Monday, August 29, 2011

When you can’t participate, you might as well reminisce…PART TWO!!

In Part One of this post, I took a detailed look back at my trip to the 2011 Pan Ams. Now, I’m going to recollect on my more recent trip to the IBJJF Worlds this past June. This story isn’t going to be as heartening as the last; however, sometimes I think you can learn more from your failures than your triumphs, but I suppose we shall see.

After getting promoted to blue belt upon my return from the Pan Ams, I didn’t really have intentions of competing again in any IBJJF tournaments until the Fall. This way, I could get more experience as a blue belt before testing my skills in a big tournament. BUT then, I heard that a bunch of the women I train with were planning on traveling to Los Angeles to compete in the Worlds. I love the women I train with SO much and I really enjoy spending time with all of them, on and off the mat. Plus, I’d recently graduated college and my new job wasn’t starting until the next month, so there was no practical reason I could come up with for me to miss this exciting trip with some of my favorite people. Therefore, I bought my ticket and registered for the tourney despite my better judgment. I realized it was overly ambitious to compete for the first time as a blue belt at the Worlds of all places, but I had faith in my ability, and wanted to see how I’d do, so I figured, what the heck.

We arrived at the tournament early Thursday morning. I wasn’t scheduled to compete until the afternoon, so I had quite a bit of waiting around to do. As the day wore on, my nerves started to get the better of me. My division was finally called, and though my stomach was in knots, I started warming up in hopes of timing it so I would be warm for my first match. My name was called as soon as I felt ready, perfect timing, or so I thought. I checked in with my mat director and he instructed me to wait there for my opponent. I smiled and nodded, as my nerves were starting to calm with the appearance of good timing and luck. However, about 15 minutes later, my first opponent still hadn't surfaced. After another 15 minutes, my mat director called her name once again, ‘Second Call’, he said. He instructed me to ‘hang tight’ because if she showed, we were going to immediately head over to the mats. Twenty more minutes, no opponent; ‘Third and Final Call’. I was a bit disappointed, as I was no longer ‘warm and ready to go’; finally, ‘…DQ’ed’. My mat director then called my next opponent’s name and told me to get ready; I tried to do so, but warming up in the bullpen area was nearly impossible, as I was already fighting to maintain the small amount of area I’d claimed to stand in. Fifteen minutes pass, no opponent. ‘Second Call’; gosh, is this really happening I thought. Trying to stay positive, I anxiously looked around for a girl rushing over, No one. Twenty more minutes, ‘Third and Final Call’. It ended up being nearly 2 Hours since my first match was initially called before both my first two opponents were disqualified as ‘no shows’. After a few more minutes, finally, it was my turn. Between a 2-hour tease and now feeling completely cold, my nerves were raging. I saw my new opponent stepping off the mat. She’d now had two matches to my zero, of which she’d submitted both of her opponents. I tried to give myself a pep talk, but it didn’t seem to be working. After the two-hours of uncertainty, it seemed I was now being thrown onto the mat with little warning. Right before the match, my coaches cautioned, ‘this girl has a good guard, get your grips and pull first.’ I was worried and cold, but I nodded and stepped onto the mat anyways. The match began and I quickly pulled guard. She was obviously very seasoned and very good as she quickly defended my guard pull and began to pass. I felt as though I was already beaten. The match had started off poorly, and I felt my muscles already begin to cramp. I’ve grown accustomed to Traven’s demanding warm-ups; so, without a warm up of any sort in addition to my extreme nerves, I fear my body was just simply not prepared for the situation it was thrown into. The match continued with my opponent advancing and me attempting to defend. The hopelessness was building inside of me, but I kept fighting in attempt to not let my coaches, my teammates, or myself down. Finally, time was called. I’d lost to points and I was oh so aware of it. I held it together until I stepped off the mat, but then the extreme disappointment began to set in, so I wandered off to the bathroom where I could wallow unwatched. I started to realize, that I’d never really had to deal with this sort of disappointment in the sport before. I’d always worked my butt of in training, and it seemed to consistently pay off in competition. I kept thinking, if I’d only had those first two matches, I could have done better. After an approximate half-hour pity-party in the bathroom, I emerged to find that the girl who’d beaten me had gone on to win the division. This made me feel slightly better about my performance against her, however, it didn’t make me feel any less glum about my tournament experience overall. I’d spent money I didn’t have for an experience I didn’t feel like I’d achieved. I’m the type of person who completely overanalyzes situations in efforts to best ensure my desired outcome; I’d done everything I could to prepare for this tournament, and nothing I’d planned for ended up going my way. This was a harsh reality that I was now dealing with, poorly if I might add. Despite my emotional state, I pulled it together, and watched the bustle the rest of the day had to offer.

