Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Keeping it real, playing it nice, and the Dense and Deluded Grappler

If you train at a decent size academy, then you are probably lucky enough to have training partners with a variety of sizes, strengths, and skill levels. I do and I appreciate this fact. I am also lucky to have plenty of training partners who I feel comfortable and productive rolling hard with. While I am not rolling at tournament intensity during practice, there are those folks who I can regularly "bring it" with - meaning, I am not toning down my strength or technique during these rolls. They are getting my best, albeit at practice intensity and with less roughness than a tournament match. My personal preference is that I like to roll hard and competitively, so I chose to roll with these training partners quite often.

On the other hand, there are some training partners with whom it is appropriate for me to take it down a notch. Likewise, I know that there are plenty of folks who take it down a notch (or 2 or 3) when they roll with me as well.

There are plenty of reasons to go less than 100% during a roll. Here are a few:

  • You are significantly bigger or stronger than your training partner and want to rely on technique instead of physical advantages during training.
  • You are developing a particular technique that requires you to be in a certain spot. If you are working on head and arm chokes, you might allow your partner to escape other dominant positions so you can work that transition. Or maybe you are practicing side control escapes and therefore allow your partner to pass your guard without much resistance.  
  • You are injured and want to train through it. When I injured my knee last year, it hurt it to assume a combat base inside someone's guard. So for weeks, I always yielded guard and would let people up after sweeping them. This limited my attacks during this time, but it also allowed my knee to get better.
  • You are rolling with someone for the first time and are feeling him or her out. It is a generally accepted rule to match your partner's intensity. When you have never rolled with someone, it is better to err on the side of flowing rather than smashing. 
  • Your difference in skill level is such that a competitive roll isn't possible. The more advanced practitioner might roll at a level slightly above his partner's in order to "let him work."
  • You want new students to have a positive first experience with jiu jitsu. I think of it as being an ambassador for the martial art. When new women try jiu jitsu, I want them to have a positive experience and to come back. It would not benefit either of us if I tried to submit them as many times as possible during our first roll. It is better for me to flow with them at first and let them work out of bad positions with little resistance.

I try to keep these factors in mind when I roll. Whenever I find myself in a good spot against an upper belt (unless I am significantly bigger or stronger than that person and am using force), I know it is very likely that she let me get there for one of the above reasons. Likewise, I have no doubt that my instructor can tap me as many times as he would like during a roll. Yet, he usually chooses to tap me 1-2 times. To brag about not getting tapped by him on a particular day would be hubris because the choice is obviously his. The outcome of the roll has less to do with my performance that day than the level of resistance he is providing.

To most people, it is pretty obvious when a partner is rolling nice with them. But every once in a while, someone just doesn't get it. Enter here the Dense and Deluded Grappler (DDG for short).  DDGs are the grapplers who brag about not getting tapped by an upper belt after a roll. They exaggerate how well they are doing so that their reports sound fictitious to even the casual listener. To a DDG, attempting to attack someone's turtle might morph into taking his back, with hooks in and a choke nearly set. You can tell that a new student might be a DDG when he walks into a school, gets partnered with folks experienced enough to roll at 10% effort, and then boasts afterward to anyone who will listen about how well he did against the upper belts. No, DDGs don't make friends quickly at the gym.

Maybe there is something in the acai, but I've encountered several DDGs over the past few weeks. They are innocent enough at first. But at their worst, they can be enough to make even the most grounded martial arts practitioners livid.

So why is it that we care so much? Why not entertain the illusions of the less experienced and let them believe that they are better than us? I am a pediatric speech language pathologist by profession and much of my therapy activities revolve around games. I let my kids win these games all the time (ok, this is a lie. I can be a competitive jackass and I  have to remind myself to let the kiddos win every now and again. But I DO let them win sometimes. And when I do let them beat me, I don't feel the need to remind them of all the nice things I did to let them get there). Is it not the same in jiu jtisu?  We know the truth...our coaches know the who cares what a DDG thinks?

I might strive to have this no ego attitude, but at the present I fall short. I'm not able to treat rolling as I would a therapy session with a child. The difference is that we are both adults. I have put a fair deal of blood, sweat, and tears on the mats (This is not an expression. I sweat on the mats everyday and I have cried and bled on them more often that I would like to admit). I have sacrificed time, energy, and pain for my training, but I would do it over again in a heartbeat. And I am just a lowly blue belt. So many others have invested so much more than I have. So yeah, this behavior bothers us.

