Our Core Team Member, Almine Barton recently had the pleasure of doing a Q and A session with Black Belt Professor Hillary Wright Van Ornum from Impact Jiu Jitsu in Portland, OR.



How did you get started in martial arts?

I got started in martial arts because of my brother.  For Christmas in 2004, he said he really wanted to get training in martial arts again, after doing some kind of martial arts his whole childhood (I rode horses competitively until high school, and in high school and college I played basketball).  So I decided to get him three months of training, and when we were researching different schools in the Washington DC area, I decided that I wanted to give it a try myself.  We started at a gym that is where Pedro Sauer is now located, but we started doing a program called “Combat Defense Systems” where we trained a different discipline each day.  We trained kyokushin striking, krav maga, vale tudo, judo, and Brazilian jiu jitsu as well as weapons defense.  We did that program for a year until it was changed to mainly a krav maga program, and switched full time to judo for a year.  When we moved back to Portland in 2007, I waited two years until my brother moved back (so I would always have a training partner) to start training again, and once he moved back to Portland, we began training at Team Quest, where I focused more on nogi and MMA training.  I didn’t start really focusing on jiu jitsu until about 2011.

I know that you’re very accomplished in both Judo & BJJ.  Which one did you start first?

See above

Where do you currently teach out of?

I currently teach at Impact Jiu Jitsu and Impact at Industrial Strength Gym

Do you compete?  If so, what do you enjoy about competition?

I compete as often as I’m able to financially, but that requires travel.  I’ve never competed locally (in Portland or even anywhere in Washington) due to there never being women in my division.  Even at blue belt, the local women refused to go up in weight to compete against me.  One of the biggest reasons I compete is so I can test myself against other female black belts.  There is only one other female black belt in Oregon, and we don’t train together.  There are only a handful of brown belts in Oregon and at Impact, and I don’t get to train with them every day (due to different schedules).  I mainly train with men or blue belt women, so the only opportunity I get to roll with black belt women is in competition.  Competition really shows me what’s working in my game and what I need to work on and improve.  I also compete to help encourage other women to do so.  The numbers in the women’s divisions are growing, but they are still far from what the men’s divisions are.  I turn 40 this December, and I hope to help encourage more women to compete.  Maybe if they see me out there with girls half my age (and sometimes half my size) it will make them think “hey, if she’s doing this, maybe I can too!”


You’re involved in several organizations to raise awareness about social issues:  “Missiion 22,” “Blackbelts For Butterflies,” & “Girls In Gis.”  Can you speak about that, & using BJJ as a vehicle for raising awareness for issues you’re passionate about?

Mission 22 and We Defy are both organizations for veterans.  I am the daughter and granddaughter of Marines, and grew up hearing about the heroics of my father and grandfathers in war.  I have also become good friends with several of the people behind Mission 22 and We Defy, and really appreciate what they are doing (getting injured military training jiu jitsu and raising awareness of the extremely high rate of veteran suicide).  I have seen the value that training jiu jitsu has given some of these veterans, and have even heard stories about jiu jitsu literally saving their lives.  Members of our military often come home from being deployed and aren’t given much help when they go back to civilian life.  Jiu jitsu has been shown to be a huge help in giving them something to look forward to, a way to cope with PTSD, and a community that is similar to that of the military.  I want to do anything I can to help our veterans.


Blackbelts for Butterflies is an organization run by an incredible human, Rich McKeegan.  Blackbelts for Butterflies raises money and awareness for autism.  The reason for Rich starting BB4BF is that his son was born in Connecticut on THE DAY of the Sandy Hook shooting.  It was the happiest day of his life, but also the same day as a horrible tragedy that took place in Rich’s community.  He wanted to help out, and eventually met the father of one of the children who was killed at Sandy Hook Elementary School.  That child was autistic, and his family started “Dylan’s Wings of Change” which is an autism awareness foundation.  Rich started BB4BF as a way to help raise money for that organization and help with their mission, by using jiu jitsu as a vehicle to do that.  The people who come together for BB4BF events have been some of the most giving, kind, GOOD people I’ve met in jiu jitsu, so I will continue to help Rich out.  The two BB4BF events that I have coached at have been incredibly positive events that bring together amazing people.


GiG is an organization I got involved with the first time they came to the PNW.  It was right after I tore my knee at Worlds, but I put a brace on and went and taught as best I could.  It was the first time I had seen over 100 women all on the mats and in gis together.  It was an amazing experience that 10 years ago would be impossible to have happen due to the incredibly low number of women training then.  It was inspiring to see THAT many women training jiu jitsu together.  It was also awesome to see women from so many different gyms all bonding together and training together.  At that event, I started my relationships with two women in the PNW that I greatly admire- Cindy Hales and Michelle Wagner.  These two women have been black belts about as long as I have been training, so I am so grateful for their friendship and advice.  They have been through so much and have so much wisdom, I love being able to pick their brains about training and coaching.




Interview conducted by Almine Barton, Blue Belt at Ralph Gracie BJJ in OR and Core Team Member at Josei Heishi Jiu Jitsu