Archive | February 2013

Raising the bar

This is what I’m doing, both literally and figuratively. Since I have decided to work on my mental game and let go of my negative attitudes toward BJJ, I feel like I have elevated my game to a new level. I am enjoying rolling again, I feel like I am making progress and BJJ is just fun again!

In addition to changes in my BJJ focus, I am also trying to work toward some fitness goals. I was doing strength and conditioning training at my weekend gym for a couple of months and I could tell what a huge difference it was making in my game. I was able to move faster and several of my training partners commented on how much stronger they felt I was getting.

I loved it and the changes I saw in both my physical appearance and my BJJ game but sadly the class ended in December due to lack of interest. The instructor intended it to be a women’s only fitness class and as I was one of two women training BJJ at the time, I was the only person in class most of the time. I guess he wasn’t getting much return of investment in just training me.

I wanted to keep doing the exercises he went over with us but I am surprisingly lazy when left to my own devices. I long ago realized that workouts go better for me in a group or a trainer setting. I need to be held accountable or I make up excuses not to do things. Without a class I stopped doing strength and conditioning. In part I think this was mourning over the class. He designed the class for people training BJJ so all of the exercises targeted areas and movements you need for BJJ. How was I going to find that again?

Lately I have tried to be really focused on diet and conditioning again. I did a 30 day paleo challenge that my coach encouraged us to try and I really liked the diet. I also have been going to the gym early on Mondays and Wednesdays so I can do some cardio before class. It’s been going well but I knew I needed to add some strength training in there as well.

Well conveniently for me my friend and training partner has been dating a guy who not only also trains BJJ but who is a bodybuilder. She mentioned that he had put together a diet program for her and was going to help her with strength training. The first thing that occurred to me was that I was not going to make it through rolls with her if she got any stronger (she is freakishly strong already). Immediately afterwards I decided to be opportunistic and think about me and asked her if he would be interested in doing the same for me. She asked and he said yes!

Over the weekend we met up to discuss a diet plan and what and when I should be eating if I’m going to be training. He said if I stuck to the program it would lean me out, which I am much looking forward to. Yesterday we met up at a gym so he could go over some strength exercises I should be working that will specifically target muscles needed for BJJ. We will probably meet once more next week to go over some more and then I will be incorporating the strength routines into my other training.

This will mean more time in the gym and probably less sleep but these are the sacrifices we have to make if we want to be the best! I am very optimistic about my new training regime and diet even as I feel the pain slowly seeping into my muscles (probably by lunch I won’t be able to walk). I am pushing hard for a good showing at the NY Open in April. If I am on top of the podium then all of the pain will be worth it. Even if I am not, I will at least know I gave it my all and can walk away happy, I would really prefer to win though 🙂

Rolling scared

I am continuing my focus of working on my aggression and mental game and it has been going well so far. I have realized that in pushing myself I have to not only be aggressive but I also have to learn to let go of some of my fear.

When I was at the women’s camp last weekend, I noticed that I was enjoying the rolls a lot. Typically when I am rolling with people for the first time, I am very reserved while I try to feel out their rolling style. I started to wonder why I felt so much more comfortable in this environment and then it occurred to me. I wasn’t scared.

It is really hard for me, probably for anyone in BJJ, to admit that they have fear. How can you have fear when your favorite thing to do involves getting beat up on a regular basis? However I realize that I cannot overcome the fear if I don’t admit that it is there and I need to move past it to go to the next level.

So where does the fear come from? I think there is a natural amount of fear for anyone who does BJJ. There are about a billion different ways you can get hurt. I think there is arguably more fear when you are smaller and weaker than most of the people you train with though. You know that you can get outmuscled and hurt a lot easier than your bigger, stronger counterparts. Chances are that you have gotten manhandled in a way that has made you feel awful and/or uncomfortable at some point. I know I have.

Here is the story of what I consider my scariest roll to date. It was shortly after I had begun training at my weekend school and I was in for Sunday basics class. I was working with a new guy who had been training about a month. We were drilling armbar/triangle/omoplata transitions. I spent most of the class showing him what the various moves were as he was brand new (I had probably been training about 7 or 8 months at the time) and he was very nice the entire time. We got to the end of class and he stayed on the mat to roll. I was surprised that after a month he was allowed to roll but the instructor didn’t say anything about him being there so I figured it was ok.

