A Word on Ladies Classes

In the last week we have done a soft launch of our new ladies only Jiu Jitsu classes. Myself and our other lady brown belt, Madison, are running two classes week to start out. This has brought about a good amount of discussion as to the validity of ladies only classes and rather than debate on social media about it, I’m going to just lay out all my thoughts here.

img_2503-1> begin rant/sermon> First off: I am not a girl power feminist. I don’t believe we are the always the victims or entitled to extra special treatment. I believe in equality – but alike and equal are not the same things. I believe that it someone holds the door open for me, it’s polite to accept the gesture but I don’t demand it. I believe that if I want something badly enough, I will find a way to make it happen. I believe that, as a whole, women are stronger than they think they are – and that we should find our way to discover that. I believe that women should train in co-ed group classes. I believe that ladies only classes are a critical part of growing a strong ladies team. I also believe that these classes are extremely important to the growth of a martial arts gym as a whole. I don’t believe that Jiu Jitsu is for everyone: I believe everyone should try it, but it’s a special kind of (mostly good) crazy that sticks with it.

Main Points (if you want to skip the prelude/sermon)

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From my first month

Jiu Jitsu is an intimidating sport to begin with for anyone. And with the majority of classes at my academy being roughly a (generous) 10:3 ratio of men and women, it is safe to call it a male dominated sport. A lone woman walking into a Jiu Jitsu class for the first time has extra layers of worry to combat. The mere offering of a ladies class makes it seem much more of an inviting environment as a whole.

After doing this for so many years I sometimes forget how intimate and vulnerable it is – and especially with how American society seems to sexualize any sort of physical contact; especially between men and women. A ladies only class helps bridge this gap – familiarizing us with the movements and terminology while easing in the concept of physical contact. After training for a little while, you understand that it’s not a sexual thing and it becomes a non-issue.

This is magnified for many women who have been survivors of abuse – be it sexual, physical, or emotional. I know many who try to use Jiu Jitsu as a form of exposure therapy to help combat their PTSD: to feel safe and in control of themselves again. The beginning phases of learning Jiu Jitsu – getting dominated and smashed for an hour or more at a time – is a hot zone for panic attacks, flashbacks, and other trauma related reflexes. This is not something she may ever want to voice to her team mates, she might just disappear without a word. Having a ladies only class available can create a sense of therapeutic safety for these individuals.

img_2862-1On the lighter side: it can be super refreshing to just have a break from the testosterone. I worry that I might begin growing a beard from all the man sweat that has been soaked into my system. Ladies tend to be much more social in the Jiu Jitsu community than are the men – call us pack animals if you will. Even though most of my main training partners are men, I always find it refreshing to spend quality time with other Jiu Jitsu ladies.

IMG_3351For personal or religious reasons, some individuals do not train with members of the other gender. For the men, this isn’t that big of an obstacle since they can easily train an entire class only partnering with other men. I have several wonderful team mates who do not roll with me and respectfully bow instead of shaking hands – I just return the gesture and carry on. For women, since there are fewer of us (sometimes one or none in a group class), co-ed classes classes may not be a consistent viable option. However with a good ladies only class, these individuals can have the opportunity to train as well if they wish.

For Beginners Only?

IMG_1300I don’t believe that a ladies only class should consist of only beginners who are passing through a way station to the co-ed class. I want my class to be a place where we can grow together and then go out and destroy the guys with our awesome powers of angles and leverage. I want to keep it applicable for both the day one beginner, and the long time veteran.

To the men who have supported this new class and program – thank you for seeing the big picture! To the women who are invested in helping it to grow – you are the reasons we do this.

Current Class Times:

Fridays @ 12:30 with Madison

Sundays @9:30 with Nicholle

After we move to the new facility we will probably shift the Sunday class to later in the day since we will have our own room and fewer things to schedule around.

Musings of a New Brown Belt

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I’ve been a brown belt for almost three weeks and feel like a bit of an expert on the topic now. It’s nice to know I’m at the top of my game and practically a black belt!

In case you don’t know, that opening paragraph was hogwash, the only truth was the three weeks since I was promoted to my brown belt. The rest is fantasy.

The beauty of it, the reality is better than the fantasy.

