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

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!

My New(ish) Job and Training

I’ve spent a good amount of time and money in 2018 investing in getting my financial legs under me. I went back to massage school and completed the required coursework in order to reactivate my massage therapy license in the state of Tennessee. It was a long and drawn out process, as with most things that go through a government office, but I am now working minimal hours and being paid more than I was at my previous full time position.

I currently work just two evenings a week (Sunday and Monday) at a spa near my house. My manager has told me that they would give me any and all hours that I want, but my current schedule frees me up for training and travel – while still paying all my living expenses. So I’m disinclined to commit to more hours right now.

It is an ideal lifestyle since most competitions are on Friday and/or Saturday, which means that I don’t have to take any time off from work in order to make it just about anywhere in the world and back in time to clock in. They are also very flexible with time off if I request it in advance. Monday morning, and the rest of the days of the week I am able to train my little heart out, and then get huge discounts on a bi-weekly massage for myself.

Thanks to this new freedom, I am hitting the 2019 competition circuit hard. (scroll down for summary)

In January, I will be flying out from Nashville on a Tuesday (the 8th) to compete at the Abu Dhabi Grand Slam in Abu Dhabi on January 10-12. I will fly from there to Lisbon for the IBJJF European Championships where I would be competing on the 16th or 17th, flying home on the 18th, and then back to work on the 20th (Sunday). I will miss two work days.

Also in January I will go to the U.S. National Pro in Miami, Florida. This competition is on  a Saturday so I can fly there and be back Sunday morning without missing any work. Plus I have a friend to visit in Miami and flights are currently super cheap.

I will work that Sun/Mon (27th and 28th), and then leave on Tuesday for Mexico City where I will visit with friends and compete at the Mexico National Pro that Saturday (Feb 2). I have to go out early and adjust to the altitude a bit. Past experience has taught me that it’s a good three days before I start to feel normal at that altitude. I could fly back and make it work right after the competition, but I want to have a little fun and the training is good there – so I have that weekend off work and will hang for a few extra days.

February 23 and 24 is the South American Continental Pro in Bogota, Columbia. It is a similar altitude to Mexico City, so I will be flying there again on a Tuesday to adjust to the altitude and have that weekend off work. I have never been to Columbia and hope to make some new friends and train a bit while I am there. I am considering flying to Peru and visiting Machu Picchu as well.

TL/DR

Jan 10-17 – Abu Dhabi Grand Slam and European Championship – 2 days off work

Jan 26 – US National Pro – no days off work needed

Feb 2 – Mexico National Pro – 2 days off work

Feb 23-24 – South America Continental Pro – 2 days off work

In March the Pan Am Championships will be held in Los Angeles, CA and I will most likely be able to do that event without taking off any time from work. April will be the Abu Dhabi World Pro and I will take off a couple days for that. The World Championships will be at the end of May and I am not sure if I will take off work to stay for the whole event or not.

In an ideal world, I will be able to fly out to DC for training camp with my TLI team mates in the weeks leading up to the World Championships. I would have to fly in on a Tuesday morning and fly back home Sunday in time for work. I will know by the beginning of the year how feasible this would be.

In the Meanwhile:

The only scheduled training sessions that I am missing out on are Monday evenings. All other days I have the entire day free for training, and I also do some extra massage work on team mates after classes. It is an ideal scenario, made possible by knuckling down this year and making things happen. Special thanks to my parents who loaned me the money for my state required continuing education! I am going to make it worth the investment!

 

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.

New Routine

The past few months now I have finally gotten something I have wanted for years: a self-motivated drilling partner who is enthusiastic about getting up early for an hour or so of extra work on the mats before morning class!
So every morning, we get in at least an hour of work -focusing mainly on transitional movements. It has been paying off since he went from silver and bronze at a local event to gold at the IBJJF Cincinnati Open. I managed a bronze in the open and got an “attagirl” from coach. I don’t think coach has ever seen me work a passing game at an event before, but he said I looked really smooth. I even got compliments from other girls coaches for fluidity in transitions. So… gonna keep at the morning drills!

My current daily routine consists of a 6 am wake up, drilling starting at 8:30, sparring class at 10:30, and work from 1-5. I can fit an evening training session in periodically but I find with the early morning wake up (gotta take the bus from across town), I get pretty wore out by the time I’m off work. When I get closer to events I push through for several nights a week, but when I’m not feeling the pressure of a looming events I just go home and get some sleep. Yea, im getting old; ready for bed by 9 now.

