Chasing Challenges

I have been out with a knee injury for the past several months.

It has sucked pretty badly.

I saw all my friends training and competing in events. While I was happy and excited for them, I had sub-feelings of envy and frustration that I tried my best to shove when issuing congratulations or encouragement to people. It’s not their fault that I was sitting out and I didn’t want my feelings to color their experiences. I have had some of my experiences soured in the past by other people doing just that. I won’t be that person.

I’m super happy to announce that my Dr was not horrified at the thought of me returning to competition next month! So I have been cautiously training this past week – getting back into shape sucks. I’m up 8 lbs from my normal competition weight and my cardio sucks so badly that I can’t sit down after class because I know I might not get back up for hours.

I love it.

During the time off I have been planning out my approach to this next season and doing a lot of searching for my own motivation. I took it back to my day 1 roots and realized that my motivation has remained the same – I’m chasing the challenge. This is why I got into Jiu Jitsu. I was overweight and unhealthy – but was bored to tears just working out at the gym because there were no concrete hard goals. I remembered how much I enjoyed doing TaeKwonDo and Hapkido as a teen and decided to find something similar to push myself with.

It was pretty hard. And there are so many layers of difficulty! Once I could make it through class all the way without nearly passing out – I decided to try a competition. I won 1 out of 4 matches and got hooked. I made measurable progress and worked my way up to a silver in both the European Championships and the Pans. Just as I started to get comfortable and see an end goal come closer (gold at one of those events), an awesome thing happened!

I was promoted to my next belt rank and started all over at the bottom of the divisions – losing most of my first matches (badly) and scrambling for improvement once again. I went through the “blue belt blues” – trying to readjust my mentality to focus on long term improvement while dealing with the bubble pop of going from the “top white belt” to “bottom blue belt”. This is where I really started branching out to compete in different countries around the world in order to test myself in as many different ways as possible. With each test, I learned a little bit more about myself and became better.

Again, just as I reached the level of comfort, I was promoted once again to my current belt rank (purple). This time, however, I anticipated the bubble pop and did not let it get me down. It is just a period of mental adjustment to a new level of intensity and goals. The main difference I’ve noticed is that people take me a lot more seriously as a purple belt than as a white or blue belt.

So here I am in my purple belt phase. I wouldn’t be able to summarize it properly until it has past and I am looking back at it. But I’m going to enjoy it and milk the entire experience for as much as I can get out of it.

It’s all just practice for my black belt anyhow – so it’s okay to try things out and mess up. The failures aren’t as bad as I think they are, and the successes aren’t as glorious either. They are rungs on the ladder of improvement.

So now that I’m back into active training, my first order of business is to get my cardio back so that I can train effectively. I’m still at a high risk for re-injury so I am being very cautious who I train with and how. I also need to drop back down to competition weight, which shouldn’t be too hard now that I’m cleared to train again.

During the time off to heal, I focused on my mental game and also on building my own personal business. Now I have a strong foundation to work from and I can’t wait to see what I can do! I’ll be testing myself once more at the Master Worlds next month in Vegas – it’s going to be awesome!

How I Afford to Travel and Compete

It must be in the genes. My Mom is an organizer who specializes in lists. She says it is because she is going senile and won’t remember things otherwise. Regardless of her reasoning, I’ve learned a thing or two from her about planning.

Over the past few years, I have had a lot of conversations with people at competitions who seem to think I have a huge income or sugar daddy/sponsor who pays for my expenses. The truth is, occasionally (once or twice a year) someone may offer to cover my registration fee, but most of the time I pay out-of-pocket. My average monthly income is under $1,000 and I’ve learned how to get the most out of each dollar.

There are two major things that allow me to travel and compete in Jiu Jitsu competitions around the world.

  1. Budgeting at Home
  2. Budgeting Abroad

 

At Home

My car broke beyond repair about 4 years ago, and I never replaced it. I bike and walk everywhere, and occasionally take the bus.

I pay a flat monthly rate to rent a bedroom from someone. I train and work all day anyhow, so an actual apartment or house is wasted on me.

I got rid of my smart phone plan and got a free google voice account. I can text and talk while on a wi-fi network for free using the apps on my iPad and old iPhone.

I only go out to eat maybe once or twice a month. I can cook at home for just $2 a day and that adds up!

Before I make purchases, I weigh it against possible travel/competition expenses

  • $1 – a pastry in Lisbon, canned coffee from a vending machine in Tokyo, several skewers of chicken or veggies in Taipei
  • $5 – metro fares to get to and from competition venues
  • $10 – food for a day in any city
  • $10 – a night in a comfy hostel in Taipei, Lisbon, Athens, etc
  • $20 – a night in a private room in Lisbon, or a hostel in the heart of Tokyo
  • $30 – a flight from Amsterdam to Italy
  • $60 – flight from Tokyo to Taipei or Hong Kong
  • $100 – registration for a competition

 

Abroad – Flights:

When planning a trip, I start as far in advance as possible. If I have to rush at the last-minute to find airfare or lodging, there is a much lower chance of me finding a really good deal. Using Japan for example:

In 2015 one of my clients traded me the air miles for my plane ticket. It was relatively last-minute for me (6 weeks out) and the dollar amount for the ticket was a little over $1,800. I would not have been able to do that out-of-pocket myself!

For the 2016 competition in Japan, I started planning in January (for a trip in September). As soon as the dates for the competition were announced, I was watching airline tickets.

  • I keep a list of upcoming trips and do searches for tickets at least a couple of times a week in order to keep an eye on prices. This gives me an average ballpark so I can recognize a sale price.

Lo and behold, my airline of choice ended up having a fare sale in January and I got my round trip plane ticket for $1,123

I was pretty pleased with myself! However I have managed to top even that. I have completely changed the way I hunt for plane tickets since I booked that ticket. My last flight to Tokyo cost $650 round trip.

It did take weeks of sitting at a computer all day to figure out a new search system, but now I am definitely going to compete in Japan every year!

Moral of the story: Plan ahead!

 

Abroad: Lodging, Transportation, Food:

This part is pretty simple. My concern for lodging is that it is safe and easily accessed by the local transportation system. Hostels, and guesthouses are usually conveniently located and include free wi-fi and lots of other perks. I don’t see the point in paying for my own hotel room when all I need is a place to sleep and recharge for the next days adventures. Even in central Tokyo, which is considered to be one of the more expensive destinations in the world to visit, I was able to find a well located place to stay for just $15 per night. Plus I can make friends from all around the world! Who knows? Maybe we will visit each other some day! Airbnb has been my friend, but I have also started searching through my airline so that I can possibly earn extra airmiles as well.

Public transit has been top-notch in most places I have visited so far! Lisbon, the home of the European Championships, is SUPER easy to navigate by subway or bus (subway station is right outside the airport). A lot of countries offer special foreigner metro passes which are usually a good buy if you are going to be doing lots of exploring within the city.

For food, I usually will set myself a daily budget of $10 or $15. I usually buy food at grocery stores or from street vendors. Most of the time I don’t even use my whole budget so then I’ll save the balance and go out for a few special meals during the course of my trip. I’ve never felt like I was missing out on anything food wise (and I LOVE food!)

 

ETC:

Oftentimes, I will offer to work at an event when I am competing. Not only can you get paid (or free registration depending on the organization), but oftentimes you get fed or have access to snacks/water. It’s good for networking as well!

The trick is to determine what it is that I really want out of a trip (Jiu Jitsu! Food!) Once I know what is important, I can plan around that.

Don’t go for the first or easy offer. I decided that it was absolutely necessary that I visit the Studio Ghibli Museum while in Tokyo. Tickets are notoriously hard to come by for foreigners since they must be purchased a month in advance and sell out quickly. It took some digging but I found a concierge company that was selling admission tickets for $61… but I decided to dig beyond that and I found that the museum was implementing a new online sales system. Tickets for September went on sale August 9th at 8 pm and I was right there! The system crashed immediately and it took me 15 minutes to secure my ticket (they were sold out in 20 minutes). The ticket cost me 1,000 yen which is just under $10.