He asked me if I wanted to roll and I said yes. Since he was brand new I thought he would go very light and just figured I would let him get me into guard and work what we’d been drilling. That was a mistake. As soon as we bumped fists he lunged at me and took me down to the ground…hard. I got him into guard and he was trying his hardest to do an americana from there. I had just opened my mouth to tell him that wasn’t really a high percentage submission from guard as I could just use my legs to bring him forward and ruin the leverage when he got frustrated, yanked me up by the arm (the one he had the americana hold on), twisted said arm behind my back and threw me about 4 feet to the side. I think that I started yelling “TAP” in midair and he quickly got off me and we reset.

In retrospect now I should have realized it was not good for me to keep going but I thought that it was my fault because I had thought he was going to go light and I was clearly not prepared. I figured if I took it up a notch this time I would do better. That was mistake number two. Even though I was “prepared” for him going harder this time, I couldn’t keep up with his speed and strength. He managed to twist my body into some weird position that I was not familiar with and then got frustrated and tackled me again. I think there was another submission after that and then the round ended.  He told me when the round ended that he had been going for a knee bar and asked me if he had set it up right. I told him I didn’t know as I had never trained one. He told me he hadn’t either but he had seen it on YouTube.

I left immediately after this because I realized that I had hurt my ribs but even if I hadn’t, I would have had no desire to roll anymore. I will admit that I cried the whole way home. This was the first time I had ever felt so uncomfortable during a roll. So much was going through my mind. Was this what it was going to be like if I kept training with all guys? Could I keep doing BJJ if it was? Was my partner so concerned about “winning” that he didn’t care if he hurt me or any other partner? Did he not realize that he was completely manhandling me and didn’t need to be going that hard? In a way it felt like a violation. I had trusted him with both my training and my safety and I felt he let me down on both.

However, I also learned some very valuable lessons that day. One was to be very cautious when rolling with new people. I had always heard this but I guess it was a lesson I had to learn the hard way. I also learned that if I am uncomfortable with a roll that I should just stop it. I think that is hard for everyone. No one wants to admit that they can’t handle a roll but it is better to stop a roll or ask someone to take it down a notch than to get hurt and spend time off that mat (I had to take off for about a week and my rib continued to hurt for weeks after).

So this was, I believe, the end of my “I’m going to kick everyone’s ass!” mentality and the beginning of my cautious, safe rolling. I had taken it up a notch and so had he and it had ended poorly for me. I also spent so much time after that guarding my sore ribs that all I did was play defense. This was not a conscious decision on my part to stop being aggressive and play safe but I think it was always in the back of my mind that I didn’t want to go hard and make the boys go harder because they were always going to be stronger.

Now that I have realized what I was doing it has been completly liberating to let go of that fear. That doesn’t mean that I am just attacking everyone with no concern about getting hurt. I know most of the guys I train with and I know that I can trust most of them. I will always be cautious about rolling with new people and I will stop a roll if I feel like it is out of control.

But by not worrying about safety first and BJJ second, I am able to raise my level of aggression and I am seeing some great results. So if you are smaller and weaker know that you will always have to be a little bit more concerned about safety but don’t roll scared. Trust the partners who have earned that trust, let go of the fear and have some fun!

A slight change in attitude

I have been focusing on working my mental game since NAGA. What this has meant for me is that I go into every roll with the attitude that I am not going to back down and thinking that I can “win”.  I don’t consider a win a submission but I try to get to the positions I want and get out of any bad positions I find myself in and hey if a submission happens, that’s just fine too.

When I was at the women’s camp this weekend, Valerie Worthington said that even when it’s not spoken, your intention when rolling is clear to your partner. I knew exactly what she meant. You can tell when you are rolling with someone if they are just looking to have fun and work some technique, if they are letting you work (high belts will do this a lot and I secretly love them for it) or if they are out for the submission no matter what it takes.

I started thinking about how this could be a positive thing. If you go in thinking “I am going to win” (I really hate using the word win here as I don’t think anyone loses when rolling but “I am going to get in good positions, fight out of bad ones and maybe submit someone” is too long), can’t that affect your rolling too? If you have the attitude that you are going to be successful than couldn’t that change how you roll?

