Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Never Give Up

This weekend I competed for the first time since last October. I piled into the trail blazer with questionable AC capabilities and packed full of my teammates and hit the road to Georgia for the Atlanta Open. I'm not going to focus on how much I needed that change of scenery, but it was so nice to see a different horizon for a little while and to laugh and joke with everyone without having to worry about work or house hold responsibilities.

But, despite how fun the trip was, I was nervous the whole way there.

It's funny, because before I took such a long break off competing, I had gotten to the point where my nerves were semi-controlled. I still felt a little nervous, but wasn't having the huge adrenaline rush and dump when I'd go to fight. I think it was because I had been competing enough to get desensitized to all the excitement of being at a tournament and fighting with everyone watching.

Apparently, taking almost a year off from competing undid the progress I made in controlling my nerves. I was a wreck. It is embarrassing to admit, but I had to resort to making two lists that I read to myself over and over and over again off my phone memo pad while I was at the venue. The first list was a list of all of my strengths when it comes to Jiu-Jitsu. The second list were all the reasons why I want to compete.

Why I Compete:
To assess my strengths and weaknesses
To challenge myself
To represent my school/team
To have fun with my teammates
To meet new people
To see other fighters grapple and learn from them
To win

Now, I know the last one on the list might give some people pause. It is true, tournaments are more about the experience than the medal. But I do darn it I want to win too!! And I feel you have to make up your mind that you are going to win before you ever see the opponent you are facing.

That mindset really came in handy once it came time for my two absolute fights. The girls I went against were probably the toughest I have fought yet. I'm not just saying that. Not only were they both strong, but they were technical purple belts too. I was behind during the majority of both of my matches. During my last match, there was a point where I looked up at my teammates, and I could see on a few faces that resigned look that said, "She's done. She's not going to be able catch up."

But this was the first tournament where being in a bad position didn't ruin my confidence. Why? It came down to a few of the things on my strengths list that I had been telling myself over and over again all day: I am adaptable. I am good in a scramble. I can push the pace. I am good at escapes.

I regained the upper hand in both of those fights during the last thirty seconds of the fight. I honestly don't even know exactly what I did to get those sweeps and establish those dominant positions. In the last one, I remember clearly thinking, "Am I really going to win this?" I was just as surprised as everyone else. I was still in a state of shock when they raised my hand.

I am not entirely happy with how I did. I could have grappled better. My cardio could have been better. But what I am happy about was that I gave it all I had and was able to make it happen.

Moral of my weekend story: Don't give up until you hear the ref call for the stop.

Sunday, July 28, 2013

New Dream

Hey guys! Hope you are all well!

This past year has been the most challenging year of my life to date. Almost every norm has been broken and remade. But a few things have stayed consistent: God, my family and close friends and Jiu-Jitsu.

We had a friend, Ammara, visit our gym this past week. As a blue belt and talented photographer (all the pictures in this post are hers), she has the lucky job of traveling around and seeing the jiu-jitsu community at large both on the mat grappling and through her lens. 

One thing that she said while she was visiting our Women's Class really rang true to me. Observing how she had been treated in her travels to different places around the country, she said there was a consistent welcoming feeling of family at the vast majority of the places she visited. Despite the different affiliations, there was a common bond that all jiu-jitsu practitioners seem to have, regardless of school and style. 

 This gives me a big warm fuzzy, and I will tell you why. Going through a divorce in the last year, I lost a lot of friends, not to mention the actual family members that I lost by breaking ties with my ex-husband. It was an extremely painful time in my life. 

But I wasn't alone. 

I have been quiet on this blog, but I never stopped training. A lot of times I walked into the gym like a ghost. I felt hollow. Wrung out. Mentally, emotionally and physically exhausted. But every time I came into the gym, I had a family of brothers and sisters who were there to make me laugh, to give me an ear to vent into or to hug me when I needed it. Some of them even had to slap some sense into me when I was threatening to get too crazy. 

 More than being a support, though, my gym family was a motivator. The girls and guys at my school would not allow me to give up. Not on the mat and not in my personal life. They pushed me to stay focused and to keep going. To keep fighting. When I made mistakes, they made fun of me, but only a little. ;)  Then they encouraged me to get up, brush myself off and keep it moving.

 Now, I am on solid ground again. I have a renewed vision and passion for my life. I know where I want to go and I am going to fight like hell to get there. And I am convinced that the support I got from the men and women at Fabio Novaes BJJ have a lot to do with that.

