Sunday was a perfect example of why I both love and sometimes hate BJJ. On Sundays we have basics class and then usually go right from drilling to rolling. The purple belt instructor who usually teaches the class had unfortunately sprained his knee rolling with the black belt owner of the gym. I was particularly bummed about this because he is my favorite rolling partner at the gym and he will usually make it a point to roll with me 3 or 4 rounds in a row. He doesn’t muscle me and he lets me work offense (what’s that?) so it’s always a fun time. The owner decided to surprise us by making us do conditioning for the first 30 minutes of class. This involved sit-outs, curl + press with a 25lb weight, 40lb kettlebell swings and 80lb kettlebell deadlifts (I am still sore). After that we drilled a knee cut pass from guard and he showed us how to take mount from there. It was an exhausting class.
After class was over and the guys were beginning to pair up, I took a seat next to the injured purple belt and eyed my rolling options. None of the small guys were in class and most of the guys who were in class were either guys I tend to avoid or guys I knew I would get muscled around a lot by. After the exhausting conditioning, I wasn’t sure I could handle the challenge of rolling with these guys and was going to quietly exit when the first round started. That idea was quickly squashed when both the owner of the gym and the purple belt expressed that they felt I should roll. For the next few rounds I got man-handled, muscled and submitted at my partner’s will. I felt like they were giving it their all and I had nothing to give. I tried to sneak off the mat after every round only to get paired up again. I was very frustrated by this point and I could feel the worst of all things was happening, I was tearing up. I am not a person who cries easily but sometimes the futility, frustration and exhaustion of getting my ass kicked will do this to me.
As I tried again to slink off the mat, the owner called me over to roll with him. Well you don’t say no to a black belt so off I went. That was actually helpful. He helped me to work on passing from half guard. For reasons unknown to me (perhaps I am terrible at passing) I am in half guard A LOT so this was great to work on. However he could see I was upset and asked me what was up. I just tried to act like I was not actively holding back tears and told him it just wasn’t my day. He told me to work with one of the other guys and instructed that guy to “go light” and let me get some positions. As we started the round the guy asked me if we should just roll like normal but slower. I agreed to this and the next thing I knew I was in a triangle. As I tried to work an escape, he quickly swept me over and went for the mounted triangle. I spent the next 4 minutes like this, going back and forth from mounted triangle to triangle in guard while he tried to finish. The injured purple belt took pity on me (this last triangle was about my 17th of the day) and we just drilled a couple of triangle defenses and I was finally able to make my exit from the mat.
After I got home I was feeling dejected and depressed. Why go through all this training if it doesn’t stop me from getting my ass kicked on a regular basis? As I was sitting on the couch having my pity party, the owner of the gym texted me to ask if I was OK after training. I felt both embarrassed that I had been so upset he felt the need to check on me and happy that he cared enough to do so. I told him I was OK and apologized for getting so upset. He wrote back telling me not to worry and added “and btw…you are tough as nails and have grit and determination”. I thought this was nice but I didn’t feel tough as anything.
So yesterday morning I was on Facebook at work (do you actually work at work?) and the purple belt sent me a message asking how I was doing. I felt more embarrassment that he also felt the need to check on me. I repeated that I was fine, apologized for getting so frustrated and thanked him for his help. We then proceeded to have a long conversation about how to handle strength (he is a smaller guy and also has issues with this), how I was handling it (more on that in the next post!) and general jiu-jitsu frustration. He mentioned that any girl who chooses to train BJJ with the guys is going to have a tough road. Wait, there was a choice? (I kid, I love the guys I train with).
So I sat at my desk thinking about what had happened, feeling embarrassed that both instructors had felt the need to check on me because I was so visibly upset at training. It then occurred to me that they weren’t checking on me because they felt bad for me or sorry for me. They saw me struggling and they wanted me to know that they appreciated that struggle and they didn’t want me to feel discouraged. This is what I love about jiu-jitsu people. When you are feeling down and are convinced you will always be the worst on the mat, one of your teammates or coaches is always there to let you know this is not the case and encourage you to keep going. So thanks coaches, I’ll keep on fighting.