Back in the saddle

I had kind of big moment in my quest to get back to pre-injury me last weekend. My gym held its first in-house no-gi tournament. This was the second time we had an in-house tournament at the gym, the first being a gi tournament in October right after I started training again after initially hurting my knee. I went to the tournament in October and ran a table but inside I was miserable watching my teammates and friends compete, knowing I wasn’t physically able.

I have known this tournament was coming for a while and as soon as it was announced (late December if I recall), I made the decision that come hell or high water, I was going to compete this time. So I’ve been training for a while knowing in the back of my head that I was going to finally compete again after 8 months. Although this was probably not the same thing as going to the Pan Ams or something, we do have some awesome competitors in the Philadelphia area and I knew it would be a challenge for me.

Since I want to get back to competing more, I thought this would be a good way to get my feet wet, thinking it would be less pressure and easier to compete at an in-house. I also wanted to see how the knee handled competition. Even though I have decided I should start competing again, I wouldn’t say that my knee is exactly in agreement so I was nervous about that.

Mostly I was right that this was a good way to re-introduce myself to competing. Although there is an element of pressure when you are competing in your gym, and it seems I have ability to work myself into a state of nervous nausea no matter the environment, it was definitely more laid back than your bigger tournaments.

I ended up being in a 3 person division with someone I was familiar with but did not know personally until last weekend and another person I know very well and very much enjoy training with. We had competed once before and she beat me so I gently nudged her into this tournament, joking that I wanted my chance at revenge.

I first fought the person I didn’t know and managed to take her back and submit her via RNC. In a moment of absurdity on the mat, I was close to getting into a fight with the ref…who also happened to be my coach. As it was our tournament he was reffing a mat and I was fighting on his mat. We had to reset at one point because we got too close to the other mat. We had been in turtle and I managed to get my opponent over and slide into side control. He stopped us and put us back in the middle and told us to get into turtle. I told him I was in side control. He told me no, I was in turtle. I came very close to continuing to fight about it but I realized it wouldn’t be worth it. Many times in these situations it’s your coach fighting with the ref about it and here I was ready to fight with my coach. In the end it didn’t matter but just for the record, I have seen the video my opponent posted of the fight and I was definitely in side control (someday when I am feeling brave I will point that out to my instructor…so probably never). Oh well, no one can claim that he was easy on me!

My second fight was against my friend. We had a very back and forth battle, so much so that when it ended and I saw the score was 2-0 I asked who had the 2 because I wasn’t sure. Apparently it was me so I ended up winning the division and getting this neat medal.

I must defend this house!

I must defend this house!

Mostly I am happy with how the tournament went. It felt good to compete after 8 months and although my knee was problematic before and after the fights, I didn’t notice it on the mats (adrenaline and fear are great painkillers). My goals for the tournament were to be aggressive, not pull guard and stay on top and I felt that I executed them well for the most part.

However I still have lots to work on. I spent a lot of time scrambling so I wouldn’t end up on the bottom with my friend and she was very good at defending everything I tried, probably one of the drawbacks of us training together fairly often! She also could have easily taken the win, I think that the 2 points I got came at the beginning when she tried a takedown and missed it and I just fortuitously fell on top of her. She also came close to passing at the end and would have won had she done so. Oh and did I mention we are likely to fight again in two weeks in NY (as we are the only two in our division thus far I would even say highly likely)? So I definitely want to tighten up those holes, gi is much more her game and I know she’s going to give me hell.

I always tell people that I don’t care about winning or losing at a tournament as long as I feel I went out there and did everything I was capable of. So I have to consider this tournament a success. I have a lot to work on but much to build off as well. These were my first wins as a blue belt and I hope to continue the streak!

This is my bjj bestie, we both won our divisions and were pretty impressed with each other

This is my bjj bestie, we both won our divisions and were pretty impressed with each other

Haunted

I always find it interesting the way people find their submissions in jiu-jitsu. Some people just have a physical makeup that makes it easy. For example, if you are a person who has long legs than chances are that from day 1 people have told you that you should be going for triangles.

