Saturday, December 14, 2013

21 Life Improvements from BJJ: 19-Membership in a Supportive Fitness Community

Training BJJ has brought me into contact with a community that I was pretty sheltered from for a very long time--the fitness community. I won't hasn't really been a positive exposure. Of course, there's an emphasis on physical health, and that's important, but in all honesty, what I've seen is a culture that focuses on a very narrow aesthetic and encourages a level of personal self interest that reminds me too much of executive/acquisition culture.

I'll admit that I could have been biased as an outsider, or just misunderstood what was being paraded in front of my face, however, considering the frequency with which I see the terms "hater" and accusations of jealousy or unattractiveness tossed about...I'm thinking I wasn't 100% wrong to question the motives of some of the voices I'd heard. I was reminded of this during the recent hullabaloo over the two new mom photos that have been flying 'round the 'net over the past few weeks.  

I honestly only have beef with the situation connected with the photo on the right, and that's only because of the words chosen to go with the image. It was an interesting debate to watch...supporters praising Maria Kang's physique (which is admirable), detractors condemning the wording. Watching the two groups talk past each other day after day, something hit me...motivation is about as varied as body types and people either don't, or don't want to get (and implement) that. What one person sees as a motivational "What's your excuse?" another will see as condemnation. Not too difficult to apply one on one...negligent to ignore when posting in open forums like the internet.

I wrote on how much I dislike this type of "motivation" a while back. I loathe pretty much all inspiration porn...I have yet to run into anything with the wording "what's your excuse?" that didn't make my skin crawl over its crass and lazy over-simplification. The image below and the story of Oscar Pistorius is a great example.

Phillipa Willits said something about the photo that I think is highly applicable to the image of Maria Kang regarding oversimplification of the subject and hamfisting of the audience. I switched out a couple of phrases to see what difference it would make in context.

 It does not matter who the people in these photographs are, as long as their representation is enough to guilt non-disabled (aesthetically unappealing) people into action. Their use of prosthetics (having given birth) is the only thing about them that is of interest in these images, and it automatically turns them into some kind of superhero. Along with the captions, the implication is supposed to be, “Wow, they have a great attitude!”.

Having children isn't a disability, but based on the amount of discussion from new mothers on how they work to reclaim their previous physiques and how much raving has gone on over these two new moms, I'm going to go ahead and accept that we expect a certain level of aesthetic loss to come with motherhood, and that the two moms-in-question, have bucked the stereotype and "risen above" post-pregnancy bodies with their determination and lack of excuses. The difference in this case though, is that the losing party is not represented in the image, but instead embodied in the audiece...Shark Girl pointed this out well:

"Not only does it reduce a person to their disability, it also doesn't address the target audience's reality."

The whole thing makes me deeply thankful for BJJ (and the people in it), which still boasts an over-arching culture that is genuinely for everybody. That's not an easy thing to keep up. BJJ somehow maintains an environment that praises gas over defined abs, technique over body-fat% and personal progress over standardized end results. Of course there are bad apples, but I say this as a person who will likely always feel at least a little unathletic...even when I've felt my most uncoordinated and out of shape, I've always felt an undercurrent of acceptance in my training. Part of that is due to our bulky uniforms (gis are some serious body equalizers), but the most important reason is the willingness of most practitioners to take people where they are, and help them to through their goals. That environment right there, I believe, is the foundation of spreading a meaningful culture of fitness. When I start eating badly, all it takes is a night of training and spending time around other people who are also working to optimize themselves to motivate (not inspire...I'm not a very aspirational person) me to do better.

Some people, I honestly think most people, especially ones who don't have a history of being concerned about their physical health, need a community that will allow them to come as they are, fail when they do and not be condemned for either...not even under the guise of motivation.

Saturday, November 23, 2013

21 Life Improvements from BJJ: 18-A Look Into a Future

The world can be saddening when you look at it. I don't mean death or famine or disease...those things bring about sadness, but their origins are, for the most part, natural. I got a real, but still somewhat detached reminder of this from my best friend who saw a man yesterday, shot and scared, in his last moments of life.

"Gosh. We really live on a clock. And sadly humans are the ones often stopping that clock for other humans" she tweeted.

Everything from war to racism to transphobia to verbal abuse, I genuinely believe, root themselves in stripping individuals, people, groups and cultures of their inherent, and easily apparent humanity. We all have a lot of words and ways to relate it, but the aggressors, at the end of the day lack empathy.

Empathy...true empathy...not just feeling bad when you see a starving child or sharing a post about the wrongs of racism, is a layered thing. It means you not only see the feelings of not only experience the feelings of others...but that you then value those feelings. It terrifies me sometimes to see how long that road is for so many people and often nudges me deeper toward my natural cynicism.

I see jiu jitsu though. I see it force people to feel the humanity in others, even if only briefly, even if only in an effort to avoid tapping out, and it nudges me back. 

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

21 Life Improvements from BJJ: 17-Helping my Father Age

A stoic and broad shouldered 6'5" (197 cm), you wouldn't expect that my father is more emotionally expressive than your average Southern American Black man. Sensitive though he may be, his feelings are largely filtered through the lens of sports. He, like most of his brothers and some nephews, was an athlete. At most my family boasts a CBA player but athletics are a big deal on that many of the lessons he taught me, were related through the language of sports (even if I wasn't the one playing...because I SO didn't take well to athletics).

My father is also an aging athlete. He's struggled with this since his 40s. Where he was once nimble and powerful, he now finds his body slow and less responsive. He still looks back fondly on his days on the basketball courts in high school and college. While he had never said it, I began to see how he missed the strength and agility of his old, young body.

He expressed that to me outright once I started training BJJ. In my hydration issues, tight hamstrings and exhaustion, he saw his memories. He saw himself. After a few rounds of tips on breathing, mental focus and not going soft on people, he finally told me of the pain high-performing athletes go through as they age--how they wish for glimpses of their days of glory--how he watches his old teammates delude themselves about their current abilities.

Jiu jitsu was incredibly hard for me at first. I am coordinated, but I don't move very well. Ginastica has helped recently, but before I got over the fear that GinasticaInstructor's class inspired in me, I looked to Scott Sonnon for help. In Mr. Sonnon's collection of movement development material, I found a simple DVD aimed toward maintaining mobility as you age. I gave it to my father one Christmas.

Six weeks later, he came to me, eyes welled up with tears, and said "You never...have to get me another gift again." I noticed the hitch in his gait, the one that chiropractors and podiatrists were unable to treat, was greatly reduced. He glowed with energy as he learned that he could recover just a bit of his lost self. He started telling his friends.

To this day he boasts of the woman at his church who no longer uses a cane because of what he showed her, and another woman, who went from a sedentary lifestyle, to jogging every day because of his motivation. In taming some of his fears of aging, my father has become a missionary of movement, and I have jiu jitsu to thank. 

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

21 Life Improvements from BJJ: 16-A Bittersweet Taste of Reality

If BJJ had a flag, it would be flying at half mast right now.

The Schultz/Maldonado trial is wrapping up. The fact that it happened is bad enough. The results that are coming down are sickening, but what I find most disheartening...and heartening honestly, is the reactions. BJJ has a tendency to lean toward the positive, which is awesome and amazing, but in all the camaraderie and focus on the happy things in life, some realities can be easy to forget.

I was reminded today, watching a man, on Facebook, defend his actions...not lie...not say everyone was mistaken, but declare that those actions, which were at best, complete disregard (and possible active contempt) for a teammate...were innocent because they weren't found to be wrong in court. There are few things that give me chills like people who consider the law to be the ultimate moral authority. As sickening as that was to watch, right now, I'm bracing myself for watching the regular guys...very much the minority, but still guys we all train with...defend the indefensible. I'm bracing myself to watch the evil next door.

