Tuesday, February 22, 2011

My breathing machine

I've mentioned it a couple of times before, but I have a horrible lung capacity. Years ago, I tested at about 40% of a normal adult's. I want to concentrate on a couple of physical shortcomings I have this year and lung capacity is a BIG one for BJJ, so I bought a volumetric exerciser. It's a handy, inexpensive little gadget that both measures and helps you increase your lung capacity. Here's a video of my first try...

I didn't record this part, but to get started, you look up the ideal capacity of an adult your gender, height and weight, adjust the slide and go from there, exhaling normally inserting the mouth piece and breathing in with control. As you can see, I hit about 1500/3200 to start, so I'm up to about 47%.

You're supposed to do it about 20 times a day. Between recording and writing this, I've done it about five and I've cracked 1500. The "Rx only" label made me a bit wary, but since I've had a doctor tell me I need to increase my lung capacity, I figure that's good enough an Rx for something whose purchase isn't regulated. Stay tuned for updates...

Monday, February 21, 2011

Men DO notice little details.

...when they're related to sports that is...

So I've been wearing Sally Hansen Hard as Nails in Lime Lights. Didn't really like it at first, and I'm still not a huge fan, but apparently, when you paint your nails a color that matches the mats, guys notice. From "nice nails!" to "pretty green nails!", the pastel take on our mat borders have been a hit.

"Did you paint your nails to match the mats?!"

I was around push-up number 20 today, stationed next to one of the kids who'd noticed I'd changed my color to a less respectable cafe au lait color.

"Why don't you have the green anymore??"
"Gotta keep things exciting."

I should totally start a line of BJJ themed polishes...Garish Gi White...Black and Blue Bombshell...Mat Burnt Umber...Ringwo...I'll stop now.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

And the Matty goes to...

I had so much fun at NAGA!  I went to support and to check it out.I arrived at FAU and started texting and calling, trying to find my way to the ladies' competition area. As I was searching for my team, I looked to my right and saw a face that looked familiar. It was Allie! ...and Jennifer! I've never met anyone from blog-land before and it was really cool. It was great to see both these ladies in action after reading so much about their relationships with BJJ.

I gotta say...I'm thinking about competing now. Even just helping the ladies get ready was a blast. I honestly expected the rounds to be more intense than they were. My only concern now is being able to last the number of fights I might have to without passing out or vomiting.

A few moments really stuck out to me though. Specifically for their softness. A year in and the contrast of the softness of the personalities and interactions and the hardness of the sport STILL get to me.

Happiest moment: One of the first things I noticed was how happy the fathers and husbands were. I mean beaming from ear to ear, toting around kids, helping wives and girlfriends with their gis. I honestly can't say I've seen that anywhere else. I get it though. Where else in life do men get to bring their families AND participate in/watch something so man-tastic?

Most insightful moment: Later I was sitting a few people down from Parrumpha, waiting to start videoing one of my teammate's rounds. A guy came up and sat down and started discussing the reasons he got into BJJ...specifically because he finds the lifestyle so much more peaceful than others he could have chosen. From what I've experienced, I'm guessing he's right.

Most hardcore moment of the day: There was a lady breast-feeding between competition rounds. She almost missed a round because her husband was fighting and she didn't have anyone else to watch her child. That's hardcore.

Cutest moment of the day: A lady was up competing and had gotten caught on the bottom. All of a sudden I heard her seven year old son's pre-pubescent voice burst across the mats "You can do this, Mom! You can do this!"

Most touching moment of the day: I love any situation where cultures and ages and lifestyles are mixed up and people are broken down to their core elements. One of my teammates had a difficult round and was taking it pretty badly. We were sitting and talking to her, and I took a quick look at what was going on. Ages ranging from 10 to 41, bounty hunter, professional, firefighter, student, Black, White, Mexican, male, female...all sitting together trying to boost the spirits of someone else. The quickness with which the kids and teens run to support a discouraged adult touches me the most. I can't name one other place I've ever seen any of this happen...ever.

So yeah...the competition question is still up in the air for me, but after seeing one up close, I'm kinda excited about the prospect. 

Saturday, February 19, 2011

"You're kinda...thick."

I don't know if there's any other place on Earth where men can comment on a woman's weight/body without fear of violating cultural taboos...ok...except maybe the American South.

