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!

 

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!

Japan, Tattoo, and Other Shenanigans

So I think it has been maybe two years since I have been consistently writing. Writing on a touch screen just been so frustratingly slow that I give up a paragraph into most update attempts. I bartered with one of my team mates and now have an actual laptop – so here goes!

Catching Up:
img_5496In my last update, I was getting ready to leave for the UAEJJF Tokyo Grand Slam in July. I did end up with ladies in the 62 kg purple belt division and brought home a silver medal and some cash. I used the cash prize to book airfare and register for the Los Angeles Grand Slam.

I stuck loosely with my planned itinerary. I did end up making a day trip to Mt. Takkao and very much enjoyed exploring all the trails! I went up and down it twice using different routes each time. I left a couple of trails to enjoy on my next visit.

img_5598Instead of climbing Mt. Fuji, I ended up getting my tattoo done by an artist in Ueno named Horien (check out her Instagram!). I have watched her work for several years now and my confidence was high enough that I was not even worried about seeing the design before she put it on me. The result was better than I would have been able to imagine on my own! We just did the outline but will add on to it my next visit – it will be a half sleeve.

There was a lot of other details for this trip, I met a bunch of awesome people and ate a bunch of great food! But alas, for the sake of not being too long winded and boring (because seriously, who reads anything anymore anyways?), I’ve prepared a gallery containing some of my favorite photos of people, food, and sights!

Currently

My team is now prepping for the IBJJF Nashville Open coming up on November 17. Oh, and coach just gave me a new stripe on my belt – so there’s that as well!

On To The Photos!

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 – Wrap Up

Desert Safari:

Itzel and Mel met me up at my hotel and we made our way to the bus station to meet our driver. We almost missed him because I had no wifi to receive calls and I could not locate him. We were eventually wisked away on a 90 minute (or so) suv ride out into the desert.

We eventually reached a crossroad and sat inside while our driver let air out of the tires so that we could drive on the sand. He put on a playlist titled “awesome arabian music” and then the roller coaster began. It is very accurately called “dune surfing” because it feels just like that. Up and down and in circles around, and on these large sand dunes. Photos and videos do not do the experience credit… but I tried! Not a recommended experience if you have any history of motion sickness. I’m usually good, but even I was hitting my limit! Being out in the dunes really made me understand how the feel of Arabian music came to be – it just fits.

At one point he just stopped the car at the top of one of the dunes for a few minutes to try to fix his watch (the strap broke). We did a quick drive by of a camel farm before making our way to camp.

At the campsite, we did a (very) short camel ride and then proceeded to try our hands at sand surfing. I really don’t like the sensation of sand, so I was going to sit this one out. However, the other ladies were having so much fun I just had to try it. It resulted in this amazing video.

We then climbed another dune and took lots of sunset photos before proceeding to do Jiu Jitsu in the desert. Because why not?

We had an amazing buffet dinner while enjoying a showcase of traditional Arabian dance and then tried on some traditional dress and smoked some Shisha before it was time to catch our ride back to the city. The other ladies had to fly out early the next morning and I had to catch a bus to Dubai.

Dubai – Arrival:

img_2933The bus to Dubai was super easy to catch. I just went up to the ticket counter labeled “Dubai” and asked for one ticket. It only cost a couple bucks and a bus leaves every 15 minutes.

When I arrived at the Dubai bus station, I just walked over to the taxi stand and showed my destination to a driver and he took me to my new hotel. I went out to the grocery store and bought some food before turning in for the evening. After the previous day adventure, I was pretty beat and wanted to be fresh for exploring the following day.

Dubai – Explorer Day:

I woke up early and started off with hotel coffee as motivation to get myself going. My actual impulse was to just stay in, relax, and do nothing for the day – being a natural introvert made me less inclined to go face the unknown of the marketplaces… but I knew I would regret missing out on the experience. So I made my way downstairs and asked the concierge where I could go to purchase a metro card. He seemed perplexed that I turned down the hop-on-hop-off bus tour in favor of exploring on my own.

I took the bus until I appeared to be in the general area of the old souq areas of town and disembarked. I arrived just as most of the shops were opening – so I got to have a nice walk around before all the tourist buses arrived. The shop owners weren’t as aggressive as I thought they might be. I remember New York Chinatown as being worse. When I needed a break from them, I just found a group of tourists to pretend to be a part of for a few minutes before going my own way again. I did make a few purchases and had fun haggling in the back room. I know I probably paid more for my items than they were worth but it was a price I was okay with. I had fun and the shop got to make some profit as well. Win!

 

After a couple of hours in the Souq area, I made my way on the metro to see the Burj Khalifa building. It is currently the tallest building in the world! I did not go inside it because the entry tickets were way outside of my budget – but I got some great photos of it and enjoyed the more modern side of Dubai a bit before making my way back to my hotel for the evening.

 

Last Day:

My last day started out rather uneventful but ended amazingly! I checked out of my hotel and then sat in the lobby for a couple hours with the wifi until it was time for me to make my way to the bus station for the trip back to Abu Dhabi.

I had been planning to just go to the airport because my flight was rather early the next morning. However, a friend of one of my team mates (Hi Sidne!) decided to overwhelm me with hospitality. He picked me up from the bus station in Abu Dhabi after he got off work and took me to Jiu Jitsu class – where I finally felt like I fit in for the first time in days. After which he took me to a nice hotel, got me fed, and let me chill for a few hours before taking me to the airport for my flight.

In Conclusion:

This was an interesting trip – getting to compete at one of the most prestigious events in the world, seeing old friends, making new friends, and experiencing a brand new culture first hand. I will definitely return to compete again!

My next trip adventure will be Tokyo, Japan at the end of July for the UAEJJF Tokyo Grand Slam. Tickets are booked and registration is confirmed already – gonna earn myself some more ranking points and $, climb Mt Fuji (finally!), and see what new experience I can find to make myself a better person.

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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