Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Frustration and Recovery

I'm taking a break from studying for finals to discuss what the past few days at BJJ have been like.

For the first time, I became truly frustrated and upset during class. This past Saturday I had about 3 hours of training. We started from the feet in the latter part of class, and I felt like I kept getting passed, swept, and taken down. I reached a breaking point when we started from the feet and I kept getting taken down. I slapped the mat with my hand after each takedown and was clearly upset after the last few rounds of sparring. This also wasn't the typical "sometimes you're the hammer and sometimes you're the nail" situation. I just feel like over the past few weeks that I didn't perform as well as I know I can.

I went to the locker room visibly upset. Fortunately, one of my teammates was there to reassure me. She had been sitting on the sidelines with one the other students in my class and said both of them had been commenting that I had gotten much better in the past few months. I was rolling with a blue belt who was smaller than me and apparently I had put up a good fight.

And I think that's where recovery begins. Realizing that someone who has watched me over a period of time has noticed improvement that means that how I feel is not necessarily aligned with how I'm doing. Recovery is moving on and not letting frustration get the best of you. I've learned that it is very easy for me to let frustration get the best of me and hamper me from achieving my goals, and I'm certainly not going to let that happen in jiu jitsu.

I am not one of those people who cares deeply about belt promotions. I've always said I would rather be the best white belt than the worst blue belt. My only concern in BJJ is getting better. I want to get better at submissions, passes, sweeps, takedowns, and everything in between. I want to be able to be able to implement each technique better and better each time I attend class. I don't care about "winning" during each sparring session, but I do want to prove to myself that I am getting better each time I step on the mat. I think it's difficult for me to see if I am getting better simply because I can't really observe what I'm doing from the outside.

Lots of my teammates are training for Worlds right now, and I am sad I can't join them. I want redemption from Pan Ams, but I think that job hunting and focusing on the future is more important right now. But if my parents just happened to give me a plane ticket as my graduation present I might just change my mind...

Saturday, April 16, 2011


I graduate from college in about 3 weeks. In a week and two days, I will have my last day of classes and a week after that I will have my last college exam.

On May 9th, I will walk across the stage and receive my college diploma. My college experience has gone above and beyond my expectations. I've met people from all over the United States and the world, have had some amazing classes/professors, and have heard a variety of experts in their fields speak about their field of study. I wouldn't trade the last four years for anything, and I am sad to be leaving my friends, my school, and the certainty and structure that comes along with being a student.

Of course, college doesn't start and end in the classroom. As soon as I leave class or work, I run back to my apartment to change and drive to jiu jitsu. I've met some really awesome people at my gym and I am proud to call them not only teammates, but friends. They have supported me through training, injuries, and competition. They are the group of people who understand why you will give up all your vices for a period of time so you can get ready for a competition and why you'd give up your spring break to train 2x a day. They understand why you choose to participate in a sport that involves rolling around in a heavy cotton uniform with intentions to control, choke, and submit along with the risk of injury. I've had the chance to meld the cultures of jiu jitsu and being a student into one unique experience.

However, after May 9th, I can no longer live the student lifestyle I have become accustomed to. I won't be rolling out of bed close to noon for my 12:50 class and my biggest worry won't be an exam worth more than half of my grade. My goals will readjust from keeping up my grades to focusing on breaking into the world of urban planning by finding a full time job. Despite my searching and large output of job applications, I have nothing waiting for me upon graduation. After graduation, I will be focusing on continuing to search for a job. If something unpaid comes up, I will have to pick up an additional paid job so I can save money for graduate school. Additionally, I will have to take the new GRE so I can apply to graduate school.

This all being said, fitting Jiu Jitsu into all that is going to be quite difficult. Jiu Jitsu is not a cheap sport, as tournament fees and gym fees quickly add up. I imagine it will be quite difficult to fit in training expenses when saving up money for graduate school is my priority. There are a couple of BJJ gyms back home, but they're going to be much more expensive than it is down here in Atlanta.

In addition to the financial burden of BJJ, I realize that it's just not going to be as big a part of my life as I'd like it to be. Working forty hours a week as opposed to taking 16 credits per semester is going to be a big change in time commitment. Honestly, I'm shocked that people who are married and/or with kids can balance BJJ in their lives.

The next few months are going to be quite a learning experience for me. Everything I will be balancing will be much more directly related to my life path and my long term goals. I won't have a winter or spring break after a stressful period, and my actions at work will have greater consequences than the work I have put into my academics. Despite all the stress that follows, I am still excited to see where I will end up and how I will tackle the challenges at hand.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Why I Train: My Journey in Martial Arts

I think this is a good topic to cover, as people venture into martial arts for a variety of reasons, and it always seems to lead to an interesting story.