I do not have a physique that made it obvious for me to find a submission. I have short arms and legs, I am shorter than most of the guys I train with and I cannot rely on my strength for much. I spent a long time trying to find my submission (to be honest I spent at least the first year of my training being smashed from bottom and it never occurred to me to think of doing any type of offense). Eventually I found that I was good enough at shoulder pressure to make it my “thing” and I learned how to build submissions off of that.

For me that is largely how jiu-jitsu training has gone. Many times I have gotten it in my head that I was going to be good at something and tried to force it when I trained. I have been largely unsuccessful at this. However there are things I never set out to be good at but I found while I was training and learned how to use to my advantage. I find myself in positions over and over again and then it forces me to learn how to deal with them. I play half guard a lot but that is not something I set out to do. I just kept finding myself there (I think that I am just incapable of passing guard or escaping guard all at once, I have to do it little by little). I very often have told people “I didn’t choose half guard, half guard chose me”.

So a few months ago, I discovered that I was catching people’s arms a lot when they posted on the ground or after a sweep and I realized that there were straight armbars to be had from there. I continually went after them for a while. I think that I only ever finished one and that was on a fairly new white belt (still counts!) but it was fun to catch arms and at least threaten them. Around December-ish I was stuck in traffic and thinking about jiu-jitsu (as I do) and it occurred to me that even though I wasn’t having much luck finishing the straight armbars, I could transition to a belly down armbar from that position.

Ever since then I have been consumed by this transition. It haunts me. I think about it when I wake up, while I am at work and before I go to bed. I asked Santa for this transition for Christmas but the fat bastard did not deliver. A few times during rolling I have gotten so far as to get into position for the belly down armbar but I have not been able to finish.

That belly down armbar has eluded me for months which has only made me more obsessed with it. I can’t explain why but in my heart I know that someday that finish will be mine.

Broken

This is pretty much the theme of my life right now. I feel like my body is broken, my training is broken and thanks to an aggravating incident a couple of weeks ago, my car is also broken (see what I did there? I made you feel bad for me so that you wouldn’t hold it against me that I haven’t posted anything in a long time).

Since I’ve been MIA for a while, you might be wondering what I’ve been up to in the last 3 weeks or so. My life has continued much as it has for the last 6 months. I am embroiled in what feels like a never-ending battle with my knee. Sometimes I think the only thing that changes is that I get increasingly despondent about it.

I feel like I’ve tried everything I can to make the knee pain go away and nothing has worked. I have taken time off multiple times (the longest stretch for about 6 weeks), I did physical therapy, I have been to two orthopedists, had a couple of injections in my knee, ice, heat, elevation, compression, anit-inflammatories…nothing seems to be helping it get better!

It’s not even really the pain that I find to be the upsetting part (although I’m not gonna lie, I would like to arrive at work one of these days walking instead of limping), it’s the fact that I cannot train like I used to anymore. I feel the effects of my bad knee in all aspects of my training. Not only can I not attend class as much as I want to, I find it difficult to do cardio training that doesn’t aggravate my knee. As a result when I actually do get to train, I can tell that I am slow and I gas so much easier now. I also do not have the ability to be as quick because of my knee which means I am spending a lot of time getting smashed on bottom. I have had some great opportunities to train recently and every time I do, I end up feeling aggravated and depressed because I feel like I am functioning at about 50% of what I used to be capable of.

We hosted our monthly women’s open mat this weekend and I felt so terrible about my rolling afterwards that I stubbornly declared to myself that I was done working around this knee. If it was going to hurt no matter what I did then I was going to train as much as I want to! So of course I have spent the last two days in excruciating pain. It’s as if my knee heard me and decided to show me who was boss.

Most of the time I know that this is just something I have to learn to deal with to keep training. It’s one of those cases where jiu-jitsu imitates life and even though I have grand plans of the training I want to do, jiu-jitsu has other plans for me. But sometimes in my darker hours I wonder if life is trying to tell me that jiu-jitsu is not for me. I feel like part of my personal jiu-jitsu journey has been about proving that even though I am not the biggest, strongest person on the mat, I still belong there. I have always felt a certain pride that I am tough enough to go out and train with 20 or more guys, often being the only woman on the mat. Lately I feel like I have failed at this and I wonder if I will ever be able to be successful.

