So first let me start this post by apologizing for the ridiculously long amount of time I spent not blogging. Last you heard from me I had just found out I had a herniated disc in my back and I had to stop training. I basically took the summer off, went to PT, did a lot of walking and am happy to report that I am not feeling symptoms from the disc.
I went back to training at the end of the summer. For the first couple of weeks I was so happy to be back that I was in total euphoria. I decided I would be smart when getting back to it and just drilled the first couple of weeks and didn’t go everyday. I gradually started adding some rolling in and although my ego was taking a beating, I wasn’t having any back/leg pain which I was quite happy about.
My training when I got back was very different than before I got injured. I had to take time off entirely from jits which meant I had to give up teaching the women’s class as well. This was a very hard decision for me because I knew that would mean the class would end but I was in rough shape and I couldn’t do it anymore. Because there was no longer a women’s class, we also were not able to host the women’s open mats we’d been having once a month. That was also really hard to let go of because we were getting great attendance and the ladies were really enjoying it. I spent a while feeling very guilty that something great was ending because of me.
When I came back to training I had the hope that eventually we could re-start the women’s programs. If not the classes (which we always had attendance problems with due to the low number of women who trained there) at least the open mats. After being back a couple of months I was told that they were going to get rid of the programs. While part of me understood this, part of me was really upset about it. I still felt as if my injury had ended something great for the female jits community in my area. I also was really bummed out that this now meant that I would get virtually no training with other women. I was having issues after my return with feeling frustrated by my lack of viable training partners at my gym. I was always the only woman who stayed for open mat after class and I was very cautious about choosing rolling partners because I was coming off an injury. This often meant that I could only get a few rolls in a class.
So with all that going on and the fact that I was no longer going to be an instructor, I started to think about what was best for me as a student. I made the very difficult decision to leave my gym. I agonized about this for a while. I did, and still do, have a lot of respect and gratitude for my instructors there. I would have never gotten as far as I have without their help and I will always be grateful for all they did for me. I talked to my instructor about my decision one day over coffee (well I had coffee, he had water) and he was very nice and understanding about it. He told me not to feel bad and that he understood and that I was always welcome to come back if it didn’t work out for me.
If you’ve been reading this blog since the beginning, you may recall that I used to train at two gyms, one during the week and one during the weekend. I gave up training at the second gym when the women’s classes started as they were taking up my Saturdays which meant I could only go to the second gym once a week (and also that I was training everyday). I had stayed in touch with the instructors there and they had a bunch of girls that trained there that I was friends with so I decided to go back to that gym for training full time.
Things have been going well at the new gym. I enjoy having girls to train with and the gym has even started hosting women’s open mats! We had our second yesterday and we had 19 women in attendance! However, I had this vision that I’d just go back to training and then everything would go back to the way it was before I got injured. It hasn’t quite worked out that way. I put on a lot of weight while being injured due to my lack of ability to do anything but eat pizza (yeah that probably wasn’t the best choice) and also the injury really took a toll on my lower body. Training has been very slow and frustrating for me. I feel like I am a new white belt all over again. I spend all my time defending and trying not to die. I feel slow, old, out of shape and stagnate. I know in my mind what I should be doing when I roll but I can’t make my body do it. More often than not, I end up leaving the gym feeling frustrated and wondering if things will ever go back to the way they were.
I’m not about to give up on jiu-jitsu though and I am not going to give up on myself. I am starting a new fitness routine this month and getting strict about diet (I’ll miss you pizza). I’m planning to compete in the NY Open in April and everything is focused toward that right now. As you can see, I am also starting to blog again. For the longest time I felt like I was out of jiu-jitsu, even after I came back to training, which is why I found it hard to blog. I am done with that though. It’s time to get back in the game!
If you have been reading this blog for the last 8 or 9 months then you probably know that I have a knee injury that has managed to permeate every facet of my life, especially training. For a while I was very focused on fixing it and was not training much. After 5 or 6 months though, I got really frustrated and figured if my leg was going to hurt either way, I might as well train. I am still regularly going to see the doctor and trying things to fix the knee, but I am definitely training a lot more than I was.
I am not advocating training while injured but for me I couldn’t handle the mental side-effects of not training any longer. I was feeling depressed and angry. I could not stick to healthy habits without jits as the cornerstone of my healthy lifestyle. I couldn’t exercise much, I was eating crap, gaining weight, etc. It was an endless cycle of blah. So I made the decision to not only go back to training more but because I am a very goal-oriented person, I also made the decision to train for some competitions. I competed in an in-house tournament a few weeks ago but the big focus has been the New York Open, coming up this weekend.
Overall I am happy with the decision to train and compete again. Yes my knee is a constant problem but through some sort of bodily truce, rarely bothers me while I’m training. However, I am always aware that I am training injured. I have been hurt training and competing plenty of times but this injury has made me really focus on the dangers of training, probably because it has lasted so long and has not just affected my training but my off-the-mat life as well.
