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!

Team Training, Pans, and Abu Dhabi


This weekend we had our annual team training session! Hundreds of people were in attendance, 40-something black belts, and 30+ women!

Ladies Crew
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With Ann-Marie Burnitt
The highlight of the day for me, was getting to see my friend Omar receive his black belt. I’ve learned a lot of my guard game from him over the years and he has been sneaking his training in around med school.

During the rolling portion of the day, I spent most of the time sparring with our out-of-state black belts and then getting attacked by our kids. Little flying squirrels of fury! It’s great being a part of the group! Team training also marks one year since I was given my purple belt by coach!

The Pans Championship is just around the corner and I am very excited to be going out there once again! I’ve had to change up my diet the past few weeks in order to work my way back down to the light weight division. I spent the last year in the middle weight division but I am ready to be light again. The Abu Dhabi World Pro is coming up as well, and I registered for the 62 kg division. I found a super good deal for a flight to Dubai and will be able to purchase it once my income tax rebate comes through.

The Training/Work

Currently what I am doing is heading to the gym early, getting an extra hour of drilling work or cardio in before taking our morning training class. After class I have about 10 minutes to get off the mat and on my way to work. I work the afternoon and get off just in time for the evening sparring class. I have also started helping out with the intro class held just after the sparring class. The intro class is very good because when I’m asked questions, it forces me think about the principles behind the movements.

After this week is over, my hours are dropping substantially at work. I am not looking forward to the drop in pay, but on the bright side, I will have all day Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday to get extra training sessions in. I have started teaching private lessons periodically as well, so that will leave more time to expand my availability for that!

The Musings

My instructor has told me that, at this point in my Jiu Jitsu journey, I have a solid foundation of basics without too many gaping holes in my game. Now it’s just a matter of practice, fine tuning, and mat time. Taking that to heart, I have been observing my own rolling sessions in the gym. Winning in the gym isn’t the goal – betterment is. So I am watching my training partners to see what they are doing that is giving me trouble. If I know what it is they are doing to shut down my game, I should be able to figure out how to adjust for it. If I can’t figure it out, I bring the problem to my instructor and he shows me a simple adjustment that fixes it.

That being said, I’m ready to bring on the competition. What I have to do is take what I have been doing and learning, light the fire under it, and bring the heat.

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!

 

Training Partner Profiles – Categories

I’m starting a series of Training Partner Profiles where I’ll go over the types of training partners I run into at the gym, and how I work with them to achieve benefit for both of us! I’m going to start off explaining how I categorize everyone I roll with. These categories are fluid and I mentally move people around in them as I observe changes in behavior and training habits.

And yes, I know I am not the perfect training partner. If you ask 100 people who I have rolled with where they would classify me, I’m sure the results would put me into every category. It seems cold and calculating I suppose to assign people a category, but that’s how my brain works.

Category Definition:Moral-Question

Golden List: Ideal training partners!
I perk up when I see these special people in class. It could be the prospect of a good toe to toe battle, learning a new trick, or the smack talk during a roll; but they are the people I gravitate toward when partners are chosen.

White List: Good training partners for a good roll!
The majority of people are in this category. These are the people with whom I don’t feel any hesitation to bump fists with. The vast majority of my team mates are a part of this list.

Gray List: Okay to drill and roll with defensively.
The big thing that is involved here is usually the almighty Ego. They will roll nice until I start trying to attack and then they go into “hulk smash” mode (not in a good way!) – usually resulting in sprained fingers, bruised ribs, etc. This could also be a newer person who doesn’t know the proper way to move resulting in me having to pay close attention to keep both of us safe.
I can still have a good roll with them if I focus on defensive tactics only. I’m not at a size or skill level where I can help beat the ego out of them, so I will use this opportunity to practice my survival skills.

Black List: Do not roll with under any circumstances. Use caution with drilling.
This is usually a very short list and usually just a transitory placement. These are the people whom I feel will injure me beyond having a sore spot or a bruise the next morning. My first year of training I suffered many injuries that were due to rolling with people I should not have. It is very rare this is due to any maliciousness or ill intent! Most often I think it is due to a lack of experience and poor body control.

Over the next few posts, I will go over:

The Big New White Belt

Your Twin

The Spaz

The Upper Belt

The Lower Belt

The Judoka or Wrestler

The One Trick Kid

I will likely add more, this is just what I have in my head at this very moment!