I competed in the Asian Championships this year as a middle weight and brought home a silver medal. I felt really good and strong at that weight – without sacrificing speed. I am contemplating continuing the next competition season at middle. Plus is that I get to compete at a very natural weight for myself – where I’m usually training at. Down side: no abs… but aesthetics have never been a huge deal for me. I’d rather be strong and enjoying my Olympic lifts. Can’t do those and make light anymore!

There is the very real possibility that I might move to Japan for a couple years starting this summer. I received a very strong recommendation for an exchange program and will hear back from the embassy in a few weeks. The final decision if I am offered a spot on the program would depend on location in Japan – whether there is a good Jiu Jitsu academy nearby for me to train at. There are so many factors at play that I haven’t even shared much about this option publicly. All I can say is that I will be giving this next competition season everything I have. It’s scary, but it is good to have options! One thing that will never change is that through all of it I will eventually earn my black belt from my instructor Shawn Hammonds.

Well that’s it for my “sitting at the bus depot downtown” update. Maybe I’ll come up with something more eloquent later?​

Planning for Japan

I know that I still have a while to wait (141 days!), but I like to plan ahead for my international trips. I will be leaving on September 6th for Tokyo, Japan and will be arriving in the afternoon of the 8th. So far, I have only booked the plane tickets but I have a lot of plans that I just haven’t solidified quite yet.

I hit a fare sale back in January and got my round trip airfare for about 2/3 the cost of my ticket last year. Granted, last year instead of paying out the cash for the ticket, one of my regular massage clients bartered with me for the airmiles. He and his wife are covered for the next years worth of massages, and I got a ticket to Japan – fare trade!

I will be staying overnight in Los Angeles on the 6th and will likely find a place to train that evening. If any bjj people have a spare couch or tatami, give me a holler!

Settling In:

IMG_5361I will most likely stay at the same guesthouse as I did last visit. The location was extremely convenient, good wifi connection, free tea/coffee/miso soup, and an on site onsen (bath house) – all for just about $20 per night.

I will arrive the day before the competition begins, so I will likely just collapse as soon as I arrive and wake up early the next morning. The 14 hour time difference is killer, but I adjusted pretty easily last visit with just a solid 12 hour sleep right off of the plane.

The Competition:

Last year, I competed on the second day of the event, but I popped by the venue in order to get my bearings, check my weight, and make sure I wouldn’t get lost. It was a little confusing making sure I got to the proper place since if you look it up online, it can lead you to the Nihon Budokan in Chiyoda, about a 30-45 minute train ride from the actual venue location. What you need to get to is the Tokyo Budokan in Ayase as shown below.

The venue is about a 8-10 minute walk from the Ayase train stop and is really quite easy to recognize.

Japan Budokan
Front Entrance
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Bathroom Slippers

One really nice thing about this venue, is that you don’t have to worry about people running into the bathroom without shoes on – since everyone takes their shoes off at the entrance. There are special slippers in the bathrooms that you will put on at the door before you go in to take care of your nervous pees and colon purges.
You can also

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Bathroom Noise Machine

press a button in each stall to play sound effects to cover the noise you would otherwise be making.

 

This is a Martial Arts specific venue. Expect to see people in Aikido and Japanese Jiu Jitsu uniform wandering around to check out what we are doing. There are vending machines with all kind of drinks – although I was desperate for just regular water and couldn’t seem to find it. There are no concessions stands, although there are many places to grab a bite to eat in the surrounding neighborhood. I opted for a bento meal from a convenience store.

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Podium Photo

Most of the announcements were done in English, although plenty of Portuguese was spoken as well as Japanese. I did discover upon checking in that they DO require females to wear a rash guard – which I understand based on what I know of the Japanese culture. It did put me into a minor panic since I was close on my weight (thank you bento box), but I was able to quickly purchase the smallest, lightest rashguard I could find, and I made weight.

 

Those are the only real differences in the competition that I could note as compared with the other events I have been to. I found, as a whole, the Japanese approach to Jiu Jitsu to be very precise and methodical.

