I am about the easiest person in the universe to make feel guilty (I am also prone to gross exaggeration). This is not always a bad thing. It keeps me from doing jerky things sometimes. But it is often not a good thing either. There have been people in my life who knew how to play that guilt like a banjo to get their way. I also find myself worrying too much about making other people happy, so much so that my own happiness will take a back seat. So what does this have to do with BJJ? It turns out a lot.
As I have mentioned before, I regularly find myself in the position of being the only woman in training. Rational or not, warranted or not, I very often feel guilty about this. I feel guilty for the person who ends up drilling with me because I feel like I am sometimes the least desirable training partner. This is not to say the guys don’t like me or that they hate working with me or I am terrible to drill with but I know it is often tricky to work with a girl. There is usually a size gap and they worry about crushing me. Also, I think that sometimes the guys feel like they have to hold back a little to work with the girls and they don’t necessarily want to. Plus there is always the fear of awkward hand misplacement (btw guys as long as you don’t linger and/or squeeze, I really don’t care if you accidentally put your hands on my boobs).
So as a result I am just about always the last person standing when we partner up to drill. Inevitably I end up staring at my teammates watching them pair off and waiting for the one guy who is left to work with. Even worse though is when we have an odd number in class and then I end up standing there alone and having to pick a group to work in with. My coach told me that I should just ask one of the guys instead of waiting to be picked but I feel guilty (there it is again) because I feel like I am sticking them with a drilling partner they do not want.
On Saturday I was talking to one of the students after our women’s class and she told me she had been to a class during the week for the first time, which meant that she had worked with the boys for the first time. Typically I am there every day during the week but last week I got a nasty chest cold and missed a few days including the day she came in. She told me she was upset with herself that she didn’t roll at the end of class. We were talking about the reasons she didn’t roll and eventually she admitted that she felt kind of guilty about it because she is very small and she didn’t want to make the boys go easy with her.
I told her I understood (believe me I understand) but that it was something that we all had to get over in order to train. I told her that we all have the right to train and as women we might have to be a little more assertive about exercising that right. I said that anyone can get something out of working with anyone else and that her partners would just have to learn that. This is something I truly believe. When I am rolling with brand new people who are obviously a little intimidated to have made it to the advanced side of the mat, I use it as an opportunity to work on things that I wouldn’t normally try with more advanced opponents. I also really like to help the new people out (well any person!) so if they make an obvious mistake that I am able to capitalize on, I will tell them after what they did and hopefully it helps them out.
Yesterday I went to tournament training at the team HQ in Center City. I have been going for a couple of months now and there were only two times that I was not the only woman there and those were the first two weeks so it’s been a while since I was not the sole member of my gender at training. I have often felt even guiltier going to tournament training than I do going to regular training. This is training that is meant for everyone to go really hard and I know that often the guys won’t go their hardest with me because of concern of hurting me. I keep going though because I need to train like that if I’m going to compete and like I said, everyone has the right to train. But I sometimes can’t help but think I ruin the all boys club by showing up.
After a few rounds yesterday I was feeling kind of gassed (getting over a chest cold makes it hard to breathe, not being able to breath makes BJJ suck) so I took a break. I sat on the side and watched the next round. I watched the guy who I had just rolled with who had definitely not gone hard with me training like a maniac with another blue belt. I looked at all the guys going 100% with each other and a wave of guilt washed over me. I felt guilty that these guys were there to train hard and I was holding them back. I felt guilty that I couldn’t be as strong as them and I most likely never will be.
So when the round ended I just couldn’t bring myself to walk back on the mat and ask one of the guys to roll. I just sat there thinking that if someone asked me to roll I would but I was not going to make these guys who had come here to train hard roll with me. For three rounds I sat there watching the guys roll and feeling inadequate. I got one more roll in on the last round when a nice brown belt asked me to roll but again it turned more into a flow roll than a tournament type roll.
Afterwards I couldn’t help but reflect on what a hypocrite I was. One day I am telling a student to assert her right to train and that the boys will just have to deal with it and the next day I am sitting on the sidelines feeling weak and inferior. I think we all have moments like this, men included. We feel like we are not good enough to train with those around us and we don’t want to ruin training for other people. This is often hard for women because we cannot hide our perceived inferiority (inferiority from a BJJ standpoint, girls are better than boys in most other aspects).
So what am I going to do about this guilt I feel when training? Well I often tell people that the only solution to BJJ problems is more BJJ. I think that applies here. If I want to be able to make it worthwhile for these guys to train with me than I just have to keep getting better. I will most likely never be able to match even the new guys’ strength but I can get my technique to a point that I give everyone a hard time.
I also am going to have to remember my own sentiment that you can get something from any rolling partner. I believe this to be true for me so I have to accept that it’s true for everyone. Because we all do have the right to train and no one should feel guilty about their ability or their perceived lack thereof. I never want to see a woman sitting on the sidelines because she doesn’t think she is good enough to train with the guys so that is an example I will not be setting anymore. So I’ll see you on the mats next week boys, be ready.
Finally it’s tomorrow, the NY Open! As I prepare for battle I have been thinking about competition a lot.
Probably anybody who has competed and lost has had a coach or training partner or friend tell them “it takes a lot of guts just to compete”. I have heard this after losing. I always figured it’s just something nice that people tell you when you’ve lost and they don’t know what else to say.
As I’ve been around competition and training more though I’ve realized that this is more than a consolatory phrase uttered to a defeated athlete who is wondering why they competed in the first place, it is the God’s honest truth. Competing in a jiu-jitsu tournament is about so much more than just fighting. You are going one on one with another person and putting yourself on display for all to see. The wear and tear on your psyche is far worse than what happens to your body (hopefully). Just the thought of doing this is so terrifying to some people that they will never step foot on a competition mat. Just by doing so you’ve won a battle that most people are afraid to fight.
One of the things that takes the most guts is going back to competition after a loss. I have seen more than a few guys at my gym go to their first competition with all the confidence and swagger that athletic people in their early 20s tend to have only to see their opponent’s hand raised at the end of the match. Later when the topic of another tournament comes up at the gym they say something along the lines of “I have to train more to be ready” or even the very honest “I don’t want to lose again”.
I hate to lose. When I do poorly in a tournament, I typically spend the next day moping on the couch, eating junk and thinking about why I keep doing this to myself and how I should just stop competing. Shortly after that I think about what I can learn from it. Then I drag my beaten, defeated body back to the gym and work to fix what went wrong at the tournament. It is always hard, especially that first day back when everyone wants to know how the tournament went, but I do it because I feel it’s the best way to improve.
I have worked everyday since my last tournament on improving my game. I have worked to be more aggressive, I have worked on my attitude and I have worked on my diet. I have spent most of every weekend tournament training, much of the time as the only girl fighting a bunch of big, scary dudes (that’s how I see them anyway).
I am ready to win tomorrow. I also know that it is possible I will not. No matter what if someone tells me afterwards that it takes a lot of guts just to compete I will smile and thank them because I know it’s true.
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.
I am deeply ensconced in preparation for the NY Open on April 20th. I have talked a lot about working on my mental game, which I am still doing, but I am also working on being very aggressive when rolling. I had an “aha” moment on Friday when training at a friend’s gym. I was rolling with people I hadn’t met before and I guess I reverted to a more passive, defensive game. It is something I didn’t even realize I was doing. I was about to roll for a second time with a white belt guy and he asked me “did you go easy on me before?”. Without thinking I told him I had not (I didn’t do anything consciously anyway) and he said “oh I just expected worse when I saw your blue belt”.
Now obviously this peeved me off a little bit. I thought “well if he wants more, I’ll give him more” and after we bumped fists I just attacked. I submitted him twice in the six minute roll. I took this attitude into the next couple of rolls and had similar success (they were all white belts but bigger than me…so it’s ok to beat them up!).
I tried to keep this killer mentality going into training on Sunday and it worked out very well for me. I even got some compliments from the guys (my favorite being one of the guys asking me “do you have a key for this lock?” in reference to his inability to break my guard…he said it was harder to break than some of the men’s!). I thought about my good weekend of training afterwards and I realized that getting in touch with my anger on Friday had really helped me roll aggressively.
I was very excited to take this new attitude into training last night and when class ended and open mat began, I eagerly prepared to roll. I rolled with my brown belt instructor first. No amount of aggression was going to help me there, he is just way too good. Next I rolled with another blue belt girl. I told her beforehand that I was in tournament mode and trying to be aggressive so to let me know if she wanted me to take it down a notch. She was a good sport while we rolled but I accidentally kneed her in the head once and I think I hit her in the face at some point and who knows what other nasty stuff I did that I didn’t catch or she didn’t mention. I rolled with one of the guys also competing in the NY Open next and similarly managed to hit him in the face a few times as well.
I think this is a large reason why getting in touch with my aggression is so hard. I was feeling like a badass going into class yesterday, ready to fight the world. After class I felt like a bully. I had beaten up on a teammate who weighs 25-30 pounds less than me and who is not training for a tournament and then I continued the trend in my next roll.
I got to thinking about this and why I felt so guilty after yesterday’s class and not after Friday or Sunday’s training. I think the difference is that these people are my regular training partners and my friends. I don’t want to hit my friends in the face (well most of them anyway). I didn’t really know any of the guys on Friday and Sunday we were training for a tournament so the expectation was we were going to go hard.
It got me thinking about what it means to be a good training partner. I am training for a tournament but the majority of people in the gym are not. Is it fair for me to be in tournament mode when I fight them? If you read any blogs or articles about annoying training partners, one of the top complaints is someone who goes ridiculously hard when rolling. I myself have complained about it!
But in this case I am training for a tournament. Am I being a jerk by going that hard when it is in preparation for a tournament in less than two weeks? Does being a good training partner also mean that you should be willing to go really hard for a while to help a teammate get ready?
I don’t want to let my desire to be nice and my guilt get in the way of my aggression, particularly when I can see what a difference it is making, but I also don’t want people to hate rolling with me. I guess the best solution for now is to roll with guys who are also getting ready to compete and to tell people to let me know if I am making them uncomfortable. I just figured out how to let me inner badass out and I cannot let her out of my site until after the tournament!
That was my weekend. I participated in tournament training on Friday and Sunday but did take a much needed day off on Saturday to rest and to attend a friend’s wedding (although I did dance at the wedding quite a bit). Although both training sessions were designed to be tournament like they were quite different.
Friday was very intense. A lot of people showed up and we were going all out. The coach running the training also yelled at us from the sidelines if he caught us slacking off, talking or doing anything else that you wouldn’t do during a tournament match.
There were moments on Friday where I was terrified. We did 8 minute rounds but often switched partners in the middle of a round. Each time we started, we started from our feet. I will freely admit that my standup is the worst so I knew it was good for me to get some work in there. That doesn’t mean I enjoyed it though. I often found myself paired up with large purple, brown and black belts and I would panic and try to pull guard.
Between bad guard pulls and awful takedown defense, I found myself on the bottom every round. I was still feeling very unenergized Friday night and so I wasn’t moving very well either. I got submitted a lot, I rarely got out of bad positions and I was just exhausted. Because we were going tournament level, the guys were going hard and there were lots of crossfaces, shoulder smothers and even one guy who used the “muffler” technique quite freely. There were times where I found myself curled up in a ball under a large training partner trying not to tap to panic. I would tell myself “you can’t just lay here, move, do something”. But I wasn’t doing a good job of listening to myself (I rarely do).
Sunday was a different experience. It was more laid back and it was more about technique than trying to beat the crap out of each other. I was still getting owned but in ways where I could move and work technique a bit more intelligently than I was doing Friday where it was mostly survival mode. I also got to work a couple of rounds with a female brown belt which was a rare and fun treat. I also felt much quicker and able to move after taking Saturday off from BJJ.
I learned important things in both these training sessions. Friday was a lot about survival. About three minutes into the first round I actually thought about stopping and telling the coach I was clearly not ready to compete and taking myself off the mat. I didn’t work many good techniques and I didn’t tap anyone and I had to deal with a lot of panic and bad situations. Although this sucks, it’s important to learn how to deal with these things. A lot of BJJ involves some level of discomfort or even fear. When someone is laying on top of you holding you down and trying to choke you unconscious, it’s hard not to feel scared! But I’d rather learn to deal with this in training than in a tournament or in a self-defense situation.
I also learned that rest is really important. I knew I was rundown Friday night and I could tell I was rolling flat. I couldn’t help but think how much more I’d be getting out of the training if I was able to move better. My body was so tired and sore that when I tried to push for an escape or pass it was very ineffective. After taking Saturday off, I felt like I was moving again Sunday and it felt so much nicer (I at least made the guys work a little to kick my ass).
I also learned that I really hate always being on the bottom. OK, I knew this already but I definitely relearned it this weekend. This means I really have to put myself in positions to be on top when I am training and stop letting my opponents take me down. At this point I’d settle for a good guard pull though, at least that is manageable bottom.
So this week I’m concentrating on taking things a bit easier so I do not get as rundown, getting enough rest and I guess I have to work on standup…darn.