Watching the reactions in and of itself and accepting, tiring though both may be, is good. I'm reminded of the time, when I was 15, and the guy I had a massive crush on showed up on the local news. He was always well dressed, well spoken, smart and polite. He was less so after being arrested for raping, murdering and dismembering a woman. That moment changed the way I saw evil as distant or "othered".

I don't believe that all life improvement needs to feel warm and snuggley, or even interesting and enlightening...or even personal. Sometimes an improvement is just the beauty of seeing the truth of some of the ugliness of humanity.  

Sunday, October 27, 2013

21 Life Improvements from BJJ: 15-An MBA Outlet

Since I was young, I've had beef with the concept of "business". I always envisioned people in shiny suits, exploiting the customer, worker, and society at large at every chance they got. (To be honest, my real-life experiences haven't completely disproved that perspective.)

Somehow though, being the practical INTJ that I am, I managed to convince myself that an MBA might be a good idea. I enrolled myself in some intro classes that a local university was offering to students who hadn't yet taken the GMAT. All graduate level students in the college of business had to take them and I found myself sitting with accountants, CFOs, former stock brokers, entrepreneurs and kids fresh out of undergrad. On Fridays, I drove to the other end of the county to listen to talks from executives in various industries talk frankly about their lives and experiences in the business world. I fell in love with the whole thing and looked forward to the classes, even after long drives and a full day's work. The focus, as well as the classes, was global and addressed business as very much a function and reflection of humanity. Even through brutal finance classes (NOT my strength), I still felt a burning drive to learn more about what business really was and how it could serve humanity.

As much as I loved the study though, there was still a disconnect in my work life. See...there's BUSINESS, and then there's a career. Sure, playing with pivot tables and Gantt charts carried over, but for the most part, I longed for the discussions of game theory and deeper analysis of Hofstede's cultural dimensions. I wanted to talk more about labor movements in China and tuna fisheries in Myanmar.

BJJ has given me the opportunity to look at a young industry, still finding its footing, still working through all the rough edges and loose ends that are to be expected. It's allowed me to not only see business, but watch and experience, acutely and personally, what business means in the lives of individuals. Writing on business in BJJ has been awesome, and allowed me to explore some of the topics I feared would be lost to me after finishing school. 

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

21 Life Improvements from BJJ: 14-Exposure to Experts

I don't know about most people, but in the bulk of my adult life, I don't get exposure to true specialists...people who've devoted decades of their lives to learning their corner of the world. I think that comes from being disconnected from the arts since that's where you most frequently see the results of that kind of intense study. (The perils of a practical education)

I was reminded of this today though, while listening to Stephan Kesting interviewing Roy Dean. Dean has been training in martial arts since he was 16 years old (Kesting has a pretty deep background himself as evidenced by his line of questioning) and I found myself stopping what I was doing, just to absorb exactly how fluidly he spoke of the history of Aikido and Iaido. The ease with which he answered Kesting's questions on relationships between wrestling, Judo, BJJ and other arts only come with an understanding, not only of the art, but of the history of how that art flows through the humans that pass it along one to another.

These kinds of interviews can be easy to dismiss as planned or staged, but after some of the interviews I've done for GiFreak...Pedro Valente, Marcos DaMatta, Ryron Gracie, Draculino, I've come to think that that sort of response is simply the norm.

True expertise is one of the most authentic beauties of human existence...we absorb, we process, and then we birth more than we were given--and there are certain heights of that creation that come only after a life's been given over in dedication across decades of study.

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

21 Life Improvements from BJJ: 13-AMAZING People

So I have some unconventional things going on in my life/personality that makes running into people I can talk to for more than five minutes somewhat rare. Most of the people I connect with seem to be outliers of some sort...people that are hard to pin down. This, more than anything, has cemented for me the idea that BJJ attracts some special people.

So lately, seeing stuff like Meg's post on feminism, finding out comedian Jamie Kilstein trained, Julia's post on Internet behavior, visiting Cyborg's gym for an interview, running into an old training partner over the weekend, and having a vehicle with which to maintain contact with a very cool former pastor...I can't imagine what my life would be like without the amazing individuals BJJ has brought into it. 

Monday, October 21, 2013

I...LOVE...BJJ people.

Meg was one of the first blogs I started reading when I began training, and in all these years she's never disappointed. This though? I was giddy reading it, smiling the entire time.

BJJ, Women and Feminisms

It's a post on the problem of seeing Brazilian women as inherently more sexual than Anglo women and, well, it's just brilliant, scholarly, introspective, aware on both micro and macro levels, and obviously rooted in concern for the subject and humans involved. Megs rock. 

Sunday, October 20, 2013

21 Life Improvements from BJJ: 12-Awareness of Differences Julia's about to lap me. 

It's easy to fool yourself into thinking that you're normal...that the world, while there are mostly comprised of people like you...and even if you cognitively know it isn't, it's still easy to behave and make decisions as if it were.

My cohort? Artsy, multi-racial, geeks who like travel/art/food/music, don't have children but do have the disposable income that comes with that. And what's awesome about BJJ. I mentioned before that I don't REALLY have kids in my life, so having friends who have to regularly adjust schedules because of a sick daughter or miss a tournament because their husband needed to use the gives me new (and more realistic) perspective on my own life, its struggles and its blessings.

Thursday, October 17, 2013

21 Days of Life Improvements from BJJ: Day 11-A Break from Consumption

My college boyfriend had a huge gripe with me that we just couldn't get past. He loved the Friday night movie-at-home ritual and unfortunately for him, he was dating a woman who has probably never in her life, sat through an entire film without trying to make practical use of the time. I would be either cooking or organizing something or folding laundry.

Friends have stopped recommending media to me because I just don't get around to watching it...Death Note, The Grandmaster, Sherlock...not even Benedict Cumberbatch's enchanting presence has been able to get me to sit still long enough to watch an entire film/series without "multitasking". I don't even watch any shows regularly (I blame heartbreak from Lost and The 4400). I'm just not a very good consumer when it comes to media. I'm not a very good consumer period, which I think, in the modern world, is a bit abnormal. Consumption is what we do here in the, sex, entertainment...if you take a step back, we're always being encouraged to consume and reminded of how great consumption is.

One day, in an effort to more closely analyze what triggers food cravings for me, I started paying attention to how many times I ran across food suggestions in a day. It was horrible. Gas stations, commercials, billboards, store fronts, even my beloved and and food and entertainment. I started to notice it all...the caucauphony of consumption we swim through

Jiu jitsu is a needed break from that. It's a break from consumption. I think that that's one of the reasons I believe BJJ should be a non-sexual space, just like I believe there shouldn't be buckets of fried chicken on the mats. We need a break. We need space. We need a reset from consumer orientation to producer orientation, and that requires a figuratively quiet, sterile environment.

The other day, I was reading about Janelle Monae's Wondaland Arts Society, a space dedicated to creative reflection and production, and no food is allowed (save cotton candy and wine). I think there's a reason for that. I'm really not sure if people can do both well simultaneously. It strikes me as akin to multitasking...we're only fooling ourselves into thinking we're doing more than one thing at a time. We're really just toggling between doing two things at a diminished capacity. Just a thought.

And awesome video.

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

21 Days: Day 10-A Different Self

I've developed this habit  of watching BJJ videos before bed. I was just watching the one below of this year's Rio Open and couldn't help but smirk at my current self. While training a martial art doesn't surprise me, I would have never seen myself in something as challenging as BJJ, and definitely not involved at the depth that I am. So yeah...that is awesome thing #10 BJJ has brought into my life. Flavor--that little surprise dash of emotional swings that keeps life interesting and allows you to be proud of yourself, and someone different than you would have imagined. There's something to be said for not being what you expected.

