Inspiring Loyalty

This is a bit of a follow up to my “When the Vibe Changes” post from last month. That post circulated more than I thought it would! It opened up a dialogue for a lot of people to talk more openly about things – both locally and elsewhere. Things have changed significantly since then and needs an update!

As people began sharing more about the changes that made them leave my old academy, it was apparent that the teachings of our association head were no longer respected or taught, along with other issues. Long story short, my old academy has been dropped from the team association – our coach finally had enough of the centralized drama stemming from ongoing policies that don’t match his philosophies.

My loyalty is to my coach because he has earned it over the years of having my back and investing in me. He returns that loyalty, and it is obvious even to people outside of our association how much he cares for all of his students. Yes, even the troublemakers (you know who you are!)

When I tell people how amazing my coach is they just don’t get how he can inspire such a loyal following and assume it must be cult of personality. Then they meet him and say, “oh I get it now!” See he genuinely gives a shit about seeing people succeed and surpass his abilities. If you look at the black belts he has produced, you will notice they are all unique with different styles and methodologies. He doesn’t try to mold us in his image, he instead seeks out what makes us tick and nurtures that into its own thing. His affiliation has grown in the mid-south so much in the past several years, and that’s without him ever actively trying to coax people on to the team, in fact he wasn’t even intending to run an affiliation but the black belts under him all requested it. He inspires people to want to follow, and he is a good enough person that he understands the responsibility of that.

This is what differentiates a coach from an instructor (by my definition at least). An instructor gives you valuable knowledge for you to then implement. A coach goes deeper and develops more than just technique, they develop mindset, philosophy, and individual training plans based on a student’s strengths and weaknesses. He actively watches the trends in Jiu Jitsu and if he sees something that he thinks will work for a student, he takes the time to study it and help a student integrate it into his game – even if it’s something that is outside of his personal style. For example, spider guard was just coming onto the scene when I was a white belt. He saw it being used at worlds and brought it back to show me saying “I can’t do this with my hips, but you are gonna love it!” I remember staring at him in disbelief that I would ever use this ridiculous looking technique… But he was right, and I still actively use it to this day!

You can’t demand loyalty from people under you. Loyalty is something that is awarded to you by virtue of proving your merit and care. If you have to demand that people are loyal and respect you, all you will be is a dictator who rules by fear (which can look similar but will feel hollow upon receipt).

A major goal of mine is to one day be able to inspire people the way he does. At any rate, I look forward to the future and am allowing myself to feel true excitement and anticipation again! I see my surgeon again in 4 weeks and will find out if I need another procedure on my knee to break up scar tissue. Either way my prognosis is excellent for return to full impact with zero restrictions, it’s just gonna take a little more time.

When The Vibe Changes

An Academy’s culture is built by the instructors/administration, and the students that they attract. Each academy has a different vibe because of different teaching styles and methodology. Like attracts like and that’s why academies will get a rep for various things (when I began training, we were known as a pressure heavy competition academy). New students who come into the academy will eventually absorb and conform to the overall vibe – if not they will quit or find an academy whose vibe matches more what they are looking for.

Different vibes are not bad. If everyone trained the exact same way, innovation would crawl to a halt and we would probably still think half guard is a losing position. This is why I love to visit different academies when I travel and learn a new way of looking at a position or move.

But what is one to do when your academy culture/vibe changes and you no longer fit?

The hardest part is in that transition phase before you realize that things are changing. Mine started changing 5-6 years ago. My coach had to sell his ownership in the academy and take a back seat from the administration aspect of the daily processes. I felt pushed out of things I had been previously invested in – but not much change in the gym culture happened since our coach was still there teaching on a regular basis.

As he began to take more of a backseat role and focused on his other academy that was closer to his house, things started to shift more rapidly. Most of the crew that I had spent the past 6 years training with felt the push and pinch of the changes brought on by a new administrative approach. This led to wildfires and full-on shitstorms.

Eventually all but a few left for places where they felt more free to train the way we had in the past. Some left quietly, others burnt every conceivable bridge on their way out. To those leaving, it felt like the people enacting the changes were the villains who were destroying a sacred safe space. To those implementing the changes, those leaving were the toxic influences that were holding back progress.