Last night I was drilling with a new white belt. Looks to be late 30s to early 40s...6'2", medium frame, not fluffy, but not super ripped either. The guy is powerful. I don't move easily and he was tossing me pretty well. We were working butterfly sweeps and he looks at me and says "you're...heavier...than...you look. You're kinda...thick." Being Black-American, I'm used to the word "thick" being a commentary on the visual impression of the size of a woman's hips, thighs and behind. So by "thick" I'm guessing he means "dense". That didn't surprise me though. Apparently, even when I was a child, people would come to pick me up, and after feeling how much I actually weighed, would stop and put me back down.

Sitting at lunch today after NAGA and discussing diet plans over the next year, I realized that these types of conversations don't occur often in mixed company...and, seeing as we had one new grappler, and one non-grappler at the table...that they could likely be off-putting to newcomers.

I don't want to leave the impression that men are commenting on women's weight left at right at the gym. I'd already opened the door for weight discussion with the white belt I mentioned. A couple weeks ago, when one of the kids couldn't get his legs around my waist, he immediately said "it's not you, it's my stubby little legs". The rest still tend to stumble and stutter whenever the topic comes up.

I've honestly found the openness about weight and size to be comforting. I think it's a good thing for women, seeing as we frequently have issues tackling not just the issues of body weight, but also having objective conversations about our bodies overall. My vocalizing that I have the "arms of a condor, legs of a spider and the body of a beetle" likely wouldn't have happened pre-BJJ, and I know it's been good for me.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Women hitting men.

I've been seeing the trailer to Nick Cage's Drive Angry a lot lately and it's ruffling some feathers of mine that have been settled for a good while.

It first came up when I saw the trailer for the first Tomb Raider, and saw Angelina Jolie's stringy arms and legs throwing punches and kicks all over the screen. I knew it was a movie and that her thinly muscled punches and kicks were just as fictional as the CGI creatures that were crawling across the walls.

It still bothered me.

And it's bothering me even more now. I know, I know..."girl-power" is a theme that sells to both men and women. I STILL find it disturbing displayed in a way that could potentially go so wrong and I know the frequent smallness of fighting women is displayed to protect their appeal to men in the audience.

One of the white-belt moms at the gym said it best when she saw her daughter hitting one of the boys. "Don't hit someone unless you're ready to get hit back." How many women are REALLY ready to get hit by a man. I was always told the same thing by my parents and I took it seriously.

I've never been hit or attacked by a man, but training BJJ has given me new perspective on just how powerful they CAN be when they want to exert force. Sometimes it's formidable. Others, it's just plain frightening...especially when you know they're holding back...somehow you can feel the potential behind a choke, even if a guy's only going 50%. Even if I trained striking (and I'd love to hear the opinions from the ladies out there that do) I doubt I'd be able to withstand too many blows from a guy my size, or even smaller...and I'm betting that's why, when discussing self defense in my first class at the gym, my instructor told me that they never train women to stand and exchange blows with a man.

I haven't seen the movie yet, so maybe she's got some psycho Muay Thai skills, and I know that there are women out there that do hit incredibly hard, but scenes and movies like the one above give a false impression of what a woman needs to make any real impact on a man in a fight. 

Monday, February 14, 2011

"She's a green belt...she can defeat ANYBODY!!"

I was drilling with FireFighter Lady when her daughter walked by and shouted that from the other side of the cage. My first thought was "You OBVIOUSLY were too busy doing homework to watch me roll." She's a funny kid.

It was a funny night of comments...from "Look at your pretty green nails!" to "I can't roll with you like a lady anymore..." to "You're NOT competing?"

All this talk of NAGA and GrapplersQuest has me considering the competition deal once again. Nothing soon, but just down the road one day. I'm still looking at this BJJ thing from more of an artistic/self defense point of view to be honest and I still don't trust myself to keep reasonable perspective on training for a competition.

The mat was split into sides of those competing and those not. PrettyVoicedInstructor saw me go over to the side of the room that wasn't and with a look of surprise and furrowed brow mouthed "You're not competing?". I looked surprised right back and mouthed "nooo..." Even the idea of me competing seems funny...yes, because I still feel quite incapable, though I know that has little to do with it. I think it's because I feel like the last person in the gym they'd want wearing the school patch at tournament. Maybe that's not entirely true.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

QT with spider guard

Yeah...so I've been hearing for a long while that I'm going to be good at spider guard (people see long legs, they miss the weak grips). After working some drills at the combined levels class on Friday, I'm ready to go!

