As someone who is not the strongest person in the gym, I sometimes find myself in the unfortunate position of being trapped by someone who is stronger than me. What I mean by trapped is that I am in a bad position (side mount, mount, back control, etc.) and the person is strong enough to keep me from escaping despite me trying every escape I know.
I hate when this happens for many reasons. It makes me feel like my jiu-jitsu is still pretty weak if I am so easily defeated by strength. It can also make me feel panicky. I, like most people I am sure, really am not comfortable with being held down against my will. This is usually also the point when I realize that my partner is willing to use whatever strength they have to win the roll and I stop thinking about jiu-jitsu and start thinking about safety.
So I hate when this happens but I know that it is probably always going to happen and that I just have to deal with it. As I’ve said before, that’s the price you pay when you are not the strongest person in the gym. And although it is not the most enjoyable thing in the world, I know that situations like this have helped me to gain a very solid defense game. It’s all about working with what you are given.
Sometimes when someone is using a good amount of strength against me and I feel that they’ve muscled something, I wonder afterwards if I should say something. I typically don’t. Some guys are very strong and much of their game plan is to use that strength so it’s not really fair of me to say something. I also never want to seem bitter (especially since I typically am) or like a sore loser by standing up and proclaiming loudly “NO FAIR” after every submission. And sometimes I’m not really sure if was all muscle or not and so I don’t want to accuse my training partners of something they didn’t do.
I was thinking about this last week after a particularly grueling roll with one of the newer guys. He is very tall and I am guessing at least 60 pounds bigger than me but I am pretty awful at guessing weight. He took my back at some point. Not to brag, but I am pretty good at escaping back control. Failing that I am very confident in my ability to defend submissions from the back (really it’s not bragging because the ability to defend came from getting my back taken about 5000 times).
So try as I might, I could not escape his back control. He also started going for chokes so I switched my focus from escaping to defending the chokes. I had my chin tucked and my head turned so I was feeling pretty confident he wasn’t going to finish me but he was so strong that I couldn’t break his grips either. I could hear him breathing very hard in my ear and my face felt the effort of him using all his strength to try to finish a gi choke because my gi was being pulled across my face. He twisted my head so far that my neck cracked. I thought about tapping but I was feeling really stubborn about tapping to a non-choke.
The roll ended and I was sitting on the bench afterwards silently fuming. I found the roll unpleasant for all the reasons I mentioned above. But I have to admit the thing that really gets me upset about these rolls is that I don’t like thinking they are walking away from the roll feeling they beat me. After I’ve had some time to calm down I realize I am being prideful and ridiculous and gain proper perspective on the situation but in those minutes following a roll like that, I know I am just angry.
So even though I had thought about saying something to him after the roll, I did not because I knew mentally I was in a very sore loser state of mind and I didn’t want to be a jerk. As I was reflecting on the situation later though, I realized I probably should have said something. Whenever I will bring up someone using strength it is because I think they are over relying on it or using it in place of good technique. If I feel like they’ve managed to get something on me that they wouldn’t be able to get on most of the guys in the gym then I think it is ok for me to say something because with most of the guys they are going to need to use technique and not strength.
This was clearly one of those times. My partner had a significant size and strength advantage on me and had me trapped in an awful position. When he went for the submission and it didn’t work, he didn’t try to figure out what was wrong with the technique or what I was doing to defend it, he applied more muscle. Thinking back on it now I wish I had calmly looked up at him and said “hey I am not sure if you noticed but I’m a lot smaller than you and you are using all your strength to finish this choke and it’s not working…do you think maybe your technique might be off?”.
I really don’t want to be whiny about strength all the time and I am still going to be very choosy about when I say something. But I also know that in a situation like this it is to the benefit of both of us to point it out. I know that my partner was not maliciously trying to use strength against me, he is fairly new and that’s what new guys do. If I can help him tighten up his technique in the future it will be helpful for him when he’s going against people stronger than me (everyone else in the gym) and it will be helpful for me because he will no longer feel the need to smoosh me.
I think I will always wonder whether it’s appropriate to point out someone using strength, particularly because it’s hard to be objective when I am feeling prickly after being dominated in a roll. But sometimes I think it’s OK to point out that more power is not always the answer.
