Monday, August 29, 2011

Getting Bluer

I want to thank Fenom Kimonos for sending me this awesome belt!

Now, I've gotten quite a bit of flack for changing my belt. And I think you naysayers need to take it easy. The general question is - how could I so callously trade the belt given to me by a Royce Gracie black belt for a brand new belt?! Well, I have 2 equally valid reasons for this:

1) I like to coordinate. This new belt goes very nicely with my pretty, purple Fenom gi. When my hair is sweaty and disheveled and I smell like a room full of stinky boys, damn it, I like my clothes to match. Is that so wrong?

2) I want to preserve my mojo. As established in previous discussions, all of your jiu jitsu mojo is housed in your belt. And yes, I realize that by retiring my 1.5 week old belt, I'm losing all the mojo that was deposited during its brief life.  But - I am willing to make that sacrifice, as I consider it an investment in preserving my future mojo.

See, here's the problem: I was promoted on the same day as 4 of my teammates, and we were all given identical belts. "Great!" you are thinking, "you can all be belt twins!" No, not so great (and there are 5 of us, you moron, so we would be quintuplets, not twins).  Intense rolls are like those scrambled TV movies that you tried to watch as a kid while your parents weren't home. There is some sweating and grunting before clothes inevitably come off. How many times in a typical practice do you pick your belt off the mat and retie it around your waist? How many times does your training partner retie his belt? And if a bunch of you have the exact same belt, how can you be completely sure whose is whose? What if someone takes your belt - WITH ALL YOUR JIU JITSU MOJO - and claims it as his own? What happens to all your mojo - is it transferred? Or does it simply disappear?

This is not a game that I want to play. Thus, I am very happy to have this distinctive, female belt, unlikely to be stolen by any mojo-stealing dudes on my team. Thanks again, Fenom!

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Choo Choo!

When you get promoted at Triangle Jiu Jitsu, people are happy for you and celebrate with high fives and butt slaps for like 15 minutes. Then they start to get excited for another reason - they will very soon get to beat you up.

Different schools have different traditions for belt promotions and I think ours is worse than most. We celebrate by running "trains." Blue belt trains last for 15 min - that means that a new person will roll with you (as meanly and aggressively as possible) every minute, for 15 min. If there are less than 15 people in class, as was my case, the highest ranking people will roll with you twice, making your life doubly miserable. To show you what I have to look forward to, trains last 30 min for purple belts, 45 min for brown belts, and 1 hour for black belts. People of lower rank get to start wherever they want on the "trainee" (mount, back mount, knee in belly, etc). People of the same or higher rank as the trainee start where the previous person left off.

I am a bit of a softie and tend to roll nice with people during their trains (no more, I assure you!). But the general idea is not to tap the person as many times as possible per se, but to make them as miserable as possible. For example, if you sink in a clock choke, you will have to let go as soon as they tap. But imagine how much more it would suck if you tighten said clock choke only about 80% and also hold them in a nice, tight body triangle so that they are still - very barely - able to breathe. This way, you can hold them there for your whole minute!

To sum it up, the idea is to turn the victim, er, trainee from one of these...

into one of these...

Ouch, right? Yes,  ouch indeed. I thought about having my train videoed, but I was afraid that would spur folks to show off in front of the camera. Also, if such a tape were to go viral, it might be the kind of thing to get a group of fellas arrested. And if they are hiding behind bars, then I wouldn't be able to extract vengeance on my teammates during their future trains, now would I?

My thought going into this was that, lately, a lot of my female friends have been going through painful endurance events of their own - they have been giving birth. Now, that is one endurance event that I have zero interest in. (I do actually take a folic acid supplement, but only because it's helps keep my blood pressure in check).  But all types of women give birth - even very wimpy women who don't train jiu jjtsu at all- and they do it without any training! So if figured if my friends are surviving childbirth and making it out in one piece, then surely I could survive my blue belt train. 

And  survive I did. It was certainly one of the more painful 15 min in my recent memory, but I'm confident that it's not as bad as expelling another being from your body (be it baby, or demonic possession). In terms of athletic endeavors, I can think of only a few that sucked worse. (The last half mile of the Swim Around Key West was pretty bad...I was winning, but 2nd place was waay too close, my shoulders were on fire, the water was over 90 degrees, and suddenly we were going against the current instead of with it. But events like this are few and far between). I also know that my train was worse than anything that I will go through in a jiu jitsu tournament, so there is nothing to be afraid of the first time I compete as a blue belt. If I weren't so sore and if my face weren't raw from all the almost gi chokes, I would tell you that the train was empowering in a way. If you can survive a fight against an entire gym, than any one person would be a piece of cake, right?

Monday, August 22, 2011

Something Blue

The new TJJ blue belts - Hameed, Chris, me, Harold, and Timber

Today I received a present from Royce Gracie black belt, Billy Dowey, in a very lovely shade of blue. (OK, not a present per se. I paid a handsome $10 for the belt later, but that's beside the point).

This new belt is, without a doubt, the most valuable article of clothing I own. See, rank is very hard to achieve in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu - blue belts take on average 1-2 years to earn,while black belts take 10-15 years. This is not a martial art where you can pay dues to your gym, study some material, perform techniques in a static environment and - presto!- you get promoted. Rather, I trained my ass off for a year, competed whenever possible against EVERYONE possible (against girls much smaller than me, and some girls more than 100 pounds bigger than me, never saying no to a match), and  bled, sweat, and cried on the mats until I really, truly, beyond the doubt of anyone who rolls with me, knew the basics...only then was I considered for blue belt promotion.

But this is why I love BJJ. Belts actually MEAN something. You can't buy a belt with money, time on the mats, or academic knowledge. You have to show that you can actually use your skills. Otherwise, what's the point?

So to commemorate my first big step on the long road to becoming a BJJ black belt (aka a lethal, ground-fighting assassin), I thought of some lessons I've learned so far:

1) You are only as good as the school where you train. When choosing a school, ask yourself - Is your instructor respected in the jiu jitsu community? Do you feel comfortable with your teammates? If you have any hesitation, shop around a little more. 

2) There always is someone better than you; there always is someone worse than you (not in your own gym, necessarily, but in the grand scheme of things). Don't worry so much about how you are doing compared to everyone else. Just try to get a little better every time you roll.

3) Be nice to people who outrank you. They know more than you and have been training longer. Good training partners are happy to help and can give you tips to improve your game. But if you spaz on them or go for cheap moves, you will piss them off and they will whoop you.

4) Be nice to the new people. Remember when you first started and you were like - you want me to do what  with my legs? What was once sketchy and undignified to you is now sketchy and undignified to the new guy. Try to make him or her feel welcome.

5) Winning or losing is very important in competition - not so much in practice. If you train with good people, put yourself in bad spots, and keep rolling until you're exhausted, you're setting yourself up to learn and get better - but also to get tapped in practice. This is not a bad thing.

6) Compete as much as you can - and video tape your matches. If you are female, you might have to go outside your comfort zone and compete in matches that aren't "fair" - against girls of different sizes and skill levels than you. Unfortunately, there aren't enough BJJ women to fill out all the weight classes at local tournaments. But if you refuse to compete, you miss out on a major opportunity to learn.

7) Buy a cool gi or pimp out your old gi. Gis are like wedding dresses - they turn regular people into white, amorphous blobs, difficult to distinguish from one another in a line up. This doesn't have to happen to you. If you look good, you will feel good, and then you might roll good.

8) Take notes! BJJ techniques are very heavy on the details - and the details are what make them work. If you remember 85% of what was covered in class, consider yourself very enough to get a B+...but perhaps not smart enough to use the actual moves that were covered. Doh! Missing a step or two can be the difference between pulling off a move and failing miserably.  So write this shit down.

9) Don't wash your belt. Your belt houses all of your jiu jitsu mojo. Sure, you can get Staph, HPV, and all sorts of icky germs from the mats, your gym equipment, and your teammates. But your belt?!? No, your belt is sacred. It will never hurt you.

10) Don't make eye contact. 'Nuff said