With the old established crew cleared out, a new culture was free to develop unhindered. I count myself among the old crew but I had to keep my head down and stay clear of the crossfire because I wanted to earn my black belt from my coach (who was coaching me remotely). To reach this goal I had to remain at an affiliate academy – and since I am unable to drive, this was the only one I could reach on a regular basis. I made the most of my time, creating a ladies Jiu Jitsu program, but was continually frustrated and hurt by the changes – the academy culture no longer fit what I wanted to get out of my Jiu Jitsu journey and I had no control over it.

I have been in a state of mourning for quite a while now. I’m finally reaching a point where I can accept that some things cannot be repaired. I hate that this sort of thing has destroyed my safe place and hurt so many people that I care about. Knowing how much my coach cares about each of his students, I’m sure it is even more painful for him to see these people so divided that he has heavily invested over a decade of his life into.

I don’t know what my training future is going to look like, but I have given up on my old academy ever being the right fit for me. It may be the right fit for others, but not for me. When my surgeon finally clears me to return to the mats, I will be working 1:1 with my coach in the warehouse at my office (we have mats). I’ve been invited to drop in at various academies around town for group classes and will avail myself of that; as well as hosting a small group of my own to train at the warehouse. I’ve been in therapy trying to process all of my repressed emotions over the past couple of years of this process. A lot is still up in the air but I’m finally reaching a point where I think I can start talking about it, in hopes it will help others who may have been feeling the same way. If nothing else, writing it all out is rather cathartic.

Jiu Jitsu and Autism Pt 4

It’s been requested over the last couple of years that I write a follow up post to my “Jiu Jitsu and Aspergers” series from back in the day. I thought I had gotten everything out with that series, and honestly it was a scary one to publish since I hadn’t disclosed my diagnosis to many people at that point. This might be a rehashing but there’ve definitely been changes since I wrote that piece 8 years ago! (Click Here to check out the article that started it all)

Two big changes:

The Aspergers diagnosis is now defunct and dated (as are the terms high/low functioning), my diagnosis is now simply “Autistic”. The other change being that I was promoted to my black belt last year.

So where does that leave me?

I’m still me. I’m learning and unlearning a lot through work with my therapist. Autism seems to have taken a recent spotlight through media representation, which is both a good thing and a bad thing. Education and awareness is good in general, but media will of course represent the extremes of something from their own vantage point, not understanding what actually goes on in a brain that is wired differently than theirs. The stereotypical autistic person they usually end up portraying is the sensationalized version that is a small fraction of the diagnosis spectrum.

Sensory Issues:

Since my last posting on this topic, I have had to stop driving a car. It is just too much input/reaction for me to safely handle. On bad/low tolerance days I could focus either on; watching my speed, staying in the lines, or driving directions. I got speeding tickets because I was having to focus so hard to keep my car going where I wanted it and safely avoiding all the other moving (and stationary) objects that I just didn’t pay attention to speed, or I would be swerving in and out of lines while watching my speedometer. It all added up to more stress than it was worth to me. I switched to a combo of bicycle and the bus. The bike is easier because I don’t have to watch a speedometer, and can stop easily if I need a focus break. It was less convenient on the surface (especially given the state of the bus system in Nashville), but a better choice overall.

More recently I have started paying closer attention to my tactile sensitivities. Can I push through the day with a jacket sleeve touching the base of my thumb or an odd feeling fabric making up my gi pants? Yes, yes I can. But these little stressors add up and if it’s something within my own control, shouldn’t I control it and make it easier for me to handle the things I have no control over? As such I’ve done a closet purge and gotten rid of items that I find uncomfortable, got myself a floofy fleece hoodie to relax in at home, and am eyeballing an oversized Totoro plushie I found online.

I recognize now that while I can’t tolerate light physical contact, firm to hard is actually soothing. I’m guessing this is another reason why Jiu Jitsu is a good activity for me!

