Thursday, September 26, 2013

Gender differences and impulse control - bursting into tears vs. kicking someone's ass

There is no crying in baseball...or jiu jitsu

For me, one of the more terrible and embarrassing aspects of being a female jiu jitsu player is my propensity for crying. Now, in the grand scheme of things, I am a pretty tough lady and don't cry all that often. In my 3+ years of training, I have cried maybe 6 times. This averages less than once every 6 months, which is really not all that frequently.

Crying shows weakness. I do not want to be seen as less tough or capable than the guys on the mats. This is one of the reasons why I hate to cry in public and will avoid it at all costs. If I find myself on the verge of tears, my mind tells me to flee flee flee. Find an excuse to get off the mats and into my own space as soon as possible. I don't like to cry in front of anyone, even those whom I am closest to. But there are certain times when I just can't help it. When this happens at jiu jitsu, I need to leave the area, ASAP.

Various things can turn on the water works - the sting of defeat, excitement over a major achievement, guilt over hurting someone, anger over getting needlessly smashed, or panic over a sudden lack of safety during a roll. 

The last time I became truly upset on the mats was when the latter happened. I found myself in an unsafe spot and tapped to get out of it - but with the excitement of the game we were playing, combined with a language barrier, my tap went unacknowledged and there was no release of my joint. I then verbally tapped and then yelped, but there still was no release. This put me into panic mode. I screamed loudly until my partner was pulled off of me, but by that time I had mentally lost it.

I walked away unhurt and uninjured but totally freaked out. One of the many reasons that I love jiu jitsu is that everything, in theory, is within my control. If a roll goes badly, all I have to do is tap and the pain/discomfort/danger stops. This incident violated this paradigm, making me panic to the point of uncontrolled sobbing.

All I wanted was to sink through the matted floor. I realized that I react differently to negative experiences on the mats than most of my male training partners do. When I get upset, I feel vulnerable and want to withdraw within myself. Many guys that I train with react in a way that is more socially accepted on the mats - ready to beat someone's ass. In this respect, I found myself wishing I could be more like them.

Until I actually did. Recently, in a split second burst of anger and lack of impulse control, I responded to poor mat behavior in a violent way. Instead of crying, instinct kicked in to kick the offending party's ass. Finally, I acted like one of the guys would. Only instead of feeling better about myself, I felt ashamed.

I don't think I will ever feel comfortable crying at jiu jitsu, but it seems I am not comfortable with the alternative either.

Crying is not exclusively for ladies

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Atlanta Open

Last weekend, Triangle Jiu Jitsu and several other Royce Gracie schools competed in the Atlanta open. This is the closest that the IBJJF comes to North Carolina, so it was a big deal to us. We showed up in big numbers and did some serious work.

I was happy to win double gold and was thrilled that my teammates Seth Shamp, Jeff Shaw, and Chela Tu won gold medals as well. Overall, Team Royce Gracie took home too many medals to count!

What I liked about the tournament:

- As the only IBJJF tournament of drivable distance, it attracted NC Royce Gracie folks in record numbers.

- I was not only representing myself and my school, but I was representing the larger Royce Gracie network. People who normally compete against each other in local tournaments came together to form 1 Royce Gracie unified team. It was a nice feeling to be part of a group much larger than myself.

- Brackets ran on or ahead of schedule. There was no excessive waiting around.

- Even when competing with folks with whom I've grappled before, the intensity was higher than it is at local tournaments. We all put in training camps and drove a long way for this, so the stakes were elevated.

What I didn't like about the tournament:

- The venue made viewing matches difficult. One of the best things about going to IBJJF tournaments is watching the elite upper belts compete. At this venue there was no stadium seating, so I had to fight to get mat side to watch my teammates roll. Getting to a vantage point for any of the black belts was a non-probability.

- I almost didn't get to compete in the absolute division. I've done a handful of IBJJF tournaments and have heard my share of horror stories of people getting screwed by ring coordinators. Some people have traveled as far as the mundials in California, only to be mysteriously dropped from their brackets without a chance to compete. As restitution, they get offered free entry into next year's tournament, which is a pathetically inadequate reimbursement. After investing time in training camp and money in a tournament entry fee, plane ticket, and a hotel stay, free entry into next year's tournament is a paltry consolation for getting dropped from a bracket this year.

Knowing what could go wrong, I was the very first out of all of the adult blue belts to register for the absolute division.  I very clearly stated my name, rank, and division, and did not leave until it was verified that I was registered. I then went about my business cheering for my teammates. However, when the time came for my absolute division to compete, my name was never called. I was not on the list. The ring coordinator actually tried to convince me that I hadn't registered. As if! After some wrangling, I finally managed to get my name back on the list where it belonged. Whew!

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Freedom, feminism, and racy photos – the controversy surrounding sexy grapplers

I feel fortunate to live in a culture that values freedom of expression as a basic human right. Individuals can express themselves openly and freely through speech, writing, art, name it.

The personal freedom that enables me to write this blog also empowers me and other women to dress the way we please, whether we choose to wear a burka or a thong. Some people choose to dress conservatively in public and some people choose to dress provocatively. Some people choose to express their sexuality through their outward appearance. Those who do so are not asking to be harassed, groped, raped, or otherwise creeped on. Harassment, of course, is the fault of the harasser alone and not the victim.

Provocative photos are abundant on the internet. Among them are the widely circulated photos of jiu jitsu and MMA women posing in sexualized ways, including this recent photo of Kyra Gracie:

This is just the latest example of sexualized photos of grappling women on the mats or in gis. Here are a few others: 

While the first photo has been getting a lot of recent attention, images like that one are nothing new. These photos are all over the internet and social media, and unless you're living with the Amish, you really can't escape them.
Certainly, it is a woman's right to pose however she wants for photos. That means she can pose provocatively if she so chooses. Some jiu jitsu women may even benefit professionally and financially from the media exposure that comes from these sexy photos. No laws are being broken by these images and no one is being directly hurt by them. So what's the big deal?

While these photos may seem harmless to outsiders, jiu jitsu women have another opinion. While I cannot speak for everyone, the general reaction to these images from women in my training circle has been negative. I share that sentiment. We are not denying the rights of women to dress and pose as they please. Nor are we blaming the women for the creepy and obnoxious posts that some men are making in response to these images. But the general consensus from the women I have spoken to is that female martial artists do not like being represented this way. We understand that sex sells and that having a sexy image can increase one's marketability. We understand that posing provocatively can gain exposure for an athlete beyond what one might earn through athletic accomplishments alone. Yet, images like these undermine the culture that many jiu jitsu women are trying to foster.

Women work hard to earn respect on the mats and to be taken seriously as training partners. Jiu jitsu may be an intimate sport, but the mats are the last place that we should worry about being sexualized, especially since many women come to jiu jitsu in the first place to learn self-defense. We deserve the same security while rolling that men take for granted - knowing that if we throw up a triangle, that our partner's mind is 100% "I better defend this or I'll get choked unconscious" and 0% "This is hot."

