Wednesday, December 30, 2015

One Year (almost)

I started officially training in Judo and Brazilian Jiu Jitsu last January.

I'm not sure of the exact date, and I had received a more than adequate introduction to it from my friends long before I made it official, so I'm saying it's been "about a year."  One training buddy in particular was drilling his own material with me on a regular basis for months before, although I won't pretend I understood much of what he was doing to me, only that it was awesome and the skills I had learned in many intense years of JSD training were useless against him once we were on the ground.

I still do JSD, but roughly 4 days per week, I'm doing this now:

It's sweaty.  It's gross.  It's difficult and often painful.  It requires all of my physical and mental effort, and I leave feeling absolutely exhausted.

It's also the most fun I've ever had on a regular basis.  And it's very, very addictive.

This last year, I've trained there at least 150 hours. But between those hours actually spent in the school, on the mats, I've watched countless videos, read countless books and articles, spent countless hours with the guru and other friends discussing or drilling outside of class.  And despite all of that learning, all of that work, I still feel like I've only begun to scratch the surface of all there is to learn and master.

It's easy to see why it takes an average of 10-12 years to get a black belt in BJJ.

With one of those years behind me now, and 3 stripes on my belt, I feel like I know enough to comfortably introduce a new student to a few important concepts or moves, but I wouldn't venture beyond that.  And when I learn something new in a class or seminar, it still takes a ridiculous amount of repetition (and writing it down in my notebook) for me to retain it, let alone remember the steps and use it when free-rolling.

I've been at this long enough to develop a few habits when free-rolling, which are hopefully good habits, but will no doubt change as I learn more and expand my repertoire.  Right now, my top game consists of getting to side control or kesa gatame, going for an armbar or to mount, and then an arm triangle choke.  My bottom game is about defense and survival.  If I can get my partner in my guard, I wrap an arm, grab the opposite lapel and go for a choke or armbar.  I've given up on the triangle choke for now - it wasn't working and I just wound up getting passed.  I'll revisit it when I'm better. I've experimented with a few sweeps, but they're still clumsy and I haven't mastered the timing of them.  I'm starting to work on standing guard passes, but again, they are clumsy and ill-timed.

It all needs work, and I'm not especially patient with myself, but when I line up now, I'm in the middle of the pack, and I know I'm improving when I roll with a newer person, especially if we're close to the same size.  Of course, just about no one there IS my same size.  I'm 123 pounds, and the biggest compliment I get there right now is, "Wow, you feel really heavy tonight!" When I roll with one of the prepubescent kids and can toss him around without a care, even with his full weight on me, I know what it feels like for 90% of the adults who roll with me.  I've resigned myself to the fact that, just like at JSD, I have to work 10x harder to get the same results.  At BJJ, to make up for the fact that I am smaller and weaker, I need to be that much more technical.  I have to know it, and know it well, because I can't rely on size, muscle or athleticism.

Fortunately, I have coaches, including my wonderful GirlCoach, who understand this and are incredibly supportive and encouraging.  And there are several others (in addition to the Girl Coach) who are smaller than their usual training partners but who hold their own nonetheless. These are the people who inspire me because they show me what technique can accomplish against bigger and stronger opponents.

I still feel like a newbie, but in many ways, I've come so far in the last year.  Glad I decided to take the plunge a year ago and commit to this new challenge.  It's already changed me in so many ways, and introduced me to so many wonderful people.  I'm looking forward to the coming year.

Monday, December 14, 2015

It's December...

... and as always, I'm in Christmas Denial.

The fact that it's been in the mid 60s doesn't really help, although I did take advantage of the lovely weather and plan to get a tree and put some outdoor lights on and around the house while it's still warm.

Some people go nuts over Christmas and really enjoy all the decorating and baking and shopping.  I (and I suspect Savageman as well) find it all a bit overwhelming.  I can do it in a super-intensive burst of cleaning/decorating/shopping frenzy for a day or two, but it's not sustainable over a longer period than that.  And I'm already juggling about all I can comfortably juggle, without giving up my decompression time.

I'm a creature of habit.  I get up at 6:40, get the kids off to school, have my coffee, do a little bit of necessary house stuff, and then I'm off to work or karate.  I come home in the afternoon, do a little more house / cooking stuff and take a quick power nap right before the kids arrive home from school.  I chase Little down to get his homework done. We pack up and head to BJJ/Judo, where I either stay and train, or drop Little off and head to JSD to train there.  After an hour or two of martial arts, it's home, food, watch an episode of something on Netflix and see the boys off to bed.  Savageman and I watch another episode of something while the laundry is running and go to bed ourselves, usually around 12:30.  After a measly 6 hours of sleep, I get up and do the whole thing again.

Fitting anything extra in there requires either 1) time on the weekend or 2) a day (like today) I'm not scheduled to work.  Lately, work has been plentiful. Sundays are my one day to sleep in, do some larger housework, and then I take off for two and a half hours of Judo / BJJ, do the grocery shopping for the week, and have dinner with my parents, followed by a final homework check and bedtime routine.  Yesterday, I added a morning open mat, and went for a run.

Today I finally have a day off, but I'm still hanging around the house.  I have a Crazy Person Eye Twitch which is driving me nuts.  It's been years since this has happened, and I wonder if it has to do with all the extra exercise yesterday, or maybe my neck needs to be adjusted, or I'm tired, or dehydrated.... in any case, it's making me cranky and not interested in shopping, which is already just about my least favorite thing.  I'm on the couch, drinking coffee, blogging, mainlining Gracie Breakdowns on YouTube, and researching Eye Twitch remedies.  The one thing the Interwebs seem to agree on is "Cut Back on Caffeine." Did I mention I'm drinking coffee?

