Thursday, December 11, 2014

Mat time flatulence...a guide

Once you have been training long enough, you reach certain milestones...the first stripe on your white belt...the first time you tap someone in the gym...the first time you get your hand raised after winning a match...and the first time you pass gas while training.

I actually remember my first mat fart. I was a white belt, on the cusp of my blue, and I had held it in for so long. I was proud to have never farted on the mats. Certain guys did it all the time, but they were gross and didn't have girlfriends. Me, on the other hand, well, I was just a little bit classier than everyone else. Until one day it just slipped out...

Yes, I was embarrassed. But it happened and it was beyond my control. And, truth be told, it's happened many more times since then. What's a classy jiu jitsu girl to do?

Which leads me to the point of this discussion. It's time we've had a frank discussion about jiu jitsu farts. It happens to all of us, and it's time to clear the air, pun intended. Flatulence does not have to be a source of shame.

So, what types of jiu jitsu farts are there and how should we react when they slip out?

  • The knee on belly, Nelly
    • You are rolling and everything is cool. But then, all of a sudden, your training partner's knee on belly makes you go toot toot toot. It is unexpected and you have no time to clench, so to speak
    • Your reaction: Keep rolling. Your training partner is attacking you and getting the better of this match. It is quite possible she didn't notice your slip. Otherwise, she is probably too busy beating you up to care. Focus on surviving and defending.

  • The uke flukey
    •  The instructor is using you as his uke as he is teaching class. A dozen eyes are on you as the instructor demonstrates the move. You relax your muscles and flow with the movements...only you relax too much.  Some gas slips out and it makes a sound.
    •  Your reaction: It's time to own it. There are multiple witnesses, after all. Excuse  yourself and move on. Laugh with the group.

  • The clean eating demon
    • You are cutting weight for a tournament or fight. You're not easy to be around right now, for a variety of reasons, not the least of which is the cloud of unpleasant odor that follows you for a 6 ft radius. I have 2 words for you: celery farts.
    • Your reaction: You know when it's coming. Discretely head to the bathroom, as often as necessary.  

  •  The cross-training fart
    • You are taking a yoga class, running with friends, or maybe you're out dancing on the town. Chances are, the folks you are with are of a daintier persuasion than your mat friends. You don't want to fart in front of them, but you are out of your element here and let one slip out.
    • Your reaction: Play dumb and stay anonymous. No one really knows it was you. Blame it on the wind, a fellow yogi, or that drunk guy shakin' it next to you. "Whoever smelt it, dealt it," is your motto here.
So there you have it. Everyone farts, and as much as you'd like to avoid it, sometimes you will pass gas when you really don't want to. It happens to the best of us and doesn't make you any less of a classy dame or dude.  So roll on, friends.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Surviving my first MMA fight

About a month ago, I traveled to the fair land of Delaware to make my MMA debut. (Sorry it has taken me so long to write about it. I've been a total blogger slacker lately). Taking a fight is something I decided to do about a year ago to push myself as a martial artist. I had no plans to ever fight on a high level or for the long term. But a) I'm not someone who gets into street fights and b) I'm fortunate enough to have never (yet) needed to use jiu jitsu for self defense. So I wanted to take a fight at least once as a chance to really test my jiu jitsu against someone who wanted to punch me in the face.

It took me a long time to find an opponent. I wanted to fight locally, in one of the Bull City Brawl events, but was having no luck finding someone to fight. So when this fight came up, even though it was 6+ hours away, I jumped at the chance.

Training camp was 50% painful, 25% hungry, miserable, carb-deprived, and 25% adrenaline rush.

I got beat up a lot:

But when I got home each night and soaked in my epsom salt bath, I would feel a pretty deep sense of accomplishment. Like man, I can't believe I made it through that and I'm still in one piece! It was an unexpected rush.

My teammates talked to me about how I would feel as my fight approached. They said that nerves hit everyone, and that as I stepped into the cage I was going to feel so much adrenaline that I would not be able to think. I would only be able to act on instinct, which meant I had to drill everything a thousand times, until it became muscle memory. So that's what I sought out to do. I got to the gym early and drilled a LOT. And I sparred a lot. And slept a lot. And ate a lot - psych! I wished.

I made it through training camp in one piece and woke up early the morning before my fight, expecting to freak out.  I had a long day ahead of me - I had to cut 8 pounds of water, drive more than 6 hours, make weigh ins, recover, refuel, and rest up for the next day. Having never cut that much water before, I had no idea how long it would take, so I erred on the side of caution. My coach and I decided that I should cut it before, rather than after, my long drive. The water cut turned out to be easier than I had feared. After a week of hyper-hydration and sodium restriction, it came off quickly in an insanely hot epsom salt bath. Boom! I was ready to hit the scale in just a couple hours.

On the downside, being this dehydrated made my drive to Delaware miserable. On the upside, it distracted me to the point that I wasn't nervous at all about my fight. My brain focused on one thing and one thing only ... W A T E R.

After weigh ins, I drank and ate (still cleanly) to my heart's content. I woke up the next morning feeling great. And I still wasn't nervous! For whatever reason, I seemed to be immune to first-time-cage-fighter's-nerves. I spent a restful day at the local mall, shopping, relaxing, and thinking there was something wrong with me.Why was I so calm? I bought a pretty, new sweater that I found on sale. I ate a frozen yogurt. I totally kept my cool...

...Until I arrived on site, a few hours before the event started. That's when reality hit.


I still felt confident enough. I knew that I had put my work in. My thoughts were filled with positive self-talk. But my heart raced at about twice its normal speed. And no matter how many yoga breaths I took, it refused to chill. My heartbeat knew - I was about to get into the cage with a woman who wanted to hurt me.

I got my hands wrapped and paced around the locker room listening to my Lil' Wayne, until finally it was go time. My entry music played and I walked into the cage ready to go. Having come from so far, I had a small but very dedicated crew there to support me and they made as much noise as they could. But my opponent was the hometown favorite, and when she walked in, the crowd exploded in cheers. I tried to channel my inner villain. I put on my meanest game face [reader, don't be skerred!].

The fight was intense and lasted all three rounds. I got take downs every round but my opponent had great jiu jitsu and was also tough as nails. As much as I tried, I was unable to get a finish by submission or by strikes.

In the end, I won by unanimous decision. And our fight won fight of the night! I was ecstatic! It was an amazing experience and I went home floating on an MMA high. I wanted to fight again as soon as possible!

Once I got home and back to reality, however, my enthusiasm for fighting dampened. I always swore I wouldn't be one of those people that only trained MMA when I had a fight coming up, but gosh darned it, I was suddenly having a hard time motivating myself to go get punched in the face. My sporty jiu jitsu game was also feeling the effects of being put on back burner for a few months.  

So, for now, it's nice to focus back on rolling tournament style. When the time comes, I think I'd like to take 1 more MMA fight, this time in my home state. I'm in no rush, though!



Friday, September 12, 2014

"Jiu Jitsu is a douche bag filter?"

This meme has been circulating on Facebook and has garnered thousands of likes:

Lol, Eddie. Good one! But, while those who are not Eddie Bravo fans might find some irony in the messenger of this post, we tend not to dispute the message itself. 

After all, many of us have said similar things. I know I have. I've seen lots of douchey people start jiu jitsu and they tend to not stick around long. There's something to be said about getting tapped out over and over again. When you tap, you are acknowledging that your partner has the power to dislocate one of your joints or render you unconscious.  If your ego can't handle it, you leave. As for those who do stick around, they tend to become less douchey over time. Some of the worst guys in the beginning can become downright tolerable after a few months. Soon they might even become your friends. 

But this isn't unique to jiu jitsu. When you are new to anything that is skill based, you are going to suck. Before starting jiu jitsu, I was a competitive swimmer and swimming is one of the most technical sports in existence. For the newbies, it is simple - you learn how to swim effectively or you sink. Many people quit before they become proficient at swimming. Does that make swimming a douche bag filter? Certainly, the daily grind of 2 a day workouts and constantly losing to other swimmers or the clock itself is too much for some people and they quit. Does swimming filter these "douchey" people out? Does swimming weed out the weak-hearted newbies who can't face it when they lose?

