Blog

My New(ish) Job and Training

I’ve spent a good amount of time and money in 2018 investing in getting my financial legs under me. I went back to massage school and completed the required coursework in order to reactivate my massage therapy license in the state of Tennessee. It was a long and drawn out process, as with most things that go through a government office, but I am now working minimal hours and being paid more than I was at my previous full time position.

I currently work just two evenings a week (Sunday and Monday) at a spa near my house. My manager has told me that they would give me any and all hours that I want, but my current schedule frees me up for training and travel – while still paying all my living expenses. So I’m disinclined to commit to more hours right now.

It is an ideal lifestyle since most competitions are on Friday and/or Saturday, which means that I don’t have to take any time off from work in order to make it just about anywhere in the world and back in time to clock in. They are also very flexible with time off if I request it in advance. Monday morning, and the rest of the days of the week I am able to train my little heart out, and then get huge discounts on a bi-weekly massage for myself.

Thanks to this new freedom, I am hitting the 2019 competition circuit hard. (scroll down for summary)

In January, I will be flying out from Nashville on a Tuesday (the 8th) to compete at the Abu Dhabi Grand Slam in Abu Dhabi on January 10-12. I will fly from there to Lisbon for the IBJJF European Championships where I would be competing on the 16th or 17th, flying home on the 18th, and then back to work on the 20th (Sunday). I will miss two work days.

Also in January I will go to the U.S. National Pro in Miami, Florida. This competition is on  a Saturday so I can fly there and be back Sunday morning without missing any work. Plus I have a friend to visit in Miami and flights are currently super cheap.

I will work that Sun/Mon (27th and 28th), and then leave on Tuesday for Mexico City where I will visit with friends and compete at the Mexico National Pro that Saturday (Feb 2). I have to go out early and adjust to the altitude a bit. Past experience has taught me that it’s a good three days before I start to feel normal at that altitude. I could fly back and make it work right after the competition, but I want to have a little fun and the training is good there – so I have that weekend off work and will hang for a few extra days.

February 23 and 24 is the South American Continental Pro in Bogota, Columbia. It is a similar altitude to Mexico City, so I will be flying there again on a Tuesday to adjust to the altitude and have that weekend off work. I have never been to Columbia and hope to make some new friends and train a bit while I am there. I am considering flying to Peru and visiting Machu Picchu as well.

TL/DR

Jan 10-17 – Abu Dhabi Grand Slam and European Championship – 2 days off work

Jan 26 – US National Pro – no days off work needed

Feb 2 – Mexico National Pro – 2 days off work

Feb 23-24 – South America Continental Pro – 2 days off work

In March the Pan Am Championships will be held in Los Angeles, CA and I will most likely be able to do that event without taking off any time from work. April will be the Abu Dhabi World Pro and I will take off a couple days for that. The World Championships will be at the end of May and I am not sure if I will take off work to stay for the whole event or not.

In an ideal world, I will be able to fly out to DC for training camp with my TLI team mates in the weeks leading up to the World Championships. I would have to fly in on a Tuesday morning and fly back home Sunday in time for work. I will know by the beginning of the year how feasible this would be.

In the Meanwhile:

The only scheduled training sessions that I am missing out on are Monday evenings. All other days I have the entire day free for training, and I also do some extra massage work on team mates after classes. It is an ideal scenario, made possible by knuckling down this year and making things happen. Special thanks to my parents who loaned me the money for my state required continuing education! I am going to make it worth the investment!

 

Weight Cuts – What’s the Deal?

Before I started competing in Jiu Jitsu, I never owned a scale. They were not allowed in my house growing up and I just never felt the need to purchase one.

When I announced my intentions to compete for the first time, I was asked the big question of which weight class I would be entering. Honestly, I looked down on the whole process of cutting weight as a stupid, unnecessary thing. I remember making an inward vow that I would never drop weight for a competition. Logically, I would feel best at whatever my normal walking weight is right?

Wrong.

Now first, I will say that I know people who have done very stupid things in order to make weight – and in a last ditch effort, I have done stupid things myself. If done properly, however, dropping to a lower weight class can give you an extra edge in more ways than just a size difference.

My normal walking weight is about 145 lbs. With a Gi on, that would be roughly 148 lbs and put me in the middle weight division for an IBJJF competition. I have competed in the middle weight division and it was not a pleasant experience. Over the past four years of competing, I have determined that light weight is my sweet spot. This requires me to drop about 7 lbs over the course of 4-6 weeks. Please note that most often, my weigh ins are done just a few minutes before my matches, so no huge water cuts for me.