In the end, I can’t imagine a jiu-jitsuless existence but I am hoping something helps with my knee soon. I just want to train!

Too self-conscious to roll?

Since the day I first started training jiu-jitsu, I have been in love with rolling. I love drilling too (I have learned to appreciate it more the longer I’ve been training), but to this day I often find myself anxiously looking at the clock during class waiting for the time when we start to roll. This is one of the reasons that my continuing knee saga has been so aggravating. I have to limit my rolling and I really, really miss it.

So it’s been somewhat of a surprise to me that I’ve come across several people recently that have confessed that they are very self-conscious when they roll and thus they are not feeling the love for rolling that I do. When I’ve asked them why, a lot of it centers around feeling like they are doing everything wrong and everyone watching knows it. This also occurs when rolling with upper belts who they are sure are mentally cataloging everything they do wrong during the roll. Another point of particular anxiety seems to be when a higher belt will try to give them something while rolling and they don’t know what it is.

I am by nature a very insecure person so I began to wonder why it was I never felt this way. Could it be because I have always just been so good at jiu-jitsu that there was nothing to feel self-conscious about? Um no, that is clearly not it. I think part of it was just because I found rolling so fun that it didn’t occur to me to be self-conscious about it. Also I had a somewhat unique experience when I first started training in that the jits program was new at my gym so pretty much everyone was a beginner. Thus I had some training under my belt before I regularly got the chance to roll with higher belts. I was actually so eager to get the chance to work with higher belts when I was new (something that has never gone away) that I can’t imagine being anxious about it. Well that’s not entirely true, the first two times I got to roll with my instructor, I was so nervous that I kicked him in the face.

I have felt the embarrassment of being certain that a higher belt was trying to feed me something and not knowing what it was. I have always found that the best thing to do in this situation is just to ask. When I started training at a second gym, I used to roll with one of the instructors a lot and we would inevitably come to a point (usually 2 or 3 times) when he would stop moving and I just knew he was trying to give me something but I had no idea what. At first I felt really embarrassed that I didn’t know and I’d try to just keep going. I realized that was a pretty silly thing to do as he was trying to teach me. So instead of feeling embarrassed or trying to pretend that I didn’t know he was setting me up, I’d stop and say something like “I’m sorry, I know you are trying to give me something but I don’t see it”. Unsurprisingly he did not laugh and tell me I had no future in jiu-jitsu but would instead point out our positions and what was available to me that I had not seen. Not only did I find this was not an embarrassing thing to do but I also discovered this was a great way to learn.

In fact this happened as recent as last night. I got to roll with my instructor and he asked me why I gave up on something when I had him in side control with a gift wrap. I told him I didn’t really know what was available there and we spent the majority of the roll with him showing me options from there. I don’t look at it as I did something wrong or feel embarrassed about it. He is a second degree black belt and I am a blue belt, he obviously has knowledge I don’t and can see things I can’t and I was glad he showed me some more finishes from there (and also can’t wait to try them).

So that would be my advice on how to handle feeling embarrassed when you don’t know what a higher belt is trying to give you. But I find I don’t know what to say to people who are feeling self-conscious about people watching them when they roll. I wish I could think of some sage advice to give my friends because I believe that if you are not enjoying rolling, you are likely not going to keep training and I would hate to see people quit because they are afraid of being judged on the mat.

So I am curious whether or not anyone else out there has felt this kind of anxiety and what they did to overcome it. Does it just take more time training? Does anxiety go away the first time you tap a blue belt in which case I’ve unknowingly helped many people overcome it 🙂  Any and all advice would be appreciated.

 

Note:  for some more insight and advice for dealing with jiu-jitsu guilt as I discussed last week,check out “A Skirt on the Mat” and Jiu Jiu’s blog where they also discussed it.

Guilty

Jiu-jitsu guilt. Chances are that if you are one of those people who are guilty of overtraining, you are familiar with this emotion. It can be felt on the rare occasions when you are forced to miss a class and frequently results in a case of the cold sweats and shakes around class time induced by the certainty that they are probably teaching the one thing that would bring your entire jiu-jitsu game together that night.

