Building Good Training Vibes

We are almost a month into our soft opening of the new Jiu Jitsu training academy here in Nashville, TN. We have already reached our first membership goals and are able to cover the basic expenses. Marketing and advertisement has so far just been word of mouth but every person who has come to visit has commented on the vibe of the new place and how it just draws you in. I figured now would be a good time to talk about how we go about achieving that good vibe feel amidst the sweat and hard work.

The ultimate authority in the academy is where the vibe starts, and it is not always the most obvious person. It could be an instructor, manager, owner, or even some mentor who influences others from a distance. If the base authority is healthy, the gym is healthy. In the case of my academy, it is my head professor who is the academy owner and authority figure.

So, what does healthy leadership look like? It varies stylistically from individual to individual, but the results will yield committed instructors, enthusiastic students, and a low turnover rate for staffing. I’ll just use our leadership as an example and expound on a few fictional contrasts.

Cares About Students

First and foremost, if the leadership does not care about their students – you might as well write them off right out of the gate. My professor has been accused of caring too much, to the point where his other black belt students have to pull him away from trying to coach someone at a tournament who was actively trying to undermine his business. Each student is important, as are their goals. I find it rare to meet individuals who genuinely care, and I’m thankful that my professor is one of them.

Most people go into teaching Jiu Jitsu because they love the art and passing it on – there are very few people who are able to get rich teaching BJJ or running an academy. If leadership is focused all on the numbers, the students will suffer as they become just part of an assembly line.

Of course, that is not to say you can’t be an amazing leader who cares about students AND makes money, what I’m talking about is balance. When you’re dealing with people’s health and safety, you can’t be a cold machine focused on churning out numbers. Jiu Jitsu is a very personal activity, and that warmth is needed in order to keep people invested for the long term.

Goal Focused

Everyone comes to their first Jiu Jitsu class with a goal. I myself got into training because I wanted a hard physical challenge to help me get into shape. Other common goals are

  • Self-Defense (as a result of a traumatic event, or in anticipation of one)
  • Competition
  • Confidence Building
  • Trying the Unknown

There are as many goals as there are people who walk in the door. If my professor knows someone has a goal to learn self-defense because they work at a high-risk LEO job, he will give them a different perspective than someone who is into it as a sport. For example: if you’re a purple belt with the desire to compete, he will work with you until you develop the confidence to represent your belt level at the tournament you want to enter. He wouldn’t promote you before you could develop that confidence – because he would take the time to understand your individual goals. Having more high ranked students in the academy would, at a glance, look better for him as a professor but promoting students earlier than their personal goals dictate is selfish.

Willing to Have the Hard Conversations

Strong leadership is not afraid to talk openly about an issue and then take action if needed. For example: if a male black belt has a habit of sexually harassing female students, it is oftentimes brushed under the rug with the ladies made to feel they need to either suck it up or leave and never get a chance to really feel like a real part of the community. My professor had a case like this, and he took the time to gather information, various testimonies, and gave due process… and EVERYBODY deserves due process. The women should feel free to train and know they will be safe, and the men should also feel free to train and not worry that a misspoken word might get them in the hot seat.

Jiu Jitsu brings a lot of different people together under one roof. Leadership needs to be prepared for this and ready to step in when (not if) issues of harassment, discrimination, and racism pop up. Jiu Jitsu puts you in a lot of vulnerable positions as it is, so we don’t want to be worrying about these sorts of things while we are trying to focus on learning.

Takes Care of Those Invested

We love seeing new white belts come into the gym! They are our legacy and the continuation of our Jiu Jitsu heritage – but taking care of the students who are invested for the long term is key! If the focus becomes just on getting new numbers through the door without any appreciation or care for those already present, it will lead to students feeling unappreciated. I have seen so many cases of long-term loyalty being taken for granted, and that loyalty can only be pushed so far before it finally breaks.

The invested upper rank students are necessary to help keep the quality of the room high, as well as to be good examples to the new white belts when they come in for training. In a full class the instructor can’t see all of the students at once, so the upper level belts step in to help while the professor is answering questions on the other side of the mat. They also teach by example how to treat your training partners and safely execute techniques during live sparring.

Summary:

I could continue on as this is a topic of particular personal interest to me. Over the past decade plus of training I have personally seen a lot of shitty situations. Harassment of minorities, sexual coercion, abuse of power, racism, disrespect, embezzlement, and some 9th circle of hell level betrayals. However, through all of this the BJJ community always impresses me with how it keeps shining through and working to be better. It feels so good to have a place to train where it feels like family again. My personal goal is to make the path a bit less rough for those who follow after me, that’s a big part of why I write things like this (when really I prefer all sunshine and rainbows). Talking about things is the first step to making things better – if it stays in the dark, it will continue growing unchecked until the day it destroys us all.

