Tuesday, March 24, 2015

First Stripe

So this happened.  Emboldened by my extra training last week, I approached Sunday's Freestyle Judo class and BJJ open mat with excitement and confidence.  Awesome classes, both of them.  90 minutes of open mat flew by, and I was more disappointed than exhausted when it was over.  

It was still extremely challenging, but it was an enjoyable challenge.  The people I worked with were fun and supportive, and quick to point out ways I have been improving and things I'm doing right.  I got many lessons and suggestions, and my only frustration is that I don't remember all the cool stuff people were showing me. 

My JSD cardio partner is out of town this week, so I took the opportunity to go to BJJ / Judo yesterday as well, and was rewarded at the end of the class by being called up for a stripe.  One of my fellow students on the sidelines whipped out his phone and took a picture for me. He expressed disappointment that my coach's head was in the way, but I actually like it, as my hair was probably sticking up all over the place, and I might have had a truly dorky expression on my face.  This way, I can imagine that I looked awesome as he was adding that piece of tape to my belt.  

At JSD, we test for belt ranks.  Also in Judo - I was asked after class last night to test this Sunday for my yellow belt.  But for BJJ, stripes and belts are given out spontaneously, based on attendance and performance.  At the end of class, before we bow out, students receiving a promotion are called up, presented with their new stripe or belt, and after thanking the coach and shaking hands, the student runs along the line, high-fiving everyone before finding a place in the new rank.  It's crazy and fun and very different from our more formal tradition at JSD.  

Pictured along the line are some pretty impressive BJJers - and those are just the white belts.  The blues, purples, browns and black belts are farther down the line.  In this particular class, I had the privilege of working with one of my favorite training partners for the learning part of class, and then rolling with all higher belts, which was a great experience.  Again, I wish I remembered all the cool things they showed me.  The guru texted me later and reminded me that it's okay to forget those details at my level.  My job is to survive and escape. Which is plenty to think about for now. 

This morning, I was back at JSD to teach and learn.  I was happy to get some good feedback on my open hand and sword forms, and there was Indian Buffet afterward, which I am still digesting 8 hours later. (So, so good.  And so, so sick afterward from eating too much.)  It's a little awkward with The Master right now, as he's also a good friend.  He knows I'm cross-training, but we don't really talk about it.  Other students have left JSD for BJJ and it might be a sore point with him, even though I have been one of his most dedicated students and have done my best not to let my new pursuits interfere with my current training there.  If anything, I am hoping that expanding my knowledge will make me better instructor and more of an asset to the school.  

I had two really good conversations with two of my closer friends from JSD over the last few days.  One, like me, is hoping to test for his 2nd degree in June, and wants to do a really good job with it.  We talked about how different this time feels from when we were preparing for our 1st degree test two years ago, and identified some of the reasons we were having a harder time getting motivated for this one.  On the positive side, our home lives are much happier now, so we don't feel the need to escape to to dojang for our sanity time.  On the negative side, we aren't feeling particularly inspired there lately and are needing to find ways to motivate ourselves and each other. We made a pact, and will hopefully get into a new routine together starting next week.

My other friend tested with us as well, but I think she's done.  It's a shame, because she has invested probably 8 years of her life there, and I really enjoyed her company and I think she was an asset to the kids' program in particular.  She has a lot of patience and some very good ideas, but it hasn't been enough to keep her coming.  It can be a difficult place if the politics and interpersonal crap gets under your skin, and sometimes I think the main thing I have going for me there is that I no longer worry about what anyone thinks.  

This is marked change that my guy training buddy (from the first conversation) has noticed about me over the last two years. And it's true.  Things that would have bothered me then - people's opinions or criticisms about how I do things or why - make no difference to me now.  It's a place I never thought I'd see, but lo and behold, I'm there.  True friends are true friends and haters are going to hate, and changing anything I'm doing to please anyone else isn't going to change that.  

All I can really do is my best on any given day.  

