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.