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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.

July Japan Itinerary

It has been a very busy last few weeks! I am getting ready to compete at the IBJJF Nashville Open, and then leaving the week after that for the UAEJJF Tokyo Grand Slam event.

As of right now, I am registered for the master division at the Nashville Open. However, I have a team mate who may take over my spot and I’ll move to the adult division (I prefer it there anyhow!)

I am starting to stress a little bit over the lack of opponents signed up for the Tokyo Grand Slam. There are a good number of ladies signed up for the next weight class down, but I don’t think I could make 55 kg (121 lbs) without ending up in a hospital. A lot of jobs in Japan pay monthly at the end of the month, so I’m sure after payday there will be more people signing up! Worst case scenario, according to their guidebook purple belt ladies can be combined with the brown/black division; which would be a great opportunity for me to get a preview of things to come!

At any rate, this is my planned itinerary for the Japan trip.

July 22: Leave straight from work for the airport and catch the last flight of the day to L.A.

July 23: Depart from L.A. for Manila

July 24: Arriving in Manila in the evening, check into hotel and wander around for a few hours before passing out.

July 25: Depart Manila in the morning and arrive in Tokyo early afternoon. Check into hotel, shower, and walk around at an easy pace. Goal is to stay awake until at least 8 pm.

July 26: Take train to Kamakura, enjoy the beach and the local sights. Goal is to get enough sun to help reset my internal clock, without getting burnt.

July 27: Hike Mt. Takkao and just wander around in the mountains. Might get some Onsen action.

July 28: Weigh ins are this evening. Activity levels leading up to weigh ins will depend on how my weight is after the hiking adventure the previous day. After weigh ins, I will eat Okonomiyaki and rest.

July 29: Competition day – gonna kick some butt! After competing I will go get a Waygu beef bowl and then visit Monster Ice for some shaved ice desert.

July 30: Take train to Kawaguchiko area and check into new hostel. Explore the five lakes area and take in the scenery.

July 31: Get up early to catch the first bus to the Mt. Fuji 5th Station. Ascend at a leisurely pace and reach the summit mid-afternoon. Spend at least an hour at the summit before descending. Onsen time that evening.

August 1: Early afternoon departure flight from Tokyo to Manila. 4 hour layover before continuing on to L.A. – arriving late evening.

August 2: Flight back home to Nashville

August 3: Morning training, then back to work at my job in the afternoon. Caffeine may be required.

 

A few weeks after returning from this trip, I will be making an exciting career change. I have reactivated my Massage Therapy license and will be working out of my YMCA. I currently work at the front desk there and can’t be an employee and contractor at the same time – so I’ll be hitting the new gig full steam out the gate! My oldest nephew is planning to be visiting me around this time as well – so it will be an awesome month! So far I am planning to compete at the Master World Championships as well, but I will have to wait and see how business and finances are panning out around then.

My Weight Class Journey

I remember when I first started training Jiu Jitsu. It was toward the end of January so everyone was thinking about Pan Ams and weight cuts. At that time, I was thinking everyone was crazy, and that I’d never do that.

My perspective has changed over the years. In my eyes, the purpose of weight classes are to try to eliminate the size factor so that it is an equal footing test of skill. If skill is matched, size will win. This is why it’s always a huge deal if someone from the middle to low end of the weight classes manages to win the open weight class. Their skill level was high enough that day to overcome the size differences.

So how does someone determine which weight class they should be competing at? I think it’s a process of experimenting to find where you feel strongest. 

I’ve competed from 125 up to 155 and have found my sweet spot right around 135. When I’m not competing, my weight naturally stabilizes at around 142 – so with extra cardio and clean eating I can make 135 within a couple of weeks.

I can make 125 with a very tight regimen of cardio training, long sparring sessions, and calorie restriction. I did it twice in one year for Pans and Worlds. It is an achievable division for me, but only if I’m able to take 6 weeks off from work to focus on the process. I’ve been having to adult a lot the past few years and have not been able to have another go at it. Maybe this next year it will be possible?

I competed my first year as a purple belt at 145. Lots of reasons why there, and I determined that it is a reasonable division for me. It’s not ideal since I was at the low end of the weight class and I could feel the strength differential.

155… I just had no business in that weight class.
Weight Cuts and Aging:

As I get older, it has become more difficult to maintain a lower walking weight. I find myself having to pay more attention to my normal eating habits, change up my cardiovascular routine, and spend more time on recovery and prehab exercises.

In the golden days of my youth, all I had to do was cut out pasta for a week in order to make 135. Now I actually have to do a structured meal and conditioning plan in order to make the same weight. I like to blame having more muscle mass now than when I first started but let’s face it. I hit 30 and my metabolism did a “whoa Nelly” on me.

I wonder sometimes if I might eventually shift up to the higher weight class – but I am resisting that option. It’s just gonna take a little more dedication and focus on my part, and that’s a good thing!

In Closing:

Weight classes are an integral part of Jiu Jitsu competition. But they are just one factor of the whole. I’ve known many people who focused so hard on making a weight class that it was a detriment to their technique and mental training. I’ve also known people who have completely neglected maintaining a healthy weight and ended up in unbalanced match ups that should not have occurred outside of the open weight division. By “known people” I refer to myself. Balance is key.