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Saturday, January 28, 2012

Jiu-Jitsu is not Capoeira

We had a new girl come to our Women's Class this morning. She came in a little late--we had already gone through warm-ups and had just started technique--so I did not get to talk with her as much as I normally would a new student.

When she stepped onto the mat, I told her to sit down and asked her if she new what Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu was. She said, "Not really. But it looked really beautiful."

Agreeing that it was beautiful, I then proceeded to explain that Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu is mostly ground fighting and told her a little bit about what the goals of BJJ were. She looked a little confused while I was talking, but as many women are a little overwhelmed by BJJ on their first day, I didn't think much of it.

I showed her the basic hip out from under mount, showed her an americana from mount and a few other basic moves that we show on the first day. She worked hard at it and seemed to be really into it. When we grappled, she threw herself into it full force and was not shy. She seemed to to really be enjoying it.

It wasn't until after class was over, when I was telling her about our class options and we were talking about her coming back that she started asking some questions.

"You guys don't do the dancing here?" she asked.

This caught me off guard. "Dancing?" It took me a second to guess what she might mean. "Do you mean Capoeira?"

"Yeah," she said.

She said she had thought this was a Capoeira class and had been waiting the whole time for us to start dancing. Poor girl came expecting a dance class based on self-defense moves and instead got thrown into grappling! She was a really good sport about it, though, and she said, "It wasn't what I was expecting but it was still cool." She said she wants to come back.

In case you were wondering, this is Capoeira. Just a little bit different from BJJ. :)

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Remembering Techniques

Madison is a new addition to our Women's Class. She has been to only a handful of classes, but at 12 years old, she has already become addicted to the Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu. Last night, while I was watching her grapple one of the other girls, I saw her try to get a triangle choke several times. She had seen the choke two classes before. She was not able to finish the choke during the grapple but I was proud of her for several reasons.

1. She recognized that she could use the choke from the position she was in.

2. She understood the basics of what the choke looked like and what position she needed to be in to do it.

3. She remembered the first few steps of applying the choke.

4. Most importantly, I was proud of her for TRYING the technique she had learned against a live, resisting partner.

I remember when I first started BJJ how overwhelming all of the techniques were. There were so many steps. So many details. I felt anxiety over the fact that I would go to class, see the techniques and forget most of what I saw after I left and went home.


For a long time, my experience was exactly like Madisons. I would remember that I had seen something I could use from a certain position, I'd remember the basics of what it had looked like, but as I tried to do it, I would realize that I had forgotten most of the steps. I would get through the first few "steps" of the move and then be lost. But, over time, those details were filled in and I was able to go through all the steps.

If you are new to BJJ and you are feeling overwhelmed, try to remember that time is on your side. Your instructor will show the techniques in more than one class. You will see a triangle choke in one class, try it for a few weeks unsuccessfully, and then see the same choke in another class and notice the details you had forgotten. Even now I love it when Fabio goes over basic positions and submissions, because I always notice new details I didn't see before.

But, if you want to maximize your memory and hold onto as much as possible, here are some things you can ask yourself about each of the techniques you see in class. If you can remember the answers to these questions, if will help you on your way to being able to use them during a live grapple.

1. What position is this technique useful from? A common mistake that beginners make is trying to use a submission from the wrong position. For example, they might try to use a gi choke while they are under mount or stuck in someone's guard.

2. What is the goal of the technique? Sometimes people misunderstand what part of the body a submission is aimed at. For example, they might think an americana is meant to break the elbow, when really it is the shoulder joint that is being targeted.

3. Why does the technique work? Here is where you can help yourself to remember the details. If you understand that the reason a triangle choke works is because you are using your opponent's shoulder and your leg to block off the carotid arteries and the blood flow to the brain, then you will be better able to understand the point of those seemingly endless details you are trying to remember.

When your instructor is demonstrating the triangle choke and he/she tells you to squeeze your knees and lift your hips, ask yourself why. Why does that make the move work more effectively? What is that motion doing to my body position and the other person's body position?