Next Chapter: New Jiu Jitsu Academy

It has been a turbulent past few years. At the end of 2021 I had a major knee reconstruction surgery and decided that in my down time I would take charge of things and set the foundation for my comeback. After spending so long running myself into the ground physically, financially, mentally, etc. I declared 2022 to be the rebuilding year – so I would be going into 2023 in an overall healthier state.

New Academy:

I started with breaking from my old training academy, staying with my original coach of course. That’s a long story I won’t get into since I wrote about it already (Click Here for that post). It sucked so badly because I knew that change would affect more than just myself and would leave my students confused and feeling abandoned. However, I realized that whether I acted or not others were already being affected/hurt – so I may as well be an active participant instead of a powerless observer.

Since then, my coach dropped my old academy from the team affiliation and has opened up a new academy. Now those of us who prefer his teaching and training methodology can have a place to call home once again. I do feel guilt about the people I left behind who I care about, but also have to remind myself that they are (mostly all) adults capable of making their own decisions for themselves. Some of them will come to the new academy, some will stay where they are – either option is completely valid! I don’t care where people choose to train, if they are cool with me I’m cool with them.

The team has already added several new affiliate academies to our ranks in the past few months as well! I’m excited for the future of our team, and most of all getting to train again the way that I used to under my coach once more. That’s what got me from day 1 to top ranked at each belt level up through purple. I fell off on the rankings toward the end of purple belt since I wasn’t able to train full time with my coach anymore, and so many other things were changing around that time that I was clicked into survival mode long term.

There has been enough negativity over the past several years and I am just moving on and refusing to marinate in it now that I have other options. It has taken and will continue to take a lot of therapy to reach this point – but things are good now, and I don’t want to let the past overshadow the future.

I am looking forward to starting up a new Ladies BJJ program. Previously I grew one from the ground up using leftover time slots and no real support or backing. I did the marketing, lesson planning, networking, and follow ups myself. Now not only do I have enthusiastic support from my coach and his wife who own the new academy, I also have a team of experienced ladies on board to help me, and prime time training slots. No longer the afterthought!

Training:

I am finally able to train consistently again – and it feels amazing! It has been about a year and 10 months since my knee injury and I had started wondering if I was ever going to be back again. Being sidelined for so long is a major issue since Jiu Jitsu is my autism special interest – I can’t just pick something else to fill that space while I wait for the green light once again. I watched myself being migrated to the outside of the circle once again, where I spent my entire life up until I found Jiu Jitsu – and it brought back a lot of unpleasant memories/feelings.

So far I am just a little over two weeks into regular consistent training and I can already feel myself regulating and relaxing once again. I do still have to be cautious of my reconstructed knee, but I see my surgeon again on Dec 7 – that will be a year post-op and he promised to give me a final clear to compete again. So I signed up for the European Championships at the end of January. I won’t be in shape or in my regular weight class for it, but just getting on those mats again will feel so good!

Training in the new academy with all the old familiar faces just feels like a breath of fresh air – the world is as it should be again with coach and his wife as the co-owners. It is just amazing!

Autism Stuff:

About 3 weeks ago I went in to get started with my Autism assessment. Previously (10+ years ago) a diagnosis was suggested by a therapist but the process for official testing and diagnosis is very drawn out, and prohibitively expensive (several months’ worth of my then income). Drs who are able to do the official evaluation generally have long waiting lists and insurance does not usually cover the testing process.

My new job (as of the beginning of the year) offers excellent insurance that actually covers mental health testing with just a small copay. So I decided to take advantage of this and get the official testing done.

My usual preparation method for any new experience is that I will mentally rehearse every possible interaction and outcome so that I can know going into it what to do. Incidentally, this is why I don’t usually do last minute outings – since I haven’t been able to mentally prepare for all outcomes. I am not able to react appropriately on the spot, so I have learned over the years that I must spend the energy beforehand preparing all possible interactions in order to be able to connect with people in a way that gives them a favorable impression of me.

I was told I should not do this for my intake session or testing – my therapist friends told me that unfortunately they don’t evaluate you on how well you can adapt around your deficiencies. So while I don’t want to “play it up”, I also don’t want to mask and pretend to be okay with everything. The thought of not allowing myself to prepare meant the doctor got to do an intake on me completely keyed up. At the close of the intake she said, “well I don’t have to send you in for testing in order to confidently diagnose you as autistic, but we can go ahead with the testing if it’s not cost prohibitive for you.” I want the extra insight so I’m opting to do the testing process – which is scheduled for Dec 21 with a meeting with the doctor on Jan 23 to go over results.