When you train Jiu-Jitsu, you share a lot more than just sweat and blood. You share life. I think that is why we feel that over-all sense of community that Ammara was talking about. I am thankful I am a part of that community. Thank you to everyone who has been there for me. You mean more to me than you know!!!

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

What Do You Think I'm Trying to Do???

This may be one of my favorite Women's Class moments yet.

During grappling, one of my 115 lb teenie tiny terrors was grappling one of our much stronger girls. The stronger girl had our little Mighty Mouse in mount and I saw her struggling so I came over to help her. I told her, "Try to get on your side and trap her leg into half guard."

Mighty Mouse stops moving and looks at me with the best eff-you face I have ever seen. With as much patience as she can summon, she says, "What do you think I am trying to do?" LOL!!!

It's ok, I feel your pain Mighty Mouse. I have been there before.  A lot. I am still there on a regular basis. You learn these techniques, then you have to try to use them against someone bigger and stronger and it just...doesn't work. You start to wonder, "Does this crap even work for someone as small as me?"

The answer is, yes. But unfortunately for us Lilliputians, it takes time to learn how to use the techniques we learn against someone bigger and stronger who is actively trying to resist. There are no short cuts. Time spent in trial and error on the mat is the only way to overcome our size and strength disadvantage. However, I do have some tips that I have learned that help me when I am stuck.

1. Switch between escapes.

If you are trying one escape and it isn't working, switch to another one. Be able to transition back and forth between escapes just like you would transition from one submission to another or one position to another.

When you are learning escapes during technique and drilling, think about how the escape works and why. Ask yourself: When does this work best? Where does my opponents weight need to be? Where does my weight need to be?

Use your grapples with bigger stronger people to learn when to use the different escapes. If you spend the whole time getting smashed, ask your instructor or a higher belt for corrections to what you're doing or even new ideas for escapes you haven't learned yet.

2. Use trickery!

Small people need to be sneaky. Sometimes I use distraction to try to escape. I will act like I am going to one escape, but I am trying to covertly trap them into another escape.

3. Keep moving.

This is the most important thing. If you give up you will never get out. I am not saying you should flail around pointlessly.But, if you are in practice and you have no idea what to do, take a deep breath, think about what parts of your body are pinned down and what parts of your body are free. Then think about what you can do with the free parts of your body to either make space or get the other person off balance or to distract them so you can go for a different escape.

4. Give yourself a break.

Even black belts still have things to learn and we are not black belts yet!! ;) So accept the fact that you have holes in your game and look at them as challenges that you are ready to face and over come. Every grapple can teach you something, whether you spend the grapple getting submission after submission or if you spend the grapple eating the mat.

When you start to get frustrated, remind yourself how far you have already come. Give yourself kudos for sticking with a sport that is physically, mentally and emotionally demanding. Then, wipe the blood off your busted lip and get back on the mat and try again.

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Preparing for Tournaments Pt. 2: Trust Your Training!

You're up in the middle of the night again. Your brain won't shut off. The tournament is only a couple of weeks/days away and a million thoughts are racing through your head. You vacillate between trying to make up a game plan--I'm going to jump guard, then sweep to mount, then americana--and freaking out about what will happen if your game plan fails. The unknown is turning your potential opponents into beasts of mythological proportions. 

Thanks to your overactive imagination, you suddenly don't know BJJ and you are fighting Goro from Mortal Kombat.

But, never fear, there's no need to resort to extreme measures. 

You already have what you need to be successful in your fights. That's right, you: the white belt who still isn't sure which way your knees are supposed to point when you do an omaplata. Don't believe me? I will prove it with science!!! 

Ok. I can't back that up. 

But I can make a fairly convincing case for why you are more prepared than you think you are.  

If you are serious enough about BJJ to compete, there's a very good chance you are training multiple times a week. That means you are enduring all those weird drills your instructor makes you do. You know, the ones where you do them but secretly wonder if your instructor just made them up so he or she could laugh at you while you scoot across the mat like a dog with worms?  

It also means you are putting in hours of technique drilling. You are still practicing that basic armbar over and over again even though you could probably do it with your eyes closed. 

And that, my dears, is exactly the point. 

A few months ago, we did an exercise in the Women's Self-Defense Class. For three weeks, the girls in our class were practicing techniques they could use in the event that someone came up behind them, grabbed them and tried to drag them away.  After I was confident that they had the moves down, I invited some of my good friends from the guy's class to help me out with an exercise. 

We lined the girls up facing the wall. We blindfolded them. We turned the music up. Then Stephanie and I and my guy friends would sneak up behind them , grab them and start dragging them away. It was their job to use the techniques that they had learned the previous weeks in class. 