Climbing Fujisama:

After I compete, I am planning an overnight climb of Mt. Fuji. The climbing season has not yet been set, but last year it extended for a few days after the competition.

I have not yet decided if I will do this on my own, or do it with a group. It would be more convenient with a group since all my expenses would be included and the entire thing would already be organized. However, it would cost a lot less to do it on my own. Still working on that.

If I go with a group, the first day we would go from Tokyo by coach to the base of the Mountian and then climb to the 7th station where we would then sleep for a few hours and adjust to the altitude. We would then start off late at night for the summit and reach the top in time for sunrise. After the hike back down, we would relax at the hot springs for a few hours before catching the coach back to Tokyo.

Korea?:

I realized recently, that Korea is only a couple hours from Tokyo by plane. Since I’m already that close, I figure I might as well hop a quick flight and see a whole new culture for a few days! I haven’t researched much so far since this is a new idea in my head, but I definitely want to make it happen. I want to eat some good food and train with some new BJJ people!

Kyoto:

I was extremely saddened last year that I wasn’t able to budget for a trip to Kyoto during my time in Japan. This time, I am for sure going to make it down – at least for a day trip! The Inari Shrine has been on my bucket list since before my trip last year!

Sumo:

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Opening Ceremony

Last year, I was able to attend a Sumo National Championship tournament. It was absolutely thrilling! It will be going on once again during this visit and I am trying to figure out how to get some really good seats. Last year I went with a tour group and we had bleacher seats, but
this time I want to be up close to the action! As far as I can find though, it looks like I need a Japanese address in order to buy tickets. I’ll buy from the tour again if I need to, but I would much rather pay for a good seat. If anyone in Japan happens to be reading this and wants to help me order, I would buy your ticket as well!

 

Exploration:

All that I have listed already would most likely be in my first week there. Then I will have a whole week left in order to explore, eat, and visit every Jiu Jitsu school I can find! I will also remember to bring a white Gi this time so I can train at the Kodokan.

I end this with a bunch of random photos from last years trip. Enjoy!

Two Years… Time Flies!

 Today, June 10, marks my two year anniversary of receiving my blue belt from my instructor, Shawn Hammonds. It’s making me feel really reflective on the past several years. I was trying to think of what I want to share on this momentous occasion, and I decided to share something that has been on my mind for a while now.

The Blues:

The blue belt blues are real. After my first year as a blue belt I really just started feeling stagnant and stuck in a rut. I’ve actually felt like my technique has gotten worse and that I overall just suck and want to go back to being a white belt again. It has come across in my competition as well as I have been feeling outmatched a lot more in the second year of my blue belt.

Logically, I know that I don’t suck. I am just growing and my mind is starting to open to possibilities. It’s kind of like being a new white belt again who is at the “I understand what I need to do, but I can’t make my body respond quickly enough to follow through.” It’s irritating because I can see where I can spin underneath someone and clamber onto their back like a spider monkey, but I can’t seem to execute it quickly enough in order to finish the move.

What Saved Me:

I understand completely why a lot of people fade away once they reach their blue belt. I realized about 6 months ago that I had to decide if I was going to quit, or push on. I decided I have put too much energy and effort into training for me to quit because I was frustrated. I also recognize that I would need to change something and gain a new perspective in order to get out of the rut I was in.

I went for a weight class change. I’ve competed as a light weight (141.5 lbs) for the previous years and decided I would make the drop to feather weight (129 lbs). It was tough, but I did it, and it re-energized and re-focused me! I am a former chunky kid and that was the lightest I have ever been since puberty hit.

In The Meanwhile:

So now I still feel kind of like I am crawling out of the rut, but I can feel that I am making forward movement and that is enough to keep me going. I know my time will come when I break through and hit my stride. And it will be glorious to behold!

Right now I am making plans to go compete in the IBJJF New York Open next month. I can’t wait! It feels like forever since I have gotten to do a gi and no gi competition and it is gonna be great fun!

Bend or Break?

I am now two weeks into this training camp, with two weeks left to go! I definitely miss my crew back home in Nashville, but am keeping busy enough that I’m not really stopping too much to think about it.

I expected it to be tough. Last Tuesday I had a very rough morning training session and got fairly emotional about it. I think I was able to hide it for the most part, then spent the rest of the day listening to my training motivation soundtracks. That evening I had probably my most “on” session up to that point.