I think this actually ends up being a very good thing for me physically and mentally.

  • I have a smaller body frame and have more likelihood of matching up with someone of the same size in the light weight division.
  • Planning out the weight drop in advance forces me to adjust my eating habits and increase my cardio – which makes me physically feel better and stronger.
  • The mental discipline required to keep me on track with my eating and training really helps to keep me focused and feel on point at the actual event.

So What?

 My advice I give to people about weight cuts, is to experiment with it. Don’t do anything crazy as a white belt. You may see high level competitors doing large weight drops for the world championships, but keep in mind that they have been doing this for years and have worked out their system and acclimated their body over time to be able to make their selected weight class without falling apart.

Everyone has a different body type, metabolism, and environmental factors. This is why I advocate experimenting with different weight classes to find where you feel you fit in best. I have actually made feather weight twice (125 lbs) – but just because I can, doesn’t mean that I should.

 

How do you know if it is your weight class?

Just ask yourself a few simple questions after your matches. Did you feel strong, did you feel focused? How was your speed? Did you gas out? How was your muscular endurance? If you felt good, then stick with that division for a little while and see where it takes you.

It’s not all about size

 Quite often, I run into opponents who are larger than me in my weight class. One of my friends saw my weight class podium photo from the 2016 Pans and thought it was the open weight class, due to the size differences represented on the podium. The size of your opponents doesn’t matter so much as does your own physical and mental conditioning. I see making weight not as trying to be the biggest in the next weight class down, but as making sure I am physically at my best before going out to compete.

How I Afford to Travel and Compete

It must be in the genes. My Mom is an organizer who specializes in lists. She says it is because she is going senile and won’t remember things otherwise. Regardless of her reasoning, I’ve learned a thing or two from her about planning.

Over the past few years, I have had a lot of conversations with people at competitions who seem to think I have a huge income or sugar daddy/sponsor who pays for my expenses. The truth is, occasionally (once or twice a year) someone may offer to cover my registration fee, but most of the time I pay out-of-pocket. My average monthly income is under $1,000 and I’ve learned how to get the most out of each dollar.

There are two major things that allow me to travel and compete in Jiu Jitsu competitions around the world.

  1. Budgeting at Home
  2. Budgeting Abroad

 

At Home

My car broke beyond repair about 4 years ago, and I never replaced it. I bike and walk everywhere, and occasionally take the bus.

I pay a flat monthly rate to rent a bedroom from someone. I train and work all day anyhow, so an actual apartment or house is wasted on me.

I got rid of my smart phone plan and got a free google voice account. I can text and talk while on a wi-fi network for free using the apps on my iPad and old iPhone.

I only go out to eat maybe once or twice a month. I can cook at home for just $2 a day and that adds up!

Before I make purchases, I weigh it against possible travel/competition expenses

  • $1 – a pastry in Lisbon, canned coffee from a vending machine in Tokyo, several skewers of chicken or veggies in Taipei
  • $5 – metro fares to get to and from competition venues
  • $10 – food for a day in any city
  • $10 – a night in a comfy hostel in Taipei, Lisbon, Athens, etc
  • $20 – a night in a private room in Lisbon, or a hostel in the heart of Tokyo
  • $30 – a flight from Amsterdam to Italy
  • $60 – flight from Tokyo to Taipei or Hong Kong
  • $100 – registration for a competition

 

Abroad – Flights:

When planning a trip, I start as far in advance as possible. If I have to rush at the last-minute to find airfare or lodging, there is a much lower chance of me finding a really good deal. Using Japan for example:

In 2015 one of my clients traded me the air miles for my plane ticket. It was relatively last-minute for me (6 weeks out) and the dollar amount for the ticket was a little over $1,800. I would not have been able to do that out-of-pocket myself!

For the 2016 competition in Japan, I started planning in January (for a trip in September). As soon as the dates for the competition were announced, I was watching airline tickets.

  • I keep a list of upcoming trips and do searches for tickets at least a couple of times a week in order to keep an eye on prices. This gives me an average ballpark so I can recognize a sale price.

Lo and behold, my airline of choice ended up having a fare sale in January and I got my round trip plane ticket for $1,123

I was pretty pleased with myself! However I have managed to top even that. I have completely changed the way I hunt for plane tickets since I booked that ticket. My last flight to Tokyo cost $650 round trip.

It did take weeks of sitting at a computer all day to figure out a new search system, but now I am definitely going to compete in Japan every year!