The Patch Dilemma

I really don’t like patches on my gi. Maybe it’s because I like to fly under the radar and be invisible, but I just don’t like them. Growing up, I preferred to wear black, long sleeved Tshirts with no markings on them – and I still prefer darker less noticeable clothing.

However, there are a lot of people who have invested in me and in my training. I want people to know who has helped me with my achievements I have reached so far! So here are the patches I currently have on my competition Gis, along with why.

Team Patches

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Firstly, I always wear my coach’s patch on my back. My coach, Shawn Hammonds, has taught me since the first day I stepped on the mat and I fully intend to some day receive my black belt from him.
I have only have one TAC Team affiliation patch that I swiped from the office and I currently have it on the front of a white competition gi. I’ve moved it between a couple different gis and really need to get some more if I ever make it to Philly again!

 

Sponsor Patches

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I have been proud to represent and support Raijin Fight Wear since I was just a two stripe white belt! I was brand new then, and so were they. They seemed different than all the other start up companies in their designs, quality, and vision for the future and I wanted to be a part of their growth! Some days when I need a little extra push, knowing they are backing me up has been just what I needed! I always will be wearing their patch, rashguard, and/or super secret still-in-development Gi. “Respect All. Fear None.”

 

“Just Because” Patches

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All of the photographers I have had opportunity to meet during events are just amazing! I always try to support by buying photos whenever I can. I won a photo package offered by Mike Calimbas and I just decided I would keep his patches on my comp Gis because of his awesomeness!

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Girl-Jitsu has been an amazing supporter for ladies Jiu Jitsu and I really want to see them grow over the next few years!

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Scar Tissue MMA makes an appearance as well. They are a local company that has been growing and has been very supportive of my school as a whole, even helping out with fundraisers and designing a team gi for us.

In Summary…

I’ve been neglecting my writing as of late because I’ve been focusing all of my energy on getting ready for Pan Ams. It’s officially one week away so I’m going to summarize what has gone on the last few weeks.

San Francisco Open

My flight left at 5 pm and was supposed to get in at 11:00 Saturday night, but my connecting flight got delayed at the gate for about 2 hours due to weather conditions. I finally got in just after 1 am and got picked up from the airport by a friend. Got to sleep from 2:00 am until 6:30 am because I had to be at the venue at 8:00 since I was working the event.

Honestly, I felt like poop about an hour in. I had been sick and not able to keep any food in my system for about 3 days – if it were a local tournament that I hadn’t already bought a plane ticket for, I probably would have pulled out of it. But hey, once I’ve put money on something – I’m gonna do it.

I had a division of six, needing three wins for gold.

My first match was a great fight! She pulled guard first so I got to work my passing game – which judging by the video needs some work. I made it past and got points, but it wasn’t pretty looking at all… Kind of like a fish flopping around out of the water really. I ended up winning by points, not able to finish the triangle I had her in before time was called.

My second opponent didn’t make weight so that put me into the finals.

That first match took my last bit of energy. I stepped off the mat and noticed my hands and feet were blotched purple. That’s the first time I’ve ever prayed for more recovery time than required. I got my wish since I had to wait for the other side of the bracket to finish up then give my opponent her appropriate wait time as well.

Finals match: I started off well. Up on points, but then made a mistake, and got triangled. So ended up with a silver in my division. I was actually fairly happy with that. I wanted to quit, but I didn’t. If I can do that well when feeling that bad, imagine how I’ll do at Pans when I’m healthy!

The Open:

I started feeling progressively worse during the course of the day, I think my b12 shot was wearing off, so I was very close to dropping out of the open. About 30 mins before, I thought to myself:

“I came all this way, and have put in my time for this. I can choose to push when I wanna quit, or I can trust in the training I have had up until this point to carry me.”

So yea, I did the open.

I can’t remember exactly how many of us there were, but I think we had 6-8. I won my first match against a very tall girl by straight ankle lock. I was pretty happy that I remembered a sweep my coach had shown me on Friday. I wasn’t able to finish it, but it gave me the ankle lock set up.

I kinda fell over after that match, but it was able to recover in time for my semi match. Great match and loved the battle! I lost in the end, but was still happy since I lost to a friend who went on to win gold. Bittersweet ya know.

Nashville NAGA (Jan 22)

I decided at the very last minute to compete at the Nashville NAGA. Coach told me to enter the expert division. I did the no gi division first and here is the video

There were only two of us in No Gi unfortunately. But I got my first belt!

