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...

1 comment:

  1. Cool - always fun reading somebody's martial arts history. It seems that a lot of people move into BJJ after having already tried something else.

    I'm similar to you, in that I also started in a traditional style back in 1999, though in my case that was at university rather than school. Well, aside from a bit of fencing.