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. 

Monday, April 22, 2013

Privilege in BJJ

This is a topic I don't think I could have gotten my thoughts together properly on to discuss. Julia, however, does an excellent job on a primer on what it means to be a man in jiu jitsu. Check it out, give it a thorough read.

Jiu jitsu has challenged me socially lately. My normal world is full of a mix of people, but this is one of the few times in my life where I've been exposed to a relatively large number of people who apparently aren't used to spending time around people who are/think/look/live differently than they least not doing so in a respectful manner. For the sake of my own emotional well being (which has been compromised lately because of work), I've been steering clear of discussions online, but they seem to have found me, both on the Internet and in real life. So yeah...honestly, most of these discussions have come back to the concept of demographic privilege that Julia does a great job of breaking in.

This part? Awesome.

Privilege is not negated. I can’t balance my white privilege against my female disadvantage and come out neutral. 
Privilege is not something you can be exempt from by having had a difficult life. 
Privilege is not inherently bad. It really isn’t.

So yeah...check it out.

Monday, April 8, 2013

Da Beard

The modern man's love of the beard has perplexed me for a while now. Why anyone would want that much hair just hanging around on their face, especially Florida, was just beyond me. When the beards caught on at the gym, I was even more much sweat! So much grime!

Well tonight, I learned something. I was telling Wuzzup how, months in, I STILL don't recognize him with the beard. He responded..."Ya know...growing a beard's been a great experience. I can cut it back, grow it out...I trimmed just the top part and now it's fuller at the bottom...all kinds of stuff." And that's when I got it. His talking about his beard sounded almost like how I feel about my natural hair (about 2 weeks ago I cut off the last of my relaxed ends 18 months transitioning, baby!). All of a sudden you've got this new part of you that's been corralled for years, and it's released in its full glory and it's AWESOME. You're proud of it. You check it out when you walk past the mirror. It gets attention, positive and negative, surprise and inquiry.

I get the beards now.  

Sunday, April 7, 2013

Black belts really are magic.

So I have a new goal. Purple belt skill level by year end. When our newest black belt suggested the plan for me, my heart skipped a bit. When I started training, I saw blue belts as incredibly skilled...I knew that if made it there, I'd feel terribly accomplished. After blue though...I lost my vision. I was happy to simply have survived to the first belt. Sure...when asked, I say I think I can make it to black...and I do...but there's something so much more real about purple, which almost makes it seem further away.

But, Friday nights at the end of class, I get feedback and a new position to focus on and understand. Friday night, I was partnered with a wrestler/fighter. He rolls, admittedly, without focus. I hesitate too much. He comes from an athletic background. I uh...don't. We're quite the contrast...but still...we both sat listening to feedback on what we do, what we do wrong, what we do right and how we think. It's one of those moments of jiu jitsu I love...I love pure teaching...real guidance. I love the feedback loop and the improvement process. So I sat and learned about myself...about my hesitation, my lack of confidence, my too-soft grips, my not training enough, my doubting of my own strength, my strength, my understanding of fundamentals, my doing all the right things. I find the picking apart of myself simultaneously embarrassing and exhilarating.

I'm the type of learner who, frustratingly to some teachers, needs to have an understanding of where I'm trying to go to go forward. I don't need to know the path, but I like to be included on the planning. I asked Ryan the difference between the blue and the purple before we even got started, and he told me this:

It's basically like knowing how to get to your destination by taking the most effective route depending on the conditions vs driving in the general direction till you get there...I think that's what separates blue from purple. Then purple and above is basically being a better driver and upgrades on the car.

So yeah...the idea of be even being able to function at near purple level seems like fantasy at this point, but I'm willing to aim for it. My biggest concern though? This. This online stuff. GiFreak takes time and it also takes will. Will that I'm realizing isn't infinite. This past month, between work, a sinus infection, work and general life, I've been drained. Not in a I-need-to-crash-in-front-of-the-TV kind of way, but more like I-need-someone-to-fly-me-to-a-foreign-country kinda way. Last time I felt like this I booked a panicked flight to Montreal.

The technique.

It's a knee block pass, based on pressure. You grab around the top leg, gripping the pant of the bottom at mid thigh, while folding the leg down with the inside the same time you grab the bottom lapel and pull your opponent into you (since they will be trying to stretch themselves). Windshield wiper the trapped leg, sprawl, walk your hips around while pulling the legs to flatten their body. I had issues remembering to move their hips back with my hips while keeping the trailing leg almost against their leg.

Squaring up is a whole different story. This is where I started seeing the black belt magic. I got shown some of the details of maintaining pressure and it was crazy. It honestly felt like one of those bad dreams where something's holding you down and you can't move but there's nothing there. Black magic indeed.

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Metamoris I Highlight

Alright...I'm hyped again. Metamoris had me glued to my computer for 4 hours straight last year. I didn't care about the delays or price or any of the few slights people had against the event. I loved it...the whole thing...the trailers, the venue, everything. I only wish there'd been more people in attendance...but whatever, it was awesome.

And then...this happened yesterday.

Time for II.