At the tournament over the next few days, I was slightly overwhelmed by the amount of amazing Jiu Jitsu matches all happening at once. My favorite part was Saturday morning when the female black belts took to the mat. I eagerly watched as each match progressed, and I continued to notice the same thing; someone lost EVERY time. Now, to you, this may seem rather obvious, but at the time, it was really what I needed to see. These were the best women in the world and half of them went home empty-handed, just like me. Watching the higher-level belts compete really opened my eyes to the fact that EVERYONE loses sometimes. And that I can’t always control the outcome; all I can do is prepare myself as much as possible, and then hope and strive for the best when the time comes.

This realization was furthered by the amazing women I was traveling with. Each day, we’d slip out of the tournament just early enough to do a little exploring, after all, we were in a strange city that we’d paid a lot of money to visit, might as well have a little fun, right? We went to the beach, even tho it was WAY too cold to swim, had very beautiful and very ugly rides down the coast (I didn’t realize there were pristine beaches right next to oil rigs in CA!!), we managed to have Yogurt Land for dinner three nights in a row, and we even got in a little karaoke to finish it off. So, thanks to my wonderful training partners, the rest of the trip was not nearly as depressing as the first day had proven to be.
So, what did I learn? Well, as I said before, this trip really helped me to realize something not only relevant to Jiu Jitsu, but also to life in general. My experience at the Worlds really helped me to recognize the fact that things may not always go my way, no matter how much I plan/prepare for them; and, that defeat isn’t in fact that end of the world, but it’s really just a stepping stone from which you can choose to learn from OR allow it to do what it does best, defeat you.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

When you can’t participate, you might as well reminisce…

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about my semi-recent trips to California for the IBJJF Pan Ams last March and Worlds last June. I’ve realized that I never really sat down and evaluated these experiences. I suppose I’m typically too distracted by what’s coming next, to really take the time to learn from the past. So, since the future is currently on hold, it seems an opportune time to finally do so.

As you’re probably aware, I’m sort of long winded; for me the true experience lies in the details. So, to avoid boring you to death, I’ll break my thoughts on the subject into two posts. You’re Welcome. ;-)

I’ll start by taking a look back at the March 2011 Pan Ams in Irvine, CA…

I was only there about 36 hours, so, needless to say the trip was quite a whirl-wind. The morning I was to compete, I woke up feeling energized and ready to go, which can be a difficult mindset to attain right before a tournament, so I was very thankful. Once at the venue, I began warming up as I waited for my division. It wasn’t long before I heard my name and my first opponent’s name called. I quickly realized the girl who I’d chatted with while waiting was in fact my first opponent. We shared a quick “let’s do this” grin, and headed to the mat. As I passed by, my coach for the day, Arman, offered a critical piece of advice “…Just take it one match at a time…” With an appreciative nod, I stepped onto the mat and the match began. I quickly got my grips, pulled guard, and got a sweep early. After some half guard and a slight scramble, I ended up with her back in my closed guard. After a little bit of open guard, I was able to get a triangle, finishing the match. I was very excited with the outcome, however, I promptly remembered what my coach had said…one match at a time. I’d won this one, but it was time to shift my focus to the next.

