Thursday, November 03, 2016

Was Hoping for a Productive Week

I don't usually get a whole week off work, so when I realized I had 5 days without testings, PT appointments, or responsibilities in general, I was thrilled. The possibilities were endless!  I bugged Middle to choose some schools to visit.  I imagined all the extra martial arts I would be free to do. Finishing book 3 of Game of Thrones (4 and 5 are sitting in the corner, waiting). House projects, knitting, organization and decluttering, leisurely lunch with friends, enjoying the unseasonably warm weather outside....

Well, it's Thursday.  I've done pretty much none of those things.  I actually blew off several martial arts classes / lunches and spent much of this week at the house, in sweats or the hot tub, sleeping and vegging.  I have blogged, and I worked quite a bit on my shoulder with the ball and the chiropractor yesterday.  But other than my short visit with him, I have been downright antisocial, preferring peace and quiet and feeling irritated at the slightest intrusion.  Middle wound up not wanting a college tour this week, and I turned down an invitation for coffee with a friend. No house projects happened beyond the minimal level of maintenance. The most interesting culinary creation I've managed was tuna salad, which I ate in front of YouTube.

I've been in a state of Absolute Lazy, and the week is almost over.

On the other hand, I do have more mobility in my shoulder than I've had in ages, so maybe all that messing around with the lacrosse ball has done some good.  And I took 3 classes tonight (2 BJJ and 1 Judo), all of which felt really good. I spent some quality time with The Eldest before he headed to work. I tackled the unruly pile of mail and bills that was taking over my family room.

And I caught up on my sleep and relaxed and read in the hot tub.

Maybe a week of downtime was something I needed. I have a tendency to beat myself up if I'm not being productive all the time, and that's not always a good thing. Tomorrow is another free day and I could get a lot done if I'm motivated to do so.

Or maybe I'll take another day off.  It's nice to have the option.

Wednesday, November 02, 2016

The Shoulder

In the course of 7 1/2 years of martial arts training, I have had aches and pains, broken digits and other injuries.  They last a few days to a few months, I push through them, and they get better.  It's a normal part of life, especially when I'm using new muscles and moving in new ways.  I take it all in stride, and if I need the ice pack or an occasional Aleve, it's no big deal.

It was no different about a year ago when my right shoulder started bothering me.  The thing I noticed first was that I had to modify the way I dressed and undressed.  Pulling a shirt or sports bra over my head the normal way locked up my shoulder and caused pain to shoot down my upper arm. Push ups and burpees hurt too. So I didn't do those things, I used a different maneuver to get out of my clothes, and I went on with my life.

Now, it's a year later. Other aches and pains and injuries have come and gone, but this one has persisted throughout.  With a ridiculously high insurance deductible, I was hesitant to seek help, but by summer, it was time.  I saw the chiropractor in June - he helped a little, then an orthopedic doctor in August.  He sent me to physical therapy. I took a break from JSD, Judo, and much of BJJ and spent roughly 6 hours per week for the next two months rehabilitating and strengthening the muscles surrounding my rotator cuff. The muscles were still hard and knotted, so I added regular trigger point massages as well - excruciating, but effective.  After a month, I still couldn't undress (or do push ups), so I went back to the ortho and he convinced me to do a cortisone shot.  It may have helped a little, but it didn't fix anything and I don't want another one.

Last week, I ended the PT.  They've done what they could, and I'm definitely stronger and have more mobility, but it's still not fixed, which is frustrating.  (Can't wait until I see the bill...)  I saw the chiropractor again today, and he agreed I'm stronger and have more mobility, but it's still not right and there was no adjustment he could do without risking making it worse.  So it's on me, the lacrosse ball,  the stretchy bands, the foam roller, the hot tub and the electric stim working on it every day.  Sometimes Savageman lends his thumbs, which can be nice as well.

I'm thinking it's going in the right direction, but so, so slowly. I've resumed most of my normal training schedule, modifying where needed. It sucks, but it is what it is.

