Nogi

My new McHugh BJJ rashguard.
Peer pressured (in a friendly way by a coach/friend), I tried my first nogi class last week and had a great time! For anyone not familiar with jiu jitsu, nogi is simply jiu jitsu without the gi. On the plus side, the rash guard is amazingly comfortable and it’s nice not to have the weight and stiffness of the gi slowing me down. My main negative is there are no grips to hold onto and the human body is very slippery, especially a sweaty human body in a rash guard! But everyone else is in the same boat.

Instead of holding onto the gi sleeves and lapels, we try to directly control elbows, wrists, hips, and so on. It was a real challenge but also a lot of fun. The upper belts and coaches have said that training nogi helps your gi game. Because if you can do a move without grips in nogi, getting grips in the gi becomes a bonus.

Now that McHugh’s is offering a noon class every day, I want to get to as many of them as possible and Wednesdays are always nogi so there it is. Just adding another tool to the toolbox.

McHugh Brazilian Jiu Jitsu

Well, I’m a White Belt So….

My neighbor and friend started doing Jiu Jitsu with me. I was so excited when she mentioned casually that she wanted to try it and turns out, she likes it. So yay! I took the first class with her and was her training partner. It was so very nice to help a newbie who is even newer than me. I felt like I actually knew something. Not that I’m a jiu jitsu teacher or anything but I love helping people with this kind of stuff. That’s one reason I became a personal trainer 7 years ago.

Anyway, after a few starts and stops, she sent me pictures of her neck and arm, proudly displaying her bruises. I welcomed her to jiu jitsu. And then she told me she was frustrated. After 3 classes, she was frustrated. I had to laugh. I’m frustrated after the equivalent of 7 months and I don’t think this is the end of frustration. I did 4 months when I first started and have been consistently training since March now.

A couple of nights later in class, I was overtired, had overtrained for the week, and was close to tears as I realized I couldn’t remember how to do something I had drilled repeatedly that morning. I mean, how can you totally suck at something only hours after going over it again and again in a private session? But there it is. I suck and it’s frustrating. I feel like I should be better. When I told Coach Tony the next day about all this, he laughed at both me and my friend. He said that saying I was frustrated at not being better is just as ridiculous as my friend saying it. We are both beginners. A white belt, by definition, is a beginner. We’re not expected to be good. In fact, when I think about it, it’s a little liberating to be allowed to suck. When you’re at the bottom, the only way to go is up. And I think I’ll keep going.

Recommended reading from an excellent jiu jitsu blog: Why it’s cool to suck at jiu jitsu

Look for the Little Wins

Learning Jiu Jitsu has to be the most humbling experience of my life. It takes years to get good at it and has been compared to running a marathon as opposed to a sprint. I clearly have no natural talent for grappling and struggle learning every new move. In class, my training partners have to talk me through every new technique and sometimes I still don’t get it. I definitely forget everything for live training. In Randori (live training after class), my training partners frequently spend the whole session sitting on top of me, with me unable to escape.
Kimura in Class
Since it’s hard to see progress on a day to day basis, Coach Tony told me that I have to look for the little wins along the way. So that’s what I’ve been doing. If I can get out from under, it’s a win. If I go for 5 minutes without getting submitted, it’s a win. If I can successfully use a technique that I learned in class, it’s a win. If I stay uninjured, it’s a huge win. I haven’t submitted anyone yet, but now I find a win almost every session. This is a new mindset for me that I didn’t have 2 years ago when I first started training Jiu Jitsu, and it has changed everything.
Hip Toss in Class
A couple of weeks ago, I got the best win so far. I earned my second stripe! It’s a small thing but to me, it’s a major win. In fact, I almost teared up when Coach Tony called me up. And I smiled for a week after getting it. It makes me want to train even harder, which is also a win.
Second Stripe

Next – Well, I’m a White Belt So…

Jiu Jitsu Roll

I’m combining my love of visual art and the “Gentle Art” or Jiu Jitsu here. This is pen and ink on watercolor paper. I had thought of adding some color but like it in black and white. I wasn’t sure of the scribble style but have decided I like it as it has a very energetic feel to it. I’ll be doing more Jiu Jitsu-related art going forward.