Is there hope for DDGs? When we are given the green light (permission to roll as realistically and intensely as we'd like with someone) should we take it? Or is there another way to offer a much needed reality check?

One thing I know is this - DDGs need jiu jitsu as much as anybody. One might become a DDG for one of two reasons - 1) he has an overinflated ego and a poor understanding of just how long it takes to get good at jiu jitsu or 2) he is overcompensating for what is actually very poor self-worth. Either way, he is coming to the right place by training jiu jitsu  - the martial art is simultaneously the most humbling and empowering thing you will ever do. 

So yes, go ahead a smash a DDG when appropriate. But when your roll is over, make sure to help him up and offer some encouragement. Jiu jitsu might just change his life.

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Weight cutting for jiu jitsu women

My team is gearing up to compete in the World Jiu Jitsu Championships at the end of May, which means we are now beginning training camp. Camp is a lot of work and it involves getting beat up, but truth be told I love it - with the one giant exception of weight cutting.

I've cut weight for several IBJJF tournaments and have never had an easy time with it. I've never failed to make weight, but I've never really nailed it either. I'm often that person on the morning of the tournament jumping rope or running sprints in a sweatsuit, trying to sweat out that last half pound. Sure, a small amount of last minute dehydration is not the end of the world, but it's not an ideal situation either.

I don't want to mess with that this year, so I am starting my diet early. I also did a little bit of research. The most helpful article I have found about weight cutting for women was actually written for female Olympic weight lifters. A Woman's Guide to Cutting Weight for Meets by Lindsey Craft, in Lift Big Eat Big, provides a step by step guide for losing up to 10% of one's body weight before a competition, while still retaining muscle. I won't bore you with details, but read the article yourself for the basic 3 stage plan.

Besides the eating plan, which I intend to follow, I am taking away some other major points from the article.

1) Cutting weight is harder for women than for men

          "Making weight for women is very different and much more difficult than making weight for men," Craft writes. "Men can do bigger cuts in a shorter period of time than women and get very predictable results, because their hormone levels are stable and they can deplete themselves of more water and glycogen weight than women.
          Women typically have a lower body weight than men (which limits the total amount of weight that women can lose), a higher % of body fat (limiting the relative amount of water weight that women can lose) and less muscle mass (once again limiting the relative amount of weight that can be lost from glycogen, which is stored with-in the muscle and liver)...Fat, like all lipids, is hydrophobic (meaning it repels water). So an increase in body fat decreases the amount of mass that will be affected by a water cut. Women’s hormones (such as estrogen and progesterone) fluctuate, and these hormones affect water retention and energy metabolism, making a cut (especially a water cut) more unpredictable than a man’s." For these reasons, Craft recommends a slower, longer weight cut for women.

Finally, some validation for something I have long suspected! - cutting weight takes longer for me than it does for my male teammates. Case in point - an MMA fighter on my team regularly cuts weight in the sauna before his fights. During a 30 min session, he can expect to cut at least 3 pounds. Before the Pan Ams this past fall, I spent 30 min in a 170 degree sauna and - after drying off thoroughly and blow-drying the sweat out of my hair - I had cut a whopping 1.5 pounds of water. 

Ronda Rousey cutting weight in a sauna

2) Women should make sure they are cutting weight for the right reasons

I cut weight for the same reason that I lift weights - because I want to be the strongest person in my division. I like to think that I'm giving myself a competitive advantage, but in reality I'm only leveling the playing field. In big competitions such as Pan Ams or worlds, nearly everyone lifts weights to get strong and nearly everyone cuts weight to be on the heavier side of their division. To not do either would be to put myself at a competitive disadvantage. 

I'm not cutting weight because I don't like the way I look or because I feel like I'm fat...I know that I'm in pretty darned good shape already. But if I were to compete at my walk-around weight, my division would have no upper limit and I would very likely go up against women much bigger than me. I'm cutting weight because I know logically that if I weigh in a little lighter, my chances of medaling increase greatly.

However, we live in a thin-obsessed culture and it can be easy to lose this perspective. If you struggle with a poor body image or disordered eating, than weight cutting is not a good idea. Your physical and mental health are worth more than any tournament medal. As Clark puts it, "If you get hung up on weight because of body-image, just give it up. No-one looks good in a singlet. We all look like sausages. And skinny doesn’t look as good as being strong feels."