So it's been a good week, overall.  Hoping to keep this momentum going as I prepare for my Judo test and start focusing more on my 2nd dan material at JSD.  Little has his first BJJ tournament in Baltimore on Saturday, so I have a road trip to look forward to as well.

Grateful for all of it tonight, as I settle in to get the *!#*$! taxes done.

Thursday, March 19, 2015

Attitude Adjusted

Did I say I was going to make certain things a priority this week?

Well... I missed Judo, but did most of open mat on Sunday.  Took Monday night cardio and JSD class, and that was a really good workout.  As was Tuesday morning, if I remember correctly.

Yesterday and today, I spent a huge chunk of the afternoon talking and working with the guru, who was wonderful. He provided excellent information and perspective and there were videos and some solid skills I can start using right away.  I've so missed our long training sessions together and this week I got a double-dose.  Very, very happy and grateful for the best coach and teacher I've ever had.

Finishing the week feeling recharged and renewed.


Saturday, March 14, 2015


Maybe it's the fact that I didn't take kickboxing class Wednesday night after my ill-fated thumb checkup.

Maybe it's the fact that I didn't take JSD Thursday morning, opting instead for BJJ, which was more technique than adrenaline-charged workout.

Also, I started my new childbirth series Thursday night, so the only class I did then was the one where I taught pregnant couples how to breathe and relax.

Maybe it's because I did my (also technique focused) Judo lesson instead of sparring Friday.

And overslept and missed Saturday morning class.

Or, maybe it's just that I still haven't adjusted to the awful time change yet.

It's only been a few days, but I can feel the tension and pissy feeling already creeping in.

Technique is good.  And my new pursuits are an interesting new challenge.  But I'm reminding myself right now that if I don't do something to get my blood pumping, sweat pouring, adrenaline surging, etc. multiple times per week, I turn into an ogre.

Within 6 - 12 months, I'm sure rolling at BJJ will be a solid workout for me, but for now, it's mainly about getting comfortable with a new way of thinking and moving, and learning the positions and transitions.  I'm sore enough to know I've worked some new muscles, but it's not the same as running, kicking, punching or sparring the way I'm used to doing it.  I feel intellectually satisfied afterwards, but not euphoric like I do after a double class of cardio kickboxing / JSD.  Or a morning class or sparring class.

All things I need to keep in mind as I strive to find a balance between the two schools.

Starting next week, my goal is to pay closer attention to my adrenaline needs and make sure they get met first.  Flawed as it can be sometimes, I know how to push myself at JSD to get what I need out of it.  A good talk this week with the guru's own guru reminded me to keep it all in perspective.  I'm being realistic about what it is and what it can be for me, and I'm not losing sight of what it has done for me so far.

It's something I still need and that isn't likely to change anytime soon.

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

4 More Weeks

 Groundhog Day, Thumb Edition.  The doc looked at the shadow on the X-ray and declared there would be four more weeks of healing time before I could take the splint off and start Doing Things again.  Until then, no putting pressure on it, no impact... no martial arts.

Of course, I'm still doing lots of martial arts, just modified and with the thumb encased in foam, plastic, and more foam / velcro.  No hard landings on the one side, throwing elbows instead of punches, not grabbing with that hand.

This had better be benefiting my non-dominant hand skills.

Honestly, I'm trying to have a good attitude about it, but patience is not one of my strengths when it comes to these kinds of obstacles.  I was really hoping he'd say the healing is ahead of schedule, not behind.

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

4 Weeks

It's still puffy and I'm still squeamish about putting any pressure on it - cracking eggs, for example... But the thumb is much better.  I do still keep the splint on it for pretty much everything.  The last thing I want to do is start all over because I accidentally snapped it again.

Follow-up X-Ray tomorrow.

Other than being super-tired from the gawdawful time change, life is returning to normal.  I was back at JSD last night and this morning, and I'm pushing myself harder, doing more, and actually sweating again there.  Once I can do burpees again, I'll know I'm healed.