 

In Summary:

Competition travel planning takes practice. I have to do a ton of planning because of how small my budget is. Once I get there, I can just kick back and relax until it is time to compete.

The more I am able to save, the more adventures I can have!

July Japan Itinerary

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

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

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

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

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

July 23: Depart from L.A. for Manila

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

August 2: Flight back home to Nashville

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

 

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

Abu Dhabi – Days 4 and 5

Day 4 began with an early arrival at the competition venue.  Since I am not a brown belt yet, I was not able to enter the competitor area to help my crew warm up, so I wandered into the spectator area and found some more of my Jiu Jitsu family to mesh with.

Usually at these multiple day events, I end up zoning out by the last couple of days. Not so here! I was so inspired and impressed by the matches that I stayed focused throughout the whole day. I was super proud of my friends and team mates who were competing today, and it only inspired me to keep getting better and come back stronger next year!

 

After everyone was done, our little group decided to mosey over to the Grand Mosque a short taxi ride away from the competition venue.

I had gotten a lot of questions from people about my visit to the Emirates. The top question I received was “don’t you have to wrap up and wear the scarf?” My response was, “No, I’m not muslim. I will however wear one if I visit a mosque – that’s just the respectful thing to do.” Just like doing the ritual cleansing before visiting a shrine in Japan – I need to respect the culture I have chosen to immerse myself into.

That rabbit trail aside, yes, they do have appropriate ladies apparel available at the entrances to the Grand Mosque. First I went through a small security screening and then I was directed toward the room where they had a long rack full of clothes available to lend. It was a bit chaotic in the room so I just grabbed one off the rack and put it on over my clothes and headed outside to meet the guys.

The mosque was breathtaking.

 

Abu Dhabi Grand Mosque

Everything was in beautiful symmetry and I could feel the peacefulness of it, even in the throngs of fellow tourists who were wandering all over the place. It was a shoes off area as well, so it was nice to walk around in bare feet. We were there just before sunset and the lighting was amazing. At sunset, the call to prayer was sung and I just observed and soaked up the atmosphere.

Tips for visiting:

  • Remember you are visiting a sacred space for many people. Even if it is not a sacred space for you, be respectful as a visitor.
  • Don’t sit on the floor or on any steps.
  • Don’t walk in the central plaza. During the call to prayer, worshipers can walk on it on their way to the inner mosque. This does not apply to visitors and the security officers will stop you. (note examples in video)
  • Women need to keep their head covering on. Yes it can get warm when you are layering on the extra loaner abaaya. My recommendation is to dress appropriately from arrival and then you will not need to use the loaner.
  • There are descriptions of proper attire for men and women available on the mosque website. One of the guys in my group had to roll down his shorts to a more acceptable length.

Day 5:

img_2756This began with a taxi ride to my friends hotel where we all met up and ordered a taxi for a ride to the beach. A good number of the beaches in Abu Dhabi are private beaches for hotel guests only – however there are public beaches available. We were dropped off at Corniche beach which is for families. It cost about $3-4 USD to get in and then you can rent an umbrella and buy food and snacks there.

Corniche Beach - Abu Dhabi

It was like something straight from those fancy travel brochures that I sometimes drool over longingly. We hung out in the water for a while and then relaxed under the umbrellas.

After a few hours at the beach, our group split up with the guys heading back to the hotel for a desert safari, and the ladies going to the competition venue to watch the black belt finals matches.

The Competition:

Words can not describe how inspiring it was to witness the whole package deal of the black belt finals at the World Pro. The quality of the venue and promotion was just beyond what I’ve ever seen before. And what you see up on the big screen (that’s not an insert!), is shown on nationwide television live and replay. I am definitely going to be returning next year to compete!

It was interesting that 2 out of 5 of the ladies brown/black belt divisions were won by brown belts. With the growth I have witnessed in ladies Jiu Jitsu the last several years, I imagine it will not be too long until the brown and black belts will be separated. It’s quite recent that purple belts are separated from the brown and black belts – and those divisions stand on their own now.

img_2774After the last match, Itzel and I were quite hungry and went back to my hotel to try the dinner buffet. It was about $30 USD (he gave us the discount for first visit) and it was VERY good and worth it! I really loved all the little deserts that we proceeded to rank. I liked the carrot cake and flan best! Itzel went back to her hotel and I tanked out. It would be a long day the next day for me – changing hotels and then departing for the desert safari. Coming up next post!

