Sunday, February 27, 2011


What do black belts normally do when it is time for them to get a stripe? I have only ever been a part of one school, with one black belt and all I know is that his recent promotion to third stripe left an impression on me.

Fabio been a black belt for 9 years now. As I understand it, you get one stripe every three years for the first three degrees after you get your black belt. Then it bumps up to five years for a while and then seven, I think. Stephanie was telling me all the details last night and it is more complicated than I care to process in the pre-coffee hours of a Sunday morning.

Last week, Fabio hit his 9 year anniversary of becoming a black belt. He was standing around in the office with some of the guys from class and he just put on his new stripe. No fanfare. No announcement. Not even in front of the school. He just put it on and went out to teach class like normal.

Of course, the guys didn't let him get away with that. They cheered for him and congratulated him when people were lined up after class. He said thank you and that was pretty much it. I wouldn't have even known about it if some of the guys who saw him put the stripe on hadn't told me. I don't know if part of the reason there wasn't more done about it is because his teacher, Marcelo Saporito, lives in Brazil and isn't around to stripe him. But I think it goes deeper than that.

I want to brag about my instructor for a minute. I can do that without being a suck-up on here because I know Fabio doesn't read this blog. lol.

He always tells us it isn't about the belt or the amount of stripes on it. He doesn't just say that, though. He really doesn't make that his focus. I am sure he is proud to have earned his third stripe.

But for him, jiu-jitsu is about his team. He lights up when he talks about his students. He puts tons of hours outside of his regular classes into the people who are a part of his school. He is not just our instructor. Everyone knows that he will be there in a heartbeat if we need him for anything, Jiu-jitsu related or not. At the school, he doesn't let us call him sensei or master or anything like that. He just wants to be called Fabio, because he doesn't want to make it about him. It's funny because I think the guys in our school respect Fabio more because he doesn't demand respect. He earns it from everyone he meets. On top of that, the bjj that he teaches is top notch.

I have heard stories about schools where that black belt doesn't even grapple or when he does grapple he just submits the garbage out of everyone. When Fabio grapples, he doesn't destroy us and submit us a thousand times (though that is a little different when he is training for pan ams). He moves and lets us try stuff--then catches us off balance and dumps us over on our butts.

My point is, Fabio's gym is one of the most relaxing places I can go because of the humble, family-type mentality that he demonstrates both on and off the mat. So, even though you won't see this, congratulations on your third stripe, Fabio. I hope I will have the privilege of seeing you earn many, many more.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Reverse! -- Half Guard Sweeps

This afternoon, Fabio taught us a series of bottom half-guard sweeps. I say series because it is one of those things that is an "if/then" situation. If your opponent does this, then you do this.

Two major things stuck out to me as "most important" in this series:

1. Getting your opponent off balance by switching directions. One of the central ideas of Brazilian Jiu Jitsu is not fighting force with force, but instead "going with" your opponent and using their momentum against them. First you try to sweep one way, but they block. You be prepared to either sweep them the way that they are pushing or to take advantage of whatever space they are making. Instead of trying to force something, go another way. And then another way. And then another way. You keep switching directions until you catch them off balance and then take them over.

I used to waste a lot of energy trying to force sweeps to happen. Now, I try to be more patient and to keep moving. Sometimes it takes a while to actually get the sweep, especially if the person is bigger. Sometimes I don't even get the sweep, but instead have to use the space created by the sweep attempt to return to my guard.

The important thing I am learning is to go with my opponent and use their movement and weight distribution to my advantage as much as possible.

2. Bringing your opponent on top of you. For a long time, this seemed counter productive to me, especially if my opponent was heavier than me. How would bringing their weight on top of me help?

I am only just starting to understand how to do this with bigger people, but the benefits I see so far are that(1)it removes the effectiveness of their posts. Their weight is on you, not on their arms or legs and (2)when you bring the person on top of you, they have to go where your body goes. If I bring someone on top of me and turn my body to the side, they will fall off to the side.