And thus was born the first Terrifying Tuesday.

After the exercise was over, the girls were amazed. They reported that their bodies just...knew what to do when they were grabbed from behind. They didn't have to think about it. They just reacted. And it worked!!

The same thing can be said of all the techniques you have been drilling. All those hours of practice both in drilling and grappling has been training your muscles to do specific jobs. And your muscles are ready to do them when the situation calls for it. 

But you have to trust your body. 

Many times, I would kill my body's potential to perform by over-thinking. Instead of just grappling, my head was full of worries: Was I grappling ok? Was the other person better than me? What guard pass should I do? Are they trying to set up a swee--OH NO IM ON THE BOTTOM! HAAAAAAALP

All the over-thinking is taking your focus away from what you need to be doing: Just grappling. When it comes time to fight, take a deep breath and remind yourself that you do this all the time in class. Tell yourself that you are prepared and believe it. Step on the mat and have confidence that your body is ready to do what you need it to do. 

And, if at the end of the day you go out there and grapple at your best and you still lose, don't get upset. It just means you have new things to focus on when you get back into class. New things to train your muslces to do. New ways of moving to learn. That's the fun of BJJ!!

But more than likely, if you go in both physically and MENTALLY prepared, you will surprise yourself with what you are capable of. If all goes well, you will be standing on the podium with a big cheesey grin with something shiny hanging around your neck. 

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Preparing for a Tournament Pt. 1: First Tournament

Gearing up for a competition can be nerve-wracking. All you need to do is look back into the earlier days of this blog and you will read about me freaking the crap out over my competitions. You worry about making weight, you worry about whether the other girls are going to be good, you worry about not losing your first fight and about not disappointing your instructor, teammates, friends, family and complete strangers who may be watching you.

Me at my first tournament, trying to look intimidating but
instead looking like a freak. 
So, in an effort to try to shave off a little wasted worry energy, here are some things I've learned in my very short time as a competitor.

1. If you are competing at a NAGA, fight in the weight class you are in. As women, you never know how many competitors you are going to have and if there aren't many, they will combine weight classes. Stephanie, my training partner and best friend, once kicked her own butt trying to drop to lightweight only to get to the NAGA and discover there were no other lightweight girls. She had to fight up a weight class.

This won't happen at IBJJF tournaments where they are very strict about weight classes, but even in those tournaments, consider how much of an advantage dropping weight really is. Will you still be strong? Will worrying about your weight take your focus off your training? I would say, if you are within a few pounds of the low end of your weight class, go for it. Otherwise, I am not sure it is worth it to kill yourself to drop weight classes.

2.  Don't worry about how good the other girls will be. One year I stressed about all the possible girls in my division. I tried to look them all up on facebook and youtube and google search. I creeped their pages for any shred of information that might give me some insight into their bjj prowess.

But then, when I went to California last year, I decided that this wasn't about them. It was about me. It wasn't about how good they are, it is about me putting my skills to the test. Every day I started talking positively to myself about my strengths. I visualized myself doing what I do best and winning my matches. And I forced myself not to focus on whether I would win or lose, but on grappling at my best.

You cannot control how good the other girls will do. But you can control how well you prepare yourself physically and mentally. And if you are grappling at your best and you lose, who cares? All that means is that you still have room to improve--hopefully you knew that already. ;)

3. Me and Steph would always say things like, "I just hope I don't lose my first match."

Why? What if you fight the best girl in the division and lose your first match? Does that make you suck because you lose to that girl in the first round instead of losing to her in the second round? It doesn't change anything.

Instead of focusing on NOT losing or NOT getting submitted or NOT getting swept or whatever negative thing it is that you fear, try to focus on something positive instead, like passing guard or doing a take down or doing a sweep. Visualize yourself doing these things over and over again and drill them like crazy in your classes.

If you worry about things beyond your control--like what the other girl may do to you--then you are wasting energy. Focus your energy on the things you can control--like drilling positions and submissions and visualizing yourself doing those in the tournament. Visualize yourself winning and put in the work to make it a reality!

4. If your coach, team, friends and family shun you because you lose a match then you need to make a social move. Your worth to your team does not rest in how many medals you bring home. And if it does, then forgive me but you are on the wrong team. And certainly your worth to your family and friends isn't tied to how well you perform.

When I competed in Atlanta, some of my family who lives in Georgia was there. They had never seen a BJJ tournament. Before I fought, I gave them a crash course in what to look for: dominant positions and submission attempts and escapes. Their eyes were huge the whole time. They had next to no idea what was going on. But they screamed their heads off when I was fighting and were proud of me even when I got disqualified. Why? Because they love me, not because I grappled well. Your friends and family will be proud of you too no matter what because you are important to them as a person.