After a brief waiting period, my next match began. Feeling confident from the last (maybe a little too confident) I quickly went for a single leg takedown which I unfortunately wasn’t able to finish. After the taxing stand-up bout that followed, I was finally able to pull guard. Since I did so in somewhat of a frenzy, I went to the ground without the calm and focused mind I require to do my best; thus, the rest of the match was a bit of a struggle. I managed to get a sweep, but from then on we mostly remained in a back-and-forth half-guard. It was a close one, but I was able to win by a few points. After the match, I remember my coach saying ‘Well, that one got a little dangerous didn’t it?’ I agreed with a worried face, as I was fully aware the match could have gone either way. Arman immediately reassured me, telling me to concentrate on the next match and forget about the last one, regain focus and control. This was exactly what I needed to hear. My next match was moments away and my opponent was very tall and lanky, (I’m talking a 6-footer), which had me slightly concerned. The match began and my opponent quickly pulled open guard. She started to work spider-guard, which happens to be a favorite amongst the ladies of TRT; So, feeling very accustomed to this situation, I soon hipped into her extended leg and passed to side control. I scored a few more points by progressing position, but eventually ended up in half-guard, where we resided until the end of the match. I was very pleased with how this match went, as I felt ‘short and stalky’ had won out over ‘tall and lanky’ this time; always appreciate a win for the tiny folks ;-)

It was now time for the final match. I knew this one was going to be tough, as this girl had of course also won her side of the bracket. With a quick pep talk from my coach, I again prepared myself mentally, and stepped on the mat. We stood for quite some time; she must have had a wrestling background, as she went for many wrestling style takedowns. After an exhaustive stand up bout, I found the opportunity and pulled guard. On the ground, I struggled for controlling grips as she aggressively worked to pass. Finally, I got good control, and was able to half way pull-off a sweep. Once on top, I progressed to half-guard where we remained the majority of the match. When the referee called time, I don’t think I really realized I had won. I mean, I knew I'd won the match and I knew it was indeed the final, but winning my division didn’t really register. No worries though, it kicked in as soon as I started wandering towards the medal podium…

After a few prideful moments on the podium, the day seemed to end just as quickly as it started. Before I knew it, we were headed back to the hotel for the evening. While preparing for our departure flight the next morning, my roomie for the trip, Ayanthi, told me she’d seen some pictures of me posted on the GracieMag website from the tournament. I was of course intrigued, so as I settled into bed, I quickly navigated to the website. I couldn’t believe it, there they were, some pictures of me in an article about the first day of the Pans. After staring at the pictures for a few minutes, I forced myself to go to sleep as we had a very early flight the next morning. I distinctly remember lying in the hotel bed with my eyes wide open feeling slightly overwhelmed by the day; my first IBJJF win and surprise recognition on the GracieMag website, the icing on the cake. It had been a pretty amazing day. I tried to hold on to the feeling as I drifted off to sleep; I think that night I must have slept with a smile as the day had proven to be more remarkable than I’d ever hoped.

So now that you’ve been subjected to my lengthy recap, I’m sure you’re wondering, so what the heck did you learn?

Well I learned that I have the BEST team and coaches in the world. If my coach Jeff hadn’t demanded the girls and I work half-guard over and over, I would have lost each one of those matches in that very position. If my coach Traven hadn’t pushed me to keep rolling when I thought I was too tired, I wouldn’t have had the endurance to compete until the end. If the girls I train with didn’t test my passing game on a daily basis with their amazing open-guard skills, I would have never been able to pass the 6-footer’s guard. In a nut shell, I learned that my success was completely attributed to those that surround me. Without the support of each and every one of my TRT family members and the skills imparted by ALL of my coaches, I never would have gotten to stand on that podium.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Regular gyms make me want to throw something...

Yesterday I went back to my college gym as I have for the past week and a half to swim and do a weight circuit, since I can’t train BJJ for about another 3 weeks. Now that I’m a grown-up and I have to work every day from 9-6, I really only have the short time right after work to get a good workout in each day. That’s why I really prefer these after-work workouts to be as efficient as possible. To me, an ideal workout should require really hard work for some finite amount of time or energy expenditure. However, I was rudely reminded yesterday that most people don’t typically have this same sort of mentality.

The gym was particularly packed yesterday evening, and I found myself becoming more irritated than usual with my surroundings. Firstly, I had to wait for EVERY piece of equipment I wanted to use. Secondly and more importantly, half the time the person 'using' the equipment was either only resting with/on it or using it in an exceptionally improper manner. This made my workout take WAY longer than it should have and forced me to ‘get cold’ between every set. This, of course, made me want to throw something.