AAAAND...Julia has started her own 21 day pledge (and she's been way better at making it actually 21 days, as opposed to the 30 I'm pushing now:) Check it out!

Monday, October 14, 2013

21 Days: Day 9-INTJ Bonding

If you're unfamiliar with personality typing, check it out. It has its drawbacks, but it's amazingly accurate in understanding how people related to the world around them. It's based on four dichotomies and classifying people based on where they fall along them:

  • Extroversion/Introversion
  • Sensing/Intuition 
  • Thinking/Feeling
  • Judging/Perception

I'm an INTJ. We're the rarest of the types. The world tends to perceive us as strange and cold, and if you visit any forums dedicated to our type, or talk to one of us long enough, frustration with being misunderstood frequently comes up. Jiu jitsu though, has introduced me to another INTJ, BlackBeltInstructor. We tend to recognize each other quickly, and after a few conversations, I could smell the common ground. A brief summary... 

To outsiders, INTJs may appear to project an aura of "definiteness", of self-confidence. This self-confidence, sometimes mistaken for simple arrogance by the less decisive, is actually of a very specific rather than a general nature; its source lies in the specialized knowledge systems that most INTJs start building at an early age. When it comes to their own areas of expertise -- and INTJs can have several -- they will be able to tell you almost immediately whether or not they can help you, and if so, how. INTJs know what they know, and perhaps still more importantly, they know what they don't know.

It's a bit strange...seeing someone who reacts to stress and boredom and attraction and uncertainty so frequently the same way that you do. It's a useful mirror though; sometimes a bit awkward, because on top of the way you learn to read each other through training together, you can also read each other's moods because they're your own. 

My best friend is an INTJ, and honestly, I don't think I've struck up a friendship with another one of us in years. It was a pretty cool surprise. 

Friday, October 11, 2013

21 Days: Day 8-Womanly Bonding

The idea that women all play the frenemies game is a nasty stereotype that I wish would go away (though I know it's true in many situations). Training BJJ has given me moments of bonding with other women of different backgrounds that, aside from some friends and family I've grown up with, I just wouldn't expect as an adult.

Just tonight, we sat between rounds, discussing how to deal with male moodiness (I swear men have hormonal cycles too), endurance in relationships and crazy family members. We've talked coping with periods while training, careers that haven't worked out, weight gain and ticking biological clocks.

And honestly, this isn't limited to real life. The women bloggers I've connected with have gifted me with some amazing conversations and much needed support in this world of BJJ. We're all incredibly different, but the connection happens regardless of demographic.

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

21 Days: Day 7-Rediscovering Language

I love languages. When I was little, I always wanted to be one of those people who could speak multiple languages, but my time in French class seemed wasted, so I assumed they just weren't my thing.

Fast forward about two decades, and I found out I do have an aptitude for language...that is when I have lots of exposure. I can't just sit down with a vocab list and absorb (horrid memory). I have to interact. Making that effort to interact has put me in some strange, and educational situations. It takes people a few seconds of hearing me speak Spanish to realize I'm not native (about until I start tripping over conjugations)...what that means, is that I can just walk up to a Spanish speaker (who also speaks English) here in Florida, and instantly become a part of a different circle in their lives...usually until they realize I'm American. That's the funny thing about language...sharing a language implies a certain level of understanding and intimacy, and in Spanish, in a country where it is common, but still the language of the minority, I'm frequently rejected as an outsider. It's not like Chinese or Japanese, where I'm a novelty regardless of location and a few well pronounced words almost always earns instant fascination and camaraderie.

BJJ though, has created relationships where speaking Spanish is just the next natural step in genuine friendship...something beyond me forcing myself into a culture that's not my own. There is trust, so my efforts to communicate come from a desire to understand.

And then there's Portuguese. After the scars and lessons of completely failing at Japanese (joseigo...really?), I limited my studies to only the three most commonly spoken in the world and I was satisfied. But then came omoplatas and all things boa and I heard the mystery again. A strange one this time though, because, thanks to Portuguese sharing a linguistic parent with Spanish, spoken, I understand very little, though I read my instructor's FB messages to close friends and family with relative ease. Training BJJ has made me consider breaking my language vows...I mean...who knows what awesome tips I could be missing out on. 

Monday, September 30, 2013

21 Days: Day 6-Friends

OK, so it looks like the 21 days aren't going to be consecutive.

Tonight I had what is likely my last roll with GinasticaInstructor. He's moving out to Cali, and then possibly Brazil. It was awesome, and just a touch sad. He's one of the few guys I feel comfortable being aggressive with and not totally outsized by. He's a strong 165 and I'm most comfortable between there and 180lbs.

Four years ago, the weekend after my first class, I was checking out at the grocery store and turned around to see a green-eyed man staring at me expectantly. " coming back?" It was the tough, stoic, agile guy with the pale and beaten lavender belt from the school I'd just tried out. "Yeah...yeah I am." "...good." That guy went on to become the bane and highlight of my Saturday mornings, which I'd dedicated (mostly) to his ginastica natural class. It's hard saying goodbye to someone you've gotten used to being a permanent feature in your training life.

So tonight was a good reminder of another awesome effect of BJJ on my life--friends. Making friends...real friends is so rare as an adult. I've come to value the post-training conversations, surprisingly honest dinner conversations and happy chance run-ins more than I ever thought possible.

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

21 Days: Day 5-Emotional Connection

Man...just four days in and I missed a day. I've never been one for routine.

So there's this video of comedian Louis C.K. decrying children using cellphones because it deprives them of learning emotional connection, especially when it comes to seeing human suffering as a result of them doing something mean. When you think about it, it's kinda terrifying, because people can be really cruel when they don't know someone*.

While I like to think I have a healthfully developed sense of empathy, I'm a card carrying introvert, so I tend to short myself on the emotional connections. BJJ provides a controlled environment for connection...much deeper connection than every day life provides...what with its iPhones and Internets and twittering.

*The Milgram Experiment was set up to observe people's responses to authority, but I think the stranger component makes it applicable here. 

Monday, September 23, 2013

21 Days: Day 4-A Better Budget

So tonight's training was one of those nights I'm glad I started this series, because I got MAULED. I was tired from work and a bit distracted, so a night with the big, brawny guys, followed up by rolling with the amazing purple belt kid was just painful.

So the budget. I'm a shoe horse. And a jewelry hound. It started in middle school, when I would buy shoes  and socks in multiple colors and mix them sock with white shoe and white sock with red shoe. Somehow, it seemed completely normal to me at 13 to be wearing shoes that laced up to the knee. I never outgrew it. Zappos used to be one of my best friends, and don't get me started on I also won't go into detail on my $50 monthly chocolate budget for importing whatever random international blend I was interested in at the time.

Now, gi-lust aside, I just don't pull the trigger on pretty/sparkly things like I used to. Part of that is purely functional...more time at the gym=less time in places where things like art deco statement necklaces matter...but there's also less of a thrill from buying. There's a reason people use the term "retail therapy"...some people shop as a release. Me? A day at the mall is my version of hell. I'd literally (the real literally) rather have a cavity filled than spend an hour wandering around looking for some random top. Still though, I like a full jewelry box Chinese medicine cabinet and shoe rack. Somehow, though, now I'm satisfied with what I already have, and thrills come from escaping a particularly tight armbar.  

Sunday, September 22, 2013

21 Days: Day 3-Outcome for effort

If there's anything I wish someone had told me in high school...or college...or before 25, it's that work is frequently not about getting things done, or being smart, or being effective. I heard on a podcast the other day that there's only a 20% correlation between intelligence and career success. The mismatch between what educational institutions reward, and my personal experiences (and those of just about everybody I know) in the workforce are nothing short of unsettling.