I know I need to clean, decorate, shop.  My mother stopped by this morning and, as always at this time of year, she's a tornado of Christmas Prep Energy.  In my head, my eyes are squeezed shut, my fingers are in my ears and I'm chanting LALALALALALALALALALA at the mention of Christmas.  Maybe my fierce denial is manifesting itself in the form of my Crazy Person Eye Twitch.  In any case, my one day this week to get shit done is quickly slipping away.

Sigh... let's face it.  I don't Girl well.  I can't even shop for myself, let alone other people.  Savageman is the brilliant gift giver, the one who sees a shopping trip as a magnificent treasure hunt, who returns triumphant with wonderful finds that are both practical and creative.  And he's been working 10 hour days, plus going to the gym 6 days / week.

Meh, I need to go do this.  The kids will be home from school soon.

Twitch.  Twitchtwich....

Thursday, December 03, 2015

Cool BJJ Stuff: Triple Threat

We've been working on this for the last few weeks at BJJ.  It's fun, and it gives a taste of both the simplicity, and the complexity of what this art has to offer. Having so many tools in my collection is a challenge when quick decisions are not my strongest skill, but it's training me to think faster and giving me an opportunity to experiment and learn in real time with a resisting partner.

Sunday, November 29, 2015

The Gratitude Post

So, it's Thanksgiving Weekend and I've let my NaBloPoMo goal of writing every day slip, but I would be remiss if I didn't at least include a Gratitude Post to honor the season.

So here we go.

First is, of course, my home and family.  Never boring, especially now that our Eldest (I can't call him the Teen since he's 20 now) has decided college wasn't for him and has (sort of) moved back home.  But he's employed and generally happy and in the process of figuring out who he is and what he'd like to do with his life, so I'm grateful for progress in this direction.  Middle is as driven as ever, in his Junior year, taking the Smart Kid classes and kicking butt at them while also juggling Rugby, lifting, the martial arts demo team, and busing tables at a restaurant.  He's not kidding around with the schools and majors he's investigating, and I'm hoping there will be scholarship money so we can afford whatever he chooses.  Grateful for his work ethic and the good example he's setting for Little.  Little, not so little anymore, is as tall as I am, but still easygoing and sweet and starting to get his act together at school.  He plays the trumpet (reluctantly) and spends 3-4 nights per week training in judo / jiu-jitsu.  Grateful for the special bond we've had this last year traveling to and from classes and tournaments together, and for the BJJ friends we now share.  My parents are happy and healthy and enjoying their retirement years.  We still have dinner every Sunday night with them, and they continue to help with anything we need.

And of course, there's Savageman, who is currently massaging my feet and sore calves on the couch while I write and we binge Jessica Jones on Netflix.  Grateful for peace and unity in our marriage, for enjoyable time getting ready for work together in the morning and decompressing together at the end of the day, and of course for his friendship and his support of my athletic endeavors, even when they inconvenience him. While he draws the line at allowing me to use his body for jiu-jitsu practice, he is good about listening to my stories of triumph and frustration, and tending to my aches and injuries. In the last year or two, we've come together on the larger parenting issues and have renegotiated our own expectations and boundaries with each other.  We are warm and funny and affectionate together, fiercely protective of each other, and vocal about how grateful we are for each other. This last year of marriage has reminded me of why I chose him, and continue to choose him, every day.  So, so grateful to be married to my best friend in the world.

Grateful also for meaningful work - while he's doing his development job, I'm either doing neuropsych evaluations, teaching and learning karate, or managing the household.  In the last few years, my work hours have been more regular, my position at the neuropsych practice more secure.  I enjoy my days meeting with patients, doing their evaluations, and I feel valued and appreciated there.  On my days off, as a sabumnim at the dojang, I'm grateful to be teaching and mentoring both children and adults.  I am finally enjoying the opportunity to really pay forward some of the amazing instruction I was privileged enough to have.

In the evenings, I am grateful this year to have not just one, but two places to train.  Some nights, I'm at the dojang for cardio kickboxing and bonding time with my close friend and cardio partner, other nights, I'm at BJJ / Judo, helping with kids' class, or taking a combination of BJJ / Judo adult classes or open mats.  So, so grateful for this new challenge in my life that stretches me mentally and kicks my butt physically.  Grateful as well for the mentors, coaches and training partners who have invested their time in helping me improve, and who have cheered on my progress.  Grateful for opportunities to learn outside of class from books, seminars, videos, and of course, the Guru, who once again just gave me a day of his weekend home from school.  Grateful for his friendship and all he has taught me in both JSD and BJJ over the past 3+ years. He has shown me the difference that one person can make, and his investment of time and attention in mentoring me over the years has transformed me in too many ways to count.