I have discussed this before as it is a syndrome that I am all too familiar with. I have tried to cope with it and allow myself to have some sort of a social life but just when I thought I might get my jiu-jitsu guilt under control, I discovered two new types of jiu-jitsu guilt.

About 6 months ago, I found myself in a jiu-jitsu funk that I could not shake. I had overtrained and overcompeted and I reached a point where I could not drag myself to class. Instead of feeling guilty because I was upset to miss class, I found that I was feeling a lot of guilt about the fact that I didn’t want to go at all. This only made the whole situation worse. Either I would feel guilty enough that I would go to class even though I didn’t want to and then be miserable or my desire to not go would win and I would spend the next day mired in my own guilt.

I found that these types of jiu-jitsu guilt were feeding nicely off of each other. I did my best to come to terms with the fact that it was ok for me to not go to jiu-jitsu every time the opportunity presented itself and I worked at having a healthy training/social life balance. Sometimes if I felt like training all week, I did. If I felt like having dinner with a friend one night, I did that too. The guilt didn’t go away entirely but I at least stopped hyperventilating every time I was not at the gym during class time. Then came jiu-jitsu guilt type 3.

A few months ago, I hurt my knee and I ended up taking about 6 weeks off of training while waiting for diagnosis (sprained ligament) and treatment (4 weeks of PT). Because this happened when I was barely coming out of my funk, I was able to take the time off and not bristle too much as I really thought I needed it anyway. By the time I was cleared to start training again, I was more than ready to come back and I thought I would get back to training just as I had before.

For a while this worked. I was training about half as much as I was when I was training all the time so that I had time for other activities and time for my knee to recover after training. Eventually I got to the point where I wanted to ramp up training and get ready to start competing again. I was quite excited that I was mentally back to where I wanted to be. However I quickly found that I was not physically back. As I began to up my training, I found that my knee was hurting more and more. It has gotten to the point that I had to go back to the doctor this week and get it re-evaluated.

So you might be wondering what is the 3rd type of jiu-jitsu guilt I mentioned? Since I’ve had to back off of training again I often feel guilty that I am not tough enough to train through this injury. Logically I know that it is ridiculous to feel bad that I am resting my knee so that it doesn’t get worse. However, we live in a culture where people overcoming sports injuries are sensationalized and rewarded. If you follow football, you are probably familiar with the story of Adrian Peterson coming back from an ACL/MCL tear to lead the league in rushing the next year.

If you don’t follow football there is probably a good chance (since you are reading this blog) that you do follow jiu-jitsu. Most of my social media feeds are filled with at least 75% jiu-jitsu related information (the other 25% is made up of the few friends I have and grumpy cat). But if you train then you do not have to follow every jiu-jitsu athlete and page to understand what the jiu-jitsu culture is like. We are warriors. We train through injuries that would stop normal people. Chances are that most people on the mat on any given day are dealing with at least one injury.

Last week I saw an image of woman training in which the description stated she had just finished cancer treatment and had children at home and ended with the line “What’s your excuse?”. I know of a black belt in my area who was back to training a week after having knee surgery. If people are training through cancer and knee surgeries than what kind of jiu-jitsuer am I to let a sprained ligament stop me?

Like I said, in my brain I know this is kind of ridiculous. But in my heart I am feeling like maybe I am not tough enough to be a jiu-jitsu badass. I know that so much of jiu-jitsu is mental and this is just another challenge I have to figure out to progress in training. Here’s hoping I figure out the solution quickly, or better yet, my knee gets miraculously better. I am tired of being a victim of jiu-jitsu guilt.

A lost puppy

I had an interesting start to 2014. But before I get into that, let me explain a little why I have been absent from the blogosphere for so long. Yes it is true that I had a lot of work stress and all the holiday merriment took its toll but I also have to admit that part of the reason I have been so silent is that I have not been in a good place with training. I continue to deal with the pain from my injured knee and I also managed to injure the good knee as well. The second injury is doing much better but because it was hurt for a while, I ended up having to put more weight on my bad knee and it is in a lot of pain.

I have been really down about the fact that my body seems to be at war with my soul. I want nothing more than to get back to the mats full time and resume my pre-injury training regime but my body seems to be telling me that it is not ready. So that’s what I’ve been up to…now back to the start of 2014.

