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.