I also turned 47 last week. Whether I like to admit it or not, I don't heal as quickly as I used to.  Finding the line between "Don't be a wuss" and "Don't be stupid; take care of your body" isn't as easy as it used to be.  I have to think long-term if I want to still be happily training years from now. Building on the strength I've gained at PT, maybe adding some regular yoga and keeping the daily stretching and massaging should all help.

On days like today, it felt good to read in the hot tub and eat leftover Halloween candy.  As long as I don't make it a habit.

Tuesday, November 01, 2016

NaBloPoMo 2016

The goal is to blog something every day in November.

There was a moment of insanity when I actually considered doing NaNoWriMo again this year, but it passed quickly.  A 50,000 word novel is more pressure than I can handle in the next 30 days, although it would give me a convenient excuse to give myself a break from other challenges. BTDT in 2011, and it was a great experience, but I decided this wasn't the year for an encore. In reality, one blog post per day is an achievable goal, and an enjoyable way to reflect on life and where I'm at in this particular phase of it.

As usual, my focus will likely be on the joys and struggles of martial arts training.  One of my passions as a martial artist is outreach - I truly believe that everyone could benefit from some martial arts (or at least self-defense) training, and writing about it is certainly one way to reach out to others. Unfortunately, I'm also somewhat shy about sharing or promoting my musings, even with other martial artists who might enjoy and identify with my perspective.  So, I write primarily for myself, I try to be candid and honest, and I try to respect the privacy of those around me.  If you happen to have have come across this blog, I do hope you find some enjoyment or inspiration in it.  

A brief snapshot of my life on November 1, 2016:  My typical week is essentially split between part-time work doing psychometrics for a neuropsychology practice, running the (frustratingly cluttered and disorganized) home I share with my husband and 3 boys (ages 20, 17, and 13), and training in kickboxing and JSD at one school and Judo / BJJ at another.  At JSD, I'm a second-degree black belt with 7.5 years of training there.  At the other school, I've been training for almost 2 years.  I'm an orange belt in Judo (although AWOL from Judo class since probably July when I got serious about healing my shoulder injury) and a 1 stripe blue belt in BJJ.  This week, I have no work scheduled and I just finished physical therapy, so I'm enjoying some quiet time at home, soaking in the hot tub with the third Game of Thrones book, hanging from a pull-up bar and torturing the shoulder knots with a lacrosse ball, and doing general housework while listening to commentary regarding the most ridiculous election season in the history of humankind.

And, of course, writing.  I've forgotten how time consuming this can be!

Will do my best to keep up with it this month.

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

Jiu-Jitsu Saved My Life

... but running saved my jiu-jitsu.

I recently hit rock bottom with regard to the injury, the lack of exercise and the comorbid irritability, anxiety, lack of motivation, and general sulkiness.  I spent a lot of time hiding in the hot tub, and found myself trying not to cry at PT.  I'm not a person who cries.

I told my Assistant PT Person that I couldn't handle not training for much longer.  A former Hardcore Ballerina, she understood and encouraged me to be patient, said that waiting and doing it right will pay off, yada yada.  I told her that I had started running and it had felt good (although I was now dealing with the excruciating calf muscles that always come after I start back up).  She said we'd add running to my PT protocol, showed me the treadmill, and helped me stretch my calves.

So, starting with the 3 sessions I had last week, we changed things a bit.  PT now begins with heat and electric stim, 10 minutes on the "arm bicycle" and a 12 minute mile on the treadmill.  When I'm done with that, my endogenous opiates are flowing.  From there, I move on to about an hour of foam roller exercises on the table and standing exercises using the wall.  We finish with a (way too brief) session of deep tissue massage and they tape my shoulder in place so that it can't come forward.  My posture has never looked this good.