Um, no. It's not that simple. In fact, I find it pretty problematic to associate athletic skills with character traits.

Last year's sexual assault allegations from Team Lloyd Irving are an extreme example, but they make a clear point: being really good at a certain skill means 1 and only 1 thing - that you are really good at that skill.

Jiu jitsu (along with swimming, oil painting, and playing the violin) weeds out a lot of people, douche bags included. But those who become hooked on the activity and ultimately stick with it aren't any superior to those who decide it's not for them.

In my own observations, yes, some of the douchiest people get weeded out in the beginning of jiu jitsu training. But you know what else happens? Some people become douchier with time. Some people who survive being the nail with persistence and humility go on to abuse new blood as soon as they get a chance. And as with any other sport or activity, a minority of those in authority go on to misuse their power.

It it easy to pat ourselves on the back and say - "See! I have achieved X rank in jiu jitsu. This proves I'm not a douche!" But it's important to think critically about our own actions and the actions of those we support and follow. Are we using out jiu jitsu in a way that positively affects others? Self awareness and critical thinking are our real douche bag filters. It is up to us to use them.

Thursday, July 31, 2014

Bruce Lee - The Celebrated Life of the Golden Dragon...A coffee table book to beat up other coffee table books

The folks at Tuttle Publishing sent me Bruce Lee - The Celebrated Life of the Golden Dragon to review.

If you are looking to sit down with a heavy biography, this is not it. Pages are dominated by photographs rather than text - vivid images that span Bruce Lee's childhood, marital arts practice, and his motion picture career. Over 200 candid photos are included, many of which are full-page. The reader can watch Bruce Lee develop and age throughout the series of photos, maturing into both a ground-breaking martial artist and a film star.

As for the text, it is based on the documentary Bruce Lee: In His Own Words. The entire text comprises direct quotes from Bruce Lee himself, taken from diaries and interviews. The reader is treated to an insider look at Lee's personal philosophy. Here are some of my favorite quotes:

On his role in the Green Hornet - "A producer said that he wanted me to play 'a Chinese.' You know, I mean here I am a Chinese - and not being prejudiced or anything but thinking realistically, how many times in a film is a Chinese required? And when he is required, I could immediately see the part - pigtails, chopsticks, and 'ah-sos,' shuffling obediently behind the master who saved my life...Like with the Indian. You never see a human-being Indian on television. But it turned out to be better, so he signed me up."

"I was approached by several businessmen to open a franchise of 'Kato's Self Defense Schools'...but I refused. I think I could have made a fortune if money was what I wanted then. I felt then and I still feel today that I'm not going to prostitute my art for the sake of money."

"Drilling on routines and set patterns will eventually make a person be good according to the routines and set-pattern...A live person is not a dead product of 'this' style or 'that' style, he is an individual, and the individual is always more important than the system." 

Overall, the book was a fast, easy, and enjoyable read. I grew up watching Ghostbusters and Little Mermaid but I am suddenly envious of folks who grew up on Bruce Lee movies. I'm going to have to rent one this weekend.

Monday, May 26, 2014

Mental preparation for competition: building realistic confidence

We humans tend to have pretty high opinions of ourselves. In studies of social psychology, most individuals rate themselves as above average in just about every realm. Likewise, we rate ourselves higher than others rate us. It is mathematically impossible for so many of us to actually be above average in just about everything that we do, but that doesn't stop us from believing it. Most of us think we are smarter, better looking, more successful, and even better drivers than the average joe.

This isn't a bad thing. Believing we are better than we are is adaptive. Positive self-illusions preserve our self-esteem and give us the confidence we need to succeed. Notably, there is one population that is not prone to this self-aggrandizing way of thinking  - the clinically depressed. Studies show that those who are depressed actually rate themselves more realistically than the rest of us do. Overconfidence, it turns out, is normal and psychologically healthy.

It is likely that I believe that I am a better at my job than I actually am, that my baked goods taste better than they actually do, and that my blog is more influential than it actually is. I may also think I am better looking than I actually am (I am really, really good-looking, so I don't know about this one).  And so what? No one challenges these illusions for me, so I might as well keep believing them if doing so keeps me mentally well-adjusted.