Other random things I noticed that are important with half guard sweeps:

1. Hipping into the person or diving under the person (in order to bring the person on top of you).

2. Using your knees to pinch the leg and help bring the person up on top of you and then over.

3. NOT using arm strength, but instead using arms to remove bases or swim things.


I think for the next month or so, I would like to focus on trying to get better at half guard sweeps and side control escapes; especially side control escapes from the scarf hold. We'll see how it goes.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

What is Brazilian Jiu-jitsu?

Check out this awesome video of Fabio explaining what Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu is.

This really explains a lot about Fabio's philosophy of BJJ. It's not about strength. It's not about size. It's about leverage, momentum and flow.

One of the things he said in the video is that he doesn't want to hurt the people he grapples physically, he wants to "hurt them inside" to make them take a look at themselves. I have experienced this under Fabio. He makes you face challenges that you hate. He puts you with people who can just pick apart your game and frustrate you. He doesn't say much about it, beyond a little encouragement. He makes you work through it. That approach has forced me to grow so much--not only in bjj but as a person--over the last year and a half.

By the way, I am in this video at one point (in the background) but I was only able to grapple with one arm because I hurt the other one at NAGA. That's why I am scooting around weirdly. lol Hope you enjoyed the video!

Sunday, February 20, 2011

NAGA 2011

Warning: This is a looooong story. If you only want to know about what actually happened at the tournament, skip to the bottom. lol

So, let me tell you the story of a tournament that tried it's hardest to keep me from coming. If you remember, last time I wanted to go to a tournament, my neck was giving me major problems. I still have problems with it from time to time, but it's manageable. But add onto that these minor injuries: a finger that was injured on an exercise ball and refuses to heal up, a knee that got tweaked in class two weeks ago and a rib that got popped under another one (but came right back out) that same week. I was beat the crap up. But I was STILL going to compete!!

My house has been a wreck the last 6 months because of a pipe that broke behind my kitchen sink. We've gutted the kitchen and master bedroom. Everything is so close to being done, but we have Noah's birthday here next weekend, so I am going to have to be Wonder Woman to get everything done by then. I was tempted not to compete because of that. But I went anyway!!

Also, very few people from our gym decided to do this competition. Everyone is training for PanAms. And my instructor was reffing this tournament, which meant I probably wasn't going to have a coach during my matches. I wasn't sure if my husband would be able to make it and none of my close friends from the school were going. But I decided to go anyway.

Only one guy from the Lakeland school that I knew of was going, so I convinced him to let me ride up with him. Who was it? THE VERY SAME GUY I HAVE BEEN COMPLAINING ABOUT ON HERE!! lol. It's a guy I have been so frustrated with during grappling because he is so strong and because I absolutely cannot get out of bottom half guard once he gets me in it.

That actually turned out to be a good thing. We talked about a lot of stuff (It was a 3 hour drive) and I apologized for having such a poor attitude while I grappled him. I told him I had nothing personal against him, that I was just getting frustrated because of my OWN inability to adapt to his style of grappling. He said it was all good and we are pals now. I will probably still hate grappling him. lol But he is a nice guy.

So, we get to Boca Raton and go to the weigh in. All was well. We both made weight. Then, I met up with my instructor and everyone went to their respective hotels. That night, I slept in a room with 2 other people from our school. NONE of us could sleep. I took some melatonin at around 1:30 am, but it only made my body feel heavy. We had all gotten in bed around 10, laid there tossing and turning until about 3 am when we all realized everyone else was still awake. We talked about why we shouldn't be nervous for about an hour. Then we tried to go back to sleep. No luck. I think one of the guys actually drifted off around 4 in the morning. But me and the other guy were up ALL night.

I wasn't even all that nervous. I just couldn't shut my MIND off!! Every time I tried to close my eyes, scenarios would pop into my mind and the next thing you know I am grappling some faceless opponent in my imagination.

One of the guys in my room had to be there early the next day, so we all had to be up and out of the room by 7 something in the morning. When I got to the gym, I found a spot beside the wall and tried to sleep. No good. Just got up and tried to enjoy the hubbub of the tournament beginning.

