Archive | March, 2011

Belt test!

27 Mar
I woke up yesterday feeling like crap.  My neck was still really sore from all the headlock escapes we had been doing on Thursday, and my stomach was all kinds of knotted up.  But there would be no sleeping in–I had to get to the academy for my blue belt test.

I managed to stuff down two Nutella-smothered waffles on my way over, and found Paris, the one other guy testing with me, and Matt, the guy he was testing with.  Gavin, one of our instructors was also there, and Paris and I went over some last minute details while Matt and Gavin tidied up the place–there were piles of old mats that Gavin wanted put away for the test.  We got there around 10, but the test didn’t start until 11:30, so we had plenty of time for last-minute review (and nerves!)  People started trickling in even before 11, and it was really nice to see so many of our teammates had come out to support us.  Plus, they would get to take part, so I’m sure they wouldn’t miss out on it.

We started promptly at 11:30, and went through our usual warm-up.  Part of the test involved some of our “warm-up” moves, such as standing in base, shrimping, rolling forward and breaking our fall, so we had to go first for everything.  For the next part, they had everyone except for Paris, myself and our respective training partners stand at the edge of the mat.  Everyone had to watch while we demonstrated the techniques they called out.  We were told to continue doing the technique until they told us to move on.  Starting from the very beginning, they went through the entire Pedro Sauer white-to-blue curriculum, somewhere from 80-90 moves.  It wouldn’t have been too bad, except we had to do each move at least three times, often more.  And there were no breaks, except when my partner Ryan needed to fix his belt or I needed to shove my hair back into a ponytail.  Within the first ten minutes, I was already breathing hard and sweating.  This would not be good.

Finally, after about an hour (and a few partner replacements in my place, just because Ryan was so lanky that sometimes certain things just looked awkward when I did them to him), we finished the technique portion.  Paris and I were told to take a five minute break, while everyone else huddled up for a meeting.  They’re going to kick our asses, I knew it.  Gavin came over after he finished with them, to prepare us for the next part.  We were going to be rolling straight for anywhere from 45-60 minutes, and we would need to conserve our energy.  Survive, he told us.  Remember that it’s a marathon, not a sprint.  But don’t ever give up and don’t stop moving, because they WILL be pushing you.  However, he also made it clear that if anyone thought they could go crazy on me (or Paris) he would not hesitate to give them an ass-whooping in front of everyone.  They did one or two three-minute rounds, and then called us back in.

Now the fun part really began.  Once again, everyone lined up by rank, except for Paris and me.  The two of us were to stay out on the mat the whole time, and every three minutes two new people would come roll with us.  No breaks, no mercy.  Just never-ending jiu jitsu.

I honestly don’t remember a whole lot of what happened.  I remember feeling good my first few matches; I didn’t tap anyone but I survived and, in some cases, got in a few good moves.  I didn’t feel particularly dead yet, but it still didn’t help that I was going against fresh people every few minutes.  However, as it got later I could tell I was starting to fade.  I still wasn’t feeling terrible, but I just didn’t have the energy to move as much–I waited when I shouldn’t have, and my matches become more about survival.  Every now and then I had bursts of energy; certain people I wasn’t looking forward to rolling with (i.e. the ones twice my size) would come in and I would try to start on top instead of pulling guard; but that never worked.  Finally, at one point, I got tapped by a 3-stripe white belt.  He was one of those big guys, and normally, I don’t wait around to tap.  When I’m caught, I know it, and I know there’s nothing to be gained from passing out on the mat.  But it still angers me that I was being “choked” (suffocated, really) purely because I was squeezed into a fake triangle that I had been muscled into, and not because he had a legit submission on me.  I fought that one as hard as I could, but I couldn’t get out.  Maybe I waited too long to stack him, or maybe there was nothing I could have done.  I had another few decent matches after that, and then it started going seriously downhill.  I still didn’t feel awful, but more and more I was curling up when my guard got passed, and not moving got me into a position where I was going to be submitted.  I got tapped a few more times, and then for my last few rounds, it was my three coaches.  Of everyone, they probably went the roughest on me.

