Saturday, March 30, 2013

Vitor "Shaolin" Ribeiro's Perspective on the "Jiu-Jitsu as Chess" Analogy

My old instructor, Vitor "Shaolin" Ribeiro, posted on the school's blog that he felt that jiu jitsu was more like paintball than a chess match. To summarize the post, which can be found here, Shaolin says that chess is more like "you move, then I move, then you move", while paintball is much more about pushing the pace, taking initiative, and attacking.

The chess analogy is so common in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu that I'd never honestly thought about alternative ones. The chess one isn't really one that stuck in my mind either, but I never thought of any other analogy. While I don't think there is ever a truly complete analogy for Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, I think the paintball one is very accurate. Paintball requires strategy and there is rarely a time where you're just waiting; you're either hiding or attacking (at least from my one experience with paintball). You can't really defend in paintball like you do in jiu-jitsu, as your main defense is to avoid being shot, but in paintball I suppose avoidance should be your first line of defense in jiu jitsu anyway. Additionally, you shouldn't really wait for the other person to move in jiu jitsu before you attack; the idea is that you are constantly attacking for a submission, fighting for a better position, or defending so you can do one of the two former things.

It also reminded me of the atmosphere in Shaolin's academy. Shaolin has a great energy about him; his enthusiasm for learning and competition are infectious and he always encourages his students to push the pace appropriately. I definitely learned a lot about that aspect of jiu-jitsu while I trained there and it helped me "grow in" to my blue belt for sure!

I'd love to hear feedback on this one to whoever stumbles across this! And visit Shaolin's academy when you're in New York City, you won't regret it!

Friday, March 15, 2013

Chicago Open Recap

Last weekend, I competed in the Chicago Open. This was my first tournament at featherweight, and pushed me out of my comfort zones for a few reasons:

- I went without a coach
- This was in a completely new city
- first time competing at featherweight
- I had spent the past week watching my weight, as I had been in Hawaii the week before that
- Saturday was gi and Sunday was nogi, meaning I had to watch my weight for 2 days

Thankfully, one of my old teammates from NJ goes to college in Missouri, so I had the support of him and his teammates. My old teammate, Marcus, drove me to and from the venue that weekend, so I didn't have to worry about renting a car. I'm not even old enough to rent one anyway!

After nearly missing my flight on Friday because of the bad weather, I got to the hotel at around 6pm. I had weighed myself that morning and had been 119.5, but was very wary of taking in too much sodium. I walked a mile and a half each way to get dinner, which was grilled chicken and steamed vegetables. It's pretty miraculous I found it, because the area had mainly fast food. I dodged the now fading black patches of snow and ice, but did get my dinner!

I started at 9am the next day, so Marcus, myself, and one of his teammates left for the venue around 8am. One of his teammates was in my division, but we're both pretty relaxed people and were friendly the entire time. We never had to face each other anyway, but even if we did, there was no tension.

I weighed myself on the test scale and weighed in at a whopping 125.5 pounds with my gi on (the upper limit for female featherweight is 129). I had ample time to warm up, and felt pretty confident. My first and only gi match was against a girl from Brazil-021, a team led by Hanette Staack and her husband, Andre Negao. The girl pulled guard, and I spent most of the time trying to pass and break her spider guard lasso and grips. She eventually swept me, and I was unable to get any half guard sweeps, although I was able to creep out just before the buzzer sounded. The final score was 2 points for her and 1 advantage for me. I was pretty bummed about losing my first match. I ended up "winning" a bronze medal because I first had a bye, and went on to compete in the absolute. Once again, my opponent pulled guard, and I spent what must have been about 3 minutes of a 6 minute match stuck in a triangle. She won on advantages I believe and was only one weight class above me. I was very upset after this match, because I had really wanted to redeem myself in the absolute.

The next day was nogi. I won my first match via rear naked choke about 2-3 minutes in to the match. I lost my finals match on points. She pulled guard, I somehow ended up with her in my guard, but was unable to get a submission or sweep. She ended up passing and winning on points. This won me second place, but I decided not to do the absolute, as I feel injuries are more likely in nogi than they are in gi.

On a somewhat related note, Hanette Staack came up to me and shook my hand a little while after I competed against her student. She was really friendly! I'm a huge fan of hers so it was really cool to meet her and even more awesome to see that she was willing to chat with me for a little. I also got to see Comprido and Carlson Gracie Jr. Comprido annihilated the masters black belt division by the way.