Teaching kids this morning, I was happy to be able to incorporate my new focus on leverage - so necessary for a smaller person in BJJ - into my Hapkido lesson with them.  So often, we go through the motions of the escape-and-counter techniques without stopping to make sure they are using the leverage that will make them actually work against a resisting partner.  This was my focus today, and it was cool to see the looks on their faces when it clicked and they could escape even a strong grip.

Cross-training is already teaching me to be a better teacher.

I spent the second half of adult class working on my throws, thanks to a few willing partners.  And we got Indian buffet for lunch.  A good morning in general.

Tonight, I watched Little's class, and was happy to see him awarded his 4th stripe on his white belt.  His next promotion will mean a new belt.

 It's a good night as well.


Sunday, March 08, 2015

Time Change

Dear God, I hate the "Spring Forward" time change.

Everything is an hour earlier than it's supposed to be.

I have to get up an hour earlier (and it's going to be dark again...), I have to go to bed an hour earlier, I have to eat an hour earlier to have my food digested in time for my workout, which is also an hour earlier than it feels like it should be.

Some people adapt easily to this, but in recent years, I have not been one of them.

Every time I've looked at the clock today, I've thought, "What do you mean, it's time for______!? I thought I had another hour!"  This included my dash out the door to make it to class.

I did very much enjoy Judo class today, and BJJ open mat after.  It was hard motivating myself to go, knowing I would be forced to work with a partner the whole time.  When the introversion kicks in, I still want to work out, but I'd rather do TKD actions or forms or kick and punch the bag alone than have someone right up in my space, throwing or being thrown, or rolling around together, sweating and smooshing each other. Too much closeness.

At least polite conversation isn't a requirement while we roll.

Knowing I wouldn't make it in much this week, I forced myself to go, and was glad I did once I got there.  Having Little with me helped.  He actually took kids' judo and then adult open mat, where he submitted me 5 times with the same darn move.  Hopefully it won't happen again - I sought out experts to learn the preferred escape.

I also had a good conversation today with the guru. We discussed the merits of live training in determining if techniques are flawed or not, and the utility of training in a traditional style that may or may not have much practical significance for sport or self-defense.  My conclusion was that if I had trained as hard to prepare for anything - a marathon, a Tough Mudder, etc. - as I did when I trained in JSD with him for those 2 1/2 years or so, it would have been just as good for me.  I don't have to pretend it taught me things that it didn't.  While there are plenty of things in our curriculum I would never use in a fight, I still learned to set goals and work hard and push myself beyond my perceived limits.  That alone was a transformational experience, and can be for others, whether the curriculum is entirely battle-proven or not.  Remembering that helps. The time wasn't wasted, and it benefited me in so many ways, even if I'm still not the best fighter.  I have other ways to learn to fight if that's what I want.

If I am going to continue there, and pursue my 2nd dan and the title of "teacher" - I'm going to need to be honest about my reasons, and decide what it is I will have to offer the school and the students there.  The first thing to address is going to have to be my own motivation; my own example.  If that's not there, nothing else is really relevant.

Ugh.  It's an hour past my bedtime and I'm not tired....

Saturday, March 07, 2015

Two Schools

Spent 3 hours last night at the gym learning from this Authentic Brazilian BJJ Guy named Megaton. =>
Yes, there's a lot of testosterone in this sport.

As a beginner, I didn't grasp much of his seminar, and it was probably more relevant to people who compete, but it was still kind of cool to hear the perspective of someone famous.  And there were some belt promotions afterward - a special thing in BJJ, where there are only 3 belts between white and black.  New belts take years to earn, not months, and there's no test for belts, just loads of live training, experimentation, learning what works and what doesn't by testing it with a resisting opponent. It takes about 10 years to get to black.

This morning, I got up and headed to a different kind of belt promotion - our dojang's quarterly color belt test.  In JSD, color belt students can test for a belt or a stripe every 3 months and there are 4 belts between white and black.  A person who doesn't skip any tests has a black belt in roughly 3 years.  (I took 4).  Belt tests can be really hard. Or not so hard.  It really all depends on how much you prepare for them and how much effort you put forth for those two hours.  The fact that the resulting belt is the same can create some confusion. On the other hand, it's up to the individual how much or how little he or she will get out of the experience.  Not everyone is there for the same reasons or is capable of the same level of commitment.  Finding the balance between accessibility and standards is, I'm sure, a struggle when running a school like ours.