On the days I don't have PT, I run in the neighborhood.  I still run in Vibrams, as it's most like being barefoot at martial arts.  I don't think I own a pair of sneakers or running shoes, and that's fine with me.  My Vibrams have served me well.  I also have the same playlist on my iPod that I've used for years, carefully selected so that the cadence of the songs match my preferred footfalls. On the treadmill, I stick to the same pace for the same distance each time.  In the neighborhood, I pick one of 3 different routes: a 1.1, a 1.7, or a 2.1 mile loop. (Usually the 1.7) At the height of my running enthusiasm, I did take the 2.1 loop twice in a row, but that's pushing it for me.  I'm happy with 3 miles or less, in my same shoes, listening to my same music.  I'm not especially flexible when it comes to my running habits.

By the end of the week, I was starting to feel human again.  I showed up at a few JSD and BJJ classes, and watched and helped and taught.  Saturday was the color belt test at JSD and I participated in that, sparring my heart out and loving every second.  I still ran my 1.7 loop that evening.  Sunday, I took women's class at BJJ, then went back in to work with the Guru for another hour as he was home for the day.

Today, I went back to PT with renewed optimism and found that I was stronger, had less pain, and could do things I couldn't do last week.  This was the first glimmer of improvement I've felt since starting the process, and it motivated me to push myself for more.  Combined with the adjustments I got from the Guru yesterday, I have some goals for my next few weeks of BJJ, and I'm looking forward to getting back to JSD as well.

Speaking of JSD - in his post-test comments to the testing students and our school as a whole, the Master singled out for praise the students who were cross-training in fighting styles - there are two of us who also do BJJ now.  He said that training in a practical fighting style was making us better, more well-rounded martial artists.  It's a position I have long held, but it was so gratifying to hear it publicly acknowledged by the Master a year and half into my BJJ / Judo training.  Feeling like there is still a place for me at JSD and that my individual path is understood and supported has me looking forward to spending more time there, helping out where I can.

Today (and really, the whole weekend) has been, hopefully, a turning point.  I've got some good momentum finally going and I intend to build upon it.  Tomorrow will be full of opportunities - the plan is JSD in the morning, then PT, then teaching both kids and women's self-defense classes in the absence of my GirlCoach.  If I get a chance, I will try grab someone and try a few of my newly adjusted moves.

It's all good.

Monday, September 05, 2016

End of Summer / It Sucks to be Broken

First of all, I've had a lovely summer.

Savageman is once again employed, but we had a good 5 months of downtime together while he was in the process of making the change.  Although I was working part-time myself, (still doing neuropsych evals), and of course training, training, training, we had some genuine quality time together to reconnect and refocus, which was really nice.  He started doing yoga at my BJJ school, then added some classes at the Y as well, and I joined him, so we were even able to train at something together.  We did some good house and yard projects, and just enjoyed each other's company for a while.  Very grateful for so much quality time.

The boys were all around for summer vacation, all happy and doing their individual activities and jobs.  Two weeks ago, Middle and Not-So-Little headed off to 12th and 8th grade, and the same week the Eldest and Savageman started their new jobs.  I went from having everyone home to being alone with the pets in the house on the days I'm not working or training.  Soooooo quiet.

We had a nice week with my parents in NC last month, which was lovely as always.  The Eldest brought his Beloved, who we enjoy very much, and we all had a good time at the beach and enjoying the house and the pool and the hot tub.  Emphasis on the hot tub.

It is no exaggeration to say I spent the majority of my waking hours in the hot tub, reading Game of Thrones and letting the jets drill into my derpy shoulder, which has become increasingly derpy over the last 6 months or so. What started out as a minor annoyance I noticed last November ("Hmmm, it hurts to pull my shirt over my head... oh well, it will go away") has turned into The Thing That Will NOT Go Away, despite months of simply ignoring it, popping a few Aleve, slapping on an ice pack or electric stim and going on with my life.  This usually works, and I generally have a high tolerance for these periodic injuries.  But this has gone way beyond the limit for a minor annoyance.  I'm guessing something in the rotator cuff region of my right shoulder has been torn or badly injured and is not getting better.  Although the hot tub certainly helped more than anything else had.

