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Interview with Nichole Herold

It has been quite a whirlwind for me these past several months, but I have been wanting to introduce everyone to an awesome team mate of mine. She is the original Nichole at my gym and over the years has inspired me so much by her dedication and willingness to just grind and stick it out, despite having so many exceptional reasons and excuses to let herself just fade away from our training mats.

Life happens to everyone, and everyone’s journey is different. That is the beauty of it. All that is required for us is to do the best we can with what we have. I hope that Nichole’s story can help inspire you to persevere and chase what you love!

Quick stats: introduce yourself!
My name is Nichole K Herold. I am a Shawn Hammonds one stripe blue belt in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu. I am 28, married, and Mom to a beautiful little one year old boy with Cerebral Palsy.

What was your athletic background before Jiu Jitsu?
I did Taekwondo from the age of eight to nine years old. I played a lot of team sports such as; soccer, flag football, and basketball from elementary through my high school years.

How did you wind up starting Jiu Jitsu, and when?
I started Jiu Jitsu in 2010 as a result of my love for Martial Arts that stemmed from when I was in Taekwondo. I was looking for something with a little more realistic fighting style.

img_2136Can you remember how it felt starting out? If so, can you describe it?
Starting out was a nerve wracking, and exciting thing for me. I was embarking on a new adventure so I had no idea what to expect. I was kind of just figuring out how everything worked, so there was a little bit of confusion for me as well. It was a great feeling of relief when people helped me how to find my place in this grand adventure

When did you know you were hooked?
I was hooked when I took my first full class. I was so frustrated with everything from work and school, but once class was over I felt this overwhelming sense of peace, relief, and stillness. It was something I had been searching a long time for, and I hadn’t been that happy in all that time.

What struggles have you overcome and persevered through during these past years?
Over the years I have dealt with being an on and off college student. In 2012 I found out that I had Crohn’s Disease and that put a hiccup in my training as well as I had to figure out my new diet and medication balance.

Getting my body re acclimated to Jiu Jitsu training wasn’t easy. Some days I would have a Crohn’s attack during class and be forced to stop training. Other days I would have an attack before class and be forced to turn around and go home because it was so bad.

img_2135In 2013 my then fiancé (now husband) and I both lost our jobs, right after purchasing our own house. I was forced to drop out of school and take a job as a corrections officer (which I absolutely hated!), the hours of which kept me out of Jiu Jitsu for about a year. That job caused me to sink into a deep depression and drink a lot – my family was extremely concerned for my safety at that point in my life. There were nights that I would drink a 12 pack of beer or half a bottle of whiskey so that I could sleep without nightmares from working at the prison.

Christmas of 2014 my husband and I found out that I was pregnant with out little one. For the safety of our unborn child, I quit drinking and turned in my resignation at the prison and started the journey to find myself again.

On August 6, 2015, I was 8 months pregnant when I delivered my son, Henry. I had to have an early emergency c-section due to a lack of fetal movement. We went to his well appointments and he wasn’t meeting all physical milestones for his age. After numerous doctor visits and an MRI we learned that Henry had suffered a stroke during the last trimester of pregnancy. My family and I were devastated and I cried for days.

img_2137At this point Henry began physical, occupational, speech, and feeding therapy. He currently has therapy four times a week and I have to help him stretch five times a day. At this point I had not been able to train any Jiu Jitsu for almost two years. The few times I could make it to class, Henry would become bored and irritable because he could not amuse himself, so I would have to leave early. It was one of the few things that kept me sane however.

Winter of 2016 I had enough of trying and told myself that if I could not find someone to watch him, I would have to quit training until he could begin kindergarten. I talked to my coach, Shawn, as well as a gym affiliate owner. They said we would work something out, and then the affiliate owner, Jason, told me that he had someone who would watch Henry for me during classes. So I changed over to our affiliate gym and officially began regular training again in January 2017.

Currently, I am able to make it to three classes a week and am back in school again, studying for my bachelor degree in Management and Human Resources with a minor in Cyber Defense. I will be then going for my Masters degree in Cyber Defense and hope to get into the field of ethical hacking. I plan to graduate spring of next year.

What are your top three moments in your Jiu Jitsu career thus far?
I would say the top moments are:
I didn’t quit.
I won an IBJJF Open as a white belt.
I made it to the quarter finals at Pans despite so little training. I was a corrections officer during that time and was able to train so infrequently that it surprised my team mates how well I did.

What were the three toughest points in your Jiu Jitsu career?
I can’t say that I have three tough points. I would say I’ve had a tough time in general getting to train because of life.