4. Make the most of your drilling time. A lot of times, I see beginners trying the technique once or twice and then sit there, looking around as if they have already gotten it. The purpose of drilling is not just about remembering the steps with your mind. Drilling is also about making those details a part of your muscle memory. You are teaching your body how to move. If you practice the techniques over and over again, then when you are grappling, your body will do it automatically. You won't have to stop to remember the steps.

5. Try the techniques you saw during your grappling time. A common mistake people make is to NOT try new things because they don't think they will be successful. The truth is, you probably wont be successful the first time you try a new technique. But you will get closer each time you try. When you try and fail, you will discover the parts of the technique that you need to understand better.

6. Ask your instructor or a higher belt to remind you about the details. If you are grappling and you try a technique and can't remember all the steps, ask someone after class to refresh your memory. Most higher belts will be more than happy to help.

7. Be patient. Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu takes time to learn. Legitimate black belts aren't made overnight. Enjoy your training and have fun. Perfect technique will come in time and with practice over years.




Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Brood of Jiu-Jitsu Competitors? Mayhaps!

I am excited! A couple of the girls that have recently joined the Women's Class are interested in competing. They've been asking me about points and positions and all things tournament related. Stephanie and I might take a few of them to a NAGA that is coming up in February to let them watch and see what goes on at a tournament and see if it is something they are interested in doing. 

So far, my focus in the Women's Class has been more geared toward BJJ for self-defense. So I have been heavier on escapes, sweeps, taking the back and submissions from guard, mount and chokes from behind. My thought process was that, if these girls were attacked in real life, chances are they would end up on the bottom, underneath a bigger, stronger person. My first priority has been teaching them tools to get out from underneath a heavier person and how to break down someone's posture in guard and them sweep or to go for submissions from guard. 

Thinking about preparing them for a tournament changes some of the priorities for what I want them to work  on.  I have done almost nothing on take downs. And, though I have shown a few basic guard passes, I need to give them a lot more instruction in that area.   

I think I will shift my focus more to guard passing and keeping their base for the next few weeks. Also, I want to help them prepare mentally. If you were preparing a class of beginners for their first tournament, what would your primary focus be?

Also, if the girls do end up competing, I think I will probably suffer a nervous breakdown on the sidelines while they're fighting. Someone better have a tranquilizer gun handy if someone hurts one of my girls because mama bears gunna get ya! LOL Just kidding....mostly.



Tuesday, January 17, 2012

What Your BJJ Instructor is Looking For

We had something exciting happen in our Women's Class. Rowan got her first stripe on her white belt! 


At 12 years old, "Robo Rowan" is our first girl coming through the Women's Class to get a stripe. Congratulations, Rowan! I can't tell you how exciting it is for me to see all the girls learning and using the techniques. So proud of all of you gals!!

Teaching is really making me think differently about BJJ. It has helped me better understand what the goals of each class are--what I should be looking to "get out of" each session--and to give me a better understanding of what how instructors might view their students. Some things I have personally learned are:

1. When I watch the girls, I am not as concerned about whether or not they are winning the match they are in and I'm more concerned with seeing whether or not they are using the techniques they know. If I put on the new girls against Stephanie, I know Stephanie is going to "win" because of her longer experience and technical advantage. Or, if I put a smaller girl with a bigger girl, I know strength and size will be a factor in the grapple. What I am looking for is whether or not the disadvantaged student is using the tools they have learned. If they are on bottom, are they trying to use the escapes that they know? If they are making attempts, at what points are they being effective and at what points are they having trouble? A lot of times, I am pleased even if the student remembers an escape, tries it but doesn't quite make it. The fact that they remembered that tool and are working on it is great! Eventually, I know they will get it.

2. I have learned that, for me, a student who comes in with a humble attitude and who is willing to work hard is much more desirable than someone who has a prideful, selfish attitude, even if that prideful one has more natural talent. What I have noticed with new people is that pride will kill a person's bjj journey before it ever really gets started. A lot of times, girls will come in expecting to do well because maybe they are in really good shape or maybe they have had experience in some other martial art. When they aren't instantly "winning" at BJJ, they feel frustrated and don't enjoy it. They end up not coming back. But when someone with no expectations comes in, they are more able to accept that they are not going to be able to dominate everyone they grapple and therefore they are free to enjoy learning. 

