Interview | Emily Kwok

Interview | Emily Kwok

An interview with Emily Kwok, Black Belt World Champion, instructor, foodie,  role model, and mother.

If for some reason you train under a rock or are a giant and refuse to learn and accept that smaller people can beat you up, you clearly do not know who Emily Kwok is. For the rest of the BJJ community we are honored to know. Emily is the first female to be awarded a black belt in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu in Canada, but that wasnt enough, she then went on to march that black belt down and win Worlds, in gi and no-gi. To bring back the first World’s title back to Canada! Emily is known for a plethora of her achievements on and off the mat. A lot of you will know her from her collaboration with Stephan Kesting of to create the fantastic series (and bane of my existence as I am 6’4 100kg) How to Defeat the Bigger Stronger Opponent. I had the pleasure of meeting Emily over a year ago at a seminar and let me tell you, if you want to know what it is like to have someone truly practice what they preach and make you feel that you are no longer the “stronger” opponent, meet Emily on the mats.  But what I have come to learn is that she is also huge into food, not in the sense of “I need food to survive so I eat,” but rather enjoys eating. With that being said I am proud to share with you this interview with Emily Kwok!emily2

First off Emily we will start with everyone’s most well versed topic. Can you tell us a bit about yourself, I feel I my brief bio did not give you the justice you deserve. 

EK: Well, I’m a mother of a joyful, beautiful baby girl, bulldog, wife, co-owner of Princeton BJJ, co-owner of Groundswell Grappling Concepts, project manager for MGInAction, COO for a private consulting business, motivational speaker, IBJJF World Champion at the Black Belt level in the gi and no gi, Multiple x IBJJF Champion at No Gi Pans, Medalist at IBJJF Pan Ams, NY Open etc… co-creater/instructor of ‘How to Defeat the Bigger Stronger Opponent’ with Stephan Kesting, former MMA fighter 2-0 and lots of other fighting stuff.

Im sure you have many sponsors to thank, who are they?

I’ve worked with many sponsors over the years! I’m not competing much anymore, but many of them still support me or GGC (Groundswell Grappling Concepts) – and they are: MGInAction, Inverted Gear, Q5 Supplements, US Grappling, Grapplearts, Budovideos, Ok Kimonos… I make much of my living through BJJ and have learned things from BJJ that have translated into professional skills that I utilize elsewhere. I am thoroughly invested in discovering, creating, articulating the lessons I have taken from practicing and learning our art and making them accessible for everyone in many mediums and capacities.

And the list goes on, we need to get Emily a Kit Kat Sponsor
And the list goes on, we need to get Emily a Kit Kat Sponsor

You have mentioned to me that you see yourself as a foodie, what is your philosophy on eating?

EK: Eat everything. HA! I love food. It makes life so enjoyable. I will try almost anything once and believe a delicious meal shared with wonderful people create some of the best moments in life.

What is your average everyday diet like? Do you follow a certain guideline?

EK: Everything in moderation. I am a conscious eater – I carefully think about what I put in my body, but I don’t like to deprive myself. I can moderate myself pretty well. For example, I have cupboards of cookies and chocolates but never end up eating most of it because I never binge. My philosophy is that if I like chocolate, I’m better off eating a square or two everyday vs. depriving myself of it, then binging out every few days on whole chocolate bars. Also, if I keep it around, I’m less likely to go out and buy it then binge. If I keep it around I know its there if I want it! I know…you think I’m crazy. Many people have said this would never work for them.  *laughs*Best picture ever

I personally am a breakfast nut. What is your favorite breakfast?

EK: Hm…well there is the healthy breakfast, then there is the indulgent breakfast. Those are more fun so let’s talk about that. Stuffed French toast. Delicious. Like a brioche bread that is stuffed with like…berries and cream cheese icing or something. Thick, hickory smoked bacon, grilled pears, some eggs… This is like major post competition breakfast. On a normal weekend, I’d make my husband order the French toast while I order smoked salmon eggs benny with no hollandaise, and take a bite. *laughs*

You would opt for the sweet over savory in that application? What about a good ham and cheese stuffed French toast? The best of both worlds, I’ve always found that to be a lost art. I personally love honey on my cheese pizza, sweet and salty.

