Monday, March 26, 2012

New School Pic! My neck!

I think we have an official grand opening coming up later, but here's a pic from tonight's class...which was very...intense. I'm getting used to the extra tiredness though...and seeing Jeff Monson walking around (the man is just scary looking)...and keeping my feet alive. Hoping to get used to not screwing up positions just because an instructor's looking.
We did some work on passing the knee block in half guard today...pretty timely since KickboxerInstructor just taught me how to use it Friday (where I learned I tend to flare my upper elbow too much when on the bottom). I'm finding myself feeling a bit awkward again with my leg length, but Parrumpa's tip to turn my hips out made a HUGE difference in freeing the leg.

I'm a little concerned about a crack I heard tonight in my neck. No pain, no limits in range of motion, but seeing as it was injured pre-JJ, I'm always a little I'm icing her.

And now...the latest song that makes me want to spar...

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Ask a Microbiologist: Do BJJ folks catch more bugs?

We're kicking off the "Ask a Microbiologist" series with...surprise! A question about MRSA. I received an email the other day from a reader who'd suffered from a MRSA infection and was wondering why we as grapplers are more susceptible to these types of infections than other athletes. 

After multiple days of IV treatment in a hospital he was left with some questions...

 -I don't understand why wrestlers and jiu jitsu people in particular get staph more than the general population (I believe it to be true that rates are especially high amongst grapplers, maybe I'm wrong)
- If I get staph from the staph already on my body, what does wrestling with another person have to do with it?
- If I'm getting staph from the mats, why are cases of staph higher among grapplers than, say, Yogis or Gymnasts ?
- If I'm getting it from someone else, and it's just a matter of grinding bodies together, surely staph rates among college students would be high ?

Dr. Duvall's response...

Multiple papers have shown that people who participate in contact sports, or use shared equipment are at a higher risk for MRSA or other skin infections. There are a few things to consider here. First, you’re right, S. aureus and its cousins (like S. epidermidis) are pretty ubiquitous as far as the human microbiome goes, and they seem to be, for the most part, well tolerated by our immune systems. They serve a purpose by occupying biological niches that other “harmful” bacteria may be trying to colonize. When you’re coming into contact with someone else, you’re being exposed to whatever is living on their body and vice versa. The difference between grappling and a casual handshake is that most times when you shake someone’s hand, you aren’t sweating profusely. An increase in body temperature, coupled with an increase in sweating is a perfect recipe for a bacterial smorgasbord. Both the “good” and “bad” bacteria are going to go through a huge population explosion. They can go through more than three generations in an hour depending on the species. When the prolonged contact happens, now with these increased numbers of bacteria, it’s easier to pass them on from person to person, and since both bodies are nice and warm and sweaty, as soon as the bacteria land, they can just keep on growing. 

The bacteria you pick up this way may not be species that your body is used to, and with their increased numbers, can throw off the natural balance of your own flora. So, just using S. aureus as an example, you may carry one type of S. aureus, like Methicillin Sensitive Staphylococcus aureus (MSSA), or strains of S. aureus that can still be treated with antibiotics like penicillin, while your grappling partner may be a carrier for Methicillin Resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA), the kind of S. aureus that can’t. Sometimes, the kinds of MRSA that cause  community acquired (CA) infections, or MRSA infections not normally seen in hospitals, tend to grow much, much faster than “normal” MRSA, or other MRSA strains acquired in hospitals (hospital acquired MRSA or HA-MRSA). In that case, they can out-compete your normal bacterial flora for their niche, or biological space, and it’s in those situations where you can get some pretty nasty skin infections. Any environment where there are lots of people using shared equipment, and especially if that environment is warm and moist, can be a perfect breeding ground for all bacteria, not just pathogenic ones. So yes, you’re correct in thinking about your infection in this case in terms of colliding populations of flora from two different people. (I love the ant colony analogy!)

The compositions of our personal flora are always changing, and this change is due to an abundance of factors. For instance, I have a dog who loves to roll around in the grass. I’m subject to colonization by whatever bacteria he may have picked up rolling around in the grass that day. I might only be “transiently” colonized, meaning that the bacteria may only be able to hold onto whatever biological niche it occupied for a short period of time before my normal flora reclaim it, or it may be around for the long haul. A lot of our microbiome is determined when we’re kids, and there are certain species of bacteria that you would expect to find in all people, all of the time. The ratios might change however, and that ratio is determined by lots of different factors like the underlying health of the individual, diet, location, pets etc. Stress is most definitely a determining factor in the health of an individual, and can influence which bacteria might be around in which ratios.

The cool thing (to me anyways) about S. aureus is that it’s such a versatile pathogen. It can colonize many areas of the human body causing infections. It’s not that the bacteria gets more aggressive when it colonizes some areas necessarily, it’s that the strains that can cause these infections often times have some competitive advantage over the bacteria that would normally live there. For instance, S. aureus makes a bunch of different virulence factors that allow it to attach to multiple types of body tissue, cause massive cellular destruction, and even virulence factors that hide its presence from your immune system.