3. It does not impress me when a student shows off by being unnecessarily rough with another student. In fact, that kind of behavior does the opposite of impressing me. It makes me want to grapple that person with the same kind of selfish attitude that they showed to their teammate.    

4. There are sooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooo many holes in my knowledge of BJJ. I can't tell you how many times I have gone to Fabio's classes, seen him show a technique and cringe because I just taught that technique to the girls and left some really important detail out. My only solace is that I will have chances to show that same technique again and point it out later! lol 

5. Above all, I have learned that nothing makes me happier than to see the girls ENJOYING the class and to see them gain confidence in themselves. 

Friday, January 6, 2012

Pan American Championship Training

I've been gone, but not idle. Training has kicked up a notch for me because, for the first time ever, I am going to the Pan Ams!! I am very excited. I think there are going to be quite a few people from our gym going this year, so it should be really fun. I can't wait to see all the action and hopefully even meet some of you guys who are also at the tournament!


Lately, I am at Fabio's training 6-7 times a week. At first, it was really hard on my body. But now, I am feeling good. Because I am training so much I have been militant about several things:

1. Laundry-- I only have 3 gis. This means I am almost constantly washing and hanging one. Not to mention all the shirts and pants. Ugh...

2. Ringworm Prevention-- Fortunately, there haven't been any cases of ringworm going around but I am determined to make sure that I don't get it. So I have been using the Nizoral shower gel and have also been spraying myself down once a week at the end of the week.

3. Ibuprofin, Ice and Epsom Salt Baths-- Aches and pains are a given when you're training a lot.

4. Stretching-- My shoulders and neck are problem areas for me. To avoid injuries, I have been making sure I stretch well when I get home before I shower.

5. Resting On Sundays-- I don't do anything on Sundays. No cardio. No nothing. I veg around pamper my body and let it recover.

6. Diet and Hydration-- This one, I am taking in baby steps. I have a few pounds to lose before March, and I don't want to cut. I want to lose it over time. The first step has been to drink no more soda (Except on Moe's Mondays!!) and to drink water throughout the day. I haven't been as good as I should about drinking water, but I am doing better. The second step has been to replace a lot of the carbs I eat (like pasta and a rice) with more protein, veggies and fruit. This hasn't been as painful as I expected it to be. I haven't cut out carbs. I think my body would revolt zombie style and lay waste to a bread factory if I tried. But I try to eat my breads and rice during the day and replace my servings of bread and pasta at night with either more protein or veggies or fruit.

Also, one things I have learned is that I actually wasn't eating ENOUGH. This surprised me. I thought I would have to cut back on calories to lose weight. But when I talked to a friend of mine who is a nutritionist he told me that I was already not eating enough and that my body wouldn't let me lose the weight because it was feeling depleted. What I needed to do is eat enough of the RIGHT kinds of foods so that my body is properly fueled.

7.   Keeping My Focus In Training-- I have learned that, for me, preparing for a tournament doesn't mean going into beast mode during every grapple. For me, the biggest priority is preparing myself mentally. I am NOT some kind of prodigy grappler, but I do believe in the quality of the training I have received. What I need to do is keep my confidence up and make every grapple count. My focus in learning over the next few months is not in any one specific area. It is more about problem solving with leverage when I am on bottom, being tight and keeping my base when I am on top, and being able to set the pace of a grapple. We will see how I am able to progress with these goals.

8. Training With Awesome Teammates-- I am more convinced all the time that I am very lucky to train at Fabio's gym. Fabio sets the tone for the whole team, making us realize that when we train we are not just there for ourselves, but for each other. I am thankful for all of my BJJ brothers and sisters who put up with my unintentional MMA and who take the time to help me get better. You guys rock!

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