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.

Atlanta Pro Ladies Divisions

IMG_4310This coming Friday, I will finish off my last evening at my job and will likely get home at around 11 pm. I will be leaving for Atlanta at around 3:00 am saturday morning, so hopefully I can get at least a couple hours worth of sleep!

The IBJJF Atlanta Pro competition starts at around 9 am next Saturday, but I need to be there at 8 because I will be working at the event. Not only will I be competing for a $400 cash prize, I will also get to collect a small paycheck at the end of the day. Receiving a paycheck makes the entire trip tax deductible as a business expense. Yay!

There is a much smaller turn out for this event than I was anticipating. Registration is now closed and I only have a division of 6, with 28 blue belt ladies total with 21 possible to enter the open division. So that comes down to 2-3 matches in my weight class, and 4-5 possible in the open weight class.

There needs to be a minimum of 4 competitors in order for the division cash prize to be awarded. There are exactly 4 black belt ladies signed up – there were just three a few days ago so I am very glad to have seen another jump on board!

The Black Belt Breakdown

Six prizes totaling $20,000 spread across four weight classes is allocated for the men, and one open division prize of $1,500 is offered for the ladies. If you look at the registration list and do some fun division, you can see the value of each person in each cash division if the winners hypothetically decided to share the prize money equally among all the competitors in their division:

Black Belt Male Feather Weight:

8 Competitors – Two cash prizes = $5,000
$5,000/8 Competitors = $625/Competitor

Black Belt Male Middle Weight:

6 Competitors – Two cash Prizes = $5,000
$5,000/6 Competitors = $833.34/Competitor

Black Belt Male Heavy Weight:

6 Competitors – Two cash prizes = $5,000
$5,000/6 Competitors = $833.34/Competitor

Black Belt Male Super Heavy Weight:

8 Competitors – Two cash prizes = $5,000
$5,000/8 Competitors = $625/Competitor

Black Belt Female Open Weight Class

4 Competitors – One cash prize = $1,500
$1,500/4 Competitors = $375/Competitor

What Does It Mean?

There are enough black belt ladies now to have a good turn out at one of these pro competitions. However, why would any of them ever want to sign up for and travel to an event when they can wait for the event within driving distance of home? The mens division prizes are definitely much more likely to incite someone to travel from the opposite coastline, and even internationally.

Rough cost break down per competitor who would travel to an event:

Plane ticket: $300

Hotel for two nights: $150

Rental Car: $50

Registration Fees: $130

Food and incidentals: $50

So that is roughly $680 out of pocket, before even stepping on the competition mat. Not counting possible lost income from having to be away from work, paying for childcare, etc. If I was choosing between traveling for the chance at $1,500 – fighting in an open weight division, I would definitely hesitate – especially if I had the option of other events within driving distance.

Competing in a weight class, even for a reduced prize money amount would be much more enticing to the female competitor. The IBJJF stipulates that there must be 4 competitors registered for a division in order for any cash prizes to be awarded, so if they happen to have a poor turn out, they still have that option to fall back on.

I would wager that weight class prizes, even if they just split the open weight class into two divisions, would make these events look MUCH more enticing to a female competitor who is planning out her competition schedule for the year.

Here are some more numbers I put together for the event.

One lady next saturday will win 2 matches, and go home with 1,500.

Four men next saturday will win 2-3 matches, and go home with 1,000 each.

Four men next saturday will win 3-4 matches, and go home with 5,000 each.

My Conclusion:

I didn’t even cover the colored belt divisions for the men and women. I’m kind of whatever about that, but the black belt ladies have put in their time and deserve a better opportunity.

I’m not angry and feeling the need to boycott the event. It is just a four hour driving distance from Nashville, I get good matches, and is worth it for me to make the trip to compete. Plus my entry fee feeds the machine and will help to get the coffers full enough that the organization will feel it can start offering better cash prizes for the ladies.

I would like to see them do an experiment for just one pro event: offering an equal cash prize for the ladies and the men. If it flopped, it would shut up all the people nagging them. If it did well, they would know that it could work. I for one would definitely make a point of traveling to support that competition.