Moral of the story: Plan ahead!

 

Abroad: Lodging, Transportation, Food:

This part is pretty simple. My concern for lodging is that it is safe and easily accessed by the local transportation system. Hostels, and guesthouses are usually conveniently located and include free wi-fi and lots of other perks. I don’t see the point in paying for my own hotel room when all I need is a place to sleep and recharge for the next days adventures. Even in central Tokyo, which is considered to be one of the more expensive destinations in the world to visit, I was able to find a well located place to stay for just $15 per night. Plus I can make friends from all around the world! Who knows? Maybe we will visit each other some day! Airbnb has been my friend, but I have also started searching through my airline so that I can possibly earn extra airmiles as well.

Public transit has been top-notch in most places I have visited so far! Lisbon, the home of the European Championships, is SUPER easy to navigate by subway or bus (subway station is right outside the airport). A lot of countries offer special foreigner metro passes which are usually a good buy if you are going to be doing lots of exploring within the city.

For food, I usually will set myself a daily budget of $10 or $15. I usually buy food at grocery stores or from street vendors. Most of the time I don’t even use my whole budget so then I’ll save the balance and go out for a few special meals during the course of my trip. I’ve never felt like I was missing out on anything food wise (and I LOVE food!)

 

ETC:

Oftentimes, I will offer to work at an event when I am competing. Not only can you get paid (or free registration depending on the organization), but oftentimes you get fed or have access to snacks/water. It’s good for networking as well!

The trick is to determine what it is that I really want out of a trip (Jiu Jitsu! Food!) Once I know what is important, I can plan around that.

Don’t go for the first or easy offer. I decided that it was absolutely necessary that I visit the Studio Ghibli Museum while in Tokyo. Tickets are notoriously hard to come by for foreigners since they must be purchased a month in advance and sell out quickly. It took some digging but I found a concierge company that was selling admission tickets for $61… but I decided to dig beyond that and I found that the museum was implementing a new online sales system. Tickets for September went on sale August 9th at 8 pm and I was right there! The system crashed immediately and it took me 15 minutes to secure my ticket (they were sold out in 20 minutes). The ticket cost me 1,000 yen which is just under $10.

 

In Summary:

Competition travel planning takes practice. I have to do a ton of planning because of how small my budget is. Once I get there, I can just kick back and relax until it is time to compete.

The more I am able to save, the more adventures I can have!

Winning Through Failure

I remember when I first started training and everything was just so hard. I got smashed every round and it seemed like everyone around me picked up techniques ten times faster than I did.

I failed a lot.

We seem to celebrate wins and try to forget the failures. Part of me loves the feeling of getting completely destroyed in class; knowing that I went through a hard thing and came out alive on the other side. Winning rounds is nice, but that’s not the only point of training in class. I train to be better the next day – and to do that, I have to put myself in an opportunity to fail.

I like to compete as well, and I would rather fail in class than on the competition mat. In class, we are working and studying together for our exam. I’m alone on the competition mat, but the preparation in class will make or break the final result.

As a purple belt, I’m kind of in the middle ground now of the ranks. I could go a whole class and do nothing but dominate, depending on who I roll with. That is the easy to do, and sometimes I need to do that to remind myself of how far I have come in the last 7 years. When I get serious about competing though, I have to seek out people who are better than me in order to push through my limits and set new ones.

My current competition goals?

Next month we have the IBJJF Nashville Open here in town. We won the team award at the July event, and we need to all work hard to defend our home turf.

In January I am going to the UAEJJF Abu Dhabi Grand Slam and then going straight from there to either the European Championship or the Fujairah Open. I haven’t hashed that out completely yet.

In February, the UAEJJF Mexico National Pro is in Mexico City and then the South America Continental Pro is in Bogota, Columbia.

March: IBJJF Pans will be some time in Los Angeles

April: UAEJJF World Pro in Abu Dhabi

May/June: IBJJF World Championship in Los Angeles

There will be others but that’s all I have for now. Should be enough to keep me occupied! I started my new job as a Massage Therapist working at a spa just two nights a week. It’s enough to pay for my bills and save up for airfare to events – while letting me train full time again. I just finished morning training and am gonna go for a bike ride and recover a bit before evening classes begin.

Information Overload

Some days I find myself overwhelmed by the immense sea of knowledge that I have yet to master. I can be trying to perfect how to do a proper bridge and hip escape, and next thing I know someone releases a DVD series on something completely new to me and I start drowning in the information.

This is a good thing!