I did have a different opponent for Gi, but she pulled out after my No Gi match. They moved me back down to the intermediate level with the rest of the blue belts for the Gi divisions. I got more tired than I’d like to admit, but I managed to pull off another gold.

We had 6 ladies competing from our school that day and brought home 5 golds, one silver, and one bronze. Shannon won double gold in the white belt fly weight Gi and No Gi divisions with 5 matches total. It was a good day!

Outro:

That’s the highlights for the last few weeks. I’ll probably crawl out of my meditative hole before Pans to post on my competition preparation – but might not. I really have to keep my mind clutter free right now.

Sunday Fun Day

Finally wrapping up an immensely full day!

Did circuit training this morning and it was a blast! It used to be just myself and Ruth, but a few of the other ladies have started joining in on the action.

Here’s the video we made today. I edited it down a bit, but it was a 6 minute circuit repeated 3 times. Coach wants us working up to 5 rounds with a one minute rest.

I’ve come to the determination after watching myself on film that I some odd speech mannerisms. I’m totally gonna rock it though!

I’m going to talk with coach tomorrow about creating a time slot for this circuit training other than just on Sunday. Maybe Tuesday and Thursday evenings methinks?

Video Shoot
We did filming after circuits for the upcoming “Move of The Week” video series. Now just gotta wait for the intro to be completed so I can get that rolling!

And Now For Something Completely Different…
I spent the rest of the day designing a webpage for a local business. I got it all done and they were quite thrilled with it, and I get paid tomorrow! Yayness!

Grocery Shopping
I’m not cutting weight anymore, but can’t bring myself to junk out. I just stocked up on poultry, eggs, and some açai bowl fixings. On that note I close this blog post. My blender is calling!

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Hello 2014!!!!

New year, and new look for my blog!

I started my year off with circuit training followed by an hour of drilling the morning of the 1st. Did three massages, and then another circuit. Oh, and I did a cool video of it!

Kudos to you if you watched the whole thing!

My awesome sponsors at Raijin Fightwear liked this video so much that they have requested I start a “move of the week” video series. I’ll be filming some of that this Sunday after circuit training – They are even designing me a cool custom video intro! I’m so excited to get started with that! I am of course just a blue belt, so I definitely still have a lot to learn – but I have learned some good things in the last two years that are worth sharing.

Weight Cutting:
I’m in the process of cutting down to feather weight. I did 2013 at light weight, walking around at about 145 and cutting to 138 for competitions. It was recommended to me that I try feather based on my body size. Currently I’m weighing in at 130 and am shooting for 126 to make 129 in my Gi. Coach says I am pretty close to my limit of what my body will allow me to do, so it’s slow going at this time. I’ll probably post more about this later (maybe a few angry posts).

Ladies Team:
I love my ladies team! It’s slowly starting to pick up a bit, and I am now teaching a Saturday morning class as well as the Friday evening one. Coach says he will eventually have me take over the program – I’m being groomed it appears. I’m very excited that this year we have a confirmed 4 ladies from our school going to the Pan Ams, as opposed to last year being just me.

Training:
I’ve been drilling a lot lately – one good thing about the ladies is that they love to drill! Getting in at least an hour a day on top of class time.
I’m finally starting to feel competent as a blue belt, it took me a few months to get in the swing of it but I’m good now!

Competition:
My first competition of the year will be the IBJJF San Francisco Open on Feb 9. It will be my debut as a featherweight. It’s a bit of a distance to travel, but since the Chicago tournament falls after Pan Ams this year, this is my chance to test my new weight class out before Pans.
NAGA is going to be in Nashville on Feb 22nd so I think I’ll try out the expert and intermediate divisions if they will let me do both – otherwise I may just go to coach and save the money for my Pan Ams trip.

Hmmm I think that is about it for now. I’ll probably think up some other things to say tomorrow. It’s almost drilling time again!

Team Training Day

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I went to Philadelphia with my coach over the weekend for TAC Team training day. I rode up with 4 black belts, so I had the option of the middle seat, or in the back with the luggage – I chose to make a nest in the duffel bags. We only stopped a few times to fill up the gas tank – it was a bit cramped, but I slept most of the way – so not too bad!

We arrived Friday night about an hour before team training class, so we checked in to the hotel, and then headed over to the school. It felt good to move around after being curled up for 11 hours. It was pretty informal, no timer. So I flow rolled a warm up with one of our black belts, then went with a white belt, and then tried out one of Jared’s brown belts.