I have stumbled across proof of this theory by accident when rolling. This happened once when I was rolling with a guy who has less experience and technique than I do but is very strong. Often when we roll he will grab my wrists or arms and hold on for dear life if I start to get in advantageous positions. He used to use this move to pass but I have had more experience than I wanted with that and have learned to avoid it or get out of the position. This particular time I was in his guard and he was holding my wrists to keep me from moving and then he started to try to work for an armbar, triangle or pass. I was so aggravated by him holding my wrists in a death lock that I refused to let him get into a good position by using it. I managed to stay on top in guard and had even passed and mounted when the round had ended. My attitude of “you’re not getting away with this” fueled my game and I managed to fight into a good position. Well that is a handy trick.

Last week I was really focused on not giving up on moves and fighting for position. After rolling with one of our purple belts after class, he told me he was impressed that I was going for more and not just accepting bad positions. The next day I was talking to my coach and he said he noticed I had taken it up a level that week as well. I told him what the purple belt said and he said “do you see how even a slight change in your mental approach is noticeable to others on the mat?”. I did see.

After having noticeable success last week, I wanted to continue to focus on my attitude this week. I had some great rolls on Monday night where I was moving, getting out of bad positions and getting into positions I wanted. My last roll of the night was much like this but I got frustrated at the end when I got caught in two submissions. One of them was all me, I was in turtle and failed to realize my partner was going for the Peruvian necktie. The second came partly as a result of me getting overly frustrated (I begrudgingly admit part of it was just a good move on his part). My partner had completely muscled a sweep on me (we even joked about it) and some of that old doubt was creeping in and making me think that I couldn’t win. I left an arm where I shouldn’t and he took advantage of that.

I started to feel the frustration and upset that I had been feeling leading up to the tournament (and well months and months before that). When thinking about it later I realized that I was being ridiculous. My new attitude didn’t mean I was never going to get caught again. Also I was focusing on the two negatives of the roll instead of the positives. A couple of weeks ago I let this guy dominate me because I thought he was too strong for me. Tonight I gave him all I had and had hung with him the entire time!

Last night he was in class again and I asked him for a roll afterwards. I said to myself as we were bumping fists that I was going to be positive and roll just like I had the other night (except maybe a little more cautious in turtle). I once again gave him all I had. I distinctly remember one point where he was working a sweep and I started to think “oh great, you’re going to get swept again”. I pushed this aside and replaced it with “JUST WORK” and managed to control his legs, pass and get to side control. The round ended shortly after as I was working for mount. I walked away feeling very happy. Instead of talking myself into failure, I had talked myself into success.

I guess a slight change in your mental approach is noticeable to everyone, even you.

So many girls

Sorry that I have been MIA from the blog for a while. I had a very hectic week at work followed by being gone all weekend for a women’s grappling camp. For those of you who have never heard of such a thing, check out their website here, I found out about these camps over the summer right before they one in VA but I wasn’t able to go then so this was the first time I attended one.

It was overall a really great experience. The instructors, Valerie Worthington, Hannette Staack and Emily Kwok, were fantastic. I have never trained with a female black belt before, let alone 3! The thing that really surprised me about camp was how many high belts were there. There were more purples and browns than blues and white belts made up the minority. It is definitely not what I’m used to. I get really excited when I find a female blue belt!

It was almost a surreal experience to have 30 women to train with. As I have touched on before, I am used to being paired up on the basis of “you are both women” with not much attention paid to experience or size. Here there were actually options of women to train with at various sizes and ranks. It was really exciting. Everyone at camp was really enthusiastic because, I suspect, everyone was happy to have this experience. Also BJJ girls are just awesome so who wouldn’t be thrilled to be hanging out with 30 of them?

The drilling was not the latest, greatest, fanciest moves that are winning all the tournaments but more solid, basic stuff which I really enjoyed. Being in an environment where all of the people have had the experience of being the weaker or smaller partner meant that the instructors could focus on tricks to handle that. Mixed in with the BJJ drilling were BJJ games such as pass, submit or sweep, ambush jiu-jitsu and technique races. And of course there was much rolling.

Rolling was also quite different than I am used to. It is not that you use completely different girl-only moves when rolling with another woman but it is liberating to know that you do not have to worry as much about getting crushed or muscled into submissions or injuries. I could let that go from my mind and just have fun working technique. If I had it to do over again I would be braver about asking the higher belts to roll but I am always hesitant about asking people I don’t know to roll.

