A Word on Ladies Classes

In the last week we have done a soft launch of our new ladies only Jiu Jitsu classes. Myself and our other lady brown belt, Madison, are running two classes week to start out. This has brought about a good amount of discussion as to the validity of ladies only classes and rather than debate on social media about it, I’m going to just lay out all my thoughts here.

img_2503-1> begin rant/sermon> First off: I am not a girl power feminist. I don’t believe we are the always the victims or entitled to extra special treatment. I believe in equality – but alike and equal are not the same things. I believe that it someone holds the door open for me, it’s polite to accept the gesture but I don’t demand it. I believe that if I want something badly enough, I will find a way to make it happen. I believe that, as a whole, women are stronger than they think they are – and that we should find our way to discover that. I believe that women should train in co-ed group classes. I believe that ladies only classes are a critical part of growing a strong ladies team. I also believe that these classes are extremely important to the growth of a martial arts gym as a whole. I don’t believe that Jiu Jitsu is for everyone: I believe everyone should try it, but it’s a special kind of (mostly good) crazy that sticks with it.

Main Points (if you want to skip the prelude/sermon)

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From my first month

Jiu Jitsu is an intimidating sport to begin with for anyone. And with the majority of classes at my academy being roughly a (generous) 10:3 ratio of men and women, it is safe to call it a male dominated sport. A lone woman walking into a Jiu Jitsu class for the first time has extra layers of worry to combat. The mere offering of a ladies class makes it seem much more of an inviting environment as a whole.

After doing this for so many years I sometimes forget how intimate and vulnerable it is – and especially with how American society seems to sexualize any sort of physical contact; especially between men and women. A ladies only class helps bridge this gap – familiarizing us with the movements and terminology while easing in the concept of physical contact. After training for a little while, you understand that it’s not a sexual thing and it becomes a non-issue.

This is magnified for many women who have been survivors of abuse – be it sexual, physical, or emotional. I know many who try to use Jiu Jitsu as a form of exposure therapy to help combat their PTSD: to feel safe and in control of themselves again. The beginning phases of learning Jiu Jitsu – getting dominated and smashed for an hour or more at a time – is a hot zone for panic attacks, flashbacks, and other trauma related reflexes. This is not something she may ever want to voice to her team mates, she might just disappear without a word. Having a ladies only class available can create a sense of therapeutic safety for these individuals.

img_2862-1On the lighter side: it can be super refreshing to just have a break from the testosterone. I worry that I might begin growing a beard from all the man sweat that has been soaked into my system. Ladies tend to be much more social in the Jiu Jitsu community than are the men – call us pack animals if you will. Even though most of my main training partners are men, I always find it refreshing to spend quality time with other Jiu Jitsu ladies.

IMG_3351For personal or religious reasons, some individuals do not train with members of the other gender. For the men, this isn’t that big of an obstacle since they can easily train an entire class only partnering with other men. I have several wonderful team mates who do not roll with me and respectfully bow instead of shaking hands – I just return the gesture and carry on. For women, since there are fewer of us (sometimes one or none in a group class), co-ed classes classes may not be a consistent viable option. However with a good ladies only class, these individuals can have the opportunity to train as well if they wish.

For Beginners Only?

IMG_1300I don’t believe that a ladies only class should consist of only beginners who are passing through a way station to the co-ed class. I want my class to be a place where we can grow together and then go out and destroy the guys with our awesome powers of angles and leverage. I want to keep it applicable for both the day one beginner, and the long time veteran.

To the men who have supported this new class and program – thank you for seeing the big picture! To the women who are invested in helping it to grow – you are the reasons we do this.

Current Class Times:

Fridays @ 12:30 with Madison

Sundays @9:30 with Nicholle

After we move to the new facility we will probably shift the Sunday class to later in the day since we will have our own room and fewer things to schedule around.

Just A Minor Breakthrough

I’ve started having another of those shifts in thinking in the past month about Jiu Jitsu. There have been many, and they are always super simple things that just open up a whole new world of “ah hah!”

I came to the realization that if I believe that I can execute a move, I can do it. This has been especially applicable to things such as; going after arm bars from guard, and positional escapes.

