Friday, September 30, 2011

Beast Mode

The past few days have been very busy for me, but I've managed to train on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday. Yesterday was easily one of my best training days since I've began at Shaolin's. Thursdays I can get about 3 hours of training in, as I can take two advanced classes and jump in on the beginner class. We had seven women on the mats yesterday, which is pretty incredible! There's no women's class at Shaolin's, but he tries to pair all the girls together when he can.

In the first advanced class, I finally found myself being aggressive but not spazzy while rolling. As I've written previously, I used to be very frantic while rolling and then became too calm, so i was glad to finally have balanced the two. Additionally, I was able to block certain techniques I hadn't had much success with in the past. For example, I had been getting choked while trying to pass the guard, but was able to remember to simply push my opponents elbow down to break free. I've also been getting better about thinking one step ahead to avoid being stuck. It's days like this that give me an extra boost of confidence regarding competition. It (almost) made me regret not signing up for NoGi Pan Ams, but I also have a tough time making it to NoGi training consistently because of my work schedule. I will however, be watching my new and old teammates tomorrow at the event. There is a Grapplers Quest on December 10th in New Jersey and I'm thinking about competing. Of course this depends on how work goes and if I can put enough time in on the mat. Plus that's holiday time and I'll need to make weight!

Regardless, the past few days of just pushing myself through work and 2-3 hours of BJJ have really allowed me to challenge myself and progress. Now that I train fewer times per week (I miss college!), I put in that much more effort in while I am on the mat.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

NYC is Full of Food

Seriously! Everywhere I turn there is a food truck or food cart. And most of the time, it's cheap! Five bucks for a gyro or chicken over rice, one dollar for a giant pretzel (don't even like those), and a dollar for a cup of coffee (run and tell that, Starbucks!). I passed a waffle cart today- A WAFFLE CART! You can put ice cream and fruit and other delicious things on it. I've seen carts selling tacos and dumplings and cupcakes OH MY! I don't buy prepared food that often because I think more often than not it's a waste of money. However, I've gotten stuck in the trap of forgetting to pack dinner and have either not been eating dinner or have been buying food after work. Neither of these things are good for your body, especially if you're training 1-3 hours.

Outside of what I learn directly at work, I've realized I need to plan ahead at all times. The night before, I need to pack my gi, make sure my lunch AND dinner are ready and packed in the fridge, make sure there is someone to take me and pick me up at the train station (it's three dollars a day to park there in addition to the 400 bucks per month I need to pay to take the train!) get up on time, and make the train so I am on time to work. I am basically packing my entire day into my backpack. I guess this is what being a real person and a commuter in the working world is like!

In terms of actual training today, I still find that I'm getting caught in things that other people do consistently to me. For example, there is one person who always gets me in a collar choke from half guard on top. It takes a little while because I resist, but more often than not I end up tapping. One weekend, I need to sit down and write out what I keep getting caught in and work on countering it in class. I think I'm going to start bringing a notebook to class or write it out on the train home to see what I need to work on. This would be good material to bring to Shaolin's open mat on Sundays, assuming I can make it.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Training at Other Schools

It's been a while since I updated this, but between work, the commute and BJJ, I just come home and pass out! I think I've said this before, but I have to work a minimum of 43 hours a week. It's an AmeriCorps funded to position, so to ensure that I get 43 hours per week, I have to sometimes do community service projects on the weekends to ensure I get enough hours in- I need 1700 by the end of June between work and community service projects! BJJ is definitely keeping me sane and balanced through the early morning train ride in, the working day, and the late train ride home.

I think most people who do BJJ, if not all, feel a pretty strong sense of loyalty to their gym and their coach. This is natural and to be expected. Your coach is the person who pushes you to get better, shows you techniques, and supports you in competition. You also probably have teammates that you're friends with. They are as important as your coach and they often push you (literally) on the mat and help you to get better as well.