EK: Perhaps a manchego cheese with quince paste and prosciutto…

What part of eating do you feel is the most important to your training?

EK: Everything in moderation. I’ve done a ton of diets and feel that depriving your body of too much isn’t a great way to live. Also, I’ve noticed that a lot of people who get too stuck on dieting end up having long term eating disorders/issues. I started doing BJJ for fun, and although I’ve taken it to a very competitive level, I have chosen to focus more on doing it and teaching it for fun again – and in order for me to get the best out of life – I want to enjoy my training and the food I eat! That being said, I try to maintain a healthy level of awareness around what I eatemily1

What is your pre-training and post-training intake like?

EK: These days with no competition in sight, just a light snack 1 hour before like some whole yogurt or an apple. Post training – dinner (protein, vegetables, complex carb – dessert!) When competing I’d probably have a shake before training.

What would be your favorite go to dinner option at night?

EK: So hard to say. I love eating what my heart desires, but usually my brain and health consciousness kicks in and I go for the smarter option. lol. If we’re talking about eating out – Lately, my husband and I have really been into Korean BBQ. What I love about Korean BBQ is that they serve you an abundance of pickled and fermented vegetables, then all the meat/poultry is marinated and accompanied by vegetables too! Win-win in my books. I usually get an order of Kalbi, Spare ribs, and my fave – beef tongue that you dip in sesame oil! if I’m at home being good – probably a grilled chicken or fish with some roasted brussel sprouts and cous cous.

And I have to ask what the dessert of choice is, not just a little square of chocolate?

EK: Depends on the mood, but usually either chocolate based, or fruit based. Even though I love deserts, I don’t like things that are overly sweet. I don’t want to just taste sugar when I put it in my mouth. I think the Japanese do a nice job of creating balanced confections! If I do a chocolate desert, I tend to like tortes, flour less cakes, soufflés, mousses. If it’s fruit based, strawberry shortcake and…I LOVE a good crumble. Strawberry rhubarb crumble with a scoop of vanilla ice cream!

What part of your diet do you feel is the most important and why?

EK: Moderation and balance. I like good food – tasty food – but that being said, I always make sure to eat the healthy stuff. I actively incorporate vegetables and colorful whole foods into my diet everyday. If I know something is good for me but I’m not familiar with how to eat it, I force myself to find out and make a habit of it. For example – I never grew up eating beets. Tried them when I was in my late 20’s. I was just never exposed to them since I grew up eating Asian food. Initially I didn’t like them, they tasted like smooth dirt to me, but I knew they were good for you so I kept trying them and eventually experimented on my own by cooking them so that I could find a way to enjoy them. Happy to report I now do!

Ha what is your favorite way to have beets? I don’t know if there is something wrong with me but the first time I had beets was at an older age and I loved them instantly…Maybe I truly should be living the worm guard.

EK: I think my favorite way is to oven roast fresh beets (not to the point of mushiness – I like a little texture) then squeeze lemon juice and a sprinkle of salt and pepperwinner

You are well known for your accomplishments in the competition circuit, in what ways did your competition diet change from your normal diet?

EK: I’ve suffered through many a diet and supplement cycles. In the end, dieting is miserable. It is a terrible existence and I’ve also encountered a lot of athletes with eating disorders. They wouldn’t admit that themselves, but they are scared of food! I made a decision some time ago to fight at my walking weight, so I just try to be healthy year round now

 I know you are constantly going from seminar to seminar teaching, that type of traveling has to make eating clean hard, do you have any preferred travel snacks?

EK: I like fruit, nuts, vegetables and dip, yogurt cups, smoothies…depending on where you are there may not be healthy choices around so I eat whatever is healthiest, then wait till I’m in a better spot to really get all my nutrients psa

Being from Canada what type of foods did you grow up eating? I know the west coast is known for its fantastic fishery program, did that play a huge part in your early eating habits? Being from Maine, haddock sticks out to me as a comfort food still to this day. (see no poutine questions I know my Canadian geographical cuisines!)