I am sure that very few people actually like to lose. I am not alone in this. But sometimes I get so annoyed by losing that I act like a…to be perfectly honest…jerk. I realized this the other night after rolling with someone.
It was my first time rolling with this particular guy other than some positional sparring exercises at the end of class. He is big and strong but relatively new (particularly to no-gi which is what we are doing this week) so I was able to control him and get positions for the most part.
At one point I was going to pass his guard and he sat up and sort of went for a back take but also grabbed my arm. I don’t really know how to explain it as I don’t think it’s a position I’ve been in before but he managed to muscle my arm into some kind of submission and I had to tap. This is often what is frustrating about rolling with new people, they try crazy shit that shouldn’t work but sometimes does.
Me, in my moment of jerkiness, went to reset and said “you know you were able to get that on me but you most likely wouldn’t get it on the other guys”. He laughed and agreed and told me he’d tried it on most of them and gotten shut down.
This is the part of being the weakest person that I hate. People are able to get crazy submissions on me that are not going to work 90% of the time. I know this is a lot of bitterness on my part. If I get a submission on someone it is often because I meticulously worked technique, I just don’t have the option to muscle anyone. So when someone gets a cheap submission on me I can’t help but want to pout and say “that’s not fair!” as I throw myself to the mat in a fit of rage.
After my initial two-year-old-temper-tantrum moment I decided to focus on not doing stupid things that would get me submitted and just holding position. I am happy to report that I passed his guard, got to side control and held it through several vigorous attempts to dislodge me. I also managed to get to mount and try to start working submissions, although I got swept (this has been a common problem lately). Overall a decent roll.
I got to thinking about this on my way home that night. I like to try to turn negatives into positives whenever possible so instead of thinking of what I’d done to get caught (which honestly I couldn’t fix anyway, I don’t know what he did and I don’t know how I helped make it happen) I thought about my success later in the roll.
Specifically I thought about how I was able to control his position and how I didn’t back down when he tried to muscle me off. This is a lot of progress for me. As recently as 3 months ago, maybe less, I would have backed down from this guy because he was clearly stronger. I am finding that by rolling hard with the stronger guys that I am learning more and more about how to deal with it and having more success.
So it sucked to get submitted in a crazy submission. It will always suck when this happens. But I will keep rolling and challenging myself and hopefully it will start happening less. And maybe I’ll try to act more like a grownup when I do get caught…maybe…
The purple belt instructor at my weekend school has been one of my very favorite training partners since I started there. From the beginning he has made it a point to roll multiple rounds with me and he even invites me to come in before class for extra rolling. He might secretly be my favorite person there.
A couple of months ago, it became clear to me that he was pushing me toward a roll I didn’t think I would ever fill. He wants me to be an enforcer. This first came up in a conversation I mentioned in this post where he said that a few guys at the gym needed to be taken down a notch and he thought I was just the person to do it.
I understand the reasoning behind wanting me to be the person to catch these guys. What better way to take a guy down a notch than to have a girl tap him? In a way I feel like I should be insulted by this. It shouldn’t be insulting to be tapped out by a girl! But I really do get where he is coming from. He is not looking to humiliate these guy but to show them that BJJ is not about being strong and going hard. The beauty of BJJ is that if it is applied correctly the smaller/weaker opponent can win. It’s the basis of the whole system. Valerie Worthington shared a story about an experience she had with a new guy while training once and also just recently blogged about it here. In her words, it’s the art!
There is one guy in particular that my coach has been pushing me to get. I think it is important to note here that neither of us dislikes this guy. I actually like him a lot. He is a good guy. He just likes to go fast and hard. As my coach put it, he likes to ragdoll everyone. He is having success doing this against newer people who don’t know how to handle it and I get the feeling that my coach thinks this may be going to his head. This is where I am supposed to come in.
I have not had a ton of experience rolling with this guy. I do remember that the first time we rolled, after I got over the initial onslaught (I really should just prepare for everyone to go nuts after we bump fists so it stops surprising me), I realized that in doing everything hard and fast, he was also being very sloppy and leaving a ton of space. It was really one of my first “aha” moments when I started to realize that there are ways to deal with someone who is going really hard. I have had some bad rolls with him since when I was in my defensive, “please don’t hurt me” phase.