Abu Dhabi Days 2 and 3

So I’ve already shared my perspective on the competition (read it here!) so now I will share a little bit about all the rest of the stuff surrounding the competition.

img_2606Finishing Day 1: After I competed, I went back to my hotel room. I was soooo hungry, but my need for sleep won out over the need for food. So I just downed a bunch of water and passed out from about 5 pm until midnight. I then looked at the clock, rolled over, and went back to sleep until 5:30 am. I did have the foresight to purchase food from a grocery store on the way to my hotel, so I inhaled a bunch of fruit and a rice biryani.

Day 2: My friend, Itzel, invited me to come train that morning with her. She needed to get some light rounds in with someone who wouldn’t break her – so I took a cab to meet up with her at the officers club where all the cool kids (aka black belts) were housed. They had matted out what looked to be a racketball court and it was just an open mat of awesomeness. I saw a lot of people I knew and surprised a few team mates (I’m talking to you DJ and Mike) who did not know I was competing. Of course, it was the black belt hotel so I was basically a minnow in a room full of killer sharks. And of course I loved every minute of it! After training we had food and just hung out for a bit before I started getting sleepy (stupid jet lag), and decided to take a cab back to my hotel.

Side Note: taxis in Abu Dhabi and Dubai are super convenient and cheap! I’d pay under $5 for a 15 minute ride. Cheap even by my standards! Most all of the drivers speak a good amount of English and I would just show them on google maps where I wanted to go and then off we went. The drivers generally do not talk with you other than to verify where you want to go and then to tell you the cost at the end of the ride.

 

Day 3: I met up with Itzel at the competition venue (we were hang out buddies this trip). She wanted to watch the country qualifiers because she would be competing against the winner on the following day. This was also her day for weigh ins so we waited around for that and met up with a few other friends who were also weighing in. She was good for weight and then we went and grabbed a bit of food from the trucks outside the venue. I got a shawarma – what kind I have no idea. I just told them to make it good because I was hungry. They delivered!

If you are a lady competing in Abu Dhabi, you are required to wear a bodysuit’esque style undergarment under your gi for weigh ins and competition. I squeaked through with just a rash guard, but apparently if your rash guard rides up you will be disqualified on the spot. The organization does have approved one piece suits available that you can purchase, and I know a lot of the ladies choose to wear a one piece bathing suit. So… bring on the wedgies!

So closes this chapter. For days 4 and 5, I will talk about competition results for everyone, a visit to the Grand Mosque (yes, I wore the veil), the grand finale of black belt matches on the big stage, a beach visit, and some cultural observations. I’ll then devote an entire post just to the desert safari adventure  before moving on to Dubai. So until then, here’s a teaser!

img_2706

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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!

So Close!

The Countdown is ON!

At this time next week, I will be on my way to California for the IBJJF Pan Championship tournament! I’m right on track with my weight, have energy for days, and am really looking forward to closing out a division with my team mate, Katie! There will be a live stream available for all the matches, so when I get my details I will make sure to share them.

This will be my 6th time competing at the Pans. My goal is to compete in the adult divisions all the way through at least one year as a black belt. When I competed in Atlanta I had one of the girls react in shock to the fact I was in the adult division. I suppose 32 seems old to a 19/20ish year old!

 

Abu Dhabi

Today I got my plane ticket to the Abu Dhabi World Pro booked. This has been a Jiu Jitsu bucket list item for years – and I decided to just do it. Maximus Kimonos has been awesome enough to supply me with a white gi for use – along with some cool no gi stuff. Give them a look-see and mention my name to get a 10% discount. I can say the gi is super comfy and very light weight!

I’m not yet sure which of two possible days I would be competing at the World Pro. My flight gets me in too late for day before weigh ins the first day, but in time for the same morning weigh ins. Of course if I compete the second day I will be all good for the day before weigh ins. Lodging and my flight to NYC still need to be arranged, but one thing at a time!