I’m so grateful for the information overload. Without it, I would get bored and wander off to find some other venture to invest myself in. The trick is to figure out how to keep myself focused so I don’t just fly apart at the seams.

This is where having a good coach becomes critical for me. He is outside of my own brain and is therefore able to see the patterns and guide me through the mess. It’s like having someone in a helicopter giving me directions through a corn maze. He can see where I am, where I need to be, and the quickest path from A to B.

Of course, I am responsible for making my own progress. So I read, I watch video, and go over scenarios in my mind. Just this week I made up two new moves that made me pause and go “huh!” in the middle of live rolling. They weren’t really new moves, they were just an extension of my existing knowledge.

Another thing that helps keep me honed is competing as often as possible. In competition, my opponent doesn’t know what my favorite moves are, and I don’t know what they have been working on at home either. So it’s a fresh slate to test myself at 100% and it lets me figure out what critical things I need to fix, what is working, and what I could improve on.

This past year I have begun teaching private lessons as well. I am forced to look at a problem from a different perspective and figure out how to lead another person to an answer. I love to see the “aha!” moment when something clicks – and to hear that people are using methods I taught them in their live rolls.

In Conclusion:

January will mark seven years since my first Jiu Jitsu class – the longest I have ever worked at anything. When it comes to training, I have good days, and bad days. At this point the good days outnumber the bad… but I still remember what it was like to have all bad days.  Those bad days were worth it to get to where I am now. I wasn’t so sure when I was getting the snot beat out of me in every single class, but looking back now, I know it was worth it.

The best part: there is still so much more to learn and I can only improve as I keep pushing myself every day. It would be easy to coast at this point – so I have to keep focused on improving a little bit every day. This means trying new things, and possibly messing up. Mistakes from trying are acceptable, but relaxing on my existing knowledge is not.

Japan, Tattoo, and Other Shenanigans

So I think it has been maybe two years since I have been consistently writing. Writing on a touch screen just been so frustratingly slow that I give up a paragraph into most update attempts. I bartered with one of my team mates and now have an actual laptop – so here goes!

Catching Up:
img_5496In my last update, I was getting ready to leave for the UAEJJF Tokyo Grand Slam in July. I did end up with ladies in the 62 kg purple belt division and brought home a silver medal and some cash. I used the cash prize to book airfare and register for the Los Angeles Grand Slam.

I stuck loosely with my planned itinerary. I did end up making a day trip to Mt. Takkao and very much enjoyed exploring all the trails! I went up and down it twice using different routes each time. I left a couple of trails to enjoy on my next visit.

img_5598Instead of climbing Mt. Fuji, I ended up getting my tattoo done by an artist in Ueno named Horien (check out her Instagram!). I have watched her work for several years now and my confidence was high enough that I was not even worried about seeing the design before she put it on me. The result was better than I would have been able to imagine on my own! We just did the outline but will add on to it my next visit – it will be a half sleeve.

There was a lot of other details for this trip, I met a bunch of awesome people and ate a bunch of great food! But alas, for the sake of not being too long winded and boring (because seriously, who reads anything anymore anyways?), I’ve prepared a gallery containing some of my favorite photos of people, food, and sights!

Currently

My team is now prepping for the IBJJF Nashville Open coming up on November 17. Oh, and coach just gave me a new stripe on my belt – so there’s that as well!

On To The Photos!

Elite Brand Gi Review

I have had the opportunity to test out the Elite brand gi for the last couple of months. So here is my assessment of the Gi!

Shipping was super fast! It arrived within three days and came with a white belt which I will pass on to a worthy newbie at a future date. I am 5 foot, 4 inches on a tall day, and usually wear a size 6 jean (USA size). I was sent the A1 pink women’s gi which I found to be a bit roomy for my preferred fit. I didn’t mind the sizing since it shrunk a little bit in the dryer for a perfect fit – and I like having training gis that can go into the dryer for faster laundry turn over.

The quality per the price was very good! This gi was sent to me by the company to review for them, but last year I had purchased one as well. For wear and tear and over the course of the year the color has held strongly, seams are  still snug, and the fabric is soft and comfortable to wear. I did not notice a fit difference in the women’s Gi as compared to the standard issue Gi I own from the same company. I get compliments from team mates on both gis whenever I wear one of them.

Overall, this is my top recommendation to people asking about an affordable training gi that will last through multiple washing and drying cycles. I would like to see ladies sizes available by the company in the future – but even their standard fit isn’t as baggy on my frame as some other brands. It will definitely remain in my regular training rotation.