I’m excited at how the ladies divisions have been growing in the past few years and look forward to the future! It will take time – but things have been changing a lot, even since I started training. It is all thanks to the ladies who have paved the road before us and we owe them big time!

A Word on Being Thankful

I am hoping this does not end up turning into a rant, although now that I think about it, this subject does deserve a bit of fire behind it.

Lately I have been witnessing a lot of things and people being taken for granted. This has made me have to check myself to make sure I haven’t caught the bug as well!

In my experience, I can see that instructors teach because they love to. At my school alone I see instructors take time to teach extra (unpaid) classes for students who have a drive and desire to excel. I know at any time I can pull aside an instructor with a question and when the conversation is over have an answer to work with.

If you have an instructor or coach who takes the time to share their years of knowledge and experience with you, thank them for it and then put what they shared with you to work! If you try and fail, ask more questions and they will happily help. Want more attention in class? Knowing someone is trying to learn a technique you showed them magnetically draws an instructor back to a student without fail. 

Moving On:

“Do the best you can with what you have” – Nicholle Stoller”

The grass always seems to look greener elsewhere. I personally envy my California friends for having such a good close network for competitions and training. I wish I was able to make it out for all these special Ladies BJJ training camps that I’m always being invited to. I envy the ladies who get to train alongside their boyfriend or husbands.

The fact is, I haven’t spoken with anyone who has everything set perfectly to their own liking. The people I envy in California have their own set of issues that get in the way of what they view as their perfect training scenario – some of them even have said they wish they had my setup.

That’s when I decided that all we are required to do is our best. If for no other reason but the fact someone else considers your situation to be ideal, be thankful!

If you are the smallest person at your gym and have no one your size to spar with…

If you are the largest person at your gym and always have your technique written off as just being “bigger than everyone”…

If you are at a small gym with limited variety in schedule and training partners…

If you haven’t won a match in months…

If you have a handicap that puts you on the bench more often than you think is reasonable…

If you have other responsibilities and aren’t able to make it to more than one or two classes a week…

If you don’t have the finances to travel and compete as frequently as you want…

Just do your best! No one can look down on you if you maintain a thankful attitude and keep moving forward. If you have any more scenarios, please share them in the comments section below! 

Side note: I accomplished my 1,000 burpees in a week challenge and have a 46 minute complication video to prove it. I need to find a way to speed it up to about 10 minutes then I can share. My next challenge for this current week is to relearn a flying sidekick.

How Good Could I Be?

Note: I find the best way to work through something is to write it out. By the time I’m done writing, I’m feeling back to normal again. So here is one of those type of writings…

I get very frustrated trying to train for competitions, being the highest ranked girl at my gym (and a smaller girl at that). If someone is left sitting out on the side of the mats, it’s usually me or one of the other girls.

I don’t mind this when I’m not trying to prepare for an event, but when I’ve got a goal in mind, and I have to sit out because no one will make eye contact with me when it’s time to change partners… it’s really disheartening.

How Good Could I Be…

How good I could be if I was able to roll every round like the guys do?

How good could I be if I didn’t feel like every time I did get to roll, that someone was doing me a favor?

How good could I be if everyone would roll with me instead of just sitting on top of me until time is called?

How good could I be if I had a good training partner I could go toe to toe with and sharpen my skills against?

How good could I be if I got to go beyond just working defense on someone?

How good could I be if I actually got to finish subs instead of having them wrenched out of my properly placed hands?

How good could I be if I didn’t have to worry about my opponent getting more quality mat time in than I do?

How good could I be?

Seriously, I’d be awesome!

We all have the things we have to deal with when getting ready for my competitions. The point is, we all have to take what we have and make the most of it.

My frustrations become magnified when I’m training intensely. My brain works in efficiency mode pretty much non-stop, so when I get stalled, it really messes up my gears.

I’m trying to learn to shift gears.

If I have to sit a round, I take note and watch two of our upper level belts roll with one another. I study little things like the placement of their feet, how the hold their weight, a minor shift of a hand grip… and of course, the random cartwheel guard passes!

I am the one in charge of my response to my challenges. I’ll admit, some days I sulk in my office after practice. My coach has patiently listened to me rant at least once before each competition (it has become a tradition about 10 days before every tournament).