However, I think you are closing yourself off if you ever only choose to train at your own gym. Now if your gym is the only one in the area, one can't expect to drive several miles just to find somewhere else to cross train. But in more densely populated areas like New York and New Jersey, there are a plethora of gyms. Training with other people is important for the following reasons:

- exposure to other teaching styles and techniques. Your instructor might favor a certain style (spider guard, half guard, etc.) and it's good to get exposure to what other instructor's strengths are. This is also why seminars are a good idea
- training with other students sharpens your game. After a while, you can figure out what your training partners' strengths and weaknesses are, making rolling a little more predictable
- for women, it's tough to find other women to roll with, so going to other gyms is a good idea

I'm not saying you should equally split your time between 2 or 3 gyms. But I am saying that maybe once a month, you should go check out the classes or open mat at another school. During nogi class at Shaolin's a couple of weeks ago, Alex, one of Shaolin's purple belts was teaching class. He clarified that our open mat on Sundays is open to EVERYONE- from white belts to black belts, men, women and students from other schools. He made the point that the more you train with other people, the better you're going to get. You're going to be exposed to so many different styles and setups that you'll be rounded. He went so far as to say it's easier to progress in BJJ in NYC because there are so many different schools and therefore more training partners and opportunities to improve. I'd never thought of it that way and it makes sense.

Having trained with three different coaches in the past 6 months alone has showed me the value of cross training. At Traven's there was an awesome, consistent group of women to train with and that's where I first began training BJJ consistently, thus setting a solid base. At Jason's I learned to focus on competition gameplans, balance gi and nogi, and was forced to roll with people much bigger than me because there were fewer women on the mat. At Shaolin's I feel as though I am really improving my half guard and getting more opportunities to train because I can roll in the beginners classes and drill and roll in the advanced classes. All three of these black belts are AMAZING coaches and each gym is a unique experience that will ultimately improve my jiu jitsu.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Life Isn't Always Fair, But It Is Good

I couldn't go to Shaolin's no gi class today because I got out of work a little late. It looks like no gi has been intense lately because of those competing at nogi Pan Ams in the beginning of October. He had me train for the entire beginner's class and paired me with a brand new girl. She'd trained once a week for about a month at LA Boxing, but wants to go to a pure BJJ gym and focus only on BJJ. She was friendly and Shaolin took the two of us aside and had us to some more basic moves, like the scissor sweep, Americana, and a sweep from spider guard while your opponent is still sitting in your guard. The new girl was doing what I had done last winter and checking out all the BJJ schools in the area. I'm of the opinion that you need to choose the school atmosphere that's right for you despite the caliber of the instructor (within reason obviously). I encouraged her to sign up at Shaolin's and pointed out that we have a decent number of women who train regularly.

During the advanced class I had the chance to roll with Chris, one of Shaolin's purple belts. I've really gotten the chance to roll with more purple belts at Shaolin's because there's enough of them. I like rolling with higher ranked students because they capitalize and point out my weaknesses the best. If someone is the same rank as you, you might be able to muscle/wriggle out of a submission because the skill level is so close, but you can't really do that with a higher belt. Chris pointed out a couple of things after rolling which I definitely appreciated; while Shaolin points out things during class it's nice to hear it from someone who directly feels what you're doing.

But more interesting than all of that is that it's been a year since I had my knee injury. Exactly one year ago on this day, my mom flew down to Atlanta to drive me to doctor's appointments, go food shopping, and help me get around. I couldn't bend one of my legs, was in an immobilizing leg brace and was on crutches. I didn't know if I'd need surgery or even if I'd be able to train again. My injured knee was bruised, swollen, and didn't look much like the other one. I was in a position where I was going to class, coming back, and sitting on my bed because that was all I could do. Today during class, I blocked a sweep with that same previously injured leg and pulled off a half guard sweep. Life isn't always fair, but it is good.

Monday, September 12, 2011

"I Know I'm Not the Best"

Our team took the team trophy at the Long Island Pride tournament in NYC this weekend, so many of the students were discussing the tournament. From what I can gather, tournaments in NYC have competitors that come from not only the city, but also NJ and some other surrounding states. This means there is often a pretty good/deep pool of talent at these tournaments and you're not going against the same people all the time. One girl gave a brief speech about how great of a teacher Shaolin is and everyone applauded loudly after. Shaolin then followed up with something I found really humbling. He told us he knew he was "not the best" at jiu jitsu (uhh, you won worlds THREE TIMES at black belt in the lightweight division which is arguably one of the more stacked ones plus you had a pretty awesome run as a lightweight MMA fighter back in the day...) but that he believes in all of his students. He doesn't want anyone to sit on the sidelines at a tournament because they're afraid to compete. He invests his time equally in everyone, not just those who choose to compete and medal at big tournaments. I liked that he said that, because given his accomplishments he could easily focus his energy on the people who compete at big IBJJF tournaments and pay less attention to people who attend for more recreational purposes. Fortunately for me, I've never trained under an instructor who favored students who compete more.