Something occurred Monday night that has been making me think of jiu-jitsu injuries even more. We were rolling at the end of class and I ended up with another blue belt guy. He is very new to our gym having just recently transferred from another gym because of location. I rolled with him his first night at our gym which, if I recall, was his first night training in a while. I did not care for the level of intensity he brought to the roll considering our obvious size difference (I would say he is at least 8 inches taller than me and probably at least 50 pounds heavier). I felt somewhat apprehensive about rolling with him but he is a very nice guy when you talk to him and I thought maybe he just went too hard that first night because of nerves.
Sadly I discovered this was not the case. He quickly got past my guard and I turtled up and he managed to flatten me out and then lay on top of me while he tried to work his hands in to get my collar. He tried to roll me to get hooks in and I managed to escape and then he went for an armbar. I started to defend but really wasn’t comfortable with the grip he had on my arm and thought to myself it wasn’t worth getting hurt, especially with the open coming up, so I tapped.
As we reset I felt very uncomfortable. I thought to myself “I just have to get through this roll and then I will avoid this guy in the future, especially this week because I don’t want to get hurt before the open”. Of course since I put the thought of getting hurt before the tournament into the universe, I set myself up to do exactly that. He went to bump sweep me and I posted. There was a brief pause after I posted and then I guess he figured it didn’t work because he didn’t do it hard enough and he put all his force behind another bump. This forced me to roll over every finger of my left hand. I immediately screamed in pain (it hurt!) and rolled over onto my hand and off the mat. To my horror, I even started crying. Not because it hurt but because I feared that all of the hard work I’ve put into getting ready to compete being was going to be wasted because I had just hurt my hand.
I took some time to ice and evaluate the injury. It hurt but I was pretty sure nothing was broken. I have rolled over fingers before so I anticipated that I was going to have a rough few days of swollen fingers and inability to bend them. I was really upset that it was going to affect my ability to train this week as I had a whole list of things I wanted to work on but I was just hoping it would be functional by Saturday.
While I was icing, the coach who was running class came over to check on me. He was very nice and very concerned about my hand. He told me that he had seen it about to happen and that next time I should be really careful to tuck the hand and just go with the sweep. Now that I am out of the heat of the moment, I am willing to admit there is probably something technique-wise I did wrong here. Maybe I posted too close to my body or didn’t have my fingers positioned right, but at the time, this really aggravated me. To my mind, this happened because my partner was going inappropriately hard given our size difference and I was mad at him for doing it and mad at my coach for implying it was my fault for not going with the sweep.
I lined up at the end of class with my teammates in a very sullen mood. My rolling partner apologized several times and obviously felt bad (I am willing to admit that very few people would start a roll thinking “I hope I hurt her hand!”) but I just couldn’t find it in me to be nice to him. I of course said “it’s ok” or something of the sort but I couldn’t bring myself to do anything more to make him feel better. After class ended, I packed up my stuff and quietly headed out.
As the night continued on I went from feeling angry to feeling depressed. I was thinking about the increasing frequency of injuries in the last year and wondering if I was doomed to a life of forever being hurt. I started to wonder if regularly being the only girl on the mat meant that I was just going to have to deal with getting hurt more. I will admit it, I indulged in a full out pity party.
I don’t like my pity parties to last more than a night so the next day I started to think about how I got hurt and what I could do to prevent it in the future. I think that it is a fair statement to say that anyone who is smaller or weaker than almost all of their training partners has to be aware of physical safety much more than their bigger, stronger counterparts. I have already said in this post that I felt uncomfortable while rolling with my partner so why did I continue to do so? I think partly because he is generally a nice guy and I didn’t want to make him feel bad. But largely I think, and this has always been an issue with me, that I don’t want to admit to the guys I train with that I can’t handle rolling with someone. I often feel like an outsider as it is and wonder if I have what it takes to train with the guys. I am always anxious that I am a bad training partner for them, to the point I sometimes feel guilty about messing up training for the person drilling with me. How much worse would it be if I had to admit to them, and to myself, that they are too big and strong for me to roll with?
Logically I know that this is ridiculous. If you feel like you are being physically assaulted during a roll and are afraid you are going to get hurt, you have every right to ask your partner to lower the intensity level or even just stop the roll. I just know that in practice I am going to have a hard time doing this. I will let pride and stubbornness get in the way of good sense (it’s somewhat my thing).
So I tried to think of a plan going forward to avoid more injuries but I don’t know that I was successful. I am going to try to be more selective about rolling partners. I am going to try to stop being an idiot and tell people in the future if I am not comfortable rolling with them. After that, I got nothing.