As I said though, I don’t see him that often in class as I am only there on the weekends. My coach will periodically give me updates on him as a subtle reminder of what he wants me to do. Yesterday at the end of basics class I saw him come in which meant he was there to roll. I felt a sense of calm come over me. I didn’t even need to look at my coach, I knew what he wanted and I knew what my duty was and I was going to do my best to fulfill it.
I didn’t ask him to roll right away, I knew he’d come to me eventually, he always does. About half an hour in he asked me if I wanted to roll. We bumped fists and I was determined to get him. Not only did I want to come through for my coach but I wanted to vindicate my previous terrible rolls with him. The whole round I was getting better position on him. I scooted around his muscely guard pass attempt, I caught his sloppy triangle setup and used it to pass to side mount, I used an ill-advised bridge to get into mount, I got his back after he charged at me and even got a body triangle on him, I felt like I was doing everything right. However I could not get the tap.
At the end of the round he tried to lock up a kimura when I was trying to pass. I defended it well and wrapped my arm inside and grabbed my own belt. I also rolled to that side a bit so he didn’t have leverage to finish it. I could tell he was going to use all his strength to muscle my arm out though. As I frantically thought of ways to defend the arm, I could feel him pulling on it with all his might. He got it out and cranked it back and I had to tap. The round ended almost immediately after that. I had failed to complete my task.
It is somewhat discouraging to lose that way. I can’t blame him for muscling. I obviously didn’t protect that arm well to begin with and let’s face it, most of us would do the same. If you have the ability to out-muscle someone, why not use it? The bitter part of me needs to point out that he would not have gotten that submission on most of the other guys there rolling as he would not have been able to pry their arms out. But oh well, I got submitted.
So I lost the battle. But I have not lost the war. I had him on the run the whole time and it was only a list minute Hail Mary that had gotten him the submission. I was proud of my effort and I look forward to the next skirmish with this guy. Victory is so close I can taste it.
That is what my coach said to me after my final match at NAGA on Saturday. As you can probably guess, that means things didn’t exactly go my way. I had two matches in no-gi and two matches in gi for a total of 4. I lost every one. Here is my breakdown of the tournament. Apologies in advance, this is gonna be a long post.
I got to the tournament right before 10 which was when the women’s division was supposed to start. Naturally it did not start until 11 so my panicked driving and running from where I parked (like a mile away from the venue) was for naught. As I am a blue belt now I had to fight at the intermediate level in no-gi so I knew I was in for a long wait before my first match. My teammate who was also fighting came early to watch my matches so he helped me warm up which was much appreciated. Another teammate who was not competing came to cheer me on and I was super happy to see her as well. My coach had to teach that morning but he arranged for other guys in our network of schools to coach us. My friend from Massachusetts who is also a blue belt got put into a director’s division (both her and the other woman in the division were thrilled to find someone their size who was also over 40 to fight) and had to go first. I coached her match which basically means I kept her updated on time left, score and yelled things like “settle down and work the pass!”. Hey it’s better than no coach and she won her match!
After much waiting and pacing and worrying, it was finally time for my first match. I had checked out the other women when I got there (naturally) and I recognized one from the last time I had done NAGA in September. We both competed as beginners then but since she had won the division I had a pretty good feeling she was also in the intermediate division as NAGA is pretty strict about that sort of thing. I was right. They called my first match and it was against her. In September when we fought, I had tried to work a takedown and she caught my head and guillotined me. Knowing this I kept telling myself not to let her get my head, to just try to move in and pull guard. That did not work out. She caught my head again and quickly guillotined me…again. Lost by submission.