What made you decide to keep coming back to train?
That feeling I had when I first started training. I missed that feeling and yearned to feel it again.

How has Jiu Jitsu changed you as a person?
It has made me more patient. I’ve never been one to wait much on anything. It took me a while but I have calmed down a lot in the long run.

Would you do it again?
If I knew what I know now, HELL YES!! Good things come in different packages and at different times. It is frustrating to see the people that started after me be ahead of me, but God made everyone’s life different. My path is different from everyone else’s. I am proud of that and I own it! My time will come for my black belt, and when it does, I know I will have earned it!

If you could time travel: what would you say to yourself just starting Jiu Jitsu, one year in, and third year in?
Beginning: CALM DOWN! This is not a death match.
1st Year: Focus on one thing at a time. Get better at the things you suck at.
3rd Year: Keep pushing. Keep doing better. This is you all day, every day. Doubt comes and goes but as long as you don’t feed or give into it, it will hold no power over you.

Parting Words?
Much of life is about growth, love, laughter, and getting back up when you are knocked down. Finding out who you are and being comfortable with what you find is a huge key. Jiu Jitsu has been that key for me these past few years.

Belt color shows how much hard work and time you have put in, but the reason you see people reach higher belt levels is because they didn’t give up and they didn’t focus on the journey of other people. They focused on their own journey.

If you keep looking at other peoples journey, you are going to miss the lessons you should have learned that would make you a better person and better at Jiu Jitsu.

Just focus on you and be the best version of you each and every day. Take what you learned yesterday and focus on how you can improve on it today.

Click Here to follow Nichole on Instagram!

Purple Belt Promotion! Beginnings and Family

img_1295So… I got promoted to my purple belt yesterday!

A lot has changed in my past 5 years of training. There have been some pretty awesome “on top of the world” days, and there have also been periods of time where I was within a hair of throwing in the towel and calling it quits. The past two years have been more of the latter than the former. However, it has been long established that I am far to stubborn to quit.

Goals have shifted around a lot from when I first started training in Jiu Jitsu. Today, I feel like sharing the story of how I actually got started (and hooked) on this life.

It was sometime toward the beginning of 2011 when I realized that I was out of breath just walking up a flight of stairs. I realized that I needed to do something to change this, for the sake of my own health. So I started going to train at a gym several days a week. However, I quickly became so stinking bored of the whole process! I didn’t care about my weight, or aesthetics – and didn’t even own a scale at that point in my life. I just wanted to be healthy! I was also severely intimidated by all of the equipment at the gym and couldn’t ever do any sort of exercise when other people might be around (I still fight that insecurity today).

I quickly determined that I needed something somewhat familiar, challenging, and with a more concrete goal structure that I could relate to. My mind went back to the years I spent training Taekwondo and Hapkido as a teenager, and it just seemed like a good idea! Of course, I wanted something more physically challenging as an adult… and I remembered hearing about this “MMA” thing and decided that sounded like a good challenge! So I just did a google search for MMA in my area, and went to check out the first place that popped up on my list.

img_1374Let it be known, I was absolutely terrified walking into the gym for my first meet and greet. I’m amazed I even walked into the building in the first place! Yet somehow I ended up not only walking in, but hitting some pads and then signing up for a membership using the last of my paycheck. I started out in the MMA program, thinking that I would gravitate more toward the Muay Thai classes as opposed to Jiu Jitsu (it looked weird!)

My first class was rough physically. I remember being so gassed after the warm ups that I was legitimately disoriented during the instructional portion of the class. That is really all I remember about my first week of training: dying during the warm up and then blinking like an idiot for the rest of class because I didn’t have enough oxygen in my brain to do anything else!

When I finally got to the point where I was actually aware of my surroundings, I discovered that they had sneakily been teaching me Jiu Jitsu moves along with jabs and crosses. I realized that I was okay with this! I also wanted more than two training classes a week, so I asked to join in with the beginner Jiu Jitsu classes for more training hours. At the end of two months, I was training at least once, sometimes twice a day. Still dying every class – but enjoying finally feeling like I was being challenged and seeing myself making concrete progress with something!

img_1309At this two month mark, I was told I could start attending the more advanced classes with the option to begin sparring. I would, however, have to purchase appropriate equipment. My decision was made to officially begin Jiu Jitsu training for a very simple reason. Once again, I was in between paychecks, and it was cheaper to buy a Gi as opposed to Muay Thai gear.

Seriously, that was the reason.