That said, BJJ is a HUGE relief after more frustrating days at work. The more I put in, the more I get out. That's not always true when you're working a white collar job where systems have faults and holes and traps for your efforts to get caught up, diluted and killed in. Every office would be a better place with a mat area, I swear. 

Saturday, September 21, 2013

21 Days: Day 2-Peace with my hair

Another huge positive BJJ has brought into my life? Peace with my hair.

The journey to hair peace is a long one for any Black woman...many don't ever make it. I'm not talking about accepting the color or thinness or weird tendency to frizz...I mean getting to a point where the dead cells your scalp produces aren't something bad...when they aren't something to be covered or combated, beaten down with heat and chemicals and sheer physical force.

It's no short trip. Every now and again, I'll see a hair on the mat and feel a twinge of that old embarrassment I did at my predominately White middle school-a place where my hair was something strange and foreign, something teased and questioned. Even during my time training, I've heard jokes about pubic hair in reference to my shed strands. It's all part of the process.

While I was chemically treating my hair, training BJJ meant I literally had to choose between keeping my hair and training. Black hair is generally fragile, and the commonly practiced forms of straightening make it even more so. Mind you, I didn't go willingly. I was texturizing my hair only once a year, but still, it was breaking terribly. Even with the use of my balaclava, it wasn't growing the way I wanted.

So now my hair grows in its natural texture. My afro is full and fluffy, and flops from length, not damage. It's a good place to be. Every inch grown is a step closer to my previously waist length hair and the irreverently huge 'fro I want, not a reminder of time ticking on the relaxer clock. It's a good place to be. 

Friday, September 20, 2013

21 Days, 21 Life Improvements from BJJ

People say that it takes 21 days to form a habit. I'm not so sure about that and think it's akin to the 10,000 hour rule (a few test subjects short of scientific), but I do believe it's a good number of days to mold thinking. So...for 21 days, once a day, I'm going to post on a positive change BJJ has made in my life.

Day 1: Teen Time

Prior to training, I had very few kids in my life...almost none really. Save the occasional visit from a coworker's daughter, children were creatures I only saw occasionally in grocery stores and at the movies...and when I say "kids" I mean anybody under 18. 

Training not only brought kids into my life, but I'm interacting with them on a regular basis now. A while back, I wrote about a particularly sweet moment at the first tournament I attended where I watched one of the kids working to cheer up one of my fellow (then) white belts after a particularly rough match. Seeing people break the usual standards of interactions always makes me happy.

I think it gives of life and all that stuff. I like keeping contact with older (like 80+, death-is-definitely-knocking-on-my-door old) people because it's a reminder both of how short, and how long life is. A friend of mine...John...just passed away after a long battle with cancer, and hearing the way he faced his own mortality, and dealt with the void he knew he'd be leaving with his loved ones is something that will stick with me for the rest of my life. Conversations with him gave me insight into my probable future self. 

Something similar happens talking to teenagers. I'm still closer to their age than John's, but it can be easy to forget who you were then. Training and talking with them is a reminder of who I was, and insight into how much of that person I still am. 

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Letting go

One of my fellow blues and I had the same epiphany tonight. I had just finished rolling with a strong, fast blue belt guy and mid way through, I decided to untense my body, stop hunkering down, and just go. Everything moved much more smoothly, my mind included. Afterward, I sat down next to the first blue and she revealed that just recently, she decided to let go...stop fearing the tap.

I can't explain how much brighter everything felt. My next roll felt clear and illuminated...that is until the guy I was rolling with locked down himself. I felt myself immediately respond in kind. It was hard to stay loose the rest of the round, but I managed to stay aware and dial myself back when needed. All those moves from ginastica? They just open up when you're not a ball of tensed muscle.

I sat out the next round, next to one of the first people I ever rolled with. He's a tall, strong purple belt from Brazil who's been around since...two gyms ago. He's testing for brown soon. We talked about the first, unairconditioned gym, full of huge, aggressive guys...the second one where I started, and his training other places because of work.  It was one of those moments where I realized that I actually have history at the gym. Funny to think of when I look back at that first, terrified breath I took before jumping into the line of running men. 

Sunday, September 8, 2013

Why I love the Raspberry Ape, but don't want to see the tables turn again...

There are a few things Facebook is actually good for. For me, one is talking out issues like this one. I had to ask myself some questions about my own, visceral reactions to the Kyra Gracie shoot. I had to ask those questions again when models wearing nothing but body paint cropped up as props to sell gis. Seeing that, I sighed, but it didn't REALLY bother me...not like the Kyra shoot. That's why I was a little surprised to see a few women react similarly to both. One of those reactions (and honestly the one I have the biggest problem with) is the "turnabout is fair play" or "parody" response.

Why do I have a problem? Mostly because the two sets of images are not the same: 

First off, Kyra's shoot...
  • Kyra's a big name in BJJ.*
  • The images (as far as I can tell) weren't directly used to sell a product (though they eventually might have been) and instead were spread by Kyra on her personal page.
  • The image boils down to the sexualization of her body, enhanced and contextualized by the use of the gi.
  • She is the main subject of the photo
The Company's shoot...
  • The Company is small and the models are unknown.
  • The images are used on the company website, featuring the products they are looking to sell.
  • The image involves the objectification of the female form, not outright sexualization (high heels aside). It's only sexualized if you consider nudity inherently sexual.
  • The women are props in the photo
Parody, like paying homage, is difficult. To be done correctly, you have to not only understand the elements of the original work, but also what they mean in context. You not only have to understand why the original subject is ridiculous, but you also have to be able to execute it with the finesse to focus on the ridiculous, not get tripped up by all the other moving parts of the piece, AND not get distracted by all the other messages you may want to insert. So yeah...I think it should be used sparingly and carefully, especially in a day where nothing is really private..

Take Robin Thicke's abysmal video for Blurred Lines. (Have you seen the uncensored version??) It somehow offended the liberal, conservative, womanist, musician...pretty much every part of me that could be offended. It was BEGGING to be parodied...and parody happened. Once here in what I'm calling parody A, and again here in what I'm calling parody B

Parody A, the more popular of the two, gets it. The original is ridiculous in its own right...beyond the norms of the issues women face in media. All they had to do was genuinely switch out men for women and women for men and bam. Parody. It even managed to challenge ideals of the acceptable female form by simply doing very little (which actually took more work).  

Parody B trips up a bit (ok, a lot). They switched the gender roles...oh wait no! They ONLY switched the sexes! They managed to keep gender roles well in tact, with the women still in high heels, short skirts, full make up, and the men in...underwear (because, apparently, nudity is the same as objectification). They seem to have totally missed the point that the original video's problem was not the showing of skin. They did it in the name of asserting women's rights to dress how they choose? Sorry, but sexy women in this context, dilutes the the point that it's actually reinforcing gender stereotypes...kind of like the original. Surprising (and yet, not) for students of feminism (Correction, they are law students). It strikes me as mostly reactionary, focusing more on men as Bad Guys (as opposed to the equally shallow Heros) that must be combated rather than the actual social issues for which they are sometimes willing (or unconscious) vehicles. 

Back to BJJ...

Why don't I want to see The Company parodied?
  • I don't like objectification. At all. Of any human. I get why it could be important, possibly even useful here, but I'm not the Machiavellian type. There are better ways to tackle the problem. 
  • Sex may or may not sell, but controversy definitely does. I wrote about it a while back and I stand by the research and the claims. There's a company out there doing something shocking, and shocking makes $. I know it might make a few people feel good to see the shoot redone, but I'd hate to see that ending up as more sales for The Company (who I really think only cares about sales and couldn't possibly care less about women's reactions).  
  • Whoever does it, will do it wrong. I promise they will. It's not enough to get hot guys, slap on some body paint and stand them in between two women in gis...because the paint isn't the problem. Imagine the shoot done again, instead, with the women in question in rashguards and a full gi. They're STILL superfluous and still objects.