I went to the doctor when I got back, and he sent me to PT, where I am now spending several hours, 3 days per week, relearning how to use my shoulder muscles, which are officially F**ked Up. To fix this, of course they have to work on my back and my posture, and not just the weak arm.  Going through my regimen of back and shoulder exercises, I was surprised at how resentful I felt toward the process, the friendly staff, the situation in general.  Not at all my usual positive self, more like a demoralized teenager being forced to do PT for posture issues against her will. Oh wait....

Having acknowledged the understandable resistance from the still-deeply-wounded-girl-within, I'm doing my best to embrace the process, realizing that in the long run, I'm better off addressing and fixing the problems and strengthening the weak places that probably resulted in the injury in the first place. I've had to back off on the intensity of the training so that I don't do more damage while we're straightening it all out. Hopefully, this will work and I won't need surgery, which is looming out there as Plan B. I'm doing my best to nurture the Surly Girl within, being kind and understanding with her and treating her with things she likes.

One of these things is time to relax and read in the hot tub.  I recently acquired a hand-me-down from the Guru - it is my new favorite place to hide out with my book and my phone and a beverage.  I've created a nice area for it next to our backyard patio and it has been simply lovely to soak and read and heal surrounded by the birds and crickets and flowers and sunshine.  I'm on the second book in the Game of Thrones series - the first fiction I've read in years - and it's an enjoyable diversion. Watching parts of the TV series with the Guru has been fun as well - we've broken up the training this summer with that (and some other, more comedic video entertainment) while healing from our respective injuries and hardships of life. Grateful as always for his time and friendship, both of which have been plentiful this spring and summer.

Injuries aside, we've covered a lot of ground BJJ-wise, and he's been an invaluable asset to me as I've been given so much more teaching responsibility at BJJ this summer. I'm now filling in when needed for the GirlCoach, teaching the women's sport BJJ class and self-defense classes.  Although I've been assisting with children's classes since I was a white belt, this summer I've had a few opportunities to actually run children's class.  At a time when my own BJJ performance is kind of sucky, (blaming the injury because I can), it's reassuring to know that my coaches still find me valuable as an instructor, if not a fierce competitor.

I did compete at the Keystone State Games in July.  It was a last-minute decision, when a teammate found herself in a bracket of much bigger, younger opponents, I jumped in so she could have a fair shot at winning.  Which she did - she beat me 2-0. It was okay, though - she got gold, I got silver, and we both had a good experience and no injuries.  It reminded me that I still have much to learn, though, and I've been trying to get my head back in the game.

Priority One is to fix my arm.  There is a lot I can't do, or I've been doing badly because I'm so weak on that side now.  My PT has expressed an interest in learning more about both BJJ and kickboxing so that he will know what kinds of motions I need to do and can help me do them correctly.  I think that's pretty cool of him.  Priority Two is to get my butt back into class, even if I'm not rolling live, so I can at least stay on top of the techniques and keep to my regular routine.  Last week I blew off multiple classes at both schools and then wound up running 1.7 miles yesterday just to get my blood pumping.  One can only lounge in the hot tub so many hours.  Priority Three is to get back to learning outside of class again.  August was the first month that I did very little reading, watching instructional videos, or technique nerding with the Guru, and I need to get back to these things.

So I have a plan - we'll see if I can get the momentum going again this fall.  In the meantime, sleep....

Thursday, June 02, 2016


So, having said all of that regarding the benefits of staying consistent and fully immersed in my training, I hardly trained at all last week.

I didn't actually mean to - it just kind of worked out that way.  There was a seminar and promotion ceremony Sunday (Little got his yellow belt in kids' BJJ, 3 friends were promoted to black belt, and one of them proposed to his girlfriend and the video went viral on the internet - but not a lot of free rolling happened), I did kickboxing Monday, but missed Tuesday morning JSD, only taught at BJJ Tuesday night, had JSD picture day on Wednesday, missed Thursday morning JSD and taught my last childbirth class Thursday night.