I started training when I was ten years old. I had glasses and braces, not to mention I was pretty shy. I was not, and am still not, naturally athletic. I was always picked last in gym class, and secretly hoped that karate would make me more athletic. Gym time was literally the most embarassing moment of my day. As if the glasses cord I had to wear wasn't bad enough, I could barely kick a ball or swing a bat! My mom signed me up for karate classes at a local gym after I saw the commercials on TV. I really wanted to sign up after seeing the flashy kicks on TV!

After my first class on July 5, 1999, I was hooked. I loved wearing my gi and proudly hung it on my bed every day. I remember being upset that we went on vacation at times because I couldn't train! I learned kicks, punches, katas, and even did woodbreaking. I remember seeing the sign up sheet for an in house tournament, but was too embarrassed to ask my parents to sign me up. I didn't have the guts to tell my parents I wanted to get out there and spar with other students.
The progression of belts at my school were as such: white, blue, yellow, green, red, brown and finally black. My first competition was at yellow belt; I think I was about 12. I chose to compete in kickboxing. The girl I competed against was taller than me and had a higher belt rank. My parents videotaped the match. I lost in an embarrassing fashion; I remember my eyes were barely open for most of the match and I threw a few punches while trying to remain in the game. I came home and crawled into bed so I wouldn't have to talk to anyone about what had happened.

When I was about 13 or 14, I began doing some nogi grappling. This was still at the karate school. I remember HATING it. I thought the movements were weird, and they didn't click with me at all. I did it because it was part of the curriculum, but not because I liked it.

I received my black belt in karate on October 15, 2005. I continued to train in karate and nogi until I graduated from high school. My training definitely tapered during my senior year of high school because of college applications and AP classes. I didn't train at all during my first 2 years of college except when I came home on break. I didn't have a car at school and had no way to get to a gym. I figured I'd pick up rowing to stay active. I liked rowing during my first year, but I was really beginning to miss martial arts. As you can imagine, rowing is also a little more boring! Rowing is a great sport and I commend all those who do it, but it just wasn't for me.

After my last rowing practice, I looked up the local BJJ/Muay Thai/MMA schools down here in Atlanta. I came across Unit 2, and was pretty stoked to see that Roberto Traven taught all the BJJ classes. I knew who Traven was because he had fought in the earlier UFCs and has a very impressive grappling resume. However, I entered with full intentions of primarily pursuing muay thai and doing BJJ on the side. My first muay thai and BJJ classes kicked my butt! I awkwardly stumbled through the traditional BJJ warmup, and was surprised to find out that no leg locks/kneebars were allowed until you were at least a purple belt. At the time, leg locks were a big part of what I knew, so it was definitely frustrating for me. I was sweating and out of breath by the end of each class.

When I came back after summer break for my third year of college, I started taking lots of Muay Thai with the occasional BJJ class. I trained about 3-4 times per week. At this time, I completely revamped my diet and began eating much more healthily. I had never been an unhealthy person, but I definitely became more careful about what I chose to eat. After a few months of hard training, I fought in my first muay thai smoker and won by TKO in the second round!

I then decided to give Muay Thai a break and began taking more BJJ. Unit 2 is fortunate enough to have a women's class, so I attended that in addition to the regular BJJ classes. A couple of girls who had also done Muay Thai were also beginning to take more BJJ classes, so it was a nice transition. I instantly became hooked on BJJ; I ditched the leg locks and began working on improving my BJJ game. Visits to muay thai class became less and less frequent. I competed in my first BJJ tournament in February of 2010. I got second place, losing to my teammate in the finals. I was upset to have lost, but definitely happy about second place.

Since that tournament, I've become completely hooked on BJJ. It's tough to balance BJJ and Muay Thai and be good at both. I compete as often as I can. I had an injury that sidelined me from September 2010-December 2010, but am finally back on the mat after months of physical therapy and rest. Getting back into shape sucked, but I feel great now!

I guess that means I've been training BJJ for about a year now. I'm currently a white belt under Roberto Traven down here in Atlanta, but will soon be moving home as I graduate from college in less than a month. Quite honestly, part of the reason I am sad to leave Atlanta is because I love training down here. Traven and the rest of the coaches are top notch, and I have some awesome training partners. Not to mention the women's program has grown from having 1-3 people show up at any given class to about 10 consistent people who show up and are serious about training. I couldn't ask for a much better training environment or much better instruction. However, I look forward to continuing to train and compete once I return home. A job after graduation might be nice too...