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First Week of Training

What made the difference was realizing that people were escaping from my side control using the same movements that I know how to do – but that I never actually commit to doing. Maybe I’ve spent so many years being smashed that I just don’t believe in my ability to get out from under someone once they have gotten past my guard. That realization is starting to shift my thinking. It works for people I spar against, so why wouldn’t a move work if I go after it – believing it will work?

Always improving, always trying to broaden my mind to see the bigger picture. It is a very mental game as well as a physical one – and both my body and my mind must be strong and work in harmony in order for me to be my very best every day.

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Oh, in other news: my instructor, Shawn Hammonds, gave me my 3rd stripe on my purple belt this week! I guess you could say things are getting pretty serious!

Nashville Winter Open Team Information

I have written up a list of who is competing on which mat, and their approximate start time. Please keep in mind that the times update in real time on this website.

I have had matches start an hour before the original start time, and up to 2 hours after. It really just depends on how quickly the matches before yours go. I have included the match number first so that you can track how quickly the matches are going on each individual mat. I wrote a blog post a while ago about how to help streamline your competition experience, check it out here.

Make sure to check your weight on the test scale in the bullpen area before going to the official weigh ins. There will be a lot of us there, so if you have a question just ask. The instructors and senior students will be doing their best to coach every match, but if they don’t make it to yours, know that they are doing their best.

Here is part of a rather candid video with our head instructor, Shawn Hammonds, from training this morning. I missed the first part, but the rest of it is still good.

Jason Mattherly, Madison Sperry and Kenny Cross don’t have anyone in their divisions (they scared off all opponents), so they will wait until the open class divisions later in the evening.

For blue belts and up, after collecting your medal at the podium, make sure to sign up for the open weight class immediately. The sign up is usually right next to the podium. Only two from each team will be allowed to compete in the open, but give Shawn options so he can select the chosen ones from the list. He can’t add you if you don’t sign up, and sign up is usually due right after you get your medal.

It is a long day, but if you are able to stick around until the team awards at the end, absolutely do so! You don’t wanna miss being a part of the big team photo on the podium!

That all said, here are all the matches in order for each mat. Use the times as a general guideline – I find the match numbers more useful myself.

Mat 1

#4 – 10:06 – Bryan Tidwell – Black Adult Feather

#6 – 10:30 – Eric Ingram – Black Adult Middle

#7 – 10:42 – Chad Hardy – Black Adult Middle

#14 – 11:57 – Javier Arroyo – Black Master 1 Middle

#15 – 12:05 – Matthew Maskovyak – Black Master 2 Super Heavy

#30 – 1:50 – Andrew Pardee – Purple Master 1 Feather

#38 – 2:49 – Wyatt Baxter – White Adult Middle

#48 – 3:59 – Jacob Taylor – White Master 1 Middle

#49 – 4:06 – Christopher Gardner – White Master 1 Middle

#52 – 4:27 – Brenton Meadows – White Master 1 Super Heavy

 

Mat 2

#2 – 9:38 – Matthew Bush – Blue Adult Middle

#8 – 10:26 – Charlie Alexander – Blue Adult Middle

#9 – 10:34 – Taylor Cross – Blue Adult Middle

#15 – 11:23 – Chance Miller – Purple Adult Middle

#24 – 12:42 – Alexei Pergande – Blue Juvenile Middle

#31 – 1:33 – Alex Holguin – Blue Master 2 Medium Heavy

#33 – 1:47 – Shannon Goughary – Purple Master 1 Light

#36 – 2:09 – Jonathon King – Purple Master 1 Medium Heavy

#43 – 3:01 – Paul Jeong – White Adult Medium Heavy

#46 – 3:22 – Cole Gordon – White Adult Medium Heavy

#49 – 3:43 – Griffin Hill – White Adult Medium Heavy

#51 – 3:57 – Michele Czech – White Adult Light

#54 – 4:18 – Kyle Haack – White Master 1 Heavy

 