So up until now I have operated on the premise that I am autistic, but there was just enough doubt that I put a lot of things in a mental “maybe” box… Now those maybes need to be sorted through. Realizing that growing up it wasn’t that I was stupid, or not trying hard enough to get on and fit in – it’s legit that my brain works differently, and I am disabled in that regards. Can I function in life? Absolutely I can, but it takes so much extra effort and I just want that struggle to be validated for the sake of my own mental health.

In Conclusion

Things are good and moving in a positive direction. I personally have a lot of healing to do, as does my local team, but we are all on the correct path now though and the future is bright!

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.

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.

Black Belt Promotion Quick Thoughts

Well I was promoted to my black belt yesterday.

It’s going to take some time to sink in really. The whole experience was super overwhelming and everyone else was crying so much that I haven’t had a chance to cry myself yet. It seems like I have been training all my life, and also feels like I’m just starting to learn what this thing is all about. That is one of the things that has kept me hooked for the long term, the never ending potential for learning – and I am going to keep on learning and pushing myself to be better. It has become a habit now.

I keep trying to compile a list of people to thank… But I’d have to list every person I have ever trained/competed with because each person has made an impact and helped to push me forward. So if we have ever rolled, know that you have had a part in making me who I am (for better or worse!) I’m gonna have to limit my personal thanks to those who have really acted as long-term consistent pillars in my journey.

Top of the list is my head coach, who put his stamp of approval on me and awarded me my black belt, Shawn Hammonds. If you have never met him, you wouldn’t understand how much this man genuinely cares for people. If you talk to him, he will make you feel like you are the most important person in the world. There is a reason our team grows and adds new schools without ever actively recruiting, and its because of him. I have been burnt out on living in Nashville for years, and have stuck around for this man – because he promised he would make me his first home grown (white to black) female black belt – and he delivered. Love you coach!

Master Lloyd Irvin. He and his crew have always treated me like family and welcomed me. He has always had an open door and has taught me a lot of valuable lessons when I have been able to come train with him out in Maryland. I learned about mental focus and how to push through, as well as the value of standing your ground when what you know to be true is challenged. Oh, and he’s the reason I have a killer loop choke that makes all of my team mates say “nope” if my hand gets near a lapel. I’m super proud to have him in my black belt lineage and promise to do the line proud!

Javier Arroyo really has been a constant in my journey as well. When I started training he wore the rattiest old purple belt you had ever seen. He was promoted to brown belt the same day I was given my blue belt. He loves to teach and when he sees potential and desire to improve, he does everything he can to help it grow. He has been teaching me Judo in addition to Jiu Jitsu and he is Dante’s favorite person – that alone has to count for something!

Bryan Tidwell was our brown belt fundamentals instructor when I first started training, and I think he was the first black belt promotion I witnessed. He started training at our academy under Shawn when he was (I think) 17 and will tell you that it literally saved his life. I have seen him get bored of playing side control bottom on some big dude and decide to just stand up, and he then does it. It doesn’t make sense how, but he does it. We call him “The Matrix”. Looking forward to more learning ahead!

My parents were able to come down to witness my promotion. Those outside of my family won’t know how difficult that was for them, so that alone gets me in the feels. They have always supported me and had my back, and I know how precious that is because I have many friends who do not get that kind of unconditional love and support that should be a given when it comes to family.

I’m gonna wrap this up now so I can get back to lesson planning for the week. Life continues on just like before, although I will say, it is true that black is slimming!

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)

img_0132
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.

Inconceivable!

Last week something happened that got me all kinds of riled up. I still don’t even get why someone would try to do this, but they did. This is the tale.

The Nashville IBJJF Open is coming up this weekend and everyone is doing their final prep work and weight cuts. I am one of those people who check the registration list several times a day to see if any new ladies have signed up in my division. For the longest time it was just myself, and one of my team mates. I signed up for master 1 and she signed up for adult – so we could share the love with as many people as possible in the open weight class divisions.

Finally, someone else signed up in my weight class, but in the adult division. So I just moved back to the adult division for the match up. Another lady signed up to make us three. We all know and have fought with one another before and it amazes me how hard we can work to kill each other while still being friendly.

It was looking like it would just be us three when a fourth lady signed up the day before the registration deadline, and I  was super excited (one of the guys at the gym said I was like a kid at Christmas) until one of my team mates commented. “What her? Didn’t she get her brown belt last month?