I got into Jiu Jitsu for health and fitness reasons. What got me hooked and has kept me at it is the challenge aspect of it. If I didn’t have a hard goal to reach for, I would have quit years ago – there are much easier ways to stay in shape and be healthy.

b6c1a5ef-b702-4d0a-aa3f-2db6a666adaaIt is rather surreal though – to know that the next promotion I reach will be my black belt. That is definitely a huge goal, but it is not the finish line. Each belt promotion I have gone through, I also go through a paradigm shift – reexamining every move I make and trying to see it from a new perspective.

I’ve made it a point to go compete on a new belt as soon as possible after promotion. There is always a huge level up and the sooner I get to feel it, the better I can focus on achieving it. So the weekend after my promotion I went out and jumped in a brown/black belt division at the UAEJJF LA Grand Slam. I was destroyed, but came home super inspired. The harder the challenge, the more quickly I rise to it.

I will go to Brazil in 5 weeks for the UAEJJF Rio Grand Slam. It will be my first time visiting Brazil and I’ve been planning this trip since the beginning of the year. I am only staying a week though because I need to be back home in time for the IBJJF Nashville Open – must defend the home turf!

In closing, I just want to talk about white belt me. I was smashed every single class (for YEARS). I cried on my way home a lot. Felt alone, isolated, ignored, lost, and frequently asked myself why I was doing this. What I consider to be my best and worst quality is my stubborn streak. I just knew I had already put so much into it, that I just had to see it through.

Now: I still get smashed in class, but sometimes I get to be the one doing the smashing. I don’t cry except for the week before competing (it’s part of my mental processing). I still occasionally feel alone, isolated, etc… but I know better now. I’ve earned a martial arts family that accepts me and all my eccentricities. Thank you all!

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Rewards of Good Foundations

I have had an incredible year so far! I’ve visited six countries, been inside two world wonders, and brought home two international gold medals (Abu Dhabi Grand Slam and Mexico National Pro). I’m back to full time training, and can actually afford to eat properly again.

I hear the phrase “man you’re really lucky to get to do all that!”, but it’s not really luck. What looks like luck is really the past several years of quiet grinding that no one really sees. Why? Because it’s not shiny, it’s not pretty, and no one really cares about those boring details. It is the slow process of constantly shifting toward my goals that have gotten me into a place now where I am able to once again train full time, travel, compete around the world, and still be able to pay my bills.

If you want something badly enough, you will find a way to make it happen. It might take time but if you stick to it in the shadows, it will eventually come to light and you will find yourself one day waking with the realization that you have been accomplishing goals set years ago.

Here are a few of my favorite photos from this year so far.

Dancing to greet the bride and groom at a wedding in India
Taj Mahal
Wearing sari and eating all the amazing food
Team training: our ladies team is growing!
New fan girl photo with “Chew Jitsu”
Taught a couple of classes in Mexico City
Made it to the #1 world ranked spot
First place in Mexico
Learned to make Pastel de Nata in Lisbon
The Pyramids
Won Abu Dhabi Grand Slam

Abu Dhabi World Pro Recap

I just made it back to the states after a very interesting 10 days in the United Arab Emirates. I will work on a few other blog posts detailing some of the non-competition experiences (food, desert safari, shopping in local markets, etc) – for now I will just be sharing about my adventures leading up through the competition event itself. So… prepare yourself for informal story time!

I booked my flight before the schedule was solidified, so I ended up arriving in the Abu Dhabi airport at around 3 am local time on the day I was to compete. No day before weigh ins for me – so I was very hungry and thirsty. Female hormones decided to time their surge during this critical stage, so I did not have the planned wiggle room for my weight.

I hung out at the airport for about 5 hours, charging my devices and staring with thirst envy at everyone else who happened to take a sip from a water bottle in my vicinity. Occasionally, I would stroke my bag of sports drinks and whisper a “soon my precious, soon”. When time finally came for me to make my way to the venue for weigh ins, I purchased a metro card and made my way out to the bus stop along with my suitcase and bag. I missed the proper metro stop and therefore ended up walking about 1.5 miles in the desert heat, dragging my suitcase over cobblestone (R.I.P suitcase). When I finally arrived at the competition venue and weighed in, I was a full pound under weight thanks to that desert stroll – so all’s well!