Mat 3

#1 – 9:30 – Keith Roberts – Blue Adult Feather

#3 – 9:46 – Russell Bracey – Blue Adult Feather

#14 – 11:06 – Nichole Herold – Blue Adult Super Heavy

#24 – 12:40 – Nicholle Stoller – Purple Adult Light

#25 – 12:49 – Anthony Cairns – Blue Master 1 Medium Heavy

#35 – 2:01 – Rob Gortney – Purple Master 1 Ultra Heavy

#51 – 3:57 – Breana Kenworthy – White Adult Feather

#57 – 4:39 – Erin Mercer-Swayze – White Master 1 Light Feather

 

Mat 4

#1 – 9:30 – Troy Yang – Blue Adult Light

#4 – 9:46 – Aaron White – Blue Adult Light

#9 – 10:34 – Brittany Dickman – Blue Adult Light Feather

#14 – 11:15 – Joseph Kaiga – Purple Adult Feather

#21 – 12:16 – Guerin Lewis – Purple Adult Medium Heavy

#22 – 12:25 – Andrew Kordower – Brown Adult Middle

#37 – 2:19 – Paul Gibson – Purple Master 1 Middle

#38 – 2:26 – Kevin Patterson – Brown Master 1 Middle

#41 – 2:49 – Jimmie Hayes – Brown Master 3 Heavy

#42 – 2:56 – Robert Wake – White Adult Light

#46 – 3:25 – Ray Mullen – White Adult Heavy

#48 – 3:39 – Connor Ridings – White Adult Light

#49 – 3:46 – Caleb Tenpenny – White Adult Heavy

#53 – 4:14 – David Hall – White Master 1 Medium Heavy

#56 – 4:35 – Michael Rohus – White Master 2 Light

#60 – 5:03 – Zachary Hudson – White Master 3 Heavy

 

Mat 5

#3 – 9:46 – Will Caplenor – Blue Adult Medium Heavy

#21 – 12:18 – Kevin Harmon – Brown Adult Light

#27 – 1:08 – Palmer Gibbs – Blue Master 1 Heavy

#28 – 1:15 – Michael Kenner – Blue Master 2 Middle

#35 – 2:04 – James Harrison – Purple Master 2 Ultra Heavy

#36 – 2:11 – Johnathan Hill – Purple Master 2 Ultra Heavy

38 – 2:25 – William Wolf – Brown Master 4 Medium Heavy

#45 – 3:14 – Jackson Mena – White Adult Rooster

46 – 3:21 – Christopher Corey – White Adult Super Heavy

#47 – 3:28 – Jaylen Bolling – White Adult Super Heavy

#50 – 3:49 – Preston Akers – White Master 1 Light

#55 – 4:24 – Kyle Moffett – White Master 1 Ultra Heavy

#57 – 4:38 – Bojan Jovanovic – White Master 1 Ultra Heavy

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Elite Brand Gi Review

I have had the opportunity to test out the Elite brand gi for the last couple of months. So here is my assessment of the Gi!

Shipping was super fast! It arrived within three days and came with a white belt which I will pass on to a worthy newbie at a future date. I am 5 foot, 4 inches on a tall day, and usually wear a size 6 jean (USA size). I was sent the A1 pink women’s gi which I found to be a bit roomy for my preferred fit. I didn’t mind the sizing since it shrunk a little bit in the dryer for a perfect fit – and I like having training gis that can go into the dryer for faster laundry turn over.

The quality per the price was very good! This gi was sent to me by the company to review for them, but last year I had purchased one as well. For wear and tear and over the course of the year the color has held strongly, seams are  still snug, and the fabric is soft and comfortable to wear. I did not notice a fit difference in the women’s Gi as compared to the standard issue Gi I own from the same company. I get compliments from team mates on both gis whenever I wear one of them.

Overall, this is my top recommendation to people asking about an affordable training gi that will last through multiple washing and drying cycles. I would like to see ladies sizes available by the company in the future – but even their standard fit isn’t as baggy on my frame as some other brands. It will definitely remain in my regular training rotation.

Abu Dhabi World Pro Recap

I just made it back to the states after a very interesting 10 days in the United Arab Emirates. I will work on a few other blog posts detailing some of the non-competition experiences (food, desert safari, shopping in local markets, etc) – for now I will just be sharing about my adventures leading up through the competition event itself. So… prepare yourself for informal story time!