There were also a lot of social activities mixed in. There was a roundtable at Emily’s house in which the participants had the opportunity to ask the more experienced women questions about BJJ. That was fun and it’s always comforting to hear that you are not the only one experiencing issues in BJJ. I was really excited when the discussion turned to how to avoid aggressive people who refuse to tap to a girl. We got some good advice but a prevalent solution seemed to be that you just have to crush them once. While I love this from a philosophical standpoint, sadly I do not possess the skills for it(yet). There was also dinner, breakfast and a social activity (bowling this time) but I did not participate in these due to work and time constraints.

Getting the chance to train with a large group of women was awesome. If you are a woman who trains jiu-jitsu I highly recommend you seek out opportunities like this. Sadly I know that a camp like this is not something that is feasible for everyone but small groups of women are organizing all over to find like-minded women to train with. If you can’t find a group like this, try creating one!

Rage against the cucumber

Last week one of my training partners told me that he could tell I was not in touch with my aggression. He said I was using my energy to hold back when I should be using it to attack. As some of you may have picked up from reading this blog (or from knowing me), I like to analyze everything. This was no different.

I mentioned what he said to a non-bjj friend of mine (I actually have some of those) and she told me that was somewhat expected as women are not really socialized to be aggressive. I thought this had merit but I wanted to dig deeper and think about why I was behaving this way. Right now I am only worried about fixing myself, I’ll work on society later.

I used to have a really bad temper. A really bad temper. I would scream, kick things, punch walls, tear apart rooms and so on. One time I got so mad at my sister that I almost banged her head into the floor.* This incident changed my life because it made me realize my temper was out of control and I took measures to fix it. When I tell this story to people nowadays most of them respond with disbelief that I could have ever had a bad temper. I am cool as a cucumber.

But I don’t want to be a cucumber in BJJ! I need to be aggressive and work my game instead of settling into other people’s games. This is hard for me. I get really worried about making my partners uncomfortable when I get aggressive. I worry about hurting them physically, I worry about making them feel bad if I submit them, I worry they won’t want to roll with me anymore. The problem is that I am not worrying about me and my game when I do this.

I am trying to change my thinking about this. We are all actively engaged in a combat sport right? I know that there is always risks when I roll and I need to accept that my partners know this as well. I am not going to actively try to hurt anyone but it’s time to take my game to the next level and this means I have to stop holding back my aggression. It’s time to unleash the beast.


*I promise that I did not physically harm her and in my defense she was really aggravating as a child

On a mission to find a submission

One time after rolling with a purple belt at my gym, he asked me what my go to submission was. I stared at him with a confused, blank stare. Submission? How often do I go for submissions? If I do go for submissions was there one I felt I was good enough at to consider my go to? I told him that I guess I spend more time playing defense than offense and didn’t really have a solid submission. He said that was normal because I was smaller and I would get one eventually.

I started thinking about the other guys I roll with and how I would often know what submission they were going to go for because that was their thing. I didn’t have a thing. It made me realize that I was not attacking enough and was instead content to play defense. I decided that I had to start thinking more offensively when I rolled. I made an effort to do this for a while. I liked how my playing offense meant that my opponent had to play defense and I wasn’t getting smashed and submitted. However, I did find it frustrating that I very rarely finished a submission. Recent events have found me playing defense again and I haven’t thought of finding my submission in a while.

That all changed this week though. After losing at the tournament last weekend, the purple belt coach at my weekend gym told me he thought I should pick a submission and just drill it, work it and make it mine. He suggested it be something quick, like a wristlock, since I am very often overpowered.

I liked the idea of this. Most of us have heard the saying that you shouldn’t fear the person who practices 1000 moves 1 time but instead fear the one who practices 1 move 1000 times. But once again I was faced with the problem of not having a submission I felt I was solid at. I don’t land any submission with enough regularity to think I can own it.

I talked to my main instructor about this idea and he agreed it was a good one except he suggested picking one from the bottom and one from the top. Lately when I get to mount my favorite thing to do is go for an arm triangle (or head and arm choke if you prefer). As I have mentioned before, I am a big fan of shoulder pressure which lends itself well to this submission. I have also recently learned an americana transition from here and have discovered that if I get rolled I still have the option to finish the arm triangle or go for an ezekiel (in gi at least).