Saturday, September 8, 2012

Just When You Think You're Safe...

This morning in the Women's Class, we worked on some triangle transitions. One to the key points that Fabio emphasizes is that, when you are going for a triangle, it is important to hip up when you are initially clamping your leg over their back. You get a much tighter triangle from the beginning that way.

After your establish the triangle, people can defend several ways. But as always in BJJ, there is a counter to every defense. For example, when you triangle someone and they over hook the leg on the same side as their triangle arm, you can sit up and kimura them or wristlock them, or you can pry out the arm and do a straight arm or switch to a regular armbar.

While we were going through the steps, Ashley made a funny observation. She said, "Just when you think you're safe and you're defending something, they get you again! There's nowhere safe! There's just the lesser of two evils!"

Here is Ashley being one of the evils! ;)

But what she said has some truth to it. In Jiu-Jitsu, there is always a counter move. And a counter to that counter. And another counter still after that. That is what makes it so exciting! You will never reach a point where you have seen everything because people are always inventing new ways of moving. 

One of our newest girls grappled me today and at first was hesitant to move. I encouraged her by saying, "This is your time to experiment. Don't be afraid. Try whatever you think of. That's how you learn."

I enjoy very much the point when a new girl goes from flailing with all their might to a more calm, rational approach in grappling. You can see that they are starting to think about the concepts, starting to work out the cause and effect of the various movements, grips and positions. They stop wasting so much energy and start seeing the chances to use what they are learning. That's when Jiu-Jitsu really starts to happen. I love to grapple them because they have a fresh approach to moving. They try unconventional things because they haven't learned convention yet. Today, I got a new idea for an escape because of the way one of the new girls moved in my side control. I wouldn't have thought to try what she did. Now I have a new tool to use.

The most important thing when you are grappling in training, in my opinion, is to approach it like you would an experiment in a lab. You think something might work? Try it. If it works, try it again. If it doesn't work, modify it and try it again. If it still doesn't work, maybe go back to the drawing board. The fact that you may fail at first doesn't make you a bad grappler. The fact that you keep trying to work out those problem positions will make you a better grappler--a smarter grappler--in the long run than if you only stick to things that you know will work. 

 These are some of the bear traps when we aren't disgusting and sweaty. ;)

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Sucking at Something is the First Step to Sorta Being Good At Something

Well, that's comforting. I guess. 

I was talking with a friend of mine, Nick, and we were discussing how having to face-off against competitors who challenge your game/style is an essential part of the growth process in BJJ. 

Human beings are creatures of habit. If we find something that works--a pass, a specific type of guard, a certain submission that no one expects--we will keep doing it. And doing it. And doing it. And doing it. When that happens to me, I start to feel a little bit good about myself. 

And then it happens. People wise up to that sneaky submission, or that unstoppable pass or that unpassable guard. In a tournament, this can be even more shocking/disheartening. You may face off against someone who passes your super awesome guard like butter or who rolls out of your ace-in-the-hole submission with almost no effort. Suddenly, you feel like you're "back where you started". Sometimes it might even feel like you've regressed. 

Of course that isn't really the case. You haven't forgotten the things you already learned. It's just that the people around you have adapted to what they have repeatedly seen from you. Or, in the case of competitors at a tournament, perhaps you are facing a style you aren't used to. 

In both cases, these seemingly negatives are actually positives. Left to ourselves, we might not move away from those tried and true moves we rely on. Grappling people who challenge us forces us to break out of our normal routine and learn new ways of moving. 

Sometimes I hear people talking about how they don't want to grapple certain people or that they don't want to go to a tournament because they are afraid they will lose. To me, this is not a good way of approaching training/competing. In BJJ, losing does not equal failing. If you take advantage of the experience, losing equals learning and growing. 

So your guard got passed. Figure out how they did it and how you can move better to defend that pass. Heck, learn that pass yourself. It worked on you so maybe you can make it work on someone else! So you got submitted. Don't get down on yourself and start feeling like you suck. All it means is that you have more to learn. And that's a good thing. Because if you already knew everything there is to know about BJJ, class would start to get boring. :)

Also, if you are grappling and your focus is on whether or not you are going to lose or win, you will not be able to grapple your best. Instead of concentrating on whether or not you are doing good, concentrate on what you are doing at that moment. Don't worry about whether or not other people are watching and if they think you suck or if they think you are awesome. Be present in the experience at hand and get the most out of it that you can.