Since I lost the first match I had to fight the 3rd person in our bracket next. They offered me a round to recover but since my first match probably lasted about a minute, I told them I was good to go. The first two minutes of this match was us going back and forth with wrestling grips and going for takedowns. We kept getting grips and then disengaging and repeating the process again. Every time we clinched up she would slam her forehead into my head as she went for the grip. I have a beauty of a shiner right now to prove it (more black eye fun in a later post, stay tuned!). I eventually got really sick of standing up so I pulled guard. She quickly got to half mount and then shoved her shoulder right over my mouth and nose so I couldn’t breathe. I had an excellent black belt instructor from another school in our network coaching me and I heard him telling me what to do and it made sense but all I could think was that I couldn’t breathe and before I did anything I had to move her shoulder because I was suffocating. Thinking back on it now I should have just worked the escape and my mouth would have freed up but I panicked. I can’t remember much details about this fight other than she was on top of me for all of it on the ground and I was constantly fighting to breathe. She won on points and I had my second loss.
It was now time to wait for the gi division. I left my mat to go watch my teammate compete and after his first match, our coach showed up. My friend from MA got nervous that she was going to go first in gi again because they made a master’s division for her and two others this time so she asked me to come back to coach her. By the time she went my coach had come over to our mat after finishing with my teammate so he coached her to two more wins and her second gold medal of the day.
Another long wait and it was time for my gi division. They had called me up to the table at the beginning of the day to tell me they didn’t have a gi match for me. I find that there is often a gap with women in the middle of the weight brackets. They had a bunch or women that were in the lightest division (below 120) a few in the highest (above 160) and nothing in between. The guy reffing the table said he had a student who was a very high level white belt who had agreed to fight up a division and asked if I was ok with that. I said I was fine with it but I did notice on the card that she was 25lbs more than me. Through an error of weights on one of the cards (they had turned 191 into 119 which they didn’t realize until the competitors were on the mat and everyone was staring at them thinking “something is off here”) the brackets got all mixed around anyway so it turned out there were 3 of us in my division.
My first gi match was against the high level white belt. We yanked on each other’s gis a bunch of times, both of us trying for takedowns, she eventually broke down my posture and took me down but I got her immediately in guard. She tried to break it and I tried to lock in a triangle. She was able to escape to the side but I came up on my knees and drove her into turtle. I tried to take her back, got my hooks in but I didn’t have the seatbelt grip locked up and she rolled me. She tried to break my guard again and I almost took her back but failed and she ended up in side mount. I tried to bridge into her to escape and she was able to push me back down and quickly go for an Americana. I couldn’t roll into it so I had to tap.
I went to sit next to my coach knowing I’d be fighting again soon and he told me that I could have won that match if I hadn’t hesitated and just kept going. He said he could see where I would stop a split second before finishing a technique because I thought it wouldn’t work and then of course it didn’t. He told me to let the loss go and focus on the next one and believe in the technique.
It was time for my second match and it was the same girl who I had fought second in no-gi. In a moment of true humility I had noticed her waiting around in her gi and saw she had a yellow belt on. This of course means she is not yet 16 so I asked her how old she was. She told me 14. Wonderful. We again spent a lot of time on our feet and eventually I tried to pull guard again (I think, I am fuzzy on this one too). When she got into guard all I could think about was that I didn’t want her to smother me again with her shoulder (she had an entire gi to use this time!) so I was concentrating all my effort on not letting that happen. Unfortunately it meant I let her get an easy pass to mount and while trying to bridge and roll, she x-choked the hell out of me.
I left the mat really upset, I didn’t talk to my coach, I didn’t talk to my teammates, I quickly left the area to go collect myself. I had lost all my matches. I lost my gi matches to a white belt and to a 14 year-old. I had lost in spectacular fashion. I had lost in spectacular fashion in front of my coach. These were all the thoughts going through my head as I stood off to the side and willed myself not to cry.
I eventually gathered myself and went back to the mat as I knew that I was going to have to be there for the medal ceremony and I didn’t want them to drag me out kicking and screaming. My coach came over to talk to me. That was when he told me I was beating myself mentally before I even competed. I told him I knew he was right. I do know he’s right. I have very little confidence in my ability to beat anyone. I go in there thinking that I will lose and then I do. It was my first tournament as a blue belt so I was intimidated by that. In my first match all I could think about was how she beat me before and I didn’t want it to happen again. In my first gi match I thought about how she was bigger than me and how it would be humiliating to lose in front of everyone to a white belt. In my second gi match I thought I couldn’t win because she had beaten me already.