Pattern Recognition:

I’m starting to make some realizations about how deep my penchant for pattern recognition goes. I have realized that I don’t read people’s facial expressions emotionally, but I can recognize a change in their behavior pattern that tips me off if something (positive or negative) is up. So, the better I know someone (and get the hang of their normal behavior) the better I can read their emotional changes.

It’s frustrating because I can predict to pretty good accuracy an issue down the road – but no one takes me seriously if I try to point it out. Then the crisis hits and they all scramble to address it and I just heave a sigh.

In Jiu Jitsu it has definitely been an asset! When I figured out the mechanics of a triangle choke, I was able to easily apply the same thing from all angles (inverted reverse triangle finish anyone?) Learning my training partners’ movement patterns helps make me seem like I know a lot more than I actually do.

Special Interests:

My primary special interest has remained Jiu Jitsu – I’m going on 11 years now of it! It brings me great joy that I’m surrounded by people who don’t think it’s odd if I want to talk for hours about training techniques or theory.

It has been particularly difficult for the past few years. First, we had all the gym shutdowns with the coronovirus, and then just as we were getting into the swing of training again I had a very bad injury. I’ve been recovering for over a year now and haven’t been allowed to train properly (at all in the past 5 months post-op). I had the best possible sports osteopathic surgeon piece my knee back together again – he is confident I will be back to full impact with no restrictions, it just takes time.

Not being able to participate feels like a part of me is just a dark empty space that nothing can fill. I’m back on the outside looking in again. I have tried my best to keep myself engaged through teaching and watching film, but it is a pacifier that can’t be sustained. It has reached a point where I can actually see a life for myself where I never train again, and it terrifies me. I am determined that I WILL be back!

Social Stuff:

Being around the Jiu Jitsu community has made me feel much more competent and confident in social settings. Overall, I think the sport attracts the awkward misfits who are more accepting and forgiving of the awkwardness of others.

I have never dated, and probably won’t in the future. It is so difficult for me to maintain friendships that adding deeper levels just seems an insurmountable task to me, more trouble than it would be worth. Just know that if I count you as a friend, that means something.

I find it difficult to make a good first impression without feeling like I’m putting on a show of something that isn’t who I really am. The term is “masking” where I hide my natural pattern of speech behind a mask that is more socially acceptable. Everyone has always told me to “just be yourself and people will appreciate the real you!” – but in my experience that is a well-meaning lie. The real me is awkward, makes people uncomfortable with bluntness and vocal inflections, doesn’t have a filter on facial expressions, etc. Probably the reason that, while growing up, the other kids in my peer group thought I was “creepy.”

Nine times out of ten, if I greet people with the real me, it just doesn’t begin or end well. So many of my (now) friends have said that when they first met me, they thought I hated them. If I wear my goofball mask it is a predictable role that other people know how to relate to right off the bat. It’s less stress in the moment, but more stress in the long term. Sometimes I’m so exhausted when get home that I just sit down and stare at a blank wall for a solid hour before I’m able to start to relax with a book or movie.

That said, it’s better than it was before. I’m more aware of my limitations and am getting better at regulating myself. Controlling the things in my environment that I have control over means I have more energy to deal with the ones I can’t control. Since people with Autism have to expend more mental/emotional energy to do simple daily tasks, I have to conserve my energy where possible in order to make it through the day.

Anxiety:

I had a 3-day long anxiety attack last week. I learned something new from my therapist through it. Since my brain has no filter for the world I will eventually hit “critical mass” and my brain/nervous system just says “no.”

I say it’s like boiling a pot of water. Everyone else can boil their pot uncovered but I have a pressure cooker lid firmly in place. The pressure that would normally just dissipate from the act of heating up the water (aka, functioning in society) has nowhere to go for me.

Even as I explain it, it sounds like I’m just making excuses. Especially when people try to relate by saying “I think everyone is a little autistic” – which to me sounds like a minimization of my own difficulties. I can function if I try hard enough, so I must be lying or exaggerating. The toll it takes on me though is not sustainable over the long term.

In Closing:

Not a ton has changed really. I am still me. I am just trying to learn more about myself so that I can be a better human. Achieving my black belt was a huge saga that I will one day possibly share, but I need to be a little further removed from circumstances before I do that.

