College religion grad turns tough

See how this East Portland woman went from soft student to fit fighter …

Winning amateur MMA Emily Corso says a self-defense class was what got her into the gym.

Story and photos by David F. Ashton
When Emily Corso was a student at Reed College, majoring in religion, she never expected to be an as-yet undefeated amateur Mixed Martial Arts (MMA) “cage fighter” – much less a Full Contact Fighting Federation champion!

“When I was a Reed freshman, I was overweight, out of shape, and spending all of my time studying at one of the most academic schools in the country – never leaving the library,” Corso confided to East Portland News.

From the Reed College library – to being a winning amateur “cage fighter” – Emily Corso now teaches women’s self-defense in Woodstock.

“My coach likes to say that I wouldn’t run to catch a bus if it was the last one – before I started training.”

The life of this sedentary academic changed when Corso signed up for a “Women’s Self-Defense” class offered at Reed by the man who is still her coach: Bill Bradley, owner of Alive MMA in Woodstock, where she now works part time.

“The class gave me a reason to get into the gym. But, then, when I started learning jujitsu – the technique behind the self-defense training – I found I really enjoyed it. I stayed with it while I was at college.

“I did graduate from Reed, and I have a degree in religion,” Corso said. “Although my degree isn’t particularly helpful in MMA fighting, going to college was good. It taught me how to learn; how to think about things analytically, and how to examine a topic from a number of different angles. Actually, it’s quite useful when you’re on the mat trying to break a hold.”

The 26-year-old has an amateur record of eight wins, no losses, and no draws. Corso won a title belt in Chael Sonnen’s Full Contact Fighting Federation (FCFF) in her weight class in July of 2011 – and successfully defended it twice after that.

“I also won a title with BUDO Fights in Bend, and a Cage Star Superfight belt, all in the women’s 125 lb. Flyweight classification.”

But, surprisingly, Corso said her greatest joy doesn’t come from knocking out opponents or getting them to “tap out” after being caught in one of her submission holds.

Women don’t need to “pump iron” to defend themselves, argues MMA title holder Emily Corso.

To the public, she’s a winning mixed martial artist “cage fighter”, a jujitsu practitioner, wrestler, and boxer – “But, what’s most important to me is teaching women’s self-defense,” Corso shared.

“A woman doesn’t have to be strong, big, and muscular – ‘pumping iron’ in the gym to start learning self-defense. With just a little bit of knowledge and skill, women learn in my class – it can make all the difference.

“Look: Most of what women hear is to ‘not to fight back’ if you’re attacked,” Corso argued. “The reality is, if you fight back at all, in any way – using good technique or not, event screaming or thrashing – your chances of surviving and escaping unharmed increase dramatically. Learning some basic jujitsu techniques gives women the confidence to fight back.”

Jujitsu is based on principles of leverage, momentum, and technique, Corso pointed out. “So, it’s not about being big and strong, it’s about learning skills I teach here at the gym every Sunday.”

While she’s gotten to love being a MMA competitor, Corso revealed that she also likes the exposure the cage fights bring her. “A lot of women don’t realize that they could to this. Women come up to me after a fight saying ‘You’re so cool, I wish I could do that’. I give them my card and tell them, ‘You can!’”

MMA title holder Emily Corso trains at the gym in Woodstock.

The gym where she teaches also offers many fitness classes, she said, including Cross-Fit, boxing, jujitsu, mixed martial arts, and yoga. CLICK HERE for details at their website.

With schoolyard bullying being a concern, some parents are enrolling their kids in self-defense classes. “Instructors use fun games to teach jujitsu. Their parents tell us that their children have the confidence to break up fights at school and to use their skills for good purposes.”

Eventually, Corso said she’ll “hang up her gloves” and would like to become a motivational speaker, while continuing to teach women’s self-defense classes.

With her energy and charisma, there’s no doubt she’ll encourage many people, outside the fighting cage, to get fit.

Thanks to reader Joan Chakwin for the tip that lead to this story!

© 2014 David F. Ashton ~ East Portland News

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