I had decided early in the week that I did not want to do anything for New Year’s Eve. I was talking to a friend who also mentioned that she was planning to stay home and we decided to do nothing together.

So we spent New Year’s Eve watching TV and movies and eating Chinese food and cookies. It was actually very relaxed and fun and just the low-key kind of night I was hoping for. When she left to go home, I walked her to the front door of my building because I live in a labyrinth of hallways that my friends often have trouble navigating.

When she opened the door to go outside, we noticed a dog had been sitting at the door and he came rushing into the building. I immediately recognized him as another resident’s dog. I often see him being walked and I know his owner tends to walk him without a leash so I figured that the owner was also on the way in. My friend looked outside and said she didn’t see anyone out there and I realized that the dog was not wearing the harness I usually see him in when walking (I realize I might sound sort of like a creepy stalker but I just really love animals so I tend to notice them).

Once I assured my friend that I knew the dog belonged in the building and I’d get him home, she left and I waited in the lobby for a while, figuring that the dog had escaped his owner and the owner would soon come to claim him. As I waited, other residents and their guests came down and I asked them all if they knew who the dog belonged to. No one did (and many seemed to have had a little too much fun ringing in the new year so were not much help).

I started to worry that the dog’s owner was not going to come in and I started to wonder what I could do at that time (around 1:15am) to find him. I didn’t think my neighbors would take too kindly to me knocking on everyone’s door and asking “do you know this dog?”. Every time the elevator opened the dog tried to get on it and it occurred to me that I had seen him on the elevator with his owner many times. I was pretty sure that the dog and his owner lived close to me as I have seen them in my hall lots of times so I called the elevator and prepared to head to my floor.

As soon as the elevator opened, the dog got in and looked at me as if he was waiting for me to follow. I got in and pushed the button for my floor. When we stopped on the floor the dog got out and once again waited for me to follow. As I started to wonder what direction I should take him to look for his owner, he calmly started walking down the hall. I realized he was now in charge and resigned myself to following him to see where we would end up.

He very slowly and calmly led me through the same labyrinth of halls I’d just helped my friend through. He would occasionally stop to sniff something or listen to a noise until eventually he took a seat on the welcome mat in front of a door. I thought he might have sat down to take a break from walking (he is an adorably lazy bulldog of some kind) but he looked up at me in a way that made me think that he was pretty sure this was his house. I had some reservations about knocking on the door in case the dog was wrong as it was now almost 1:30 but when I looked at him again, he was still calmly looking up at me with a lot of certainty in his eyes.

I knocked and waited to see if I was about to really piss off a neighbor or about to become someone’s best friend for returning his dog. No one answered. I tried again a little louder and still no one came to the door. I started to worry again. What if the owner was asleep and couldn’t hear me? What if he was out of town? What was I going to do with the dog? I decided that I should take him to my condo and come up with a plan to find the owner. It was too late to knock on everyone’s door so if nothing else, I figured he could spend the night in my house and we could find his owner in the morning.

I tried to call the dog and get him to follow me but he just sat there looking at me curiously. I tried to move him by grabbing the scruff of his neck but he would not budge. Right or wrong, he decided he was home. I stood in the hallway for a while wondering what to do. I thought I could probably leave him there and his owner would get home eventually but I couldn’t bring myself to leave him alone in the hall.

I looked down at him again ready to plead with him to move but he had such a strong, steady look in his eyes that I knew it would not work. He had been on a journey I knew nothing about and found his way home. He was not going to leave it for me or anything else.

As I began to wonder if people would think I was weird for sleeping in the hall, I heard the door to the stairs open and around the corner came the dog’s owner. He stopped in shock in the middle of the hallway and then smiled. I walked up to meet him and explained I had found his dog outside the building. He told me the dog had been missing for a while. I didn’t think at the time to ask how long but clearly longer than that night.

I couldn’t help but ask if the dog was indeed sitting in front of his house and his owner confirmed that yes he was. I told him that I was glad the dog had found his way home and then headed off to my condo and my bed. However once I got there I couldn’t stop thinking about the strange circumstances that led the dog home that night.