The thing is, we can't so easily maintain illusions about our jiu jitsu. Nothing keeps things real like constantly testing yourself against others. If you train to challenge yourself and to get better, you probably get your ass beaten on a regular basis. I know I do. I get taken down, swept, guard passed, pinned, and tapped just about every time I step on the mat. I  don't go into tournaments with a "no one can beat me" mindset, because it simply isn't true. People beat me every single day. 

When I am mentally preparing for a tournament, I try to build what I call "realistic confidence." I'm not good at lying to myself, so I don't try to pump myself up by thinking that I am too good to be beaten. Rather, I train in such a way that convinces me that winning is likely.

When I think back on my most successful past tournaments, I notice a common trend. In these tournaments, I absolutely believed 2 things before hearing the ref's combate: 
  • that every single person in my division is a person that I could beat
  • that every single person in my division is a person that could beat me
Let's take a look at these separately:

"Every single person in my division is a person that I could beat." If you don't believe this, then winning really is not possible. I'm not saying that if you were to roll with every person 10 times, you would expect to win every match. There may even be people in your division that are objectively better than you. But you have to believe that, on the particular day of the tournament, you can beat any given person of your skill, size, and gender, because that's what you have been training to do.

"Every single person in my division is a person that could beat me." I'm not saying to believe that they WILL beat you...just acknowledge that the possibility is there. Giving my opponents this respect pushes ME to work harder and longer. The possibility of losing is what drives me to stick to my diet, push through my cardio, and stay on the mats to roll a few extra rounds. Otherwise, I wouldn't have to work so hard.

I have underestimated opponents and subsequently lost matches. I remember identifying a "person to beat" in a major tournament, only to be eliminated from the bracket before even facing her, by someone who was not on my radar.  Treat everyone in your bracket as a "person to beat" or you might get caught off guard.

Exaggerated self-confidence is normal, adaptive, and rarely confronted in most areas of our lives. In jiu jitsu, however, we get daily reminders of exactly where we stand. To succeed in tournaments, we walk a delicate line between under-confidence and over-confidence, since both are harmful.

I'm curious: What do you tell yourself when you are gearing up to win?  

Sunday, April 20, 2014

Jiu jitsu and "the choking game" - so just how safe is it to be choked unconscious?

I recently watched an alarmist news clip about "the choking game," a trend among adolescents in which they choke each other to the point of unconsciousness in order to get a good-kid, drug-free high.  

I wasn't able to find the clip of the specific news program I watched, but a Google search of "the choking game" pointed me toward dozens of similar news shows. Here is one conveying a similar message to the one I watched:

 abc news "The Choking Game."

Here's the gist of what's been happening: Kids are choking each other out in order to experience a "good kid" high. And their parents are flipping out. 

According to the DB Foundation, an organization dedicated to education about the risks of the choking game, "the object of the 'game' is asphyxiation, as in, to apply pressure restricting oxygen and/or blood flow to the brain. This is accomplished through several methods. Diminishing oxygen to the brain produces a sensation or 'high' and the beginning of permanent cell death. When the victim is rendered unconscious, the pressure is released and the secondary 'high' of the oxygen/blood rushing to the brain is achieved. If the victim is alone upon unconsciousness there is no one to release the pressure and the victim's own body weight continues to tighten the ligature usually resulting in death."

When kids play this game in a group, they release the choke when the person goes unconscious, just as we do in jiu jitsu. When they play alone, however, they basically hang themselves. Tragically but not surprisingly, deaths are occurring in the later scenario. According to the DB Foundation, it is impossible to know just how many deaths result from the "choking game" because these deaths are often ruled as suicide. Obviously, the risks are quite different whether this game is played solo vs. in a group, but they are being lumped together as singular, deadly activity.

