Friday, December 16, 2016

Jiu Jitsu for the Ladies

The goods that got left out of the Digitsu Article

Dom always takes ridiculous pictures! I would come 
out looking stupid as hell but she pulls it off. My hat is
off to her for constantly pushing to be herself and
encouraging others to do so as well!

I first met Dominyka, Vedha, and Erin at a BJJ competition while in New York catching up with some of my seasonal friends that I had met during their summer vacations spent enjoying the tumultuous winter weather of Rio de Janeiro.

The day after the competition I headed over to Fabio Clemente’s gym Jiu Jitsu for the People to attend the 12 P.M. all female open mats that are headed up by Dom and Vedha. Erin was in town for the competition (Erin and Dom used to train together at Marcelo’s before Dom switched teams and Erin moved to California) so she showed up at open mats as well…. With her whole life in tow.

Seriously. She had like 5 bags with her and was sitting disheveled on a bench with her tired eyes intent on her iphone. It made me feel all warm and fuzzy inside to know that I wasn’t the only person in the game that was struggling. I mean she was a brown belt, in the upper echelons, the crème de le crème, and if she could have her life thrown into an upheaval at the drop of a dime thanks to untimely accommodation issues, then the Everest-sized mountain of problems that I was dealing with didn’t seem so isolating after all. It was reassuring to know we're all in the same boat!

The struggle is REAL and I confirmed that as we sat there shooting the shit for 30 minutes notably not donning our kimonos and getting in on the open mats that were starting. Dom finally laid down the iron fist and sent us to change. Either way the girls ended up spending more time in the corner huddled around a cellphone discussing boy issues and food porn than they did training.

There was mad talk about boys, tacos, and ice cream. Like they like 
food just as much as they like jiu-jitsu.

And why shouldn’t they? They had each double medaled at the previous day's competitions after multiple fights and still managed to make it to training the very next day. Dedication needs a day off every now and then.

The next day I interviewed the 3 for an article that I was writing for Digitsu on women in the sport. I get a lot of question from girls that are just starting or thinking about competing so I thought I would be insightful to hear what someone more experienced than myself had to say. This blog is a follow up with interesting tidbits that got left out of the official write up.

Have fun. 

Feel the BJJ love!

Jiu-jitsu is about learning (not winning). That means learning about yourself: what you’re capable of doing. Learning about other people: how to build relationships and how to diffuse tension.

Erin says the best advice she ever got was when Kron Gracie tried to console her after losing a fight.
“No one cares.”

Simple yet powerful. Compete to compete, to learn new things, to test what you’ve already learned, to have fun. But other than you, your mom, your dad, and social media following that have faithfully double clicked the selfies that you have inundated their timeline with… no one is really going to remember or care who blue belt absolute champion was at Worlds, Europeans, or any other local competition.

So don't take yourself to seriously and just go out and have fun (then follow it up with pizza and icecream with friends).

Boys are meant to train with not to fight.

It’s insulting when Reddit warriors, couch samurais, and youtube black belts try to speculate on a sport that they are not involved in or on topics that are irrelevant to them. One particularly frustrating fantasy that has been floating around the web is the idea of women fighting men. I mean, women want equal pay and equal attention so why not put them up again men, they’re age-old oppressors and let them go neck for the same cash prizes! Right?

Wrong! Men are men and women are women. This is a physiological fact and there are concrete physiological features that accompany it that make the idea of a fair fight between men and women to be purely fictional and highly insulting.

So, no, Dom will not be facing off against King Gordon anytime soon.

Quitting is Not Ok. Avoiding is. 

Don’t banish yourself to a world where you’re only training with females. It’s important to learn to train with guys just as much as guys need to learn to make the training environment more accessible for women.

Prone on the ground with your eyes closed: The best position to stay in to avoid eye
 contact and unwanted training partners. Just kidding. Vedha relaxing in between
fights at IBJJF New York Pro

You have to train with the boys but that doesn’t mean that you have to roll with every last spastic white belt, smelly blue belt, or pretentious purple belt. Learn to say NO! Erin recommends telling the truth, let them know what’s up. Maybe they’re too aggressive, maybe they need to invest in better laundry detergent, maybe a rash guard to cover up their chest hair would make them a more amenable training option.

If you’re like Vedha and are too timid to drop the truth bombs, well you better undo your ponytail right quick and take your sweet time re-braiding it and re-re-braiding it while the time one the clock winds down.