Team training was on Saturday. We had 20 black belts, and a grand total of about 100 people. We began with a few awards, then there were a ton of belt promotions.

We rolled 6 minute rounds, while alternating between brown/purple/black belts and white/blue belts on the mats. I got to roll with two blue belt girls, and 2 white belt girls. After training was over, I went out with a group to watch the UFC 163 at a local bar.

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We are about to start a fight camp for a few of the guys – and it looks like a girl will be coming in to train as well for a title fight. Therefore, I’ll get to help out with the fight camp and I’m so excited!

This Saturday is the 2nd Ladies Open Mat that here in Nashville and I am stoked! I’m expecting a good sized group – thankfully a friend has picked up the marketing slack (my Achilles heel), and has been calling around to notify schools. (You rock Sara!)

Next weekend is the IBJJF Chicago Open. My coach is working with my deep half guard bottom attacks/sweeps – Hopefully I can whip out something cool! It’s going to be my first big tournament as a blue belt, and I am absolutely stoked to have 8 people in my division! Looks like I’ll be competing in Gi on the 17th, and no Gi on the 18th. I’m riding up with two team mates who both get off work late on Friday, so we decided to just leave late Friday night, drive through the night straight to the venue. I’ll be the only person competing on Saturday, so I can sleep on the way. We have a nice hotel downtown booked for Saturday night.

August 31st is the Atlanta Open – and my coach wants to take a huge team to it.

September 28th is No Gi Pan Ams – Not sure if anyone other than myself is planning to attend

October 20th is Abu Dhabi Pro Trials – totally going to that one!

November 6 – 13 is a Ladies Training Camp in Mexico with Mackenzie Dern, I’m getting my registration taken care of in the next day or two!

So far nothing planned after that until the European Open in January. Might have December off from events!

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Additional side note: I’m trying to nail down a date to bring back the “Music City Open” Jiu Jitsu Tournament. Coach says we used to run it twice a year and it did very well – no idea why they stopped putting it on, but coach and I are gonna bring it back!

I Almost Tapped Who!?

Well yesterday I received a bit of a chiding for just “horsing around” when rolling. And I realized, it was perfectly deserved. I’m getting ready for the Chicago Open, coming up in just 3 weeks, and I just hadn’t flipped that switch to killer mode yet.

I made up for it today.

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Yea. That was me. A little creepy and reaaaaally twisted.

I’ve started getting into foot lock battles with one of our white belts (hi Andrew!) We go for it, then we both pause and compare our “catches.” Toe hold beats straight ankle lock, heel hook beats everything. No pressure is ever applied, we just acknowledge whose leg/foot would break first, let go, and move on. It’s a fun game!

I did really turn up my aggressiveness today at our sparring class thanks to counterpart “Nichole”. Since I am “Nicholle”, together we are “Team N Squared”. After gi class I decided to do the no gi class.

No Gi class was fun! Worked some knee on belly options then rolled a bit. Class was led by one of our purple belts – who, aside from coach, probably has had the biggest influence on my game thus far. I rolled a couple rounds with him and got a surprise triangle that he “almost” tapped to. I think I may have a permanent indentation of the back of his neck in my left calf muscle! Almost, but not quite… He showed me after class what I could have done to finish it. Next time!

Man it was a full day! Here was my schedule:
8:30 am – bike to gym
9:00 am – Muy Thai private lesson (1hr)
10:30 am – 60 min deep tissue massage
11:30 am – Advanced Gi class (1hr)
1:30 pm – circuits (30 mins)
3:00 pm – 90 min deep tissue massage
5:00 pm – Gi Sparring (1hr)
6:00 pm – No Gi class (1hr)
8:00 pm – bike home and write this up on my iPhone using my impressive array of finger muscles!

Tomorrow will be lighter. Here’s my plan so far:
9:30 am – bike to gym
10:00 am – open mat sparring (60-90 mins)
11:30 am – advanced Gi class
2:00 pm – 60 min massage
5:00 pm – sparring (1hr)
6:00 pm – ladies BJJ (1hr)
7:30 ish pm – lock up gym and bike home

Since it’s a lighter day, I’ll probably bring my dog, Dante, with me. He rides in my backpack and is very well behaved. During class he sits on a chair and watches, otherwise he’s hanging up front and mooching attention off of everyone.

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