On a more humorous note, my gi pants ripped down the center of my butt tonight. You may recall that about a month or so ago when my nogi spandex ripped during class. Well, I guess this my christening of sorts at Shaolin's but in the beginning of class as we were drilling half guard sweeps, someone pointed out that my pants were ripping. I knew they had been fraying, but when I inspected the damage after class it was definitely worse than it had been the last time! I hadn't worn this gi in a while because it's not my favorite gi. But ironically enough, those freaking Atama Ripstop pants are the only gi pants to rip on me!

Apart from that, training was excellent today. I got around 2.25 hours of training in- 2 hours of advanced BJJ and about 15-20 minutes of rolling in the beginner's class. There was a ton of purple belts tonight so I had the chance to see many of my weaknesses. I notice I was getting swept a lot when someone had me in butterfly guard, and Shaolin pointed out that I need to post my leg out but not too close so they can grab it. I'm not too familiar with butterfly guard, so I'm glad Shaolin pointed this out to me.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Balancing Work and BJJ

Last week was my first week of work. I really like what I'm doing; I help recruit retired lawyers do nonprofit work and give legal advice to low income families in New York City. There's a big learning curve but it's all very interesting and I'm learning a lot about the field. Plus, all my co workers are very welcoming and knowledgeable. Plus, I work at Fordham Law School's Feerick Center for Social Justice and I've met Mr. Feerick himself multiple times! What's been equally challenging is balancing work and BJJ.

It's more difficult than I expected. I get out of work around 5:45-6pm and then head over to Shaolin's. It's only one subway stop away and a 3 block walk. I stay until 7:30 or 8:30pm, depending on if Shaolin asks me to stay for the beginner's class and drill/roll with the other girls. If I get out at 8:30 (which I did this entire week), the next train I can catch is at 9:38pm, which gets me home by 10:45pm. At this point, I still need to shower and make sure I'm prepared for the next day of work.

This is pretty late considering I get up at 5:45am to catch a 7:12am train to NYC which gets in at 8:15am. I'm sure you're thinking 5:45am is pretty early for a 7:12am train, but I leave at around 6:45am to account for any traffic, plus I'm really slow in the morning. A couple of nights I've only had 4 or so hours of sleep, which I know I cannot keep up long term and still perform well at work. I've also cut it pretty close in terms of packing all my gear and getting to the train station on time. I haven't had any issues thus far, but I don't want there to ever be issues, especially since this is my first job.

I think it's best I do the following things to be efficient about training and commuting:

- shower at the gym so I don't waste time waiting at the train station and showering at home that late
- pack my lunch and dinner, gi, mouthguard, etc. the night before so I won't be so rushed in the morning

I think the most important thing to keep in mind is that if I'm feeling tired or overworked, then don't train! This is very tough for me because you'd probably have to shoot me to keep me away from training, but it's not worth risking performance at work just so I can train. I had to miss class on Wednesday and I was definitely sad about it, but I need to make sure I can balance everything.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

You've Come To The Right Place

Instead of just rolling during the beginner class today, Shaolin had me drill with two other girls in the class. I'm really glad he had me drill, because it was a half guard sweep I've been having trouble with. Quite honestly, I was frustrated for most of the drill, but I finally understood it at the end. This alleviated some of my frustrations from yesterday's class so I felt pretty good when it came time to roll and during the advanced class. At the end of the beginner class I told one of the other female students I've been having trouble with half guard and she told me I'd come to the right place. Shaolin drills half and butterfly guard a lot, so I'm excited to improve on these two things.