Grateful for my other friends as well, both new and old.  Quality over quantity has been key this year, as I've needed to be more selective with regard to where I direct my limited time and energy. Knowing when to simply walk away from the ones who thrive on drama and negativity and focus on the ones who cheer and encourage and celebrate each others' progress is a lesson that continues to present itself, but each time I make a decision to step back from a person or situation that distracts me from my own goals and emotional well-being, it is easier to do. Very grateful for the amazing and diverse assortment of friends with whom I connect on a daily or weekly basis who are upbeat and determined in the face of challenges and who inspire the same in me.  The competitive nature of BJJ breeds this attitude, it seems.  Getting your butt kicked day in and day out as a white belt for 1-2 years is extraordinarily humbling, and those who persevere through this and respond by learning more and training harder survive, while the others wash out early.  What you're left with is a culture of people who thrive on patiently working to overcome challenges and who encourage those around them to do the same.  BJJ is as honest a sport as you can ever find.  There's no faking it, no relying on your teammates, it's just you and your opponent fighting to the point of tap, snap or nap.  You win, or you learn.  It's that simple. Grateful for the opportunity to train in such brutal honesty, for the genuinely positive people it has brought into my life, and for that same spirit in the other friends with whom I have surrounded myself.  Understanding the difference and refusing to stress myself over pleasing people who can't be pleased has made such a change in the quality of my life.

I am also grateful for a healthy body and quality food to eat.  It has been almost 3 years since I have gone gluten-free / Paleo and the change in my body, my mind, and my emotional health is astounding.  There is concern that the Eldest has celiac and will need to do the same. It explains a lot, about both of us. I hope he is able to make this simple, but life-altering change to his diet, if this does turn out to be the case for him.  Now that I know how good it feels, I never want to go back. Feasting on meat, poultry, fish, eggs, fruits, veggies, nuts, healthy fats (and of course dark chocolate and red wine) has given me so much pleasure, and has taught me to love my body and take its needs seriously.  I feel strong and beautiful, slim and muscular.  I enjoy seeing myself in the mirror and am insanely proud of the work I have done to build such an attractive weapon.  I love when my husband admires the results, which he does regularly. It's not about being vain or superficial; I didn't do this to impress anyone else or to look better than anyone else.  But I love what I've created, pure and simple, and the things it took to get here - martial arts and Paleo eating - are two of the most pleasurable activities in my life.  Grateful, grateful, grateful for all they have done for me.

There's more of course, but these are the main ones that came to mind today.  Grateful to have had several hours to sit and meditate on all that is good in my world in November of 2015, and for this blog where I could record it all.

Monday, November 16, 2015

Three Stripes

As I'm sure I've mentioned before, we don't test for promotions at BJJ.

Moving up in rank is determined by 3 things: amount of time spent in your current rank, number of classes in your current rank, and demonstration of improvement appropriate to justify a position in the newer rank.

The only one of these things that is easy to see is the number of classes.  My last two promotions occurred just after reaching the attendance milestones.  When I reached it this time, I will admit this was me for a few weeks:

At some point, I realized - I'm not going to get promoted just because I've been coming to a lot of classes.  Something in my game needs to change.  I decided to stop even looking at my attendance number and just get back to work.

Starting to work on my top game was a help, and learning a few new submissions was perhaps as well.  But following my coach's advice and just focusing on holding people down for as long as possible was what really made the difference, and the change I made must have been clear to him as well.  I had turned a major corner.  

So tonight, this happened.

Grateful for excellent coaching and the self-discipline this is training in me to be patient and trust the process.  I'll do my best to live up to this new rank.

Sunday, November 08, 2015

Harrisburg Marathon, and also, I Suck at Jiu-Jitsu

After the long, long day yesterday, we still got up bright and early to hand out water and Gatorade at the Harrisburg Marathon.

It was a lot of fun.

Quality time with my GirlCoach and others, some laundry and house stuff done, then back to watch Little test for his yellow belt in Judo, and kick some serious ass at BJJ open mat.

Except mine was the ass that got kicked, which was sad and frustrating after the amazing night I had Friday.  Kicked all over the place.


I did get to roll with Little for a round or two, which was actually very fun.  He's very strong and I did all I could to defend against his armlocks and hold my position with him, but it wasn't easy.  Both trying our hardest, our match was a draw.

Spent some time with the Coach at the end of open mat, and he pointed out the moments when my weight came forward, giving him an opening to roll me.  Good to know.  He continues to emphasize the point that I need to stop learning new things and just focus on basics, basics, basics.  He's right, of course.  I've been getting ahead of myself.

Glad for some time to regroup and re-prioritize before getting back in there.

Saturday, November 07, 2015

Tournament Day

Today, Little and I traveled with our coaches and teammates down to the Philly area for a submission-only BJJ tournament.

Little gets anxious about competing.  When he was dragging his feet about registering for this one, the coach said to him, "BJJ is about learning to be comfortable in uncomfortable positions.  Sometimes you have to step out of your comfort zone and challenge yourself.  That's what this is about."

He agreed to compete if I didn't take pictures or video of his matches, and he agreed to both gi and no-gi divisions, even though he doesn't train no-gi and he prefers the grips that the gi affords.

He did incredibly well, taking a second-place medal in gi and a first place in no-gi, where he was matched up with a girl who was two years older and 15+ lbs heavier than him.  He stayed heavy and patient and waited for her to make a mistake, then went for an armlock and won.

Much like Middle had throughout his youth at the dojang, Little has a terrific group of peers at BJJ.  They're good kids, hard workers, and lots of fun for him.  They keep him motivated and have made this first year of his training so much fun for us both.

It was a great day overall, wrapping up with dinner out and a lot of laughs in the coaches' van on the 2 hour ride home. I'm back bright and early tomorrow morning to volunteer with the teammates, handing out water at the Harrisburg Marathon.  Then Judo / BJJ in the afternoon as always.

Good, good stuff.

Friday, November 06, 2015

Huge Leap Forward

Tonight was my first opportunity to try the approach recommended to me by my coach on Sunday.  Don't worry about submissions - just get a strong position and challenge yourself to hold it for at least a full minute.

I did that.

Wow, what a difference!

