Sunday, November 27, 2011

5 Gracies for the price of 1

As alluded to in my last post, Mask and I ventured to New York last weekend for some jiu jitsu fun. We had considered flying home to visit our families for Thanksgiving, but that would have been lame. Instead, we cashed in our frequent flier miles and went to New York for a seminar hosted by Renzo, Kyra, Gregor, Igor, and Rolles Gracie.

Yes, it was 5 Gracies for the price of 1, an offer too good to pass up. Plus the event was a fundraiser for Kyra's social project, the Kapacidade Institute, which brings jiu jisu (as well as food, tutoring, and other necessities) to impoverished children in Brazil. Here's one of their videos:

The seminar began as expected, with Renzo arriving very much on Brazilian time. But that's where the predictable ended. He proceeded to greet each one of us - all 100+ participants - with a giant, back slapping man-hug (what cool people would call "dap").

After making fun of his relatives and cracking some jokes, he introduced a bashful Kyra, who very humbly and very shyly talked about her project. When describing the living conditions of the children and how much jiu jitsu means to them, her voice cracked. She got teary eyed...and that was when Renzo lost it. To my astonishment, he started crying too.

I know, of course, that bad-asses have feelings too, but usually they aren't expressed so publicly. Through tears. Renzo talked about how proud he was of Kyra and what an amazing young woman she had grown into. He was one proud uncle.

All 5 of the Gracie hosts went on to present great jiu jitsu techniques, but that was not the most memorable part of the seminar. What I took home was that Renzo and his crew are quite possibly the most personable, most affectionate, most humorous, most human bad-asses on this planet.

I was lucky to have met them!

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Rob's Pants

This weekend, Mask and I ventured to New York for an event that I will blog about in a later post.  While planning the trip, we made arrangements  to have dinner with our former teammate Rob, who had moved to New York a few months earlier.  

A little background information about Rob – he is a high level white belt in jiu jitsu, but a high level brown belt in baking.  The latter is a fact we discovered as he was planning his move, using up what was left in his cupboard, and baking treats for all his friends – that is, all his friends except me.  As cruel fate would have it, this was the same time that I was  trying to make weight for the Pan Ams, so I was unable to indulge in any of these scrumptious sweets. So imagine  my delight when I received the following message from Rob – “Can I interest you in a large batch of homemade baked goods?” Um, how ‘bout a big, fat YES!  I promptly responded with an affirmative. But, as with getting baited during a jiu jitsu roll, when something appears too good to be true, it usually is. 

“Concerning the goodies, there's just a small catch," Rob wrote. "I need someone to pick up a pair of dress trousers from my former apartment building...”

My jaw dropped. It appeared Rob viewed me on the same level as a golden retriever – a good pal and generally willing to perform for treats. I was insulted that Rob thought I could be bought with a sugary bribe. But, on the other hand, his brownies are really, really,  good. And like Lassie, I am not one to turn down a mission. So I drove to Rob’s apartment, talked to the leasing agent, collected the trousers from the building's dry cleaning, and then debriefed about the operation to my teammates. 

Now, by all appearances, Rob is a wholesome young man with old fashioned values. Indeed, he is the only person I know under the age of 60 who uses the word “trousers.” So I was shocked, absolutely shocked, to discover just how many of my teammates had gotten into Rob’s pants. I collected the following evidence:

Rob's pants: a photo montage

No wonder Rob had to have the pants dry-cleaned.
Of course, I did not release this evidence to Rob until long after I collected the baked goods and was safely out of striking distance. 

The one redeeming factor amidst all this depravity is that Rob and his pants appear to be equal opportunity philanderers.  They do not discriminate on the basis of race, gender, religion, nationality, or jiu  jitsu skill level. 

Still, how about a little restraint?

Monday, November 7, 2011

Meeting the Legend

This weekend was a big one for North Carolina jiu jitsu. Royce Gracie was coming. Royce Gracie was coming! The buzz in the air was similar to what I remember from the late 80's, when I was a young lass at St. Rose of Lima Elementary. Back then, the pope was coming!  Here's how the visits from the two legends stack up:

Pope John Paul II visits Miami

Royce Gracie visits NC
-          Local Catholics brush up on doctrine
          Local jiu jitsu practitioners brush up on self defense fundamentals
-          The faithful don their Sunday best
          Athletes don freshly washed gis
-          Portraits of saints and crucifixes are displayed prominently on church walls
           Portraits of Helio Gracie and tournament medals are displayed prominently on padded walls
-          Special people get blessings
           Special people get promoted
-          Volunteers work diligently to clean up the city
          Most of the gym works diligently to clean up their language; a few are placed under gag order
-          People stress about nervously forgetting to genuflect
         People stress about nervously forgetting to stand in base

As you can see, the two are very similar. And since I have never been particularly religious, I found myself way more excited about the visit from Royce.

I was told that there was some bad news about the Royce seminar, and my heart sank. There wasn't enough room for my team at the seminar in Raleigh. After all our preparation, we wouldn't be able to attend. But then came the good news - Royce Gracie was coming to Durham, to my gym, to give a seminar exclusively to Triangle Jiu Jitsu. That's right folks - I know people who have Royce's phone number. 

Royce Gracie commands quite a presence when he walks into a room. He is, after all, the biggest bad ass of our time. And when he puts you on the spot, you can feel like a pretty big idiot. I know I'm not a dumb person in general. Overall, I don't feel like I'm a slow learner at jiu jitsu either. But my visual memory is not so great. So my ability to watch a move and then replicate it is not my strong point. I am known at practice as the person who says "Can I see that one more time?" Only no one says that to at times I felt pretty lost. And suddenly, for the very first time, I felt insecure in my blue belt. Royce Gracie was looking at me with the eyes of scrutiny and I wasn't sure I measured up.

Then he split us up and asked us to roll, and instantly I felt more comfortable. For my first roll I got paired with a class A bad ass (Brad) and as expected, I got tapped. My second roll was much more competitive and after several minutes, Royce stood us up and said "Put stripes on their belts."

I was pretty thrilled to get this stripe for the following reasons:
a) They don't run trains for stripes. So I was not going to get beat up any time in the immediate future.
b) It's affirmation that I'm moving forward. Right now, the blue belt is a nebulous realm with no clear end point. The steps from going from white belt to blue belt were pretty clear  - spend time on the mats, learn the blue belt curriculum, and do well in tournaments. But how to move up as a blue belt is much less clear. I know it will be a few years before my belt changes color again, but at least now I know I'm moving in the right direction.

After I got my stripe, Royce Gracie said to me "you're doing really well." And suddenly I no longer felt stupid.

In bigger news, 2 of my instructors got promoted this weekend:

First, Ryan Hanseler got his purple belt

Then, Seth Shamp got his brown belt

Both of these belts were undoubtedly well earned. Rank is very hard to achieve in Brazilian jiu jitsu....and both of these guys spent more than 4 years at their previous belts. When they wear their new belts in competition, I know that people are going to say "it's about time!" I, for one, am proud to train with both of you.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Lady Grapplers

I am happy to report that there has been a steady influx of female jiu jitsu players on my team (we are now up to 5!).  This is pretty huge, since a lot of women have no female training partners at all.

For my first year training, I was the only girl on my team. And for a while, I was pretty desperate to find others. I constantly invited my girlfriends to come give it a try (and one actually did! Way to step up, Gretchen!).  But for the most part they looked at me funny, especially after my poor attempts to explain what jiu jitsu actually was. To most of them, it just didn't sound fun.

As with most sports, there is a history of bias against women in jiu jitsu. Watch this short Kyra Gracie documentary and you'll see what I mean:

Of course, I think this is absolutely ridiculous. Jiu jitsu is based in self defense, and its entire premise is that  by using technique, practitioners can overcome bigger, stronger attackers. Sounds perfect for women right? (And on a side note, guard attacks are basically rape defense...think about it. Also perfect for women).

Luckily, things have come a long way and the sport is becoming quite inclusive. Women aren't limited so much by lack of opportunities as much as by having too few female competitors. Unfortunately, as I hinted earlier, many women don't know what jiu jitsu is. And since there aren't that many female jiu jitsu role models, it's just not something that we think to try. I was no different. I had never heard of jiu jitsu  and would not have taken it up if my friend had not invited me to try some free classes. So a lot of women end up training mostly with guys, which has its pluses and minuses.

I certainly would not trade the fellas on my team for all the clean-smelling, female training partners in the world. Rolling with them makes me strong. I've learned all about "that's what she said." And I also know that I have dozens of brothers who would have my back if I ever needed it. However, it is really nice to finally have other women to roll with and I hope to find more - so I started a NC women's jiu jitsu Facebook group. (If you live in NC or a neighboring state and are not on the group, friend me and I will add you). This way we can figure out who will be at tournaments (it sucks to show up and have no one to roll with) and also coordinate women's open mats.

Some guys have asked facetiously if they could join the group or attend a women's open mat. Sorry, fellas. We are not trying to "discriminate against men," but I think there are some very legitimate reasons why it's good for women to have the opportunity to train with each other:

1) When we train with guys, we spend a disproportionate amount of time on the defensive and don't get to work our attacks or top game as much. Yes, all beginners will rightfully spend more time defending than attacking (you have to be the nail for a long time before you get to be the hammer). But for women, who a) typically are not as strong as their male training  partners and b) are not as likely to have a wrestling background, this period lasts a lot longer.

Before I joined my current team, I trained at a place where I rolled mostly with male 17 and 18 year-old high school wrestlers, most of whom weighed about 10 pounds less than me. We were all brand-spanking new and didn't know a lick of jiu jitsu. But I was on the defensive close to 100% of the time. Their technique was no better than mine, they were no bigger than me, but they were stronger and more explosive than I was. Rolling there helped me develop survival skills, but after months of training, I had zero experience passing a guard or doing anything on top. Now, I'm 5'8, built like a swimmer, and am basically strong as shit for a girl. So I know many females have it worse than I did. Within any skill level, guys will always have the attacking advantage, since they, on a whole, are stronger. 

2) We complete against women in tournaments. For self defense moves, yes, we certainly need to apply our techniques against men of all sizes and strengths. But for competition style jiu jitsu, we want to know what will work against other women. And if we never have the chance to roll against women, we aren't going to know what will work for us in competition.

3) Sometimes we have to deal with crap that only other female grapplers can identify with. My personal favorite is the "I don't want to tap to a girl" effect. I feel my blood pressure rising at the mere mention of this subject. Of course, there are lots of great male training partners out there who check their ego at the door and just want to learn and help their partners learn. And then there are those who tell you that they would go to sleep, let their joints pop, or let you eat their children before they would tap to a female. I have been told more than once "That was tight. I would have tapped to anyone else, but didn't want to tap to a girl."

The biggest culprits for the "don't tap to a girl" effect are brand new folks who are tired of being the nail. They identify the female in the room as the one person they should be able to take - then they attack like a velociraptor.  It's good for beginners to see that there is a light at the end of the tunnel - that women CAN survive against crazy muscle heads - it just takes time. And sometimes we just need to vent to each other about these stories...and discuss solutions for mat hair...and speculate who might be rolling in unnecessarily large cups. See, we really do need jiu jitsu girlfriends!

In other news, I went with two of my VERY BEST male training partners, Jeff and Lucky, to attend a fusion seminar with Robson Moura and Gustavo Dantes.

The subject was de la Riva guard and the seminar was full of a lot of really great information. I understood what was presented and thought, "hey, maybe this is the next step in my guard game!" Well, not so much. While I can replicate these moves drilling, I'm a long way off from being able to pull them off while rolling. According to my instructor, after closed guard comes half guard, then butterfly guard, then fancy guards like de la Riva. I'm been spending a lot of time in half guard lately, both on top and on bottom, so I think that's where my game is developing right now. But, I'm glad I went to the seminar, because I know the next time I see this information it will be that much easier to grasp. That's the nature of jiu jitsu.