I took my first full fledged Jiu Jitsu class on January 22 2011, and it did not take very long at all for me to become completely addicted. I would attend a 6:30 am class, go home and nap until the 11:30 class, and then return for the evening training class as well. My first competition was March 11 2011 – and I remember being absolutely petrified. There were 4 girls total, and my first opponent was a 214 lb blue belt. The only thing I knew how to do was a triangle from spider guard. I remember my team mates in the corner yelling for me to “sweep her!” and I yelled back “What’s a sweep?!” I survived the experience and actually managed to win one match with my triangle from spider guard for a bronze medal. Going out to eat with my team mates afterwards, I felt like I belonged – which wasn’t a familiar thing for me. But I liked it.

So yes, Jiu Jitsu is addictive – but I think the people you meet are the ones who make it so.

So thank you to my Jiu Jitsu family! You are spread out all over the world and I love it! I can visit other countries, and have instant connection with people because of Jiu Jitsu – regardless of language, culture, or religion. My coach, Shawn Hammonds, has been my first experience of ever having a coach to push me – and I love him for it! My team mates in Nashville have been a driving force for me on those days when I just can’t find my moxy. I also get the privilege of Jiu Jitsu family in Maryland with Master Lloyd and all of the amazing people at Team Lloyd Irvin – even though I don’t get to see them every day, they are always constant sources of inspiration to do the best that I can every day! My goal is to be able to be as valuable to my team mates as they are to me – I don’t know that I will ever be able to give back that much, but I am going to do my best!

Of course, what sappy thank you post would be complete without mentioning my family! I’ve really been learning a lot about the value of family in the past couple of years. Do we get along all the time? Nope. Are we perfect? Not in the slightest! However, my family has unconditional love and we care about each other. So even if we don’t always agree, we always have each others backs and will fight to the death for one another. And that’s what family is. Whether it’s parents, siblings, aunts, uncles, grandparents, cousins… or my Jiu Jitsu crew; We are family.

Your First Competition

I just finished my last training session at home before I fly out to compete in the European Championships. I’ve had a lot of things processing in my mind in these months away from the competition circuit. I’m sure these things will trickle out in my next few posts, but right now I am going to cover a special request topic.
I have been working with a student lately who is very nervous at the idea of competing for the first time. So I promised a special post summarizing the process.

Do you want to do it?
Ignoring all the nerves, you need to ask yourself if it is something you want to do. I recommend pushing through fear and just doing it, but if you don’t have at least a glimmer of desire to try, then it’s a stupid thing to be doing really.

So let’s say that you do have an inkling of desire to compete. The next hurdle most people face is trying to decide when you are ready. The truth is, if you wait until you feel ready, you will never do it. If you know how to hip escape, know a sweep/takedown, and know a submission; then you know how to finish a complete match. All the instructors I know encourage anyone who has this basic level of skill to dive on it and give it a go.

Division Decisions:
I don’t recommend worrying too much about fitting yourself into a particular division when you are first starting out. There is no need to put more stress on yourself than what is necessary – so don’t worry about cutting 10 lbs to make the lower weight class. I’m not saying to eat junk the week leading up to your matches! Eat sensible, balanced meals that will help fuel you – and just compete at whatever weight you find most comfortable. I have competed in many different weight classes in the last several years, and used those experiences to determine where my sweet spot is. The first few competitions however, I think are all about getting the jitters out of the way so that you can then start making those kind of decisions.

The Actual Competition:
Each event will be slightly different depending on which organization runs it. They do all follow this general flow:

* Registration
* Weigh Ins
* Bracketing
* Matches
* Awards

Registration
Some competitions will allow you to register at the door, and some require you to pre-register online. I know of one organization that accepts mailed in registrations as well. Make sure you don’t miss the registration deadline! A lot of organizations offer discounts for early registrations as well.

Make sure to double check with your instructor as to what team to list yourself under. This can make a difference as you will be earning points for yourself, as well as your team – and if you list the wrong team name then your contribution will not be counted.

Know if there is a cut off date for changing your registration details (rank, age, weight class, etc).

Weigh Ins:
Many competitions allow registered competitors to weigh in the evening before the competition begins. Some weigh you in five minutes before your match begins. The event website or flyer should have that information listed. It is important to note if you will need to weigh in with your Gi on, or if you can strip to your skivvies.

Most of the time when you are weighing in just before your match begins, you will be required to wear your uniform – so factor in the weight of your complete uniform when you are deciding which weight class to register for. Also note whether there is a weight allowance or not. One organization may subtract a pound from the scale reading to account for clothes or possible scale variations – another may not. Some competitions will move you to another division if you do not make weight, some will disqualify you from participating.

