Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Fighting on film - what I learned about movie combat, thug life, and falling on concrete

Last weekend, I had the opportunity to do stunt work for a fight scene. One of my training partners, Alethea Delmage, is directing a film called The Visitor and recruited jiu jitsu and MMA fighters as actors to play Mafia thugs in a fight club. (Like the Facebook page The Visitor Film 2015 for updates and more information).

I was pysched to be cast as "thug #1." I had never been in a movie before and I was excited to use my fight skills in a venue that would not get me beat up for realz. Plus, playing a thug would be good for my street cred.

In a broad sense, filming the fight scene reminded me of competing in a jiu jitsu tournament: lots of waiting around and warming up, without really knowing when I would be up, followed by short periods of high impact activity and adrenaline, followed by more wait time. Fight, rest, and repeat. In between rounds, I would try to stay loose and warm and not crash from an adrenaline dump.   

Here's what I took from the experience:

- Acting work is more grueling than glamorous. Overall, I spent 15 hours on set (I was wrapped before most folks, who were there for 19 hours). We filmed in an unheated warehouse and I was inadequately dressed. The scenes themselves were fun, but by the end of the night I was freezing, hungry, and exhausted.

- Thugs have a short life expectancy. True, this film is a work of fiction, but what I am telling you is fact. Watch the news if you don't believe me. If you want to live a long, fruitful life, it is best not to choose a life of crime.

- Fight scenes are not entirely fake. If you see a movie character getting slammed into a metal wall, guess what? An actor got slammed into that metal wall. Actually, between rehearsal and multiple takes of film, that actor got slammed into the metal wall 15-20 times. For fight scenes to look realistic, actors have to actually punch, kick, and throw each other. And they have to do it dozens of times for each rep you see in the movie.

- Fighting on concrete changes everything. What is easy and comfortable rolling on mats can be awful on hard surfaces. Taking falls is even worse. Solid technique can help you land safely, but that does not mean you will not take damage. I woke up the day after my simulated, movie fight feeling as if I had been in an actual fight. This drives home what my instructors have taught me - if you can avoid it, you do not want to go to the ground in an actual self defense situation. Concrete is not a friend to your knees or noggin'.

- If you are cast as a thug, it is important to remove your movie makeup before driving home, in the unlikely event that you get pulled over by the cops. My makeup looked awesome but it was waterproof and hard to remove. So I decided that I would drive home in makeup, show my hubby my cool, fucked up face, and then soak in a long epsom salt bath to soothe my sore muscles and get my face clean.

Impressive, huh?

But here's the thing - I really did get pulled over for speeding on the way home. And along with a shortened life expectancy, thugs don't get much leniency from cops. Really, would you let someone who looks like this off with a warning?

Shooting a fight scene was a cool life experience, but a tougher job than I thought. From now on when I am watching a movie and I see punches thrown, I will have an increased appreciation of what it takes to make the scene work.

Is it too late to audition for Bonanza?

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

What is your grappling pet peeve?

If you are reading my blog, you probably love to train jiu jitsu. And if you love to train jiu jitsu, you probably love your training partners (at least most of them). But admit it - ours is a brutal, sweaty, gnarly, smelly, hideous, intimate sport. And sometimes we just need to bitch. 

So I posed the above question - "What is your grappling pet peeve?" - to both my personal Facebook page and to the Women's Grappling Network page. Turns out, grapplers have a lot to complain about - between the two sources, my question garnered about 150 responses!

We all enjoyed a cathartic bitch-fest, sharing our most irksome training issues. There's not time or room to list all of them, but I broke the most common responses into 5 categories:

Ickiness and hygiene:

Of course, we have the usual hygiene party fouls - long nails, smelly, unwashed gis, body odor, people who train when they are contagious. Girls who wear makeup and leave lipstick stains on your gi. Guys who drip sweat on your face or, worse, in your mouth.

Sweaty, hairy man-belly was another big one here. Turns out, no one likes to find their face smothered in the fleshy midsection of their training partner.  

Photo courtesy of Anilom Assenav

Believe it or not, folks don't enjoy finding their training partner's balls in their faces either. North/south position and kimuras so often come along with this extra, uninvited treat. But what IS up for debate is whether people prefer their training partners to wear cups or not. Some appreciate the extra inch of protection between your boys and their faces. Others are willing to sacrifice this barrier, claiming that balls in face > steel cup in spine.

Here are some additional complaints:

"My own fucking hair irritates me to no end...Speaking of hair, when new people (including some long haired guys) don't do something at least somewhat practical with their hair. They put it in the loosest low ponytail you can imagine or just leave it all down." - Elizabeth Chastain

"Clothing....ladies this isn't the beach, it's no place for a tube top or low cut tank top. Keep your girls under control." -Valeria Covey

Stalling and chit chat:

One of my personal pet peeves falls into this category. Picture this: You ask someone if they'd like to roll. They say yes. You prepare to slap five. Then, to your dismay, your training partner stands up and WALKS ACROSS THE MATS for a drink of water. Your blood pressure rises. The timer beeps. You start foaming at the mouth. Your training partner takes his sweet time sipping. Finally, he walks back toward you, with nary an apology. By the time he is ready to commence the roll, 30-60 seconds have ticked by and you are losing your shit.