I need to first qualify that I had to first get to a dominant position - and with at least two of my partners, that never happened.  (The first of these was Teen Ninja Gurl, who was home from college for the weekend.)  If I can't get past their guard without getting submitted, the rest is useless. A problem for a different day.

With the others, I did manage to get on top - usually to side control - and I HELD it.  I attempted no submissions, other than the digging-my-shoulder-into-their-neck choke, which is pretty awful when done properly.  All I did was hold my position while they tried to get out.  I cannot begin to describe the power I felt holding down a bigger guy, a higher belt, putting the pressure on and being the one to determine the pace of the fight for a change.

I felt euphoric.

The icing on the cake was that they told me when it was over what a difference they felt - how much of a hard time I had given them, and how strong and heavy I had felt to them.

Wow.  Just wow.

When I talked afterward with the guru about the experience, he agreed that this was the way it should be, and that when I can do that, the "submissions start to scream at you."  He said that people will submit themselves if I'm patient.  I was extremely happy about all of this, and he said something I want to be sure to remember:

 "Learning martial arts should have such moments of electric enlightenment, don't you think?"

Yes, they should.


Thursday, November 05, 2015

Thursday Night

I've been teaching natural childbirth on Thursday nights again, which means no beginner jiu-jitsu class until after Thanksgiving.  However, childbirth doesn't start until 7, and the doors at BJJ open at 6, so I've been coming in to get a few rolls beforehand.  

Tonight, there were more than the usual number of women, so someone took a picture of the "Harrisburg Hotties" - a few of us already disheveled from 30 minutes of pre-class rolling.  I love working with these amazing women who inspire me, challenge me, and make me laugh on a regular basis.  (Our female coach is missing from the picture, but she belongs in this category as well.)

I recently read a meme that said, "It takes a doctor or lawyer less time to become a professional than it does for a jiu-jitsu practitioner to get a black belt."  This is true - it seems the average time is 10-12 years - but my initial reaction was to disagree.  After all, unlike med and law students, we only train a few hours per week.  

On the other hand.... the amount of time spent actually training is only a fraction of the amount of time we spend thinking about, reading about, talking about and watching videos about BJJ.  So, not unlike grad school, there's time spent in class, but also a vast number of hours spent outside of class that a dedicated jiu-jiteiro devotes to learning this art. (Still not med or law school hours, but you get my point.)

The hardest part for me is not having a human being on whom to practice when I'm home and the urge hits.  I have Enzo...

... but he's just not the same.  

Rocky, on the other hand, adores him.  

No family members, including the actual martial artists, want to roll with Mom.  Because that's just weird.  Savageman has long declared his body to be a no-jiu-jitsu zone.  So I read and watch and try to remember and visualize as best as I can.  It's not optimal, but it will have to do.

Today's video was on the kimura armlock.  I love this one, because it illustrates the growth process that happens when you take the experience and perspective gained through thousands of hours of live training and apply it to the development of any particular technique.  

Looking forward to when it feels that seamless and easy.  In the meantime, I'll be studying and training on and off the mats.  :) 

Wednesday, November 04, 2015

Teaching Kids

Tuesday is the day I assist with children's classes at both martial arts schools.

In the morning, I help The Master teach the homeschool kids' class at the Academy.  Very comfortable in my element there, I help these kids (a huge group this year - most of them brand new) learn the basics of Taekwondo and Hapkido.  Nice kids, nice families - it's a fun and easy hour spent helping and learning from The Master before the morning adult class begins.

In the evening, I assist with kids' Jiu Jitsu at the other school.  Still just learning much of these techniques myself, I pay close attention while the coach is teaching a lesson, and then work with the kids or walk around and help them as they drill the lesson we just learned.  It's an extremely good exercise for me as well, because to troubleshoot the kids' execution of the technique, I have to be acutely aware of the details and priorities as outlined by the coaches. Watching and analyzing and becoming familiar with the common mistakes others make are all ways to enhance my own learning, and this weekly commitment has been a valuable part of my training.

At both schools, being involved in the kids' program has been an important element of my own journey.  Passing along my knowledge (or at least my enthusiasm), helping to build the kids' self-confidence, and supporting them in achieving their own goals gives so much more meaning to what I'm doing than if were to merely keep it to myself.  By teaching as well as learning, I am able to pay forward the care and attention my own teachers and mentors have invested in me.

It's also really fun. :) 

Tuesday, November 03, 2015


It may be hard to believe based on what I write here, but I actually have a job and a family in addition to my life as a martial artist.

I try not to write much about the family anymore.  The boys are almost 20, 17 and 13.  It's one thing to be a "Mommyblogger" when you have little kids, but once they are old enough to read what's being written about them, there are privacy issues to consider.  Their lives are their own, not an extension of mine.

I also have a job, and I don't write about that much either, again due to privacy issues.  The people I test don't consent to being blogged about, even if I don't name names.  So for the most part, the daily details of work have been off-limits as well.

There are days that I really do appreciate my job, however, and today was one of them.  I work in a neuropsychology office, administering and scoring IQ, academic, and neuropsychological tests.  The patients I see are typically kids / teens / young adults, although I do also see older adults on occasion.  These patients are referred to our office for a variety of issues: learning problems, ADHD, autism spectrum disorders, head injuries, memory problems, dementia - you get the idea.  I spend about 4 hours with a patient, collecting as much data as I can with regard to memory, executive functioning, processing speed, IQ, etc., score and compile it all into a report and hand it off to the neuropsychologist,who then does his thing with it.  