I remember when I competed in the European Championships last year and there was a girl who thought the provided “test” scale was the official weigh in scale. So she checked her weight, and then proceeded to sit down and drink a liter of water and eat her snacks. When the division was called she was in front of me at the official weigh in scale – on her knees begging and crying to be allowed to compete even though she had eaten and hydrated herself over the limit for the official weigh in. Unfortunately, she did not read the rules and suffered a disqualification for not making weight.

Moral of the story: do your homework and know the rules!

On That Note:
Know the rules for your event and division! There should be rules listed on the organization’s website, and I highly recommend reading the entire book before the event. Most of the time you will find restrictions on the types of submissions and moves you are allowed to do depending on your belt level.

For example: Most competitions do not allow heel hooks or knee reaps. Often the more advanced leg attacks are only allowed for upper level belts. For some children divisions, no submission attempts are allowed.

I remember one time I finished a submission on a girl and she got up, screaming at me and the referee that I wrist locked her. She did not know that it was a legal move in that division, and her lack of knowledge left her vulnerable to the attack.

So just make sure you know what are the allowable moves for your division at the event you are attending. In most cases, what you are taught in your normal classes is perfectly acceptable – but just be sure!

Additional Note:
Know the rules in regards to uniform requirements. Some events don’t care if you want to wear your fabulous tie dye Gi – others have strict requirements down to the color of the stitching in your collar. This information should be included in the rule book – but when in doubt, ask your instructor.

Bracketing:
If your event allows people to register the day of the event at the door, then division brackets will be made just before your matches. In some cases you may be called over if they need to combine divisions or move people around to allow everyone to have good match ups.

If your event is pre-registration only, in most cases finalized brackets will be published before the event begins. You will be able to view them and see who you will be fighting and how many matches you could potentially have.

Matches:
So once you know what time you will be beginning your matches, it’s time to get your game face on!

Number one thing to remember is to breathe! I don’t think I took a breath through my entire first match – my lips and fingers were blue when time was called (no, I didn’t get caught in a choke). This is the biggest hurdle you will find yourself running into – just trying to not let the adrenaline take over.

I recommend bringing along a friend or two to cheer you on and take photos/video for you. You are doing a tough thing and you need a cheer squad to support you! You will most likely have team mates at the same event, but if you are new the competition circuit, you may or may not have developed a tight bond with them yet (it will come! I promise!).

If your competition allows you to have a coach in your corner during your match, ask for one. Try to get an instructor or upper level belt with whom you are familiar. They will be able to help you by giving verbal instruction during your matches. You will have to focus to hear them – I guarantee it will be difficult with all the adrenaline and tunnel vision – but try to listen and trust them! If you don’t know where your coach is, ask the officials to call for a coach from your team. It is not an imposition for them to do so!

If the competition you are at does not have a designated area for your coach, this does not mean that you are not allowed one. They may just have to stand behind a barricade and yell a bit louder – and the officials will most likely not call them for you if you can’t find them. (make sure to have your coach’s number so you can text them if needed)

General flow of match:
* Escorted/called to table at the edge of the mat where you will be competing
* You will be instructed as to which side of the table or mat you are to enter from.
* Do not step onto the mat until the referee motions you to do so!
* Sometimes you will be required to wear a different colored belt or band for scoring purposes – if they hand it to you, just put it on.
* Referee will motion you onto the mat. Most people develop an entrance ritual – some elaborate, some not so much. You will find yours. Try to not make your opponent or the referee wait five minutes for an elaborate ritual though – it’s a bit rude to hold up the match.
* Shake the referees hand. They will usually motion you to shake hands with your opponent as well – although most people automatically go to shake hands without the encouragement.
* The referee will ask if you are ready (a quick nod is an acceptable response), and then give the signal to begin the match.
* During the match, focus on breathing. Listen to your coach. Listen to the referee.
* If at any point the referee give the signal to stop, freeze right where you are. It could be that you have drifted (or flown) out-of-bounds and you need to move back into the center of your mat space. However, you do not want to lose a good position – so make sure you freeze so that the referee can reset you in the same position you were in. (bonus tip: when walking back to the center during a reset, this is a good time to make eye contact with your coach so they can give you some instruction when you are not in the heat of the moment)
* When the match has ended – be it a submission or time running out – be gracious regardless of the outcome. Straighten your uniform and return to your starting position as quickly as your wobbly legs and shaky hands can get you there (adrenaline, gotta love it). The referee will raise the hand of the winner and then usually motion for you to once again shake hands. Make sure to shake the hand of the referee again before you turn to exit the mat space. If they had you wear an extra belt or band for scoring purposes, make sure to return it.
* Check with the table worker to see if you have any more matches.

