Monday, December 30, 2013

Holy crap, I'm a purple belt!

I still can't believe it - last weekend I became a Royce Gracie, Triangle jiu jitsu purple belt! It hasn't fully sunk in yet. (A few days ago, I absent-mindedly said "I'm just a blue belt" and had to be corrected by my training partner).

Not much has changed, really. I roll the same as I did a few weeks ago. I still get tapped by the same people. The old maxim is true - "A belt only covers 2 inches of your ass. It is up to you to cover the rest of it."

Getting promoted by my now black belt instructor Seth Shamp!

In my job as a speech language pathologist, we have a maxim of our own - "Don't teach to test." In other words, the point of therapy is to improve someone's functional communication, not to improve standardized test scores. When therapy is successful, improvement in assessments may be the end result, but it is never the goal. The goal is to help a patient communicate in the world.

I think the same is true in jiu jitsu. Going up in rank is a measure of progress like standardized test results. They both are a nice affirmation. But achieving rank should never be the point of training.  Pedro Valente has said “No one should train for a belt. You should train for the knowledge, you should train for all the amazing benefits that jiu jitsu brings to our lives.”

I train quite simply to get better at jiu jitsu. Sometimes I train with a narrower focus, such as to win a tournament or to learn and incorporate new techniques. But the overall goal is to be just a little bit better than the day before. Changes in color are few and far between in our art, so if they become our goal, we are destined for frustration and discouragement.

My training partners Brad McDonald and De McFadyen got promoted too!

Getting a purple belt has never been the point of my training. Still, it is something that I have wanted from early on. When I was new, I saw purple belts as serious bad-asses. Now I see them as folks who are in it for the long haul and are likely to keep training for life.

So, yeah, I am totally psyched to wear a new color and to have a chance to compete in new divisions. Purple is my favorite color and my belt now matches most of my wardrobe. I am also psyched as ever to keep training for the simple sake of learning jiu jitsu.

My jiu jitsu tree has a purple flower!

Thursday, December 19, 2013

Emerson Falcao vs. Juliana Velasquez - Shooto Brazil plans the first profesional, mixed-gender fight in MMA history

History has been set for Dec 20th - Juliana Velasquez  is set to fight Emerson Falcao in a professional MMA match, the first ever such male/female match-up in history. It is the stuff for headlines, for sure. But is it a good idea? In that I ask, is it a positive step for the sport in general and more specifically for women who compete?

I would argue that, no, it is not good for either. It is, however, sensational and attention-grabbing and a sure ways to attract viewers.

My gripes are the following:

- I want women to have the same opportunities to excel in sports as men do. As a feminist, I like and generally share the women can do anything men can do attitude. But as a life long, competitive athlete, I cannot deny that men and women's bodies are different. To deny that men and women have different physical characteristics and body compositions is to deny biology. I have blogged about this in the past in women competing in men's divisions.

Just looking at a picture of the two fighters, it is clear to me that this is not a fair physical match up. They are fighting at the same size, but the strength disparity here is pretty obvious.

Sure, there are plenty of women who can beat plenty of men in any given sport. I am way out of swimming shape, but could probably still beat 98% of the world's population of men in an endurance swimming event. I am strong and have good physical conditioning, but within that 98% of men there are bound to be those who are stronger than me, have better cardio, or have better muscular endurance than me. Yet, I would still beat them. What this means is that, despite differences in physical attributes, I would still be able to beat male swimmers whose technical skill level is lower than mine.

Which brings me to my next point...

- I am not interested in watching world-class female athletes compete against B level males. These might make for interesting match-ups, sure. But they don't do much to test the relative skill levels of the athletes involved. I would much rather watch the best women in the world compete against each other.

I am also not interested in watching elite female athletes of today compete against elite male athletes from a previous generation. I am thinking of the landmark tennis match in 1973 when #1 ranked Billie Jean King defeated the formerly #1 ranked Bobby Rigs. Billie Jean King was 29 years old, Bobby Rigs, 55. Bobby Rigs was behaving like a sexist douche, running his mouth about how inferior women's tennis was. Billie Jean King beat him and I'm glad she did. But I would rather watch the best female athletes from today compete against each other than to watch them compete against the best male athletes from our parents' generation.

"Dumbing down" a male athlete by age or technique in order to provide a more even match-up against a female is insulting.

- This is a pretty clear publicity stunt. It is going to attract an audience for the mere fact that a man and woman will be hitting each other. To most folks, it just sounds wrong...which is why they are going to watch. For a sport already described by some as "human cock fighting," this mixed gender bout will add another layer of shock. But it is sensationalism that detracts from the legitimacy of the sport.

Friday, December 13, 2013

Can training MMA actually help one's jiu jitsu?

I've dabbled in MMA classes in the past, for a month or so at time, but just for fun and without any commitment or intention to fight. What's held me back was 2 things - 1) fear and a well developed sense of self-preservation 2) concern that time spent training MMA would detract from my jiu jitsu.

Tournament jiu jitsu is my bag. It is something that I can compete in for a long time and be successful at. A desire to win is what drives me to get to the gym early to drill and to stay late to get in a few extra rolls while others are mopping. Self-defense jiu jitu techniques are important to me as well. They are what give me the tools to stay safe when I walk into a creepy house at work, for example. Self defense techniques will empower me for the rest of my life and are part of a legacy that I want to help pass on to others. There are only so many hours to train in a given week, and I don't want to do anything that would slow my progress in either of these areas.

But MMA is a young person's sport and I am not getting any younger. If I ever want to compete in MMA, even in the vague bucket list sense, it is now or never. I think that I can put fear and self-preservation aside for a period of time - but I am certainly not willing to sacrifice my jiu jitsu progress.

But in giving MMA training a more serious try, I made a surprising discovery - MMA has been the best thing in the word for my jiu jitsu. I'm not saying this is true for everybody.  But for me, my body type, and my set of skills, it is proving to be the case.

My rationale is the following:

- I am now sucking less at scrambles. I've been an endurance athlete all my life, but fast-twitched, explosive movements are my downfall. In jiu jitsu, I've basically conceded that I will lose scrambles against fast people, so I've worked on tightening my game to minimize the occurrence of these scrambles. In MMA, I train with people who are much faster than me and without the fiction of a gi to slow everything down. Only here, losing scrambles does not result in tapping, but more often results in physical pain. Being of sound mental state, physical pain is something that I try to avoid. So MMA training has pushed me into a fight-or-flight state that has made faring better in scrambles a physical necessity. Sure, there are days at jiu jitsu now when I am too fatigued and beat up to roll worth a damn. But on a whole, I am finding that I am actually rolling better now that I am more scrambly. 

- MMA has forced me to develop takedowns. My strategy in jiu jitsu tournaments has typically been "try to bully my opponent into pulling guard and if that doesn't work, pull guard before she can take me down." It's worked ok because I have similar skill levels at guard playing and guard passing. But this strategy is bitchassness. I know that as I progress in jiu jitsu, not having a strategy to take the match to the ground on my terms is something that would impede my progress.

Say no to guard pulling

- MMA has forced me to use jiu jitsu in a way that is more realistic for self-defense. MMA and self defense are different beings. Jiu jitsu self defense is about surviving and escaping, while MMA is about dominating and winning a fight. Still, training some MMA has shed light on some sporty jiu jitsu habits that I have developed that would be devastating in a self-defense situation. Falling to my butt and playing deep half guard work for me in tournaments, but are suicide in MMA and self defense. MMA has also reinforced the importance of standing in base - instead on fighting on bottom from a losing position, why not stand up and fight again from a neutral spot?     

I will never compete in MMA on a high level. I still have too much of that pesky self preservation instinct and frankly, I'm too old. But if training MMA can actually make me better at jiu jitsu, my true love?! I'll take it!