It was funny to hear the girls trade horror stories of training with over rambunctious boys or how to tactically tie their belt in the slowest way possible to avoid an undesirable training partner.

“I got you tomorrow” or “I’m really tired” can only go so far. By the time you get to the higher belts you don’t just learn to train, you also master avoiding training as well.

Maintain the power by keeping your hair dry and:

Just drill.

You don’t need to roll with everyone and you don’t always have to roll. Sometimes drilling, or reviewing positions and techniques is enough. You go over a lot of stuff in class and most of it probably goes in one ear and out the other as you insist on doing what you do best… and if you’re a lower belt doing your best thing and doing the right thing are rarely the same thing. Break your old habits and develop new ones by drilling (preferably to music). It’s fun, it’s easy, and you don’t have to get sweaty so you don’t have to wash your gi or your hair when you’re done.
Save time. Save energy. Save shampoo. And just drill.

Submit the Stigma: Fight for a Cause

I know about Erin through (her now officially registered non-profit) Submit the Stigma a campaign that started off to promote awareness for mental illness. After losing her father to suicide, Erin started the movement to with the hopes that more people would become aware of mental illness and the signs associated with it. 

Erin is a brown belt having made her way up the ranks while working for Gracie Mag, studying for a college degree, and traveling around the world to compete and write about jiu-jitsu... all the while coming to terms with her own anxiety and personal problems. 

Jiu-jitsu has helped change the lives of a lot of people and for me, it's definitely inspiring to see someone going out and creating awareness on the therapeutic effects that BJJ can have, I hope that my own organization Terere Kids Project will also reach official nonprofit status one day! 

Find out more about Submit the Stigma:
Submit the Stigma OrgSubmit the Stigma of Mental Illness- FloGrapplingSubmit the Stigma Charity Seminar on Demand- Digitsu

Tuesday, December 6, 2016

You Can't Submit What You Can't See

Training @ Padilla Bjj

on asking for forgivenness, not permission: 
Epic photos pirated from Lynn Tran's facebook! 

I drove hours out into the middle of nowhere….

Ok, that’s a lie. I drove maybe about 40 minutes, but after passing the 2nd open field, 4th farm, and at least 3 shiny, red tractors, it was safe to say that I was definitely in the middle of nowhere.

I grew up in the area, but long stretches of single lane roads divide the towns that populated the peripheries of Philadelphia creating a sense of isolation that is a stark contrast from shooting up and down I 95 highway in the D.C. area that I now call home.

I drove back and forth on a solitary road looking for a sign that would substantiate my GPS’s claim that I had finally reached my desired destination. I found none, so I parked in a large empty lot in front of a church or an antique shop or something of that rural nature so that I could figure out where the hell I was.

When I looked up, address on the sign in front of me revealed I was indeed in the correct location. Less then a minute later a figure with a shaved head, swollen ears, and massive legs appeared out of nowhere. He was making his way towards the large warehouse with a duffle bag in hand.

I fell into step behind him as he headed around the corner of the building to a small door that had a Padilla BJJ sign plastered in the lower corner. For an American, this might have been considered to be subpar marketing, but for someone coming from Brazil, it’s not uncommon to have trouble locating, identifying, and entering some of the biggest BJJ gyms. Real jiu jitieros, after all, care about jiu jitsu and don’t waste mental effort on menial things like signs.

The gym is located inside of a warehouse that shares its space with an assortment of different businesses. In order to get to the mats, you had to walk by a huge stack of boxes and some haphazardly placed office materials that looked suspiciously like the headquarters for some kind of Ponzi scheme.

I followed the sound of break falls, skirting the edge of the tower of Ponzi merchandise, and made my way to the matted out half of the warehouse. The coach Mike Padilla was drilling shoots and sprawls with a little kid while guys on the sidelines started stretching and getting ready for Sunday morning open mats.

Some people might have questioned the random boxes or the oddly placed desk at the top of the stairs, but the only thing that registered in my mind was:

“Damn, that’s a whoooole lot of mats.”

And it was. Freshly laid wrestling mats covered a good portion of the warehouse providing more than enough space for people to train.

The gym may have been lacking showers or glass vitrines for selling merchandise, but there was more than enough mat space for everyone (and there was music). There is nothing worse than cramped rolling sessions where people are lined up on the wall waiting for a chance to roll.