Congratulations! You made it through your first competition match! You will likely find that you feel much more exhausted than you usually do after sparring a round in class. This is normal – the adrenaline kicks up the intensity and makes you use a lot more energy than you usually would.

Random Tips:

* If you think you’ve brought enough water, bring more.
* Pack warm layers. Events are usually held in gymnasiums or arenas where you can’t count on it being a set temperature. I have to pack a couple of sweaters when I compete in Las Vegas – 110 degrees outside, but my fingers are going numb inside.
* Bring snacks. Most venues do have food available, but it is usually ball park type (hot dogs, popcorn, etc) and not really the type of food you want to be putting into your stressed out system. I recommend various fruits, trail mix, granola bars, and peanut butter.
* Honey is super useful to bring in case you are prone to blood sugar crashes under stress like I am. Also, make sure you are stocked with electrolytes as well.
* Bring an extra Gi. If your Gi rips or does not pass inspection, you will be required to quickly change or be disqualified. In a pinch you can usually purchase a new Gi at an event or find someone to borrow one from, but why take that risk?
* If you need to ask the table worker official a question, try to wait until they are not occupied with keeping score of an ongoing match.
* Headphones. I consider this to be an absolute necessity. Listen to whatever puts you in a calm, focused frame of mind. As a person who ranges from Gospel to Kpop – you’ll get no judgement from me.
* Make sure someone films your matches! I’ll just prop my phone or GoPro up on the table if no one is around to film for me. You will be thankful later! I’m still sad that I don’t have any video from my first competition.

In Conclusion:
This was a huge information dump! If anyone has any other input, or questions, please comment!

The Reset Button

20140426-224310.jpgAfter returning from competing in Japan this past September, my coach (Shawn) told me to take the rest of the year off from competing. I don’t think I have gone longer than three days in the past 4 years without thinking and preparing for the next event. Now I had to deal with a little over three months completely off from competing.

I definitely agreed with my coach. I need this time off. However I am an addict so I was kind of at a loss. This past year has also put me in a severe budgetary crisis, on top of an ongoing family crisis and the need to move at the end of the year… My stress levels had reached the point where my functioning skills were spread to the thinnest they have been since before I started training. The first few weeks I was definitely depressed and unmotivated – maybe on the mats twice a week. Around week 3 though I started pulling out of it and enjoying myself in class again.

I’ve also made the decision to retire my massage therapy business. It has been dying for several reasons and currently taking more time and energy from me than what it is worth. I took a seasonal position working in the warehouse of a shipping company – they actually ended up hiring me on permanently instead and appear to be extremely flexible with time off to go compete next year. Right now I am working Friday – Tuesday, getting off work in time for evening training sessions (full day of training on Wednesday and Thursday). During the holiday season they are allowing us to work as many extra hours as we desire, so I am doing double shifts on the weekends so I can have a better jump start on the budget for next year.

Where That Leaves Me

I found a round trip flight to Amsterdam in January for $300 and snatched it up! I can get a pretty cheap (under $60) flight from there to Lisbon for the European Championships, and then have a few extra days to explore elsewhere. I haven’t decided yet where. Morocco and Israel are both tempting, but I may opt for the super cheap $30 flight to spend a few days in Rome or Athens instead. I suppose I will base my decision off food and training options at each location!

My new job is extremely active, and I’ve been easily dropping weight – so I’m anticipating competing as a feather weight next year.

20130927-035343.jpgFebruary 2017

I had a debate between the IBJJF Atlanta Open or the UAEJJF Mexico National Pro. The Atlanta is an easy day trip away, I would only need to miss one day at work, and both my teams will have a good turn out there. Mexico won out however since I have a goal to compete at the World Pro in Abu Dhabi this next April. I win a qualifying division in Mexico and they will cover my expenses for the World Pro. I will pay for my own trip to the World Pro if I have to, but it is NOT a cheap place to visit – so I decided to invest in Mexico for my shot at the trip package.

March 2017

Of course I will be going to Pans this next year! I managed to pull out a bronze medal this past year, and I need to upgrade that to something a bit more shiny! I’ll not likely stay for the whole event this year (per my norm) just because I want to conserve my time off from work.

