I apologize for the lack of posts but my lack of activity in the blog has been corresponding with my lack of activity in jiu-jitsu. Life has been crazy hectic lately with injuries and preparing a condo for sale (if you are reading this and might be interested in a 1br condo outside of Philadelphia, hit me up) and all sorts of other things that you probably don’t want to hear about.
I’ve been doing a lot of thinking lately about my relationship with jiu-jitsu. When I first started training, I, like a lot of you reading this I am sure, was completely obsessed. I trained every day of the week, I felt guilty if there was a day I couldn’t train, the only thing I read, watched or thought about was training jiu-jitsu, the only time I travelled was for jiu-jitsu vacations. I own so many jiu-jitsu shirts that they took up an entire large box when packing up my condo. When I was in this obsessive compulsive training mindset, I had many people tell me that eventually I was going to slow down or my body would make me. Although I did get my fair share of injuries, it never slowed me down for too long and all I did was sit around miserably and wish I could be training.
During the height of my obsession is when I started reading, and eventually writing, jiu-jitsu blogs. Many of them I read from the beginning instead of jumping in at the end. After a while, I began to notice a pattern in some of the blogs I was reading. Many of the people would start their blogs while in a similar, obsessive love affair with jiu-jitsu. Of course this makes sense, most people don’t decide to write a blog about something they are neutral about. However as I’d read through the months and then years, I noticed that people would eventually stop being quite so obsessed with training everyday, often because of an injury but not always. Then the blog would change tone and the person would talk about having trouble getting back and then losing motivation to go entirely. Even though I had many experienced grapplers telling me I’d eventually slow down and I was reading the same in other blogs, I somehow thought I would be different. I couldn’t imagine ever not wanting to train all the time, so why was everyone talking about slowing down?
Well eventually I got a fairly serious injury (a herniated disc) which forced me out of training for a significant amount of time. It took almost a year to diagnose and treat and it got progressively worse until I could barely walk, let alone train. Once my back was feeling better and I could get back to training, I found it was very hard. The injury had taken a toll physically and I lost a lot of strength, my conditioning was awful and I had gained weight. In many ways I felt like I was starting all over again except now I knew what it was like to not be entirely awful which made it worse. Outside of the physical aspects, I also found that training had gotten a lot harder mentally. Once my life had to switch focus from jiu-jitsu all day every day, I found other things that I also enjoyed. I started hanging out with friends again (and not squeezing them in after training), I picked up new hobbies, I even started dating my girlfriend. So once it came time to go back to training, I found, much to my surprise, that I didn’t always want to go.
I still love jiu-jitsu and I don’t see myself ever stopping training (unless my old lady body completely falls apart) but I have a completely different relationship with it now. I find that often I have to talk myself into going to class instead of having to talk myself out of going to class (on the rare occasions I missed it). I am going back to the gym tonight for the first time in a month or so and while I am excited about it, I also am feeling sad that going to class means I won’t get home in time to spend significant time with my girlfriend or pets.
This month will mark my fourth year training jiu-jitsu. Our relationship started very hot and heavy. Jiu-jitsu quickly became my whole life and I was entirely consumed by it. But like any flame that burns too hot, it started to fizzle out. I do still love jiu-jitsu but it has become an aspect of my life and not my entire life. Most of the time I recognize that this is a healthier relationship with jiu-jitsu than I had before. I have things in my life besides jiu-jitsu and my world doesn’t completely stop when I can’t train.
In the end, I was not more dedicated or in love with the jiu-jitsu than anyone else and my obsession eventually ended. Redefining my relationship with jiu-jitsu over the last year has been very challenging and eye-opening. Sometimes I can’t help but wonder about what would have happened if I hadn’t gotten injured. Would I still be training everyday? Would I have a different belt? I look back at pictures of when I was at fighting weight and training was my whole life and sometimes I miss that person. I miss the obsession and how it fuelled my training. But then I look at the other things I have in my life now and I think that maybe that injury wasn’t the end I thought it was but the beginning of something new. I’ve come to realize that my relationship with jiu-jitsu is like any other relationship. It has to mature and change if it’s going to last in the long run. It’s been a hard process but I think me and jiu-jitsu will be together for a long time.
The abyss. I have been spending a lot of time there in the last month. If you are not familiar with the abyss it’s the dark place where you hang out and worry that all your worst fears are true. I really don’t think of myself as an overly dramatic person and I try not to indulge in self-pity for extended periods of time, but there is something about being in pain all day and getting very little sleep that will mess with your mind.
Since the last update I’ve gone to see a surgeon who told me he thought my issue was nerve related and sent me to get an EMG. The EMG showed that there was evidence of nerve issues and the doctor said it could be a herniated disc or something else pushing on the sciatic nerve and causing me to feel the symptoms in my leg. He told me to go get an MRI on my back and we’d discuss treatments once the issue was diagnosed.
Sadly through a combination of bad timing and my incredible bad luck, we were due to switch insurance providers two days later at work so I had to wait to get the new information before I could schedule the MRI. It took two weeks to get the new insurance information and in that two weeks, I spent quite a lot of time in the abyss.
Since I had to wait for a diagnosis from the doctor I took to the web and started to diagnosis myself. When I had sufficiently worried myself there I started googling herniated discs and other possible nerve issues and how they affected jiu-jitsu (I recommend you never do that). As all of this was going on, the pain was getting increasingly worse and I was in a constant state of stress and aggravation. I started to worry that the pain wold never go away and that I would never get to train jiu-jitsu again. Then something happened jiu-jitsu related last week that made me start to think the universe was sending me every signal that jiu-jitsu didn’t want me anymore.
So there I was last Thursday, laying around in pain and indulging in my misery. I was complaining to a friend of mine about all of this and she told me that I couldn’t give up, that life will get better. I told her something pathetic like “I hope so” and she told me to stop worrying, that it would. She has been through way more medically lately than I have and I started to feel pretty ashamed that she could have that positive outlook and I was being so sullen. I made the decision that I was going to try my best to be more positive and stop feeling miserable all the time.
That very day I got my new health insurance information! Now I think that probably my decision to be positive had little effect on the people at Aetna but it seemed like a sign that the universe was rewarding my effort to stop wearing my grumpy pants. With the new information I was able to get my MRI authorized that day and scheduled for Saturday…more good stuff!
Saturday rolled around and my new positive attitude was being tested. Some good friends and training partners of mine at another school were getting promoted. Their instructor wanted to make sure that there were lots of women there to support them and beat them up (it’s often the same thing) and I wanted to go even if I couldn’t participate much. I feared it would be very depressing to watch everyone continue and progress in their training while I couldn’t even think about getting back to my own yet.
As I was getting ready to head out in the morning I started cleaning up around the house a bit and came across a picture that my jiu-jitsu bestie had given me a few weeks before. It was a picture of me, her and another friend at the women’s camp we went to in February. When she gave it to me she said it was so I would remember happy times training and be motivated to get back to the mats. I hadn’t put it up yet because I still wasn’t sure I would be back on the mats. I looked at the picture and decided that I was going to do everything possible to get back on the mats. I put it up in a prominent location and I look at it everyday as a reminder of what I’m working for.
Instead of feeling depressed at the promotions, I felt inspired. I got to talk over my situation with some awesome higher belts and I got a reminder of what I wanted to get back to. After promotions I went to get my MRI and yesterday received word from my doctor that I do indeed have a herniated disc. Next week I get a steroid injection in my spine (I’m not freaked out by that…) and then I will start PT and I hope to be on the mats again at least by the end of summer, if not before.
For now I’ll keep looking at that picture everyday to remind myself what I am working towards. The world better look out when I get back on the mats…I have a lot of ass kicking to make up for 🙂
I am sorry for another long delay in posts. I have had some pretty bad luck with my knee in the weeks since the open and haven’t been able to train much. When I can’t train, it tends to be the beginning of a downward spiral where I do all sorts of bad stuff and it’s very hard for me to keep up with the blog because I am depressed I am not training. I am not trying to make excuses (well maybe a little) but I wanted to offer some kind of explanation as to why my blogging has been so spotty lately as well as a promise to try to do better…trust me, you can’t stay mad at me!
I don’t want to turn this jiu-jitsu blog into a knee injury blog so I’m not going to focus too much on medical stuff. Basically my doctor tried a new treatment a couple of weeks ago and not only did it not work, but my leg has been in a lot of pain since. While it’s been sad not to be able to train, it’s been worse not being able to walk, stand, sit or even lie down without pain. I know, poor me 😦
So while I don’t want to get into boring medical details, I would like to talk about the effect this injury is having mentally because maybe that will be more useful to someone someday. If you don’t want to read a whole post about what I think about being injured I can sum it nicely right now for you…it sucks.
I am basically planning everything around what is good for my knee now. I can’t do anything that involves much walking because that is agonizing after about a minute. I’ve been coming into work earlier because I work in a massive building with parking all over the place and I want to get a closer spot to minimize the walking. I also plan trips to the grocery store to hit only one section at a time for the same reason. Anywhere I go now I have to think about how much walking will be involved and what kind of seating arrangements there are. My knee does pretty good on hard chairs but will start hurting pretty soon if I sit in a soft chair.
Besides the fact that my number one priority in life has become pain management, I also think about odd things when I’m hobbling around. Last week I was leaving work and a guy was walking behind me and I thought that if he, or anyone, decided to attack me there was no way I was going to run away. I did not find this man particularly threatening but it was a weird little moment of realization and now whenever someone is behind me I inevitably think about how they could physically dominate me and it makes me sad that I can’t fight anymore. I also bristle a little every time someone passes me because I am walking too slow. I have fantasies of yelling out “I used to the passer and not the passee!” and then telling them all about my glory days with two functional knees.
So while it’s hard enough that my knee is on my mind almost all the time (sadly because my knee hurts while I am sleeping I even often dream about knee pain) it’s super hard that I am going through all this stress and I’ve lost my number one way to deal with stress…jiu-jitsu! And not only do I not get to train but because I’ve let jiu-jitsu permeate pretty much all areas of my life, I am constantly being reminded that I am not training. All I see in social media is jiu-jitsu stuff. Most of my friends are doing jiu-jitsu. Hell I am even wearing a jiu-jitsu shirt right now! I can’t escape the fact that there is a ton of jiu-jitsu going on and I am not involved in any of it.
The part that is the most frustrating to me is the fact that I don’t have a diagnosis for what is causing the pain and therefore no plan to fix it. Back in September when I got an MRI, I was told it was a sprained ligament but I feel that something else must have happened since then because the pain is much worse now and is not getting better. I had another appointment this week and my doctor was worried it might be a blood clot so I had to get an ultrasound. You know you are desperate for a solution when you are actually sad the doctor tells you that you don’t have a clot. I am planning to push for a scope at my next appointment because I really just want to know what’s going on right now. Part of me is afraid of what they’ll find and how long it will take to recover but I think the scarier prospect is that they tell me there is nothing to fix and knee pain is part of my life from now on.
I am trying to stay as positive as I can and tell myself that something will work and my knee will get better. It’s been such a long process that I have to admit that it’s getting difficult to keep the faith. Sometimes when I am really frustrated I start to wonder if this is how my jiu-jitsu story is going to end. I hurt my knee and I kept pushing it and finally my knee gave up on me and we will live the rest of our respective lives hating each other. I really don’t think this is where my path was meant to end though so I have no choice but to keep looking for a solution.
So that’s what’s been up with me the last few weeks. I promise more jiu-jitsu themed blogs soon and in the meantime, I hope you are all enjoying your time on the mats!
This past weekend I competed in the IBJJF New York Spring Open. The following is an account of everything that happened, the good, the bad, the ugly and the crazy. I broke it down into sections since it’s lengthy and you can feel free to skip to the ones that interest you.
As I am known to do, I had put a lot of pressure on myself to do well at this tournament. I competed last year in both New York Opens and was submitted inside of 2 minutes during my first match each time. If you’ve never spent a few months trying to prepare for a tournament only to have all your hopes, dreams and expectations dashed inside of 120 seconds, I don’t know how to explain to you how that feels. It’s pretty much the worst.
So with all of my unfulfilled expectations of last year, the frustration of being injured the last 8 months, frustration with my training and frustration with life in general , I decided a couple of months ago I was going to compete. This was going to be my Hollywood moment, my big F you to the world in general. I was going to go to NY, clean up, come back with gold medals in hand and show everyone. My knee would magically feel better, my teammates and coaches would applaud my badassery and life in general was going to get better if I could just win.
That’s not too much expectation to put on one tournament right?
When I decided to do the tournament I had to figure out how I could realistically train for it. Last year when I competed, I had been doing tournaments regularly and also doing a lot more cardio as I still had two functioning knees so my walking around weight was significantly lower and I was able to compete at middleweight with a reasonable cut and some increased cardio.
That was not going to happen this year. I was walking around way too heavy and I am very hampered by the knee when it comes to cardio type activities. So I figured I would compete up a class this time, really focus on diet in the coming months and get back to middle for the July tournament (maybe I have already mentally decided to do that one).
Last year, I had some teammates competing at the Open with me and there was also very specific tournament training going on at various affiliated gyms that I attended. None of that happened this year. I was the only person from my gym to compete and there was not so much tournament focus at other gyms so I was a one person tournament training machine. This largely meant that I tried to work stuff with willing teammates during open mat. I also worked a lot of upper body strength since I could do so without hurting my knee.
The morning of
I thought going up a weight class would make cutting easier this time or maybe even (dare I hope) unnecessary if I just ate healthy and behaved for a while. Well that definitely didn’t work out. With my decreased ability to do cardio and my body’s ability to hate me, I had a really hard time losing the weight necessary for this tournament. I don’t know why but my body stalled when I had about 2 pounds left to lose and really did not want to release the weight. So needless to say, I was quite nervous about that the morning of (as a former fat kid, I don’t think anything terrifies me as much as the thought of not being able to compete because I weigh too much).
I immediately checked my weight when I arrived at the arena. At first it said .2 under then .2 over and I was ready to run out of the building crying in fear. Then I realized I still had my t-shirt on over my rash guard. Oh. So I took that off and weighed in at .5 under and then .3 under (why do the scales change every time you step on them!). This was not enough of a cushion for my paranoid mind so I resolved to not eat or drink anything until after I weighed in which was about 2.5 hours away. That was a rough 2.5 hours but I made it through and weighed in a pound under and was ready to go.
My division was only 3 people. It consisted of me, a very good friend and training partner (but unfortunately not teammate) from another Philadelphia area gym and someone I didn’t know but who came from Hawaii. As is typical of my luck, I was slated to fight first against the Hawaiian. I was actually happy with this draw though. If you are unfamiliar with how round robin works in IBJJF three person brackets, the first people fight and the winner is in the finals. The loser than fights the third person and that person also advances to the finals and then there is a third fight. Since I was going first I knew that I would at least get two matches and therefore was already doing better than last year. I was also very happy not to have to see my friend in the first match.
One of my big goals for this tournament was to get a takedown that I have been refining and tweaking for a year now. It’s part half-guard pull, part judo sweep, entirely awesome. I was saving the try for the potential match against my friend though because she trains Judo, she knows I know she trains Judo and I figured she wouldn’t expect it. Also, what could be better for the ego than taking down a Judo person? So I decided with my first match I’d try to get to her back and do a wrestling trip, an old favorite of mine.
The match started with a lot of gripping and me trying to get to her back and she eventually pulled guard. She was very strong and had very good grips and kept breaking my posture down. I kept breaking the grip but then she’d get it again and pull me down. We continued this way for a bit. I tried to do a traditional guard break but I couldn’t work it since she kept getting that grip, I then tried to do a Wilson pass to get to half guard but that didn’t work. Eventually she bumped me and I kind of just went with the sweep (this is a bad habit I sometimes get in when I just do what my partner wants) but at least it was a change from guard. I got into her half guard and tried for a deep sweep but it didn’t work. We did a lot of turtle scrambling after that. She was very aggressive and going for my neck a lot but she didn’t have hooks in yet so I wasn’t overly worried about getting submitted. At one point she did get hooks but I quickly got my back to the mat to avoid the choke. I noticed her ankles were crossed but they were too close to the mat to go for a lock so I just escaped. More scrambling, more turtle and then she took my back again and she crossed her ankles again. Well hello. I went for the ankle lock fast and hard and the tap came almost immediately after.
I felt good that I had won the match but it wasn’t the manner I would have wanted to win. It was more a mistake on her part than anything good I did (I mean she was on my back at the time) and I was unhappy that she had won the position war the whole time. I tried to shake this off and prepare for my next match, I was one win from gold!
Next up in our bracket the Hawaiian and my friend fought. I obviously wanted my friend to win because, well, she is my friend. The Hawaiian also pulled guard on my friend and went for grips and breaking of the posture. I could see the frustration my friend was feeling because it was the same as mine in the previous match. The Hawaiian was content to get grips and break posture and was not going for sweeps or submissions from guard which meant that she wasn’t giving openings to escape guard. My friend tried the whole match, came very close to a pass at the end but ran out of time. For some reason I don’t understand, she had been penalized twice for stalling so the Hawaiian won the match which meant that I would fight her again in the final. I had mentally prepared myself to be fighting my friend since the time I registered for the tournament so it was really weird we weren’t going to fight.
So it was time for the final. After my experience with the Hawaiian and watching her second match, I decided that I was not going to let her pull guard this time and grip me up. I was going for my takedown. We started out and I went almost immediately for the takedown. I got my grips, I committed to the throw and I went for it and…it worked! Holy crap I got a takedown! It worked exactly as I had hoped and I ended up in top half guard. She did that lockdown thing to my trapped leg that Eddie Bravo did to Royler for much of Metamoris. I now feel Royler’s pain. I do not have a lot of experience with that defense (or any really) and could not break the hold. All I could think to do was try to straighten my leg but I have been cursed with short, stumpy legs and it was not enough pressure to break the hold. She eventually got up to her side and then went for my back, she got a good bite on my gi and did like a bow and arrow/back lapel choke. I tapped out. Crap.
Afterwards I was pretty angry with myself. I felt like I should have fought better in both fights but I just didn’t have it. I definitely think no food or drink all morning had its effect, I felt very weak and slow the entire time. I also felt like I could have fought that choke better and maybe I gave up too soon. It was very frustrating because I strongly felt that if I had broken that lockdown on my leg I would have passed to side and I would have either finished or maintained control the whole time. I was so close to that gold and I blew it!
Since I knew going into the tournament that I was going to make the podium no matter what happened in my division, I knew that I would have the option to do the open class. I was leaning heavily toward yes because I would get more fights that way and I secretly had visions of double gold in my head. After I went out in my division in a way I was not satisfied with, my “heavily leaning” turned into “sign me up”. I re-hydrated, I ate some food, I watched some friends compete and then I got ready for the open class.
While waiting in the bullpen I was counting the blue belt women in there and realized that 6 of us had signed up. My friend and I were talking in the bullpen and I told her that I hoped I didn’t have to meet her too early on. They were behind at this point so I was stuck in there a while and anxiously waiting to have them call my division.
Finally we were called and with my continued luck at seeding for IBJJF tournaments I was not given a bye, I was fighting first and oh yeah…I was fighting my friend! This really sucked because it meant one of us was going to knock the other out of medal contention.
Since I had been working that takedown specifically for her and since it worked so nicely before, I decided to go for it again. It was not going to be much of a surprise this time though as she had seen it in my previous match but I figured she still didn’t know the nuance of it and probably hadn’t come up with a defense since earlier that afternoon. It kind of worked, she went down but this time I couldn’t roll up on her and I ended up in bottom half guard with an advantage. I eventually went to full guard and then we got reset, she got back to half and then passed. I went to roll and my eye caught something on the mat next to my face so I stopped. I looked up at the referee and asked her “what is that” and my friend then looked as well. The ref stopped the match and picked it up and I could no longer deny what it was, I told her “that’s a razor blade”.
A FREAKING RAZOR BLADE! There it was lying on the mat right next to my face. The ref was confounded and took it to a higher official of some sort. They had a lengthy discussion on what to do with it. Then they called us both over. They checked us for cuts first then thoroughly inspected our gis to see if we had concealed a razor on our person. They told us the only way it could have gotten on the mat is if one of us brought it with us. We told them that we are good friends and know each other and neither of us thought the other would be trying to cut someone. I was seriously worried they were going to dq us both! They finally let us continue so…back to her in side control.
This time I did roll up since there was no razor blade to cut my face and went to turtle. I then made the same mistake I did last year in the Spring Open and let her get a hand in my collar without defending. She got me on my side and went for a bread cutter (I guess that’s what it’s called there). Remembering that I thought I had given up too easily last time I tried for quite some time to break her grip and then she got a grip around the back with the other and I was done. I will say that my throat hurt well into today so I at least know I tried my best with that one!
I went through a lot of emotion when this happened. My dreams of glory were gone. I was not coming home with a gold medal. I wasn’t going to medal at all in the open class. My day was done. I got choked twice.
I want to say that I handled the loss with maturity and decorum and wished my friend well for the remainder of her fights with a smile on my face. I really, really want to say that. I, unfortunately, cannot. I tried my best to compose myself so she wouldn’t see I was upset and feel bad and quickly took my leave of the mat. Unfortunately the exit for the mats was right were we had just fought and our collective friends and teammates were all standing there. I didn’t want anyone to see me so upset so I went to the only hiding place I could and snuck under the bleachers and had what can best be described as a self-pity meltdown.
I sat under there for a good 10 minutes trying to compose myself willing my tears to go away. I felt like a complete failure and a complete jerk at the same time. My dreams of glory were gone. I wasn’t going to come back a hero with 2 gold medals, I barely managed a win. At the same time I knew my friend was out there getting ready to fight again and I really wanted to go support her and felt like the worst kind of jerk that I was indulging in my “poor me” tantrum.
Eventually my buddy came and found me (cause that’s what your bjj buddies do) and talked me down. We went back to the mat, I stopped being a baby and I was able to watch my friend’s final two fights and cheer her on to her hard fought silver medal.
I am trying to focus on the good. I won a match, by submission even! I got a really nice takedown that I’ve been working forever. I scrambled more. I didn’t get cut in the face by a razor (incidentally after the brutal choking my friend gave me I now have second thoughts about her part in the razor scandal).
But I can’t move past the bad. I let myself get choked twice. My one victory was from a mistake my opponent made and not anything spectacular I did. I feel like I gave up in my second fight against her and should have gotten out of the choke. I had my friends tape the matches for me and watched them last night in hope that I would move past the tournament funk. When I was trying to fight the choke they can be heard screaming “don’t give up!”. I am going to hear that in my head for a long time.
I feel like I am continuing to be ridiculous. If one of my friends were being this mopey after winning silver in their division I would tell them to stop being so negative and focus on the good things that happened. Hopefully soon I will take my own advice.
Stuff to work on
- Stop getting choked (maybe I should just focus on no-gi from now on).
- Figure out how to break that lockdown in half guard.
- Fix my knee so I can train like I want to.
- Manage weight cut better next time so I can eat and drink before I fight.
- Train tournament style more (this is going to be a tricky one with my previous goal of not getting hurt anymore).
Well that was a complete and exhaustive retelling of all things New York Open related. Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to contact the IBJJF about a possible razor smuggler.
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?
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.
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!
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.
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!
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.
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.