It's actually the perfect job for me.  I generally work three days per week (leaving the other two for morning teaching / training), and I am usually wrapping up by 1:00 or so, which leaves time to run an errand or go home and regroup before the kids get home from school.  It's nice to be using my (rather expensive) psychobiology degree.  Even though I was trained as a researcher, not a clinician, the job itself requires more research skills than clinical skills anyway.  I'm not there to listen and and converse with people about their issues; I'm there to collect data.  Staying detached and objective is what I do best. And when I finish with a patient, I'm finished.  There's no taking work home, no need to build relationships or follow up after the fact.  I collect data, crunch numbers, file a report.

The fact that I give the same tests all of the time makes the day boring at times - but the fact that I give these tests to a different person every time makes up for it.  Looking for interesting patterns, making behavioral observations, analyzing it all and sharing my conclusions gives the job an added dimension of challenge that keeps me engaged and excited about the work.  

Grateful to be working so much this month, at a job so very suited for my lifestyle and temperament.

Monday, November 02, 2015

Training Wisdom

So I mentioned that I was working harder to stay on top in BJJ now, and starting to attempt some submissions.  Tonight was no different.  The submissions don't always work, and this is never a surprise to me - most of my partners are better and more experienced and are able to escape before I can finish things.

So after rolling with me himself, my coach offered me this:  Don't attempt a submission until you've managed to hold your position for a full minute.  If you can do this, you'll get a lot better.

That should be quite a challenge, but I'm determined to try.  People will likely think I'm weird for getting a position and just hanging out (if I am even successful at it), but I'm sure he's right about how this will help my game, so I'll do it.

Should be interesting.

Sunday, November 01, 2015

Continued Progress

So it's been 4+ months since my promotion at the dojang.  As I mentioned in the previous post, it was a tough test, but an easy transition to my new rank this time.  I've started working on my next set of material, and I'm enjoying the time I spend there immensely. On Tuesday mornings, I'm back to assisting The Master with the homeschool children's class, I'm taking two adult morning classes, one or two evening classes, and one or two cardio kickboxing classes.  Surrounded by the people with whom I most enjoy working, I feel valued and appreciated, and comfortable in my own space there.  

My schedule hasn't changed much, but I have been spending more of my Friday nights and Saturday mornings at BJJ/Judo now, in addition to Sunday afternoons, and the weeknights I'm not at the dojang.  I assist with two children's BJJ classes per week, which are always a learning experience for me as well. Occasionally, on a Saturday or a weekday (if I'm not scheduled to work), my female coach and I meet up to roll on our own.  

On July 22, I received my 2nd stripe.  My other coach (her husband) had some nice things to say when he called me up to receive it, which made me feel great.  Feeling valued and appreciated there as well.

As far as the rollz themselves, I'm still struggling, especially given the fact that I continue to feel like the smallest and weakest person in there.  Even my lightest regular training partners have at least 20 pounds on me, with the exception of my (female) coach.  And although she's closer in size, she's a 2 stripe brown belt, so... yeah.  Also, I just turned 46 and I'm guessing the median age there is mid-to-late 20s.  Despite my other training, and some truly excellent outside coaching, I still step on the mat already at a huge disadvantage.

Given all of that, I do feel like I'm learning and improving.  I'm slowly starting to get a few submissions on other white belts, and my defense is a lot better.  Tired of struggling while trapped under much heavier opponents, I've focused on not getting there in the first place.  I try to stay on top, focus on advancing my position and recognizing and avoiding traps, and I attempt a few submissions if I can.  I have two favorite chokes and a straight armbar from side control, the Americana and the spinning armbar from mount, and a choke and several armlocks I routinely attempt from bottom of guard.  For now, that's plenty to work on. Simply lasting longer and not being submitted myself is a win at this point.  

As always, keeping things in perspective is important.  When I lamented my situation to the guru ("I'm being smooshed by beginners!"), he pointed out that, in the grand scheme of things, I'm still a beginner myself, and size really does make a difference.  It will be a long while before I have the technical skill to defeat a younger, stronger, heavier opponent, and even then, it won't be easy against one who trains as well and won't likely fall for setups or tricks.  

It's hard, both mentally and physically - harder than anything else I've done - but extremely gratifying to see myself improving from one month to the next. It's a bit of an obsession - when I'm not working, training, or engaged in family / house responsibilities, I am learning via books and videos.  I have a dummy at home for practice.  The complexity of it is overwhelming, which is part of what I love so much about it.  

And it's fun.  Crazy fun, with some of my favorite friends, both old and new. :) 

Saturday, June 20, 2015

2nd Degree Test: The Pictures

We started with 50 burpees, in keeping with recent tradition.  Then material - forms, hapkido, weapons.

Sparring.  Here I am with Middle.

More material.

There was a lot of emphasis on our three sword forms.  No nunchaku or bo staff this time.

More burpees (140 total over the course of the two hours), and back to material.

Fighting Middle again.

Knife techniques / throws / disarms.

Taking down Middle.

More knife techniques / throws / disarms.

Grappling.  I had prepared well for this part, and wish I had had the energy to do it well.

More sparring.  Last push.

Thankful to be done.

Middle presenting me with my new belt.

Comparing belts, with our names in Korean.

So grateful to The Master and my fellow black belts for giving us a good test, to my most supportive hubby for taking a zillion pictures, to my parents for coming out to watch me get beat up, and of course to my training buddy, with whom I (once again) enjoyed a Margarita afterward.  We kept each other sane and motivated during the process, and both felt relieved and extremely happy about how the test went.  No regrets this time; no looking back.