As I have risen in the ranks, I have felt the responsibility to look out for my fellow students. I would spend my weekend rehearsing all possible questions and interactions that I could come up with so that I could have an answer for someone as opposed to my classic deer in headlights stare. They know I care, even if I’m still a bit rough around the edges.

I’ve been more open about my diagnosis in the past couple of years. I think it’s because I have come to accept it more and feel more confident. That said, I’m actually awaiting an official assessment through an ADA approved evaluation center. I’ve been diagnosed by several therapists but if it’s not done through the approved evaluation center it’s not considered “official”. It’s an expensive drawn-out process, which is why I haven’t done it before – but with the salary from my new job I will be able to afford it!

With Great Power…

So I’m a black belt now. What does that mean exactly?

It simply means that I was too stubborn to quit and demonstrated that I can persevere long term and become good at something. This does not make me a honorable person who is worthy of your highest level of respect – I still have to earn that by demonstrating long term that I am a worthwhile human being. I know plenty of black belts who I have zero respect for, due to their actions as human beings.

Being a black belt does not give me a license to bully or harass those below me. My task is to make the path easier in that regards. Just because I was given a hard time going up through the ranks, does not mean I have the right to make things difficult for others as well. I choose to break that pattern. I choose to nurture other students and create a safe retreat for people to work hard without extra distractions.

So all that said as preamble… a lot of people are finally starting to talk about sexual harassment and bullying among the ranks of Jiu Jitsu. It’s both heart breaking and refreshing at the same time. We like to foster this fantasy that earning a black belt also perfects your character, but a rotten foundation does not lead to a stable house. I know black belts who think that since they paid their dues that it gives them license to do whatever they want – when it really is the opposite. There’s this thing called power dynamics, think “with great power comes great responsibility”. I must hold myself to a higher standard now that I know people are looking to me to model behavior.

So… Dear Black Belts/Upper Ranks:

Yes you worked hard to get to where you are. You should be very proud of your accomplishment! Now regardless of if you are an official instructor or not, you are a teacher. This is the way.

You can be a badass killing machine without being a douche canoe.

If you make a racist or sexist joke, a lower rank is going to hear that and think it is an acceptable behavior. It’s a trickle down effect that influences the entire culture of your training space.

Mimicry is real – meaning people will model behavior that makes them seem like part of the group. Good or bad.

Don’t protect one another. If someone is being a creep to other students, you need to draw a hard line and call them out on it. Friendship can only go so far and some behavior cannot be excused by “they mean well”.

If you want your gym to be a safe haven of badassery, then do that. Cultivate the culture and boot out the bad eggs.

Dear Lower Ranks:

We appreciate you and love that you are starting this journey! It takes guts to step on the mats the first day. Whether your goal is weight loss, confidence, recovery, becoming a ninja assassin… your reason is valid!

You deserve to train in a safe environment.

Just because someone outranks you, does not mean that they have the right to make you feel threatened or uncomfortable.

If you get creepy vibes from someone, please tell your instructor. If it is the instructor giving you creepy vibes, tell your gym management. If the problem is systemic and you aren’t taken seriously, then go to a different academy. Training is hard enough without dealing with emotional turmoil from bullying or harassment! Some things aren’t worth pushing through.

If you ever feel uncomfortable or unsafe training with someone, say no to training with them. There are people who I will not train with even if my coach tells me to. If he wants to know details, he asks me after class. I am working to instill this in my students as well. Right of refusal applies here!

In conclusion:

I had a meeting with management at my academy a few weeks ago along with an HR rep. They have promised to toe a hard line on zero tolerance of online and in person sexual harassment/bullying. They banned a member on the spot for sexual harassment. We have police officers in our academy who have given us a legal course of action we can take if needed as well. The amount of relief I have heard from our female members is both gratifying and saddening. It is going to be a tough road ahead as things get unearthed, but it will be worth it.

Emerging From the Cocoon

img_3690So I haven’t put up anything in so long because honestly, I just haven’t had the heart or energy to do so. I’ve gone through several depressive phases where only my dog could make me get out of bed or smile. I’m currently on an upswing and feeling reflective… So here’s to almost a decade of training!

