Saturday, March 24, 2012

mental health break

I'm having a  real "fuck jiu jitsu, maybe it's time to quit and do triathlons" moment. I don't think it will go that far, but I think it's time I've taken a few days off.

I believe in doing what you love and loving what you do. Jiu jitsu doesn't pay my bills or feed hungry children or do anything great for the world. I do it because it's fun, and when it stops being fun, I know it's time to take a step back.

Women, in my experience, tend to be more selective about their training partners than men are. We want to be safe, we don't want to get smashed with strength, and we want to look ok when we go to work the next day. I don't like making the choice between rolling with someone who is going to play dirty, or sitting out the round. More often than not I choose the former, but that leaves me frustrated and, more than anything, just plain hurts my feelings. I believe a couple of things:

1) When I get tapped, it should be because of one of the following - the person is better than me, is trying something new, or caught me before I could defend. When this happens, I will most likely compliment him or her on the technique and try to learn from it. But if someone flat out beasts a move, it doesn't help either of us. Doing something to me that could not be realistically done to someone one's own strength does not help that person learn. It just makes me want to roll with someone else. It took me a while to learn this, but when I train with smaller girls, I make a conscious effort to tone done my strength. Sometimes this means I get tapped, but I learn more from that than by plowing through somebody.

2) There is a time and a place for heavy cross-facing, choking with your forearm, covering someone's eyes with a gi, or grinding your elbows or fists into their face - tournaments. Or street fights, if you are so inclined. Personally, I flat out do not do these things to my training partners. If these are things you want to do in practice, I suggest doing them with partners who match your style.

In Jiu jitsu, people are our training equipment. Good equipment will stick with you for a long time and will help you improve. Bad equipment will wear you down or get you injured.

Back in  my swimming days, I had a very fancy racing suit that I used to wear in my open water races. It was hydrophobic, which means that it repelled water, giving me less drag. Also, the material was super buoyant, allowing me to ride a little higher in the water. It was a fast, fancy suit, but it had one flaw - when I least expected it, it would expose my left boob.

Often this would happen at the end of a race, when I would quickly go from horizontal to vertical. As I would run out of the water, trying to overcome vertigo, my left boob would pop its way out of my suit, exposing my goods to the spectators. In my mind, racing trumped modesty, so I would just keep going. But after several embarrassing race finishes, I finally I accepted the obvious - my fast, fancy suit simply did not fit.

You didn't REALLY think I'd post a picture, did you? This is the new suit I bought, one that keeps both my girls covered.

Lately, my boob has been popping out on the mats, metaphorically speaking. Some of my training equipment does not fit me well. I'm tired of leaving the mats in tears; And I've already watched a couple of good blue belt women quit training because they felt like they were getting smashed.

So it's time for a little mental health break. I have a lifetime to learn jiu jitsu, so a couple days off won't kill me.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

women competing in men's divisions

This weekend, I went with several teammates to the Combat Club Submission Only Tournament. It was a bit of a drive for us, but one of the major draws of the tournament was the absolute super fight division. All competitors could enter this division - all sizes, shapes, and ranks - and the ultimate winner would get a sweet set of swords.

But, as with many tournaments, the women's turnout left something to be desired - there were 8 of us, in total. After our divisions were over, they told us there was not enough of us to run an absolute division.

I was disappointed. Two hours was a long way to drive for two, quick rolls. My teammates tried to convince me to enter into the men's division. If I asked, they argued, maybe I could at least be paired with someone my size. Still, I was extremely reluctant. I thought some more about it...I've gone against girls more than 100 lbs bigger than me without much hesitation. How much more dangerous or less fair could it be to go against a man my size?

I talked to one of the event organizers, but the matter was not up for discussion. "No," he told me. "The guys would not want this. It would look bad if they beat you, and it would look really bad if you beat them. It's a no win." Then he went on the loudspeaker and recruited people for the women's division. Some ladies from the hosting team, who weren't planning to compete at all, joined in. And I got what I really wanted in the first place - more women to compete with.

A similar situation happened to me once before. I went to a US Grappling event last year with no women besides myself entered in the no gi division. Again, I was very disappointed.  Here too, my teammates wanted me to go ask to compete with the men. "You do fine against us in practice," they argued. "You'll do fine against guys your size in a tournament, too." Truth be told, I really didn't want to find out if this was true. But my friends were persuasive and I didn't want to look like a wuss. I was caught between a rock and a steel cup. And then I remembered something...

I walked over to the registration table and asked if I could compete in the men's division - but I did so only because it is written in the published rules that "Women will not be permitted to compete in men’s divisions. Men will not be permitted to compete in women’s divisions." I knew for a fact they would tell me no and that is exactly what they did.

But I can't really blame them for it. The  more that I think about it, the more strongly I feel that men's and women's divisions be kept separate. This opinion is controversial, because jiu jitsu women tend to have a very admirable "women can do anything men can do" attitude. I respect and usually share this attitude. But I feel this way about tournaments for 2 reasons:

1) Mainly, because I have been an athlete all my life. I feel that protecting the women's division protects opportunities for women to excel in the sport of jiu jitsu. I'm one of those feminist, Title 9 supporting, hooray for female athletes!, types. I think it's important not only to provide opportunities for women to PARTICIPATE in sports, but to EXCEL in them as well. It's a slippery slope - will allowing  women to compete with men lead to expecting them to do so? More often than not, the women's turnout at tournaments is sub par. And sure, there are women like Hillary Williams,who are super awesome and who have done just fine in men's divisions. And certainly, if Kyra Gracie were to show up at a random, local tournament, I'd expect her to excel against black belt men  her size. I'm nowhere on par with these women, but I've flat out won my share of open water swimming races, beating all the women and  all the men as well. But I think it's important to note that these examples are the exceptions, rather than the norm. Based on current times, if men and women had to compete with each other in swimming, there would not be a single female on the US Olympic swim team. If they had to compete with each other in basketball, how many women would make it onto college basketball teams? Onto college soccer teams? I'd bet that answer would be zero, or close to it.

2) It could be a little dangerous. In the open water races that I have won, guys at the finish have often fought tooth and nail to avoid "getting chicked." Some are not shy about telling me so afterward. Some women are offended by this attitude, but I choose to be flattered instead. However..."fighting tooth and nail" is just an expression...we're not actually fighting in the water. There might be some body-checking, maybe an accidental kick or elbow, but there is no risk of getting your arm broken. Jiu jitsu, of course, is a different story. And a "win at any costs" attitude carries much different risks on the mats.

I am lucky to have great training relationships with most of my male training partners. What I mean is that we feel comfortable and safe rolling hard with each other. Because, at the end of the day, we are still teammates...we know how far is too far. In practice, we would never intentionally hurt each other in order to "win." First and foremost, we are there to learn and get better.

Yet, tournaments have a different set of rules. Protecting the safety of your opponent takes a backseat to winning the match. This could be dangerous for a woman competing in a men's division, if her opponent's main goal is "not to get chicked." My main goal in jiu jitsu is to still be rolling when I am 90, so this is not a game that I want to play.

So, ladies, PLEASE enter more tournaments! We have so much to learn by competing with each other. And that way, we can leave the boys out of it.