Faces of 501: Jessica Johnston

Jessica Johnston is the associate principal at Highland Park High School and has worked for Topeka Public Schools for the past six years. This summer, she competed for the first time in the martial art jiu-jitsu competition at the Sunflower State Games, finishing with a silver medal. Brazilian jiu-jitsu shows that a smaller, weaker person can defend themselves against a bigger opponent by using their technique and taking the fight to the ground.


“I’ve been practicing jiu-jitsu for the past two years.  I originally began by taking a modern self-defense course through FIRE Defensive Skills here in Topeka. Jiu-jitsu was a major component of the class. It is designed to give a smaller person an advantage by using techniques and leverage if a fight would ever end up going to the ground. As a five foot, one-inch woman this is very important to me. As I became more and more involved in the class I found that I really loved grappling and started studying Gracie jiu-jitsu. When you first start anything you find that you have a lot to learn. It's difficult going against someone who has experience and size against you. The first time I realized that this was something I loved was when I was able to know what to do before my opponent moved. I was able to anticipate their next move based upon hours of practice.”

“I think Jiu-Jitsu makes anyone who learns it feel empowered. It is a way to defend yourself against someone bigger. I started self-defense to be able to be a role model for my daughter and to show her that girls can be just as powerful as boys.”

“I don’t advertise that I practice jiu-jitsu to the students, but the ones that hear about it are interested in the martial art and have lots of questions on what jiu-jitsu actually is. During my first competition I was extremely nervous but once I got on the mat everything that I had trained for came back. At FIRE we always say that you fight like you train, so I knew I was prepared. After training for the past two years I look at things differently. It helps with stress, it’s a killer workout and when you roll or spar you lose track of everything else around you. You can focus on the moment. There aren’t many times in our day that we can fully focus on just ourselves. That is the true reward. “

“What I want students to know is that they can find something they are passionate about, study it, practice it and teach it to others.”