Tuesday, October 30, 2012

BJJ and judo...basically the same thing?

Most people who I come in casual contact with don't know that I train jiu jitsu. Yes, everyone who knows me well knows that I'm absolutely obsessed with it. But if you work at my elementary school or live on my street, you probably think I am a pretty regular lady. I walk my dogs, pay my taxes, go to work, and come across as pretty normal much of the time. All in all, I think I'm pretty easy to get along with.

But, every once in a while someone takes a closer look (This often happens on a hot day, when I am wearing some kind of sleeveless top). I do something after work, they assess. And then the questioning starts.

Take last week, for example. A teacher at my school took a good look at my shoulders and asked "Are you a swimmer?" I told her yes, I grew up swimming, but don't get in the water much anymore. "Oh," she said, still not satisfied. "Then what do you DO?"

I explain that I do Brazilian jiu jitsu. But that often leads to the followup questions.

- What is that?
- Like, UFC?

- Is that like Judo?

The last question is hardest for me to answer, because the answer depends so much on one's perspective. To the untrained eye, yes, judo and jiu jitsu are pretty much the same. At the tournament level, both sports involve take-downs, ground grappling, submissions, and pins/positional dominance. In fact, one of the new students at my BJJ school was just talking about watching judo in the Olympics and commented on how similar it looked to BJJ. And I agree - they look pretty similar.

The thing is, when you train for a while, you start to realize how different the sports are. And to lump them together diminishes the uniqueness and complexity of both martial arts. I am a fair weather friend  when it comes to judo, training it only when I am 100% healthy and when it doesn't conflict with my jiu jitsu. But I have a lot of respect for judo and know that it can be valuable cross training tool if I put enough time in.  Likewise, I know of judo folk who have taken to jiu jitsu to improve their ground game.

While many of the basic techniques of BJJ and judo are similar, the tournament scoring systems dictate the releative importance of take-downs and groundwork. And this is where the two martial arts are inversely related. I have heard it said that BJJ is 90% groundwork, 10% take-downs. Judo, on the other hand, is 10% ground work, 90% take-downs.

Some might argue these percentages, but jiu jitsu matches are often won without any take-downs at all. Conversely, judo matches are often won without any groundwork. I would not say that these percentages are 100% true across the board - different schools and individuals have different strengths and emphases. But this is what I observe to be a general trend.

I consulted a friend of mine, who trains both BJJ and judo, and asked him to describe the difference between the sports. "The big difference between Judo and BJJ is that Judo players, because they can instantly win a match with an ippon throw, focus on standing throwing, and BJJ players win with submissions, so they tend to focus on submissions from the ground," he explained. "Ultimately people get better at what they practice."

So that's the gist of it. There are other differences too. So, to break  it down for all the untrained eyes out there:

BJJ vs Judo

So there you have it. Brazilian jit jitsu is probably more like judo than any other marital art, but their emphases are fundamentally different. This is why I believe cross training between the two can be valuable, as long as it is not done at the expense of training one's primary sport.

Happy training!

Friday, October 26, 2012

How to throw a BJJ baby shower

1) Find a way to lure the menfolk. 

Guys don't usually go to baby showers. But BJJ players are mostly guys. So unless you get sneaky, there won't be many people at your BJJ baby shower.

The best way to lure jiu jisu guys is to make the shower sound a little more bad ass. And what better way than to have the shower IN THE CAGE! Everything sounds more gangsta when it happens IN THE CAGE! For example, sometimes I go to the gym outside of class hours to drill the moves I want to work on. As much as I know it will make me better, drilling can be a little boring. But when I drill IN THE CAGE, it's easy stay motivated. I feel like a stud!

To summarize: regular baby showers = kinda girly and wimpy; baby showers IN THE CAGE = baby badass

The Triangle Jiu Jitsu Cage

2) Pick your walk out music

Have the mom-to-be choose her entry music. There are plenty of songs about moms and violence - "Mama Said Knock You Out," "Pistol Packin' Mama" or "Big Mama Gonna Whip us Good" to name a few. Dim the lights and start the entourage!

3) Plan appropriate entertainment. What's a baby shower without baby shower games? Of course "guess mom's tummy size" and "blindfold diapering"  won't cut it with this crowd.  You need something less soft. But if you search the internet for fighting themed baby shower games, you will find surprisingly little information. So you have to come up with your own.

I recommend Pictionary for the Cage-fighting Baby. It's played out like regular Pictionary, but instead of standard wimpy-ass clues, party goers draw things like "knockout a dirty diaper," "Judo-throw a tantrem," "tap-out to labor pains," or my favorite "illegal grip on a onesie."

Voila! Follow the above steps, and you will have a shower appropriate for even the most legit jiu jitsu practitioners and their spawn.

Speaking of which:

Photo shamelessly stolen from the Facebook page of Jeff Shaw, dirty white belt
Congrats to my coach Seth Shamp and his wife Brita Klein on their jiu jitsu champion of the future!

Saturday, October 20, 2012

Crossing the Great Pam Barrier

If your BJJ gym is anything like mine, you have that one guy who is universally liked by just about everybody. Young or old, male or female, experienced grappler or novice, everyone likes this guy. Women love him, and fellas want to be like him. And when this guy moves away, everyone is very, very sad.

