Musings of a New Brown Belt

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I’ve been a brown belt for almost three weeks and feel like a bit of an expert on the topic now. It’s nice to know I’m at the top of my game and practically a black belt!

In case you don’t know, that opening paragraph was hogwash, the only truth was the three weeks since I was promoted to my brown belt. The rest is fantasy.

The beauty of it, the reality is better than the fantasy.

I got into Jiu Jitsu for health and fitness reasons. What got me hooked and has kept me at it is the challenge aspect of it. If I didn’t have a hard goal to reach for, I would have quit years ago – there are much easier ways to stay in shape and be healthy.

b6c1a5ef-b702-4d0a-aa3f-2db6a666adaaIt is rather surreal though – to know that the next promotion I reach will be my black belt. That is definitely a huge goal, but it is not the finish line. Each belt promotion I have gone through, I also go through a paradigm shift – reexamining every move I make and trying to see it from a new perspective.

I’ve made it a point to go compete on a new belt as soon as possible after promotion. There is always a huge level up and the sooner I get to feel it, the better I can focus on achieving it. So the weekend after my promotion I went out and jumped in a brown/black belt division at the UAEJJF LA Grand Slam. I was destroyed, but came home super inspired. The harder the challenge, the more quickly I rise to it.

I will go to Brazil in 5 weeks for the UAEJJF Rio Grand Slam. It will be my first time visiting Brazil and I’ve been planning this trip since the beginning of the year. I am only staying a week though because I need to be back home in time for the IBJJF Nashville Open – must defend the home turf!

In closing, I just want to talk about white belt me. I was smashed every single class (for YEARS). I cried on my way home a lot. Felt alone, isolated, ignored, lost, and frequently asked myself why I was doing this. What I consider to be my best and worst quality is my stubborn streak. I just knew I had already put so much into it, that I just had to see it through.

Now: I still get smashed in class, but sometimes I get to be the one doing the smashing. I don’t cry except for the week before competing (it’s part of my mental processing). I still occasionally feel alone, isolated, etc… but I know better now. I’ve earned a martial arts family that accepts me and all my eccentricities. Thank you all!

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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 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.

Excited/Terrified: The Thin, Fine Line

I just saw the bracket for my division at the World Championships.

It added a whole new layer of realness to the past year of training and sacrifices. It just suddenly hit me.

The World Championships are this week.

Yes, I’ve know all year what I have been preparing myself for – ever since I lost the quarter finals last year by an advantage point. I got back home with the focus to correct my mistakes and win this time around.

I realized when I saw that bracket, that the feeling in my gut has been the same since I first started competing. It has been something I fight to control – the nerves.

Competition Jitters

I had debilitating competition nerves for the first few years I competed. My heart would start racing and I would have to puke if I ever just THOUGHT about an upcoming event – weeks in advance!

There was a phase where I would just immerse myself in watching a new anime series or reading science textbooks (nerd alert!) in order to keep my mind off th upcoming competition. I would have to take (probably unsafe doses of) sleeping meds in order to get to sleep at night in the weeks leading up to an event. Let’s just say, it was bad.

Then I found that if I just acted like a goofball through the whole process, it would relieve my nerves. The right music at the right time became key as well. I could listen to southern gospel, Andrea Bocelli, Broadway musicals, marching cadences, rock, and motivational speeches – depending on if I needed to chill out or hype up.

Goofball could only take me so far though. 

At the end of last year, my coaches talked with one another and determined that I was too unfocused on my matches and needed to be more mentally present with the intent to win. 

The Balance

To me, the psychological effects of being nervous, are almost identical to being extremely excited. What makes the difference is my perspective and how I handle the feelings. 

Trying to not feel any nerves made me lose my focus and intensity. This year I have made the determination to not consider nerves to be a bad thing, but a necessary tool to keep me sharp. It has been paying off.

So bring on the World Championship! I will be fighting on mat 3 on Friday, the 50th match. I’ve never been more ready, and I am pumped!

  

Competition – Boston, Atlanta, and Tokyo Plans

The past two weeks have been crazy! Awesome, but crazy!001

I flew out to Boston on August 19th and visited with my family for a few days in Amherst, NH. We did a big family portrait with my parents, sister, and my brother’s clan.

It was great to see everyone – I need to get out there more often to visit!

