Dear White Belt:

We really do love you, you are a constant source of amusement and inspiration for us in the upper ranks. I sometimes miss the days when I was a blank slate and was not expected to know anything – the simplest thing was revolutionary.

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Me as a white belt

We love your enthusiastic nature, we don’t like your elbows so much. However, most of us went through a spazz phase as well and understand that “this too shall pass”. Don’t focus so much energy on “not being a spazz” and instead focus more on building your technique. The one will preclude the other as the lack of knowledge and muscle memory is what creates the spazz as you try desperately to do ANYTHING other than get smashed.

Let yourself be in bad positions. It’s okay. Try to relax and not panic. It’s similar to learning how to take a hit in striking – learning to keep calm and react in a proper manner plays a huge part in winning the fight/match.

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Sometimes you need to give up in order to save your training partners. For example, If I am doing a judo throw on someone who may not know how to land safely, I will try to pull up at the last second so they don’t land full force. Or I might hold the back of their head during a sweep in order to protect their neck. If someone rolls the wrong way to escape an ankle lock, let go before it snaps off. We need to take care of each other while training so that we can do this together for years to come!

If you find yourself the odd person out when it comes to sparring rounds, use this as an opportunity to study the other people who are rolling. You can learn a lot this way. Most people will go through a phase where it seems that people are avoiding rolling with them. Please know that it is usually not a personal thing (unless you ARE being a douche) – your team mates may be getting ready for an event and trying to train with people who are closer match ups for them. When in doubt, ask.

Think less about what gaps you need to fill in your Jiu Jitsu game. In the beginning you are a large gaping hole – small isolated patches of skills are not going to cover it effectively and may make you feel frustrated when trying to string things together. Think about what you already know and then build off of that. i.e. if you feel pretty comfortable with take downs, work on guard passes that stem from your usual takedown landing positions. You have plenty of time to work up a well rounded knowledge base, so don’t frustrate yourself by trying to be perfect at everything all at once.

b6c1a5ef-b702-4d0a-aa3f-2db6a666adaaIf you admire something about an upper belt’s game, ask them if they offer private lessons and can teach you what they know! I had a lot of private lessons as a white belt and still continue paying for them several times a month – it really makes a difference!

One thing I recommend is setting a goal every week/month. My first goal I set as a white belt was “no matter what, no one will be able to flatten me and make both of my shoulders touch the ground at the same time”. I spent a month on that one and it set me up to instinctively play off my side. Focus on something small and keep it to yourself – when your team mates start commenting on how tough you are getting just smile and nod knowingly.

It’s a big world of knowledge out there, with unlimited learning potential! Whether you are beasting out three a day training sessions or just coming in one morning a week, do your best! We are all in different places and phases of our lives; all we can do is the best we can with what we have. Maybe you will stick it out for life, maybe you will decide it isn’t for you after a few months. Whatever length of time you have in your Jiu Jitsu journey, make it count!

“OSS!”

Carry on regardless of pressure

  • Used to express respect or acknowledge understanding

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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Just A Minor Breakthrough

I’ve started having another of those shifts in thinking in the past month about Jiu Jitsu. There have been many, and they are always super simple things that just open up a whole new world of “ah hah!”

I came to the realization that if I believe that I can execute a move, I can do it. This has been especially applicable to things such as; going after arm bars from guard, and positional escapes.

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First Week of Training

What made the difference was realizing that people were escaping from my side control using the same movements that I know how to do – but that I never actually commit to doing. Maybe I’ve spent so many years being smashed that I just don’t believe in my ability to get out from under someone once they have gotten past my guard. That realization is starting to shift my thinking. It works for people I spar against, so why wouldn’t a move work if I go after it – believing it will work?

Always improving, always trying to broaden my mind to see the bigger picture. It is a very mental game as well as a physical one – and both my body and my mind must be strong and work in harmony in order for me to be my very best every day.

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Oh, in other news: my instructor, Shawn Hammonds, gave me my 3rd stripe on my purple belt this week! I guess you could say things are getting pretty serious!

Inconceivable!

Last week something happened that got me all kinds of riled up. I still don’t even get why someone would try to do this, but they did. This is the tale.

The Nashville IBJJF Open is coming up this weekend and everyone is doing their final prep work and weight cuts. I am one of those people who check the registration list several times a day to see if any new ladies have signed up in my division. For the longest time it was just myself, and one of my team mates. I signed up for master 1 and she signed up for adult – so we could share the love with as many people as possible in the open weight class divisions.

Finally, someone else signed up in my weight class, but in the adult division. So I just moved back to the adult division for the match up. Another lady signed up to make us three. We all know and have fought with one another before and it amazes me how hard we can work to kill each other while still being friendly.

It was looking like it would just be us three when a fourth lady signed up the day before the registration deadline, and I  was super excited (one of the guys at the gym said I was like a kid at Christmas) until one of my team mates commented. “What her? Didn’t she get her brown belt last month?

A quick look at her accounts and confirmed that she had indeed been promoted the previous month. My rage set in as I debated on what I should do. I decided to give the benefit of the doubt and waited until after the athlete correction deadline – just in case it was a paperwork or registration mistake. With that deadline past, I sent an email to the IBJJF along with screen shots and photos. Here was my closing statement:

“I hate accusations but if this is true, it is disrespectful to the other opponents in the division as well as her team, coach, and the spirit of Jiu Jitsu. If I am wrong in this accusation, I will personally apologize to “_______” and to you all for making you invest time in looking into this.”

A day later, I received a short reply thanking me for my email and to let me know they were looking into the matter. I also then heard from one of the other ladies in the division who had noticed the same thing I had. Her team head was looking into it as well.

So she ended up getting pulled from the competition. I don’t know what happened at that end of the discussion, but I don’t really care to dig into it.

Here’s what I don’t get…

There aren’t an overwhelming surplus of ladies in my area that are above blue belt. I think we have three female black belts within a 2 hour driving radius. It is a small, close knit community with good camaraderie and sportsmanship all around. I don’t understand how someone could think that we wouldn’t notice that someone was cheating. Whatever the intention, mis-representing your belt rank is cheating.

I fought a brown belt when I was a blue belt, but it was an open division and there were no shadow games going on. I will stress that I don’t care what actual belt rank someone is; I will fight whoever wants to slap hands with me. However, someone who cheats in this way, does not deserve a match.

I also can’t get over how someone would go back and put on their old belt when they spent all that time, sweat, blood, and tears to earn that new rank. It is just a piece of cloth, but the value is priceless because of what I have spent to earn it.

In case you couldn’t tell, I purposefully left the name, and team affiliation out of this post. It has been dealt with and I don’t see the point of spreading internet filth. Think of this as a “Big Sister is always watching” cautionary tale.

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.

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.