Changing Goals

Note: This post was originally written and posted on another website on September 20, 2015. I’m reposting it here to provide context to the continuing story of my fitness and my Brazilian Jiu Jitsu Journey.

Such a dork getting my one and only stripe.

This is a tough post to write, but seeing it in black and white signals the end of any hope that I might return to Brazilian Jiu Jitsu. After only 4 months of training and earning my 1 stripe, I am giving it up. You might find it ironic that so many of my posts and inspirational messages and images contain the “Never Give Up” message. And yet, here I am quitting.

I’ve been thinking about it a lot. Quitting BJJ absolutely breaks my heart. I loved training, even though I wasn’t any good at all. You can read about my adventure here. After only 4 months, I will miss my training partners and my school. Oddly enough, I also worry that these new friends will think less of me for leaving.

I have no other excuse for quitting except for physical limitations. The training led to several injuries that will take some time to recover from. I know most of the students in my school are injured at one time or another. They don’t seem to have a problem returning to class. At 53, I just don’t heal as fast as I used to. Grappling is harder on the body than I expected, and I guess I’m not as willing to risk debilitating injury as I used to be.

Jiu Jitsu badges of honor.

Over the past 2 months, I have spent way too much time getting medical tests to check on various injuries. I had an ultrasound to check for a trauma induced blood clot. It was fortunately negative. I also had an x-ray and MRI for my spine. And now I’m in physical therapy to help heal a lower lumbar strain. I still don’t know how I’ll deal with the previously undetected scoliosis, bulging discs, arthrosis, and annular tear that the MRI discovered.

MRI Images

At some point, no matter how much you believe in never quitting, your body may simply not be able to play the game. Your goals change. Your focus moves elsewhere. My goal has become broader than being a Jiu Jitsu student. It is changing to becoming healthy again and staying fit. My hope is that even if I can’t do Jiu Jitsu, I can return to doing some of the really fun stuff that I did before in my regular workouts. For at least the time being, I have to stop doing deadlifty kinds of things, weighted squats and lunges, and jumps.

I keep telling myself that it will take more than this to hold me back or keep me down. But my goals are changing and my definition of success looks different than it did 6 months ago. I’m still trying to convince myself that it’s not necessarily a bad thing, just different.

———-Stay Tuned! This story isn’t over yet!———-

Next – Kickboxing Fun

On Being a Good Teammate

Note: This post was originally written and posted on another website on August 10, 2015. I’m reposting it here to provide context to the continuing story of my fitness and especially my Brazilian Jiu Jitsu Journey.

This past weekend, a lot of my classmates/training partners/teammates from McHugh Brazilian Jiu Jitsu competed at NAGA in Wildwood. A bunch of them brought home Gold and Silver medals, including some who were competing for the first time.

I’m so impressed and inspired by all of them, whether or not they won! Not everyone competes and at this point, with a back injury and unstable hips, I don’t think I will anytime soon, if ever. So my thoughts have been on how you can be a good teammate when you aren’t likely to bring home a medal. Even if you don’t compete, here are 3 ways to add value to your team.

Be a good training partner: Learn as fast and as much you can so you can push your classmates in class and in live practice. The better you are, the better the workout you can give someone else.

Be a good friend: Doing something like BJJ requires very close physical contact with your training partners. Friendly competition requires respect and consideration of the people you work with, both on and off the mat.

Be a good cheerleader: Always lift your teammates up. They are working hard to achieve their results. Be proud that your training sessions with them makes you a part of their success.

Congratulations #TeamMcHugh!

Next – Changing Goals

Adventures in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu

Note: This post was originally written and posted on another website on July 28, 2015. I’m reposting it here to provide context to the continuing story of my fitness and especially my Brazilian Jiu Jitsu Journey.

Stretching after class and before Randori.