By Thursday afternoon, I was tense, irritable, anxious, feeling like I was on the tipping point of something awful.  Kind of like the way I used to feel every day before I started martial arts.

It was a familiar feeling, but extremely unpleasant.  I wanted it to end, but I didn't feel motivated to do anything about it.  Simply going for a run might have made a major improvement, but I couldn't even get myself to do that.  I hunkered down and waited for Friday night open mat, and pushed through the resistance to go, accepting that it would feel clunky after being away all week, but realizing there was no way around it.

My rolling itself wasn't amazing Friday night, but I came home happy again.  Smiling, joking, pleasant to my family, feeling like my normal self.  I can see why everyone is so supportive of me training so much - what a difference in my personality before vs. after!  I went back for yoga / no gi Saturday morning, did Sunday morning open mat, taught women's class again Sunday afternoon, watched judo (arm is still healing) and was on fire again Sunday afternoon at open mat.

This week, I have been careful not to miss any classes, and the consistency has paid off.  Last night, rolling felt absolutely amazing. I was tapping people I don't normally tap, spending much more time in dominant positions, and feeling strong and confident in general.  I came home feeling, not just the lack of tension and crankiness, but full-blown elation from my head to my toes.  I was vibrating with happiness, overloaded with every positive brain chemical there is.  "The whole world is amazing!" I kept telling Savageman, who, without benefit of an incredible night at jiu-jitsu himself, just rolled his eyes.  "I wish you could feel what I'm feeling right now.  I love everything!"

Experiencing such a dramatic change in my emotional well-being makes me wonder if the human species in general needs to have this level of regular - not just exercise - but combat to feel normal and healthy and happy.  There's really nothing quite like it and I am so, so, so grateful for it.

Thursday, May 19, 2016



Complete involvement in some activity or interest


So it has been for the last several weekends for me in BJJ.

Several truths have emerged.

First of all, it's been an eventful month.  Savageman is home, looking for a new job. My own work responsibilities have doubled, and I've begun the process of obtaining a license to do actual psychotherapy with patients instead of just giving them tests. The Eldest has once again moved back home.  Middle and Little are wrapping up 11th and 7th grade, respectively.

Financial and parenting stress aside, I am blissfully happy.  I'm enjoying all the extra time I have with Savageman, who has been absolutely wonderful to have around, I'm enjoying my time seeing clients at work, and am grateful for the encouragement and support of my employer and officemates regarding moving forward with my career.

And of course... there is BJJ.  These last few weeks in particular, I've been immersed from Friday through Monday morning, in addition to my regular balance of BJJ/Judo and JSD classes during the week.  These last several weekends have consisted of 2 hours of Friday night free rolling, Saturday morning yoga plus 2 hours of no-gi class, then 4-5 hours of technique nerding at the Guru's house.  Sundays have begun with 2 hours of free rolling, a break, then 90 minutes of women's class, an hour of judo, and 90 more minutes of free rolling.  Finally, a couple of hours of training super early Monday morning before I start work and he drives 2 hours back to school.  (Especially nice of him, since I know he values his morning sleep.)

I'm insanely grateful for all the extra guidance and instruction, and it's made a huge difference. This month, I was asked to teach 2 of the women's sport jiu-jitsu classes and one women's self-defense class while my GirlCoach was out of town.  Although I've been helping with children's class for about a year now, this was the first time I've been given creative control over an adult class, and I was happy to have had the chance to plan and prepare both weeks with the Guru's help. I covered arm triangles in the first and gift-wrap/back take in the second, but each technique was preceded by several drills we worked out that illustrate the different positions and elements essential to those techniques - a teaching method I will be sure to employ from this point on.

Another lesson from these last few weeks - I do much better when I am consistent with my training. From Monday through Thursday, I have been doing very little free rolling.  Monday and/or Wednesday evenings I'm at kickboxing and JSD, Tuesday I'm at BJJ, but just teaching kids and women's self defense, and Thursday is childbirth class (although this is my last week teaching that.)  After 4 days of little to no free rolling, I come to open mat Friday feeling awkward and foggy.  The best way to explain it is to liken it to performing a piece of music. I might know the piece, but I'm making mistakes, forgetting things, losing my place, and it's choppy and clunky and not particularly satisfying. As the weekend has progressed, I feel my fluidity coming back, and by the second open mat on Sunday, everything begins to open up and it feels smooth and natural and comfortable again.  This is the gratifying part, and the fact that it's only there some of the time makes it all the more addictive for me.

That's a flow drill, and not me, obviously, but it's fun to watch for the kind of fluid motion and seamless transitions I'm seeking in my own rolling. Even just adding a small amount of flow rolling to my mid-week seems to keep me on track, so I'm going to be more aware of that moving forward.  Grabbing a few rolls before or after teaching on Tuesdays, meeting the GirlCoach on her lunch hour on days I'm done with work in time, getting back in Thursdays - it will all help.

The other important lesson emphasized recently is the need to get out of my head when I'm rolling.  "You think too much," says the Guru, as I'm sure he's been telling me for 4 years now about one thing or another, but he's right. I'm pretty sure he gets it, being a thinker himself, but the key is to know when to use it and when to shut it off.  Thinking is for learning and drilling, but when it's time to roll, much of that needs to shut down.  In the week before I was promoted to blue, he joked that I needed to throw back a few shots before I roll - which would be a bad idea on so many levels - but I got his point - the part of my brain that houses the politeness and inhibitions and self-evaluation needs to switch off for me to roll with confidence. Visualizing that mindset definitely made me more aggressive, more likely to take risks, and less concerned about how I was being viewed by my partner - with extremely satisfying results (and some surprised feedback from my regular partners).  I can't be completely sure if the change in my performance that week made an impression on my coaches or not, but in my own mind, it was this leap forward that got me promoted to blue the following weekend. The important thing is that I don't forget it.  When I realize I'm too much in my head, I say so, and try to find the off switch.

In the same vein, I need to keep my ego out of things and continue to take risks, make mistakes, allow myself to get in bad positions or get tapped, even though I'm now a blue belt.  One of the pitfalls to avoid is to play it safe at blue because you feel you shouldn't be getting tapped out by white belts, but I'm constantly reminding myself to forget the belt.  The white belts I roll with are usually bigger and stronger than I am, most of them are not complete newbies and have a good amount of competence and technique as well, and if I start playing it safe and only doing the things that are comfortable, I will never grow.  BJJ puts you in the position in which you deserve to be - if I'm trapped on bottom, it's because I've allowed myself to be put there, and I have to own that and work the problem.  If I'm dominating, I've earned it, usually with technique and not brute force.  Perfecting the technique takes loads of experimentation, and that's not going to happen without continuing to force myself outside my comfort zone.

So yeah.  Lessons learned, immersion enjoyed.  Thrilled to have had so much time so far this month with my favorite coach and grateful to Savageman and the boys for being so supportive with regard to all the extra training. I think they like to see me blissfully happy, and I've made an effort to show my appreciation and gratitude.  

Life is very, very good.

Thursday, April 28, 2016

This Kid

Yes, that's little on top of the podium, at a jiu jitsu tournament sometime last year.  Not so little anymore, he's 13 and in 7th grade now.  He's been taking judo and jiu jitsu for a year and a half now.

His approach is a bit different than my own.  If I put a video on for us to watch together, his eyes stay on the screen in his hand.  If he sneaks a peek at what I'm watching, he doesn't let on, even if it's something super cool that he could use on his teammates or in his next tournament. If I ask him to drill a technique with me, he runs away, or pretends to bite me or do some other silly thing, so I've learned not to ask.

So imagine my delight when I returned home from teaching childbirth tonight and asked him how class was - and was met with, "It was awesome - take your glasses off and go turtle up on the floor!"

He moved the furniture, clearing a big space in the family room and attacked my turtle, rolling me into a wicked anaconda choke.  Then he had me do it to him,  We went back and forth a few times, playing with the angle to make it tighter, comparing and contrasting with a similar technique, working out the details.

After a week of frustrations over forgotten homework, his desire to quit trumpet, and his general lackadaisical attitude toward anything requiring effort, it was a joy to play with him on the floor and appreciate something he had learned and learned well tonight at class.

Grateful tonight for the bonding opportunity, and for this sport that has given him such confidence at this crucial stage of development.

Sunday, April 17, 2016



I must admit, this came as a surprise.

Yes, Earn My Blue Belt in Jiu Jitsu was on my list of goals to hopefully accomplish sometime in 2016.  And yes, I had met the minimal attendance requirement for my next promotion, although for my 4th stripe, I had tripled the attendance requirement before I actually received said stripe.  There was no reason for me to think that this promotion would be any different - if anything, I figured it would take even longer going from white to blue.

But at the conclusion of the seminar at the school today, we lined up and began belt promotions.  Our black belt coach described the rank of blue belt as "knowing the basics of jiu jitsu and being able to use this knowledge while in the course of free-rolling." One by one, he called up a couple of guys who were already there when I started training, and girl who had been training for many years and had just turned 16.  I was excited for them, and cheered them as they ran along the line, slapping hands with everyone.

And then my name was called.

I was stunned - just 3 days ago, the Guru's Guru had asked me when I might receive my blue belt and I had said, "Hopefully sometime this year; we'll see." Now it was being tied around my waist, and my beloved white belt with 4 stripes was tied in a knot (to hold the knowledge in).  Each of my instructors gave the knot a tug, hugged and congratulated me, and then I dashed away, slapping my teammates' outstretched hands.  I found my place in line with the other blue belts, my knotted white belt dangling from my hand, never to be worn again.

After the other belts were awarded and we bowed out, there were fist-bumps and hugs and congratulations all around.  My head was still spinning. In the changing room, I quickly asked a friend to snap a picture with my phone so I could tell my family and of course the Guru, who had just spent three days working with me and whose hours of patient attention had shoved me off the plateau I'd been on for months.  He congratulated me and told me our next lesson would cover ankle and wrist locks.

This was a good thing, because when I stepped back onto the mat as a blue belt for open rolling, the first thing the higher belts wanted to do was attack my legs and ankles.  White belts are not allowed those trickier submissions, nor are they expected to have to defend against them.  Now they were all fair game.  Just as I was becoming comfortable at recognizing when my arms and neck were in jeopardy, now I had to keep track of danger to my knees and ankles as well. Rolling suddenly required a whole new level of awareness.

Don't get me wrong - I'm not complaining.  I'm thrilled to have received this vote of confidence from my coaches, and I'm determined to live up to the challenges of this new rank.  And despite the fact that it happened much sooner than I had expected, I am very glad that it came when I was on the "up" part of the up-and-down cycle I've grown accustomed to in the pursuit of jiu jitsu excellence.  The ups don't come as often as the downs, nor do they last as long, but they feel wonderful when they happen, and I was on a serious up going into today's seminar.  I felt more confident, more aggressive, and more powerful this week than I have probably ever felt in my life, and rolling, especially Friday, was absolute bliss.  So in that respect, the timing couldn't have been better.

It was a special day, and it wouldn't have been complete without a picture with my amazing coaches, who have supported and encouraged and pushed me for the last fifteen months in one of the most difficult - and most rewarding - pursuits of my life.

Monday, April 04, 2016

2016 Tournaments

Competing in martial arts was never something that interested me.

