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. :)