It's not the naked that's the issue, it's the use of a human as an object. Sure, you can say that using a man as an object turns the tables, but it's not the same. Men can easily (as in the case of the Daniel Strauss/The Raspberry Ape) jump into a position of objectification and jump right out and return to their lives, never having to deal with street harassment, hyper-sexualized imagery, etc. that women walk through every day. The social practices that lead to the company choosing to create the ad they did, are pervasive (car/motorcycle, deodorant, beer ads). It's incredibly difficult to capture the depth of what's behind all that without something as extreme as Parody A.

.So yeah, if someone does decide to do a hot guy shoot, I will be just a little disheartened.

*A little off-topic foot note for anyone who has responded to my critique of Kyra claiming that she can't be held responsible for the effects her behavior and images have on the community...I'm an all-or-nothing kind of person when it comes to things like this. Either we give her credit for inspiring some women and discouraging others, or she gets no credit at all. I don't understand how we can, in the same breath, say that she serves as an example to both women and men who train of a woman who deserves respect, but then ignore the fact that some of her actions might have some negative consequences. 

Thursday, September 5, 2013

Losing my sense of taste/Discovering my inner little person

My trips to the dentist are always entertaining. Today, the hygienist noticed something strange along my gums above my two front teeth. I immediately braced myself for news of needing a root canal and thousands of dollars worth of pain. She called the dentist in and he asked if I'd had pressure applied there. I watched his face contort as I explained being crossfaced. In his thick, Austrian accent, he warned me not to hold that position too long, or I might lose my sense of taste.

"Whoa whoa gotta explain that one." (not my dentist, I just liked the picture)
This is why I love my dentist. When I first walked into his doors eight years ago, I was terrified to the point of tears, but in dire need of repairs to the results of a childhood injury. For every fitting, every grinding, every set of injections and every drilling without anesthesia (my choice, because I'm highly illogical when it comes to dental matters), I stepped through the door feeling like a terrified twelve year old. There are some wounds that I guess don't heal, and the insensitive treatment I received from my childhood dentist is one of them. To this day, even when I think I'm relaxed in a dentist's chair, I look down to see my arms tightly hugging myself, or my nails digging deeply into the arm rests.

My dentist knows how I am. He also knows how to calm me down. Facts. I need to understand what's going on. I want to watch the procedure (...kinda). When I get jittery about being put under, he explained how gas works on the nervous system and how he buys his tanks. When I began to panic at the idea of how my reconstructed grill would hold up in a car accident (I was really just scared at the idea of a piece of porcelain being glued to me for...years), he looked me square in the eye and said "Megan, if something hits you hard enough to break this, your teeth are the least of your concern." I calmed down instantaneously.

"You're wearing your mouth guard right? The nerves in your teeth are like hairs that run all the way to your brain. If you allow someone to apply constant pressure there for longer than a minute, you risk the health of those nerves, and me having to go in and do a root canal."

So yeah...while I don't think I've ever had pressure applied anywhere that long while training, I will be more mindful. No root canals for Megan. No siree, Bob.

In training news, last night was brutal. Lots of drilling, two classes of sparring and technique that required a lot of moving...which I need because hearing Cyborg's story of learning to move like little guys by training with them has strengthened my resolve. Third round, I was partnered with a big blue belt who'd started at my gym before I had, had been training two years longer than I have and had just recently returned after learning at different locations. He's my height, about 230lbs, which I'm always glad to run into (the big guy challenge!). Somewhere about halfway through the round, I escaped side control by spinning out into open I came around I even. It was our first roll and I know bigger guys especially aren't used to rolling with women, but I saw a glimmer of the littleness smaller folk must feel.

Friday, August 30, 2013

My mistake in the Kyra Gracie hullabaloo..

You've probably run across all the talk of Kyra's (not horrible, but NSFW) most recent sexy-shot and the following parody. I first want to say I'm VERY thankful for Julia's analysis of the subject. But reaction to seeing her picture went something like this

Guess I'm going to be hiding from the dude-bros of Reddit for a while.
She's got such amazing credentials, does she REALLY need to do this publicly?
Well, she is Brazilian. They view bodily exposure differently. Cultural context and whatnot. 
I should blog something.
No. I need to marinate first. 
Screw that, I gotta go train. 

Then I saw the picture with Dan Strauss and cried with laughter for a solid minute.

This brilliant
Look at his thigh!
Is he mocking her?
No...this is what parody is and he's brilliant...and his thigh.

A lot of reactions to two pictures, but only one was genuinely wrong. See that sixth one? The one about Brazilians? Yeah. I even posted something similar to Georgette's Facebook. I've said it before in discussions of other sexual images of Brazilian women in jiu jitsu. I'm a little bit ashamed of the reaction, especially considering my own experiences. I've had men yell "Hey! Moesha!" behind me in Mexico. I've had Arab men walk up and whisper strange things in my ear in Hong Kong (I was warned about this because, well, Black women in the area are usually prostitutes). I know the stereotypes of Brazilian women and what men do to navigate them. I've sat and listened to Brazilian women lament how they're "treated like meat" and how Western (well, North American) men react with sexual approval upon finding out that they're Brazilian. I've heard them express the burden that "having" to be sexy all the time, even in business situations, can carry. I've been asked if I were Brazilian by creepy guys, and I've watched the plummeting disappointment on their faces when they find out, that, well, no. I can only imagine the reaction if I'd said yes.'s REAL easy to pigeonhole people. (Do all Brazilians REALLY love the beach? Don't most of them live like, nowhere near a coast? Are we imposing the culture of Rio on an entire nation?) It's even easier when it's done in an effort to give them "permission" to do things we may be culturally inclined to condemn (like sexual photos). Talk to pretty much any BJJ guy (well, any younger one), and you'll hear a characterization of Brazilian women as always sexually available, more willing to adjust their lives and appearances according to the tastes of heterosexual men, not as "difficult" as American women...and to a degree that's true. This is where it gets tricky though. Women in BJJ are already rejecting a LOT of stereotypes about female behavior, and yet I easily fell in line with the stereotype...likely searching for a way to "liberate" Kyra's behavior from control of an other. Why didn't I take a cue from the fact that you don't see other Brazilian women in BJJ posing sexually in the gi very often? Bea Mesquita? Gezary Matuda? They stand much more to gain from sexy BJJ pics than Kyra, and you don't see it happening. I failed to look at the image and think "Maybe Kyra's doing this because Kyra's doing this."

That's the hard part about intersectionality. Things just aren't clear cut.  It takes a lot of comparison to even come to a close guess about someone's reasons for their behavior...but then, I'm in the Road-to-Hell camp when it comes to intent. Especially when talking a celebrity, especially when we're talking media in the day of social media. I don't care what you wanted to see happen or what you felt. Actual impact far outweighs that, and it's really what I'm interested in discussing. Well, that and my own reactions, which in this case, were a learning moment. 

Saturday, August 24, 2013

Men like chocolate?

I swear, every day I do work for GiFreak turns out to be awesome. Yesterday I trekked down to Miami with Brownbelt Instructor to interview the imposing Roberto "Cyborg" Abreu, just a day before he was to be promoted to a 3rd degree black belt. Over the course of about 45 minutes, we talked about his life, training, students and gym. I left buzzing. His love of not only BJJ, but what it can do in people's lives is potent and contagious. We left, got lunch at a restaurant famed for having one of the best burgers in the US (per GQ magazine) and headed back home.

"I could really go for some chocolate."...of course I was game (the dark chocolate version of the ones on the bottom left are coffee and chocolate and elvish magic stirred into one). Maybe it's just one of those stereotypes, but I never think of guys as actually craving the bean. 