The things that scare me the most are the very things I need in order to grow. The more I learn about something (i.e. leg locks, takedowns), the less they frighten me. It may be another decade before I gain any proficiency in applications, but there is a direct correlation between knowledge and reduced fear.

It doesn’t matter where someone trains. We have the same base goal to improve and can respect one another on that basis. If you’re cool with me, I’m cool with you. We don’t have to agree on philosophy in order to get along. I will not let what other people say overrule my personal experience with someone. Anyone can talk, but I know what I know.

I’ve always felt worse when I surrender to laziness and skip training. Everything seems easier on the other side of training and I’ve never regretted pushing through to train against my own laziness. In contrast, I’ve learned to recognize that sometimes it’s not good to push through (i.e. injury or mental health day). It’s all about learning and judging myself honestly.

Every gym has its own environment and won’t be a good fit for every person who walks in. I recommend to everyone to try different places to see where you fit best. If you try to make yourself fit into the wrong place it will put a damper on your love of training. Doesn’t mean one place is better than the other, it just means one place is a better fit for you personally.

You learn more as an instructor sometimes because it forces you to look at moves from all different angles in order to teach it effectively to students who have different learning styles than you do. Taking on an instructor role has made me a better student, since I try to pay closer attention to details taught so that I can answer questions. Basically it makes me more accountable since I have people now who look to me for their instruction and inspiration – and that honestly terrifies me. I don’t want to fail them. I want each of my students to have their very best chance to learn to love jiu jitsu. Will they all fall in love long term like me? Not likely. However, if they can gain something worthwhile from their time in class then my job is done. You don’t have to commit for life in order to enrich your life through martial arts training.

If I have a private lesson with someone, I go and immediately try to teach it to someone else in order to make sure the concepts are locked into my brain. Sometimes they end up doing it better than me, and that to me means I understand the concepts and my body just needs to catch up with my brain

Having a black belt does not automatically make you a good person. The process of training does weed out a lot of ego issues, but sometimes it can feed into it as well. I’ve had friends oppressed by instructors, as well as lifted up by them. People are people regardless of their belt rank.

I find that I do judge higher ranked belts by how they treat those below them. I came from a more classical style of martial arts where a core teaching is that the job of the upper ranks is to nurture and help those below them grow. White belts are our future blue belts, and purple, and brown, and then black. They will become the kind of black belt we make them into starting from day one. They are our legacy – how will we mold them?

Not comparing my own progress to those around me is nearly impossible for me to do. I have to make a constant effort to make the comparison to last week me, instead of the person sitting on top of me at the moment. I fight my own battles, as do all of my training partners. They don’t really know what I might be dealing with, and I don’t really know what they have going on. So kindness and compassion is key. Now kindness doesn’t mean we don’t try to beat the tar out of one another, but if I know a team mate is having a bad day I just try to give them a little extra leeway mentally as needed. I might be the one having a bad day next time.

We get pretty personal with one another. And jiu jitsu training and competition can involve some breakdowns. I really appreciate that I have surrounded myself with a good circle of people who support and love me if I let them know I’m not in a good headspace. The same people will push me to succeed just as hard when they know I can handle it. My goal is to give back as much as I can!

img_3551One of my most popular blog articles has been about my Aspergers diagnosis. I have found my jiu jitsu family to be such a eclectic group of weirdos that I am able to blend right in. It has been so healing for me to feel accepted by a group – it has reached a point that even when I have bad days I still know and believe that I won’t loose my place in the group. This means more to me than they will ever know, and I thank everyone for that. 

In conclusion (for now), jiu jitsu has truly become my lifestyle. My daily life revolves around it and I spend more time at the training academy than I do at home. It is no longer something I do, it is just part of who I am. I’m excited to see what the next year will bring for me – lots of changes and plans in the works!

 

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.