I booked my flight before the schedule was solidified, so I ended up arriving in the Abu Dhabi airport at around 3 am local time on the day I was to compete. No day before weigh ins for me – so I was very hungry and thirsty. Female hormones decided to time their surge during this critical stage, so I did not have the planned wiggle room for my weight.

I hung out at the airport for about 5 hours, charging my devices and staring with thirst envy at everyone else who happened to take a sip from a water bottle in my vicinity. Occasionally, I would stroke my bag of sports drinks and whisper a “soon my precious, soon”. When time finally came for me to make my way to the venue for weigh ins, I purchased a metro card and made my way out to the bus stop along with my suitcase and bag. I missed the proper metro stop and therefore ended up walking about 1.5 miles in the desert heat, dragging my suitcase over cobblestone (R.I.P suitcase). When I finally arrived at the competition venue and weighed in, I was a full pound under weight thanks to that desert stroll – so all’s well!

I had about 90 minutes before my division was set to begin, so I proceeded to down a bottle of electrolyted liquid and lie down with my feet up in the warm up area. At this point the giddiness began to kick in because I realized I had made it happen and I was really going to get to go out and compete.

img_2551My match was meant to be the 5th one in my division, but since it was the first match that the coordinator found, it got bumped to the first event of the day! So this means being escorted past the curtain out to the side of the mat while the tv commentators are talking and the crowd is starting to rumble in the background. I was grinning like a fool. So happy to be there after all the work I put in to make it happen. This was going to be me showing my best game.

Finally, the referee gives the motion to start the match and everything else fades away to a pinpoint of focus. I go from grinning fool to focused animal in the drop of a hand. My opponent came at me with fury and powerful technique. I responded instinctively, just doing what I know how to do (so many inversions!). When we reached 1 minute left I looked at the scoreboard and saw that I was up 2 advantage points and could coast the last bit if I wanted. However, that is how I missed out on a finals match in Cincinnati, so I kept going. My opponent knew she only had to pass my guard in order to advance to the next round and I could feel her determination and drive. Suddenly I saw an opening and managed to lock in a submission, rolling to mount to finish in the last 30 seconds of the match. It was honestly one of my proudest matches. It was a war from beginning to end with a worthy opponent whom I would love a chance to match up with again!

I was as elated and made my way back to the holding area when the adrenaline dump kicked in like it never has before. That along with the lack of sleep and recovery time hit all at once. I was very close to throwing up and had to lie down on the floor with my legs elevated. Thankfully since I ended up being the first match of the day, they had to process through the rest of my division before they came back to me again. It was a full 30 minutes before I could sit up without nearly blacking out and I have not been that close to backing out of a match before. However, I owed it to my first opponent to continue on and do my very best! So once I could sit up, I focused on projecting a strong solid front to any of my opponents who might be watching me. Just because I feel like I’m going to pass out, doesn’t mean I need to let people see that.

My name was called for my second match and I kept that mask on as I went out. I wish there was a triumphant resolution to this tale, but alas, I was immediately pulled into a triangle and had to tap to the pressure on my neck. I kept the mask on afterwards, thanked my referee and made my way back to find ice for my neck.

All in all, this was one of my favorite tournament experiences and it was an honor to participate in it! I also earned enough points to be ranked #6 in North America! I will be back. What I will do differently next time is just book a flight arriving much earlier so that I can have time to do the day before weigh ins and recover more completely. Mentally I was more focused than I have in the past year – I feel like I am starting to be confident in my game again. I will continue to improve and make myself better every day. My next goal will be to hit as many of the Grand Slam events as possible (Tokyo is in July), and also to wreck some havoc at Master Worlds.

Sometimes Patience Pays Off

img_1295This has been a very busy year of transitions for me… one of the big ones has been being promoted to my purple belt in February! I tried to write this post right then and there… but life happens in its overwhelming way. I’ve since then gone from one crazy phase to another. Things are finally starting to become clear and I can start sharing again.

A lot has happened and changed in the past 6ish years of training. There have been some pretty awesome “on top of the world” days, and there have also been periods of time where I was within a hair of throwing in the towel and calling it quits. The past two years have been more of the latter than the former. However, it has been long established that I am far to stubborn to quit.