Finally, they called time.  I sat up and tried to catch my breath, which was kind of work until I got hauled to my feet.  Then I felt like I was about to puke for a minute, but I managed to make it.  We lined up by rank, and they called me up.  After a short speech, they tied on my belt.

That’s John tying on my belt, and Mike in the background.  Paris got called up next, and if anything, his journey was even more difficult–he has a four-month-old son, so lately he’s only been able to get in maybe 2-3 times a week, if he was lucky.

So thanks to everyone in the above picture, who was there for our test.  You all participated and pushed me and without you, the test wouldn’t have happened.

I have far too many more people to thank than just my KnoxBJJ classmates.  I left a note on my Facebook with some details, but I want to thank you, everyone who has ever given me advice or encouragement, because without the online BJJ community I might have lost the heart to keep training. 

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I don’t particularly like Mondays, but…

23 Mar
yesterday wasn’t so bad.  One of my professors told me they were doing a laparoscopic ovariectomy on a lion, and I could stop by if I wanted.  I’m doing a paper on that for a different class, so I was excited to be invited.  Luckily, I didn’t have class until 1 on Monday, so I got to help prepare the lion for surgery, and talk to the vet about the procedure. I only got to watch a little bit of the actual surgery before I had to get to class, but hopefully I’ll get to participate in one when I’m a fourth year student. 

Later that evening, one of my friends had a bunch of us vetlings for dinner for Persian New Year.  Her parents came from Nashville and cooked Persian food, and it was delicious.  It was definitely one of those days to NOT wear just-washed shrunken jeans.  I had to miss jiu jitsu for it, but it was definitely worthwhile.  Sometimes a break is necessary.

Brick Wall

21 Mar
I came to this revelation on Julia’s blog post about getting hurt in class:

“Honestly, until I started jiu jitsu I almost never cried. Even before when I did jiu jitsu (when I first started, about seven years ago, before my 4-year hiatus), I never cried from jiu jitsu. Now that I think about it, I honestly believe part of the reason I cry more is because I’m closer to more of the people I train with and as a result, I’m more emotionally “open”. Awful as it sounds, it’s so tempting to try and put those walls up again so I can at least function like a normal person.”

I’ve been feeling this for months now, but until now I just couldn’t put it into words and identify it.   And now that I finally know what’s going, I think I can fix it.

I’m tired of being that girl.  I need to be able to function again without worrying about breaking down when things get hard or I get hurt.  I need to be able to brush things off and keep going, and not get so touchy about things that aren’t personal.  So a brick wall is going up.  I’m not taking anything personally.  I’m not special and I don’t expect anything from anyone.  I’m going to pass my blue belt test and then focus on vet school, at least until finals are over three weeks from now. 

Belt test review…epic fail.

20 Mar
Warning: This is one of those rambling emotional posts…you might want to skip this one if you’re sick of hearing about the waterworks. 

My instructors did a blue belt test review for me today, and unfortunately it looks like I don’t know the curriculum as well as I thought I did.  We got there at 9, which gave us about two and a half hours until regular class started.  I thought that would have been plenty of time to do the review, and then maybe go grab some breakfast before class.

BIG mistake.  We barely finished in time.  It seemed like there was still material that I either didn’t know, or saw just once before (and this too was from asking one of the blue belts who had recently tested, not from class).  Also, my jiu jitsu memory appears to be like a sieve–I can’t remember anything until I’ve done it multiple times, even if I just did it the day before.  Then there were the moves that I thought I knew, but I was doing it wrong.  I know a big part of it is obviously me, but I can’t help but feel frustrated at the fact that a lot of the curriculum is self-defense, which we don’t really work on a whole lot.  I feel like I’m learning things just for a test, and I’m not really sure why these moves are deemed important enough to be in the curriculum but not so important that they’re part of the regular rotation of moves taught in class.  Obviously I’ve had times where I’ve been out for weeks and I’ve had to miss classes, but there are just a lot of things that we don’t do because they’re not really what people come in to learn Brazilian Jiu Jitsu for.  Also, there’s a lot of headlock defense stuff that we don’t do too much of because…well, BJJ players don’t really pull headlocks that much. Going over it again now, I think I know it.  I really need to drill this stuff next week, and go over it in my head at least two times a day.  I really owe them (and the coach’s son, for coming in and being my throwing dummy) for coming in on a Saturday morning.

They started class as soon as my review finished.  I was really tired and wanted to go home, but felt bad just leaving as class was starting, so I took a quick break and came back in towards the end of the warm-up.  We did a lot of drilling–basic cross choke, armbar, and triangle from guard, then guard breaks (our choice; we just had to do ten times each).  Then came the “fun” part–one person on bottom, one on top in cross side.  We had 30 seconds for the bottom person to escape and top to mount.  Whoever lost (if anyone) had to do five push-ups.  Then we rotated so the person on bottom stayed and the one on top moved to the next person.  Yup, guess who did about a bajillion push-ups.  Then we worked with one person starting on the back, same kind of deal: back-taker works to submit, back-taken works to escape.  Most people were blue belts or higher, so I wasn’t expecting to “win” any of these rounds, but I kept getting frustrated and more and more upset at how completely useless my supposedly almost-blue belt-level BJJ was.  I was tired from not being able to sleep well the night before, already working for over two hours before class even started, and for some reason I just couldn’t get out of my head the feeling that I was being picked on for being the smallest one in class.  Not like for fun, but by the other smaller people, because I’m smaller than them and they can finally work on someone so they take full advantage of it.  The end of every round was an exercise in holding it together and not crying (or at least, letting people tell they were tears and not sweat).  Our last round, I go with a pretty strong (but not huge) blue belt, and I can feel him really working for his choke.  He has it in, but it’s not really applied right, and then right before time ends, he tries to switch arms and instead ends up grinding his forearm into my larynx, sending me into a gross hacking/retching fit.

I know it was an accident.  But the mean negative part of me that’s been growing lately is convinced that he was getting frustrated at not being able to choke a little white belt girl and so he did what he had to do to make me tap.  They gave us  a water break after that, but I could feel myself on the edge of a breakdown, so I discretely changed and left, hoping no one would try to talk to me on the way out.

There’s something more that’s wrong than just frustration with jiu jitsu, I know this.  Even as I write this, just thinking about it is making me emotional again.  Part of me is turning into an emotional wreck that cries when something is hard.  The other part is turning into a nasty beast that blames everyone else for her problems.  This is everything I used to not be and I hate it and I’m scared.  I want to say it’s just vet school frustration and the jiu jitsu on top is what pushes me over the edge, but what if it’s not?

Later I found out that one of my coaches thinks I’m having too-frequent breakdowns in class.  He saw the whole thing that happened yesterday, and saw that they guy didn’t intentionally go for a calf crusher and thought I might have overreacted a little.  I will readily admit: I don’t think he was going for a calf crusher.  I don’t think that was his intention at all.  But I’m still upset that, to me, it felt like he didn’t release me until I tapped, even after I yelled out.  And then he brought up another episode that happened last week, when Jess decided to grab me, turn me upside down (pinning my arms to my side in the process), and then let me drop down a little.  I started freaking out and it just got worse once she put me down.  No, I clearly didn’t want to cry.  I don’t think it was an appropriate reaction.  But is it overreacting?  I don’t know.  Maybe he can be turned upside down, arms pinned to his sides, and feel like he was being dropped on his head.  And the worst part was that I felt like if I struggle to get out, I WOULD have fallen on my head, with no way to protect myself.  I had ZERO control in that situation, and it sucked.  I know she’s just having fun, but she’s not that much heavier than I am.  This is another one of those picking-on-the-small-person moments–she’s not doing it be mean, but I feel like she was taking a little too much advantage of the fact that I’m smaller than her and she can throw me around.  And she’s a brown belt, so it’s not like I could really do anything to stop her.  She felt really bad about it after and apologized, so I don’t think this kind of thing is going to happen again, but I just hate that it’s coming up again.  I don’t like it when I cry, and I don’t like being reminded of it.