Despite the fact that I only won one match, I feel much more confident about competing than I did last year for the following reasons:

- I lost every match in every tournament I competed in in 2012. One win isn't what I'm gunning for, but it's a step in the right direction
- I didn't obsessively check the athlete list like I have in the past. I checked it occasionally just to make sure that a decent amount of girls that signed up, but I wasn't intimidated by any of the names or teams on the list.
- I realized that I need to work on imposing my game more and being less afraid of taking risks. I feel like I could have been more aggressive with implementing my passing game
- I definitely avoided some weaknesses that have stopped me from competing well in the past

I'm happy I spent the money and went to Chicago to compete. I have to give a huge thanks to Jesse from Killer Bee Gi for sponsoring me and for providing me with the best gis! In all seriousness, I really only reach for my Killer Bee gis now for training unless they're all in the wash. I'll post a review soon.

I'm now preparing for the New York Open, I can't wait to compete again!

Monday, March 4, 2013

Self Evaluation and Brainstorming

The good thing about Jason Scully's academy is that we have a decent amount of open mat sessions. A lot of them are impromptu, and if someone with a key is available, I can get a couple hours of drilling or rolling in the middle of the day on my days off work.

Evaluating yourself and figuring out what to work on in jiu jitsu (or in life, for that matter), can be difficult. The sport is so multifaceted that the number of guards, positions, concepts, and techniques can become overwhelming. I find that it takes at least a few months before you find out what kind of game or style you prefer and what you're good and bad at.

As you progress, you start to think about jiu  jitsu a little bit differently. As you learn what the different kinds of guards were and many basic concepts, you slowly start to develop a style, and eventually a game plan if you compete. You probably know a little bit about everything, but haven't identified my own strengths and weaknesses.

For me, this mindset and ideology manifested itself after my first tournament as a blue belt. After I received my blue belt in May 2011, I competed in June 2011 in the blue belt division at a local Grappler's Quest. I figured it couldn't hurt to jump in and compete, right? I ended up winning one match and losing my next two. While I was definitely disgruntled at losing, as most people are, it became apparent to me that I had some glaring weaknesses in my game that were being exploited by more experienced blue belts. This experience has given me a lot more focus in jiu jitsu and has made me more methodical.

It was after this tournament that I made it a point to attend an open mat session as soon as I completed a tournament; wherever I've trained, there is always an open mat on Sundays. I used to avoid open mats because I felt like I wouldn't learn without formal instruction. However, I've realized that open mat is an awesome time for brainstorming. I feel like I have been so scatterbrained in the past regarding what to work on, but having that unstructured space allows you to work on your own gameplan without having to drill what your instructor wants to work on. I think this is especially critical as you move up the ranks and are developing your strengths and gameplan for competitions. Even if you don't compete, I think it's important to see what your strengths and weaknesses. Those are often revealed during rolling in class, but you don't always get the chance to work on those details during class.

So what makes a good brainstorming session? This is only what I've come up with, but it has been working well for me.

I don't think it's productive to focus on just passing or just guard work. I think passing gives you a greater understanding of the guard, and vice versa. I keep a notebook in my backpack. I write down a couple of details from the technique portion of class and then pick one or two weaknesses from my top and bottom game that I noticed during rolling.

This is where it can diverge. Sometimes those weaknesses are more conceptual, like what to do when in bottom half- where to position yourself, where you should get grips, etc. Sometimes the weakness can be very specific, like a certain sweep or pass that just isn't working the way you'd like it to. You can ask your partner if they notice anything you're doing wrong. After rolling with the same set of people so many times, you and your teammates will begin to notice the type of game you play, your strengths, your weaknesses, and consequently, the mistakes you make when rolling because it's during rolling that they capitalize on those mistakes. It's much better to see those mistakes during class or open mat than to figure them out at a tournament!

Another important thing is that if you're in class and the techniques your instructor is teaching you that day aren't sticking with you, don't sweat it. Sometimes you aren't ready to learn a certain guard or set of techniques. For example, some find the inverted guard game very tricky to learn. Getting used to being in that position, transitioning to that position, and figuring out the attacks and defenses can be tough for less flexible or limber people. Each component of the jiu-jitsu game requires a certain kind of movement, and getting used to moving your body that way can be difficult for some. If you don't get it, you can "shelve it for later". This means that instead of harping on what you completely don't understand, you should focus on something that isn't necessarily intrinsic to you, but something that you need to work on that's a little more feasible. As you progress in your jiu-jitsu career, you'll eventually become familiar with all types of games and styles; there is no pressure to learn a certain guard or style your instructor is teaching that day or week. If you approach jiu jitsu the right way, you'll a jack of all trades and master of some. You'll have your stronger and weaker points, but the different between your strong and weak points will decrease over time.