At that point, all the pressure was off. I figured that I was entering in this under the worst possible circumstances: alone, beat up, bad cardio, no sleep, first time competing as a blue belt. If I ever had an excuse to do poorly, it was today.

But then I thought to myself, "No. I am going to go out there and give it everything I've got. I am not going to give up. I will just take it one fight at a time."

Then all the enormous girls started arriving. Giants. Oops, I mean Giantesses. I started freaking the crap out. There were no other girls my size that I had seen. Just one tall, muscle-bound girl after another. I laughingly told my friend that it was a good thing I was used to grappling guys because I was going to be outmatched in the size and strength department. A few minutes later, I realized all the girls were wearing the same sneakers and had the same gym bags. With the college logo on them. We were in a college gym set up for the tournament.

My tired brain finally put two and two together. They were not here to grapple. They were here for basketball practice. LOL!! I think that was the biggest sigh of relief I have had in a while.

My husband and a friend of mine, Joyce, and another blue belt who trains at our school who we call Delilah (his real name is Josh) decided to drive up that morning. I was going to be one of the first divisions to go, since I am a girl, so I knew they would have to hurry to make it on time.

At 10 am, the girls were supposed to head to mat 13. I looked at the mats. None were marked 13. What the crap?!?! Then they announced over the loud speaker that mat 13 was upstairs. When I got up there, I saw they had set up kind of a mini tournament in a room that looked like it was made for dancing lessons. All the girls and the masters division men had been sent up there.

At first, I was kind of put off that we'd been shucked to the corner. But then I was happy. It was like being at a really small, home town tournament. Only the close friends, family and teammates of the competitors were there and it was a really friendly room. I got to meet a few fellow bloggers: Megan from Tangles Triangle and Jennifer from Family Mat-ters (who I ended up fighting), and Gina who I think reads some of our blogs (Hi Gina!! :)) who I also ended up fighting.

Here's where the good things finally started happening. My husband and friends arrived. Yay! Delilah agreed to coach me and another one of my other teammates who were there competing in masters. Delilah is a really good blue belt who I have learned a lot from. I was not very nervous. I just kept telling myself, "I'm going to go out there and show them what I've got. That's all." There were only four girls in my division, so we all started talking and making friends, which was fun.

So. At long last, here are my fights. This first one was with me and Gina.

Gina was a good competitor and I am glad to have met her. She, Jennifer and I are hoping to get a girls open mat together sometime so we can all have more girls to roll with. Woohoo! :)

Things that I was happy about in this match:

- I got my first take down ever in a tournament!!! I know, it is a really ugly, sloppy one. But it is my first! Don't make fun of it! lol

- I stayed calm. I remember thinking at a couple of points, "You're using too much energy here. Calm down. Work steady."

- I tried knee on belly in a tournament. I don't know why, but I have always been scared to try knee on belly in a tournament. Ok. I know why. It's because I suck at it. LOL My attempt was a gross failure, but at least I tried! ;)

Things I saw in this match that I need to work on.

- While I was grappling, I felt like my hips were too high and I was leaning too far over her while I was trying to escape half guard. I need to keep my weight down on the person and use my hips to break out.

- Knee on belly. My failed attempt in this grapple is very similar to how I injured my finger! lol

Here's my second match against Jennifer:

Jennifer was a tough competitor, as you can see. She shocked me by how strong she was!! I thought we had a good match and I learned a ton from it.