Upcoming Events

Well first off, Merry Christmas to all! And if you aren’t the Christmas type, I hope you had a good day off from work!
The gyms were all closed yesterday, so I went to see the new Star Wars movie again with a team mate. Today it is back to the grind! BJJ gym is still closed today, but I am meeting up my regular drilling partner before heading off to my shift at work. Gotta get those reps in!
The current attack plan for the first few months of 2018 is:

January 15-22 – European Championships in Lisbon, Portugal.

I can only afford to be there for the days that I could possibly compete. Gotta get back to work by the 21st. At least jet lag doesn’t exist to me anymore for a Europe trip (after a few trips to Asia).

February 3 – Atlanta International Open

This is an easy day trip for my crew since it is only a 3ish hour drive from Nashville. I’ve kept my one day off from work as a Saturday – so I can make it easily to these day trip events without having to barter time off from work… I’ll be doing plenty of that already this year.

February 17 – Team Shawn Hammonds Team Training

One of the funnest events of the year! Last february we had over 30 black belts on the mat and so many people that it was just wonderful chaos! I was promoted to purple belt at the 2017 team training and I look forward to seeing all the promotions this next year!

February 24 – Mexico City International Open Gi and No Gi

Past experience has taught me that I need to arrive several days early in Mexico City – in order to adjust to the altitude. I haven’t worked out a flight yet, but it is on! Barring work putting their foot down (I have a pretty flexible job).

My concern here is whether there will be any purple belt ladies competing here or not. But I think it will work out! Plus it will be great to see friends again!

March 7-11 – Pan Championships in California

I’m waiting on the preliminary schedule to be released before I start thinking about booking a flight. Gotta go out there, smash, and then get back to work.

Since I am a part timer at work, I’m fairly flexible with time off. I just have to at least make an effort to find someone to cover my shift and I’m good to go. I’ll be making trips as short as possible though because I do need a cash flow to make all this happen. It’s a balancing act that I think I have finally gotten worked out!

I will hear from the Japanese Embassy in a few weeks about my application. But I’m not gonna just sit on my hands in the meanwhile! Gotta keep moving and trying to be a little bit better every day! (Except for yesterday… yesterday I ate half a pie)

Your First Competition

I just finished my last training session at home before I fly out to compete in the European Championships. I’ve had a lot of things processing in my mind in these months away from the competition circuit. I’m sure these things will trickle out in my next few posts, but right now I am going to cover a special request topic.
I have been working with a student lately who is very nervous at the idea of competing for the first time. So I promised a special post summarizing the process.

Do you want to do it?
Ignoring all the nerves, you need to ask yourself if it is something you want to do. I recommend pushing through fear and just doing it, but if you don’t have at least a glimmer of desire to try, then it’s a stupid thing to be doing really.

So let’s say that you do have an inkling of desire to compete. The next hurdle most people face is trying to decide when you are ready. The truth is, if you wait until you feel ready, you will never do it. If you know how to hip escape, know a sweep/takedown, and know a submission; then you know how to finish a complete match. All the instructors I know encourage anyone who has this basic level of skill to dive on it and give it a go.

Division Decisions:
I don’t recommend worrying too much about fitting yourself into a particular division when you are first starting out. There is no need to put more stress on yourself than what is necessary – so don’t worry about cutting 10 lbs to make the lower weight class. I’m not saying to eat junk the week leading up to your matches! Eat sensible, balanced meals that will help fuel you – and just compete at whatever weight you find most comfortable. I have competed in many different weight classes in the last several years, and used those experiences to determine where my sweet spot is. The first few competitions however, I think are all about getting the jitters out of the way so that you can then start making those kind of decisions.

The Actual Competition:
Each event will be slightly different depending on which organization runs it. They do all follow this general flow:

* Registration
* Weigh Ins
* Bracketing
* Matches
* Awards

Registration
Some competitions will allow you to register at the door, and some require you to pre-register online. I know of one organization that accepts mailed in registrations as well. Make sure you don’t miss the registration deadline! A lot of organizations offer discounts for early registrations as well.

Make sure to double check with your instructor as to what team to list yourself under. This can make a difference as you will be earning points for yourself, as well as your team – and if you list the wrong team name then your contribution will not be counted.

Know if there is a cut off date for changing your registration details (rank, age, weight class, etc).