This is something that has been on my mind now that the possibility of my own test is 3 months away.  I'm already in good physical shape and I already know my material pretty well.  I could just show up and probably do just fine.  Many people do.  Or I could work my ass off for the next 3 months to prepare for it the way I prepared for my 1st dan test. I'll look somewhat better and I'll feel better if I really nail it, but either way, I'll wear the same belt, and I won't feel like I've let anyone down. 

After the test, I lunched with The Master, his family, some of the other black belts, and some of the testing students, which is a nice tradition.  Had a long talk with my female mentor after, which is always a good thing. She understands these conflicts and can usually get my focus back on the important things.

And then I was back to BJJ, where I did a few hours of women's-only training / open mat.  I brought my Judo / Cardio partner, and she liked it very much as well. There was sushi afterward with my new training buddies, who are an impressive bunch of women. I'll be there again tomorrow for an hour of Judo and 90 minutes of open mat BJJ. 

Cross-training is starting to definitely shake things up for me.  It's moving me waaaaayyyy out of my comfort zone, putting me back in the role of beginner / white belt, and leading me to examine the pros and cons of two very different styles of training, two different definitions of success.

Friday, March 06, 2015

March Snowstorm

Doing Bjj? The cold will not stop you.

This was me yesterday.  After being cooped up all day in the house with all three boys, dealing with a frustrating bit of dojang politics online (I really need to not take this stuff so seriously) I didn't care how much snow was piled on my car, how much snow was blocking my driveway, the fact that my windshield wipers were frozen to my windshield and I had to pry them off with my bare (and still broken) fingers. My first childbirth class of this series was cancelled. 

I was going to BJJ class. 

No drama, no politics, just learning and doing for 2 1/2 hours.  It's physically and mentally challenging, the people are enthusiastic and fun, and other than one of my partners bleeding all over my new gi, it was exactly what I needed.  And the blood washed out.  Today, my body is head-to-toe sore.  I worked hard.

It's interesting to observe myself while free rolling.  

Things I feel good about: I stay very relaxed and keep my breathing under control.  This has not always been the case, but it is my first priority now.  I try not to waste energy and am usually content to relax and think before moving.  I try to move calmly and with purpose.  I focus first on general principles when making a decision.  I try to stay flexible and not get hung up on a particular move or the fact that a particular body part is trapped.  When I see an opportunity for an escape, I go quickly.

On the other hand: I have no idea of what I'm doing.  I don't usually try for submissions. For now, I'm pleased with myself if I don't get submitted.  If I can advance my position, that's fine.  I don't need to win.  I'm just happy if I don't lose. Not losing is a win for now.  I'm looking forward to a time when I feel less clueless, but for now, it's okay.  I'm a new white belt.

People approach martial arts the way they approach life.  My response to a pressure situation on the mat is vastly different than it would have been years ago.  For now, this is more interesting to me than how many techniques I've mastered.  If I can be relaxed under pressure with a bigger person smashing down on me and trying to twist me into a pretzel, and keep my ego in check when I fail to escape and have to tap, I can deal with the pressures of life in a similar manner. The fact that other people with whom I interact get triggered doesn't mean I have to.

Nothing provides a purer physical example of that than when I'm working with an aggressive partner. And nothing gives me a purer way to practice a calm, centered response and an effort to align with my partner and redirect the interaction.

Not saying I'm wildly successful at this by any means, but in BJJ, you win or you learn.

Wednesday, March 04, 2015

Three Weeks

Ugh, this thumb.

Three weeks, and it's still fat and annoying.

I'm taking the splint off to bathe and type, but not much else.  And the space bar hurts it enough that I'm learning to hit it with my left.