Of course I know that avoiding injury altogether in jiu-jitsu is not going to happen. It’s a combat sport after all! However I feel that I’ve had a number of injuries that have been caused by or compounded by the fact that I was outsized and outstrengthed and I’d like to cut down on those. They’re not fun.
I am happy to report that my hand is doing very well today. It’s still slightly swollen and bruised but I can close my fingers all the way and I suspect that once that adrenaline starts pumping I won’t even know that it was hurt this week. I was even able to go train last night! So the goal right now is to focus on the tournament and then after that…I don’t know. Body armor?
A quick update on the knee. I went to the doctor on Tuesday and he said he doesn’t think it’s a ligament (phew) but it could be a torn meniscus. It also might just be a sprain which is what I’m hoping for. I got an MRI last night and will go over the results with the doctor on Tuesday morning.
This was my first time getting an MRI which really wasn’t so bad. I went in feet first so my head was outside and I didn’t feel claustrophobic. It was difficult after a while not to move but I did get to listen to the Grease soundtrack so that was a bonus.
They gave me a CD that has all the images from the MRI on it when I was done. I naturally looked at it today and saw lots of pictures of my knee that I had no idea how to read. I am thinking of posting them to Facebook and sharing them on the wall of every doctor I can find 🙂
In the meantime I am not allowed to train because the doctor says training with a torn meniscus could result in damage to the ligament which is apparently much harder to fix than a meniscus. I am going somewhat stir crazy but I have been researching exercises I can do that do not require the use of legs and figure now is a good time to work on upper body strength and abs. I’m also making sure to stick to a good diet since I can’t train.
I am so far remaining calm and trying to keep the “what ifs” out of my brain. I am doing a surprisingly good job of it (I think at least) but I am super anxious to get the results on Tuesday. I just want to know what I am facing so I can figure out the plan to kick its ass!
I am continuing my focus of working on my aggression and mental game and it has been going well so far. I have realized that in pushing myself I have to not only be aggressive but I also have to learn to let go of some of my fear.
When I was at the women’s camp last weekend, I noticed that I was enjoying the rolls a lot. Typically when I am rolling with people for the first time, I am very reserved while I try to feel out their rolling style. I started to wonder why I felt so much more comfortable in this environment and then it occurred to me. I wasn’t scared.
It is really hard for me, probably for anyone in BJJ, to admit that they have fear. How can you have fear when your favorite thing to do involves getting beat up on a regular basis? However I realize that I cannot overcome the fear if I don’t admit that it is there and I need to move past it to go to the next level.
So where does the fear come from? I think there is a natural amount of fear for anyone who does BJJ. There are about a billion different ways you can get hurt. I think there is arguably more fear when you are smaller and weaker than most of the people you train with though. You know that you can get outmuscled and hurt a lot easier than your bigger, stronger counterparts. Chances are that you have gotten manhandled in a way that has made you feel awful and/or uncomfortable at some point. I know I have.
Here is the story of what I consider my scariest roll to date. It was shortly after I had begun training at my weekend school and I was in for Sunday basics class. I was working with a new guy who had been training about a month. We were drilling armbar/triangle/omoplata transitions. I spent most of the class showing him what the various moves were as he was brand new (I had probably been training about 7 or 8 months at the time) and he was very nice the entire time. We got to the end of class and he stayed on the mat to roll. I was surprised that after a month he was allowed to roll but the instructor didn’t say anything about him being there so I figured it was ok.
He asked me if I wanted to roll and I said yes. Since he was brand new I thought he would go very light and just figured I would let him get me into guard and work what we’d been drilling. That was a mistake. As soon as we bumped fists he lunged at me and took me down to the ground…hard. I got him into guard and he was trying his hardest to do an americana from there. I had just opened my mouth to tell him that wasn’t really a high percentage submission from guard as I could just use my legs to bring him forward and ruin the leverage when he got frustrated, yanked me up by the arm (the one he had the americana hold on), twisted said arm behind my back and threw me about 4 feet to the side. I think that I started yelling “TAP” in midair and he quickly got off me and we reset.
In retrospect now I should have realized it was not good for me to keep going but I thought that it was my fault because I had thought he was going to go light and I was clearly not prepared. I figured if I took it up a notch this time I would do better. That was mistake number two. Even though I was “prepared” for him going harder this time, I couldn’t keep up with his speed and strength. He managed to twist my body into some weird position that I was not familiar with and then got frustrated and tackled me again. I think there was another submission after that and then the round ended. He told me when the round ended that he had been going for a knee bar and asked me if he had set it up right. I told him I didn’t know as I had never trained one. He told me he hadn’t either but he had seen it on YouTube.
