Ayisha Issa currently stands as one of the best known practitioners of Brazilian Jiu-jitsu at her level in Quebec. She is a regular on the popular Quebec TV series, Unite 9 as Bouba and plays a featured role in the movie Brick Mansions which stars the late Paul Walker. She already had roles in 3 other films, Warm Bodies, L’appat and Immortals.
This is the same girl who growing up had a troubled adolescent in dealing with anger and anxiety issues. In this interview, she talks about how she used her inner power to bring about the changes she wanted in her life and re-created her reality to find success.
Meet Ayisha Issa:
Antonia: Your road to success has not been an easy one. Growing up, you had a troubled adolescence. Can you tell us about that period in your life?
Ayisha: Basically that period in my life was a stage where everything that happened in the past was starting to manifest itself. As a teenager, you’re no longer a kid anymore and start thinking for yourself and your body moves by itself. For me, it was a ‘waking up’ of a lot of anger and anxiety issues that I would have to deal with for years to come.
Antonia: Did this lead to get into any ‘bad’ habits during that time?
Ayisha: Yeah. I never really knew how to manage negative emotions and how to express them. I did some really ‘interesting’ things which I thought was my sense of self identity. Unfortunately, because of outside circumstances, my perception of self was not a positive one and that’s what I was manifesting. For example, I have one tattoo. I got it when I was fourteen. I don’t know who I thought I was punishing with it.
Antonia: Many of us end, at some point, feel trapped in a place we don’t want to be in. Whether it’s our job, a relationship, or a hardship, for you it was dealing with issues growing up as a teenager. Taking that first step is probably the hardest one, what made you take that first step to make a change?
Taking the First Step
Ayisha: I went from trying to please everyone around me to saying, “This isn’t working.” So, my first step was asking myself, “OK, I’m miserable! Why does everyone else seem happier than me? This image I’m projecting of myself is not working for me.”
When I stopped caring so much about what everyone else was expecting of me, I started to figure myself out for myself. My own opinions and my own judgments of what made sense and what didn’t. The big problem was the conflict between what you know makes sense and what other people suggest makes sense. They really don’t fit together and it could be a very stressful thing to live through. So, it got to a point where I told myself, “If you’re going to do this, as in living at all, let’s give it one last try.” This one last try was, “ok, let’s try not doing everything that you’re doing now.” Not sure if that makes sense?
Antonia: It makes perfect sense. You started off with an awareness of yourself and the situation you were in. From that awareness, you gained an understanding by saying, “this is not working out for me because I’m not as happy as I should be.” You realized that by trying to live up to other’s expectations, you were not living by who you are and took action to turned things around.
Responsibility for Yourself
Ayisha: Absolutely! Another point I want to bring up is that it takes a certain sense of responsibility for yourself. It’s very easy in life to just say, “Ok, life is too difficult to figure out. This doesn’t really feel right, but I don’t have the courage or the strength to find the solution. So, I’m just going to follow what everyone else tells me to do. I’m just going to do what everyone else is doing and if doesn’t work out, well I did what I was supposed to do.” This becomes your excuse for not meeting your full potential. It’s important to take responsibility for yourself and accept responsibility if something goes well and if something doesn’t go well. At a certain point in your life, whatever happened in the past, does have its place. It’s definitely important to understand it in order to understand where you are, where you’re going and the potential obstacles you might face. However, your past doesn’t have to continue to rule your life. It’s up to you to decide if you want to sit there and point a finger or to find your way out of there.
Antonia: You mentioned, ‘not pointing a finger,’ your mom had certain expectations of you during your rebellious teenage years. Did you ever blame your mom for the expectations that she had on you? How did deal with that?
