do at home, my parents are the best life coaches anybody can have. They are my biggest fans, supporters, and pillars to lean on. They have been instrumental in keeping me grounded and focused about what matters in life as a whole. I could not have done this without them.”
Not only is Kaori an IBJJF 5x World Champion, 2x PAN Champion, and European Champion, she is also a freshman at Cal State LA, a coach at Gracie Barra Pasadena, and a trainer at Ron Le Fitness: A Better Me Program. From all that she has received from her professor, coaches, and training, she gives back just as much… and that makes her not just a champion on the mat, but a Champion in Life.