Before I start let me offer my apologies for the delay between posts. Between tournament training, a client going live last week and me being a procrastinator and waiting until the day before they were due to do my taxes, my life has been quite hectic and the last week.
I am in the final preparations for the NY Open on Saturday and am feeling relatively good. I have trained like a maniac, followed my diet and am doing a lot of visualization to try to work on my mental game. The NY Open has been my focus for so long that I am eager to go and put all my hard work to the test.
But as much as I am looking forward to it and trying to use visualization and doing my best to listen to my coach about negative thoughts, I can’t help having moments of doubt. When they creep up I try to tell them to go away and start focusing on positive things but sometimes they just grab hold.
Yesterday was one of those times. As we sometimes do when people are about to compete, we did matches in my gym yesterday at the end of open mat. My coach first paired me up with a blue belt guy. It went awful. I didn’t want to try takedowns because I thought I had little shot of getting him down so I pulled guard but apparently not that well. He was able to get to a standing half-guard, grab my arm and go for a kimura. With him being much stronger than me and in good position from my crappy guard pull, he got it pretty easily and my “match” was over in about 20 seconds (and I might be adding 10 to make myself sound better). Well that was just the ego crusher I did not need while getting ready to compete.
My next match I was paired up with another blue belt girl. As we were going for position on our feet, she accidentally poked me in the eye. It hurt. I told my coach that I needed a minute and tended to my eye the best I could but they had (thankfully) moved on by the time I returned.
So I sat there watching the rest of the matches and cheering and offering advice when I could. After class I went to gather my stuff and sat on the bench, feeling defeated and beat up, exactly the opposite of how I should be feeling going into a competition.
I left the gym and the second the wind hit my eye it got extremely painful and watered like a fountain. I managed to get myself home, driving with only one good eye and running from the parking lot to my house to minimize the wind exposure in my eye. After I got in and cleaned up, I was sitting on the couch trying to mop up the water running out of my eye and feeling sorry for myself.
A BJJ friend of mine had texted me about something earlier and I answered her back and mentioned that I was having a bad BJJ night (anyone who trains gets this). She asked me what was up and I told her of my awful night and how I was feeling not so great about my BJJ just then.
She basically then did exactly what I needed and told me to snap out of it. She told me how much she likes training with me because of my drive, technique, strength and movement and that it was time I believed in myself because I was too good to have doubts.
I really appreciated the kind words and encouragement right when I needed it. This situation is sort of the epitome of the BJJ experience. I felt defeated and was feeling doubts about my ability to continue fighting and an awesome teammate was there to remind me that I needed to get over it and keep fighting.
Everyone has doubts about their jiu-jitsu whether they compete or not. What matters is how you respond. Do you back down and listen to that voice telling you that you are no good or do you stand up and fight? So as I am once again sitting on my coach dealing with a watery eye (saw the Dr. this morning after a rough night…just a scratch!), I am eagerly awaiting tonight’s class and matches. Today is a new fight and I plan to bring everything I have to the mat tonight.
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!
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: