Wednesday, November 9, 2022

Visiting other schools - how to be a great guest

It's been a minute since I have last blogged. Here's the Cliffs Notes version of my last 2 years of jiu jitsu: 

1) I got my black belt! 

2) My husband and I opened our own school!!! 

Just kidding. That's what I wanted to name the school but it got vetoed. Here's our real logo:

We knew that opening a new school would give us the chance to cook up our own gym culture from scratch, so we thought hard about the environment we wanted to create. We decided that we prefer to keep things friendly and casual. And for us that means running a loose ship. Old school, traditional martial art formalities are so 2005, am I right? 

And it's been great. Except one thing -  when going out of town and visiting other schools, our students don't know how to act. They are committing cultural faux pas. Some even get in trouble.

I realize this is my fault. So I'd like to talk for a second about how to be a great guest at another academy.

How to be a Great Jiu Jitsu Guest 

Email the school ahead of time. Avoid sticker shock by asking about the mat fee upfront. I've been to many schools that don't charge a fee to visitors but I have also been to schools that charge as much as $40 for open mat. It's also a good idea to ask about the dress code. What colored gis are allowed? When in doubt, the most widely accepted attire is a white gi (without your home gym logo), with shorts and a rash guard underneath. 

Read the room. Gauge the formality level of the school by observing what others do. Are people bowing on and off the mat? Do white belts ask upper belts to roll? No one ever gets in trouble for being too polite, so better to err on the side of formality. Do not ask the black belts to roll unless that is the norm at the school. 

If there is a gym dog, pet the gym dog.

Match your partner's intensity.  My friend suggests that on a scale of 1-3, with 1 being a flow roll and 3 being a tough scrap, start at level 2. This way, you can easily level up or down as necessary when you feel your partner's intensity. If you start at 1 and they start at 3, you might get smashed too quickly to recover. If you start at 3 and they start at 1, they will wonder why you are so agro. To be extra polite, if you are much bigger than your partner or much more advanced, yield top position and start the roll at level 1.

Don't talk politics. Drama between schools and affiliations is real. There may be someone in their lineage who doesn't like someone in your lineage. Don't get involved.

Pet the gym dog again.

Help new students but don't over step. Answer questions or show techniques when asked but do not coach over the instructor. 

Don't do anything illegal. If a submission is illegal for you or your rolling partner, now is not the time to play around with it. Also do not attack injured joints.

If there is a jar of treats, ask if you can give the gym dog a treat.

Help clean the mats. They may not let you, but at least offer.

Leave a positive review. Nothing says thank you for the hospitality like leaving a 5 star review! 

Tuesday, March 26, 2019

Thursday, March 30, 2017

Competing in mid-adulthood: How to train to win after age 35

I love training for competition almost as much as I like competition itself - I love the hard rolling sessions, purposeful drilling, and competition focused energy.  I have been training and competing jiu jitu for almost 7 years now and I don’t want to stop, like ever. But, as I settle into my mid-30s, the way I approach training now has shifted somewhat from when I started. I have to be smarter. Now at the ripe age of 36, this is how I approach training before a big tournament:   

I need to actually warm up

I used to be able to show up at open mat and jump right into hard rolling. Now, I seek out 1 or 2 light rolls before I find my most competitive rolling partners. It just takes me a bit longer to rev up to full intensity and my joints respond better to hard rolling after they are warm.

I am selective about my training partners

I believe that it is good and valuable to train with everyone. There aren’t many people who I flat out avoid training with all the time. But now, especially leading up to a competition, I want to make sure that the majority of my rolls are with training partners that most closely resemble those in my competition bracket. I try to train with more women, with more people around my size and skill level, and with people who present challenges similar to those I am facing in competition. If I am having trouble passing spider guard in tournaments, I need to go train with people with good spiders.

I also try to minimize my higher risk rolls - those who use excessive force, spaz out when they lose position, move quickly without purpose, or crank on submissions. I need to save my muscles and joints for more productive rolls and also reduce my chance of being injured at the tournament.

Take hard/easy days

Back when I was a blue belt, I used to roll ten, 6 minute rounds every day. Now I still have marathon training sessions, but I just can’t do it every day. I alternate between hard training days and easier days. On days that I am sore and my joints don’t feel great (usually from very hard training the day before), it is tempting to stay home and rest. Instead, I go to class and seek out light, technical rolls. I almost always benefit more from drilling and rolling light than not training at all.

Pay attention to recovery

Epsom salt baths, good nutrition, adequate sleep, and massages are helpful. Cutting out sugar is one of the best things you can do.

Treat micro injuries

We often get hurt while training jiu jitsu. Sometimes we get injured. These days, I am listening more to the “hurt” to avoid the injured. I’d rather rest a few days to treat something early on, than rest a few weeks or months to treat a later injury.

Cross train

When it comes to physical attributes, it’s use it or lose it. Much of the decline that is attributed to age boils down to not training to maintain or even increase what you have. Now is the time to embrace your old woman/old man strength – strength train!  Do yoga to preserve your flexibility. Do Olympic lifts to increase explosiveness. Do high intensity interval training to enhance your cardio. If you don’t have time to do it all, choose what you actually enjoy doing. That is probably what you are going to stick with.

Tap when a grip breaks

I can’t emphasize this enough. DON’T WAIT UNTIL YOU FEEL PAIN IN YOUR JOINT! Tap when your last defending grip breaks and you can no longer safely defend the joint lock. I will fight a choke as long as I can breathe through one half of one ear. But an arm bar? A heel hook? Unless it’s the finals of the mundials, I tap as soon as I don’t have the grips to intelligently defend the submission.

To all the folks 35 and better – how do you train to perform at your best?  What tips do you have to recover and stay healthy?

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

When Worlds Collide - Why MMA doesn't need to be an art to matter

We are doing something new here at grapplinggirl.  This post is from a guest author, Kassi Nicole Guillford. We would love to hear from more of you in the future, so you have an idea and would like to guest post, please shoot me an email!

Here's a little about Kassi:
Kassi is a purple belt on Team Gustavo Machado training in Norfolk,  Virginia.  
She holds a Bachelors of Arts in Instrumental Music Education and a Masters of Education in Curriculum and Instruction.  She's a middle school band director in her 9th year in the  public school classroom.  

When Worlds Collide

I’m a 31 year old middle school band director who got into jiu jitsu as a replacement for competitive marching band. I had spent my entire adolescence in the marching arts between high school, college, and summer competitive circuits, I lived and breathed it. Unceremoniously, at twenty-two, I was aged out of competition. The void it left in my life when I was no longer able to actively compete shattered my soul.  Over the course of the next two years I tried step aerobics, Zumba, belly dancing, and macramé before an old band friend suggested jiu jitsu. He said I’d love it because it was mentally just like drum corps. It had become his recovery when he aged-out and figured it would be the same for me. It took me a year after that to stumble into a gi school, but my friend was right. I was playing the same mental game and I loved it  

Since I didn’t become an athlete until I was an adult, it was band that taught me many of the lessons commonly touted as reasons kids need sports. It taught me the value of hard work. It taught me that I only get out of life what I put in. It taught me that trying really hard isn’t the same as actually doing it. It taught me how to systematically break down and solve problems.  And it did all this before I ever stepped foot on a marching band field. That’s where my life changed.  I’ll put them in a table to you can see why they are similar in my mind.
Marching Band
Jiu Jitsu
Long rehearsal camps leading up to competition.
Big training camps leading up to major tournaments
Regular rehearsals throughout the week
Training sessions throughout the week
Physical stamina required to move and play at the same time
Physical stamina required so you don’t gas out during a match
Good conditioning prevents injuries
Good conditioning prevents injury
You are competing against other bands who are performing different music and different drill that is tailored to their strengths and weaknesses
You take the mat with a game plan that works your strengths and works around your weaknesses. Your competitor does the same
Lower body technique is the basis of all good marching bands’ look and sound.
Footwork is vital to take downs and throws
Strong upper body technique ensures you can deliver musically.
There’s an MMA parallel here, I’m not going to pretend to understand how to throw punches. I really hate getting punched. 
When you understand fundamentally how to move, you can do it reliably in any situation
When you understand the mechanics of a technique, you can do it from many positions.
You rehearse all of these elements separately with feedback from your instructors to improve your skills
You drill techniques separately and get feedback from your professor or coach.
You will rehearse the same drill or musical segment 1000 times, and expect to improve on each repetition.
You will drill a move 1000 times and expect to improve every single time.
You do run-throughs in rehearsal to improve stamina and be sure that you can string together these ideas that you have rehearsed separately.
You spar or roll live to apply techniques drilled separately on a live opponent.
The scoring system rewards both difficulty and execution.
The scoring system rewards attempted submissions and dominant positions.  
All members of the band must be able to perform their role to be competitively successful
For your team to win a tournament, all the members must do well in their individual matches. In MMA, you need all members of your coaching staff and training camp to be on top of their game.
Final scores determined by judges perception and interpretation of your performance.
Refs make decisions on their perception of control of the match, number of punches thrown/ landed.

Meryl Streep set the martial arts community on fire with the sentence: “...we'll have nothing to watch but football and mixed martial arts, which are not the arts.
The thousands of words of think pieces (Like this one!) and video rebuttals full of ire over the fact that she doesn’t value our discipline. We took her statement that martial arts is not an art to mean that it isn’t worth something. That it isn’t as important as real art. And we all know what real art is, amiright?
But what about marching band? I’m willing to bet that a huge number of you read that list above with your tongue firmly planted in your cheek. That you’re picturing some overweight, pimple-faced kid with a retainer, and a lateral lisp talking about “one time at band camp..” where they worked so hard…
You didn’t say any of that. I filled that in with my twenty years of people not getting it. Of telling me about how they “played a little guitar, so I totally get it.” Oh-so-hilariously quoting American Pie. Because I’ve never heard that before. Even my own teammates jokingly refer to the annual sabbatical from training that happens every August as “Kassi going to band camp.” 
This is where you expect me to say that “if MMA is an art, marching band is a sport.”
I think both are false.
I am going to catch the wrath of both sides of my life, but as a musician and a martial artist, they just aren’t the same. Bear with me while I flesh this out. If you’ve made it this far, you may as well keep going.
True mastery of any discipline is described as artistry. The work of brilliant mathematicians or scientists is often described as artistry. Are scientists or mathematicians artists? Hardly anyone would argue that point. Unless there is the perception that in withholding the designation “artist” that you are devaluing the work.
It is in this vein, I find my counter example regarding marching band to be identical. We want so badly the respect and social status that comes with athlete and sport designation. We work hard. We’re a team. We’re dedicated. By God, we’re a sport!
Marching band is hard, it is skilled, it is disciplined… and it is not a sport. Because we don’t have to share that designation to be valid.

Artists are known to be feverishly dedicated to their craft. To spend their lifetime in pursuit of an ever-out-of-reach goal. To describe someone as an artist has the built in implication that the common man won’t quite understand their level of dedication to their discipline. As martial artists (I use that colloquially) we fit the bill. We are dedicated, crazy, and always growing. Always learning.  
If we aren’t artists then she, and all those elitists clapping for her, don’t think we are all of those things. We look at the martial arts community and see countless boot-strap stories of success. Men and women who are both inspirational and inspired. Fighters that have put in the work on their craft to make the impossible seem effortless. How is that not artistry?
In a room full of performing artists, she didn’t really need to flush out her definition of art. But she hints on it in one of the last lines of her speech. Which, if you aren’t this kind of artist, likely slipped you by “We must be very aware of the privilege and responsibility of the act of empathy.”
“We must be very aware of the privilege and responsibility of the Act of Empathy.”
That’s heavy.
That wasn’t political. That wasn’t about President-Elect Trump. The responsibility of the act of empathy speaks to both the responsibility of the work’s writer/composer/ choreographer and also to convey this meaning to the audience. Art is like time-traveling exorcism. You are hearing the sounds, seeing the sights, and feeling the emotions of people who aren’t there and may be long dead. The magnitude of that responsibility as a performer and that gift as a patron are enormous.
Robert Heinlin explains his definition of art in his book Stranger in a Strange Land

“Art is the process of evoking pity and terror, which is not abstract at all but very human…. creative art is more like intercourse, in which the artist must seduce -- render emotional -- his audience, each time.”

It is in that second phase, the connection with the audience, that martial arts takes a different path. Martial arts existed for thousands of years without an audience and continues to in far flung corners of the globe. Martial arts are about building people. Bodies. Minds. Souls. The audience is and has always been irrelevant.
While Ms. Streep certainly said what she did with a derisive tone. It remains that if The Arts (theatre, music, dance, visual arts, and literature) collapsed today and never existed again, martial arts could not fill that void.
We don’t need martial arts to be The Arts anymore than marching band needs to be a sport to be valid. Our contribution to the tapestry to this world is through producing men and women who are iron sharpened and take that dedication and intensity into all parts of their lives.

Monday, November 21, 2016

How to be a Better Loser

Image result for loser

No one likes to lose. And if you train jiu jitsu, you’re probably pretty competitive and like losing about as much as you like finding your face buried in your training partner’s sweaty armpit. But if you are a true competitor, losing is par for the course. In my opinion, unless you are of Rodger Gracie caliber, never losing means either a) you don’t compete enough or b) you don’t compete at a high enough level.

My instructor has a saying: "Winning is affirmation and losing is information." If you win, that's awesome. But when you lose, that's when you most have the opportunity to learn and get better. If we are so paralyzed by the fear of losing that we are afraid to take a match, we are stunting our own growth. And that can hurt us, because short grapplers don’t land as many triangles.

So what to do when the inevitable happens? I’m not trying to brag here, but I’ve had plenty of opportunities to practice my losing skills, so I’ve given the issue a good deal of thought. Here is my guide for losing as graciously and productively as possible:

Give credit where credit is due
First and foremost, congratulate your opponent and give her props for her victory. Thank your coaches and training partners for helping you get ready for the match as well.

No podium stink face
This is my competition pet peeve. No fleeing the mat before your opponent gets his hand raised, no storming off the mat period, and no stink face on the podium. If you do any of these things, you will look like a giant baby. You are also robbing your opponent of his time to enjoy the moment.  It’s ok to get emotional – I sometimes do - but try to do so in a private place. 

Assess your preparation

Once you've survived the photos and awards, it's time to learn from your mistakes. Examine your mental state and nutrition leading up to the match. What worked and what didn't? What about your training? Were you as prepared as you should have been? What would you do differently next time?

Take video of your match and review it later with your coach
This is your chance to really learn from your match. You can see exactly where things went wrong and you can rewind and re-watch as often as necessary. Ask yourself: What did you do well? What mistakes did you make? How could you achieve a better outcome next time?

Make “I” statements
Whether in training or in competition, you can make a million excuses for why someone got the better of you. I'll admit, I'm as guilty of this as anyone. I hear excuses creep into my self-talk all the time and it takes mental work to turn these statements around. It's not that these excuses are wrong - they may be perfectly legitimate. Within a skill level, physical attributes play a huge role in determining rolling outcomes. Yet, I think it's unproductive to cite these attributes as reasons for losing. When I take responsibility for my own rolls I feel less discouraged, because instead of blaming a loss on external factors, it gives me the power to change my jiu jitsu. Here’s what I mean:

Instead of saying:
He beat me because he is so strong
My jiu jitsu was not good enough to overcome his strength advantage
Her guard was just too flexible to pass
My pressure passing was not tight enough to pin her flexible hips
He was just too explosive to hold down
 I wasn’t able to stabilize my top positions
She only submitted me because she knew a fancy, new move that I had never seen
My fundamentals weren’t strong enough to shut down her unpredictable move

Get back to the gym
It’s easy to feel discouraged after a loss. You might even be tempted to lay off the mats for a bit. But instead, why not use the sting of defeat to fire up your training? Get mad! Now’s the time to train more and train harder. Take what you learned from watching your match and work on your mistakes. No one likes to lose, but, when it happens, defeat can be one of the best things to push your jiu jitsu to a new level. You just have to keep training.

Thursday, July 14, 2016

When a roll turns agro - dealing with newbie, psycho-spazzes

We've all been there - rolling with a newbie, psycho-spaz (NPS, for short) who believes this training roll is a matter of life or death. He (or she) kicks, scratches, slams, jerks, and rips out of every grip and hold. You get the sense that, for the NPS, injury to either of you would be preferable to tapping. Tapping is THE ABSOLUTE WORST THING! If you tap, you lose. And above all else, the NPS hates to lose.

But by definition, the NPS is new. Eventually he gets caught. He taps. And from there his aggression escalates.

It is fair to say that no one likes rolling with the NPS. It may be productive under the right circumstances, but it is neither safe nor pleasant.

So how is the NPS dealt with? Very often, we simply match his aggression and lack of regard for his training partners. We think - Oh, THAT'S how he wants to roll? Ok, let's do this. Our goal for the roll changes. We set out not to hone our skills and work new technique but simply to destroy the NPS.

But lately, I've realized something. When we match poor rolling behavior, we reinforce it. The NPS does not necessarily make the connection: I don't like how this person is rolling with me. Hey, maybe folks don't like how I roll, since I do some of these things. I should probably change my rolling style.

It's more likely that the NPS says: See, I'm doing nothing wrong. This is how EVERYONE rolls, even the upper belts. I'm just like everyone else.

Recently, I was trapped in an escalating roll with an NPS. I was partnered with an agro, wrestler guy whose clear goal was to not tap at all costs. My body was paying the price. After wading through ripped fingers and elbows to the face, I was relieved to find myself taking mount and snatching an armbar. Maybe if I showed this NPS his place, he would calm down.

Only, he didn't tap. Instead, the NPS grunted "I'm not submitting!" and proceeded to bicep curl my body and escape from my imperfect armbar. So I moved on to choke him instead. He finally did tap - but from there the roll further degenerated. His behavior increased in intensity but now so did mine. I was pissed. I had watched this NPS roll with plenty of dudes and never once did he respond to their attacks with the defiant grumble "I'm not submitting." This guy was not just an NPS - he was a sexist douche. And now I was the one turning agro. The NPS-SD was rolling like he wanted to kill me, but now I was about to roll that same way.

The final time that I tapped this NPS, I dove on an americana and cranked it hard - far from the slow, controlled way I would normally submit a new white belt. I realized something: The way this guy was rolling was not ok. And because I matched his style, the way I was rolling was not ok. Matching his intensity was neither smart nor effective. We were both in danger of getting hurt and it had done nothing to change his behavior.

I decided I needed to speak up. I explained to the NPS why this roll was unsafe and described to him what I believed to be a more effective way to roll. In part, I did this to make the rest of the round safer for both of us. But I also did it for him and the sake of his future rolling partners. Smashing him was not teaching him a lesson but seemed to be escalating his behavior.

Because you know what? I was once new. And the more I think about it, the more I realize that in my first few weeks, I was an NPS. I learned quickly but I did so because my more experienced training partners took the time to talk to me about how to roll. I distinctly remember upper belts telling me that if I slowed down, I would learn faster. I got treated better than most new dudes who start training, even though my behavior was similar.

So what do you do when you see an NPS on your mats? My advice is this:
  • duck them if you can
  • roll with them if you must
  • smash them if you are able
  • but then take the time to talk to them. To turn the NPS into a productive training partner, your words may be more effective than your chokes

Thursday, June 23, 2016

Contest time! Share your story and win a free entry to the Spartan obstacle race


Lately, I've been noticing something. It's not always the most talented athletes who stick with jiu jitsu for the long run. Of course, sometimes these guys do stick around and when they do they become jiu jitsu monsters. But more often than not, it's not the most athletic, genetically gifted student who survives the mats for the long haul.

For every phenom who smashes through the ranks, there are at least a dozen others who grind their way through. People who get smashed a lot, but just keep on rolling. People with physical, family, and time limitations, but keep their heads down and train when they can. People who make up for average talent with exceptional grit. People who may face plant into obstacles but decide to train through them.

My friends at Spartan Race salute this commitment. To celebrate the release of Joe DeSena's new book, Spartan Fit, they have offered to give one of my readers a code for a free Spartan obstacle race entry, good for anywhere in the US.

Want a chance to win it? Share your story in the comment section below. Write a brief post about what obstacles you overcome in order to train. One lucky reader will be picked at random to win the free entry.

PS: If you don't win, don't worry! You can still get a 10% discount on the race by entering the code SPARTANBLOGGER

PPS: You can pre-order the book here!