Anyways, I went to a nature park after I left the school.  I blasted My Chemical Romance on the way, which made me feel better right away.  One of the guides had their red-tailed hawk out, so he talked about her for awhile, and then their vet was also outside sunning their albino box turtle, so I talked to her for a bit also before going on a walk.  I felt so much lighter just seeing the hawk, and I really feel like I cleared my head.  Of course, revisiting it all right now brought all those feelings back, but I’m hoping that now I’ve let them out, they’ll stay in the interwebz and out of my head.  I mean, life is good, right?  I am so lucky.  I’m in school for my dream career (of which I’m nearly 3/4 of the way through), I’m in good health, I learn BJJ at a school with two black belts (who came in for ME on a Saturday morning to do a test review!) and a high-level brown belt and it’s not that far away or too expensive,  I finally have pets in my life, a family that loves me, people who care about me, food in the fridge and a roof over my head.  What more could I possibly want? 

One of those days…

18 Mar
Well, most of the day was actually pretty nice.  It was just later in the evening that went downhill.  I lifted today, and went for a hike at a nearby nature center because it was so nice outside. 

Beginner’s class went fine; we mostly worked on self-defense from the back.  At the end we did a bunch of short rounds.  One of my rounds was with a really big new guy, and while I did survive, it was frustrating not being able to take advantage of his obvious mistakes, like getting my guard passed instead of armbarring him when he practically handed me his arm in my guard. 

Advanced class was somewhat simple, and now that I think about it was probably (at least partially) for my benefit.  We started with drilling an armbar just spinning your hips around to either side, then progressed to omoplatas.  The technique was a sweep or an armbar if they put a leg up and spinning your leg around.  For the sweep, hook your arm under their leg when they put their leg up.  Move your leg on that side up to clamp on their back, and bring the other leg around.  If they try to hunch down and tuck their head in, sweep by swinging your leg back, down under them, and push over with your clamped leg and bring that leg down as you come up, so you’re in mount.  For the armbar, start with the same set-up and take it if they try to posture up and have their head straight up. 

After that, we did our guard-pass drill, and that’s when shit went down. 

I went into this one blue belt guy’s guard to start.  We’ve had our issues in the past, partially because he’s really big and strong and sometimes he likes to mess around with people, and partially because I’m much smaller than him and “messing around” for him means “getting hurt” for me.  But I thought we were past these things and I was ok rolling with him again.  As I’m working to pass his guard, I’m not exactly sure what happened, but he made a quick move and grabbed something and the next thing I know, my calf is getting crushed and my knee is at kind of a weird angle.  I freaked out and yelped (mostly likely dropped some f-bombs), and he did nothing.  Then I tapped and he let go. I’m still sort of freaking out, about to hyperventilate, both from the pain and from getting stuck in that weird whatever-it-was, and one of my coaches came over and sent the guy away.  I told him I was ok and he pulled me up to go walk it off, but for some reason I just keep getting more and more upset about it.  I take a seat facing the back wall, and I did nothing but breathe and tried to relax.  Then my coach came over again, asked me if I was really ok, and then I started getting upset and almost crying again.  That’s when he told me it seems like something more happened than what I let on, and then he walked away so I could collect myself.  It took me a little while, but I finally managed to calm down enough to join the class for the last few rounds of sparring.

As I’m changing out after class, I started thinking about what happened in my head and once again, I started getting upset about it.  I changed fast and left, and called my boyfriend (who also trains) once I got to my car.  Shocker of all shockers, I started bawling as soon as I called him.  I tried to explain what happened, except he basically bullied me into going back into the school and talking to my instructors.  I tried to convince him I could do it another day, but he wasn’t having any of it.