My coach, Shawn Hammonds, thankfully has done an excellent job preparing me mentally for tough training. I have learned to accept it, and allow it to reshape me. Someone who is not prepared to handle the physical and mental pressure of this concentrated environment would likely break.

The way I see it, I have two options: give up, or keep moving. Since giving up isn’t really an option for me, I can only suck it up and train.

I’m really excited about competing at Worlds this year. I get to step on that mat knowing that I have done everything possible to prepare myself – and that, my friend, is going to be an extremely liberating experience!

I have talked with my amazing crew at Raijin Fight Wear and they are looking into sending me an assortment of stickers that I can give out at Worlds! So if that pans out, consider it a game of “Where’s Nicholle?” Find me and get a free sticker of your choice (and there are some cool ones!)

My weight drop is coming along nicely. Compared to Pans, I am 2 pounds ahead of schedule and hope to keep that momentum going!

 
I am definitely running hungry at all times, but I am able to train full speed for multiple 8 minute rounds in a row with no problems with stamina so I consider myself good to go!

14 days until I leave for Jiu Jitsu World Championships! 

Current weight: 130.8 (goal 126.5)

Seizing the Opportunity

Ten days ago, I was offered an amazing opportunity. I was invited to a four week World Championship training camp where I would have a bunch of highly skilled women of all sizes and ranks to train with. I had to make a very quick decision since I would be needing to leave within the next couple days.

So I immediately texted my coach and while waiting on his response, I started crunching numbers to see if there was any way I could make it work realistically. Not only did I have to worry about transportation, I also had to factor in the lack of income during that time. The timing ended up being perfect since I was in the process of moving (no rent to pay), had just run a special in my business that gave me a financial pad, and I had just gotten enough air miles in for a free plane ticket! Oh, and by then my coach had messaged me back with a “hell yea!” In response. Food budget would be a bit low, but I gotta drop a few more pounds, so there would be no eating out anyhow.

So two days later, I am on my way!

I’m not going to go into all the training methods we are using right now, but let’s just say, I am so thrilled I was able to make it work because this is AWESOME!

Summary: training varies from day to day depending on goals, but the average is probably 4-5 hours of sweat dripping, grind it out mat time. I’m so thankful to my coach, Shawn Hammonds, for keeping intensity levels high at my home school – otherwise I would be reduced to a twitching blob of gelatinous humanity halfway through each training session.

I just received word back as well that I will be working as a scorekeeper for the IBJJF during the World Championships. I love working at the tournaments because it keeps me from getting antsy in the days leading up to my matches. Also the pay isn’t bad, they feed me (after I weigh in), and I get the staff shirt which allows me to carry my açai outside of the designated eating area. All around win!

I will be in California until June 2nd so I am planning on going to Disneyland on the 1st. So expect a ton of pictures on my Instagram page of Mickey Mouse waffles and myself with every costumed character I can find!

It is now nap time. We have been promised/threatened with a hellish session tonight so I need to save some energy!

I Can, and I Will

I’ve made several attempts at dropping to feather weight (129 lbs in the Gi), and each time I have hit a wall at 133 lbs, gotten fed up, and given up. I have given myself many excuses for quitting, all of which are logical. 

So yet again, I find myself making the attempt to cut. My goal is to make it to at least 126 to give myself a little wiggle room.

I hit my wall again at 133. This time, however, I have some accountability (hi Taylor!) and after pondering quitting, I decided that I WILL make weight. If for no other reason but to shut up my excuses.

As of this writing, I have made it to 130 and I see light at the end of the tunnel! What is doing the trick for me is an hour of fasted cardio first thing in the morning. I do this by setting a fast walk on a max incline treadmill. It was pretty hard to focus until I found the correct soundtrack that would enable me to just zone out/in and it becomes fairly meditative as I spend an hour just focusing on goals and visualizing outcomes.



It’s odd to wake up and see abs for the first time in my life!

I have started to stall a little bit again with the drop in the past few days, so I am going to change it up again. My shoulder has started feeling a bit loose, I’m adding in my rehab Kettlebell circuit in the afternoons. It has the combined benefit of stabilizing my hypermobile joints, and also acts as a mid-intensity circuit. Here is a quick video I filmed explaining this routine!

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wlLlssuTqW4