I enjoyed traveling with the competition team, watching Middle and his friends kick and punch and do artistic things with their bodies and weapons.  I was happy to see them win trophies and celebrate their victories. That's all it was for me - a fun way to keep the kids interested and engaged and a boost to their self-confidence performing for others and doing well.

Then I began jiu-jitsu.

The pressure encouragement to compete is real for both adults and kids. In jiu jitsu, performance in a tournament can be a very useful diagnostic tool.  It's one thing to test yourself against your regular friends and teammates with no one watching and evaluating, where points don't matter and everything is friendly.  In a tournament, you may or may not know your opponent, people are watching and likely videotaping, the adrenaline is flowing, and you are going to bring your very best game to test in as close to a real combat situation as you can safely get.

For a year, I had been traveling to tournaments, cheering on Little and his teammates, kids and adults alike.  Some of the adults have been our friends for years - Teen Ninja Gurl, my Morning Workout Buddy, and the Guru. All three are fantastic and very exciting to watch in a tournament.  So I've been an avid spectator, traveling to Philly, Baltimore, and DC, enjoying it all from the sidelines, even after I had begun training as well.

The fact that there are rarely any women my age, rank and weight class took a lot of the pressure off.  No one could blame me for not wanting to compete in a bracket that wouldn't be appropriate for me.  But when the in-house tournament was announced - to be held at the school, just so that we could experience what it's like to compete in an actual tournament with brackets and medals, I was told there should be some women in at least my rank and weight class.  I agreed to do it.

I was nervous - this was certainly something well outside my comfort zone, but then getting out of my comfort zone was kind of the point of this whole pursuit in the first place.  I saw the bracket - 3 25 year old women and me, thankfully all white belts at about 125 lbs. One was from our school, two from Maryland.

Long story short, I had three very even matches and won two of them. It was a double elimination tournament.  I took first place and went home with a gold medal.

It was a satisfying experience, and I wouldn't be averse to doing it again if asked, if only to support the other women who came out to compete.  It's pretty disappointing to prepare for a tournament and travel and pay for registration, only to find that there's no one to go up against, and this is definitely a bigger problem for the women.  I also really appreciated the opportunity to test myself and my skills at this point, to help know where to direct my efforts moving forward.  I was curious, and I will likely be curious again as to where I stand.

That was February 21st.  Much to my surprise, less than a month later, my coach (who has been dabbling with Taekwondo on the side) asked me to do a karate tournament with him.

I laughed.  Karate tournaments are for kids, not grownups.  I've never done one, and never intended to do one, especially now.  But his Taekwondo instructor was making it a requirement, and he didn't want to do it alone.  Somehow he used the Jedi Mind Trick on me and I agreed, just this once, to do a karate tournament, the same kind that I used to truck the kids to for years and years.  No one would have to know - we'd go and do this and fulfill his requirement.

Then I found out that a big group of kids from my own school was going (although not The Master himself).  Now I had to actually prepare and do well. I spent a few days practicing Koryo and modifying my third bo staff form, and I did some point sparring the night before.

Long story short, I did well.  There were no adult women (big surprise) so I went up against the older grandmaster men. I competed in weapons, open hand forms, and sparring and got 2nd, 3rd, and 1st respectively.

This, however, I would not likely do again. Taking home these nice trophies made me smile, and I was glad that the years of perfecting my stances and power and snap had enabled me to hold my own against the grandmasters.  But in this realm, I'm not looking to prove anything.  The experience of competing will undoubtedly add to my skills as an instructor and mentor, but once was enough.

So there you have it.  Two tournaments this winter / spring, which went very nicely.  I waited for some time to actually write about them, but I felt I would be remiss if I left them out of a blog that has become almost exclusively about my martial arts journey.  There's a corner of my room that now houses three trophies and a medal, in addition to my collection of belts.  (I was promoted from yellow to orange belt in judo the same day as the karate tournament, so my yellow belt joined with the trophies.)  At some point, I'll hang everything up and make it all look nice.  The hard work really does pay off, and that part of competing certainly was gratifying.