In the end, I pick myself up and get back at it. What other option is there? Quit? Ha! In the end, I push through the frustration and come out stronger and better on the other side. It’s just a part of the growing pains.

I will not let frustrations become excuses. Instead, I’m gonna use them as fuel.

So…

So I don’t have everything perfect?

So I have to count pennies to make tournament fees?

So I have to work a few extra hours?

So I have to push myself through circuits until I throw up?

So I have to wake up an hour earlier to get my conditioning in before anyone else shows up?

So I have to say no to distractions?

So I have to focus to the point where some people think I’ve lost it?

Yea… that’s the way it’s gonna be. In the end, I want to know that I’ve done the best that I can with what I have in my hands. It’s very rare few who have an “ideal” situation. If that is you, you had better be busting your butt, or I’m gonna bust it for you when I meet you on the mats.

And that, my friend, is a promise.

The Mental Battle

Before every major tournament, I have my mental battle. I win or lose in my mind every time – before I step into the venue. Here is my open book, mental war I face each time. I don’t think I’m the only one here… If I am, oh well. At least you know I’m human!

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I have straight up, irrational self-doubt. The kind that ignores reality and works to sabotage everything I try to put effort into. It’s one of those “I know better” kind of things – but easier said than done.

I’ve done so much in the very short time that I have been practicing Jiu Jitsu – as a white belt I got up to ranked #1 in my weight division! I took home a second place team award – as a sole competitor! I’ve placed at all but one of the 14-16 competitions I’ve entered in!

Does this make a difference? Nope. Instead of focusing on making excuses for why I “lost”, I make excuses for how I “won”. I just believe that every achievement was a fluke and at any moment people will realize what a poser I am.

Again, I know better…

 

 

I’ve got 4 big tournaments coming up in the next few weeks:
Sept 28 – No Gi Pan Ams
Oct 12 – Chicago Open
Oct 19 -Abu Dhabi Pro Trials
Nov 2,3 – No Gi Worlds

For me, my hardest competitor will be the one inside my head. I always have to fight the “You can’t. You’re a fake. You’re a failure.” I don’t win or lose the battle with my opponent. I win or lose the battle with myself.

I’m flying out on Friday for the No Gi Pan Ams. I’m going to prove the “you can’t” wrong so that, in the future, I can refer back to this point. I’m calling it out now…

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A Ring Coordinator’s Perspective

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I just got home from a very long intense day in Atlanta where I worked at the IBJJF Atlanta Open. Registration closed early without any warning, so instead of competing, I offered to work since I’d be there anyhow.

I arrived at 8:00 am and was assigned the job of ring coordinator for mat #4. I was expecting I’d be a scorekeeper since I’ve never worked at one of these tournaments before, but hey, duty calls!

After a short meeting with the basic run down of process, we were handed out first set of brackets and turned loose.

As a competitor myself, I understand how much can go wrong if the ring coordinator messes up – but I didn’t realize exactly how much they are responsible for. As a competitor, I would just see the ring coordinator as the person who checks my ID, weighs me in, and sends me to my mat. It’s actually more involved than that.

The Process

So first off, I made my way to my mat where I met my referee and scorekeeper. I figured communication would be key, and decided to make it my goal to keep things running as smoothly so that the ref wouldn’t feel like he had to do anything but focus on the match he had that very moment.

After checking in and making sure they were ready, I went to start calling for the people from my first bracket. I developed a system of calling two people who were matched up at a time. I would check their IDs, and if I had not found their competitor yet, I’d ask them to stay close while I continued calling. First pair I found, I would send them together to get their Gi’s checked while I waited by the scale for them. I would usher them to the mat and give their names to the score keeper. If I knew which side of the mat they would be on, I would point them to their corner.

I was also in charge of match order. I kept a piece of paper at the table where I wrote down the names of the next competitors so the matches could keep going while I went hunting for the rest of the brackets. When a match was over, my scorekeeper would circle who won. I would then record the results and determine who would be fighting who next as the brackets narrowed down.

At one point, I was keeping track of 4 separate brackets. Keeping the order flowing so we didn’t have a lot of dead time, but also allowing the competitors time to rest between their matches was a fun juggling game! Especially so when it came to working with multiple brackets at the same time.