I do tend to believe that things happen in life for a reason and I kept wondering why the universe had sent me a lost dog that night. Most of us are probably familiar with the saying that someone is following someone around like a lost puppy. However in this case, instead of the lost puppy following me around, he very calmly and assuredly led me to where he needed to go. I started to think about my frustration with training and how it was all stemming from me not being able to do what I used to do. I think maybe the universe was trying to tell me that sometimes I have to let go of what I believe is the right path and follow the lost dog to see where I’m meant to go.

Pulling the trigger

When rolling last week I noticed something that I was not overly happy about. I find that I am very rarely going for submissions anymore (the exception being of course the arm triangle, my favoritest submission ever).

Since I like to over analyze everything I spent a lot of time wondering why it was that I am not going for submissions more. If you’ve been training for any length of time, chances are that you’ve heard the saying “position before submission”. I understand this sentiment and could not agree with it more but I think that I am in more of a “position before position” frame of mind.

Some time ago I discovered that a good way to cope when I feel like I am being out-muscled is to concentrate more on position and transitions rather than on submissions (rhyming unintentional but thoroughly enjoyed). I found that I had much more success this way. Instead of going for a submission, having the person get out and then being in a bad position myself I was focusing on getting to top positions and just maintaining that position.

I found that I really enjoyed rolling this way and I was getting better at maintaining positions and controlling stronger opponents. I highly recommend this approach if you are someone who feels like you are at a strength disadvantage. However I think I’ve gotten to a point where I am just content to get a position and hold onto it rather than go for the finish.

I don’t necessarily think that is a bad approach to jiu-jitsu but since I am looking to compete again soon I feel like I need to go for the kill more. I also feel like I’m getting a bit stagnant so I am hoping to shake things up. But I know this is going to be a hard goal for me.

Probably most of you have had the experience of setting up a submission on someone who is bigger and stronger than yourself and having them use that strength to get out of it. This is something that I have experienced a lot. For example, I feel like every time I go for an armbar from guard that my partner ends up getting their arm out and then passing my guard. Some of this is because they are stronger than me. Some of this is probably because my technique is off (just the tiniest bit of course). By deciding to go for submissions I have to accept that I will most likely end up in bad positions more often. This is not something I will enjoy but I know it’s the only way to get the technique right.

I also know that if I want to start hunting for submissions more that I have to take my aggression up a notch. This is something I continually have trouble with for many reason. It’s difficult for me to do something that I think is “mean”. I know this is ridiculous because we are all involved in a combat sport but I still struggle with it. I find this is a particular concern of mine when rolling with women, particularly the new ones. Having been smashed so many times when I was new, I really don’t want to be the smasher who discourages another woman from training.

I think too that there is some fear about being overly aggressive when I am training with the guys because my aggression will lead to their aggression and I am always worried about the ability for me to physically handle that aggression. I don’t think this is ever a concern that I could (or really should) get rid of entirely but I do have enough training partners that I trust that I should be able to take it up a notch at least some rolls.

So I’ve decided to focus a little bit more on submissions when I’m rolling, even if that means I lose a good position or I have to take my aggression to a higher level. I’m thinking of setting a quota for submission attempts for myself at the beginning of the night and not getting off the mat until I’ve met it. If I get to a point I feel comfortable doing that, I might start setting quotas for finishing submissions (starting with 1 a week, ha!). It’s going to be challenging but I feel like I am at the point I can get the position, now it’s time for the submission!

Lots of ladies

Every month at my gym we host a women’s open mat. They are open to all women and they are quite fun. It’s a great chance for us to get the experience of training with other women. They have not typically been hugely attended with our average being around 6 women, but hey, that’s about 5 more than I am used to getting to train with!

However the stars aligned in favor of women jiu-jitsuers in the Philadelphia area during our November open mat and 23 women came to train. 23 women!!! This was only the third time in my training career that I had seen 20 or more women in one room to train and the other two events I had paid for (not that they weren’t totally worth it).

I really don’t know if I can make the guys understand what a rare treat this is for us ladies. In my gym there is a chance that any class you attend will have 20 or more guys there to train with. In order for us to get that many women we had to host an open mat, mobilize people from other gyms and advertise in women’s grappling groups. We had a couple of people come from about 2 hours away just for the chance to train with some women. One of them, a purple belt, said it was the first time she had gotten to roll with a woman who was her rank or above.