I hope all of this helps. The balance between being healthy and having an infection is very delicate. There are lots of factors that can influence the transition in either direction, especially when it comes to bacterial infections. I think the safest and soundest thing though is maintaining good hygiene. If you’re active and you participate in contact sports, make sure that you take a shower as soon as you can after you’re done. Glad you’re feeling better and thanks for the question!


Thanks as always to Brea for her amazing answers!!

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

I caught the H!!

That sneaky, Brazilian R...there's a reason I've backed off picking up another Western language. I tend to confuse sounds if two languages are too similar. I've intentionally left off studying the very accessible and useful Portuguese to get Chinese to a usable level...not that they're similar.

Well, today, I read the name "Sean Roberts" as "Sean Hoberts". I guess the choice wasn't mine to make. 

Thursday, March 15, 2012

So I did my 5th no gi class tonight.

"Megan's doing the no-gi class!" 

Yes. I've made it to blue belt with only 5 classes of no gi. Since day 1, it's just never called to me, but last class, Parrumpa mentioned that stepping up your no-gi game could be beneficial, so I bit the slippery bullet. I needed a third class a week and I guess this is gonna be it. (+10 for it being followed up by the advanced gi class).

We worked taking the back, which is always good for me, since I usually just jump on somebody's back like a cat on a can of tuna when I see it open...well...slower than that, but you get what I mean. We've covered this in gi, and it was honestly my...third or fourth time doing it in class, but it was one of those repeats that helped finer details sink in. I know people hate repeating techniques, but I honestly love it. Helps me understand. We also did an "up down" drill that transitions into an RNC (with a tip on not getting your arm snatched away and controlled in the process...helpful-tastic). This time, I got a much better feel for controlling my weight and balance throughout the process of rolling someone on their side and I've also decided to cross my legs on the bottom leg before going for the full back. KickboxerInstructor had mentioned this before, but it finally sank in tonight.

I failed miserably in defending a triangle tonight...and it just hit me, just this second, that I did because I was thinking of defending an armbar. I even called it an armbar. Why? I guess I left all my defense-sense in my gi.

What hasn't sunk in? I STILL settle for bottom half and side control too easily. I know it's important that I learn how to navigate down there, but it's like my mind shuts down. Must drill tomorrow.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

"I'm never looking for the best students...

...I'm looking for the right students. For the ones that are going to make me comfortable to give my best to them."
~Saulo Ribeiro

This man never ceases to amaze me as a teacher. His perspective on instruction is something all teachers, not just of jiu jitsu or martial arts, can learn from. Check it out.

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Big Girl Syndrome

I expected to be over it by now.

Jiu jitsu can do amazing things for the body image of a woman who hasn't dealt much with the physicality of her body during her life. I've fully accepted being heavier than all but one or two of the guys at the gym. I've come to take pride in the usefulness of my long legs when it comes to spider guard and triangles. I don't shy away from applying my full weight in knee on belly anymore...but there's still something there and I thought those cobwebs would have been swept clean by now by an arsenal of amazing sweeps. (my sweeps suck btw)

That photo? That's from my last trip to Japan. Upon meeting me (having already known my even larger brother), the lady in the picture remarked "We...we are Hobbits!" apparently now being left with the impression that American women normally come in Amazonian proportions. Just last weekend, at the seminar with Sofia Amarante, she remarked at how small I made her feel, which didn't surprise me and I honestly found it funny. Afterward though, it made me think...this is a woman who trains with the massive Roberto Abreu...he's not that much larger than me, so I would have assumed she'd be used to feeling tiny. But that made me realize that there is a genuine difference between being a large woman and being a large man that extends beyond the hard facts of height and weight. Basically, I present as bigger than a man of my same height and weight just because I'm female.

As an aside, I find the need to differentiate "Big girl syndrome" from "Fat girl syndrome"...the terms seem to be used interchangeably, but I've gone through periods in my life where, yes, I've felt and been technically overweight, but there are also periods where I've been asked to and if I modeled, so I can't rightly or fully claim that. Perhaps a better title is "Amazon Syndrome", because regardless of weight, I am large, and every now and then, I'm reminded of my little abnormality.

This past Friday, locked in the guard of a new green belt, holding off his muscling, the feelings inched their way in...always being taller than all the boys in class, being referred to as "big man" by a guy in gym class. I sat in his full guard, watching him struggle and muscle and fatigue himself until I freed a leg and passed to half. I bore my weight down with no shame, no sensitivity and watched him push with very little success. There lies one of the struggles of the blue a white and green, I would always wonder if the guys were being nice and simply letting me settle my weight and hold them down. This time though, I could see clearly in his face that he was trying his hardest and my weight was simply too much to move. I went back and forth in my head, wondering if I should play "little man" as to not further my reliance on my size when it comes to passing...what would Gabi Garcia do?...after all, I'm still pretty helpless against the bigger purples...but then my ego kicked in, I decided I wasn't going to let a lower belt dominate me, and dropped a little more shoulder pressure and tried a new half guard pass Parrumpa had taught us just before the belt exam.