This spring I officially became a student of Brazilian Jiu Jitsu, otherwise known as “The Gentle Art”. Brazilian Jiu Jitsu or BJJ is a fairly modern martial art. It was developed in the early 20th century by the Gracie family of Brazil as a way for a smaller, weaker person to defend and win over a larger, stronger opponent. This is why its methods are frequently used in women’s self-defense classes.

It looks a lot like wrestling although there are no penalties for being on your back. In fact, a lot of offensive moves are begun on the back. It’s basically ground fighting, using leverage, timing, and skill to submit your opponent. If you’ve watched mma, you’ve probably seen some jiu jitsu techniques when they take the fight to the ground. Techniques include arm and leg locks, and chokes of all kinds.

Trying to prevent getting arm-barred.

I have to laugh at the “Gentle Art” translation. It doesn’t feel very gentle when your gi collar is wrapped around your neck and you’re starting to turn purple. Trying to learn jiu jitsu has been the most humbling experience I’ve ever had. Although I’ve been active and fairly coordinated my whole life, nothing has prepared me for this. I’m terrible at it. I’m never sure exactly what my body is doing or should be doing most of the time. One of my training partners, a young man who outranks me with a blue belt was trying to help me with a particular move and finally asked, “What are you doing with your toes?” I had no idea! Toes were not part of the moves I was supposed to be learning. It’s like they don’t belong to me anymore.

Despite the sweatiness and hard knocks, I love jiu jitsu. I can’t even say why when most of the time I’m getting arm-barred or choked and submitted. What do you do when you really like doing something, but you’re not so good at it? How do you stay motivated when you suck at what you love?

Practicing standing guard passes.

BJJ is known for being a difficult martial art to master, taking 5 to 15 years to finally earn a black belt, with the average being about 10 years. I’ve been taking classes for about 4 months and it’s hard to see any improvement. Malcolm Gladwell says in his book “Outliers” that it takes 10,000 hours to achieve mastery in any given field. I’ve calculated that at the rate I attend class, it will take approximately 67 years to master Jiu Jitsu.

The Brazilian Jiu Jitsu belt system goes from white, to blue, purple, brown and then finally to black. Stripes are awarded on the way from belt to belt. My white belt has one stripe. This is based largely on attendance, and is given when the Professor decides you will survive live practice. Live practice, known as Randori,  is held after formal class. When I got my stripe, I assumed it was actually a “pity stripe”, given so I wouldn’t quit too quickly. But I’ll take it. I can stay for Randori, sparring or what we call “rolling” with several different partners and getting more experience. Everyone assures me that it’s just a matter of time and practice. but I have to work on my attitude and impatience because learning this is going to be slow.

Passing closed guard.

There are three things I try to keep in mind when things don’t go well and I’m struggling to stay motivated.

First, I try to remember that I wanted a new challenge. Silly me. What was I thinking? I wanted to prove to myself that I’m not too old, too weak, or too closed-minded to learn something new. But when my body hurts the next day, I wonder if I’m just crazy.

Second, I focus on the enjoyment I get with each incremental improvement, however small. If I manage to protect my arms during a roll, I count that as a win. If I sweep someone or roll them over, I practically celebrate. There is something gratifying about doing any small thing right in the middle of being so awful.

Third, I keep going. I show up twice a week as often as possible. I know that going more would allow for faster improvement, but it takes me time to recover and I don’t want to get injured, putting me really behind. Consistency is my best contribution to our classroom setting. I might be awful, but I’m consistently there, providing my training partners a body to practice all their submissions on. Tossed around like a rag doll, maybe I’ll even get better in the process.

All in all, practicing Brazilian Jiu Jitsu has been a positive in my life. It replaced running as an activity, and complements my weight training. If I have to stop at some point, it won’t be from a lack of motivation or enjoyment, but because I physically can’t do it any more. If you can motivate yourself, you’ll never be without a cheerleader, no matter how bad you are.

As Paul Coffey says, “Nobody’s a natural. You work hard to get good and then work to get better.”

Next – On Being a Good Teammate