EK: I grew up in Vancouver where there is a huge Asian population (Taiwan, Hong Kong and Mainland China) and very fresh seafood. I love me some freshly made Cantonese dim sum!! Sushi/sashimi, Salmon…can’t eat salmon here. The salmon back home is red, meaty and lean. I love it cooked in any way, or smoked, candied…You mostly get farmed salmon here which tastes like ‘fish’ and has the texture of fatty jello. GROSS! I also really miss Canadian junk food: gummies, potato chips (so many flavors! Ketchup is my favorite) and CANADIAN kit kat bars. People that know me well know that I hoard these. The quality of the chocolate is just so much better. Creamier, smoother….I could go on.

Wow there is a difference between American and Canadian Kit Kats? Just in the chocolate? Just like how the Guiness is different in Ireland. Does the same go for all chocolates or for some reason just with Kit Kats? 

EK: Call me a chocolate snob, but I won’t eat regular store bought chocolate bars here. Most of the generic brands that you find at your convenience store are really waxy and overly sweet. Another interesting factoid – I believe Kit Kat’s in the USA are made by Hershey’s, but Canadian Kit Kat’s are made by Nestle. I think store bought chocolate bars in Canada are for the most part – WAY better. I’ve had some in depth discussions with people as to why this is (I love conducting a taste test – everyone always unanimously agrees with me) and one gentleman said the reason why American store bought chocolate is waxier and sweeter is because the average room temperature in the USA is higher, therefore there need to be more stabilizers added into the chocolate so it can be left out. This made sense to me! I’d like to know if it’s really true… Anyone who has ever done a US vs. Canada Kit Kat challenge usually walks away changed forever. They too wait for my secret chocolate shipments and see if I’m feeling generous. *laughs*

They even look different..Challenge accepted Emily!
They even look different..Challenge accepted Emily!

Now back to the potato chips, just straight up Ketchup flavored chips? Did you also have the dill flavored? Those were pretty solid in Maine but hard to come by here in Brooklyn sadly.

EK: Yes. Ketchup. Love. Dill is good, and so is Ms. Vickies ‘Lime and black pepper’. Now, you do sell Ms. Vickie’s here, but the lime and black pepper flavor is very difficult to find. In Canada you find so many more flavors – and not all are great. I’ve had poutine, buffalo chicken wing, general tso’s chicken…I do wonder why Canadian’s enjoy flavored potato chips so much.

Along the same lines, when eating French fries what condiments do you use?

EK: Ketchup. Unless they are served with fish – as in fish and chips and they are thick and crispy…then I like malt vinegar and a little salt.

Besides our gross salmon and American kit kat bars, what would you say is the grossest thing you have eaten?

EK: In America? or in general? I suppose all food should be good – but it’s really the quality that matters. Eating and using whole, wild, or sustainably farmed ingredients make all the difference. I notice that more often than not, food here in the US is covered in sauce or dressing, to the point where you can’t taste what you’re actually supposed to be eating. I suppose I prefer to see condiments and sauces as something that will compliment the actual food and bring it’s flavor/texture out. There’s nothing I dislike more than a salad soup or steak that looks like a stew. About 90% of the time I have to ask for sauces etc on the side at a restaurant – not because I’m calorie counting, but because if I don’t ask for the sauce to be held (so I can put on what I think is appropriate), it ruins my meal. That being said, I’m talking about run of the mill low – to mid range restaurants. Higher end or fine dining…different story! I’ve had plenty a fine meal – for a pretty penny!

Thank you Emily!
Thank you Emily!

I would like to thank Emily for being such a fantastic person in and out of the Jiu Jitsu community!If you are in the Tri-state area it is well worth reaching out to Princeton BJJ here. Also keep an eye out for her fantastic seminars by checking out Groundswell Grappling Concepts. And remember to stay up to date with awesome interviews and posts like this jump on the list for Grappler Gourmet Weekly! Now go eat well and roll! Oss

Images: MGInAction, Inverted Gear, Q5 Supplements, US Grappling, Grapplearts, Budovideos, Ok Kimonos Groundswell Grappling Concepts

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *