Archive | August 2013

That’s my girl

Since the beginning of the women’s only class at my gym, I have been concerned about my ability to teach a class. As a blue belt with 1 year and 364 days of training (yup, tomorrow is my bjj-iversary), I didn’t know that I was qualified to teach anyone. However I felt really strongly that we should have a women’s only class and I would love to coach more when I grow up, so I was really excited to lead it when the program started.

Still with the rise and fall in attendance over time and the fact that if it weren’t for one very loyal, awesome student, there would be many weeks where I showed up to an empty gym, I can’t help but wonder if the class has had any effect.

Last weekend we hosted a women’s open mat (something we try to do once a month) where women from other gyms were invited to come train with us. We don’t typically drill much if at all in these and instead focus on rolling and positional sparring. We had a few people from other gyms come, me and my loyal women’s class student.

I was excited for the opportunity to roll with my student because I don’t really get an opportunity to do it much. We tend to focus mostly on drilling in the women’s class and if there are only a few students, I let them roll with each other and try to give them tips while watching. She’s been coming during the week for the regular classes as well but she is still in the beginner’s class so I don’t get to interact with her very much there.

So when the time came for us to roll I couldn’t wait to see how far she’d come since the last time we rolled (probably about 6 weeks ago at the last open mat). She had told me after the last time that she thought I was going too easy on her so I made sure to take it up a notch this time. I was really impressed with how she was handling herself. I started to think about how far she’d come and wondered how much of what she was doing she had learned from me.

And then it happened. The singular greatest moment in my brief teaching history. She got on top of me in half guard and what was the first thing she did? She jammed her shoulder right into my face. As I laid there with my head pinned to the floor by our smallest student, I couldn’t help but smile. If the only thing that comes out of the women’s class is that I taught one person how to use her shoulder to neutralize a bigger opponent, then it has all been worthwhile.

I’m not sure you’re doing that right

As someone who is not the strongest person in the gym, I sometimes find myself in the unfortunate position of being trapped by someone who is stronger than me. What I mean by trapped is that I am in a bad position (side mount, mount, back control, etc.) and the person is strong enough to keep me from escaping despite me trying every escape I know.

I hate when this happens for many reasons. It makes me feel like my jiu-jitsu is still pretty weak if I am so easily defeated by strength. It can also make me feel panicky. I, like most people I am sure, really am not comfortable with being held down against my will. This is usually also the point when I realize that my partner is willing to use whatever strength they have to win the roll and I stop thinking about jiu-jitsu and start thinking about safety.

So I hate when this happens but I know that it is probably always going to happen and that I just have to deal with it. As I’ve said before, that’s the price you pay when you are not the strongest person in the gym. And although it is not the most enjoyable thing in the world, I know that situations like this have helped me to gain a very solid defense game. It’s all about working with what you are given.

Sometimes when someone is using a good amount of strength against me and I feel that they’ve muscled something, I wonder afterwards if I should say something. I typically don’t. Some guys are very strong and much of their game plan is to use that strength so it’s not really fair of me to say something. I also never want to seem bitter (especially since I typically am) or like a sore loser by standing up and proclaiming loudly “NO FAIR” after every submission.  And sometimes I’m not really sure if was all muscle or not and so I don’t want to accuse my training partners of something they didn’t do.

I was thinking about this last week after a particularly grueling roll with one of the newer guys. He is very tall and I am guessing at least 60 pounds bigger than me but I am pretty awful at guessing weight. He took my back at some point. Not to brag, but I am pretty good at escaping back control. Failing that I am very confident in my ability to defend submissions from the back (really it’s not bragging because the ability to defend came from getting my back taken about 5000 times).

So try as I might, I could not escape his back control. He also started going for chokes so I switched my focus from escaping to defending the chokes. I had my chin tucked and my head turned so I was feeling pretty confident he wasn’t going to finish me but he was so strong that I couldn’t break his grips either. I could hear him breathing very hard in my ear and my face felt the effort of him using all his strength to try to finish a gi choke because my gi was being pulled across my face. He twisted my head so far that my neck cracked. I thought about tapping but I was feeling really stubborn about tapping to a non-choke.

The roll ended and I was sitting on the bench afterwards silently fuming. I found the roll unpleasant for all the reasons I mentioned above. But I have to admit the thing that really gets me upset about these rolls is that I don’t like thinking they are walking away from the roll feeling they beat me. After I’ve had some time to calm down I realize I am being prideful and ridiculous and gain proper perspective on the situation but in those minutes following a roll like that, I know I am just angry.

So even though I had thought about saying something to him after the roll, I did not because I knew mentally I was in a very sore loser state of mind and I didn’t want to be a jerk. As I was reflecting on the situation later though, I realized I probably should have said something. Whenever I will bring up someone using strength it is because I think they are over relying on it or using it in place of good technique. If I feel like they’ve managed to get something on me that they wouldn’t be able to get on most of the guys in the gym then I think it is ok for me to say something because with most of the guys they are going to need to use technique and not strength.

This was clearly one of those times. My partner had a significant size and strength advantage on me and had me trapped in an awful position. When he went for the submission and it didn’t work, he didn’t try to figure out what was wrong with the technique or what I was doing to defend it, he applied more muscle. Thinking back on it now I wish I had calmly looked up at him and said “hey I am not sure if you noticed but I’m a lot smaller than you and you are using all your strength to finish this choke and it’s not working…do you think maybe your technique might be off?”.

I really don’t want to be whiny about strength all the time and I am still going to be very choosy about when I say something. But I also know that in a situation like this it is to the benefit of both of us to point it out. I know that my partner was not maliciously trying to use strength against me, he is fairly new and that’s what new guys do. If I can help him tighten up his technique in the future it will be helpful for him when he’s going against people stronger than me (everyone else in the gym) and it will be helpful for me because he will no longer feel the need to smoosh me.

I think I will always wonder whether it’s appropriate to point out someone using strength, particularly because it’s hard to be objective when I am feeling prickly after being dominated in a roll. But sometimes I think it’s OK to point out that more power is not always the answer.

The Gentle Artist

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