On the 22nd my Dad drove me to Boston to compete in the IBJJF Boston Open. After the craziness that happened last time in Boston with my weight, I made absolute certain I was at least a couple pounds under my weight limit before leaving for the venue in the morning.

Weight Class
My first match in a competition is always a bit weird. I won with a pretty good point margin but wasn’t feeling driven to go for the finish like usual (bad Nicholle!). In my second match I won by submission.

My third (and finals match) was an awesome battle! I made the huge mistake of trying a brand new move and ended up getting my guard passed and I lost on points for the silver medal in my weight class.

The Open
For my first match in the open, I had the ultra-heavy weight silver medalist. I jumped full guard and did well the first half of the match until my guard was passed and I found I was unable to move beyond just enough to prevent a position advance for my opponent. In the end, my opponent was disqualified in the last 10 seconds for stalling. I’m glad I got to advance, but I didn’t exactly win either – so I have very mixed feelings about that.

002My second match was the semi finals and I got another of the ultra-heavy weight ladies. I pulled guard straight into a sweep but was unable to stick the pass and got put into full guard. I became rather annoyed at attempts to cross choke me across my cheekbones and eyes. I got a stalling warning, stood up, passed, and had a really fun match without getting scored on and ending with a submission.

My team mate Roya won her semi finals match against yet another ultra-heavy weight, and I told our coach I wanted to give her the gold since she took gold in her division. (Plus she is awesome and I have yet to be able to score a single point on her in practice.) So I ended up with double silver in Boston!

Washington D.C.
Sunday night (the 23rd) I took an overnight bus from Boston down to Washington D.C. I can usually sleep well while traveling but had major difficulties this time so I arrived in D.C. looking a little worn with just about a 30 minute nap keeping me upright. I didn’t make it to the school in time for morning training so I watched the rest of class.
I went across the street to eat and just when my food arrived I got a call from Master Lloyd asking where I was – apparently one of my team mates was going back by the dorm house and was going to drop me off so I could sleep. Since I missed the ride, I took a nap on the mat in the back room.

Training was awesome as always and I feel like I’m improving a bit more each time I visit. One of my training partners commented that I felt more compact than I did my last visit.

Atlanta
I took a bus from D.C. to Atlanta on the 28th (Friday). It was a stinking looooooong ride of 14+ hours but I can’t really complain too much since the ticket cost me less than $30! (Megabus has revolutionized my travel budget!)

Made it to my hotel a little bit before midnight and crashed out until I had to check out and head to the venue at 9. My division was set to start at 10:40 but ended up being called 30 minutes early. My warm up consisted of slapping my face once at the side of the mat and running out there.

Weight Class
I had a training injury limiting my normal levels of mobility, so I opted to jump full guard. The match went for several minutes before I managed to get a submission.

My second match was won by submission but I can’t remember how it went and my video malfunctioned… so that will just have to be a mystery!

Third match was the finals against a friend of mine and it was shaping up to be a fun dynamic match until her hip dislocated while I was working a straight ankle lock. Apparently it happens frequently so she will be fine after a few days of soreness – but it sucked!

So yea, gold in my weight class.

Open Weight
My first match was pretty tough and went to a decision. I played guard the whole time but was dynamic enough that I won the decision to advance.

003My second match was possibly one of my favorites of the day. My training injury was really starting to cause me problems so I resorted to rubber guard control and ended up winning by submission with a bent elbow arm bar (yes, it looked as weird as it sounds).

My third match was the finals and I went with the weirdest guard pull/sweep thing I think I’ve done in competition to date. I ended up on top of deep half guard with the under hook. I ended finishing with a wrist lock which surprised and confused my opponent since she had been told wrist locks were not legal moves.

Gold in the Open!

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Home Again!
It was so good to get back home to Nashville! I miss my home crew and awesome coach, Shawn Hammonds, whenever I am gone for more than a few days. I have just a few more days to enjoy them all before I leave on September 8th for Japan.

One of my clients bartered a package deal in exchange for the plane ticket to Tokyo. He and his wife are pretty much set for their next year’s worth of massage appointments – and it’s totally worth it!

I will arrive in Tokyo on the 9th and have already reserved a portable wifi unit so I can stay connected with my instagram account while I am exploring. Okay, and so that I can look up google maps when I get lost (which WILL happen!)