Things was happy about in this match:

- I stayed calm even when I was in bad positions. She caught me off guard (literally) from the beginning. I WAS SUPPOSED TO BE THE ONE JUMPING GUARD! lol!!! But I kept telling myself to stay calm. Because she was so strong, a few times, I was tempted to fight back with strength. But I clearly remembered thinking that I was way too tired for that and that I needed to rely on technique if I was going to do anything. I had to just work steadily. That strategy didn't pan out for me in the end, I guess. lol

- I did well defending or escaping submissions. In class, I purposefully got myself into submissions in order to practice escaping them. Man, am I glad I did!! I needed it! lol. During the armbar escape, on the second roll, I ended up hurting my elbow and shoulder. But at least I escaped!! The kimura she was going for at the end was frustrating. I could only remember the first part of that escape. It was enough to defend from her finishing it, but if I had done the rest of the escape correctly, it would have ended with me passing her guard. Oh well. That was right at the end of the match and I probably wouldn't have had time to do anything anyway.

Things I saw that I need to work on:

- I need to be quicker on the draw. I waited too long to move after we started and she jumped on my faster than a flea on a dog! lol

- Apparently, I need to work on getting out of closed guard!! LOL I never have a problem with this in class. But then, we always wear gis in class. I am used to having the fabric to hold onto. Also, I was too uncertain to try any of the other guard passes I know. I didn't feel confident in them, which tells me I need to work on them. So, I need to work on closed guard passes in no-gi.

- I need to ask Fabio how to finish that dang kimura escape!

- At one point, when I came up after escaping the armbar, I didn't attack her. I hesitated and because of that, I ended up in a bad position. I need to be prepared to attack as soon as I come out of an escape.

- I need to move more when I am scared. My gut-reaction to being intimidated is to stiffen up. That's not a good thing in BJJ. I need to get it through my thick skull that the way to safety is moving, not hunkering down.

Unfortunately, because I hurt my elbow and shoulder, I ended up having to bow out of gi. I thought about doing it anyway--the elbow isn't that bad. Just stiff and sore.--But I was worried that if I got armbarred again, it would get seriously injured. I felt a little like a quitter, but after I sat down and the adrenaline started to wear off, I knew i had made the right decision.

All in all, I had a great time. This was the first tournament I actually enjoyed competing in, which is ironic considering that it was the one I was the least prepared for. I am ready to get back on the mat and work on the stuff I need to work on (as soon as my elbow is ready). Thanks for all your well wishes!! It was definitely worth going.

Friday, February 18, 2011

Dealing With Tournament Stress

Throwing my stuff together to leave for NAGA today. Last time I competed, I remember feeling like I wasn't ready. I needed a few more months to learn this or that.

Do I feel ready now? Meh. I feel like I am a good blue belt. Not the best. Not jaw-droppingly awesome. But I believe in the skills Fabio and Ben have taught me and I am going to trust them when I fight.

I am not expecting to win. But I am going in with the intention of coming at those girls with all I have. My goals are to make sure that they leave the mat tired and that I leave having given it my all.

One thing that has been on my mind a lot coming up to this is courage. You may have heard the Mark Twain quote, “Courage is resistance to fear, mastery of fear - not absence of fear.”

I am not one of those people who looks forward to tournaments. Normally, I dread them. I spaz and obsess over them. But this time it has been different. I've had moments of panic, upwellings of fear. But I've been mostly calm. I am at the weight where I need to be.I've been focused on refining details to moves I am already good at, working on escapes, focusing on staying calm while I grapple. But I knew a month and half ago when I started preparing that my skill level would be about where it was when I started prepping by the time I went to compete. I am where I am. And I am ok with that.

Something happened when I went to watch my teammates compete at the Miami Open a few months back. I saw two of my most respected teammates lose. These guys are awesome. But they lost. And when they lost, the Earth did not shatter. The universe did not implode. No one lost respect for them or thought less of their skill. Life went on.

That really freed me up from the pressure I had felt the last time I competed. If those guys--who are way better than me--can lose and get away with it no one is going to blink if I lose. lol

So, instead, I am approaching this in a different light. This is an experiment. I am testing myself to see how my progress is coming. If I win. Awesome. If I lose. Great. Now I know where my weaknesses are.

