Archive | May 2013

Travel BJJ

I spent a few days in Portland, Oregon last week visiting a friend and had the opportunity to train at a local gym. It was the first time I have been to a gym where I didn’t know anyone. I have trained at other gyms in the past but usually to go train with someone or because my coach was there so this was my first drop in at a completely foreign gym.  One of the things that is awesome about BJJ though is that we are like one big family. I had talked to someone at the gym about visiting but she apparently didn’t pass the message on. But since we are all family, they were still very welcoming and happy to have me come train.

The online schedule said there would be a class at 12 and then an open mat at 1 but it was an open mat at 12 with just a little bit of drilling at the end. There were 6 people total, including the man leading the class, so it was a good number to train with for a Friday afternoon.  There was even another woman which means naturally we were paired up early and often.  She was really nice…when we weren’t rolling 🙂

The other woman in the class was that most unfortunate combination of really strong and really new. This meant that she tried to RNC my face at one point until I tapped her on the shoulder and told her to please stop (I was able to tap her on the shoulder because she had caught my face during a scramble and was sitting next to me just squeezing it so my hands were actually behind her body), she passed my guard in a standing guard pass drill by jumping over my legs and landing knee first on my mouth, she ripped my rash guard pulling on it and all sorts of general other spaziness. I was not really upset though because I felt like she was fairly new (she said she had been training two months) and thus probably still a little intimidated by rolling (especially with someone as obviously talented as myself).

I had some good rolls with the other guys in class including two with the brown belt leading the class which were just very nice and flowy. He complimented me on my wrestling from the knees after our first roll. He sure knows how to make a girl swoon! I also got to witness someone get choked unconscious so that was fun too. I left the gym feeling glad I had gotten to roll with new people, happy to have gotten a workout in and with a souvenir of a somewhat busted lip to carry around a few days. Luckily my friend is understanding about BJJ and thus injuries and she got to see firsthand the cost of being a badass, a valuable lesson for anyone.

Whenever I should find myself on the road again I would definitely like to drop in at other gyms. The mat is like my home so it’s nice to find a home wherever you go. And just in case you think it was all training and no fun, here is a picture of the donuts I got at Voodoo Donuts. Sadly the healthy eating for the NY Open(did you know they added a summer NY Open this year??) started yesterday so there won’t be any indulgences like this for a while.


Chasing the high

Those of you who are jiu-jitsu nuts, and chances are that since you are reading a jiu-jitsu blog you might be (although obviously the high quality of my writing has universal appeal), have most likely run into a situation where you have found yourself trying to explain to someone why you love jiu-jitsu so much. For those outside the sport, trying to understand why a friend or loved one has become so obsessed with BJJ can sometimes be tricky. I mean let’s face it, BJJ is kind of gross.  You roll around on a floor, get covered in other people’s sweat, get choked, have someone try to break your limbs and then of course there is the phenomenon of the mystery hairs.

So I think most of us can agree that it might be hard for someone to understand the appeal of jiu-jitsu. But what about you? Do you, the jiu-jitsu head, understand why you love it? I often find myself at a loss for words when trying to explain to one of my friends why I love BJJ. I usually say something about it being the most physically and mentally challenging thing I’ve ever done but I really can’t find an explanation to encompass all that is BJJ. I typically give up, shrug my shoulders and move on. I know BJJ is awesome and if they can’t understand it, that is their problem.

A training partner and I were discussing this last week. He said that he, a person who is well-established in his job, often has trouble making people understand why he risks injury, denies himself sugar and bread and comes to work banged up all so that he can train jiu-jitsu. I mentioned that I also have a hard time explaining the appeal of jiu-jitsu and maybe it is because I can’t even really explain it to myself. He then said “well if you think about it, jiu-jitsu is our drug, we are constantly chasing that high”.

The high he was referring to was that feeling you get when you have a good roll. Not a good roll meaning you tap someone but the type of roll where your body is doing things that your mind doesn’t know it could. Hopefully you have experienced a roll like this. If not, hang in there and keep training because eventually you will. I will attempt to explain it although I am sure I will fall short. It is as if your mind transcends the conscious plane and becomes one with your body. It taps into something primitive and primal and instead of thinking about how your body should respond to a given situation, your body just knows and reacts.

It’s a glorious feeling. And I have no idea how to make it happen. I have tried to figure out how to reproduce this state of rolling. I wear the same gi, the same rash guard, I eat the same thing, I listen to the same music but alas it doesn’t work. My mind remains on the conscience plane and thinks things like “oh you’re in side control, that sucks” instead of helping my body get out of it.

So I take myself to class night after night, searching for that elusive high. As the time for class approaches, my blood starts racing, I can’t think of anything else and I just want to run into the gym hours before class and start training. If you think about it, it makes sense that we train to achieve this primal level of rolling. Haven’t we all been told that we have to drill something until it becomes instinct? This is how your mind and body become one and jiu-jitsu becomes an art.

So while I don’t think that comparing jiu-jitsu to a drug is an explanation that is going to make my friends and family feel any better about how much time I spend training, it does help me to explain it to myself. Maybe I’ll think of a more socially acceptable way to explain it soon. How about you guys? How do you all put into words all that is awesome about jiu-jitsu?

I ruin everything

I am about the easiest person in the universe to make feel guilty (I am also prone to gross exaggeration). This is not always a bad thing. It keeps me from doing jerky things sometimes. But it is often not a good thing either. There have been people in my life who knew how to play that guilt like a banjo to get their way. I also find myself worrying too much about making other people happy, so much so that my own happiness will take a back seat. So what does this have to do with BJJ? It turns out a lot.

As I have mentioned before, I regularly find myself in the position of being the only woman in training. Rational or not, warranted or not, I very often feel guilty about this. I feel guilty for the person who ends up drilling with me because I feel like I am sometimes the least desirable training partner. This is not to say the guys don’t like me or that they hate working with me or I am terrible to drill with but I know it is often tricky to work with a girl. There is usually a size gap and they worry about crushing me. Also, I think that sometimes the guys feel like they have to hold back a little to work with the girls and they don’t necessarily want to. Plus there is always the fear of awkward hand misplacement (btw guys as long as you don’t linger and/or squeeze, I really don’t care if you accidentally put your hands on my boobs).

So as a result I am just about always the last person standing when we partner up to drill. Inevitably I end up staring at my teammates watching them pair off and waiting for the one guy who is left to work with. Even worse though is when we have an odd number in class and then I end up standing there alone and having to pick a group to work in with. My coach told me that I should just ask one of the guys instead of waiting to be picked but I feel guilty (there it is again) because I feel like I am sticking them with a drilling partner they do not want.

On Saturday I was talking to one of the students after our women’s class and she told me she had been to a class during the week for the first time, which meant that she had worked with the boys for the first time. Typically I am there every day during the week but last week I got a nasty chest cold and missed a few days including the day she came in. She told me she was upset with herself that she didn’t roll at the end of class. We were talking about the reasons she didn’t roll and eventually she admitted that she felt kind of guilty about it because she is very small and she didn’t want to make the boys go easy with her.

I told her I understood (believe me I understand) but that it was something that we all had to get over in order to train. I told her that we all have the right to train and as women we might have to be a little more assertive about exercising that right. I said that anyone can get something out of working with anyone else and that her partners would just have to learn that. This is something I truly believe. When I am rolling with brand new people who are obviously a little intimidated to have made it to the advanced side of the mat, I use it as an opportunity to work on things that I wouldn’t normally try with more advanced opponents. I also really like to help the new people out (well any person!) so if they make an obvious mistake that I am able to capitalize on, I will tell them after what they did and hopefully it helps them out.

Yesterday I went to tournament training at the team HQ in Center City. I have been going for a couple of months now and there were only two times that I was not the only woman there and those were the first two weeks so it’s been a while since I was not the sole member of my gender at training. I have often felt even guiltier going to tournament training than I do going to regular training. This is training that is meant for everyone to go really hard and I know that often the guys won’t go their hardest with me because of concern of hurting me. I keep going though because I need to train like that if I’m going to compete and like I said, everyone has the right to train. But I sometimes can’t help but think I ruin the all boys club by showing up.

After a few rounds yesterday I was feeling kind of gassed (getting over a chest cold makes it hard to breathe, not being able to breath makes BJJ suck) so I took a break. I sat on the side and watched the next round. I watched the guy who I had just rolled with who had definitely not gone hard with me training like a maniac with another blue belt. I looked at all the guys going 100% with each other and a wave of guilt washed over me. I felt guilty that these guys were there to train hard and I was holding them back. I felt guilty that I couldn’t be as strong as them and I most likely never will be.

So when the round ended I just couldn’t bring myself to walk back on the mat and ask one of the guys to roll. I just sat there thinking that if someone asked me to roll I would but I was not going to make these guys who had come here to train hard roll with me. For three rounds I sat there watching the guys roll and feeling inadequate. I got one more roll in on the last round when a nice brown belt asked me to roll but again it turned more into a flow roll than a tournament type roll.

Afterwards I couldn’t help but reflect on what a hypocrite I was. One day I am telling a student to assert her right to train and that the boys will just have to deal with it and the next day I am sitting on the sidelines feeling weak and inferior. I think we all have moments like this, men included. We feel like we are not good enough to train with those around us and we don’t want to ruin training for other people. This is often hard for women because we cannot hide our perceived inferiority (inferiority from a BJJ standpoint, girls are better than boys in most other aspects).

So what am I going to do about this guilt I feel when training? Well I often tell people that the only solution to BJJ problems is more BJJ. I think that applies here. If I want to be able to make it worthwhile for these guys to train with me than I just have to keep getting better. I will most likely never be able to match even the new guys’ strength but I can get my technique to a point that I give everyone a hard time.

I also am going to have to remember my own sentiment that you can get something from any rolling partner. I believe this to be true for me so I have to accept that it’s true for everyone. Because we all do have the right to train and no one should feel guilty about their ability or their perceived lack thereof. I never want to see a woman sitting on the sidelines because she doesn’t think she is good enough to train with the guys so that is an example I will not be setting anymore. So I’ll see you on the mats next week boys, be ready.

Mission accepted

A couple of months ago I went on a mission to find a submission (read all about it here). This was fueled by the fact that I realized I did not have a go-to submission but more than that by a desire to change the style of my game. My BJJ is largely reactive. I tend to wait for my opponent to do something and then play defense. This is something that is not uncommon for someone who is smaller and weaker and is not necessarily a bad way to practice BJJ. However if you want to compete, this is not a style that is going to get you the win a whole lot.

My coach suggested that I pick a submission from the top and one from the bottom. So because I am fond of getting on top and mashing my shoulder into people’s faces, I decided to try to work on the arm triangle (or head and arm choke if you prefer) from top and wrist locks from bottom (well from everywhere really). I will admit that my wrist lock quest has more or less ended. I just never got used to looking for them. But I really liked working the arm triangle. So I did.

But of course you are rarely going to get to start in mount with your shoulder in someone’s face so I couldn’t just work the arm triangle. I had to first learn to get to a controlling top position. For me this usually means getting to top half guard (I don’t know why but I seem to end up in this position all the time), starting to work the shoulder pressure and control, transitioning to side control and then finally to mount.

So finally I learned to get to mount with my arm in position under my opponent’s head. So naturally I became an arm triangle machine right? Well not exactly. I found that I was getting rolled over a lot when I got to mount. This is somewhat expected since you are giving them an arm and making the bump and roll super easy. But I knew I could stop it if I learned to control the top position better. So I did. I learned how to better distribute my weight (the bump and roll is even easier if I leave all my weight on that side) and utilize hooks to block the bump and roll. Sometimes I would not go for the finish and just let me partner try to roll me over and over again so I could practice keeping the mount.

OK so now that I learned how to get to mount and how to hold it, it was nothing but arm triangles right? Yeah, not quite. I was getting successful with them but the thing about training with the same people and going for a submission over and over again is that eventually they catch on. So while my arm triangles were getting better, so too were their escapes.

But because I was constantly going for the same thing and because there are only so many ways to defend it, I found myself in the same positions over and over again. Because I was there so much I started to figure out what I could work from these other positions. If they bring their arm up to block the choke (the “answer the phone” defense), I can trap the arm and go for an Americana. If they roll away from me I can transition to technical mount and go for a collar choke or bow and arrow. If I can’t get their arm up, why not go for an Ezekiel?

When I decided to find my submission my only goal was to get good at arm triangles. I didn’t intend to build a whole series around it but that’s what happened. First I had to learn to get on top, then I had to improve my top game to even have a shot at the submission and then I had to work with the reactions of my opponents when I didn’t get the finish.

So what did I really get by going on my submission mission? Have I turned into an arm triangle machine? Not really. I go for them a lot, sometimes I can finish them, sometimes I cannot. If I get to top half guard though I know there is a better chance than not that I am going to get to side control. If I get to side control, it is very likely I will get to mount. If I get to mount, you better believe I’m going to try to isolate your arm, slide off and work that arm triangle. You know how to successfully defend it? Well I am waiting with some other stuff to try too.

So, no, I don’t always get the finish when working my arm triangle but I keep my opponent defending the entire time. That’s a lot more than I was doing a few months ago. And by stubbornly going after one submission all the time, I was forced to tighten up a lot of aspects of my game. This has been useful in many ways, not just when going for an arm triangle.

So if you haven’t found your go-to move yet, I encourage you to pick a submission you like or one that plays well to something you are already doing and go for it all the time. You will be surprised how much your offensive game improves. If you do have a go-to move, keep training it! Better yet, start training another! I am almost to the point that I want to pick a new go-to move (maybe start thinking about those wrist locks again). Although I will never abandon the arm triangle, I am excited to see what other types of series I can build.

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times

I had an awesome day of training yesterday. I went to a women’s open mat at another gym which consisted of a cardio circuit, a little bit of drilling (flying armbars, watch out world!) and then a bunch of rolling. There were 8 women there total. A brown belt was running it and there were 4 blues and 3 high level whites. It was amazing. Something very interesting happened as well but before I tell you that story I must first tell you the story of my most upsetting defeat in a tournament ever.

Let me transport you back in time to July of 2012. “Call me Maybe” was the #1 song on the Billboard top 100, the Philadelphia area was in the midst of a heat wave and there was a certain wide-eyed optimism permeating the BJJ tournament scene at the time. OK July 2012 was not that long ago, most likely you remember it.

I had decided kind of last minute to participate in a local tournament. I had not trained for almost the whole month of May because I had gotten a concussion in a tournament (on May 5th last year…yesterday was my concussion-iversary!) and I had eased back into training in June. I wasn’t sure I was ready to compete but circumstances lent themselves to going so I figured what the heck.

There were only 2 people, including myself, from my gym competing at this particular tournament so there was no one from my gym there when I got there. My coach was coming but in a weird twist of fate, the tournament was running ahead of schedule and my gi division was ready to start. This was not a huge deal to me. As a woman, I am used to going first and this was not my first time competing without anyone in my corner. I lost my first match by getting triangled and then I had a second match to fight for 3rd place (the joys of women’s divisions).

So my second match started and was going very well. I don’t remember all the specifics (it was almost a year ago and I have no tape of it) but I know I got to mount, I got a sweep, I took her back, I was doing everything right. During a scramble I saw that there was a little over a minute left on the clock and realized I was about to win this fight. I don’t remember how but my opponent got to mount. I was not worried because I had a ton of points. I could hear her corner telling her that she had to submit me to win so I was happy to just coast the rest of the time. She got a grip inside my collar and then quickly tried to go for an x-choke. I realized this was not great but I figured she wasn’t going to be able to finish in the time left anyway. And then I did the stupidest thing ever. I tried to peak at the clock to see how much time was left. I peaked at the clock. I lifted my head. I GAVE HER MY NECK. She got the x-choke in and I tapped. When we got up I saw that there had been 12 seconds left. 12 FREAKING SECONDS!!!

I was so upset and humiliated. I couldn’t believe that I had just given a match away. I am not saying she didn’t deserve the win, she was smart to capitalize on my stupidity but I had let my guard down by first letting her get to mound and then not defending the choke better. In another cruel twist of fate, as I was walking off the mat hating myself, my coach came in the door saw me and asked how it went. I waved him off and went to go sulk in private.

To this day that loss haunts me. I was so upset afterwards (that whole tournament was awful) that I was considering taking more time off of BJJ and never competing again. I actually had an awesome moment of motivation on my way home that day that I will save for another post (ooo, suspense!) and in the end I went back to BJJ right away. It ended up working out fine for me because my coach worked with me on some stuff I was doing wrong (he got to see my no-gi division) and it was a good learning experience. I took gold at my next tournament in the gi division and all was well. But I get an awful feeling every time I think of that match.

OK so fast forward to yesterday. “Just Give Me a Reason” was the #1 song…well you probably remember yesterday too. I was getting ready for open mat to start when two people came in the door. I knew I recognized one of them but I couldn’t remember from where. I felt like it was a negative thing and I was trying to think if I didn’t like her for some reason. I think I was staring at her trying to figure it out a little too intensely cause she awkwardly said “hi” and then I felt like a jerk. I figured I had probably just seen her around and shrugged it off.

Well you very smart readers probably realize that this was the woman who had x-choked me in July. I eventually realized it as well, about halfway through the cardio portion of the open mat. As I was drilling the armbar with a teammate of mine I told her who the mystery woman was (most of my training partners have heard the story of that tournament several times). I jokingly said I hoped I got to roll with her so I could get my revenge.