Our gym's most popular grappler award went to a fella named Lucky (pronounced loo-key). He was visiting from Indonesia and was brand new to jiu jitsu. But what he lacked in experience, he made up for with enthusiasm and general badassness -(you should see what he could do with a pair of nunchunks! I would not mess with Lucky in a dark alley). I would almost feel bad for anyone who would ever attack Lucky, except to attack Lucky you would have to be an absolutely horrible person and not worthy of any ounce of pity. Yes, like most other women, I adore Lucky.

As tough as he was, at 135 lbs Lucky was also the lightest guy in our gym.  So being both the lightest guy and the new guy, Lucky often fell prey to the move-of-the-day. If we drilled armbars that day, people would try to armbar Lucky during rolling. If we drilled the d'arce, people would try to d'arce him. But Lucky was a good sport and didn't take this personally. Rather, he seemed to see this as the natural progression of jiu jitsu. You have to be the nail for a long time before you can be the hammer.

One day, Lucky forgot his gi. I had a spare one in the trunk of my car that I offered to lend him. He graciously accepted - before realizing that my spare gi was my pink, limited edition Kyra Gracie gi. And no one bothered to mention to poor Lucky that there were a half a dozen spare, gender neutral gis in the coach's office. So Lucky wore my pink gi for the rest of practice. He also took on a new nickname - Pam.

After Lucky moved away, everyone missed him. We talked about him all the time and wished we could have him back. One day, someone fell prey to the move of the day and exclaimed "I got Pammed!" A new word had been coined. In honor of our moved-away-but-never-forgotten friend, being the uke for the move of the day became known as "getting Pammed."

Which brings me to the point of my post. Crossing the great Pam barrier is an important milestone in jiu jitsu. When you get to the point where you can consistently pull off the move of the day against at least one person in your gym, techniques become easier to retain. Motor learning happens a little faster. You cross the line from drilling a move against no resistance to using it during sparring. The great Pam barrier is a threshold which all new folks must cross, but when it happens depends somewhat on size and strength. A 200 lb man will cross the great Pam barrier more easily than a 130 lb female will.

It took me about 9 months to cross the great Pam barrier, or around the point of the 3rd stripe on my white belt. I am a very strong lady, but at the time, I had no female training partners and mostly trained with big, athletic guys. So crossing this threshold took me a little while. Sure, there were some guys who rolled nice with me and let me work what I wanted to. But I knew that they were being nice and that these rolls weren't realistic. It took me some time (and some new people joining the gym), before I could legitimately Pam anybody.

We recently had several new female students join our gym - all of whom are around the same size and are brand new to jiu jitsu. I am struck by just how lucky they are to have each other. Chances are, it will not take them 9 months to cross the great Pam barrier. They have each other to Pam and to get Pammed by. I am excited for them, because I think it means they will learn that much faster!

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Pan Ams recap

I'm am walking around with a big, idiot grin on my face, after winning double gold at the Pan Ams.  I am extremely grateful to my coaches and training partners at Triangle Jiu Jitsu and the rest of Team Royce Gracie for their jiu jitsu awesomeness and team effort in preparing for this tournament. I am also thankful for my swimming, crossfit, and yoga buddies for the kick ass conditioning! Here are some points I took away from the experience. 

1) Women want matches, not guaranteed medals.
This was the inaugural year for the female masters division, and being over 30, that’s where I was automatically placed upon registration. One-by-one, other women entered the masters division until our numbers reached a whopping grand total of 4. And none were in my weight class. .

I started freaking out. What if no one else entered my division?! I did not want to fly to New York to simply watch a tournament. Later, I found out that we could move down to the adult division if we wanted to. I did so – and one-by-one, so did everyone else.          

I was proud that all the masters women opted to enter the division that would give them the most matches - not the division that would give them the guaranteed medals. 

I have no doubt that one day there will be enough women in jiu jitsu to support a masters division, but it seems we are not there yet. In due time, friends, in due time. 

2) Renzo Gracie is a jiu jitsu super hero. I was watching my teammate Jeff Shaw's match, when something in the background caught my eye. My other teammate Harold Hubbard had dislocated his shoulder - BAD. It was twisted at an awkward, grotesque angle that was so terrible that I could not stare at it directly.  The human body is NOT supposed to bend that way, Now, as many of you know, Harold is a big, giant pain in my ass. I daydream about heel-hooking him on a daily basis..Yet, it was hard to see him in this much pain. My attention shifted between cheering for Jeff and checking back to make sure Harold was ok. But I couldn't look at the latter for more than a second or 2, before I had to turn away in disgusted horror. (True, this is the reaction I usually have when I look too closely at Harold. But it is all a matter of degrees). Then the unthinkable happened. Renzo Gracie himself jumped from the stands, hopped over the barricade, and popped Harold's shoulder back in place, giving him immediate relief! Just like a jiu jitsu super hero! And just as suddenly, he disappeared back into the background.

3) My coach and I figured out what I need to work on. They say that winning is affirmation and losing is information. And that's true for the most part. But upon reviewing the matches that I won, it is still apparent what my weak points are. As I have said before, the blue belt is a nebulous realm with no clear end point. In Brazillian jiu jitsu, people can spend as long as a blue belt as folks in other martial arts will take going from white belt to black belt. This is quite a formative period and it is not to be rushed. And with so much as still a big question mark, it is worth a lot to get specific guidance about I need to do to improve. By constantly competing and reviewing my matches, I am starting to figure out what I am doing right and what I need to fix. 

For a  write-up on the female medalists, check out /beauty-and-brawn-at-nogi-pan/

Overall, I had a wonderful tournament, but it is time for me to once again focus on training in a gi, Oss!