Every time I get the chance to train with a lot of women, particularly women I don’t train with often, I am struck with the realization of how different it is than rolling with the guys. Instead of dealing with being outsized and outstrengthed, I have to adapt to smaller, quicker opponents. I actually found myself getting frustrated at one point and thinking “these girls never stay still!”.

When thinking about this later it occurred to me that this might be how the guys I train with feel about me. I have often heard guys say that rolling with the women is challenging because they are technical and squirmy but it’s not something I’ve experienced a lot since most of my training is with guys. It was really eye opening. I started to understand why the urge is there to just lay on top of someone and hold them down (but I still don’t like having this done to me…I haven’t evolved that much).

I also began to wonder what my jiu-jitsu would be like if I trained with that many women all the time. I feel like I, as well as probably lots of women who train, have had to adapt my jiu-jitsu so that I can deal with size and strength. What kind of game would I have if I trained with women all the time? Perhaps I’d be the smasher? Probably I won’t ever find this out but I do find it intriguing.

As awesome as women’s open mat was, I also find these events to be somewhat bittersweet. Having a rare glimpse of what it would be like if there were as many women who trained as men is a bit of a tease. Rolling with someone who is more evenly matched to you physically is very different than rolling as the smaller/weaker person most of the time. Although I love the guys I train with and enjoy it, it’s really fun to roll with people who don’t have the option to smash you sometimes.

However I know that we are still some time away from being anywhere close to equaling the number of guys who train. In the meantime I will continue to enjoy the challenges that come with training with the guys and look forward to events like open mat where I get to mix it up with the ladies.

The ladies who came to women’s open mat

A + B does not always equal C

In my last post I discussed how jiu-jitsu has forced me to stop overthinking everything and learn to roll in the moment. I am going to continue the theme of how jiu-jitsu has forced me to think outside the box and address another topic my brain has trouble with:  the lack of repeatable results.

I have always been drawn to math. There’s something about numbers and their relationships that appeals to me. I can still remember learning about the divisibility by 9 rule (explained here). It rocked my world. I was able to figure out the divisibility by 3 rule after that and to this day I still often add up numbers to see if they are divisible by 3, 6 and/or 9 (some people may think that is nerdy, some people may say it’s a little obsessive compulsive but I prefer to think of it as adorable).

I find comfort in equations and formulas knowing that I can always predict the results based on a series of steps. I make a living writing computer programs. My job is to produce repeatable results. Given the same input, the output should always be the same. I am used to living my life very algorithmically. I think in sequences of events. I like to know that if I do A and B that the outcome will always be C. Now enter jiu-jitsu where almost nothing is repeatable or predictable.

Early on in my training I regularly found myself trying to figure out what the next step would be when I was drilling a move. Often when I would ask my instructor, the answer would contain some variation of “it depends on your partner’s reaction”. I found this very unsatisfactory. I just want to get to C. Tell me what A and B are and we can all go home happy.

But of course there is no equation to jiu-jitsu that results in the same outcome all the time. There is so much that is not under your control. Different partners will react to the same setup differently. Even the same partner will react in different ways. Just the other night I was rolling with someone and he tried to put a triangle on me, I did an escape and got out. Not two minutes later he put me in another triangle (it’s triangle week at the gym), I did the same escape and he didn’t budge and I had to tap. There is nothing logical about that! Within a span of seconds I did the same experiment with the same steps and got two different results.

Early on my desire to think formulaically really stifled my training. If I was getting in a bad position a lot I would ask my instructors ways to get out of it. They would often show me a couple of escapes to use depending on what your partner was doing. I would pick one and decide I was going to use it. I would then get really frustrated when I would apply the escape and it wouldn’t work. YOU TOLD ME THIS WAS A SIDE MOUNT ESCAPE AND I DID IT YET I AM STILL IN SIDE MOUNT! What I didn’t realize was that I was ignoring the part where I worked off of what my partner was giving me.