Well as it turns out, we did get to roll together. I didn’t know if she remembered me or not and we were just rotating and rolling with little break in between so we didn’t really get a chance to talk before. We started the roll and I got on top and worked my shoulder pressure. I went for an arm triangle and couldn’t finish it so I rolled up and transitioned into a bow and arrow for the tap.

As we were getting ready to reset I told her that I hoped I hadn’t been too much of a jerk with the shoulder pressure. This is something I worry about with everyone. If you’ve read some of my other posts, you know I love me some shoulder pressure. If you’re one of my training partners you definitely know! I constantly am at war with myself about how nasty to make it though. I want to be aggressive but I don’t want to be the jerk who mashes everyone face in and no one wants to roll with. I have recently decided to just go for it and stop worrying but I still feel pangs of guilt on occasion.

She told me that I had been fine and then paused for a second and said “you know you’re the reason I still do this”. I was puzzled by this and asked her what she meant. She said that doing that tournament (and I presume having an awesome victory) had made her realize that she could be doing more worthwhile things with her life than sitting on the couch and watching TV.

Huh…well how do you like that? My darkest hour in BJJ might very well have been her brightest and we both got something we needed from it. She had learned she was capable of more than she thought and found the motivation to continue training. I had to learn to deal with the self-doubt and anger that came from that tournament and find the strength to move past it instead of giving up.

When things don’t work out the way I want I try to think that everything happens for a reason. What seems like the worst thing today is probably leading me on a path for something better. Sometimes it’s hard to keep that positive attitude though, like when you get x-choked in a match with 12 seconds left because you tried to look at the clock. Every now and then though you get a reminder.

Veggie head

Don’t worry, I am not about to lecture you on the virtue of being a vegan or anything. Considering I’ve been mostly following a paleo diet for the last few months it would be quite hypocritical of me! No I am going to talk about a topic that can be very divisive among grapplers…cauliflower ear.

Just reading “cauliflower ear”, you probably had one of the following reactions:

  1. You thought about your own mangled ears
  2. You thought “oh my god that’s my worst fear!”
  3. You thought “oh my god I can’t wait to get them!”

It seems to me that there are two main schools of thought where cauliflower ear are concerned. Those who see it as a badge of honor that they earned through hard work on the mat and those who see it as horrible disfigurement they never want on their own body.

I recall in my very early days of BJJ a conversation where someone asked my coach how to prevent cauliflower ears. My coach’s answer was that he didn’t know (an answer that could have been guessed by looking at his ears). He added that he had actually tried to get them when he was younger because he thought they looked cool. I have seen various guys at the gym develop some cauliflower and then proudly show it off to the rest of us. I have seen other guys buy headgear that they religiously wear to every class (despite much ridicule) in an attempt to stave it off.

So why am I bringing this up? I have been giving the topic a lot of thought the last few weeks because I feel like my ears have been hurting a lot. Not awful, always there kind of pain but something I notice when I lay on my side at night.

This is not the first time I have thought about it. I had my ear mashed good about 6 months ago and I thought for sure it was going to get cauliflowered. I did a lot of soul searching about it at the time. Could I handle having cauliflower ear? If I didn’t get it was this a wakeup sign that I needed to finally invest in some headgear and start wearing it? Well I didn’t get cauliflower ear and I didn’t buy headgear but I still don’t know how I feel about rocking cauliflower ear.

Part of me sort of wants it. It’s like a trophy you’ve earned from your time on the mats. And it makes you look tough. I know that when I visit other gyms I often feel a little more respect for the guys with the mangled ears. After all they’ve put their bodies on the line to earn that respect. And it’s a subtle way of letting everyone know who they’re messing with.

I wouldn’t pick a fight with Dan if he had normal ears either.


But as a woman I am not sure I can pull off the cauliflower look. Women aren’t supposed to have disfigured ears!  Many women have the advantage of having long hair to hide their ears but I rock short hair (best decision for a grappler, no more hair adjustments in the middle of a roll!). Am I willing to stare societal norms in the face, point to my mangled ear and say “I don’t care what you think!”?

I haven’t bought headgear even with the latest ear pain. I don’t plan to…I am a freak on the mat as it is, I don’t want to add to that 🙂 My ears take a lot of abuse and have not cauliflowered  yet. I am starting to think that I am just not genetically inclined to get it. But if the day comes that I do get it, I don’t think I’ll care. I think I’ll even be a little bit happy, after all I earned it! And hey if it’s good enough for Ronda, it’s good enough for me.

This is what happens to someone who makes fun of Ronda’s ears

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