I booked myself a stay in a well reviewed capsule hotel which includes a bicycle rental. It also has free (consistent) wifi, a ladies only floor with traditional Japanese bath, a rooftop terrace, easy access to metro and food places, as well as a free vending machine that dispenses coffee, tea, and miso soup! Oh yea, and only $20 a day!

On the 10th I have been granted a tour of the Imperial Palace after which I plan to visit the Kodokan Museum and watch a Judo class there. I won’t be able to participate since not only do I not have an official judo gi, I will be competing on the 12th and would rather not have any extra sore spots if necessary.

The 12th is the Pan Asian Championships in a northern area of Tokyo. I currently have a division of 4 and am crossing my fingers for some more last minute sign ups! Feather weights and under outnumber the light weights and up by almost a 2:1 ratio – so I get to be one of the big she-hulk beasts in the open!

On the 13th I will be climbing to the summit of Mt. Fuji. It’s a non-technical climb which means no ropes will be needed. The climb just requires lots of stamina and cardio endurance as it’s a long uphill hike through rapidly thinning air (12,388 ft or 2.34 miles above sea level). Incidentally there is also a ramen shop at the summit along with a post office. I am going to mail a few postcards from the top once I make it up there, after slurping some high altitude ramen!

On the 15th I have tickets to the Sumo National Championship Tournament.I actually booked this through a tour company so I will get to have the walk through and an explanation of all the ceremony involved.

I fly home on the afternoon of the 16th so I plan to eat one (or 5) last meals before heading for the airport.

If anyone has any suggestions of things to do while I am there, please share! I’ve got a check list of things to do (and things to eat!) and will most definitely be taking a TON of photos and videos. I probably will not be spending too much time writing blog posts while I am there, but I may do some photo and/or video blogs!

Sayonara!

Bend or Break?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

14 days until I leave for Jiu Jitsu World Championships! 

Current weight: 130.8 (goal 126.5)

I Think I Have A Problem…

Hi.
My name is Nicholle.
I am addicted to Jiu Jitsu competition.

Now while you’re planning my intervention, let me tell you my tale…

My First Time

I didn’t want to try it. Honest! But all my team mates were doing it, and I just wanted to fit in and be accepted as part of the group. I just figured, what harm could one try do? So I put my money on the table, signed the “I will not sue you if I die” paper, stepped on the scale for the first time, then found a corner to shake and wait in.

Not gonna lie, the first time was terrifying.

With barely a smudge of sweat build up on my brand new, snow white belt, I got pitted against a blue belt twice my size. Somewhere in the middle of trying to support her in the air using just my foot in her hip, I thought to myself “This is crazy! What am I doing?” I remember my team mates yelling “Sweep! Sweep!” and myself thinking “What’s a sweep?”

When it was all over with, I was exhausted and thinking to myself how crazy the whole experience was.

Funny thing though. After it was done; I ended up winning a match, earning my first medal, going out to eat with my team mates for a victory dinner, and finding myself wanting to do it again. I wanted to learn what this magical “sweep” that I could have won the match with was – I wanted to do better!

Today

I look back on my first competition experience and am so glad I gave it a try! The friends I have made in the past three years competing have made the journey worthwhile just by themselves!

Other than all the awesome people I have met, I’ve gotten to visit some amazing places in my quest for expanding my competition horizons! I’ve competed from Los Angeles to New York, and even went to Portugal twice! I hope to make it out to Japan next year!

I’ve never thought of myself as a competitive person. I still don’t really. I just want to know how far I can go when I push myself. The beauty of it is that there will always be the “next!” factor at play. Win or lose, before I even leave the event space, I’m already thinking about my next goal.

The community I have become a part of fuels me. Any place in the world I go, I can find a mat to step on, and all language and cultural boundaries fall away and I am immediately among family.

My team is an awesome support group. We are a big crazy family and even coming from all different walks of life, we have a common cause of improving and learning every class. Police officers, convicts, lawyers, personal trainers, stay at home moms, chefs, doctors… We are all under one roof and coexisting! Bad days and breakdowns are forgiven and forgotten. It’s very freeing!

In Conclusion

I would like to request that you cancel plans for my intervention. I think some things are worth being addicted to.