At the recommendation of Slidey and Christian, I decided to check out Braulio Estima's work on it. I...love it. I picked up the download earlier today and it already makes loads more sense. I've been looking at a lot of resources and had to choose between this and Tatsuya Onose's set. Very glad I went with this one first. I like Tatsuya's stuff, but Braulio's download is a good introduction to the principles of the position. Among other things, it covers setting up the guard, discusses efficient grips, covers a nice response to a defense and a pass and ends with a review in the form of some live sparring (a great addition to any instructional video). It runs about $11US after the conversion and was beyond worth it. I think I'll spend...a month or so playing with it. It'll be a nice break from my flailings at deep half.

Tatsuya's next...I priced it at Amazon Japan just to be sure and it came in at around $91US as opposed to $72 (with shipping) at BudoVideos, so I'll be buying the US version. I was a little worried about the idea of buying a DVD in a language I really don't understand well enough to learn in, but after watching Braulio's video (I was paying much more attention to the technique than the oral instruction), I realized that the lack of words may mean I lose some of the instruction, but I don't think too much will be lost. 

Saturday, February 12, 2011

I...think BJJ has made me bilingual...

No, I don't speak Portuguese...yet. I'm sticking with my decision to not touch it until I can "flow" in Mandarin almost as well as I can in Spanish, and I need to get some work done in that area.

I mean in the languages of men and women. My first day in the gym, I felt like I was immersed into a pool of manliness. Nothing particularly offensive (ok, a few smells were) but the environment was a lot more slanted in the direction of the less-fair sex than I was accustomed. I got used to it quickly.

Ever since then, I've felt like I was getting a real life and rare look into the way men bond. You know how people say women bond by talking and men bond through playing sports and physical activity? All of a sudden I was seeing it up close, and I got it. I started feeling closer to people without very much conversation and it hit me. "This is what guys mean!" I immediately called my best friend, with whom I reveal all my revelations on society and people and myself.

Well, last night, I called on her ear once again. I came home last night feeling like I'd had a long, in-depth conversation with each person with whom I'd sparred. I can't tell you one word that was said. I just know we talked. Afterward...I felt...almost tired...emotionally. Not in a bad way, but in the way you feel after you've had a heart-to-heart with a friend. It got me thinking...and wondering if this is just me.

Now...I'm stoic, but I'm also highly sensitive to emotional disruptions...now that I think about it, that's not really a contradiction. If I live a life of relative emotional calm, any ripples will be noticed. I think spending time bonding in male ways has left me picking up on not only the signals men pick up, but also all those waves and undulations of the human spirit that we women just instinctively receive and process non-stop. Doing both simultaneously registered with me as a sort of emotional overload.

Maybe since NAGA and Grappler's Quest are hovering around, and a belt test is coming up, people are just emoting more lately, but it's definitely something I wasn't looking for when I started training. That isn't to say that good things are only things that are deliberately sought after.

Nice spider guard vid

Found this video after someone recommended I check out Michelle Nicolini to get to see some good spider guard in use. I haven't watched a TON of videos since I've started, but this is one of the first where I can see a preference for spider guard. Definitely going to be looking for more of her stuff. 

Friday, February 11, 2011

Flossing after working spider guard hurts.

and waking up and rolling over to a clean gi is snuggly.

Any recommendations on spider guard materials?

Yeah...so it's been a year since I cracked the barrier of "will doing this kill me?" and after working on tripod sweeps and playing with some foot positioning, I'd like to start working with spider guard more.

I've run across Tinguinha's DVD and I'm thinking of getting that, but was wondering if there are any other books. DVDs or blogs out there that anybody would recommend. Thanks!

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Thoughts from inside the guard and goals for 2012

The sadness has cleared and I've got a bit more of an objective look at what went on last night.

A couple days ago, I took some time to to really feel my way through the offensive aspect of the guard and it gave me some great insights.

Well, last night I partnered with one of the kids again...I say kids, but I swear this boy was 5" shorter and 30lbs lighter last time I sparred with him. He's gotten bigger, stronger, faster and more technical in a matter of months. And, as boys will be, he's controlled, but there's still an element of injury in the air, so I rolled carefully. Well, he got me in his guard...broke my posture left and right. I could only hold out for so long pushing against his hips. As I was pinned in his stomach though, I braced my base and started paying attention to his hips and arms. I got caught in two kimuras, but I also got to see all kinds of missed opportunities on his part. Now just to find those holes on other people...

All that pushing and breaking got me thinking of strength, and how I'd like more. I only do bodyweight work now (since the pullup bar tore up my shoulder), but I'd like to start lifting...something again. 2011 is the year of flexibility for me, so we'll see how I'm doing around mid-year.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

The ladies in the gym were sad tonight.