Julie Johansen wrote a blog BJJ and Gender: Group Responsibility vs Individual Freedom, which examines our right to act as individuals vs. our responsibility to positively represent the groups that we belong to. We all have the right to make our own choices and to express ourselves the way we please. But whether we like it or not, our actions can affect not only our own images, but the images of the groups that we belong to, especially when we belong to a minority group. This got me thinking about social psychology.
Humans naturally sort items into groups, in order to find patterns and better make sense of our environment. The way we sort people is called social categorization. We  naturally classify each other on the basis of sex, race, age, occupation, and various other attributes. This process is adaptive because by discovering patterns, we are able to think and act more efficiently, freeing our cognitive resources for other tasks. On the downside, it can lead to harmful stereotyping,
Groups that we belong to - our own gender, nationality, religion, etc - are known as our ingroups. Groups that we do not belong to are outgroups. The process of outgroup homogeneity is the process by which we naturally assume that members of outgroups are more similar to each other than members of our ingroups are. The racist cliché "people of X ethnicity all look the same" is an example of this. Members of the majority class are easily able to find differences among members of their own group, while they automatically lump members of other groups together.
This process extends to attributes beyond race. A while back, a student from another martial arts school tried a class at my school and behaved like a jackass. When that school was later brought up in conversation, I said "Those guys are assholes." I immediately caught myself. I had met one guy from that school and he behaved like an asshole. It was unfair to extend this trait to other members of that group. Yet, that was what I had naturally done. The error in thinking was mine, but this individual's bad behavior  had reflected negatively on the image of his entire school. 
As a minority group in jiu jitsu, women are the outgroup to most jiu jitu practitioners. Consequently, as diverse as we may be, we get lumped together at least subconsciously. 
When people look at the sexy poses pictured above, it is fair to assume "these women want to be noticed sexually." Not raped, molested, or harassed...but it is fair to say that they want to be noticed in a sexual way. However, it is wrong and harmful to assume that "jiu jitsu women" want to be noticed in this same way. Most, in my experience, do not want that on the mats. We want to be noticed instead for our hard work, toughness, cooperation, and general ability to kick ass. Which is why we grumble about these photos.

Sunday, September 1, 2013

Jiu jitsu and pregnancy

Gotcha! No, I am not expecting. But Cynthia Davis, a badass purple belt from Morrisville Tenessee, IS. And she has been nice enough to share her experiences with us regarding jiu jitsu training and pregnancy.

Congratulations! Is this your first child? How far along are you?
Yes, this is our first child. I am currently 34 weeks along.    

How has your training changed since becoming pregnant? Are you still rolling? If not, when did you stop?
Training changed a lot. I was injured before becoming pregnant so was only working my top game, once my husband and I found out I was pregnant we decided that I should stop training during the first trimester. I would drill lightly with him but no one else. I started back to training during the second trimester with extreme rolling/sparring and I did modified floor movements, drills, and takedowns. I only did these with my husband and would spend part of class showing others how to do moves or answering any questions they had about a particular move. Once the third trimester hit we both decided that I should not do drills or anything else as my balance was getting questionable..we realized this when I was attempting to stand up in base and had a hard time of it.

I imagine certain techniques are more difficult to execute while pregnant. Is anything particularly tricky or funny to perform? Is there anything that you suddenly got better at? 
The guys laughed really hard at my shrimps and bridges. Knee on belly was a blast and any side control position was great..mainly because I had gained weight and it made me heavier. I loved it!

How did you tell your training partners that you were pregnant? Did people start treating you differently?
Once the safe period was over (risk of losing the baby) I started telling people. Everyone at the gym was/is excited. I was treated differently..they would watch to make sure I wasn't going to do anything to hurt myself. They also made me the mascot! lol

After the baby comes, how long do you expect it will be before you can resume training? Will you compete?
Once the baby gets here I will start training as soon as my doctor gives me clearance to. Eventually I would like to compete again.

You will be able to say that your baby has been on the mats since before he or she was born! Do you think that you have a future champion in the making?
I like to think we have a future champ in the making! I plan on working with her as soon as possible so it will be second nature to her.

Obviously, expecting fathers don’t experience the same physical changes that expecting mothers do. Be honest – does it bother you that your husband gets to keep training without physical limitations?
I am so jealous that my husband gets to train! I am happy that he can but I miss being out there training with the guys. I still coach them during class but it just isn't the same!

If you were going to name your child a badass jiu jistu name, what would it be?
Hmmm I am not sure what name it would be, but as much as she balls up it would most likely be a jiu jitsu position like turtle or Neto (Neto roll). 

Do you have any advice for other pregnant jiu jitsu women who want to keep training?
No two women have the same pregnancy and it boils down to doing what you and your partner are most comfortable with. My doctor said I could train throughout my pregnancy because my body was used it, but no stupid moves. I still decided not to train as much as I could have because if something happened to the baby as a result of what I was doing at gym I never would have forgiven myself. So my husband and I erred on the side of caution. If I felt winded, warm, thirsty..I sat out. If a move feels odd because the belly is in the way either modify the move or don't do it.

Thanks, Cynthia!