Weigh Ins:
Many competitions allow registered competitors to weigh in the evening before the competition begins. Some weigh you in five minutes before your match begins. The event website or flyer should have that information listed. It is important to note if you will need to weigh in with your Gi on, or if you can strip to your skivvies.

Most of the time when you are weighing in just before your match begins, you will be required to wear your uniform – so factor in the weight of your complete uniform when you are deciding which weight class to register for. Also note whether there is a weight allowance or not. One organization may subtract a pound from the scale reading to account for clothes or possible scale variations – another may not. Some competitions will move you to another division if you do not make weight, some will disqualify you from participating.

I remember when I competed in the European Championships last year and there was a girl who thought the provided “test” scale was the official weigh in scale. So she checked her weight, and then proceeded to sit down and drink a liter of water and eat her snacks. When the division was called she was in front of me at the official weigh in scale – on her knees begging and crying to be allowed to compete even though she had eaten and hydrated herself over the limit for the official weigh in. Unfortunately, she did not read the rules and suffered a disqualification for not making weight.

Moral of the story: do your homework and know the rules!

On That Note:
Know the rules for your event and division! There should be rules listed on the organization’s website, and I highly recommend reading the entire book before the event. Most of the time you will find restrictions on the types of submissions and moves you are allowed to do depending on your belt level.

For example: Most competitions do not allow heel hooks or knee reaps. Often the more advanced leg attacks are only allowed for upper level belts. For some children divisions, no submission attempts are allowed.

I remember one time I finished a submission on a girl and she got up, screaming at me and the referee that I wrist locked her. She did not know that it was a legal move in that division, and her lack of knowledge left her vulnerable to the attack.

So just make sure you know what are the allowable moves for your division at the event you are attending. In most cases, what you are taught in your normal classes is perfectly acceptable – but just be sure!

Additional Note:
Know the rules in regards to uniform requirements. Some events don’t care if you want to wear your fabulous tie dye Gi – others have strict requirements down to the color of the stitching in your collar. This information should be included in the rule book – but when in doubt, ask your instructor.

Bracketing:
If your event allows people to register the day of the event at the door, then division brackets will be made just before your matches. In some cases you may be called over if they need to combine divisions or move people around to allow everyone to have good match ups.

If your event is pre-registration only, in most cases finalized brackets will be published before the event begins. You will be able to view them and see who you will be fighting and how many matches you could potentially have.

Matches:
So once you know what time you will be beginning your matches, it’s time to get your game face on!

Number one thing to remember is to breathe! I don’t think I took a breath through my entire first match – my lips and fingers were blue when time was called (no, I didn’t get caught in a choke). This is the biggest hurdle you will find yourself running into – just trying to not let the adrenaline take over.

I recommend bringing along a friend or two to cheer you on and take photos/video for you. You are doing a tough thing and you need a cheer squad to support you! You will most likely have team mates at the same event, but if you are new the competition circuit, you may or may not have developed a tight bond with them yet (it will come! I promise!).

If your competition allows you to have a coach in your corner during your match, ask for one. Try to get an instructor or upper level belt with whom you are familiar. They will be able to help you by giving verbal instruction during your matches. You will have to focus to hear them – I guarantee it will be difficult with all the adrenaline and tunnel vision – but try to listen and trust them! If you don’t know where your coach is, ask the officials to call for a coach from your team. It is not an imposition for them to do so!

If the competition you are at does not have a designated area for your coach, this does not mean that you are not allowed one. They may just have to stand behind a barricade and yell a bit louder – and the officials will most likely not call them for you if you can’t find them. (make sure to have your coach’s number so you can text them if needed)