Experiencing a ‘regular gym’ again has made me realize that gyms like mine must really just attract a very certain type of people. For those of you who aren’t aware, I attend a Mixed Martial Arts gym, offering cardio kickboxing, Muay Thai, and Brazilian Jiu Jitsu classes, as most MMA gyms do. In order to survive at this sort of gym for any substantial amount of time, you really must possess at least a moderate amount of motivation, else your time spent will likely not be enjoyed. Since this type of gym is especially focused around group classes, every individual is sort of forced to participate. So, If you’re going to the gym to just “hang out” or “put-around’, an MMA gym is most likely not for you. You can only put-around at a gym like mine for so long before someone calls you out…repeatedly. Working out with a purpose is a requirement at this type of gym; this insistence of hard work is a norm I’ve grown accustomed to. Therefore, I've found that I really do not enjoy being at a ‘regular gym’ where even just moving around efficiently is nearly impossible. Having to dodge standers/loiterers or wait for equipment from someone who isn’t even really using it is not my idea of a good evening at the gym. I suppose I forgot what normal gyms were like, as I’ve been training at an MMA gym for about 4 years now; but after just a week and a half of trying to workout in one, I’m more than ready to be back at the gym I call home with the type of people who understand what hard training is really all about.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

And the verdict is...

So, if you read my last post, you know that about 2 weeks ago, I injured my knee while rolling no-gi, and at my first appointment my orthopedist indicated that I most likely tore my medial meniscus and that I needed an MRI to confirm or dis-confirm. It’s been two weeks of grueling inactivity since the incident, but I finally received the official verdict at my follow-up appointment yesterday.

At the appointment, my orthopedist showed me in the MRI where there was a ‘small area of concern’ (which looked to me like a tiny grey squiggle), that they thought might be a tear; but, she said they could only see this area in a single image. She also showed me indications of stretching and bruising in several other images. She then inspected my knee and noted that it had very much improved since the last visit. With a few more purposeful knee pokes and another review of the MRI report, she concluded: Since the “area of concern” was only visible in a single image, and considering the “hyper-mobility” of the joint, as well as the improving status, she decided my meniscus was likely NOT torn.


It is, however, bruised and stretched from the trauma of popping out and then back in. Luckily this sort of injury, in contrary to a torn meniscus, will only require about a month of physical therapy in order to heal. So, for the next month, I’m only allowed to do low-impact exercises; which to my practical & uncreative mind, that really only encompasses three things, the elliptical, the stationary bike, and swimming. I’ve always hated using stationary cardio machines; I seriously can’t handle the boredom. SO, today after work, I’m going to start swimming. I’m sort of looking forward to it, as I know swimming can be a seriously good workout and I’ll admit it does bring back a little bit of that middle school swim team nostalgia. Plus, who knows, a little bit of change might do my body and my BJJ game some good.

I’m truly excited about finally being on the road to recovery as I’ve never been the type to feel comfortable with idleness. I function much better when I have a goal I’m working towards and some sort of methodology of reaching it. So, for now, my goal will be maintaining my endurance and ensuring my knee becomes strong and stable before I get back on the mats. I definitely don’t plan on taking this ‘dodged bullet’ for granted. So, now that my pipe-dreams are officially un-crushed, it’s time to put in work so that I can get back to chasing them.

Sunday, August 7, 2011

So I hurt my knee...

So as I mentioned in my first post…I’ve played competitive sports the majority of my life. In doing so, I’ve been pretty lucky in that I’ve never really had any significant injuries. I’ve always felt my body to be pretty resilient, BUT I’ve recently discovered that it does indeed have limits.