Sunday, August 18, 2013

Business in BJJ has moved!

Just a heads up to everybody that if you're looking for posts in the Business in BJJ series, all future will be updated here. I'll continue to post some ideas here at Tangled Triangle, but the meatier posts will move to GiFreak. Thanks!

Thursday, August 8, 2013

Men Admiring Women

Sometimes I take for granted how awesome my gym is for women. We have ladies ranging from white to black, my first partner was MMA fighter Jessica Aguilar and world champion Gezary Matuda calls our mats home. 

Gezary Matuda

I was sitting next to one of our promising green belt guys last night during the first round of sparring. He nudged me and motioned toward Gezary--"Wow...did you see that transition?? That was insane. Her flow is ridiculous...did you see what she did?? It was like...Bam! And she was on top!" He sat in deep focus the rest of the round.

That...that right there is one of moments that's a stark reminder to me of how special BJJ is. You don't hear men admiring...genuinely admiring women very often. Mentioning how technical WNBA players are doesn't count...I'm talking sincere admiration, in the sense they see something that they personally want to see in themselves.

I didn't think about it until later, but this also highlights the importance of the signals men send other men. No doubt the green belt saw other guys congratulating her, getting advice from her and watching for ideas. Her husband trains and is two belt ranks lower, and on the mats, the belts are all that matters. Jiu jitsu is the standard.

There is so much value to be found in mixed-gender classes, and even cross-gender sparring. I'm a firm believer that the -isms of societies can't be cured until we learn to see each other as individual humans, each deserving of respect--there are precious few things out there more human than the lessons and insights that BJJ gives. 

Monday, August 5, 2013

Happy hair and a happy birthday wishes!

First, a BIG Happy Birthday to Julia over at Jiu Jiu BJJ!!

About a year ago, I wrote a post about BJJ and Black hair...the ripping, relaxers, tearing, cornrows, rubbing against the mats, going natural, showers--the whole BJJ experience. That post ended with a really sad photo of my hair.

It's hard to see, but my crown had been ripped to shreds. It came out in clumps in the shower all because I'd gotten lazy about using my balaclava. Well, it's showing some resemblance to its old self--I've even started wearing it loose again.

So thank you protein treatments and ninja head gear. 

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Doing things I never thought I would...

Every time I take the changes training BJJ brings to your life for granted, I get a reminder...

I was at Panera Bread with a group from my church tonight. The one I frequent has one of the little, side meeting rooms that closes off from the restaurant with two doors. We were chatting and out of nowhere, heard a crowd cheering and a boxing bell sound twice. I joked that someone was watching TV, but noticed the entire restaurant was looking around. In particular though, was one man in a leather jacket with a motorcycle helmet who looked especially frazzled and profoundly irritated. He kept looking in the direction of the noise and eventually, as I knew he would, got up and walked toward it. He said some words, the volume dropped and he returned to his seat, seemingly even more agitated. As he sat, the volume increased. I looked back and saw his jaw clench and shoulders tighten. I cracked another joke about a fight about to happen...but something in me knew it was a real possibility. Training has somehow made me more sensitive to fine changes in aggression, especially in men.

I got up, left the room and came out to find a boy in his mid to late teens, happily smiling at a phone, volume blaring. I smiled and made eye contact. "Excuse me. Can you please turn that down? We're meeting in the other room." He looked at me, got up, and left the restaurant.

Maybe the two of them would have settled their differences peacefully, I don't know. All I know is, four years ago, I probably would have stayed in my room. 

Monday, July 29, 2013

GiFreak: Sneak Preview

So I've been working on GiFreak for...a year and a half now. It's been a really interesting journey so far...from pipe dreams of upgrading the functionality of this blog (not really an option on blogger) to launching (to help people find gis) and now, a print and digital magazine. The original site will always be my baby, but I'm really excited about the magazine. I love words. I think anyone who writes regularly has to at some level. This magazine has given me the chance to work with other lovers of words in BJJ and I'm excited (and just a teeny bit nervous) about the launch.

Short version, it's a reader supported (no ads), print and digital publication about the BJJ community around the world that's readable even by people who don't train (I've been harassing my non-training friends with copies). It's something you can give to anyone and give them a glimpse into BJJ beyond techniques and competition, but still offers insight, and hopefully inspiration, to experienced players.

The first issue features advice on keeping kids in BJJ, an introduction to Ginastica Natural, interviews with Ryron Gracie and Rafael Lovato, exclusive discount codes from gi manufacturers and more fun stuff!

I'm a fan of trees, so we're kicking things off on a print-on-demand basis, meaning that no publication is created until it has an intended home. It's also printed on 80# text stock, which is acid-free and FSC-certified (which means it's from responsibly managed forests and verified recycled sources). It's also recyclable. The goal is to continue this method as long as is viable. It makes for a slightly more expensive product, but we think it's worth it.

So yeah...officially, it drops August 1st, but I couldn't wait to share, so anybody who reads this blog, click on the link below and you can download a free copy (it'll be free until August 7th) or order a print copy. I'm itchy for feedback now, since I'm just kicking off the ideas for the second issue. This is a community-based magazine, so any constructive criticism anyone has is more than welcome. Thanks in advance!

GiFreak Fall 2013 Issue
24 pages, published 7/29/2013
We hope you enjoy our inaugural (abbreviated) issue. Visit us at for more inspiring content. Contact us at

Friday, July 26, 2013

More Jitsu.

Ladybug's back!!! After a year off with a popped collar bone, she's back in and going hard. We made a deal tonight to commit to 10 min rounds, and again, my mind gave out before my body. Love it. 

Sunday, July 21, 2013

Jiu Jitsu Style is growing!

I just got word from Callum over at Jiu Jitsu Style, that from issue 15 on, JJS with be available on newstands in Sweden, Italy, Belgium and in selected Barnes and Noble bookstores in the USA.

Per Callum...“It’s another big step in the right direction for the magazine. We have had lots of demand for the mag to be made easier to buy around Europe and the USA, so I’m really glad we have been able to make this happen. I hope we can add more destinations in the near future.”

Issue 15, featuring cover star BJ Penn, will hit European newsstands this month and Barnes and Noble book stores in August.

I love international-ness:)

Thursday, July 4, 2013

Gabi's done with the gi?

I was delighted to find Gabi Garcia when I first started training. The large woman is an oddity in life, perhaps even more so in BJJ. There's the perpetually strange dance of size advantage and strength disadvantage that, pushing four years in, I'm still a novice at navigating.

When I read this on Bloody Elbow about her reasons for considering leaving BJJ for MMA, my heart sank a bit.

I want to figh MMA now. I don't know when I will fight on a GI again. I'm unmotivated, not because I think I'm invincible, but we need to find another challenge. Many people is not fighting the absolute class, focusing on the weight classes, and I need another goal in life. If I am able to get down my weight, and if UFC or other events begin to have bigger weight classes, I will get down my weight as much as possible. Now I am going to train to defend my title in the ADCC.

While I'm quite practically aware that existing on the tail of a bell curve changes the options life has for you, I still had a big-girls-can't-catch-a-break moment of self pity when I read it. She seems to enjoy training in the gi, and while other competitors are finding deepening fields of competition, she's looking for new horizons...and in the back of my mind, I know that in reality, MMA won't likely offer any greater size equality than BJJ's not like women grow bigger in the octagon. A part of me wishes she'd stay with BJJ and maybe do something off the wall like pioneer cross-gender competition (whatever that would look like), but it's definitely not something I'd expect her to do alone, or even want to do. If she does fight though, it may end up being the first PPV bout I spring for.

Thursday, June 27, 2013

Of Play and Promotion

PastorGrappler just got his blue belt!! I stopped by the gym to work some spider guard and a half guard pass that's been giving me trouble. Afterward, I checked my phone and saw a picture of his brand new blue belt.