Ayisha: For sure. When you’re a teenager, you’re still growing and learning. You’re being guided and molded. All parents have expectations of their kids. I don’t know how you can go about parenting if you don’t have any expectations of your kids. As you grow up, you learn about yourself and your own struggles. It becomes harder to be so hard on everybody else. At least if you’re being relatively fair about it. If you consider the fact that you’re capable of making mistakes, then other people are capable of making mistakes too. It’s difficult to acknowledge this as a teenager, but at some point, you need to get past it. I’m 30 years old now and the way I see it is that all the stuff that happened, has build me. My dad left at a certain point too, and I had to stop letting it destroy me. So, you can let situations destroy you or you can let them build character and understand things differently. I’ve been on both sides. I was letting all this stuff eat me up and dissolve me and I realized that I had the power to do the complete opposite. Once I took the decision and responsibility for myself, I was able to re-create my reality.
Antonia: Jiu-Jitsu played a huge role in your life. What inspired your interest to practice jiu-jitsu and how did it change your life?
Curiosity and Exploration; The Key to Finding Your Passion
Ayisha: I always had some activity in my life. Sitting at home, watching TV was not an option. When I moved in my own place, I started going to the gym, but didn’t particularly enjoy it. I met someone who was at a very high level in martial arts and just being curious and asking lots questions, I decided to explore and look into it. I found women’s kick boxing and from there I was encouraged to try some of the other classes. My curiosity served me well, I ended up trying jiu-jitsu and it has become a solid part of my life.
I started about 5 years ago and by that time, I had gotten over the eating disorders, I had become more comfortable with my body and more accepting of myself. Yet, I still had the mentality, that obsessive tendency to count calories. When I started doing jiu-jitsu, my obsessive thought process went from, “what can I eat and are my muscles too big” to “what do I need to do to get better at this.” I wanted to learn more, I wanted to know more techniques. To be able to do this, I had to start organizing myself and my life. I had to start developing good habits and develop not having bad habits. I starting researching health and nutrition, eating more protein. I gained 30 pounds of healthy muscle. I had so much more energy, I was more vibrate, I was more confident in myself.
For example: I used to have in hair sown extensions. This is not about whether it’s a good or bad thing. I wore extensions for years. But, it’s an example of how jiu-jitsu changed me. You sweat a lot in jiu-jitsu and you’re not supposed to wash these extensions constantly and I had to be able to wash my hair everyday so, I stopped wearing them. At first, the extensions were this thing on my head that I associated directly to my value in society; how pretty I was or how attractive I was. Taking them off and have short hair was scary but at the same time, it was extremely liberating. It wasn’t a very long adjustment period either because not having to worry about that, made me focus more on what I was doing in jiu-jitsu. Another example is wearing make-up. I used to wear make up all the time. I have pigmentation marks which plagued me all through high school and all through my twenties and I never thought that I could go anywhere without my makeup. Now, I don’t have time for it. Jiu-jitsu gave something to value within me more than the physical appearance.
Antonia: That’s probably a major thing out there, importance of appearance. You found you’re value within rather than paying attention to outer appearance, which is hard.
Building Self Worth
Ayisha: It is hard. But once you do it, there’s no turning back. You feel so much stronger and solid and it makes so much more sense. It’s really worth the effort of
- Not falling in the trap of having to do these things in the first place.
- If you are in that cycle, slowly ask yourself why? And, try to stop doing it.
Don’t get me wrong, I like wearing makeup and I have clip on extensions. The difference is that I am very open to it now. They are accessories like a shirt or a dress. They don’t make me feel more or less as far as who I am as a person.
Antonia: Ayisha, you got involved with acting. Your first role was one of the priestesses in the movie Immortals. You had absolutely no acting background. How did this happen for you?