Disqualifications

I was so happy that everyone I weighed in made weight! I saw a few people DQ’ed for missing weight and it was horrible to witness.

There were two white belts that I called for about 20 minutes who I couldn’t find anywhere. I waited until it was stalling the brackets before I took my sheet to the officials table. They called them up on the microphone with a 5 minute warning and I still couldn’t find them – so the ref and officials declared them DQ’ed so we could move on with the matches.

When we got to the finals match for the division, I finally found one of them. He had been waiting in the bullpen and didn’t hear me calling, or the microphone calls. One of the officials had spoken with him previously, and remembered him being present before his final call on the microphone. I felt so badly because we were already in the finals and there wasn’t anything I could do. Dude, if by some chance you’re reading this, I’m really sorry that happened. I can’t think of anything else I could have done to get your attention in time. I’m a competitor myself and am absolutely paranoid of missing my call, and will be more so now!

Brackets of Three:

The most mind shrinking part was when I was handed two brackets of three competitors. This is the only time a division is not single elimination. Here’s the way it worked. Lets use the names “Ryan, Jerry, and Bob”.

Ryan and Jerry fight.
Jerry looses
Jerry fights Bob

This can go one of two ways now.

Scenario 1:
Jerry wins against Bob
Jerry then fights with Ryan again for first place, Bob gets 3rd

Scenario 2:
Jerry looses against Bob
Jerry gets 3rd
Bob fights Ryan for 1st place

So basically, whoever wins the first match, is guaranteed to be in the finals. However, whoever loses the first match still has a shot at 1st place because if they win the second match they earn another try at the pre-existing finalist.

This really confused me at first. This is how I though it would work:

Ryan and Jerry fight
Ryan beats Jerry and is secure in the finals
Jerry fights Bob

If Jerry beats Bob, he gets 2nd place and Bob gets 3rd.
If Bob beats Jerry, Bob fights Ryan for 1st place, and Jerry gets 3rd.

Made more sense to me that way, but oh well. I got their system figured out.

I gave myself a headache making sure the matches were organized to give appropriate break times between matches. At the same time, I was also juggling another nearly full bracket as well. It ran smoothly in operation however, so my near brain aneurysm was apparently worth the effort!

On Black Belt Matches:

Gotta say, black belts, you guys are awesome! After my near brain rupture you guys were a breeze to organize!

Since they have all been around the block enough, they all knew each other. So I would call one name, and he would motion the whole division up with him. I could get them all weighed in and at the mats in less time than it took to pair up two blue belts!

The event staff emphasized that I call the black belt matches right on time regardless of what else I had going on at the mat. Black belt privilege! Yea!

They gave me the light feather, and feather black belt divisions. It was the only down time I had all day! Once I had them all lined up, I organized the order, and got a few minutes to watch and wait. For the finals matches, there was a decent sized break for them to recoup and for us to hunt down another 2 refs (all black belt finals matches have 3 refs).

Then I was back to my whirlwind of activity!

Side note: it was so odd to have high level black belts responding to me with “yes/no ma’am”!

Tips For The Competitor:

So now that I see the organization side of things, here’s what I found helped/hindered me when interacting with competitors.

Not being in the bullpen when your division is scheduled
No brainier, but be in the bullpen at least 20 minutes before your division is scheduled. I would start calling names around 15 minutes before division start time. Imagine that start time is when your toes are actually hitting the mat. You want time to get your Gi checked, change your Gi if needed, weigh in, and get in the zone.

Disappearing after I check your ID in the bullpen
I had quite a few matches stalled because someone whose ID I had already checked disappeared while I called their opponent. Even when I made it a point to tell people “wait right here and don’t move while I find your opponent” they would vanish. One dude nodded to that request, turned around, and vanished into the crowd before I could open my mouth again. It took me 30 seconds to get his opponent, and another 5 minutes to track him down again. Then I had to hustle to get them through the line and weighed in since their match was on deck.

Asking me when ______ division is being called / What ring number you are at.
There is a schedule posted online with all the division start times. Ring coordinators are only given a few brackets at a time, and are not given knowledge of what brackets the other coordinators have. If you are worried that you have been overlooked in your division, your best bet is to flag down one of the officials at the bracketing table. They are pretty busy, so if it’s 30 minutes until your scheduled division starts, just sit tight and stay near the front of the bullpen area where you can hear names being called. If you are paranoid like me, and it’s your division start time, ask passing ring coordinators if they have your division. I can’t tell you who has what division, but I can tell you if I have yours!