Seeing friends promoted is such a great experience. I see see it on Facebook and blogs all the time, and sometimes I take it for granted, but tonight was a great reminder of how cool promotions really are. I don't know if there are many other situations where adults get to be so genuinely and regularly happy for, and proud of, other adults. I remember when BrownBeltInstructor went to black and how ecstatic I was...I was honestly surprised.

I've said it before, but training is also one of the few places where grownups get to just play with each other. Sure, rolls can be competitive, but they can also be light, friendly, polite, genuine, fun conversations. The world needs more BJJ.

Thursday, June 6, 2013

Jiu Jitsu taught me how to be a sports fan again.

It taught me how to trust sports. 

When I was around 11, I fell in love with the New York Knicks. This went beyond my burning pre-teen crush on John Starks. Somehow, the shooting, passing and ball-handling drills my father had me doing as a child had sunk in at some level. My blood ran strong with basketball, and while I never played, I appreciated it. My family, immediate and extended, didn't just watch basketball and cheer along, they discussed, analyzed and diagnosed. They debated technique, coaching strategies and player behavior. My father's and uncles' decades of experience poured into frequent protests over how the players of that day were losing their fundamentals. How athleticism was being pushed over technique. How Julius Erving's grace would never be matched.

When the Knicks lost to Chicago in the 1993 conference finals, my chest burned with anger. Michael Jordan was the bane of my existence. When they lost to Chicago again three years later in the conference semifinals...a tear rolled down my cheek and I realized I might have been too emotionally invested. I backed off sports, attending only one football game in college out of curiosity of Dante Culpepper, and one basketball game to watch my school trounce my parents' alma matter. I later risked my heart again with hockey, attending a couple of live Panther games...and then. Lockout. I gave up almost completely, only mustering the strength to watch the occasional Olympic competition.

Then came BJJ. I found myself last year, glued to the first Metamoris, focused and unmoving for the better part of three hours. The posters, the online and in-gym discussion of Ryron and Galvao, the all had me hyped like I hadn't been in years.

...and here I sit again, drooling over Metamoris 2, the Japanophile in my giddy at the very sound of Aoki's captivating voice. I'm trying so hard not to watch this again, but the awesomeness, man...the awesomeness.

Sunday, June 2, 2013

My continually complex relationship with Joe Rogan

One of the things I've come to love most about training BJJ is the conversations you end up having.

I was talking with a brown belt that left my school and moved to Germany before I even set foot in the gym. Through the power of jiu jitsu weirdness and Facebook (aided by a couple of visitation rolls), we've still managed to connect as teammates and discuss all sorts of forbidden topics like religion, race, economics, know, fight starting stuff. He brought up Rogan because we were discussing people and movements being scared to take off the "training wheels" of their ideologies, and how common that is in conservative movements of various kinds. He didn't want to take credit for the "training wheels" phrase, and directed me to this compilation of some of Rogan's thoughts on religions, what's wrong with the world, etc.

Rogan poses such a conundrum for me. I agree with a lot of what he says, even to the point of occasionally admiring his thought process...but deep down, I think he's got a heavy axe to grind against some of the most basic elements of my existence...those being my gender and chosen faith.

Rogan, I do think, dislikes women for being women. I'm not talking about the references to "hot chicks" or whatever language he uses to refer to women he find acceptably attractive...that may be an obvious sign, but I'm talking about deeper things, like a point he made early on in that video.

He talks of the foolishness of ideologies, and starts listing religions. (The critique of religion alone while completely ignoring concepts like, say, capitalism or ownership of property, that impact our thinking and behavior on possibly deeper levels always irks me, but I'll move on.) He then, in discussing the ridiculous things that people do around their ridiculous beliefs, cites women in Africa that put plates in their lips...but they're not "women in Africa"...they're "African bitches." For their behavior? Their attitude? Something they said? Nope. They're bitches, and apparently ridiculous, because they engage in body alteration.

Let me just say that I am not the body altering type. I have one set of ear piercings that I didn't get until I was 19. I was done after that. Though I find them generally unattractive, I have no inherent problem with piercings or sub-dermal implants or whatever. This though is what gets me about his choice to single them out for simultaneous criticism and insult. He has paid someone to run a pigmented needle into his skin LITERALLY hundreds of thousands of times. He has tattoos. He, too, engages in body alteration, and I doubt he'd claim he's been ridiculous.

You could argue that his choice is based on personal expression and not cultural norm (debatable since those lines are far from clear and many of the women today choose whether they have another woman start the process for them), or because it's not connected to religious practices (from what I've read, neither is the insertion of a dhebi a tugoin). Even those thoughts would be based in the Western bias toward individualism. I think though, that it's nothing more complicated than the American man in a suit and tie (my personal preference) ridiculing the American boy wearing low-slung pants. "They look ridiculous! What a safety hazard!" laughs the man with the flowery noose-bib around his neck.

This is why I've come to believe that, while Rogan's got some good thoughts going on, at the end of the day, he is, somewhere deep down, a cultural supremacist disguised as someone who's willing to question culture. The kind of person who will loudly ridicule another for similar behavior with zero regard for cultural context. I can listen to and tolerate a lot of different views, but considering the evils that have been, and are perpetuated under that umbrella, that I just can't get down with.

Those who are able to see beyond the shadows and lies of their culture will never be understood, let alone believed, by the masses.~Plato

All that has me questioning his overall intentions. He talks of wanting humans to just be "good people" and treat each other well, but still uses his platform to spread the attitudes that are the seeds of the war and persecution that he also urges these "good people" to leave behind. Wrapping a very subtle message of supremacy in one of human improvement...what is he really trying to accomplish? Maybe he just doesn't see it. Maybe he knows that the quickest way to get people to listen is to echo their cultural assumptions and he puts on a subtle attitude of supremacy that will resonate with his listening base and get him more fans. Maybe personal reflection just isn't his thing. Really hard to tell. All I know is that he's one of the many agnostic/atheists lately that have come to sway my naive thinking that bigotry was exclusive to the religious conservatives of the world. 

Friday, May 31, 2013

War is War: A Captain, Spousal Abuse and a Cause

I ran across this video today and I now have even more respect for Patrick Stewart...not only because of the actions he's taken in addressing domestic violence, but in the way he is able to relate what he has to say on both personal and corporeal levels. I especially appreciate the fact that he addresses the issue as one in which men, as a community, bear a responsibility.

Especially with the recent issues we've been having as a community and Mundials coming up, it highlighted something a few people in jiu jitsu do that's always kind of hit me the wrong way. I've seen post after post about "going to war" and "armor", and they always made me cringe just a bit. Though I don't suspect any ill intent, they make me wonder how I'd feel about people using the terms in reference to a sport, albeit a combat related one, if I'd seen combat, or lost a loved one, a home or a country, to war. I'm not a member of the military and my family has very few members in the armed forces, but it still rings sour in my ears. This video was one of the reminders why.

As much as I appreciate the bravery it requires to risk life and safety doing anything for any cause, the glamorization, and trivialization of the concept...I find them both disturbing. The video, and Patrick Stewart's intimate relation of the effects of war beyond the battlefield, and into the household, highlight a cost of war that tends to get glossed over.

I've been wondering if people who have been more directly affected by any war feel similarly and would love to hear their take. 

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Jiu Jitsu Style and my (lack of) Confidence as a Writer

Blogging has pushed me in ways as a writer that I would never have expected. I am...well...I was pretty confident in my writing. Then came BJJ. I didn't realize how much wider exposure can rattle confidence until I was asked to expound on this piece by Jiu Jitsu Style magazine.