I sat down amongst the guys that were lined up on the side of the mats stretching out their thick necks and massive legs (I have a serious small man complex when it comes to open mats so everyone over 150lbs is a giant to me). Jiu-jitsu has long been empowering the undersized nerd, coach mike himself is a small dude, but these guys.... were not.

As they sat discussing John Danaher, the vicious beast that lives in the basement of Renzo Gracie NYC (Padilla is an offspring of Renzo Gracie PA), I wondered if I was in for some gentle flow rolls, or it was going to be one of those days to practice my framing, shrimping, and breathing while have my ribs pushed into my lungs.

For some reason, open mats always seem to be NoGi. Oh, how I hate NoGi!

Mike ended what appeared to be a private with a highly skilled kid that barely came up to his waist and then we started to roll. The only thing I actually remember about training that day was the sensation of trying to catch a ghost.

That feeling of lunging forward in a desperate attempt to capture it, but instead, your arms hug thin air and you face dive to the floor.

That’s was rolling with Mike was like. I’ve rolled with a lot of people from around the world in Rio, New York, DC, and PA, but I don’t think I’ve ever encountered anyone that was so elusive. Hands down must be the fasted person I’ve ever encountered on the mats.

He would move and I would try to counter, but by the time I could even wrap my mind around what I was supposed to do, let alone get my body to obey, he was gone.

I know it's done right when jiu jitsu gets awkward and confusing!
Cause seriously how do you go about getting out of that?

Occasionally, he’d reappear, snatch up a limb or a joint, give a little tweak or bump his hips in the subtlest of ways. You'd barely notice it happening because it was so quick, but it was his little way of telling you, “I could have submitted you, but let's just keep flowing”.

Eventually, he’d stop, lie still, and let me score a few pity points. There is nothing more terrifying than when a black belt lays still and lets you slither your way from side control to mount without defending. You’re either walking into a trap, where you will probably get viciously submitted without realizing your folly until its too late. Or a test, where you have to defend your honor and prove your knowledge, but generally will end up getting nervous and mentally thwarting yourself because, really, what black belt is just going to let you armbar them from mount?

At the end of the round, he confirmed, that after 3 years in Brazil, my jiu-jitsu had most definitely improved.

Which I guess brings me back around to the beginning of the stories, and in essence, the very origin of this blog.

This January it will have been 4 years since I found out about Renzo Gracie Pa and discovered jiu-jitsu (not to be confused with NoGi submission grappling which in Brazil doesn’t count as BJJ). For 6 months, I traveled to PA once a month and trained in a gi, until I ultimately decided to move to Brazil. Before relocating, I spent a whole month in the dreary suburbs of Philly trying to absorb everything I could learn about the arte sauve before moving to the mecca. Most people thought I was bat shit crazy, but like every pretentious white belt, I thought I knew exactly what I was doing, so why not move to Rio?

I took my first private class ever with Mike. He asked me what I wanted to do. I had no clue. So we worked guard passes from open guard.

6 months to a year into my trip, there was a click, a light bulb began to shine, and I finally realized what Mike had been trying to show me that afternoon so long ago, when I had no concept of what the hell I was doing. I was ecstatic that I was finally understood and highly entertained by the fact that it took me that long to fumble through basic positions, techniques, and philosophies just to understand the beautiful intricacies of a knee slice!

In true creonte fashion, I’ve trained at  a lot of academies and studied with multiple black belts. Some people may consider this to be traitorous behavior but I’ve definitely been able to learn and develop a style based on the different thing I’ve picked up from different people.

Dennis Asche has some of the best speed drills. (Connection Rio Academy)

Terere is a long-stepping legend and all around beast. (FT Jiu Jitsu)

Rich Latta is like a college professor that has given me a lot of detailed insight on my game. (Renzo Gracie PA)

Perninha is the man to go to for all things to do with the lapel. (Gordo BJJ)

Beta academy has some of the best leg locks I’ve seen and a highly technical team of training partners. (Beta DC under Nak)

I learned to escape mount to half guard from a purple belt from Boston while staying at Connection Rio. This in combination with my friendship with Moz sparked my subsequent relationship with (a failed/fucked up version of) deep half which has become the foundation of my game. 

And Mike Padilla (Renzo Gracie PA/ Padilla BJJ) is hands down the fastest mofo I’ve ever hit the mats with! He’s a small person with a dynamic game and seems to be well rounded in both gi and nogi. 

When I grow up. I want to be like Mike.

Everyone wants to be like Mike
~Bad Boys

Find out more about Padilla BJJ on their 
Facebook or by going to their website