I left immediately after this because I realized that I had hurt my ribs but even if I hadn’t, I would have had no desire to roll anymore. I will admit that I cried the whole way home. This was the first time I had ever felt so uncomfortable during a roll. So much was going through my mind. Was this what it was going to be like if I kept training with all guys? Could I keep doing BJJ if it was? Was my partner so concerned about “winning” that he didn’t care if he hurt me or any other partner? Did he not realize that he was completely manhandling me and didn’t need to be going that hard? In a way it felt like a violation. I had trusted him with both my training and my safety and I felt he let me down on both.
However, I also learned some very valuable lessons that day. One was to be very cautious when rolling with new people. I had always heard this but I guess it was a lesson I had to learn the hard way. I also learned that if I am uncomfortable with a roll that I should just stop it. I think that is hard for everyone. No one wants to admit that they can’t handle a roll but it is better to stop a roll or ask someone to take it down a notch than to get hurt and spend time off that mat (I had to take off for about a week and my rib continued to hurt for weeks after).
So this was, I believe, the end of my “I’m going to kick everyone’s ass!” mentality and the beginning of my cautious, safe rolling. I had taken it up a notch and so had he and it had ended poorly for me. I also spent so much time after that guarding my sore ribs that all I did was play defense. This was not a conscious decision on my part to stop being aggressive and play safe but I think it was always in the back of my mind that I didn’t want to go hard and make the boys go harder because they were always going to be stronger.
Now that I have realized what I was doing it has been completly liberating to let go of that fear. That doesn’t mean that I am just attacking everyone with no concern about getting hurt. I know most of the guys I train with and I know that I can trust most of them. I will always be cautious about rolling with new people and I will stop a roll if I feel like it is out of control.
But by not worrying about safety first and BJJ second, I am able to raise my level of aggression and I am seeing some great results. So if you are smaller and weaker know that you will always have to be a little bit more concerned about safety but don’t roll scared. Trust the partners who have earned that trust, let go of the fear and have some fun!
As I mentioned in my last post and alluded to in this post, I have somewhat of a history of getting black eyes. I am not sure why this happens other than I have always had rather bad luck and have always been accident prone (probably part of the bad luck). Everyone at the gym knows that if there is some kind of collision or accident on the mat, I am probably involved. My coach and I have joked that no one is an official member of the gym until they’ve hit me in the head. I have had 3 black eyes in the last 8 months. I, naturally, take lots of pictures of them so here is the story of my various black eyes, with pictures!
Black eye #1
This one is significant because it was not only my first real black eye, but also came right on the heels of a concussion. I suffered a concussion in a tournament in May. It was not a major concussion, I didn’t even know I had a concussion until two days later when I was still feeling dizzy and nauseous and went to a doctor. I was actually relieved by the diagnosis because I had to tap out because I thought I was either going to throw up or pass out and I thought I had just gassed. However the family and friends in my life who were somewhat wary of BJJ became staunch opponents of the idea after I got a concussion, especially given my history of them (like I said, accident prone). I had to take a month off. For the first couple of weeks I kept trying to go back and then getting nauseous or getting a headache while drilling and finally a neurologist told me to take a month off of everything. I compromised and took 2 weeks off. There was a women’s open mat at the end of the two weeks and I was not going to miss it. It was my first time rolling since the tournament. Someone was trying to get my back and I was sitting up trying to block her. She pushed my head down to run around my side and my kneecap went directly into my eye socket with a lot of force. It didn’t hurt too bad but I knew it was right on the money and I was going to get a black eye. I did. I felt pretty badass about it but I couldn’t really show it off as getting a black eye right after a concussion was not going to help me convince people that me training BJJ is not dangerous. Here is a picture of black eye #1:
Black eye #2
I managed to survive the first black eye and the skepticism it brought from the BJJ doubters in my life. One night 6 weeks later (so mid July-ish), I had decided to be ambitious and try to hit both my gyms in one night. While at the first class (the weekend gym), the guys were joking about how I needed another black eye because my last one was so nice. I left there and went to my main gym for class. I was rolling after class when my partner tried to get an armbar. He didn’t have my arm all the way in and I was escaping to the side. He tried to re-position and throw his leg over my head again and nailed me right in the eye with his heel. We disengaged and I sat back thinking nothing of it. My coach asked me if I was ok and I said I was and as an afterthought told him I hoped I didn’t get another black eye so soon after the first. He looked at me, told me I was going to and suggested I go to the bathroom to clean it. I went and noticed it was already swelling and there was a cut under the eye. One of the other coaches saw it and said I had to push the mouse in or my eye was going to swell shut. I was totally freaked out by this but I did it. As you can imagine, two black eyes (on the same eye!) in the span of 6 weeks earned me a lot more doubt and a lot of teasing. Black eye #2:
Black eye #3
Read about it in my previous post! This one is on the other eye (they all look the same in the pictures but my iPhone feels the need to rotate the picture sometimes, annoying). It’s the best yet. The entire eye socket is bruised including the area above my eyebrow. Black eye #3: