Before I start let me offer my apologies for the delay between posts. Between tournament training, a client going live last week and me being a procrastinator and waiting until the day before they were due to do my taxes, my life has been quite hectic and the last week.
I am in the final preparations for the NY Open on Saturday and am feeling relatively good. I have trained like a maniac, followed my diet and am doing a lot of visualization to try to work on my mental game. The NY Open has been my focus for so long that I am eager to go and put all my hard work to the test.
But as much as I am looking forward to it and trying to use visualization and doing my best to listen to my coach about negative thoughts, I can’t help having moments of doubt. When they creep up I try to tell them to go away and start focusing on positive things but sometimes they just grab hold.
Yesterday was one of those times. As we sometimes do when people are about to compete, we did matches in my gym yesterday at the end of open mat. My coach first paired me up with a blue belt guy. It went awful. I didn’t want to try takedowns because I thought I had little shot of getting him down so I pulled guard but apparently not that well. He was able to get to a standing half-guard, grab my arm and go for a kimura. With him being much stronger than me and in good position from my crappy guard pull, he got it pretty easily and my “match” was over in about 20 seconds (and I might be adding 10 to make myself sound better). Well that was just the ego crusher I did not need while getting ready to compete.
My next match I was paired up with another blue belt girl. As we were going for position on our feet, she accidentally poked me in the eye. It hurt. I told my coach that I needed a minute and tended to my eye the best I could but they had (thankfully) moved on by the time I returned.
So I sat there watching the rest of the matches and cheering and offering advice when I could. After class I went to gather my stuff and sat on the bench, feeling defeated and beat up, exactly the opposite of how I should be feeling going into a competition.
I left the gym and the second the wind hit my eye it got extremely painful and watered like a fountain. I managed to get myself home, driving with only one good eye and running from the parking lot to my house to minimize the wind exposure in my eye. After I got in and cleaned up, I was sitting on the couch trying to mop up the water running out of my eye and feeling sorry for myself.
A BJJ friend of mine had texted me about something earlier and I answered her back and mentioned that I was having a bad BJJ night (anyone who trains gets this). She asked me what was up and I told her of my awful night and how I was feeling not so great about my BJJ just then.
She basically then did exactly what I needed and told me to snap out of it. She told me how much she likes training with me because of my drive, technique, strength and movement and that it was time I believed in myself because I was too good to have doubts.
I really appreciated the kind words and encouragement right when I needed it. This situation is sort of the epitome of the BJJ experience. I felt defeated and was feeling doubts about my ability to continue fighting and an awesome teammate was there to remind me that I needed to get over it and keep fighting.
Everyone has doubts about their jiu-jitsu whether they compete or not. What matters is how you respond. Do you back down and listen to that voice telling you that you are no good or do you stand up and fight? So as I am once again sitting on my coach dealing with a watery eye (saw the Dr. this morning after a rough night…just a scratch!), I am eagerly awaiting tonight’s class and matches. Today is a new fight and I plan to bring everything I have to the mat tonight.
Sorry again for the long delay in posts. I had a nasty cold come on Sunday and then had to go to a technology conference for work Tuesday and Wednesday which meant I was not training for a couple of days and not in front of a computer thus I had little to write about and no opportunity to do so.
Further impeding my ability to blog was an assignment given to me by my coach. I had a somewhat difficult weekend of tournament training (I go to other schools on Friday and Sunday for tournament training which means we go very hard) and was not feeling so great about my jits by the end of Sunday. During one of my matches the stripe on my belt (I am a one stripe blue belt) came off on the mat and I made a joke about how it had abandoned my belt in shame after my poor performance.
As I said I was not feeling great about my BJJ after Sunday’s training but this is not something that is unusual for me so I continued with business as usual and went about my day afterward. While hanging at my parent’s later in the day (as you recall it was Easter), I got a text from my coach. He told me that he really liked how I have been pushing myself and he saw some big improvements but he did not want to hear me say anything negative about my skills before the NY Open on the 20th.
At first I thought he was overreacting, I just made one little joke! But then I really thought about it and realized that he was right (as he usually is). I thought about the little things I was doing and saying all day that showed that I did not think I had any game. Not only was this obviously apparent to everyone around me–my coach was able to pick up on it despite pretty limited direct interaction–but it most likely affected my training as well.
I have myself noticed lately (and even blogged about it!) that when rolling if I think positively it really helps my game. Lately when I start to feel down about my game or doubt starts to creep in I think about the quote from Henry Ford “Whether you think you can, or you think you can’t–you’re right” (I have seen various versions of t this quote and am not sure which is correct but you get the idea).
So I thanked my coach and told him I was only joking but I did feel very flat that day (probably because a monster cold was invading my body) but I had made myself push through and was happy I had done at least that. He then told me that he was very serious about me not saying anything negative before the tournament and that I would see a big change if I followed his advice.
So I am doing what my coach says and it is very hard. A huge part of BJJ is mental. I think everyone at some point in time has thought that they are the most untalented person to step foot on a mat and they should just give up because clearly BJJ was not meant for them. Moving past this self-doubt is probably a huge part of advancing.
So although I know that there are things I need to work on, I’m only going to focus on the positive for the next couple of weeks and hopefully go into the open ready to take on the world. In the interest of being positive I am going to make a list of things I think I am good at in BJJ. They are, in no particular order:
- Shoulder pressure – I have the nastiest shoulder in my gym, it is just the right size and shape to choke people.
- Chokes – my choke game is tight.
- Half-guard passes – I always manage to get into half-guard and thus have much practice with this.
- Holding guard – Being smaller and weaker than everyone means I have had a lot of opportunity to work my guard and it is super hard for even the boys to break it.
- I am tough – You have to be when you are a girl who trains with men 95% of the time.
- Back escapes – I very rarely get choked out from the back.
- Turtle – I can flatten myself into the shape of a rock if needed.
Wow that was a longer list than I envisioned it being when I started it. So see? I am good at more than I would typically give myself credit for. I am going to focus on this list and try to get myself into these positions where I feel I can dominate.
And now because I referenced it in the title and because it’s Friday and because you cannot hear this song and not smile, here you go…enjoy!
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!
I have been focusing on working my mental game since NAGA. What this has meant for me is that I go into every roll with the attitude that I am not going to back down and thinking that I can “win”. I don’t consider a win a submission but I try to get to the positions I want and get out of any bad positions I find myself in and hey if a submission happens, that’s just fine too.
When I was at the women’s camp this weekend, Valerie Worthington said that even when it’s not spoken, your intention when rolling is clear to your partner. I knew exactly what she meant. You can tell when you are rolling with someone if they are just looking to have fun and work some technique, if they are letting you work (high belts will do this a lot and I secretly love them for it) or if they are out for the submission no matter what it takes.
I started thinking about how this could be a positive thing. If you go in thinking “I am going to win” (I really hate using the word win here as I don’t think anyone loses when rolling but “I am going to get in good positions, fight out of bad ones and maybe submit someone” is too long), can’t that affect your rolling too? If you have the attitude that you are going to be successful than couldn’t that change how you roll?
I have stumbled across proof of this theory by accident when rolling. This happened once when I was rolling with a guy who has less experience and technique than I do but is very strong. Often when we roll he will grab my wrists or arms and hold on for dear life if I start to get in advantageous positions. He used to use this move to pass but I have had more experience than I wanted with that and have learned to avoid it or get out of the position. This particular time I was in his guard and he was holding my wrists to keep me from moving and then he started to try to work for an armbar, triangle or pass. I was so aggravated by him holding my wrists in a death lock that I refused to let him get into a good position by using it. I managed to stay on top in guard and had even passed and mounted when the round had ended. My attitude of “you’re not getting away with this” fueled my game and I managed to fight into a good position. Well that is a handy trick.
Last week I was really focused on not giving up on moves and fighting for position. After rolling with one of our purple belts after class, he told me he was impressed that I was going for more and not just accepting bad positions. The next day I was talking to my coach and he said he noticed I had taken it up a level that week as well. I told him what the purple belt said and he said “do you see how even a slight change in your mental approach is noticeable to others on the mat?”. I did see.
After having noticeable success last week, I wanted to continue to focus on my attitude this week. I had some great rolls on Monday night where I was moving, getting out of bad positions and getting into positions I wanted. My last roll of the night was much like this but I got frustrated at the end when I got caught in two submissions. One of them was all me, I was in turtle and failed to realize my partner was going for the Peruvian necktie. The second came partly as a result of me getting overly frustrated (I begrudgingly admit part of it was just a good move on his part). My partner had completely muscled a sweep on me (we even joked about it) and some of that old doubt was creeping in and making me think that I couldn’t win. I left an arm where I shouldn’t and he took advantage of that.
I started to feel the frustration and upset that I had been feeling leading up to the tournament (and well months and months before that). When thinking about it later I realized that I was being ridiculous. My new attitude didn’t mean I was never going to get caught again. Also I was focusing on the two negatives of the roll instead of the positives. A couple of weeks ago I let this guy dominate me because I thought he was too strong for me. Tonight I gave him all I had and had hung with him the entire time!
Last night he was in class again and I asked him for a roll afterwards. I said to myself as we were bumping fists that I was going to be positive and roll just like I had the other night (except maybe a little more cautious in turtle). I once again gave him all I had. I distinctly remember one point where he was working a sweep and I started to think “oh great, you’re going to get swept again”. I pushed this aside and replaced it with “JUST WORK” and managed to control his legs, pass and get to side control. The round ended shortly after as I was working for mount. I walked away feeling very happy. Instead of talking myself into failure, I had talked myself into success.
I guess a slight change in your mental approach is noticeable to everyone, even you.