April 2017

It’s World Pro month! I win the qualifier in Mexico, I won’t have to worry about paying for the trip, but either way I am going to be competing in Abu Dhabi in 2017. I actually work with several ladies from the UAE- they have been dropping pointers for my visit.

May/June 2017

The dates have not yet been set for the World Championships in Los Angeles, but I WILL be in attendance. I’m hoping I will be able to get a leave of absence from work to go to train at TLI HQ in Maryland for several weeks leading up to the competition. We shall see!

September 2017

The Asian Championships will be held again in Tokyo, most likely the second weekend of the month. I will either be taking leave from work, or just turning in my notice and signing back on when they start hiring seasonally again (a few weeks after I get back). My sister will be 18 by this time and is planning to postpone starting college in order to go with me to this event. We will then spend about 3 weeks exploring Japan, Taiwan, and hopefully a few other places (Korea and Thailand are definitely on the list!) We both have interest in training our respective martial arts during the trip, so it should be a great experience for us both! Plus I will actually have someone to cheer for my matches at the competition!

20130922-221901.jpg

As of this point, I feel refreshed and excited about this next year. This past year has not been so great for me personally, and it showed in my Jiu Jitsu. Taking a step back to deal with some issues has made all the difference and I feel genuine excitement to compete again in January!

Taipei Day 1: Towers, Temples, and Fabulous Food

I arrived in Taiwan around 9:00 in the morning and managed to find the correct bus to take to Taipei Station, a 45 minute ride for just a couple of USD. From Taipei station I walked to the hostel I would be staying in. It hit me rather quickly that I was in a tropical environment and the layers I had worn to stay comfortable on the plane were quickly shed.

The hostel I had selected to stay at for my two nights in Taipei was, I found, perfectly located for exploring on foot or by metro. A very useful thing as it would be several hours before I could officially check in. I was, however, able to drop off my bags at the front desk to lighten the load for the next 6 hours of exploration! Yay!

img_3227
Taipei 101 Building – as seen from metro exit

My first concern was food. I had slept at the airport the previous night and had yet to actually eat anything since before then. So I decided to make my way via the metro to the Taipei 101 building and find something to eat around there. I did initially have difficulty with finding a location to purchase a metro card, and eventually just went to a subway information desk. The metro is super cheap and easy to use in Taipei!

It was a rather impressive sight to step out of the metro station and look straight up the edge of the Taipei 101 tower – one of the tallest buildings in the world! I was debating on whether or not I wanted to take the ride to the top, but when I realized that it was only 500 NTD (roughly 15 USD) for the ride to the top, I decided to go for it. I am very glad that I did as it was a fantastic day (the forcasted typhoon was delayed) and I could see for miles!

Beef Noodle Soup
Beef Noodle Soup

I almost had mango shaved ice at the top… but was deterred by the length of the line and the small portions I saw doled out for the price (tourist prices and such). So I decided to wait. After taking a few time lapse videos, I took the ride back down the elevator to the food court. So many options that I circled the place twice before settling on a bowl of beef noodle soup. Exciting, I know. It was good sized and very satisfying though! The seating was all family style so after a little hesitation, I plopped myself down in an empty seat next to several people. I’m going assume the looks I received were ones of admiration for my skillful use of chopsticks… It could also have been that I was the only red headed white girl sitting in a human sea of asian ethnicity… Seriously though – I got so many compliments on my use of chopsticks during the course of this trip!

Elephant Mountain:

It's a small Jiu Jitsu world!
It’s a small Jiu Jitsu world!

I was pretty much winging it until later in the evening when I had reserved a spot in a guided tour. So what better thing to do on a whim than climb a mountain?

Elephant mountain is a very popular local hiking spot. It is a punishing number of steps however – so if you decide to do it, wear good shoes and buy a bottle or two of water from the nice lady at the trail head!

As I was starting on my way up, I saw a gentleman trudging down wearing the staff tshirt from the Asian Championships. He was very focused but as he passed I hollered “Jiu Jitsu!” at him and he turned on a dime with a huge smile on his face! We had a short conversation in a combination of English, Japanese, and Mandrin before he asked for a photo. Of course I asked for one with my camera as well!

Taipei 101 building from Elephant Mountain
Taipei 101 building from Elephant Mountain

It was quite a trek up, and I even stripped to my tank top and used my tshirt as a sweat rag! The view from the top was well worth the effort however! I hung out at the top and explored the trails a bit further – I could have easily spent several hours up there! However, I had to get back to the hostel so I could finish check in and take a (MUCH needed) shower before the tour.

