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.

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.

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.

Team Training, Pans, and Abu Dhabi


This weekend we had our annual team training session! Hundreds of people were in attendance, 40-something black belts, and 30+ women!

Ladies Crew
With Omar Post-Promotion
With Ann-Marie Burnitt
The highlight of the day for me, was getting to see my friend Omar receive his black belt. I’ve learned a lot of my guard game from him over the years and he has been sneaking his training in around med school.

During the rolling portion of the day, I spent most of the time sparring with our out-of-state black belts and then getting attacked by our kids. Little flying squirrels of fury! It’s great being a part of the group! Team training also marks one year since I was given my purple belt by coach!

The Pans Championship is just around the corner and I am very excited to be going out there once again! I’ve had to change up my diet the past few weeks in order to work my way back down to the light weight division. I spent the last year in the middle weight division but I am ready to be light again. The Abu Dhabi World Pro is coming up as well, and I registered for the 62 kg division. I found a super good deal for a flight to Dubai and will be able to purchase it once my income tax rebate comes through.

The Training/Work

Currently what I am doing is heading to the gym early, getting an extra hour of drilling work or cardio in before taking our morning training class. After class I have about 10 minutes to get off the mat and on my way to work. I work the afternoon and get off just in time for the evening sparring class. I have also started helping out with the intro class held just after the sparring class. The intro class is very good because when I’m asked questions, it forces me think about the principles behind the movements.

After this week is over, my hours are dropping substantially at work. I am not looking forward to the drop in pay, but on the bright side, I will have all day Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday to get extra training sessions in. I have started teaching private lessons periodically as well, so that will leave more time to expand my availability for that!

The Musings

My instructor has told me that, at this point in my Jiu Jitsu journey, I have a solid foundation of basics without too many gaping holes in my game. Now it’s just a matter of practice, fine tuning, and mat time. Taking that to heart, I have been observing my own rolling sessions in the gym. Winning in the gym isn’t the goal – betterment is. So I am watching my training partners to see what they are doing that is giving me trouble. If I know what it is they are doing to shut down my game, I should be able to figure out how to adjust for it. If I can’t figure it out, I bring the problem to my instructor and he shows me a simple adjustment that fixes it.

That being said, I’m ready to bring on the competition. What I have to do is take what I have been doing and learning, light the fire under it, and bring the heat.