In jiu jitsu, we play our own "choking game." Being choked out happens all the time and we take it pretty lightly. Sometimes we fight a choke a little too long or sometimes a choke happens so fast that we don't have time to tap. Some people even allow themselves to be choked unconscious out of pure curiosity. Andrew Smith, a BJJ black belt instructor, competitor, and tournament ref, says that "being choked out at a BJJ or judo competition is certainly nothing unusual, although it might only happen on average once per hundred matches or so." He describes his own first experience being choked unconscious.  "[My training partner, Trey] caught me with a tight cross choke from half guard bottom," he recalls. " I distinctly remember thinking that it was virtually impossible to choke someone out from half guard bottom, and then I remember Trey asking me if I was okay.  I wondered why he was in my living room." 

As to what happens when people wake up? "It's wake up and continue trying to grapple or fight," Andrew says. "I think the longest anyone stayed out under any of the above circumstances was 4 or 5 seconds and that felt like an eternity. Most awoke in about 3 seconds."  

No big deal, right? But it has me thinking -  just how safe IS it to be choked? I asked Jason Goldsmith, a pharmacology Ph.D. who is finishing his MD and also runs a martial arts school. "Any strong choke (that can generate a tap), has roughly the same risk whether it makes someone go unconscious or not," he says. "The big risk is causing a stroke, from a cholesterol plaque being dislodged from your carotid artery and wedging itself in your brain." He refers to this as a caratoid embolism leading to an ischemic stroke. "This is a "normal" mechanism of stroke," he continues. "It occurs outside of grappling. With chokes there is some very small increase in risk of this for going unconscious there is no added risk from that, unless someone holds the choke for 30+ seconds after they pass out. Then you worry about brain damage."

I sought out a second opinion from Michell Gall, a Ph.D. in virology, former EMT, and Judo instructor of 30 years. "When you are doing a Judo choke,"  she confirms, "what you're doing is cutting off the supply of blood to the brain. This also cuts off the supply of oxygen to the brain, so what you're doing is technically hypoxia. It's very quickly reversible, just let go of the choke and get the blood flowing again, and it shouldn't lead to any tissue damage. Maybe you lose a brain cell or two, but, I mean, so what, I think we lose more off of the throws." 
Blood chokes are pretty safe, then. But what about wind chokes, like guillotines? "As for wind chokes," Jason says, "not really a difference. You mash around on the neck, which is the stroke risk. It's super hard to crush a trachea."

Here, Michelle has a different opinion. "Now, there's a difference between shime waza, which is a strangle, and a choke, which goes against the windpipe." She argues that a wind choke "doesn't knock somebody out as quickly, but has a worse chance of actually doing damage, because you're pressing on that bone that's supposed to be protecting your airway." She argues that you are in more "danger of damaging the throat or windpipe than you are of knocking someone out and inducing hypoxia that way." 

I also wondered about the so-called seizures, as ABC news described them. What does it mean when a body starts twitching after it goes out? Michelle answers, "those are convulsions, not related to a seizure in terms of epilepsy. It is an emergency response on the part of the body to try to stop whatever is causing the hypoxia. The term seizure can be misleading, because what you're seeing - foot twitches or shaking after going out - isn't caused by a brain synaptic overload, like an epileptic seizure."
Choking each other on the mats, it seems, carries a minimal risk.  There is a slight risk of death from stroke or damage to the trachea, but there is probably a greater risk of death from a car accident while driving to the gym. 

So what about kids? Playing the "choking game" solo is disastrous, for obvious reasons. But what about in a group? Is it safe for kids to choke each other out, BJJ style?

Michelle says no. "In KIDS, the developing brain needs more oxygen because it's growing. So, YES, it's stupid for people under 13 to be choking each other, because the first brain cells that are going to get affected when you get choked out, just like when you drink alcohol, are those ones that are still growing. And those last ones to develop are those really important ones right at the front of your brain that let you do decision-making."

While I am relieved to learn that getting choked in jiu jitsu is a low risk activity, the "choking game" is not. It is most deadly when played solo, but it is certainly a dangerous activity for kids in any form. Untrained and unsupervised kids choking each other for fun is certainly a recipe for something to go wrong. I fully support campaigns to end this practice, despite bits of misinformation they may contain. If I were a parent, I would be freaking out about this too.