Tour Me Away – Longshan Temple:

So I found a group that does low cost, and free walking tours of Taipei. The group is called “Tour Me Away” and I highly recommend them to anyone visiting Taipei!

It was raining lightly by the time we met up for the tour and it was a large group! So we waiting a few extra minutes for people to purchase umbrellas as needed from a nearby convenience store. First we strolled along an old traditional street and got a peek inside of some of the old marketplace buildings before they were closed up for the evening. I got to purchase a cup of herbal green drink as we strolled down an herb alley – I have no idea what all was in it, but it felt very cleansing.

Polishing the candlesticks inside Longshan Temple
Polishing the candlesticks inside Longshan Temple

After this we made our way to the Longshan Temple where we had a very detailed step by step guide through the entire building complex. I don’t have many photos from inside the temple because of two reasons. Mainly: I always feel guilty taking photos inside temples and shrines where people come to worship. Just because it isn’t my religious upbringing doesn’t mean they don’t deserve to pray in peace. Two: my phone takes terrible night time photos. One day I hope to get a real camera!

Our guides gave very detailed information about how they worship and what each deity is responsible for. For those who wished it, they provided step by step guidance through the worship practices. There was, however, no pressure to participate for those uncomfortable doing so!

After a good amount of time at the temple, we visited the old red light district. It is full of tea houses and other business fronts where you can pay for more than what is listed on the menu. We also visited a “love hotel” where you can pay for a room by the night or by the hour. Then we were off to the night market!

The Night Market:

The most amazing combo ever! Peanut brittle, three types of ice cream, and fresh cilantro!
The most amazing combo ever! Peanut brittle, three types of ice cream, and fresh cilantro!

I had heard great things about the night market culture in Taipei, and in spite of my limited time visiting the country, it did not disappoint!

Custard filled goodness!
Custard filled goodness!

I will say this for the night markets (and really any street food). If there is a line of locals waiting for it, get in that line! Also, this is not the time to be finicky about calories, food preferences, or germs. I know a few people who would get the shakes with the way we were passing around our food and drinks to share with the group. I typically eat a fairly clean diet due to my training routine, but I went after it with a gusto in Taipei – without the slightest bit of digestive distress to contend with.

Now will I hesitate to eat street food in India? Probably. Will I still do it? Again, probably!

I made a few new friends from the tour that I really hope to see again in future travels! After we parted ways, I made my way back to my hostel to get some sleep and prepare for the adventure next day.

In Closing:

I started this post with the intent to write one post for Taiwan, one for Kyoto, and one for Seoul – and then be done with it and back to my normal Jiu Jitsu writings. However, I apparently managed to pack a lot more into each day than I thought, so this is going to be a two parter. Until then…

Tokyo: Temples, Maids, and Studio Ghibli

Well I got pretty distracted and ended up not writing every evening like I had planned. Since I have several hours to kill at the airport while I wait for my flight to Taiwan, I’m going to play catch up now!

 

Wednesday: 
I scheduled a tour of the Asakusa area with someone I found on the Meetrip.to website (I highly recommend them if you are traveling in the East Asia area!) 

I managed to make a doofus of myself by messing up my directions. I got off of the train station at exit #9 when I was supposed to meet her at exit 1. Of course, I just kept plodding along. A few mishaps later, I found her and we went to Senso-ji temple which is riot outside of the train station.

 

Touching the lantern gives you luck! I also got to draw a fortune, and I got “the best fortune” – so I am saving that!

Had some fresh made melon bread (amazing!) and then walked around a few smaller (and less crowded) temples and streets. We settled on a lunch of ramen.

 This was a broth based ramen, which means I have tried all three of the base ramen varieties. Broth, miso, and tonkotsu. My favorite has been the tonkotsu!

  
After lunch, we went to a place for karaoke. It was quite different from karaoke in the states! You rent out your own soundproof room by the hour. Ours had a killer sound system and flashing lights. You can also order food and drinks delivered to your room via your control pads. We had the room for two hours and it was a blast!

I was going to meet someone in Shibuya after this, but she ended up getting stuck at work, so I just went back to my room to sleep.

Thursday:

This was my geek out day! I finally got to go to the Studio Ghibli museum!!! Studio Ghibli could be considered the Walt Disney of Japanese animation… But I think they are better! Most well known films are Spirited Away and My Neighbor Totoro.

You have to purchase tickets a month in advance, and I was extremely thrilled to get mine when they went on sale last month! (They were sold out in half an hour!)

I traded my sticker for this amazing film strip entrance ticket upon arrival!

