I’m Ashley Williams
I started my martial arts journey with Japanese (traditional) Ju Jitsu at the age of 6. I always loved sports growing up. In school I took part in everything including football (soccer), rugby, athletics, and gymnastics. I also went on to try out Judo and kickboxing.
I have a twin brother (Josh) who also joined me in all of these activities including Japanese Jiu Jitsu. We were always very competitive and asked our coach at the time Kelly Chambers if there were any comps we could attend. When we reached the age of 15 Kelly recommended that we try out Brazilian Jiu Jitsu. She knew of a place called the Chris Rees Academy (CRA) and she had spoke with Chris about us coming along.
We were both immediately hooked! I woke up after my first session and couldn’t move, I was aching from head to toe, like nothing I had ever experienced before. At the time my head coach Chris Rees was a purple belt and there were only three classes a week. I was only about 60kg at the time and most of the guys were quite a bit older, but I absolutely loved it and attended every single class without fail. I ended up dropping all the other sports I was doing because I wanted to commit myself to BJJ.
After one month of training I thought I’d throw myself into the deep end and enter my first competition. It was a lot different back then, the divisions were very small and we also started off on our knees. It didn’t turn out the way I wanted, but that certainly didn’t put me off, if anything it encouraged me even more. As well as continuing to train I also assisted Chris in teaching classes, including travelling to our affiliate academy in Cardiff (about an hour away) a couple of times a week.
“I woke up after my first session and couldn’t move, I was aching from head to toe, like nothing I had ever experienced before.”
I continued competing through white belt, but BJJ was quite new to Wales (Chris was the highest rank in Wales) so the comps were few and far between. Through White, blue, purple belts I continued to travel up and down the UK to try to attend any comp I could. One of the trips that stands out in my mind is the Scottish Open which was a 15 hour round trip!
After finishing school at 18 I went on to study Astro Physics at Cardiff University. This was the first time I was going to be away from my brother, up until now we did everything together, we even shared a bedroom. Josh ended up taking over our original traditional Ju jitsu academy (now SJA Martial Arts) while I went onto eventually teach my own kids and adults BJJ classes at our Cardiff academy.
At purple belt I decided I wanted to do as many comps as possible. Very slowly I was starting to see more comps available. I used the money I was earning teaching, along with my student loan to enter as many of these tournaments as I could. Purple belt was definitely one of my favourite belt levels. I went on to take Gold in the Welsh, Irish and Scottish open as well as lots of local tournaments around the UK and Ireland.
I received my brown belt on the 21st November 2012. Over the next two years I travelled to a lot of European tournaments trying to compete in as many weekends as I could and as many IBJJF comps as possible. All through my belts I trained mostly in a gi and competed in both Gi and No-gi, but my biggest achievement at the time was being a gold medallist at the IBJJF European No-Gi.
I decided if I really wanted to test myself I needed to do it on an international level. In September 2014 I made my first trip to the USA. Myself and my now wife put all our savings together for a 25 day trip to America. We planned out the whole trip visiting different states fitting in a comp every weekend. These including Naga and IBJJF tournaments. I managed to bring home my first Naga belt and a silver medal at the No-gi IBJJF World Championships which was a huge personal achievement for me competing against some of the best in the world.
In April 2015 I was ranked number one in the world, IBJJF No-GI. The following month at the age of 22 I won the British Open Gi, and received my black belt from Braulio Estima on the podium, making me the youngest British Black belt at the time.
I returned to the USA and made my black belt debut in the Dallas Open. My first outing in Dallas didn’t go as I would have liked, I lost 2 – 0 in the gi and in the no gi I got DQ’d for something I had never heard of with 10 seconds to go! Some tough lessons learnt! If you had told me when I started my journey that I would have been competing in America as the youngest UK black belt I would have laughed. The next stop was Naga Texas where I came away with two belts and finished the year off with another gold in the Madrid IBJJF Gi.
I had always loved putting my skills to the test and in March 2016 I decided to take an amateur MMA fight. I won the PainPit title with an RNC in 41 seconds, against a very skilled opponent.
In the months to follow my competition schedule was packed, with the Abu Dhabi Grand Slam, Hereford Open and the IBJJF Rome Open. The 3rd April 2016 was one of my biggest and most memorable achievements to date when I became IBJJF European No Gi champion at Black Belt. This was a moment where I really started to feel my hard work paying off. This is one of my favourite comps of all time, the city of Rome is absolutely incredible, and I try to do this comp every year.
In June 2016 I went to the IBJJF World Gi championship. I’ve heard people say that there is nothing like competing in the Walter Pyramid at the worlds, and they were not wrong. The atmosphere was crazy. I lost my first match by one advantage the experience alone was amazing and a big learning experience. I gave me a big hope of what is possible to achieve.
Next came one of the biggest highlights of my career. Eddie Bravo made a Facebook post asking people to tag someone they would like to see on the next EBI. I had tonnes of support with people tagging me in his support, then I was in complete shock when Eddie himself messaged saying “You want in?”. I couldn’t believe it I had to check if it was the actual Eddie Bravo. On the 16th July 2016 I fought on EBI in Los Angeles, which was my first professional Jiu Jitsu tournament. I went the full distance with Rafael Domingos but lost to him in EBI overtime. It was later voted one of the most exciting matches on EBI.
In November 2017 I made another MMA outing representing Team UK in the IMMAF World Championships. I won my first fight by RNC and then unfortunately had to pull out due to injury. My amateur MMA record is now 8-0.
I had now found a love for competing in these invitational submission grappling tournaments. These shows have given me the opportunity to showcase some of my fast paced and entertaining jiu Jitsu, as well as the opportunity to come up against some legends of the sport. One of my main goals is to represent Wales and the UK at the highest level and also show that jiu Jitsu can be an entertaining spectator sport.