Instead of coming up with reasons I will win, I come up with reasons I will lose. My coach was really nice as we talked about it, he said he understood where I was coming from and gave me some ideas on ways to improve my mental game. I apologized to him for my performance. He told me never to do that. To let it go and move on and he didn’t care if I won or lost.
So I know I have some things to work on. My standup needs a lot of work. I have to learn to not panic if someone smothers me. I need to go harder when I roll even when I am with the boys. I can do all these. But how do I work on my mental game? I think that my lack of confidence is a combination of lower than average self-esteem (fat kid syndrome, you never really move past it) and lack of success in my own training. I don’t know how to fix these. I don’t know how to give myself more self-esteem. A lot of the lack of success in BJJ is probably more of the same self-fulfilling failure. I don’t think I am capable of “winning” any roll so I don’t. It’s a nasty catch-22 that I don’t know how to get out of.
So I thought about ways I could work on this all through the weekend. My coach suggested some books so I will read some of those. But what else can I do to change my attitude? I considered asking teammates what they think I am doing right but that seems too needy or like I am fishing for compliments. So I am going to focus on things I can do for myself. I am going to go into every roll with the thought “I can get on top and I can win” and I am going to keep on going until I do. After class I will think about the positive things I did rather than focus on the negative. Am I going to be able to do this? Will it help if I do? I really don’t know. But if I want to keep competing I need to change my attitude so I’m going to give it my all.
I didn’t get to do any training on Thursday or Friday because I came down with a cold. I hate not training but I figured no one wanted me to share the cold, especially with a tournament coming up this weekend, so I stayed home. I also skipped the 9am women’s class at my weekend school on Saturday because I had plans to enjoy a Nyquil-induced sleep and I didn’t want to have to get out of bed at 7:30.
I was very excited to go to my main gym for instructor training and the women’s class there though. Instructor training didn’t really happen until it was almost time for the women’s class because my coach was working with the guys who were sparring as a couple of them have fights coming up. I didn’t really mind because I like watching the guys spar but I do have to admit that in the back of my mind I was thinking that I could have gone to basics class at my weekend gym. I love drilling basics.
Finally it was time for women’s class. In stark contrast to last week, only one person showed up for class and she had, as she put it, “about half a class of experience”. I don’t know if you’ve ever had the experience of trying to teach someone a triangle while triangling them but I can now say that I have (spoiler alert: it’s hard). Since I hadn’t done anything all day that resembled a workout, I decided to stay after and do some strength and conditioning circuits. One of the other guys decided to do the same and our instructor hung out and talked to us while we were working so that was fun. I am still sore today. I was doing strength and conditioning classes for a while and they really helped me a lot but the class got canceled (it was a women’s mma fitness class at my weekend gym and I was the only person going) so I am out of practice. Clearly I need to focus on this more.
Saturday night the purple belt instructor at my weekend school sent me a message and told me he was coming to the gym an hour before class if I wanted to get some work in. That is an opportunity I would never pass up so I told him I’d be in. We had some awesome rolls before class and he helped me work on finishes from an omoplata sweep I am fond of since I am not good at actually finishing omoplatas. We drilled triangles in class (at least I wasn’t trying to teach them this time!) and then it was time for open mat.
Feeling bolstered by my earlier rolls with my instructor and trying to stick to my new resolve to go with the strong guys and not back down, I asked a white belt fairly new to rolling to go. I am usually cautious with new guys but he always seems very quiet and nice so I figured he would be ok. Not so much. He was able to hold me down the entire time while he continually went for x-chokes from every position, knee-on-belly, half guard, side mount. He caught me offguard once from side mount and finished one. That was a hard pill to swallow. Not only did I get submitted by a newb, in a fairly low percentage submission (x-choke from side mount, wtf?!) but I hate when I get gi choked. It feels like a betrayal. My gi is supposed to be on my side!