  
They don’t allow photos to be taken inside of the museum… But take how amazing that ticket is, and maybe you could get an inkling as to how magical the experience was!

  
I was unable to resist sneaking a selfie from one of the special exhibits… I know, I’m terrible… But it was a LIFE SIZED CAT BUS! Yes, the inside was super soft and squishy! If you haven’t watched “My Neighbor Totoro”, I’m sorry, you just won’t understand.

After spending about 5 hours at the museum, I went to the train station to meet my evening guide.

She took me around the Meiji shrine and I learned a lot of new things from her about the history of the area! She also took me through one of the older, pre-WWII era, neighborhoods. Seriously my favorite tour! I didn’t get too many photos because I was too enthralled with listening!

Friday:

Maid cafe!

  
I can guarantee that my lunch was cuter than yours!

 

It was great fun! I thought I might feel awkward, but I decided to just go with the flow and  enjoy the experience!
On guy was there by himself and was apparently embarrassed. When it was his time to get his photo taken with his maid, he looked like he wanted to run! I thought it was great fun and would definitely do it again!

Afterwards I met up with a fellow BJJ junkie to explore Akihabara. We ended up heading to Harajuku for shaved ice cream, and he approved!

He headed off to go get in line for the new Shoyoroll Gi release, and I headed off to the airport on the last train of the evening, arriving a little bit before midnight.

It turned out, I couldn’t check in to my 6 am flight until 2 1/2 hrs before departure. All of the outer lobby seats were taken, so I curled up on the tile floor behind a big plant and managed to sleep for a few hours until I was able to get checked in.

Now, I am wrapping this up because they are about to start boarding my flight! In just a few hours I will be in Taiwan for the first time! Apparently there is a typhoon going on so they are recommending we use the bathroom before boarding since we may not be able to move around on the flight. Sounds exciting!
   

Tokyo: Robots and Other Tall Tales

Yesterday was quite an interesting experience to say the least!

First order of business was to meet up with Frank. A mutual friend got us hooked up with one another and we decided to meet up at the life sized Gundam robot that guards the Diver City Tokyo Plaza in Odaiba.

  

Food was, of course, a necessity. I went with Takoyaki topped with egg (among other things)

  

Afterwards we wandered around for a little bit. This place was a huge, man made island with these wide open spaces that I had yet to experience anywhere in Tokyo!

  

The debate was then on as to where the next stop would be. I was wanting to go to Akihabara and nerd out until show time at the Robot Restaurant in Shinjuku. However we ended up heading directly toward Shinjuku instead.

At a train transfer point, something caught the eye and we headed for it. This. Was. Amazing.

  

If the style looks familiar to some of my fellow nerds, it is because this clock was designed by Studio Ghibli star producer, Miyazaki. The clock does a 4 minute show with the changing of the hour and we had just missed it. So we went in search of nearby nerdness to occupy time while waiting for the show. The show was worth the wait, AND I found this…


So! Much! Happy!

Sad I couldn’t get it! But it wouldn’t fit in my luggage allowance for the rest of my trip.

After that side trip, we arrived in Shinjuku with an extra hour to spare before we needed to check in for the show. So we wandered around a bit more…

 

So many Nicholles!

 

So finally it was time to check in for the show! This was something I had wanted to do last year, but I ran out of money and had to choose between the show, and my train ticket to the airport. It was a close call… But I had to do the responsible thing. This time, I made it! And man was it worth it!

This is what greeted us at the entrance! 

 
I would say that the show itself would be best described as: “Lisa Frank on LSD at Carnival in Rio.” I took some pictures… But mainly sat there the whole time with a cheesy grin on my face.  

 

We were on the front row in the center. It was really too close to take any good photos anyhow. Good problem!

Seriously an absolute MUST DO when in Tokyo! The show is campy and cheesy. They know it and work that angle to perfection!

  

After the show, we zoomed out for a quick bowl of Ramen before popping into an arcade. I’m not much for arcades so after about 10 minutes I said my goodbyes to Frank and headed off to wander up and down the streets of Kabukicho on my own.

  

Kabukicho is the closest thing Tokyo has to a red light district (that I know of), but it still felt way less sketchy than walking through my own neighborhood at night. (A sign I should maybe reevaluate a few things?)

  
I didn’t wander for too long since I was getting sleepy… so after about an hour I made my way back toward to my room and passed out.

My next adventure will begin in just a few hours as I make my way to meet a new friend in Asakusa! So ends this update as I need to go get ready! Make sure to follow my Instagram as I will be uploading photos in live time while exploring!