So I go back into the academy, and of course the guy who this happened with was there, and he asked if I was ok, to which I said “no” and then I kind of got into with him, asking him why he did what he did, and then why he had to wait until I tapped to let go when it was obvious that I was in pain and needed out immediately.  He said that he had gotten his wrist stuck under my leg, and couldn’t let go until I moved.  Of course, talking about it got me upset again, and I got more so when he told me I needed to calm down.  One of our other instructors had kind of worked his way on over by this point, so I just told the guy to forget about it and went and talked to my instructor.  I apologized for making a scene and explained my side of the story.  As I’m explaining what happened to him, our third instructor also comes in so he can hear it.  I kind of held it together, but for whatever reason, every time I try to talk about it I get upset.  In the end, he basically tells me that this guy does sometimes mess around with people, he’s so strong he sometimes doesn’t realize how much pressure he can be putting on someone.  But he would talk to him about it, and then asked me how I would like him to handle it as my instructor; if not rolling with him was a choice I wanted.  For now, I definitely think that’s best, because I just don’t feel safe rolling with him.  

I don’t know why I get so upset when things like this happen.  There’s no serious harm done, and as far as I can tell he didn’t mean to really hurt me.  But something about the incident scared me, and his intent still remains cloudy to me, and I just can’t fathom what was going on in his head.  Does he forget I’m small and skinny?  Does he forget that I’m not Jess, the brown belt?  Or does he really just not think about what he’s about to pull?  Or is it more my fault for freaking out over getting stuck in a really awkward position that just took time to get out of?  Let me make something clear, I hate crying.  I almost never do it.  There are certain times, like finding out my cousin was in hospital with a ruptured brain aneurysm, that I just break down.  It didn’t help that situation that I was really stressed out.  Then there are certain movies, like Hotel Rwanda or Up, that I can’t help but get a little watery eyed.  But other than that, I really don’t cry.  Or rather, I didn’t cry until I started jiu jitsu.  Then I would have moments–really, every few months there would be a couple of weeks–where everything just seemed to be going wrong and it felt like certain people were being bullies.  Usually there’s other stuff going on in my life when these “crying weeks” happened, but I’m on spring break right now–I’m supposed to be relaxed!

Oh, and I’m starting to get heart palpitations again.  Wonderful. 

De La Riva Day

16 Mar
 I finally made it to the weight room again.  Now that it’s spring break,  I really should be able to work out as much as I want.   It did help that I had to be at school anyways for some Open House business.  Speaking of which, anyone and everyone in or around Knoxville, TN is invited to the annual UT College of Veterinary Medicine Open House on April 16. You get to see some really cool stuff if you come!


Lots of De La Riva today, even during the beginner’s class.  Started with established DLR when your opponent stands up in your guard–unlock your legs, grab a sleeve, sit your hips on one of their feet, put your far leg into their far hip, and wrap the other leg around the back and then inside of their inside leg, so you are at an angle to them.  If they pressure in, which they normally do when you push, take the inside leg and put that foot in the hip, take your foot that was in their far hip and drop it to behind their knee/calf, make sure your hand is around their foot (the one you’re sitting on), and straighten the leg in the hip.  If they come back down, basically stand up in base–put the hand that was grabbing a sleeve in the collar, plant the other hand and opposite foot on the ground, and get up, swinging your hips back, making sure their leg is trapped with the leg that is swinging back.

Advanced class went from there–if the DLR wasn’t as far off to the side and you’re more lined up to the person, and then step their foot back to avoid that initial sweep, put the foot that was behind the calf in the hip that is closer to you, bring the foot that was in the hip all the way across to behind their ankle, but from in front of their leg, not behind.  Push the hip down, block with the hand and other foot.  Also, you could do the same stand up in base-sweep while they’re standing.  Sit up and hug their leg and the arm you have.  Push their far side knee with your foot.  When they go to try and strip your foot with their hand, grab that hand and pull that into the hugging grip.  Keeping your head tight, drive in with your shoulder and pull back with your foot, keeping their foot clamped with yours.  When you land, you should have their wrist under their leg.  Keep it there and block the feet with your hands to come to cross side.

Andre Galvao…wow.