It was incredibly hard, and when I put the belt around my waist, I knew I had earned it.  This time, there was no question in my mind regarding whether I belonged at this rank, and I'm sure this was the case for all three of us. We were three out of the twelve adults who had tested for 1st Dan two years before.  We had done the work, put in the hours, pushed ourselves hard.  We were ready to be Sabumnims at the school.  

Saturday, June 13, 2015

Sunday, June 07, 2015

6 Days

Well, I'm feeling a bit more prepared today.

Yesterday was Saturday, and Saturday usually begins with class.

This is the hardest class of the week.  It is a small class, which typically consists of 6 black belts and a color belt or two who want to be pushed.  Leadership of the class rotates between the top belts in the room and it officially lasts 90 minutes.  We rotate to face the mirrors and start with about 45 minutes of hell (usually featuring a lot of burpees), we work on a skill, and then either go through all of our forms or split off to work on our own material.  We almost never pair up to work on partner stuff.  Your partner is yourself in the mirror.

Sore from Thursday BJJ and Friday sparring, I was content to let this one go.  I was running late, hadn't eaten or really even had much coffee; I was generally unprepared.  I knew my training buddy would be there looking for me, though, and it was the last Saturday before our test, so I went mainly to see him.  I figured I could always go work out alone in the other room while they bowed in and did the grueling workout.

This was my plan, but when I got there, I saw just about everyone I like to work with and learn from, and I couldn't bail on my training buddy, so I opted to take class.

But it wasn't class.  It was a mock test, run by 3 of the toughest, most observant instructors.  We stayed facing forward.  We did forms, falls, burpees, falls, forms, more burpees.... Everything except Hapkido and weapons.  These, plus sparring and grappling, will be on our real test.  We were called out for poor stances, not looking sharp, not falling on a straight line.  We were told to do one form going left first instead of right.  We were reminded that everyone would be watching and seeing our mistakes. It was, in some ways, more intimidating than a real test.

Horrible as it was, I was grateful for it, because I realized a few things that were better to realize now than next week.  For example, I thought I was solid on the forms and wasn't even that worried about them.  I've been doing these same 23 forms for years now.  They feel so automatic to me that I can carry on a conversation while I'm doing them.  My body just knows them.

Or so I thought.  Practicing alone is one thing.  Performing under pressure in limited space with other people to distract you is quite another.  With the added scrutiny, the running dialogue in my head sounded something like, "You're being watched.  Did you do that last move right?  Is your hand floating?  Is your chamber for that move high enough?  The guy next to you is two moves ahead.  Should you try and catch up so we're in sync?  The guy in front of you is too close.  Should you adjust before we go on, or risk bumping into him?  Crap, now you're too close to the wall and that annoying split in the mat where you could catch your toe.  You can't risk another broken toe.  Also, avoid the slippery sweat spot on the floor or you'll fall.  Adjust."  All of this annoying conversation in my head inevitably leads to, "Oh crap, what's the next move?  I think you did that wrong.  Great, a mistake.  And now another one.  I'm sure they saw that.  It looks like you don't even know this form you've been doing for 5 years..."

So many mistakes, on stuff I felt certain I knew and didn't need to practice.  And I let myself get flustered.  I did notice that as the test went on, I made less mistakes, or if I made them, I didn't notice or care.  Such is the benefit of being so exhausted you can't even think.  Which is the point you get to fairly early in a real test.

So, I survived that, and took several lessons from it.  I spent some time regrouping with my training buddy afterward, and making plans to practice together this week.  One great thing about him is that he is a certified Life Coach and is wonderful at listening and supporting.  Feeling very fortunate to have him with me in this.

The rest of yesterday, I spent in Baltimore with the guru, where he was competing in a BJJ tournament.  He won his gi division but lost in no-gi.  He seemed satisfied with the experience, saying, "I'm taking home a first place medal and I've learned a new armbar."  Tournaments with him like today are fun.  I take his pictures and videos and he teaches me stuff while we watch the other matches.  He loves to teach and I love to learn, which pretty much sums up our friendship.  We talked a bit about my upcoming test and the morning's mock test, but didn't spend much time on it.  He's supportive of me testing, and has expressed his confidence that I'll do just fine.  That's really all I needed at this point.

So today begins my last week of prep.  I'm sore, but will take it easy the rest of this week, just doing a light version of my normal schedule, and doing all my forms, every day, hopefully some yoga, and Judo class / BJJ open mat today.  Still on the fence about BJJ Thursday night. The plan is to stay injury-free (the wrist is almost normal again), and to take care of myself and enjoy this thing I love so much.  Focusing on gratitude and the gains I've made over the last two years as a black belt.

Monday, June 01, 2015

12 Days.... And I'm Icing My Wrist

I guess it's tradition.

Eight days before my green stripe test, I broke my right pinky toe.
Just before my red belt test, I dislocated my right thumb.
Nine days before my red stripe test, I hyperextended three fingers on my left hand.
A few weeks before my black belt test, I impinged my right ankle.

This spring I've broken my right thumb and my left pinky toe, so I was hoping I was done with injuries for this year, but I've still been cautious.  When my BJJ / Judo coach asked me last night why I blew off Judo class, I explained the concern about my history and the upcoming test. I had thirteen days to wrap myself in bubble wrap, and stay on the ground where I felt safest.

I took open mat BJJ and on my third roll with the guru, who was kind enough to come and work with me there, I hyperextended my right wrist.