I didn't think I'd get to use Sad Spider this soon.

I was standing in the locker room, and one of the instructors touched my shoulder. "Is everything ok?" I paused...nodded my head yes. It's really not. Work's cranked up to a point where I'm so exhausted in class that I can't focus on half of what I'd like to. My kimura sweep is still blah...a friggin' kimura sweep.

This guy though...I choose carefully when I answer "yes" to that question. He's one of those guys who seems to be able to smell when my resilience is cracking. He asks and I start to tear up. I swallowed the lump in my throat, only to hear Lady Fire Fighter telling Jo how she sat out from sparring, fighting back tears because of her recent injury and Jo responding with her identical experience that same morning after injuring her calve. They've been training like crazy for NAGA and in the span of a couple of days, they've both been injured.

I didn't know what to say to either of them. Of course there will be other competitions. They'll heal and they'll train and they'll compete, but all that sounds trite in the face of potential disappointment like this. I'm not sure there really is much to say.


Monday, February 7, 2011

Opening my mind about the closed guard.

My relationship with the closed guard has been a stale one from day 1. We go through the motions, the drills, but the relationship never really goes anywhere. Well today, we had a breakthrough.

Yesterday I picked up the eBook, The 77 Most Common Brazilian Jiu Jitsu Mistakes. I'm only on number 32, so I'll be writing a review of it later, but it answered one of the great "duh" questions I've always had but never really known how to ask. (Loving it so far btw. I corrected at least 5 mistakes tonight alone with very little effort.)

You hear "don't telegraph" left and right, but...how do you not telegraph? Thank you Mistake #10. Its explanation of how to work your way into an armbar without yelling it across the gym made me take a step back from my whole take on the guard.

I worked a white belt into my guard today and before I started thinking armbar or triangle or sweep, I started thinking posture and how best to break it. Once broken, I took time to watch how they reacted, where arms fell, where they were pushing and I let THAT determine where I went from there.

The result? Setting up more triangles, higher percentage of sweeps, better luck getting past good bases.

This may be true of all positions, but the guard, right now in my little green belt mind, is one of those positions that you have to approach passively, before you take it on actively. 

Saturday, February 5, 2011

I think I've developed an obsession with the hitchhiker escape...

And that's probably because I get caught in armbars from mount so much. I found this video which has me fascinated. I was already aware of trying to avoid triangles. (Thanks Allie), but now I see that omoplatas are also a danger. The method demonstrated here is meant to minimize the omoplata risk, but also seems to give you more control of your opponent, and the option of exiting on either side.

Time transitioning between drills...I used to treasure it as a time to rest. Now it just feels like a waste. Considering I need to work on applying AND escaping armbars from mount, this exchange of applying the armbar and executing the hitchiker escape looks absolutely delicious right now.

**Update: After watching it a few times and trying it myself, I noticed an essential element of the escape, which is getting the arm bent behind you. I'd been drilling it from the arm total straight just before the tap, which makes it crazy difficult to get your body around without putting some crazy stress on your shoulder. I need to start it from the beginning of the application of the arm bar as opposed to the end. 

"Yeah...you look like you grapple now."

So I went on a trip to our local green market with a friend I hadn't seen in person in some months. He's a karate guy and a West Coast Swing dancer, so is pretty observant of people's posture and movement. He also knew me through all my time as a salsa dancer, so the "walk" he knows would be more influenced by the rolling movements of a basic step than the thick-cored power required by Brazilian Jiu Jitsu.

"Yeah...you look like you grapple now. You're looking..."
"Broad across the back?"
"Yeah...kinda buff. It's the lats."

It made me happy to know that there was some physical effect of my training. Martial arts tee-hee. We talked over cracked conch and smoothies (gotta love winter in Florida) about how after you start training, you start sizing people up. A broad shouldered man in a grey shirt walked by.

"I bet he'd be fun to triangle."
"Take out his knees and run."

Friday, February 4, 2011

Dealing with height differences

I'm most comfortable grappling people my own height. I guess that's common. Oddly though, when it comes to size differences, I mostly see discussions on weight and not height.

Ever since the LadyFireFighter started coming, I've been really attuned to the effect pure differences in height make. We're both teetering around 200lbs (I'm heavier and maybe 7-8 inches taller), but I have proportionately long limbs while she seems to have proportionately short ones. What does that mean? Here's what I've noticed.

1) Prying her limbs away to get control is a total pain. My new love, triangle from mount, is close to useless on her. She has short, thick, strong muscles and once they're in tight, it's hard for me to get a grip on anything.