Everything Happens for a Reason
Ayisha: When I started doing jiu-jitsu, it was off and on because of my job at a hotel. The hours and the amount of work I was putting in on my own time, made that I was not able to train for a long time. I ended up losing my job and dedicating myself to jiu-jitsu 100%. Acting just crossed my path. I got a call for the audition and thought it was an illegitimate call. My first reaction was, “I have to go to the gym, and I don’t have time for this.” I ended up calling my sister and she said, “You’re going to be at the gym one or two more times today anyway. So, why don’t you go and find out.” I’m glad I listened to her. I showed up without that extra pressure of having to worry about my acting technique. I did everything wrong. I did everything that I now understand you’re not supposed to do in an audition. It gave me a certain freedom and I guess I was acting ‘for real.’ I was acting from within without caring about anyone else’s opinion.
I didn’t think I had the part because I didn’t hear anything for several months. When they did call, I thought it was great, I thought it was a fantastic opportunity. It was a great example of ‘everything happening for a reason.’ If I hadn’t lost my job, I would have never taken time off work to go to the audition. Once I got the part, I still didn’t take acting seriously until phone calls starting coming in. All of a sudden I starting thinking, “what if I can’t do this anymore. What if I have to go back to work in a hotel.” I started freakin’ out. I really thought that I had screwed up this wonderful opportunity by not investing in something that I really enjoyed. The thing I realized and learned about myself is that I wasn’t investing in it because if it didn’t work out, I’d be heartbroken. Then I realized that by not investing in it, I would still be heartbroken because it wouldn’t have worked out anyways. Now, I take it seriously. I prepare for my auditions. I do a lot more research for my characters. I try to learn as much as I can about the other sides of the business that don’t come naturally to me.
Antonia: Before I let you go, given your experience, if there would be a message for anyone who feels stuck in a place they don’t want to be in, but are afraid in making a change, what would it be?
Watch Your Complaining!
Ayisha: I think that when you’re in a place where you’re afraid of making a change, it’s probably because you’re afraid that you’re not capable of making that change. Scared that if you do invest and make a change, you’ll be sent further back than you are now. I was watching a seminar on YouTube and I remember a guy telling a story about a man and his dog sitting on a porch. His dog is moaning everyday in pain. His neighbor walks by his porch everyday and sees the man sitting there reading the newspaper and completely ignoring the dog. Eventually, one day, the neighbor stops in front of the porch and says, “Excuse me sir, your dog seems to be in a lot of pain.” The man replies, “Oh yeah, I guess.” The neighbor tells him, “don’t you care about whether or not your dong is in pain?” The man replies, “He’s just lying on a nail.” The neighbor tells him, “your dog is lying on a nail! Do something!” The man replies, “No, he’s lying on a nail but it obviously doesn’t bother him that much otherwise he would get up and move.”
That’s a very good point! As a society, we have a tendency to complain a lot. We complain to ourselves, to other people and we listen to everybody else complain. Instead of trying to find solutions to the things we complain about, we just complain. If you want to be productive, if reaching your full potential and being successful is your goal, then you have to ask yourself two questions:
- Am I just complaining for the sake of making excuses for myself so that I don’t have to move off this nail? Or,
- Am I looking for a solution, somewhere else to sit?”
That makes all the difference. If you can start by saying, “I’m not ready to do something about this now, so I’m just not going to complain about it.” This way, you can focus your attention on whatever step you are ready to make. It might be a small one, a step in one direction but eventually it will help build confidence in making a step in another area of your life and it won’t seem as scary.
The number rule is; Watch your complaining. If there’s something that’s bothering you, find a solution. If you’re not ready to take the steps towards that solution, then don’t complain about it. There’s nothing wrong with being scared and there’s nothing wrong with not being ready. It’s important to be honest with yourself and acknowledge you’re just not ready to change or to move right now. Don’t invest in further burying yourself by complaining and compacting it. Put your energy on what you are willing to change and are capable to move.
Antonia: Thank you so much Ayisha, for sharing your experience!
Ayisha: Thank you. I want to say a very special thanks to my coach of BTT Canada Fabio Holanda, my nutritionist JF Gaudreau and my family and friends for all their support!
What are your thoughts on Ayisha’s story?
Have you ever felt trapped in place you didn’t want to be in? What did you do?