General flow of match:
* Escorted/called to table at the edge of the mat where you will be competing
* You will be instructed as to which side of the table or mat you are to enter from.
* Do not step onto the mat until the referee motions you to do so!
* Sometimes you will be required to wear a different colored belt or band for scoring purposes – if they hand it to you, just put it on.
* Referee will motion you onto the mat. Most people develop an entrance ritual – some elaborate, some not so much. You will find yours. Try to not make your opponent or the referee wait five minutes for an elaborate ritual though – it’s a bit rude to hold up the match.
* Shake the referees hand. They will usually motion you to shake hands with your opponent as well – although most people automatically go to shake hands without the encouragement.
* The referee will ask if you are ready (a quick nod is an acceptable response), and then give the signal to begin the match.
* During the match, focus on breathing. Listen to your coach. Listen to the referee.
* If at any point the referee give the signal to stop, freeze right where you are. It could be that you have drifted (or flown) out-of-bounds and you need to move back into the center of your mat space. However, you do not want to lose a good position – so make sure you freeze so that the referee can reset you in the same position you were in. (bonus tip: when walking back to the center during a reset, this is a good time to make eye contact with your coach so they can give you some instruction when you are not in the heat of the moment)
* When the match has ended – be it a submission or time running out – be gracious regardless of the outcome. Straighten your uniform and return to your starting position as quickly as your wobbly legs and shaky hands can get you there (adrenaline, gotta love it). The referee will raise the hand of the winner and then usually motion for you to once again shake hands. Make sure to shake the hand of the referee again before you turn to exit the mat space. If they had you wear an extra belt or band for scoring purposes, make sure to return it.
* Check with the table worker to see if you have any more matches.

Congratulations! You made it through your first competition match! You will likely find that you feel much more exhausted than you usually do after sparring a round in class. This is normal – the adrenaline kicks up the intensity and makes you use a lot more energy than you usually would.

Random Tips:

* If you think you’ve brought enough water, bring more.
* Pack warm layers. Events are usually held in gymnasiums or arenas where you can’t count on it being a set temperature. I have to pack a couple of sweaters when I compete in Las Vegas – 110 degrees outside, but my fingers are going numb inside.
* Bring snacks. Most venues do have food available, but it is usually ball park type (hot dogs, popcorn, etc) and not really the type of food you want to be putting into your stressed out system. I recommend various fruits, trail mix, granola bars, and peanut butter.
* Honey is super useful to bring in case you are prone to blood sugar crashes under stress like I am. Also, make sure you are stocked with electrolytes as well.
* Bring an extra Gi. If your Gi rips or does not pass inspection, you will be required to quickly change or be disqualified. In a pinch you can usually purchase a new Gi at an event or find someone to borrow one from, but why take that risk?
* If you need to ask the table worker official a question, try to wait until they are not occupied with keeping score of an ongoing match.
* Headphones. I consider this to be an absolute necessity. Listen to whatever puts you in a calm, focused frame of mind. As a person who ranges from Gospel to Kpop – you’ll get no judgement from me.
* Make sure someone films your matches! I’ll just prop my phone or GoPro up on the table if no one is around to film for me. You will be thankful later! I’m still sad that I don’t have any video from my first competition.

In Conclusion:
This was a huge information dump! If anyone has any other input, or questions, please comment!

Exhibit “A”

I hope everyone in the U.S.A. has a good and safe Independence Day!

My gym is officially closed today, but it’s quite handy to have a key. I upped my water intake to two gallons yesterday and have been doing my fasted cardio every morning. I both love it and hate it. I fly out in just about 9 days to see my family in New Hampshire before we all head down to the New York Open competition – so I’ve gotta make sure I have some wiggle room in my weight since my access to gym facilities will be limited during my time with the family. (Worth It!)

My one of my best friends invited me to his rooftop firework viewing party tonight. I’m going to put on my normal person disguise and go have a bit of fun. I am so saturated every day in training that sometimes it is quite refreshing to have a few hours away from everyone I am usually around every day. Granted, I sometimes end up being the group exhibit whenever I am around people who don’t train!

It is rather funny actually. Usually it will start with an introduction like this “This is my friend Nicholle. She is amazing, does martial arts, and can kick your ass!” After that, things go one of two ways. The people become rather stiff and awkward, or they happen to be mma/martial arts fans themselves and then the discussions take off. My friend who invited me to the party tonight happens to be the type who can make anyone feel comfortable with anything (it is seriously a gift I envy!) so I predict smooth sailing tonight!

 

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

IMG_5731
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!