I had about 90 minutes before my division was set to begin, so I proceeded to down a bottle of electrolyted liquid and lie down with my feet up in the warm up area. At this point the giddiness began to kick in because I realized I had made it happen and I was really going to get to go out and compete.

img_2551My match was meant to be the 5th one in my division, but since it was the first match that the coordinator found, it got bumped to the first event of the day! So this means being escorted past the curtain out to the side of the mat while the tv commentators are talking and the crowd is starting to rumble in the background. I was grinning like a fool. So happy to be there after all the work I put in to make it happen. This was going to be me showing my best game.

Finally, the referee gives the motion to start the match and everything else fades away to a pinpoint of focus. I go from grinning fool to focused animal in the drop of a hand. My opponent came at me with fury and powerful technique. I responded instinctively, just doing what I know how to do (so many inversions!). When we reached 1 minute left I looked at the scoreboard and saw that I was up 2 advantage points and could coast the last bit if I wanted. However, that is how I missed out on a finals match in Cincinnati, so I kept going. My opponent knew she only had to pass my guard in order to advance to the next round and I could feel her determination and drive. Suddenly I saw an opening and managed to lock in a submission, rolling to mount to finish in the last 30 seconds of the match. It was honestly one of my proudest matches. It was a war from beginning to end with a worthy opponent whom I would love a chance to match up with again!

I was as elated and made my way back to the holding area when the adrenaline dump kicked in like it never has before. That along with the lack of sleep and recovery time hit all at once. I was very close to throwing up and had to lie down on the floor with my legs elevated. Thankfully since I ended up being the first match of the day, they had to process through the rest of my division before they came back to me again. It was a full 30 minutes before I could sit up without nearly blacking out and I have not been that close to backing out of a match before. However, I owed it to my first opponent to continue on and do my very best! So once I could sit up, I focused on projecting a strong solid front to any of my opponents who might be watching me. Just because I feel like I’m going to pass out, doesn’t mean I need to let people see that.

My name was called for my second match and I kept that mask on as I went out. I wish there was a triumphant resolution to this tale, but alas, I was immediately pulled into a triangle and had to tap to the pressure on my neck. I kept the mask on afterwards, thanked my referee and made my way back to find ice for my neck.

All in all, this was one of my favorite tournament experiences and it was an honor to participate in it! I also earned enough points to be ranked #6 in North America! I will be back. What I will do differently next time is just book a flight arriving much earlier so that I can have time to do the day before weigh ins and recover more completely. Mentally I was more focused than I have in the past year – I feel like I am starting to be confident in my game again. I will continue to improve and make myself better every day. My next goal will be to hit as many of the Grand Slam events as possible (Tokyo is in July), and also to wreck some havoc at Master Worlds.

Motivation

When I first started competing, it was all about learning more quickly. When I started winning, I caught the medal bug and wanted to keep going. That has changed a bit in the last few years and I have been having difficulty defining what motivates me to keep at it.

External motivators are only good so long as you are in that particular environment at a certain point, it has to go deeper. For example, training with Team Lloyd Irvin leading up to Worlds has been a huge game changer for me. I call it the Jiu Jitsu pressure cooker – it’s far harder physically, but much easier mentally. I haven’t been able to make it out to see them for a while, but I need to put myself into that mental place and be responsible for my own drive. Then when I am able to go to TLIHQ I can contribute to the overall drive, instead of just feeding off it.

Okay, enough wind up. I just got out of a counseling session and we discussed specifics about things leading up to Pans next week. She was able to guide me to identify what is firing my inner motivator.My coach and team have never put the “value based on performance” burden on my shoulders. They see me training every day and know what I am capable of on my good days and on my bad days. Any performance pressure I feel, is completely self-bestowed. Here is the thing though. My coach and teammates have put so much into me over the years that THEY deserve to see me win. I want to validate that all the time they put into me was worth it.

Also, I did not realize until our annual team training that there are actually people who look up to me. If someone is going to have that kind of trust in me to use me as an example and role model, I had better do my best to live up to it!

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!

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!

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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!