I was also so focused on sequences of events that I often wasn’t paying enough attention to what I was drilling that day. I would find myself thinking about what came before the move and after and what the desired outcome would be and I wasn’t working hard enough to learn the move itself.

As I mentioned in my last post, I soon discovered that my typical way of thinking was not always beneficial to me in jiu-jitsu. I made the decision to stop trying to process everything logically while I was rolling and concentrate more on acting instinctively to what my partner was doing. I found that not only was my jiu-jitsu getting better by doing this but I was having more fun and feeling less frustrated.  My ways of thinking have changed so much that when a student asked me last week what the next step would be from a guard pass I showed her, I said “well it depends on what your partner does”. I have become everything I used to hate.

So jiu-jitsu made me think outside of my very cozy, logical box and learn to rely on instinct. It also forced me to realize that my next move was not always going to be under my control so I had to learn to work with what was given to me. Of course these are lessons that not only apply to the mats but also carry over into everyday life.

This change in thinking has been a big part of my jiu-jitsu transformation and I will always be grateful for it. I think it will always be difficult for me to explain to the non jiu-jitsu people in my life why jiu-jitsu is good for the soul but this is a huge part of it. Through jiu-jitsu I have had to do things both physically and mentally that I never thought I was possible of and I know I have become a better person because of it.

Shut it off

I think a lot. I know that seems like a pretty lame confession but it’s long been both a terrific asset and a terrible downfall of mine. On the one hand I tend to think through everything and make what I feel are logical, rational decisions. On the other hand I often overthink things, imagine the worst possible outcome, convince myself it will happen and then paralyze myself with indecision and fear.

I find this thinking duality exists in jiu-jitsu as well. My tendency to think through things has been very helpful in jiu-jitsu. While drilling in class I will often try to think about what the situation would be where I would use the move we are drilling, whether it’s a move that I think I will be able to apply to my own game, what I could do to get into the move, what I could do after the move and so on. After class I will drive home thinking about my rolls…what went right, what went wrong, what positions I am getting stuck in, etc. I will begrudgingly admit that I often even wake up in the middle of the night and end up laying there thinking about my current jiu-jitsu problems. It’s a bit obsessive maybe but I think it’s all been beneficial in helping me learn.

Somewhat early on in my grappling career though I realized that there was a time where my tendency to think through things rationally and slowly was not helping me at all. That time would be when I am rolling. I would often get stuck in bad positions and just lay there doing nothing while I thought through my options. What escapes do I know from here? How did I get here? What are the risks if I try a certain move? Not surprisingly by the time I had rationally and thoroughly thought through my next move, it was irrelevant because my partner had most likely moved onto something else or, even more likely, submitted me.

I started to realize that when it came to rolling, it was going to be more beneficial for me to turn off my brain and just let my body do its thing. This was by no means an easy thing. I am a thinker! I feel like my mind is always going and shutting it off is not something I’ve had much success with in the past. I am a horrible sleeper and I think part of the reason is that my brain just won’t shut up.

I was determined though to stop letting my brain take over my rolls and concentrate on letting my body do what it wanted. I quickly found that this was making my rolls a lot better. Most jiu-jitsu practitioners know that the best time to get out of a bad position is when your partner is still in transition. I realized that by spending so much time thinking about what to do next, I was missing my chance to take advantage of the moment.

To my surprise I also found that I was enjoying rolling so much better this way. I thought it would be a struggle to get out of my own brain for a while but I actually enjoyed the break from being a pragmatic overthinker. This is probably one of the qualities that I enjoy most about jiu-jitsu, the chance to stop thinking about everything and just rely on instinct and muscle memory.

Of course there are still times when my brain gets too much in the way and this sometimes leads to frustration and anger on the mat. I often see the same frustration when rolling with the newer students. I can see their mind working and feel the paralyzing indecision gripping their bodies. I often want to tell them “just stop thinking!” but I figure that would probably only be more confusing.

While I know that there is definitely a strong intellectual component to jiu-jitsu, I have learned that in the heat of battle, it is best for me to shut off my brain and let my body do what I have trained it to do. If you are finding yourself getting super frustrated on the mat because you can’t think of what to do next, I challenge you to stop thinking about your next move and just do it.

The Gentle Artist

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