It's not the guru's fault, of course, that several of my pre-test injuries were sustained working with him.  Given the fact that I train one-on-one with him more than anyone else, it simply comes down to statistics.  And he has been fantastic, and incredibly generous with his time this spring, both with BJJ, and, this week, sparring and forms as well.  I'm incredibly grateful.  He has often told me, "If it's not hurting, you're not learning," and this is true.  While I knew before (because he taught me) to use the forearm, not the hand to post on someone's hip, now I know it.  In a split second of "OW!" as he came forward and I felt my wrist bend back, it was ingrained in me in a way I am not likely to ever forget.  (Much like the way I now know never to block a kick with open fingers.)  I just hope this lesson doesn't require months of healing.  

So today, it's stiff, and it hurts to move it certain ways, but it's not especially swollen and I'm hoping it's going to be okay.  I need it to do burpees and pushups, which are an important part of tests (and pre-test conditioning, which will have to be scaled back yet again).  I'll keep icing it and wrap it this week for practice and see how that goes.  Doing pushups on closed fists (and straight wrists) is harder, but looks far more badass, so maybe that's what I'll be doing.

I'll be glad when this test is behind me.

Thursday, May 28, 2015

The Paper

Absorb what is useful, reject what is useless, and add what is specifically your own. – Bruce Lee

It is often said that attaining the rank of 1st Dan black belt marks the beginning, not the end, of a martial artist’s training – that the years before are about creating the weapon, while the decades beyond are for learning to use it.  In these last two years of training as a 1st Dan, I am beginning to understand this statement.  My focus has shifted  from building muscle and endurance and acquiring my JSD curriculum material to learning how to learn, how to adapt, how to create and experiment, and, perhaps most importantly, how to teach.  As I prepare to test for my 2nd Dan black belt and to accept the title of Sabumnim, reflecting on what it means to teach others, and on the mentors I’ve been so privileged to have fills me with humility, extreme gratitude, and a desire to pay their investment in me forward.

It’s unsettling at first to put on a black uniform and belt after so many years of study as a color belt student.  I remember catching a glimpse of myself in the mirror and wondering about this unfamiliar black belt at the dojang before I realized who it was.  A black belt faces less scrutiny and feedback from the higher belts, but more responsibility as the lower belt students begin to ask for help and feedback themselves.  My goal as a 1st Dan was to focus mainly on myself, taking this time to deepen my understanding of the curriculum, to fix the things that needed to be fixed, and to develop the confidence I needed to live up to my new role and the duties associated with it.

During these last two years, I have gradually accepted more responsibilities helping with the children’s program and with the adult color belt students.  The experience of helping and teaching other students has been eye-opening in many ways.  It is one thing to do a form or technique, while quite another to communicate it to someone else, or troubleshoot what might be going wrong.  In some cases, I’ve been able to draw upon the memory of how the same item was taught to me, and I have had much success with that.  (The fact that I made a lot of mistakes and needed a lot of correction myself gives me plenty of material to work with in this regard.)  Other situations have been more challenging, and I have had to experiment, learning through trial and error what might resonate with a particular student.  In either case, I’m learning that the act of breaking down and working through a technique with someone always teaches me something as well.

 Another insight I’ve gained from this process of breaking down and experimenting with different techniques is that not every technique works for every person.  While learning the standard curriculum was important to my development as a color belt student, in the last two years I have been increasingly focused on how I can modify those elements to make them work for me.  I’m discovering my own favorites, and finding the tweaks I’ve needed to be not just correct, but also effective in the application of a technique.  During this time, I have appreciated having had both a solid foundation in my teachers’ methods, and also the space and autonomy to modify and experiment and begin to discover a style and approach that is uniquely my own.

Part of finding my own path has involved moving out of my comfort zone to cross-train in Yoga, Judo and Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu.  Exploring these interests and gaining the knowledge available from them has been extremely valuable to my development as a martial artist.  Exposure to different methods, techniques, and philosophies has broadened my vision and given me a new context in which to see myself and my own strengths and weaknesses, as well as new examples of instructors and mentors to watch.  As I shore up my weaker areas and become more proficient in these other pursuits, I will have a unique perspective and skill set to bring back to my own learning, teaching and mentoring at the Academy. 

An additional important benefit of committing to learning something new is getting in touch with what it feels like to be a beginner at something.  As a higher level student in one discipline, I have found that it is easier to identify with the confusions and frustrations beginners experience when that same feeling is fresh in my own mind as a beginner in a different pursuit.  The establishment of that connection is important to the process of meeting a struggling student where he or she is, and developing rapport. 

While establishing this connection with fellow students is, of course, important, in my mind, the mark of an excellent teacher / mentor is primarily the example he or she sets.   The people who inspire me are the ones who work tirelessly at something to get it right.  They put in the extra hours before and after and outside class, and are generous with their time and knowledge when asked for help.   Their hard work shows in the execution of their forms and techniques, and observing them motivates me to work hard as well.  This is the kind of example I hope to be as a Sabumnim at the  Academy. 

I am a very different person today than I was six years ago, when I began training.  I am stronger, more confident, more resilient, more assertive, less anxious, and less prone to depression and worry.  I am happier.  I have a body I truly love that amazes me every day with what it can do.  Training in the martial arts is more than a hobby or a workout; for me, it has become a way of life.  When I consider the way this pursuit has transformed me, I am acutely aware of the power a skilled and caring mentor can have in changing someone’s life for the better.  As I begin to find my identity as a Sabnumim, my goal is to combine the various experiences that have shaped, and continue to shape, my development as a martial artist into something that will benefit others as well.  Taking this next step in my own journey marks the beginning of my opportunity to pay forward what has been generously given to me, for which I am infinitely grateful.