15 Mar
Just…blown away is all I can use to describe rolling with him.  But that came at the end.

Today at my school we hosted Andre Galvao for a seminar.  He was super nice right off the bat, and started us off with some light stretches.  We drilled a head and arm choke starting from half-guard a bit, and then he went into a bunch of half-guard stuff.  I really wish I had brought a notebook, but I’ll have to do my best with the following (and this is likely out of order and missing tons of details):
-from top half guard, get the head and arm.  Put your forehead on the mat high, near their head, relax and extend your leg to pull it out of half guard and into mount.  Switch your feet to get both on the side that your body is on, drop your body to the floor and apply the choke.
-if the person curls up and grabs their own leg to stop the choke, take the Ezekiel–the arm that is under their arm grabs your sleeve of your other arm, bring that hand up over the head.  Make sure the arm grabbing the sleeve is deep, because that’s the choking arm.  Bring your one knee into their shoulder and the other close to their back, then sit back and extend your arms in a scissor motion to apply.
-take the Ezekiel from back mount–go under one arm, use that hand to grab the sleeve of your other arm, and from there it’s pretty much the same.  You can also do this if the other person turtles. 
-also from top deep half–grab their far side knee with one hand, close side lapel with other hand (four fingers inside), swim/shoot your forearm around their head, then sit back and apply the choke.
-top deep half–if they have their arm around your leg that is closer to their head–switch your feet so your weight is on the foot closer to their head, and your other knee is either on the ground or their thigh.  Grab their hand that is wrapped around your leg and push it into your hip and bite your body down on the hand.  You can use the other hand to post out at first.  Roll over their body, so your shoulder that is closer to their head comes down first, and aim your head towards their outer hip.  From here, both your legs are kind of under your partner’s body.  The free hand should grab their belt, the other you can use to bring yourself up, and from here go one of two ways: 1) pull out the bottom leg and take their back, or 2) pull out the top leg and go for an omoplata.  If you can’t submit right away and they roll forward with you, be sure to grab their legs as they roll, and then block their upper body from coming up so you can finish.
-From top deep half, if their arm is wrapped around your leg that is farther from their head, and their other arm is hidden: use your arm that is closer to their head to reach between your body and their head (don’t trap the head!) and grab their belt.  Lean over their body and put your forehead on the mat.  Work your way down their body so your head is on their chest, and keep your belt-grabbing arm’s elbow close to your body.  Use your other leg to scoop their far side leg so they can’t upa into you.  Use your foot against their feet to break their half guard, pull out your leg and go to cross side.

I know there’s more; I just can’t remember it all!  Hopefully I’ll get to drill some of this stuff this week, so I’ll be able to make it muscle memory (at least a little) and have something to go to from top half.

After that, he wanted to spend 15-20 minutes rolling with people.  He had us all line up against the wall and then people just stepped forward as he tapped them.  One of the more annoying guys I train with decided to push me forward to “volunteer” me, although I’m actually a little glad because I didn’t want to be the over-eager white belt who got to roll with Andre Galvao before all the blues and purples.

And that was were magic happened.  My jiu jitsu sucked; I know it.  We started from standing and I went for the sloppiest double leg ever, and somehow we got to the ground.  He let me work stuff, and we even got to half guard and I “did” one of the moves we learned (I’m sure more of it was him moving for me).  And yet his rolling was so smooth it made my crap-tastic jits feel like butter.  He let me finish him with (another sloppy) armbar, and then I went off to watch him play with his other toys.

This man doesn’t have a single wasted movement.  Escaping from a position wasn’t just that–it was establishing another dominant position, or setting up another submission.  Nothing, it seemed, was done with a purpose and a plan.  I’ve watched videos of Mundials and ADCC matches and all sorts of high-level jiu jitsu, but something was just different.  Maybe it’s because such high-level athletes slow each other down and negate a lot of what the other does, or maybe he was just playing with us.  Honestly, I couldn’t care less–it just left me with a very deep appreciation for what jiu jitsu can be, and how very desperately far away from it I am.