Goals have shifted around a lot from when I first started training in Jiu Jitsu. Today, I feel like sharing the story of how I actually got started (and hooked) on this life.

It was sometime toward the beginning of 2011 when I realized that I was out of breath just walking up a flight of stairs. I had one of those epiphany moments when I realized that I needed to do something to change this for the sake of my own health. So I started going to train at a gym several days a week. However, I soon became so stinking bored. I had no goal. I didn’t care about my weight, or aesthetics – and didn’t even own a scale at that point in my life. I was also severely intimidated by all of the equipment at the gym and couldn’t ever do any sort of exercise when other people might be around (I still fight that insecurity today).

I quickly determined that I needed something somewhat familiar, challenging, and with a more concrete goal structure that I could relate to. My mind went back to the years I spent training Taekwondo and Hapkido as a teenager, and it just seemed like a good idea! Of course, I wanted something more physically challenging as an adult… and I remembered hearing about this “MMA” thing and decided that sounded like a good challenge! So I just did a google search for MMA in my area, and went to check out the first place that popped up on my list.

img_1374Let it be known, I was absolutely terrified walking into the gym for my first meet and greet. I’m amazed I even walked into the building in the first place! Yet somehow I ended up not only walking in, but hitting some pads and then signing up for a membership using the last of my paycheck. I started out in the MMA program, thinking that I would gravitate more toward the Muay Thai classes as opposed to Jiu Jitsu (it looked weird!)

My first class was rough physically. I remember being so gassed after the warm ups that I was legitimately disoriented during the instructional portion of the class. That is really all I remember about my first week of training: dying during the warm up and then blinking like an idiot for the rest of class because I didn’t have enough oxygen in my brain to do anything else!

When I finally got to the point where I was actually aware of my surroundings, I discovered that they had sneakily been teaching me Jiu Jitsu moves along with jabs and crosses. I realized that I was okay with this! I also wanted more than two training classes a week, so I asked to join in with the beginner Jiu Jitsu classes for more training hours. At the end of two months, I was training at least once, sometimes twice a day. Still dying every class – but enjoying finally feeling like I was being challenged and seeing myself making concrete progress with something!

img_1309At this two month mark, I was told I could start attending the more advanced classes with the option to begin sparring. I would, however, have to purchase appropriate equipment. My decision was made to officially begin Jiu Jitsu training for a very simple reason. Once again, I was in between paychecks, and it was cheaper to buy a Gi as opposed to Muay Thai gear.

Seriously, that was the reason.

I took my first full fledged Jiu Jitsu class on January 22 2011, and it did not take very long at all for me to become completely addicted. I would attend a 6:30 am class, go home and nap until the 11:30 class, and then return for the evening training class as well. My first competition was March 11 2011 – and I remember being absolutely petrified. There were 4 girls total, and my first opponent was a 214 lb blue belt. The only thing I knew how to do was a triangle from spider guard. I remember my team mates in the corner yelling for me to “sweep her!” and I yelled back “What’s a sweep?!” I survived the experience and actually managed to win one match with my triangle from spider guard for a bronze medal. Going out to eat with my team mates afterwards, I felt like I belonged – which wasn’t a familiar thing for me. But I liked it.

So yes, Jiu Jitsu is addictive – but I think the people you meet are the ones who make it so.

 

So thank you to my Jiu Jitsu family! You are spread out all over the world and I love it! I can visit other countries, and have instant connection with people because of Jiu Jitsu – regardless of language, culture, or religion. My coach, Shawn Hammonds, has been my first experience of ever having a coach to push me – and I love him for it! My team mates in Nashville have been a driving force for me on those days when I just can’t find my moxy. I also get the privilege of Jiu Jitsu family in Maryland with Master Lloyd and all of the amazing people at Team Lloyd Irvin – even though I don’t get to see them every day, they are always constant sources of inspiration to do the best that I can every day! My goal is to be able to be as valuable to my team mates as they are to me – I don’t know that I will ever be able to give back that much, but I am going to do my best!