I have found little peace on the mats in my odd mix of size, strength and gender...feeling like a behemoth one roll and a rag-doll the next. I am still that un-girl that the boys feel less shame in being partnered with but am relatively easily muscled into an Americana (the pushups have helped a bit). I genuinely thought that, by blue, I would have mounds of clarity. While I am much better at understanding and using pressure instead of weight and controlling the momentum of my own mass, I still feel quite confused in the sea of my own size. 

Monday, March 5, 2012

New gym! Baller locker rooms! Great deal for new students!

So I feel like I've turned some sort of subtle jiu jitsu corner...maybe it's the new gym (with the magical locker rooms...the ladies have two showers!), maybe the blue belt is starting to sink in, maybe it was attending my first event outside of training classes this past weekend...not sure and it really doesn't matter, but I feel more comfortable than I have in a very long time. Standing guard passes don't send me into instant doldrums of frustration, I'm finally starting to see the difference between pressure and weight, and bottom side control...well I'm still freezing and letting people settle their weight, but I can see enlightenment somewhere around the corner.

Tonight was very good, if only because this is the first time I've felt no limitation in drilling passing from standing. My cartilage deprived knees crackled and snapped as usual, but no pain, even now. We'll see what the morning brings, but I have hope that tomorrow will not involve Advil. I'm using my lassos more freely and open guard...I see a chance of actually passing Jazz Hands'...didn't actually happen and I got choked eight ways from Sunday (kept forggeting that you can actually be submitted while passing), but again, another light. So quote Ice Cube, today was a good day.

Oh yeah!! The gym is running a REALLY nice deal for the opening if you're in Palm Beach County, classes are just $100 a month to train at American Top Team if you sign up before April. Click here for more info. 

Sunday, March 4, 2012

Women's Open Mat with Sofia Amarante

"OMG!! You're excited about half guard!!!"

That's what one of the ladies from American Top Team that traveled with me down to yesterday's open mat texted me afterward. I've lamented being "half guard stupid" for...ever now. I just let people settle and completely miss that "moment" that is so essential in avoiding being crushed and mounted and all the ugliness that happens afterward.

It was so much fun...At first I thought it would be three hours of getting to know other ladies that trained...some drilling, sharing techniques, and sparring. Nope. It was way better with two lady-black belts leading the session. It was a straight up class format with running, drills, techniques, the whole shebang. Sofia "Bubu" Amarante, world champion black belt under Roberto "Cyborg" Abreu led the class and she was nothing short of amazing. Anybody who can walk 34 people through rolling over their shoulders gets mad instructor props from me.

I took home a couple of new drills, the biggest of which was the shoulder rolling (which I will definitely be working on the regular now). It was essential in the third and fourth techniques that Sofia taught and honestly, something I've always been hesitant to actually apply. I tend to graviate toward to the most straight-forward and obvious paths to get where I want. On a high level though, I have more confidence in negotiating that "moment" around half guard.

Oh yeah! I got to roll with Jen from Family Mat-ters! It was the first time I'd trained with anyone from the BJJ blogosphere. Meeting people (let alone sparring with them) I first get to know online strikes me as trippy no  matter how many times I do it, and I've been doing it for years now.

The standout moment though, was probably the Predator raffle (even more props to these guys for their marketing). The lady that won was a white belt who didn't have her own gi...awesome way to get started with a custom made and embroidered gi from Black Eagle. And!


A huge thanks to South Florida Fight Club for hosting such a great event, Sofia Amarante for her awesome instruction and Stephanie for getting it all together. Can't wait for the next one in Miami!

Thursday, March 1, 2012

I have nothing to prove, not even to myself.

I've lamented recently that I had lost the courage that I had as a white belt. That current Megan isn't as brave as  the one that jumped into that line of galloping men two years ago. I still remember the breath that launched me onto the mats, and I realized today that all that is true.

Courage is overcoming fear...and I was afraid...though not only of the warmups and the drills, but also of what it would mean if I turned around and got back in that car. With every nervous text sent out to a friend, every mirror pep-talk in the gym bathroom, there was a deeper, purer trembling inside me. A trembling to which, in my courage, I succumbed and I used. "If I quit, who will I be?" For every ounce of courage I mustered to overcome my past self, there was equal fear fleeing a potential future. That alternate version of Megan scared me more than any number of up-downs or ukemi. I had to prove to myself that I was stronger than that fear.

And I did.

And I needed to.

Today though, is different. It would be a terrible thing to spend my days running from, or even toward, myself. My best friend wrote a post addressing competition with self just when I was getting over my turfed toe last year. It's summed up best in this line..

...but I am moving away from competing with myself mantra and focusing on how much I love this art. 

I go to class not because I'm scared of what 40 year old Megan will look back and see...not because I fear letting down my team or women or friends. I now go to learn and grow in something I enjoy and share with people I like being around. I train because this is now a part of my life. How much? That will change, ebb and flow, no doubt, and I in turn will adjust.

I believe that neither quitting nor succumbing to fears are inherently bad. There is skill and value in knowing when to quit and when to give in...we are limited creatures with limited resources, strength and will, and opportunity cost is very real. So yes, I'm less brave and yet more confident. I am finding newer, cleaner, calmer motivations.