During the advanced class we drilled some stuff from the turtle position. I feel like I rarely work from this position because every time I get into it, I have been able to forward roll out of it- granby rolls FTW!! I noticed less of a difference between rolling with the men and women today. Maybe yesterday was just a weird occurrence...

A bunch of students are competing at the Long Island Pride tournament this weekend. Given my erratic training schedule, I don't think competing would be the best thing for me right now. I need to work a little more on my technical base before I feel comfortable competing at the blue belt level.

Alright, I need to be up in about 4 hours, so until next time!

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

First Day of the Rest of My Life

Today was my first official day at the office. There was a lot of information thrown at me but I'm excited to start the projects the Feerick Center is working on. And I'm calling this the first day of the rest of my life because I'm working full time until I decide to go to graduate school. But you don't care about that; you want to know how my first day of training went after Labor Day weekend! :)

I'm typing this on my phone as I wait for the train. I haven't trained since last Thursday and I certainly felt it! I came at the tail end of the beginners class and Shaolin had me roll with one of the female white belts. I'm still trying to figure out what patterns/strengths my new teammates have, but it seemed she'd rather pull guard and sweep as opposed to playing guard. This ended in an unfortunate knee to the cheek which is swelling quite a bit! Shaolin also spoke to me before class and asked if I could come a little early each time so the girls in the beginner class would get the chance to roll with another girl.

In the 6:30 advanced class, we did a butterfly guard sweep that was somewhat tricky. You bait the person into thinking you're going to one side but then you sweep to the other. I was partnered with a purple belt and even he seemed to have trouble with it initially. During rolling, I thought I was going to pass out. We did several hard rounds, 2 minutes of half guard drills, and ended with very intense 1 minute rounds while switching partners after each minute.

I ended up staying for the 7:30 beginners class but only stepped in when Shaolin needed me to. A different girl was in that class and he had me drill and roll with her the entire time. During this set of rolling, I became quite frustrated. I kept getting stuck in side mount on the bottom and had a tough time escaping. I don't know if it was "just one of those days" or whether it was because I'd been out for a while, but I felt a little out of it.

I also noticed that there is a big difference between rolling with men and women at Shaolin's. I feel as though it's easier for me to get sweeps and passes on the guys than it should be. Not that I'm sweeping and passing easily, but it comes more easily than when I'm rolling with the girls. I don't feel as though they're going easy, but I think some of them definitely less resistance. I can't tell if this is good because they're not muscling me around, or bad because I'm not getting as much resistance as I'm used to from people who are bigger than me.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Protect Ya Neck

I only got to train at Shaolin's for one hour today. I had planned to run some errands upon getting home, but a 5 minute ride home turned in 30 minutes because of construction. Even though my power is FINALLY back, I still curse you Irene!

There were only about 8-10 people in class today. I was the only girl, and definitely the smallest person on the mat. Shaolin had us do some passing drills from half guard. One of the main things I learned from this is to maintain top pressure when passing half guard, or being in the top position at all for that matter. Space is always something that others can capitalize on in BJJ, but it's easy to forget that space and pressure are intertwined. Our next half guard drill was for the person on bottom to always protect their neck. This is something I've worked on in the recent past. I want to work on being more active from the bottom in half guard, and this always begins with making sure that the person on top can't attack.

Finally it came time to roll and I believe there were about five rounds of six minutes each. I rolled with one purple belt and the rest were blue belts. I was surprised to see that I was immediately using the half guard passes and defenses that Shaolin had taught us. It normally takes me a long time before I can implement something just taught, but I guess it stuck with me. Lately, I've been trying to think of how to analyze rolling in class. I know thinking about it as winning or losing is a bad idea, but I do think it's important to evaluate what you did right and wrong during the roll. I think a good process would be to say

- what move did I try to execute?
- did it work?
- why or why not?

Thinking of each roll move by move might be difficult to remember, but if you can draw common themes or moves from the session, then you can figure out what you're doing wrong and what you need to work on. Shaolin is always calling out to everyone in class what they should do and what they need to work on, so that definitely helps.

By the way, if you don't understand or appreciate the fact that this blog post title is from the Wu Tang Clan, then either quit reading this blog or EDUCATE YOURSELF! :)