2) She can apply her weight more directly than I can. Her heavy shoulder from half is BRUTAL (heard my jaw crack last night...I tapped from the pressure alone). I know that that's partly because she's female and isn't as merciful on me as the guys are, but also because her weight is more concentrated, so once her center's on me, I get...let's say...80 percent of her weight. With me, I could likely do 60% in the same position.

3) Once my limbs are caught, I'm in trouble. I can't quite explain this one, but I just understand the mechanics of a long body better. Though I KNOW the concept of torque, I apply it more effectively on body types I understand.

4) Her handles are smaller: That means I have fewer corners to wriggle legs and arms into to get grips for sweeps and whatnot.

5) Her world is small. I think it comes from Salsa, but I'm generally pretty aware of how far a person's reach goes. I know when I reach in to her collar, she can't reach back. Sounds like a win-win, but that also means that once she's in my spacial world, she can maneuver limbs more completely than I can in turn. I hate fighting too close, because I tend to get limbs stuck in stupid positions.

I can't even explain how happy/relieved I am that she started training. It's nice to have a "go to" partner in the gym. She, Jo, one of the teens and I are hitting the gym at 8am to help her and Jo get ready to compete. I'm actually excited at the prospect of waking up at 7am on a Saturday to go train. Tee friggin' hee. 

I named Julia!

I'm late with this, but I'm totally hyped that I won Georgette's "Name Your Julia" contest with the entry "Jiu-Jiu". Julia's a great blogger and I was glad she picked my entry...SO much of her journey is similar to mine...from inflexibility to thicker builds to not being athletic. Thanks to both of you!

Thursday, February 3, 2011

I think I have a mascot.

I can't explain why, but I'm in love with this spider. Maybe because I like spider guard. Maybe because I like walking paradoxes. Not quite sure how to incorporate him and his friend "Sad Spider" into the page, but I just got permission from the image creator Thomas Shahan to use the images. Thanks Thomas!

*Thomas informed me that Happy Spider is, indeed an image of his that was photoshopped without his knowledge. The second is the natural appearance of Phidippus mystaceus jumping spiders.

I LOVE conceptual jiu jitsu...love.

Before I came in for my first real class, I went on a Google-quest to understand levers and added this page to my favorites. I was determined to learn as much as possible behind this leverage based martial art. 

There are multiple reasons that I love this video over at The Part Time Grappler. The first is that I'm a conceptual learner. Drilling is great for getting my muscle memory going, but as far as understanding jiu jitsu? I need the big picture stuff.

I get that I need to "look into the ear" when finishing a triangle, but I always want to know why I'm doing something and I've seldom heard this addressed specifically from the perspective of leverage.

I absolutely love the armbar escape...if anyone knows how to modify it to get out of a situation where both legs are across the body (that move counts for about 50% of the instances I get submitted)...PLEASE let me know. 

Wednesday, February 2, 2011


Happy spider is happy.
When I started college, I started keeping a page in my journal of my favorite compliments. Not just the superficial "you've got nice legs" types, but genuine, heart-felt compliments. The ones you don't hear often. The ones people give you when it's just you and them, being human, together. I want to start doing the same in some way in jiu jitsu because compliments here come from people who've seen so much of the long hidden parts of me.

"The guys really have some respect for you. I've heard them."
"You've got anaconda legs!"

Ok, that last one isn't very deep, but for anyone to notice anything positive about me in this sport, it means a ton to me.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

I hate musicals, but I had to do it.

So last night was my first night back training in two weeks. It could just be not being sick for the first time in a while, but I don't think so. I've noticed that I actually feel prettier when I'm training. That's despite the thicker neck, broader back and rougher hands. I looked at myself this morning and realized I had my BJJ glow back. Yays:)

I've developed gi taste!

OK...so before now, I had my starter gi. When it got torn up and I started shopping for a new one, I scoured blogs and forums...was really drawn in by the raves of the softness of Fenom's (and owner Triin being super helpful), but nothing they had would fit my 6', 200lb frame. After talking to a few taller guys, I ordered a new gold weave from Padilla and Sons. Well, one day last week I didn't have time to wash it and I ended up picking up my Honor gi. It's a lighter weave and this time, it felt great...tattered though it may be. That really surprised me since I remember the Padilla initially feeling lighter.

So yes, I think this is the beginning of the quest for my third gi, and I think it's going to be a light weave. I'm going to have to pay very close attention to shrinkage and whatnot. My pants are back to being capris. Not sure why, but I like a longer skirt. Curious about rubberized lapels.