This past weekend, while rolling no-gi in preparation for the Lutador Grappling Tourny this upcoming weekend, I went for what I’ve thought of as a pretty standard sweep: grab the heels of a standing opponent with a closed guard and sweep to mount. However, on this day, this sweep proved to be far from standard. As I came into mount (with my guard still closed, which I fear may have been the initiating culprit) we began to roll slightly to the right, I felt a pop on the inside of my knee which was quickly followed by another excruciating pop. I immediately fell to the ground and started crying in agony; which is not a typical reaction for me. I’ve never been one to cry over physical pain, but I suppose I’d never experienced pain like this, especially so unexpectedly. After about a minute, the pain subsided and I began to feel silly about the spectacle I’d just made. Thankfully all my BJJ Family came to the rescue, and helped me to determine that I wasn’t in fact dying, but that my leg actually had pretty good mobility and that I could walk on it without a whole lot of pain. With a more optimistic feeling, I went home and proceeded with my week as usual (minus jiu jitsu of course) and began icing my knee regularly, hoping for quick recovery. As the week wore on, I began realizing my knee was not quickly improving, and that it would be stupid of me to just compete in a tournament without verifying there wasn’t anything serious wrong. So, yesterday, I went to the Orthopedist with high hopes. After a few tests, my high hopes were quickly crushed with the prognosis of a likely torn Meniscus. I’m scheduled for an MRI to confirm next week, so at this point, all I can really do is sit around and hope for the best. However, I’m slightly concerned, as I’m not very good at just sitting around…Until the MRI and definite next steps, I plan on doing the only thing I can in terms of BJJ, support the rest of my TRT family while they compete this weekend, and feel happy for the women who may get a gold medal that they wouldn’t have otherwise received… ;-)

Why I love Jiu Jitsu...

Whenever I tell someone I train Jiu Jitsu, I tend to get the same surprised and skeptical reaction. I suppose this is due to the fact that I’m a small female, 5’2″ if I round up, a presumed academic, with a relatively quiet demeanor and a frequently pointed-out “baby face”. But despite the hasty assumptions, I always attempt to persuade them with my view on the subject. I’m not always successful in convincing them that it is indeed possible for a girl like me to be successful at a sport like Brazilian Jiu Jitsu, but that’s okay, luckily these aren’t actually the people I’m trying to convince. So, for those of you who can understand, here are my views on the subject…

For me, Jiu Jitsu is the most dynamic and mental sport I’ve ever encountered. Since it’s so multi-faceted, the sport has a unique way of adapting to the strengths and weaknesses of the player. Being short or compact in this sport is not a disadvantage, while neither is being tall or lanky. Instead, each player must continually develop skill and style that works best for them. For example, I take a somewhat defensive and relaxed approach when I roll. I need to be able to clear my head and just observe my opponent’s actions in order to best react. However, many of my training partners take a more aggressive and offensive approach. For me, The adaptability the sport offers is a large part of its appeal. The consistent mental engagement required by the sport is the other big pull for me. I love how much awareness and quick-thinking BJJ demands. Each person must constantly process their opponent’s every move and immediately translate that into an effective and well executed reply. This takes place over and over throughout a single sparring session, making every roll distinct and unrepeatable. The ever-changing circumstance of a single roll is what keeps the player actively thinking and rewards the observant and thoughtful.

So, next time someone acts surprised that I do Jiu Jitsu, I will simply tell them that all the reasons they assume I am incapable, are actually all the reasons why I am meant for the sport. Well, maybe not the “baby face”…

My First Post

My name’s Anna and I’m a 22-year old Brazilian Jiu Jitsu practitioner. I love and live for the sport. This is a blog about my experiences with the gentle art.

Here’s a bit about myself:
I train with the best group of BJJ Folks in the world: Team Roberto Traven. I’ve played soccer most of my life, but I started getting into martial arts when I entered college. I started with just cardio kickboxing classes, and then attempted Muay Thai for about a year. I truly enjoyed the athleticism involved in Muay Thai, but I didn’t really have the nerves or the “killer instinct” necessary to be successful. So, in December of 2009, after getting my butt kicked in my most recent Muay Thai match, I decided to try a Brazilian Jiu Jitsu class. Needless to say, I fell in love with the sport the very first time I tried it. I competed many times in my first year and a half of training, culminating in March, 2011 when I won my division at the IBJJF Pan American Championship. I was beyond ecstatic with this outcome, as it was my first big IBJJF tournament, but even more exciting was the blue belt promotion I received from Professor Traven upon returning from the tournament. About a month later, I graduated college…which I have mixed feelings about. Since I started training BJJ while I was in college, I was able to train basically whenever/however much I wanted, as I purposefully scheduled classes around my BJJ schedule. Now that I’m officially a grown-up with an official grown-up job, I’m trying to figure out the best way to balance training with the grind of adulthood.

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