Coming through the Gi check area before I direct you to do so
It seems like it would be helpful, but when I’m organizing who goes where and when, it really throws off the system I have in my head. Ideally there would be someone to stop you from coming through if I’m not there to give them the nod, but in the case of being short staffed (as we were) we had no such guard once we got past the first few blue belt divisions. I’d be calling for people frantically only to find out they were standing by the scale in a huge huddle. Please wait until I specifically direct you to go get your Gi checked. Then I’ll know to meet you at the scale and get you to your mat as quickly as possible!

Potty Breaks
This was one thing I appreciated. When I was calling purple belts for ID checks, several if them asked if they had time to use the restroom before they got weighed in. In all but one case, they had time. Makes me think that might have been part of the hold up in the blue/white divisions?

Face Blindness
After scanning several hundred faces, I completely lost all sense of facial awareness. So please keep your ID with you at all times. You may get an amazing ring coordinator with a photographic memory… Or you could get me. Toward the end of the day I was probably asking the same person their name at least 8 times between ID checks and their final match. I just started apologizing in advance. Moral of the story, if your ring coordinator seems to be having trouble keeping track of names, just have a chuckle and write it on your forehead with a sharpie.

Match Results
When you are done with your match, if you won, make sure the scorekeeper knows your name and circles it on her name list before you go recoup for your next match. I had to track down two competitors at one point because my (truly amazing!) scorekeeper forgot the name of the person who won the previous match. It was her only boo boo the entire day and she deserves a round of applause!

Hovering after you’re done competing
When you are all done competing (and safely able to stand and walk!) check in with your mat table to verify you have no more matches and then make your way out of the mat area back through the bullpen. If you placed, congratulations! Keep your Gi on, your ID handy, and wait to be called to the podium for your medal!

I may come up with more tips once I finish processing, but this seems like quite a bit for now!

Formalities and Trust in BJJ

Sensei. Master. Coach. Instructor.

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These are all titles I have heard used to reference and reverence our martial art gurus. They are the ones who take to task the raw clay of our minds and bodies. Through a process of guiding, moulding, encouraging, drilling… occasionally beating – they sculpt us into art.

Some of them prefer a specific title. Some earn a specific title through achievements of their own. Some martial arts have their own honorific titles unique to their own system.

When I was studying Taekwondo, all instructors were “Mr” or “Ms”. Our head instructor was referred to as “Master”. My little sister currently studies under a TKD “Grand Master.”

When I joined the school where I currently train in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu, I was at a loss as to what I was to call the big man in charge of my instruction. I soon picked up the habit of referring to him as “Coach” like the rest of my team mates. It felt awkward at first – seemed like it wasn’t respectful enough. Then I realized, the same honor and respect is still there within that word – and it fits.

In Brazilian Jiu Jitsu, I have not noticed a lot of formality like I was used to from studying other martial art forms. Things such as bowing on and off the mats, and opening or closing ceremonies aren’t as strictly observed. It’s a different culture, with less formality, but that same level of respect and trust is still there.

In BJJ, I am quite literally putting myself into the position of serious injury every day. When sparring, or even drilling, with a team mate I am relying on a developed sense of mutual trust. They must trust that they can bend my elbow backwards and that I will tap before they break it. I must trust that they will stop and release the pressure as soon as I tap. There is a bond that forms there, putting myself in a position for another person to choke me unconscious, and trusting that they won’t actually kill me.

Maybe that’s why all the high level BJJ practitioners I know are some of the most humble, secure, and confidant people I know. They have spent years in this environment, knowing what exactly their strengths and weaknesses are – always improving and learning.

If you have an overinflated ego that you wish to keep intact, be warned. It will be painfully excised, probably by the nerdiest looking guy at the school, and probably within your first week of training.

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If, however, you are able to stick it out, and humble yourself to learn… you will gain the genuine confidence to be able to look anyone in the eye and know that you deserve to be sharing air with them. You will know your value.