Now I just had to think of a submission from bottom. I asked my coach if he had any idea what I should choose and he suggested I work triangles as mine are pretty tight. I will humbly admit that I can throw on a nasty triangle. This is contingent of course on my partner giving me their arm and not trying at all to resist as I lock up the triangle. I said as much to him and he showed me some setups and suggested I work them while rolling in the coming weeks.

This weekend I got a lot of work in with my purple belt instructor and he helped me drill wristlocks. As a fairly new blue belt, I have not had a lot of experience with going for wristlocks which is why I dismissed them as my go to submission when he suggested it. I rolled with him a long time before class this morning and tried to work those triangle setups with minimal success. If I did get into a triangle position he would defend it (I hate when people do that). I feel like I can work armbars and omoplatas off of it though so I don’t want to give up on triangles yet but I want to be able to finish a submission now!

After having minimal success with the triangles I started thinking about the wristlocks he showed me. At one point I was in technical mount and about to swing around for an armbar when I noticed his arm was in perfect position for a wristlock. I went for it. I didn’t finish but it surprised him so much that he even admitted after that he went right to muscle mode to escape it and he told me at the time that I had almost got him. I kept going for them throughout our various rolls and had much the same experience, I almost got them but he managed to just escape.

If I am almost catching a purple belt after one day of trying I figure there is something to this wristlock thing. So I am going to make an effort to go for them as I roll from now on. Well except I guess I can’t with white belts. Can I? They have to learn sometime…

I am excited to possibly have a submission to make my own. I hope to have a running tally of people I submit via wristlock very soon 🙂

Join the resistance

Training this week has been pretty good. After a tournament I like to identify issues I need to work on and try to incorporate fixes while I train. For example, after watching videos of my previous tournament I realized that I was sitting way too high in guard so whenever I am in top guard now, I make sure to pay attention to sitting low. I think it has helped a lot. Fixes from last weekend’s tournament that I am working on include working more standup, not settling into bad positions when rolling and drilling harder.

Working standup has been going well. I am lucky to have partners who are willing to work with me and several of them even have wrestling backgrounds (how I wish I could go back in time and somehow convince my parents to sign me up for wrestling). One particularly helpful partner (you know who you are!) showed me some takedowns that he thinks would be good for me to work considering I have pretty strong legs and base. I am hoping to pick one or two and work them to the point I can get them automatically.

Not settling into bad positions is something I have been telling myself to work on for a while. When people pass my guard or escape a submission I tend to start thinking of how I am going to get out of the bad position they are about to put me in when I should instead be focusing on stopping them from getting into that position. Having this mindset will also help my goal to be faster when I roll.

Drilling harder is a new revelation. On Tuesday in class I was working with another blue belt who has been out for quite a while with back problems. I was watching two guys next to us drill and they were giving each other maximum resistance. At first I thought they were going way too hard for drilling (probably they were) but it got me to thinking about how I drill. I am used to drilling with little to no resistance which is possibly giving me a false sense of security in the moves. I have often said that I am really good at drilling but not so great at applying the techniques to my rolling. My thinking is that if I drill with some resistance it will be a more realistic application of the technique. It will also help me with my general goal of “GO HARD”.

Of course then my instructor told me drilling with resistance is not a good idea. I can see his point. If you don’t know a technique and someone is applying a ton of resistance then you are most likely going to get frustrated or think that the move doesn’t work. I feel like there is a compromise though. I have decided that the first few times I drill something, particularly if it is new to me or not something I am not comfortable drilling, I will drill with little to no resistance. After I feel more comfortable I will add some resistance and when I get more comfortable I will add more resistance and so on. I think this will be a big help and I really enjoyed drilling this way during the week.

I had some good rolls while trying to focus on all this during the week. I rolled with a guy who is very strong and generally just tries to grab my wrists and hold me still while we roll. I managed to stay on top for most of the roll and refused to back down because he was using strength. I know his technique is not as good as mine (he spent most of his time in bottom guard trying to x-choke me) and I worked a pass to half, got swept, reversed it back to guard and eventually got to mount where I was trying to work an arm triangle when the round ended. I also felt good about my roll with my smaller, quicker, extra squirmy fellow female blue belt. She is very strong and quick and often gets out of whatever bad position I manage to put her in or avoids it altogether with that pesky strength and quickness. I decided to take it up a notch this week and we had a really great roll which left us both exhausted but happy at the end. Tomorrow is my day of training with the girls, which I am hoping the snow doesn’t ruin.

A chronicle of black eyes

As I mentioned in my last post and alluded to in this post, I have somewhat of a history of getting black eyes. I am not sure why this happens other than I have always had rather bad luck and have always been accident prone (probably part of the bad luck). Everyone at the gym knows that if there is some kind of collision or accident on the mat, I am probably involved. My coach and I have joked that no one is an official member of the gym until they’ve hit me in the head. I have had 3 black eyes in the last 8 months. I, naturally, take lots of pictures of them so here is the story of my various black eyes, with pictures!

Black eye #1
This one is significant because it was not only my first real black eye, but also came right on the heels of a concussion. I suffered a concussion in a tournament in May. It was not a major concussion, I didn’t even know I had a concussion until two days later when I was still feeling dizzy and nauseous and went to a doctor. I was actually relieved by the diagnosis because I had to tap out because I thought I was either going to throw up or pass out and I thought I had just gassed. However the family and friends in my life who were somewhat wary of BJJ became staunch opponents of the idea after I got a concussion, especially given my history of them (like I said, accident prone). I had to take a month off. For the first couple of weeks I kept trying to go back and then getting nauseous or getting a headache while drilling and finally a neurologist told me to take a month off of everything. I compromised and took 2 weeks off. There was a women’s open mat at the end of the two weeks and I was not going to miss it. It was my first time rolling since the tournament. Someone was trying to get my back and I was sitting up trying to block her. She pushed my head down to run around my side and my kneecap went directly into my eye socket with a lot of force. It didn’t hurt too bad but I knew it was right on the money and I was going to get a black eye. I did. I felt pretty badass about it but I couldn’t really show it off as getting a black eye right after a concussion was not going to help me convince people that me training BJJ is not dangerous.  Here is a picture of black eye #1:


Black eye #2
I managed to survive the first black eye and the skepticism it brought from the BJJ doubters in my life. One night 6 weeks later (so mid July-ish), I had decided to be ambitious and try to hit both my gyms in one night. While at the first class (the weekend gym), the guys were joking about how I needed another black eye because my last one was so nice. I left there and went to my main gym for class. I was rolling after class when my partner tried to get an armbar. He didn’t have my arm all the way in and I was escaping to the side. He tried to re-position and throw his leg over my head again and nailed me right in the eye with his heel. We disengaged and I sat back thinking nothing of it. My coach asked me if I was ok and I said I was and as an afterthought told him I hoped I didn’t get another black eye so soon after the first. He looked at me, told me I was going to and suggested I go to the bathroom to clean it. I went and noticed it was already swelling and there was a cut under the eye. One of the other coaches saw it and said I had to push the mouse in or my eye was going to swell shut. I was totally freaked out by this but I did it. As you can imagine, two black eyes (on the same eye!) in the span of 6 weeks earned me a lot more doubt and a lot of teasing. Black eye #2:



Black eye #3
Read about it in my previous post! This one is on the other eye (they all look the same in the pictures but my iPhone feels the need to rotate the picture sometimes, annoying). It’s the best yet. The entire eye socket is bruised including the area above my eyebrow. Black eye #3:

“You beat yourself before you even stepped foot on the mat”

That is what my coach said to me after my final match at NAGA on Saturday. As you can probably guess, that means things didn’t exactly go my way. I had two matches in no-gi and two matches in gi for a total of 4. I lost every one. Here is my breakdown of the tournament. Apologies in advance, this is gonna be a long post.

I got to the tournament right before 10 which was when the women’s division was supposed to start. Naturally it did not start until 11 so my panicked driving and running from where I parked (like a mile away from the venue) was for naught. As I am a blue belt now I had to fight at the intermediate level in no-gi so I knew I was in for a long wait before my first match. My teammate who was also fighting came early to watch my matches so he helped me warm up which was much appreciated. Another teammate who was not competing came to cheer me on and I was super happy to see her as well. My coach had to teach that morning but he arranged for other guys in our network of schools to coach us. My friend from Massachusetts who is also a blue belt got put into a director’s division (both her and the other woman in the division were thrilled to find someone their size who was also over 40 to fight) and had to go first. I coached her match which basically means I kept her updated on time left, score and yelled things like “settle down and work the pass!”. Hey it’s better than no coach and she won her match!