Next round a blue belt asked me to roll. I like him a lot but he is an ex-wrestler and his pressure game is ridiculous. I’ve never had any form of success against him but I wasn’t gonna say no so we went. As he always does, he managed to keep me on my back and fish out an arm for a submission. I know that this is his game, he gets on top, gets you to your back and attacks your arm. Even knowing this I can never seem to stop it. This happened two or three times and then it occurred to me to maybe not let him get on top anymore. When we reset I basically bull rushed him and got on top. I didn’t have much time to reflect on my victory as he quickly rolled me and got mount again. He went for an armbar and I fought it longer than I should have, probably because I didn’t want to get submitted AGAIN, and my elbow popped. Luckily the round ended right after that and it wasn’t too bad, my elbow is just mildly sore today. It was a good reminder to not let pride get in the way next time though.
I was going to call it a day after the elbow popping but the purple belt asked me to roll again so I did. He asked me how my rolls had gone that day and I told him not so great. He told me he really thought I could have success with the omoplata sweep series we’d been working and that I should focus on that. Good idea! Oh but wait, how does one get to an omoplata position when one can’t get to guard? He agreed that made it problematic.
I reflected on my rolls and realized I was probably spending too much time fighting their arms. Both guys repeatedly were trying to drag my arms out. I almost always tuck my arms inside but if someone is stronger they very often can pry an arm out (which I loathe). Knowing this was coming, particularly in my second roll, I spent a lot of time trying to fight them off instead of trying to escape the position. So that will be what I pay attention to this week. I am not going to let people settle into positions and start prying my arms out, I have to keep moving. And I have to keep not backing down. Why is there always so much to work on in jiu-jitsu?
Sunday was my first real chance to test my new resolve to not shut down and go to defense mode when I was faced with a strong opponent. I started out in the basics class. Before class I tried to make this pumpkin-egg-pancake thing for breakfast and it was sitting in my stomach like a brick. Of course the instructor decided to drill armbars from knee on belly. Luckily breakfast did not make a second appearance while on the mat and I got through class (which I actually enjoyed once I was sure I was not going to throw up, we hardly ever drill knee on belly).
Class over. It was time to roll. The injured purple belt taught class and he was up for a few rounds so I got to roll a couple with him. That’s always a fun time so no panicking on my part there. Next a very tall, rather strong, fresh new blue belt asked me to roll. We have rolled before and he is very nice so that was also a fun roll. He always manages to take my back and then I spend a lot of time getting to practice my back defense. I find that bigger guys often have trouble finishing chokes on me. I don’t think they are used to having to make everything tight for a smaller neck. Not to say he can’t get me, he went to mount and got an armbar when the choke wasn’t working.
After that round the guy who had me trapped in various triangle positions last week (the one who was supposed to “go light”) asked me to roll. OK. The test was about to begin. We started to roll and he quickly got me in guard and went for a, you guessed it, triangle. This time instead of worrying that he was going to break my neck I immediately postured up and started fighting his leg. He tried to sweep me to get the mounted triangle and I managed to post and stop it. We fought back and forth and he finally did get me into a mounted triangle. I immediately turned my neck from the choke and started fighting his legs again, a stark difference from last week when I just laid on my back and watched him trying to finish the choke. We went back to triangle from guard and I finally was able to get around a leg and get to side mount. Wait…I got to side mount! I was even able to transition to mount but got rolled right off. We continued trading positions, he got an armbar from mount at one point (I apparently need to work my armbar from mount defense) but I tried to give it my all. I didn’t panic and shut down.
OK so that was done, woo! Not so fast. Most of my teammates had left by this point and everyone else was already paired up so he asked me if I wanted to go again. I really didn’t. It took all my strength and determination to get through the previous round and I didn’t think I had another round with this guy in me. But I have this thing about not saying no to someone who offers me a roll and I figured this would be a great way to test my resolve so I agreed. It was more of the same, trading positions, no submissions this time and I refused to back down. At one point he had me stacked and I figured he was going to push my legs to one side and pass. Nope, he pushed them right over my head so I did a flip over my neck and landed on my knees. I did have a moment of panic here and thought about stopping the roll to tell him that was not a safe move to do to a rolling partner (not only can you break someone’s neck, it’s ineffective as I ended up on my knees and then landed a single leg from there) but I kept going.
The round ended. I took my tired body off the mat in victory and packed up to go home. It was the first battle in the war against stronger opponents and I had come out of it victorious. I can’t wait for the next one.