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Do as I say

I will be the first person to admit that I train too much, I even talked about it in this post. This doesn’t only mean that I spend the majority of my free time training (I do) but also that I am sometimes (often) guilty of training when I know that I shouldn’t. Specifically I have trained through an injury in the past and I know that should I get injured in the future, I would probably do so again.

This is a hard thing for me to admit to everyone because I know that it is wrong. In my brain, I am thinking the same thing that the non-BJJ people in my life are thinking…are you nuts? I am nuts. My drive and desire to train jiu-jitsu is so strong that the physical discomfort I feel when I have an injury is often secondary to the mental anguish I suffer by staying off the mats.

Sure there are times when I have had injuries bad enough that I had to stay off the mats because I just couldn’t do anything. But even when this happens I know I come back before I should. Whereas in the past I would have used the excuse to not be active, now I am coming up with excuses why it is still ok to train. The longest I’ve had to abstain from training was for one month when I had concussion last year and I was MISERABLE. I found myself getting angry at everyone and everything and sitting on my couch depressed at night because I couldn’t go train. I even started watching WWE because I was so hungry for anything combat related. I started watching wrestling people!

This is just something I’ve learned to deal with when training and I know I am not alone. Someone once told me that if you are not nursing at least two injuries at a time than you are not doing jiu-jitsu right. So there you have it. I train while injured even though I know it’s probably not the smartest thing to do.

However I found myself in a somewhat uncomfortable position yesterday while chatting with another woman who trains at my gym. As I have mentioned before, I teach a women’s only class on Saturdays and this particular student was not in attendance yesterday. I was not surprised by this as I had heard through the grapevine that she had hurt her ribs. She asked me how class had gone and I asked her how her ribs were doing. She said they were still sore but she was coming back this week to train because she couldn’t stand being off the mat any longer. My mind immediately started thinking of the logical replies:  “don’t rush back”, “BJJ will always be there, take care of yourself”, “health is the most important thing”. But before my fingers could type what my brain was thinking, she sent me another message in which she basically said that she knew I would do the same thing.

Now besides being a person who overtrains, I also pride myself on being a woman of my word. I try my best to live an honest life and carry through on all my commitments. So when she said that she knew I would do the same, I found myself struggling to figure out what to say to her. She was right, I would do the same. I have done the same. I will most likely do the same again.

I like to think of myself as a mentor-type person to the newer women who train at the gym. I teach the women’s only class and I try to talk to them about what it’s like to train as a woman in a male-dominated sport. I try to tell them about mistakes I’ve made and lessons I’ve learned in the hopes that they can avoid them and maybe have a little smoother time as they transition into BJJ badasses.

So as someone who thinks of themselves as a mentor-type person, I couldn’t encourage her to train while injured, that would make me the most irresponsible mentor ever! However as someone who tries to be honest, I couldn’t lie and tell her I wouldn’t do the same. So we started talking about our mutual love of BJJ and the frustration of being injured. I eventually suggested to her that she come to class to try to drill but not roll at first. I also suggested that if there was an uneven number in class that she should work in the group of three so that she could take a break or not be grappling dummy while drilling if it was a move that hurt her ribs. These are things I have done while injured. While I miss rolling I find that drilling is better than no BJJ at all. The hardest part is making myself leave when the rolling starts.

But looking at the situation from the point of view of someone who is supposed to be something of a role model to the women who are just starting really made me think about my own training while injured. If I feel uncomfortable telling someone to train through an injury, why do I do it? If I had to answer that question I would say that my psychological need to train sometimes outweighs my physical wellbeing. Is this smart? No, probably not. But it’s true. So next time I am injured I am going to try to think about what I would tell one of the new students to do in the same situation. Does this mean I’ll stay off the mat an appropriate length of time? Honestly, probably not. But at least I’ll feel remorse about my bad decisions. That’s a start!


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.


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.

One of the guys

Lately some of the guys I train with have been telling me that I have become one of the guys. What this means in the shallowest context is that they will say things about girls who come in for the other classes or they will talk about their weekend shenanigans with no thought to edit it for a lady in the room. I roll my eyes and make sarcastic comments when they do it but I really don’t mind.

I don’t mind because I know it is their way of showing that they respect me and consider me one of them. One of my teammates told me “you’re one of us because you train like us”. It actually makes me really happy to hear them say things like that. I train like a maniac and it’s very hard for me because almost everyone I train with is stronger and bigger and sometimes it just sucks. So knowing that the guys see my hard work and respect me for it gives me the warm fuzzies. I am glad they don’t consider me to be different than them because we are all jiu-jitsu nuts at heart.

But I am different. Sometimes I can’t deny this. I often have my own changing room at the gyms I go to, that’s kind of nice. I don’t have to wear a cup which is both good and bad (the guys often use them as weapons!). I can’t wear a gi without anything underneath the jacket without causing controversy. These are basic differences we all know exist between men and women.

But I know I am not one of the guys when I roll too. It saddens me to admit that but it’s true. I know that sometimes the stronger guys have to completely hold back any use of strength in order not to just crush me and hold me down. I know that they often go to extra efforts to not put all their weight on me so I won’t get smashed. I know that for guys it is tricky to roll with girls sometimes and I really am appreciative of the guys who are not only willing but eager to train with me.

But as much as it is tricky for guys to roll with girls, it is equally tricky for girls to roll with guys. If a guy is using no strength on me than I don’t feel like I can use any on him and it just turns into a flow roll. On the other hand if a guy is using a ton of strength it is sometimes tricky to know whether it’s in my best interest to try to use strength back and thus encourage him to turn it up a notch or just go into defense mode and hope that I survive the round. And sometimes I can just feel my training partner’s lack of desire to be rolling with me, either because he is uncomfortable, afraid to hurt me or whatever reason and then it’s just an unpleasant roll for everyone.

This is not really a problem for me when I train at my gym because I know those guys so well and we are comfortable with each other, but I often go to other gyms to train and am faced with these awkward situations when rolling with new guys. I would like to point out that I am not complaining or trying to say these guys are jerks. I understand that it takes a tricky balance to roll with a girl when you are a big, strong dude and I really do appreciate any guy who will take the chance to train with me. But if you are a man who has ever had a difficult time trying to figure out how much strength and weight to use when rolling with a girl and find it to be somewhat puzzling, imagine being a girl who has to figure this out every roll!

So no matter how much I love rolling with the guys, it will always be different than rolling with girls. I know that they often have the capability to out-muscle me and escape techniques because of size and strength disparity. I have learned to handle strength much better and I know as I keep training and my technique gets better this won’t be as big an issue anymore but even when I can beat a strong guy with technique, he is still stronger and I have to adjust my style to handle that. The same goes for size. There are techniques to deal with someone bigger than you (isn’t BJJ supposed to be the small man’s defense?) but again you have to adjust your style of BJJ when fighting a big guy. How I roll with the guys will always be different than how I’d roll with girls who are closer to my size and strength.

While preparing for the NY Open I had the opportunity to train with women that I don’t typically train with. It made me realize how important training with women is, especially if you want to compete. It is a very different experience to be able to give 100% of your strength and technique to a roll and be able to handle your partner giving 100% back. Also it is so much easier to move around when your partner is closer to your size! The NY Open has come and gone but I have pledged to make it a priority to keep training with these women. I think that it is beneficial for us all plus it’s just really fun.

Now don’t get me wrong. I still love training with the guys. I will probably always train with guys more than girls, that’s just the nature of the sport. I also think that training with the guys is important for every woman, especially when you are training for self-defense. But if you are a woman and you want to compete, or you just want to know what it’s like not to be outsized and outstrengthed all the time, than I think it’s crucial for you to find other women to train with as well.

I enjoy my position as one of the guys at the gym. I earned it and I feel like I am one of them as well (you know from the training standpoint…boys are still hairy, smelly and gross). But I think now and then I just need to be one of the girls.

The danger of getting attached

I’ve been talking a lot with a friend of mine recently about something that happened at her gym. She has recently switched gyms and started training at my former weekend school and has fallen in love with BJJ all over again. She always loved it and trained regularly but now she’s found a gym that’s a better fit for her. I am extremely happy about her switching gyms as well because we are part of the same team now and can train together. Her old gym used to be affiliated with a certain large organization which recently disbanded amidst a ton of scandal (I won’t name names) and they did not allow training outside of said large organization.

When she moved gyms there was also a surprising spike in new female membership. At the beginning of the year there were only two women at the gym, one who has a hectic schedule and does not get to train that often and me who only trained there on the weekends. First my friend joined and then three new girls shortly after her. We tripled the girls in a matter of weeks!

For those of you who are not familiar with what happens to an experienced woman at the gym when a new woman joins, let me explain. I have discussed before that when there are two women training, it is just assumed by everyone that they will drill with each other. It does not matter if one is more experienced or they are nowhere near the same size, they are both chicks and therefore expected to train together.

So as an experienced female grappler, when you see a new woman come in, you know your destiny in class for the foreseeable future. I will admit that sometimes this is frustrating. Sometimes you might want to drill a move with resistance or to roll hard but you are drilling with someone who requires more time and patience to get through class. I realize that both men and women have this experience and that we have all been the new, confused person in class who couldn’t figure out how everyone was locking up a figure 4 for the triangle. It is just that when the new person is a woman, if there is another woman who trains, she is going to spend the majority of her time with the new person in contrast to a new man who has multiple training partners to choose from.

But I really can’t complain too much about this. As women we are particularly invested in keeping the new girls in class. Many women are lucky to have even one other woman at their gym so when a new girl shows up, the excitement over a potential training partner is big. We are willing to invest our time and our training in this new person in the hopes that they will be a good training partner for us in the future.

When I first started at my weekend school, I would be paired with the other woman who trained there every time we were in class together. She has almost 3 years more experience than me and I would often feel bad that she was spending her training time with my spazzy, white-belt self. I said something about it to her one day and she told me that we always want to help our training partners no matter what but that particularly we want to help the women. She told me that she’d help me however she could and that one day I would hopefully be able to pay it forward. I remember this often and always try to be a mentor to the new women who start at our gym.

So back to the present. My friend found herself in the position of being the mentor to all the new girls at the gym because she is there more than any of the others (especially me since I had to stop training there). This was the first time she had been in this position as she trained with higher belts at her old gym. The girls all bonded quickly and would not only hang out in class but also regularly text, Facebook message and plan fun nights out.

Just a couple of weeks ago I asked her how it was going with the girls at the gym and I tried to gently warn her that there was a possibility they might not stick with it. Since I was part of the gym when they started, I am still in the loop somewhat and I was recognizing the signs of someone who was losing interest in training. I have seen many people come and go at my gym and sometimes you just know when someone is not going to stick with it.

Well not surprisingly she texted me Monday and told me that the girl had just informed her that she was quitting. My friend was really upset about it because she felt she had invested a lot of time to help her and now it had gone to waste. I completely understood her frustration. I have been there. Not only are you losing a potential training partner but you’ve just invested weeks, maybe months of your own training time trying to help this person out and it was all for nothing. I also think that as people who are absolutely obsessed with jiu-jitsu it’s just hard for us to understand why anyone would quit anyway…it’s the best thing in the world!

Is it a waste of our time trying to help the new girls if we don’t know if they’re going to stick with it? I can honestly say that I don’t regret any of the time I’ve spent with the new girls at my gym. I would encourage her, and any other woman, to keep doing the same thing. It’s always going to stink when someone you tried to help decides that BJJ is not for them and leaves. You are always going to be sad to lose a potential training partner and friend. But they are not always going to quit BJJ. Every now and then someone will stick with it and you will know that you were a large part of that.

So women, keep helping those new girls out. BJJ is hard for anyone who is new but particularly for women and having you there is going to be a big help for them. Hopefully you will get the privilege of seeing some of them stick with it and then pay it forward with other new girls. And I am not leaving you out here guys. If there is a new girl at the school, drill with her every now and then. It’s good for everyone to have a variety of drilling partners and friendliness from some of the guys might help her feel more comfortable. We all have some BJJ kindness to pay forward.

Time for war

Finally it’s tomorrow, the NY Open! As I prepare for battle I have been thinking about competition a lot.

Probably anybody who has competed and lost has had a coach or training partner or friend tell them “it takes a lot of guts just to compete”. I have heard this after losing. I always figured it’s just something nice that people tell you when you’ve lost and they don’t know what else to say.

As I’ve been around competition and training more though I’ve realized that this is more than a consolatory phrase uttered to a defeated athlete who is wondering why they competed in the first place, it is the God’s honest truth. Competing in a jiu-jitsu tournament is about so much more than just fighting. You are going one on one with another person and putting yourself on display for all to see. The wear and tear on your psyche is far worse than what happens to your body (hopefully). Just the thought of doing this is so terrifying to some people that they will never step foot on a competition mat. Just by doing so you’ve won a battle that most people are afraid to fight.

One of the things that takes the most guts is going back to competition after a loss. I have seen more than a few guys at my gym go to their first competition with all the confidence and swagger that athletic people in their early 20s tend to have only to see their opponent’s hand raised at the end of the match. Later when the topic of another tournament comes up at the gym they say something along the lines of “I have to train more to be ready” or even the very honest “I don’t want to lose again”.

I hate to lose. When I do poorly in a tournament, I typically spend the next day moping on the couch, eating junk and thinking about why I keep doing this to myself and how I should just stop competing. Shortly after that I think about what I can learn from it. Then I drag my beaten, defeated body back to the gym and work to fix what went wrong at the tournament. It is always hard, especially that first day back when everyone wants to know how the tournament went, but I do it because I feel it’s the best way to improve.

I have worked everyday since my last tournament on improving my game. I have worked to be more aggressive, I have worked on my attitude and I have worked on my diet. I have spent most of every weekend tournament training, much of the time as the only girl fighting a bunch of big, scary dudes (that’s how I see them anyway).

I am ready to win tomorrow. I also know that it is possible I will not. No matter what if someone tells me afterwards that it takes a lot of guts just to compete I will smile and thank them because I know it’s true.

The key

I am deeply ensconced in preparation for the NY Open on April 20th. I have talked a lot about working on my mental game, which I am still doing, but I am also working on being very aggressive when rolling. I had an “aha” moment on Friday when training at a friend’s gym. I was rolling with people I hadn’t met before and I guess I reverted to a more passive, defensive game. It is something I didn’t even realize I was doing. I was about to roll for a second time with a white belt guy and he asked me “did you go easy on me before?”. Without thinking I told him I had not (I didn’t do anything consciously anyway) and he said “oh I just expected worse when I saw your blue belt”.

Now obviously this peeved me off a little bit. I thought “well if he wants more, I’ll give him more” and after we bumped fists I just attacked. I submitted him twice in the six minute roll. I took this attitude into the next couple of rolls and had similar success (they were all white belts but bigger than me…so it’s ok to beat them up!).

I tried to keep this killer mentality going into training on Sunday and it worked out very well for me. I even got some compliments from the guys (my favorite being one of the guys asking me “do you have a key for this lock?” in reference to his inability to break my guard…he said it was harder to break than some of the men’s!). I thought about my good weekend of training afterwards and I realized that getting in touch with my anger on Friday had really helped me roll aggressively.

I was very excited to take this new attitude into training last night and when class ended and open mat began, I eagerly prepared to roll. I rolled with my brown belt instructor first. No amount of aggression was going to help me there, he is just way too good. Next I rolled with another blue belt girl. I told her beforehand that I was in tournament mode and trying to be aggressive so to let me know if she wanted me to take it down a notch. She was a good sport while we rolled but I accidentally kneed her in the head once and I think I hit her in the face at some point and who knows what other nasty stuff I did that I didn’t catch or she didn’t mention. I rolled with one of the guys also competing in the NY Open next and similarly managed to hit him in the face a few times as well.

I think this is a large reason why getting in touch with my aggression is so hard. I was feeling like a badass going into class yesterday, ready to fight the world. After class I felt like a bully. I had beaten up on a teammate who weighs 25-30 pounds less than me and who is not training for a tournament and then I continued the trend in my next roll.

I got to thinking about this and why I felt so guilty after yesterday’s class and not after Friday or Sunday’s training. I think the difference is that these people are my regular training partners and my friends. I don’t want to hit my friends in the face (well most of them anyway). I didn’t really know any of the guys on Friday and Sunday we were training for a tournament so the expectation was we were going to go hard.

It got me thinking about what it means to be a good training partner. I am training for a tournament but the majority of people in the gym are not. Is it fair for me to be in tournament mode when I fight them? If you read any blogs or articles about annoying training partners, one of the top complaints is someone who goes ridiculously hard when rolling. I myself have complained about it!

But in this case I am training for a tournament. Am I being a jerk by going that hard when it is in preparation for a tournament in less than two weeks? Does being a good training partner also mean that you should be willing to go really hard for a while to help a teammate get ready?

I don’t want to let my desire to be nice and my guilt get in the way of my aggression, particularly when I can see what a difference it is making, but I also don’t want people to hate rolling with me. I guess the best solution for now is to roll with guys who are also getting ready to compete and to tell people to let me know if I am making them uncomfortable. I just figured out how to let me inner badass out and I cannot let her out of my site until after the tournament!

Always look on the bright side of life

Sorry again for the long delay in posts. I had a nasty cold come on Sunday and then had to go to a technology conference for work Tuesday and Wednesday which meant I was not training for a couple of days and not in front of a computer thus I had little to write about and no opportunity to do so.

Further impeding my ability to blog was an assignment given to me by my coach. I had a somewhat difficult weekend of tournament training (I go to other schools on Friday and Sunday for tournament training which means we go very hard) and was not feeling so great about my jits by the end of Sunday. During one of my matches the stripe on my belt (I am a one stripe blue belt) came off on the mat and I made a joke about how it had abandoned my belt in shame after my poor performance.

As I said I was not feeling great about my BJJ after Sunday’s training but this is not something that is unusual for me so I continued with business as usual and went about my day afterward. While hanging at my parent’s later in the day (as you recall it was Easter), I got a text from my coach. He told me that he really liked how I have been pushing myself and he saw some big improvements but he did not want to hear me say anything negative about my skills before the NY Open on the 20th.

At first I thought he was overreacting, I just made one little joke! But then I really thought about it and realized that he was right (as he usually is). I thought about the little things I was doing and saying all day that showed that I did not think I had any game. Not only was this obviously apparent to everyone around me–my coach was able to pick up on it despite pretty limited direct interaction–but it most likely affected my training as well.

I have myself noticed lately (and even blogged about it!) that when rolling if I think positively it really helps my game. Lately when I start to feel down about my game or doubt starts to creep in I think about the quote from Henry Ford “Whether you think you can, or you think you can’t–you’re right” (I have seen various versions of t this quote and am not sure which is correct but you get the idea).

So I thanked my coach and told him I was only joking but I did feel very flat that day (probably because a monster cold was invading my body) but I had made myself push through and was happy I had done at least that. He then told me that he was very serious about me not saying anything negative before the tournament and that I would see a big change if I followed his advice.

So I am doing what my coach says and it is very hard. A huge part of BJJ is mental. I think everyone at some point in time has thought that they are the most untalented person to step foot on a mat and they should just give up because clearly BJJ was not meant for them. Moving past this self-doubt is probably a huge part of advancing.

So although I know that there are things I need to work on, I’m only going to focus on the positive for the next couple of weeks and hopefully go into the open ready to take on the world. In the interest of being positive I am going to make a list of things I think I am good at in BJJ.  They are, in no particular order:

  • Shoulder pressure – I have the nastiest shoulder in my gym, it is just the right size and shape to choke people.
  • Chokes – my choke game is tight.
  • Half-guard passes – I always manage to get into half-guard and thus have much practice with this.
  • Holding guard – Being smaller and weaker than everyone means I have had a lot of opportunity to work my guard and it is super hard for even the boys to break it.
  • I am tough – You have to be when you are a girl who trains with  men 95% of the time.
  • Back escapes – I very rarely get choked out from the back.
  • Turtle – I can flatten myself into the shape of a rock if needed.

Wow that was a longer list than I envisioned it being when I started it. So see? I am good at more than I would typically give myself credit for. I am going to focus on this list and try to get myself into these positions where I feel I can dominate.

And now because I referenced it in the title and because it’s Friday and because you cannot hear this song and not smile, here you go…enjoy!

The Gentle Artist

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