After much waiting and pacing and worrying, it was finally time for my first match. I had checked out the other women when I got there (naturally) and I recognized one from the last time I had done NAGA in September. We both competed as beginners then but since she had won the division I had a pretty good feeling she was also in the intermediate division as NAGA is pretty strict about that sort of thing. I was right. They called my first match and it was against her. In September when we fought, I had tried to work a takedown and she caught my head and guillotined me. Knowing this I kept telling myself not to let her get my head, to just try to move in and pull guard. That did not work out. She caught my head again and quickly guillotined me…again. Lost by submission.

Since I lost the first match I had to fight the 3rd person in our bracket next. They offered me a round to recover but since my first match probably lasted about a minute, I told them I was good to go. The first two minutes of this match was us going back and forth with wrestling grips and going for takedowns. We kept getting grips and then disengaging and repeating the process again. Every time we clinched up she would slam her forehead into my head as she went for the grip. I have a beauty of a shiner right now to prove it (more black eye fun in a later post, stay tuned!). I eventually got really sick of standing up so I pulled guard. She quickly got to half mount and then shoved her shoulder right over my mouth and nose so I couldn’t breathe. I had an excellent black belt instructor from another school in our network coaching me and I heard him telling me what to do and it made sense but all I could think was that I couldn’t breathe and before I did anything I had to move her shoulder because I was suffocating. Thinking back on it now I should have just worked the escape and my mouth would have freed up but I panicked. I can’t remember much details about this fight other than she was on top of me for all of it on the ground and I was constantly fighting to breathe. She won on points and I had my second loss.

It was now time to wait for the gi division. I left my mat to go watch my teammate compete and after his first match, our coach showed up. My friend from MA got nervous that she was going to go first in gi again because they made a master’s division for her and two others this time so she asked me to come back to coach her. By the time she went my coach had come over to our mat after finishing with my teammate so he coached her to two more wins and her second gold medal of the day.

Another long wait and it was time for my gi division. They had called me up to the table at the beginning of the day to tell me they didn’t have a gi match for me. I find that there is often a gap with women in the middle of the weight brackets. They had a bunch or women that were in the lightest division (below 120) a few in the highest (above 160) and nothing in between. The guy reffing the table said he had a student who was a very high level white belt who had agreed to fight up a division and asked if I was ok with that. I said I was fine with it but I did notice on the card that she was 25lbs more than me. Through an error of weights on one of the cards (they had turned 191 into 119 which they didn’t realize until the competitors were on the mat and everyone was staring at them thinking “something is off here”) the brackets got all mixed around anyway so it turned out there were 3 of us in my division.

My first gi match was against the high level white belt. We yanked on each other’s gis a bunch of times, both of us trying for takedowns, she eventually broke down my posture and took me down but I got her immediately in guard. She tried to break it and I tried to lock in a triangle. She was able to escape to the side but I came up on my knees and drove her into turtle. I tried to take her back, got my hooks in but I didn’t have the seatbelt grip locked up and she rolled me. She tried to break my guard again and I almost took her back but failed and she ended up in side mount. I tried to bridge into her to escape and she was able to push me back down and quickly go for an Americana. I couldn’t roll into it so I had to tap.

I went to sit next to my coach knowing I’d be fighting again soon and he told me that I could have won that match if I hadn’t hesitated and just kept going. He said he could see where I would stop a split second before finishing a technique because I thought it wouldn’t work and then of course it didn’t. He told me to let the loss go and focus on the next one and believe in the technique.

It was time for my second match and it was the same girl who I had fought second in no-gi. In a moment of true humility I had noticed her waiting around in her gi and saw she had a yellow belt on. This of course means she is not yet 16 so I asked her how old she was. She told me 14. Wonderful. We again spent a lot of time on our feet and eventually I tried to pull guard again (I think, I am fuzzy on this one too). When she got into guard all I could think about was that I didn’t want her to smother me again with her shoulder (she had an entire gi to use this time!) so I was concentrating all my effort on not letting that happen. Unfortunately it meant I let her get an easy pass to mount and while trying to bridge and roll, she x-choked the hell out of me.

I left the mat really upset, I didn’t talk to my coach, I didn’t talk to my teammates, I quickly left the area to go collect myself. I had lost all my matches. I lost my gi matches to a white belt and to a 14 year-old. I had lost in spectacular fashion. I had lost in spectacular fashion in front of my coach. These were all the thoughts going through my head as I stood off to the side and willed myself not to cry.

I eventually gathered myself and went back to the mat as I knew that I was going to have to be there for the medal ceremony and I didn’t want them to drag me out kicking and screaming. My coach came over to talk to me. That was when he told me I was beating myself mentally before I even competed. I told him I knew he was right. I do know he’s right. I have very little confidence in my ability to beat anyone. I go in there thinking that I will lose and then I do. It was my first tournament as a blue belt so I was intimidated by that. In my first match all I could think about was how she beat me before and I didn’t want it to happen again. In my first gi match I thought about how she was bigger than me and how it would be humiliating to lose in front of everyone to a white belt. In my second gi match I thought I couldn’t win because she had beaten me already.

Instead of coming up with reasons I will win, I come up with reasons I will lose. My coach was really nice as we talked about it, he said he understood where I was coming from and gave me some ideas on ways to improve my mental game. I apologized to him for my performance. He told me never to do that. To let it go and move on and he didn’t care if I won or lost.

So I know I have some things to work on. My standup needs a lot of work. I have to learn to not panic if someone smothers me. I need to go harder when I roll even when I am with the boys. I can do all these. But how do I work on my mental game? I think that my lack of confidence is a combination of lower than average self-esteem (fat kid syndrome, you never really move past it) and lack of success in my own training. I don’t know how to fix these. I don’t know how to give myself more self-esteem. A lot of the lack of success in BJJ is probably more of the same self-fulfilling failure. I don’t think I am capable of “winning” any roll so I don’t. It’s a nasty catch-22 that I don’t know how to get out of.

So I thought about ways I could work on this all through the weekend. My coach suggested some books so I will read some of those. But what else can I do to change my attitude? I considered asking teammates what they think I am doing right but that seems too needy or like I am fishing for compliments. So I am going to focus on things I can do for myself. I am going to go into every roll with the thought “I can get on top and I can win” and I am going to keep on going until I do. After class I will think about the positive things I did rather than focus on the negative. Am I going to be able to do this? Will it help if I do? I really don’t know. But if I want to keep competing I need to change my attitude so I’m going to give it my all.

Fight time

We have not had a lot of people in class this week for some reason which means I did not get a lot of rolling in. In a way this is good because I am competing tomorrow and I did not injure myself or wear myself out rolling. In a way this is bad because I am competing tomorrow and I feel I need the practice. Oh well.

Tuesday I didn’t roll at all as there were only 5 people in class and 2 of them did not roll and the other two guys were happily rolling with each other. Also one of them gave me a black eye before and I am still bitter about it (it doesn’t help that he likes to bring it up still). Wednesday I did get some great rolling in with my instructor and the other female blue belt in the gym (also a blog reader…hi Diana!). I tried my omoplata sweep series again and she managed to slip right out of it and my instructor let me get it but when I asked him if the finish was good he said “not really”. I will keep working it but maybe not try to push for it tomorrow when I fight.

Yesterday was really fun because a friend from Massachusetts is in town to also compete tomorrow so she came to our gym for class. It was great getting to see her again and drill with her. She is small but mighty! After class we kept drilling for a little bit and then I got a roll in with one of the guys. Her shoulder is bothering her so she didn’t want to roll and risk hurting it more right before the tournament. After class we went out to dinner for some yummy food and some catching up.

Both my female rolling partner and my friend from MA are smaller than me. I found myself getting frustrated by them because they are very good at being quick and moving out of bad positions and just never sitting still. I really need to do this in my game. I am in a weird in-between space where I am too small to use strength and size against most of my opponents but too big to play that small, quick game. I think this means that I need to keep concentrating on my diet and working strength and conditioning.

Tomorrow is NAGA. It is my first tournament as a blue belt. I have yet to be hit with the bundle of nerves that makes me want to curl up in a fetal position and quit BJJ but I’m sure it’s coming. I have competed many times and it’s always been a good experience. I always come away with things to work on, I get to meet new BJJ girls or see ones I have met at previous tournaments and it’s just a great touchstone to see how far you’ve come. Yet every time I am waiting for them to call my name on the mat I am thinking that this will definitely be the last time I compete. My coach might not make it in time for my matches as he has to teach in the morning and the women start at 10am but thankfully some teammates will be there and my friend from MA so I’ll have a cheering section. Time for war!

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