Saturday, October 20, 2012

Crossing the Great Pam Barrier

If your BJJ gym is anything like mine, you have that one guy who is universally liked by just about everybody. Young or old, male or female, experienced grappler or novice, everyone likes this guy. Women love him, and fellas want to be like him. And when this guy moves away, everyone is very, very sad.

Our gym's most popular grappler award went to a fella named Lucky (pronounced loo-key). He was visiting from Indonesia and was brand new to jiu jitsu. But what he lacked in experience, he made up for with enthusiasm and general badassness -(you should see what he could do with a pair of nunchunks! I would not mess with Lucky in a dark alley). I would almost feel bad for anyone who would ever attack Lucky, except to attack Lucky you would have to be an absolutely horrible person and not worthy of any ounce of pity. Yes, like most other women, I adore Lucky.

As tough as he was, at 135 lbs Lucky was also the lightest guy in our gym.  So being both the lightest guy and the new guy, Lucky often fell prey to the move-of-the-day. If we drilled armbars that day, people would try to armbar Lucky during rolling. If we drilled the d'arce, people would try to d'arce him. But Lucky was a good sport and didn't take this personally. Rather, he seemed to see this as the natural progression of jiu jitsu. You have to be the nail for a long time before you can be the hammer.

One day, Lucky forgot his gi. I had a spare one in the trunk of my car that I offered to lend him. He graciously accepted - before realizing that my spare gi was my pink, limited edition Kyra Gracie gi. And no one bothered to mention to poor Lucky that there were a half a dozen spare, gender neutral gis in the coach's office. So Lucky wore my pink gi for the rest of practice. He also took on a new nickname - Pam.

After Lucky moved away, everyone missed him. We talked about him all the time and wished we could have him back. One day, someone fell prey to the move of the day and exclaimed "I got Pammed!" A new word had been coined. In honor of our moved-away-but-never-forgotten friend, being the uke for the move of the day became known as "getting Pammed."

Which brings me to the point of my post. Crossing the great Pam barrier is an important milestone in jiu jitsu. When you get to the point where you can consistently pull off the move of the day against at least one person in your gym, techniques become easier to retain. Motor learning happens a little faster. You cross the line from drilling a move against no resistance to using it during sparring. The great Pam barrier is a threshold which all new folks must cross, but when it happens depends somewhat on size and strength. A 200 lb man will cross the great Pam barrier more easily than a 130 lb female will.

It took me about 9 months to cross the great Pam barrier, or around the point of the 3rd stripe on my white belt. I am a very strong lady, but at the time, I had no female training partners and mostly trained with big, athletic guys. So crossing this threshold took me a little while. Sure, there were some guys who rolled nice with me and let me work what I wanted to. But I knew that they were being nice and that these rolls weren't realistic. It took me some time (and some new people joining the gym), before I could legitimately Pam anybody.

We recently had several new female students join our gym - all of whom are around the same size and are brand new to jiu jitsu. I am struck by just how lucky they are to have each other. Chances are, it will not take them 9 months to cross the great Pam barrier. They have each other to Pam and to get Pammed by. I am excited for them, because I think it means they will learn that much faster!

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