A quick look at her accounts and confirmed that she had indeed been promoted the previous month. My rage set in as I debated on what I should do. I decided to give the benefit of the doubt and waited until after the athlete correction deadline – just in case it was a paperwork or registration mistake. With that deadline past, I sent an email to the IBJJF along with screen shots and photos. Here was my closing statement:

“I hate accusations but if this is true, it is disrespectful to the other opponents in the division as well as her team, coach, and the spirit of Jiu Jitsu. If I am wrong in this accusation, I will personally apologize to “_______” and to you all for making you invest time in looking into this.”

A day later, I received a short reply thanking me for my email and to let me know they were looking into the matter. I also then heard from one of the other ladies in the division who had noticed the same thing I had. Her team head was looking into it as well.

So she ended up getting pulled from the competition. I don’t know what happened at that end of the discussion, but I don’t really care to dig into it.

Here’s what I don’t get…

There aren’t an overwhelming surplus of ladies in my area that are above blue belt. I think we have three female black belts within a 2 hour driving radius. It is a small, close knit community with good camaraderie and sportsmanship all around. I don’t understand how someone could think that we wouldn’t notice that someone was cheating. Whatever the intention, mis-representing your belt rank is cheating.

I fought a brown belt when I was a blue belt, but it was an open division and there were no shadow games going on. I will stress that I don’t care what actual belt rank someone is; I will fight whoever wants to slap hands with me. However, someone who cheats in this way, does not deserve a match.

I also can’t get over how someone would go back and put on their old belt when they spent all that time, sweat, blood, and tears to earn that new rank. It is just a piece of cloth, but the value is priceless because of what I have spent to earn it.

In case you couldn’t tell, I purposefully left the name, and team affiliation out of this post. It has been dealt with and I don’t see the point of spreading internet filth. Think of this as a “Big Sister is always watching” cautionary tale.

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.

July Japan Itinerary

It has been a very busy last few weeks! I am getting ready to compete at the IBJJF Nashville Open, and then leaving the week after that for the UAEJJF Tokyo Grand Slam event.

As of right now, I am registered for the master division at the Nashville Open. However, I have a team mate who may take over my spot and I’ll move to the adult division (I prefer it there anyhow!)

I am starting to stress a little bit over the lack of opponents signed up for the Tokyo Grand Slam. There are a good number of ladies signed up for the next weight class down, but I don’t think I could make 55 kg (121 lbs) without ending up in a hospital. A lot of jobs in Japan pay monthly at the end of the month, so I’m sure after payday there will be more people signing up! Worst case scenario, according to their guidebook purple belt ladies can be combined with the brown/black division; which would be a great opportunity for me to get a preview of things to come!

At any rate, this is my planned itinerary for the Japan trip.

July 22: Leave straight from work for the airport and catch the last flight of the day to L.A.

July 23: Depart from L.A. for Manila

July 24: Arriving in Manila in the evening, check into hotel and wander around for a few hours before passing out.

July 25: Depart Manila in the morning and arrive in Tokyo early afternoon. Check into hotel, shower, and walk around at an easy pace. Goal is to stay awake until at least 8 pm.

July 26: Take train to Kamakura, enjoy the beach and the local sights. Goal is to get enough sun to help reset my internal clock, without getting burnt.

July 27: Hike Mt. Takkao and just wander around in the mountains. Might get some Onsen action.

July 28: Weigh ins are this evening. Activity levels leading up to weigh ins will depend on how my weight is after the hiking adventure the previous day. After weigh ins, I will eat Okonomiyaki and rest.

July 29: Competition day – gonna kick some butt! After competing I will go get a Waygu beef bowl and then visit Monster Ice for some shaved ice desert.

July 30: Take train to Kawaguchiko area and check into new hostel. Explore the five lakes area and take in the scenery.

July 31: Get up early to catch the first bus to the Mt. Fuji 5th Station. Ascend at a leisurely pace and reach the summit mid-afternoon. Spend at least an hour at the summit before descending. Onsen time that evening.

August 1: Early afternoon departure flight from Tokyo to Manila. 4 hour layover before continuing on to L.A. – arriving late evening.

August 2: Flight back home to Nashville

August 3: Morning training, then back to work at my job in the afternoon. Caffeine may be required.

 

A few weeks after returning from this trip, I will be making an exciting career change. I have reactivated my Massage Therapy license and will be working out of my YMCA. I currently work at the front desk there and can’t be an employee and contractor at the same time – so I’ll be hitting the new gig full steam out the gate! My oldest nephew is planning to be visiting me around this time as well – so it will be an awesome month! So far I am planning to compete at the Master World Championships as well, but I will have to wait and see how business and finances are panning out around then.

Abu Dhabi – 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!