It should have been a breeze. I thought back to my junior year in high school, the year my special little school decided English class should become a writing bootcamp. Three, four, sometimes five times a week, we were given 40 minutes to analyze and write 700 words on pieces like Hemingway's Big Two-Hearted River or Keats' Ode on a Grecian Urn (my stomach turned a bit just typing that). 1800 words on a topic in BJJ that I'd already started thinking about? I could do that in my sleep. I was beyond needing to feel inspired to write...or so I thought. Funny thing how NOT doing something can inflate your sense of skill.

I've written for publications before, but none in communities I cared as much about as I do BJJ.  I found myself worried--doubting my grammar and my voice. Was I being too casual? My syntax! Is proper use of the subjunctive too stuffy? I use too many ellipses? (The answer is yes. Yes I do.) I texted my brother, whom I've watched go through the painful cycle of writing death and rebirth many a time. He assured me that he'd only be worried about me if I weren't concerned about my work. if you run across a copy of the Gunnar Nelson issue, check out page 80. That project calmed a lot of my fears, but between that and upping the ante with projects over on the journal side of GiFreak, I'm less confident than I've been in a really long time. 

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

"Kids aren't any more cruel than adults...they just haven't learned how to mask it yet."

That statement will always stick with me. My therapist aunt made it during a discussion of bullying.

Reading Ryron Gracie's post on Mother's Day brought it back to mind. Specifically this statement:

"Through every year of my life and to this day, I have heard men mock, lie, tease, belittle, and place themselves above women and I completely understand why.  The same way a child bullies another because of insecurities, men bully women.  Keep the women down and we will stay on top."

I've talked before how kids, women...honestly, any minority, frequently plays the canary in the coal mine of society, but I think that analogy is a bit off.  To say that sounds like the toxic conditions that affect the birds manifest themselves naturally or on their own. Ryron's post opened up a different connection for me...I realized that sometimes, those in power or privilege are emitting the gases themselves. The gasses of sexism, ageism  racism, class-ism, weight-ism, homophobia...they're all carefully crafted bullying, mostly carried out by adults.

That all, is why the current discussion of bullying disturbs me just a bit. Children, to an extent, are mirrors. They learn their behavior from adults, and while the effects are more poignant to watch in the form of a child's tears or a teenager's suicide note, they are no less real in the alcoholism of a co-worker or eating disorder of a friend.

When people tell me they're surprised that I spend my free time around fighters and grapplers, I tell them that what happens in a cage is nothing compared to the subtle and quiet violence against the ego that I watch people so masterfully carry out in the spaces that we've deemed "professional" and "polite".

I wonder why we never have this conversation plainly...why we have a need to dress up childish oneupsmanship in sophisticated terms. Maybe because if we paint it with too broad a brush...if we simply call it a need to control, or a need to dominate, or a need to look down on another to feed our need to feel special...maybe then it will just become too hard to run from, too hard to push off on an "-ist", too personal.

Saturday, April 27, 2013

Feelings on split gender classes...

After a couple of responses to my last post, I feel the need to repost a comment I left and expound just a little bit on my thoughts on split gender education.

When it comes to cerebral education, children are starting from a generally level playing field. When it comes to adults (the childrens' classes are mixed gender), this is absolutely not true. Women have spent years being conditioned to be gentle, nice, timid, deferential, controllable and even scared. As much as I'm inspired by the story of a woman fighting through the the difficulties of being a minority on the mats, I'm coming to acknowledge that not all women are natural fighters...that not all of us were born with, or still have the will to challenge all the norms that BJJ throws in our faces. 

As long as the women in question are getting quality education, I believe that these women deserve the chance to learn BJJ just as much as any others, even if they have to take a different path. 

That's basically where I stand on the whole deal. I think it's a mistake to pretend that society doesn't start women from a very different place than it starts men in relation to physical's like expecting men to be fluent in emotional expression right off the bat--chances are they just haven't had the years and decades of practice women have. I also think it's very easy for those of us women who do train, and aren't scared to have a 250lb man sweating and breathing on us can quickly forget that other people are coming from other places. 

It makes me think of those branches of feminism that condemn women who want to get married, be housewives and have the 2.5 kids, dog, and that fence. It makes me think of the Keith Owen, STFU and train attitude. As a group of women, regardless of how I feel about their goals, I do believe they deserve respect and consideration, as long as they are being addressed from a position of a genuine desire to serve and improve.

Ideally, I'd like to see two optional points of entry for women...mixed gender and split, with properly qualified instructors in each (that will probably mean different qualifications too). That's something that's probably not feasible for most schools to pull off, but that's my ideal. 

Visiting the Valente Brothers with Eddie Kone

The Internet amazes me sometimes. On Thursday I found myself sitting and discussing branding with a black belt from the UK who, just six months before, was little more than a voice echoing through my speakers at work. The power of podcasts.

I spent a day this week down at the Valente Brothers', talking with them about the history of gis (apparently, they're the go-to people when talking about the feedback loop of form and function of the BJJ gi), and hanging out with UK black belt, Eddie Kone. It was all for research for GiFreak, and it was a great day. There's something amazingly cool about finally meeting in person, someone you've been talking to online...I've met Allie from Allie the Clear Belt at a tournament and...that's about it. Pretty crazy considering how many other BJJ bloggers are in Florida...even crazier considering how many bloggers I know from the UK, that I'd meet Eddie before, say, Can..

Eddie Kone of EKBJJ...amazingly cool guy

So I was a little antsy coming into this. I'd been referred to talk to the Valentes about gis and through some grand coincidence, Eddie, who I'd met through Twitter, was coming over to Florida to spend some time there, so I decided to roll down to Miami for a day. I've never walked into another academy for a reason other than an open mat, so I read up on some of Julia's experiences and Val's tips on visiting other academies, and acted accordingly.  I was a bit surprised to find out that their program is split gender, but was glad to see Pedro more than open to talk about that. 

I came in, and immediately started scanning the mats for a familiar face. Finding someone who you've only seen in static pictures on Facebook can be tricky, and being who I am, saw who I THOUGHT was Eddie, and started waving happily. He immediately started waving back...and then I noticed the brown belt around his waist. I have a habit of waving enthusiastically at people I've mistaken for someone else. Normally, though, I can just go about my business, but I spent the next couple of hours feeling like the weirdo-visitor that's way too happy to see strangers, and avoiding eye contact with the brown-belt who was probably thinking I was in love with him. 

After class

I settled myself down in the viewing area and Gui came over and started telling me about their teaching philosophy, why they don't start from their knees, why classes are broken into sparring and technique (sparring optional) and finally, started telling me about the gis which looked INSANELY thin to me. They were cropped at both the sleeves and the legs, and made of a slightly heavier version of what you'd see in a cotton fabric on the where near even the light weaves most practitioners would know. After talking with Pedro though, it made a lot more sense. All that's going into an article for GiFreak.

So the women's classes...I really wasn't sure what to make of the segregated classes at first. They didn't immediately put me off, because I know that there can be benefits for separating out minorities in certain educational situations. I asked Pedro straight out about it though, and he pointed out something about women who train jiu jitsu that I'm aware of, but that I don't think much about. 

According to Gui, their women's program boasts about 30 students and 14 or so in normal classes. Proportion aside, these numbers struck me as much higher than your average, mixed gender school. Pedro explained that they cater mostly to women that are exposed to the art through their children and husbands/partners. He said that they focus on women that are more timid in spirit, especially compared to the average woman who trains at more sport-focused schools. They do though, have a few women who train with the men, the most recent being a pair of sisters who are about to test for black. If a woman wants to be promoted to black belt, she has to train with the men. Before that, it's left for the individual to decide, and the instructor to recommend, when mixed-gender training should be introduced.

He loves crocs...and dragging people into the sun. Apparently they don't have one in London.
So yeah...very educational trip and it was great to connect with some friends from overseas.