I know I will feel nervous before I step out on the mat. But I am going to use that adrenaline to fuel me and give me superhuman abilities--like those women who throw cars off of pinned children. I am going to throw me some women! lol I am going to give them hell. And then I'm going to make friends with them afterwards. :)

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Hips and Hooks

Today, I rolled with a guy we all call Barf. Barf is a purple belt who routinely kicks my butt seven ways from Sunday. But, in that good I-just-learned-a-lot type of butt kicking way. Today, he reminded me about the importance of underhooks.

I know underhooks are important for a lot of moves from butterfly guard to passing and sweeping. But today, Barf made me realize I don't focus on those enough. He told me the two things I really need to worry about most are hips and underhooks. I need to move my hips and block theirs. I need to get the underhooks, thus blocking theirs.

A lot of times I will start a guard pass or half-guard pass to one side and forget to get the underhook on the opposite side. Even if I do the rest of the pass right, if I don't have that underhook, they are out and scrambling seconds after I pass. The underhook is about control.

Just like the hip is. If my hips are free, I can move. If I can block the other person's hips, then their options become more limited.

Barf suggested that I focus on those two things only today in class. It was great. I never noticed how much I was neglecting the underhooks. Fun exercise.

Monday, February 14, 2011

Tournament Preparation: Should You "Go Hard"?

Tonight was much better than last Thursday. I grappled all of the same people, except for one or two, and had completely different results. I think the reason for the difference was two-fold.

One, I talked to Leslie about some of my frustrations and she reminded me of a lot of things I needed to remember like: I am still a blue belt and therefore I am still allowed to suck. I am not the only girl who deals with frustrations over size/strength disparities. What doesn't kill me will make me stronger. Etc. Honestly, just talking to someone who understands and who has gone through the same thing made a world of difference for me. It made me feel like less of a loser. lol Thanks, Leslie!!

The other reason why tonight went differently is because I went back to grappling like I normally do. For some reason, last week when everyone was in tournament-prep mode, I thought I had to grapple like everyone else was: going as hard as I could, using all of my strength and explosiveness, etc.

But that is not how I normally grapple. I normally don't try to go a million miles an hour. I try to move as much as possible, but I also TRY to stay calm. I decided that tonight I wasn't going to "go hard". I was going the be aggressive, but in a calmer way.

The result was that my gas tank lasted much longer, I was more relaxed so I could move more and I didn't feel the pressure to be a beast. Yay!

I don't like prepping for tournaments by going crazy every grapple. That's not how I want to grapple in the tournament. I want to stay as relaxed as possible. I can be aggressive without going as fast as I can and using all my strength. Honestly, I make a lot more mistakes when I do that and end up having to muscle--or try to muscle--my way out. And, considering my general lack of muscle, that's a bad thing. It tires me out like crazy, anyway.

What do you guys think? Do you grapple differently when you are prepping for a tournament?

One other thing happened too. Fabio saved my hardest grapple for last. On purpose. LOL. He is really trying to push me. I was so tired my arms and legs were heavy. But I resolved to stay lose and relaxed, even though I knew I was about to have a rough go. Surprisingly, it went a LOT better than last time, even though I was exhausted. Last time I was trying to "go hard" and was wasting a lot of valuable energy trying to use muscle and explosiveness. This time, I still tried to be aggressive, but I tried to focus only on leverage and sweeps, hipping, guard, etc. Not-so-surprisingly, relying on what mediocre technique I have worked WAY better than trying to match the guy's strength. I still found myself in bottom half guard or the "fetal position" side guard a few times, but not nearly as much as last time.

Tournament is this Saturday. Going to train tomorrow and, since I can't train Wednesday, probably Thursday. Then I hit the road Friday.

Friday, February 11, 2011

Yesterday Sucked

Yesterday afternoon sucked. There's just no other way of putting it. I wasn't feeling it even before I got to class. My body was just...tired. And sore. But I only have a few classes left before NAGA, so I figured I could just roll light and move a lot.

Several other people are training for various tournaments, especially the Pan Ams. No one wanted to go light. One particular grapple I spent the entire time glued to the mat. I was able to keep half guard and prevent the guy from getting into mount, but I just couldn't pull off any sweeps. I tried to keep working, inching my way here or there, but it was just constant smash the entire time. Ended up hurting my rib, too, when he had me in a fetal position with me clinging to one of his legs for dear life. I posted up on my ribs kind of like a knee on belly type of deal, except I had his other leg. I tried to sweep him when he did that, but he just sprawled his weight back down on me. My rib is not bad, but it is enough to be annoying when I move certain ways. At the very end, I got so mad I went into Hulk Mode and muscled the guy off of me (that was a feat of adrenaline, I tell you) and attacked him like a rabid animal. But I could not pull off any submissions. After that roll, I felt like garbage about myself and slumped off the mat and went into the office.

I want to be able to overcome that weight and strength advantage, but I am not there yet. At best, all I can do is survive, wait for the guy to make a mistake and then attack with all I've got. It's so frustrating to feel that helpless.

The way I handle frustration is to cry. It's not voluntary. It just happens. Not a good coping strategy, I know. But whatever. I hope my instructor doesn't get frustrated with me because of how emotional I get sometimes. I try not to be that way, but sometimes it just happens.

I decided to take tonight off from class in favor of having a date with my awesome husband. An Outback bloomin' onion sounds like just what the doctor ordered. Hopefully a few days of rest will help my body get back to normal.

Sunday, February 6, 2011

Tournaments and Energy Drinks Part One

I still vividly remember my first tournament. The crowds. The noise. The excitement. One of my most vivid memories was a guy guzzling an enormous energy drink right as his weight class was called. I have never done that at a tournament, but I have seen lots of people doing it and was wondering what the benefits/risks are of drinking large amounts of caffeine or energy drinks on tournament day.

I am going to do some research, but I want to know what all of you think? Does caffeine help or hurt athletic performance in tournaments like ours? Do you use it at tournaments? What has been your experience?

Thursday, February 3, 2011

I Will vs. I Have To

I've been getting ready for a tournament coming up at the end of the month and I have been doing only two things to get ready for it:

1. In at least one grapple every class, I am deliberately getting myself into bad positions and working my way out of them. The reason for this is because, in my last tournament, I freaked out a little bit when one girl passed my guard and got side control. Then I spent the last part of one grapple frozen in bottom half guard. I was defeating myself because I let the fact that I was in a bad position distract me. I was too busy thinking, "Oh no! I'm in a bad position! I'm down on points!" instead of thinking about what I needed to do to go after the girl.

2. I am forcing myself to change the way I approach every grapple. Instead of thinking, "I need to do well," I tell myself, "I'm going to give them hell." I decided I would not put pressure on myself to win. But I would come into the grapple knowing that I was going to give it all I had. Even if the person ends up out-moving me or out-muscling me or whatever the situation may be, I know that by the end of the grapple that person is going to be tired because I will not stop until time is called.

This approach has changed SO much for me. I don't feel like I HAVE to do well in any of my grapples anymore. With the pressure gone, I can focus on moving and on technique and planning ahead while I'm grappling. It also enables me to relax, which in turn helps me move better in itself.

Last week, I lost that focus and started thinking about the tournament and letting myself start freaking out. The result was that I sucked on the mat. I was stiff and hasty and many times desperate. This week, on the way to BJJ every time, I told myself, "I will give it everything," and I forced myself not to worry about whether or not I was "doing" well. It was not a matter of me NEEDING to win. It was a matter of me deciding that I was coming after whoever I grappled.

This has worked even when I am not "going hard". In fact, it works even better when I am relaxed. I am always on the offensive, even when I am in a bad position. I have my mind made up that I am going to sweep. Or I am going to pass. Or I am going to catch. Not I need to. But I am GOING to. It has taken so much pressure off of me.

I wish I could say that I am owning everyone I grapple. I wish I could tell you that this new philosophy has made me an unstoppable beast woman. But that is not the case. I still get schooled a lot. If I get swept or caught, oh well. I will try not to make that mistake again next time. It doesn't bother me because I know that I did what I could do.

That's enough for me.