On a positive note, my thumb and I resumed our 5 a.m. workout today with the training buddy after a two week hiatus.  90 minutes of warm-up drills, sparring, judo skills, and sometimes a quick jiu-jitsu roll is the best start to my day; it's awesome enough to make up for the fact that I have to get up crazy early to do it. Wednesdays are typically both long and productive, given the extra hours and extra energy I have.

The boys and I have been fortunate to have the training buddy in our lives these last few years. He taught Middle about lifting, got Little into BJJ, and has been a great example for both of them when it comes to healthy eating and clean living. He's upbeat and enthusiastic, even at 5 a.m., and all that positivity is infectious.  His playful attitude while sparring and rolling makes it actually fun to get my butt kicked in both activities.

The workout was definitely the high point of this particular Wednesday.  My neuropsych patient for today cancelled, so I'm home chilling out, doing laundry and house stuff.  I'll do cardio and JSD tonight if another big snowstorm doesn't close the dojang.  And I'm catching up on the blog. :)

This weekend will be an intensive mixture of BJJ and JSD activities, including a color belt test and two special events plus Sunday BJJ / Judo classes at the gym. Looking forward to all of it.

The upcoming test this weekend begins the 3 month countdown to what will likely be my own 2nd Dan test.  I need to be preparing for that, psychologically and physically, and the stupid thumb break has not been helpful in either case.

The psychological part has been a struggle as well.  Tests often seem to trigger people's egos and insecurities, and I am not immune.

Who knows?  Maybe that's part of the test.

Considering that most people do not promote beyond 2nd Dan, this could very well be my last test.  The promotion will give me the title of Sabumnim, or teacher.   And while I do indeed try to help and mentor and set a good example for the kids and color belts with whom I interact, I realize that I do not yet possess the abilities or insight I think that a true teacher needs to have.  The fact that people can get promoted to this rank and beyond - and can teach - without those skills is not my favorite thing.  I don't want to be part of that.  On the other hand, a lot of learning how to teach happens by doing it, and unfortunately, sometimes doing it poorly.

Another problem is that I don't feel that I am on par with the people I consider to be my mentors. Being the same rank as - or a rank above - people I know are far more advanced than I in their skills and knowledge creates an internal conflict for me.  I don't want to wear a belt and accept a rank I'm not sure I deserve.

Having said all of that, it's not really my call.  The Master chooses who is to test and not test.  It's his school, his decision.  And if I let the Perfect be the enemy of the Good, I only wind up cheating myself out of the all the benefits this pursuit has held for me for almost six years.

Changing my uniform didn't change much else in the last two years.  I train the same way regardless of what I'm wearing, and my focus tends to be on the process, with hope that the progress will happen at its natural pace.  As a black belt, I am helping more with the kids' classes, and I do have more requests for help from the color belt adult students.  I don't teach adult classes, and I don't desire the opportunity to do so at this point.  I am no more qualified to do that than I am to teach a yoga class, despite having practiced yoga in some form or another for 8 years.  I can certainly help someone new to yoga into a pose I have done a thousand times.  But that doesn't mean I'm particularly good at it myself, or that I understand it in any kind of depth. That level of teaching would require much more desire and experience and training than I've had.

The interesting thing is, I don't feel conflicted over my lack of ability to teach yoga.  The fact that I am not walking into yoga class wearing a shirt that says "yoga teacher" on it helps in that regard.  And since it takes roughly ten years of live training and a great deal of skill to earn a black belt in BJJ, I don't see myself feeling conflicted about my rank vs. abilities there. If I ever do earn a black belt in BJJ, (which would, frankly, really surprise me), I would hopefully feel qualified enough to teach it.

Venting done.  I've already decided that I will test when and if I am asked to do so, and I need to start preparing for that and focusing on the benefits, letting go of the conflicts.

This is supposed to be fun, dammit.  Fun.  And it has benefited me in so many ways for so many years.  I need to relax and accept it for what it is, take the good with the bad and just focus on the things that are in my control.  I have plenty to work on.  Let my position in the ranking system fall where it may.

I will have a paper to write if this is indeed my time to test. I need to start thinking of a theme for that.  Glad I'm blogging again.