Sunday, May 24, 2015

I'm Supposed to be Writing My Paper

Flashback to two years ago.  My husband is watching the Indy 500, my kids are off doing Memorial Day weekend things like hitting the pool and ArtsFest, and I'm trying to get myself psyched up to write a paper for a black belt test.  And not doing too well.

I was totally chill about this whole thing up until Friday night.  Falling asleep typically takes me about 30 seconds, but Friday night, my mind started going about the test.  As of right now, there will only be 3 of us, and I am the senior student in the group.  One is a 19 year old boy and the other is one of my close friends who is in his 50s but also very strong, especially since adding CrossFit to his regimen this year.  Neither of them has had close to the number of classes or outside training as I have, but I'm not convinced that all that extra work will make any difference at all when I'm faced with breaking a board or throwing someone twice my size.

These were the thoughts that had me lying awake Friday night.  I've had a low level anxiety thing happening ever since.

I have 2 weeks and 6 days now to prepare.... and I'd like another 4 weeks, preferably without any broken digits this time.  The toe has just barely healed enough to not need to be taped, but if I bump it, say on a shoe someone left lying in the middle of the floor.... it hurts.  A lot.

People have been reminiscing about their own black belt tests, and I'm hearing all of the horror stories of puking and injuries.  With only 3 of us testing, there is a good chance I'll be dealing more with the heavy hitters than I did in my 1st dan test when there were 15 of us.  This was the test I wanted last time, the one I felt prepared for.  Now I'm getting the small test I wanted, but I'm not going to be as prepared.  And that's just hitting me now.

Ryron Gracie was asked a few days before Metamoris 6 if he would be willing to fight a bigger, stronger guy and he readily accepted the challenge.  His mindset was that a true martial artist should be confident enough in his technique that he can be ready at a moment's notice, without the need for any special preparation.  I've known people who have approached their Dan promotions the same way, and I wanted to have that same confidence going into this one.  The Ryron mindset was working well for me until Friday, but this weekend, I'm not so sure.  I work hard, but I'm no Ryron Gracie.

So today, I'm restless.  I want to channel the nerves into some productive effort, but I'm feeling a little overwhelmed, not really knowing where to best direct my efforts, and feeling reluctant to ask for help.  The guru's guru mentioned the possibility of getting together this week, and that would be great, but I don't know how much difference one session is going to make.  I need to drill, drill, drill and not all of it is stuff I can drill by myself.  Hapkido, fighting techniques, judo, sparring and grappling all require partners.  Middle let me do some judo fits on him for a bit today, and I've got BJJ open mat this evening.  Maybe I'll go in and do weapon forms afterward.

Hoping I'll get this anxiety out of my system this weekend and get back to my normal training routine / mindset quickly.

Thursday, May 07, 2015

Aaaaannnndddd a Whole Month Later.....

I still haven't been writing.

But Stuff is happening, so I'm trying again.

In most recent news, The Master took me aside in class this morning and officially asked me to test for my 2nd degree black belt. I have 5 weeks to prepare (and for my pinky toe to heal).

In somewhat related news, I dislocated or broke my pinky toe in Judo class two and a half weeks ago when I landed on it wrong while being thrown.  Spectacular thing, adrenaline.... I popped it back into place, slapped some tape on it and finished class, then rolled for the 90 minute open mat afterward.  As expected, when the adrenaline wore off and the inflammation kicked in a few hours later, it hurt.  A lot.

But whatever.  I've been through this before, three years ago, and this one doesn't seem to be as bad.  Buddy taping will now be a Thing, right up until, and possibly including my test.  It is what it is.  In the meantime, I've avoided Judo, as it hurts to land on that side, and I've tried to do more BJJ, where I'm already on the ground.

I feel very safe on the ground.

Much of the ground training continues to be one-on-one with the guru, who has continued to teach me when he's here on weekends.  Between my lessons with him and open mat on Sundays, I am feeling much, much more confident. Grateful as always for his enthusiasm and encouragement.

One such piece of encouragement was to take a seminar Rener Gracie offered in Baltimore this week.  I did it, and it was fantastic!  Not only was it great to meet him and learn from him, it was also a nice bonding experience for me and two of the other women from our gym, who rode down with me.

That's Rener on the left, and his assistant Brian Ortega on the right.  Both of them are larger than life, and Rener is an amazing teacher.  I have his DVD set, I watch his videos on YouTube, and I love learning from him almost as much as I love learning from the guru, who's methods and philosophy are very similar..

I left the seminar feeling inspired to learn everything there is to learn and have redoubled my efforts to watch and read and take notes on as much as I can.  My only frustration is that I need a partner to learn this stuff well, and I am often alone with no one on whom to experiment. When he's home, grabbing Little is always an option, but not for the extended amount of time it takes to really master something. And as much as I would love to play with Savageman, he has declared in no uncertain terms that his body is strictly a no-Jiu-Jitsu zone.  I guess there's always the pets. :)

So between my new passion and my current commitment to testing in June, I will have no lack of challenges in the weeks to come.  Add to that the Elder Teen, who finishes up college - not just for the year, but apparently for good - next week.

But that's a whole other can of worms, and really not my story to tell. I'm extremely grateful for the challenges my martial arts activities provide, and the way they constantly remind me that I'm strong and capable and able to learn even really difficult things when I apply myself.  It's been (and continues to be) exactly what I've needed.

Grateful, grateful, grateful.