Folks, if someone asks you to roll, say yes only if you are prepared to start the roll in a timely fashion. Otherwise, say "I'll get you next round" and go take care of business while preserving your compulsive training partner's sanity.

Here's more on the subject of stalling and chit chat:

"Any type of stalling whatsoever but especially stopping to talk during a roll. Shut up and roll." - Jacob Whitfield

"Stopping me literally every ten seconds in the roll to explain what I was doing wrong so that by the time the roll is up all I've learned is how much you like to listen to yourself talk." - Beverly Huang

"When you're rolling with someone and they start talking to someone else." - Al Bee

Attitude and ego

Along with training consistency, good attitude is probably the biggest predictor of long term jiu jitsu success. It keeps you sane and well-adjusted and maintains your good rapport with your training partners. Respondents had a lot to say about annoying attitudes and over-inflated egos, so I will let them do the talking on this topic:

"I dislike mat bullies that target smaller, less experienced people and duck anybody that might challenge them." - Jeff Shaw

"People who won't stop talking about all the other people they have submitted." - Mary Holmes
"Qualifications in general. Like 'Man he tapped me, that guy is strong.' 'Dude she's a girl but man is she good at that choke.' 'I can never beat this guy he's just too flexible.' 'His hands are this big, he wristlocks me all the time'." - Chris Crawford 

"Excuses for tapping that devalue the other person's skill or experience. 'How much do you weigh?' 'Wow, you're strong.' 'Yeah, I'm just out of shape.' 'I had a big lunch.' 'I hurt my medulla oblagata yesterday and couldn't push off so you got that, normally I never get caught there'." - Tim Hufford

"Belt color entitlement." - Brandon Brown 

Maladaptive rolling style

I kept reading a lot of the same complaints here, because these guys are at every single gym: Finger grabbers. Crotch knee-ers. Face chokers. Douche bags who resist while drilling. White belts who take up the whole damn mat while rolling, knocking everyone else out of the way. Folks who can't open your closed guard, so they dig their elbows into your thighs or squeeze the crap out of your ribs.

We all know that person who rolls hard with you, right until you are about to get something good. Then she stops resisting and talks you through how you could tap her better. Or the guy who asks you to roll light and then comes at you like it's the finals of the mundials. The spaz who rolls in an out of control manner, kneeing, kicking, and elbowing her partners "by accident" but never slowing down for fear of getting tapped.

Anges Gall has another issue: "People who aren't having any fun, especially if they can't just laugh. If you're taking it so seriously that you can't giggle at the fact that we're rolling around on the ground hugging each other, at least try not to spoil anyone else's fun?"

Another major gripe: "I truly hate the douche move. If I was in competition, okay knee on face or shake my neck/lapel or flick my nose to expose my neck...In practice.. F.U!" - Ariella Nathanson


I posted my question to the Women's Grappling Network, because I wanted to get input from lots of women. And that I did! For the most part, the pet peeves of women who train are indistinguishable from humans who train, and those responses have been counted and reported above.

For me, the topic of "how to train with women" has always seemed overly simplistic and patronizing. Women are a heterogeneous group - we come in a variety of sizes, shapes, strengths, and body types. We stem from varied backgrounds and have myriad athletic and personal goals. What is productive and appropriate in training with one woman, may not be so training with another. The only way to accurately determine how any given woman wants to train is to ask her.

It's not surprising to me that some women have conflicting pet peeves. Some complain that men roll too delicately with them and are afraid to move properly for fear of "breaking" them. Others dislike it when men rely too heavily on strength and weight and choose to smash them instead of relying more heavily their technique.

There are some pet peeves, however, that would bug any of us:

"Walking into a new gym for the first time and being mistaken for A) someone's girlfriend or B) a beginner student. If I walk in with a gym bag and I'm already wearing gi pants why must you assume either of these things?" - Diane Bankhead 

"That backhanded compliment where guys say you're tough, good etc ... for a girl." - Katie Egan

"Grappling with brand new guys...once you submit them, they think 'omg I just got submitted by a girl' then they do whatever they can to win which might include trying to break your arm!!!" - Nidia Sacagawea 

"When dudes try to 'avenge' me because someone rolled hard with me or rolled with me in a way that THEY did not like. It's my roll. Not yours." - Chelsea Kurtzman 

"If someone calls me 'sweetie'." - Isa Bruno

So there we have it! This isn't the exhaustive list, but it's the Cliff's Notes version of what is bugging your fellow grappler. I know that I'm guilty of at least a few of these...are you?