Of course, what sappy thank you post would be complete without mentioning my family! I’ve really been learning a lot about the value of family in the past couple of years. Do we get along all the time? Nope. Are we perfect? Not in the slightest! However, my family has unconditional love and we care about each other. So even if we don’t always agree, we always have each others backs and will fight to the death for one another. And that’s what family is. Whether it’s parents, siblings, aunts, uncles, grandparents, cousins… or my Jiu Jitsu crew; We are family.

(If you sang those last three words, whoever you are, you can count yourself an honorary family member!)

 

Time Flies, and So Do I!

In just a little over a week, I will be taking off for yet another adventure!

New York Open

20140408-081453.jpgI will be leaving on the 13th of July for New Hampshire where I will spend a few days with my family before we all make a trip down to New York on the 15th so they can cheer me on while I compete in the IBJJF New York Gi and No Gi Open Championship. The last time they saw me compete was in the 2104 Boston Open. They will drive back to New Hampshire after the competition, and I will be boarding a bus to Washington D.C. to get a week of training in with my TLI team mates. I will take a bus back up to New York to fly back home to Nashville on Saturday the 23rd.

After that, I will have almost 5 weeks back home in Nashville before the Master World Championships in Vegas.

Master World Championship

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Dante posed with a lot of statues last year in Vegas

This trip took a bit of figuring in order to make the budget work. Since to date of this writing, the tournament schedule is very broad and is listing blue belts as competing any one of the three days of the event. I could have gotten an amazing deal on a flight in and out of Las Vegas, but I would have to fly back home the morning of day 3 at the event (possibly missing my matches altogether!) – and the price doubled to fly out the day after the event.

So, long story short, I am flying in and out of Los Angeles. I will get into Los Angeles the day before the competition begins, and then take an overnight bus to Vegas. I will reverse the process in order to catch my return flight back home. The bus was just $5 each way, and also saves me two extra nights in a hotel – I sleep pretty well in transit as long as I have my memory foam neck pillow.

I booked my hotel through my airline. It is less than a mile from the venue and was 50% off – making the price comparable to the airbnb options I saw nearby, plus I earn air miles. All together, I managed to cut my original budget projections in half, which is why the trip is doable. Added bonus, my hotel has an indoor roller coaster for the win!

Asian Open Championship

I was going to skip the Master World Championship because it is just three weeks before I leave to compete in Japan.

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2015 Asian Open Championships

I will be leaving Nashville on September 6th with an overnight stop in Los Angeles before continuing straight to Tokyo from there on the 7th. I will arrive on the 8th and the competition is the 10th and 11th. I did not have any problems really with jet lag last year on the way there (the way back was HORRIBLE), so I am trying to cut short the amount of time I have to wait before competing.

Meiji Shrine - Main Tori Gate
Meiji Shrine – Main Tori Gate

If I am competing on the second day of the competition, as I was last year, then I will be setting out to climb Mt Fuji on the 9th. I have to squeeze it in beforehand because the last day of climbing season is the 10th of September. It is a non-technical climb that really just consists of an uphill hike with rapidly thinning atmosphere. (I have climbed mountains before and know what to expect) My plan is to climb partway up on the 9th and then catch some sleep in a mountain hut and strike out in time to catch the sunrise from the summit on the 10th. I would then have time to climb down and make my way back to Tokyo in time to rest and get some sleep before competing the next day. Granted, the trail dates all depend on the weather, so I am trying to keep my options open. If I compete on the first day… well that just gives me (another) excuse to come back to Japan again!

After the excitement of competition and Fuji-san, I will have a week and a half left to spend in Japan. I plan to train while I am out there, as well as visit Kyoto. Beyond that, I’m still making plans! A trip to Korea is possible as there are some pretty cheap flights available. I will be flying back home on the 22nd of September, and will likely start planning my next trip on the ride home.

And Then

I won’t be making it to No Gi Pans this year since it will be held the week after I get back from Japan. Experience has taught me that the week after getting back, I will be completely useless as a human being – thanks to adjusting to the 14 hour rewind. I want to go to No Gi Worlds, but we shall see how much I manage to stress the budget while in Japan.

Granted, after all that flying, I should have earned enough miles for a free flight to L.A. by then… so maybe No Gi Worlds would be possible after all?