Wednesday, January 21, 2015

The most important BJJ belt you will ever wear (or award, if you're an instructor)

It's the white belt.

Stick with me here. Your white belt is the most important belt, for a lot of reasons.

Getting your white belt signifies your commitment to start something new, even though it's hard and awkward and smelly and sweaty and weird. You've bought in. You got a gi, and got to tie that belt that represents so much possibility around your waist. You are now one of us. Welcome to the fold.

Your instructor will be thrilled to get to teach another brand new person about Brazilian Jiu Jitsu, and his/her philosophies about the style of BJJ that they teach and why. There is another member of the team on the mats every night. You, young white belt, you get to help carry this on, and be part of something larger than yourself.

That white belt represents opportunities for upper belts to open up and practice new sweeps or submissions. That white belt means you can be forgiven nearly any BJJ faux pas. Don't go biting anyone, though - there's no coming back from that.

Comments disparaging white belts (fresh meat, anyone?) are not the way to foster a team, or to recognize how important that white belt is to the academy. We all need white belts. White belts are the best practice for the "anything could happen" side of BJJ. White belts aren't interchangeable. They have homes and families and jobs and hobbies, and they are choosing to take time away from those things to learn from the upper belts, to become part of this community.

We colored belts need to remember this, and welcome them (even when they break the "rules" that they don't even know yet). Help them. Make them better. Teach them how to counter your best move. This is how you get better, too.

Instructors, when you get a new white belt, I suggest tying it on your new student with as much fanfare as you have when you award a colored belt. White belts matter. Make them a priority at your academy, and your other students will also make them a priority. Invest in these new students, even though we all know what the dropout rates are like. I'd posit that these dropout rates would decline if we made getting your white belt a bigger deal than it is, and we stopped thinking of white belts as second class citizens.

On a slightly related note, I would love to see some buddy system / mentoring system for new students. The buddy doesn't have to do anything but be a little more advanced, and commit to coming to class when the new student will be there and answer their questions about gym etiquette, etc.

I know, all of you white belts (and former white belts) all think that your next belt is the important one. The secret is, they're all important. They're all the most important one. But, if you never put that white belt on, none of the rest of them matter.

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Thoughts on training with women or training as a woman

Every few weeks, another thread on one of my favorite BJJ forums gets started that's some variation on "how do I train with the new woman" or "is it okay to ask women to roll" or "why don't the men ask me to train" and so on. This is my take on handling all of those issues, and a few more. Training is tricky enough without adding inadvertently getting to second base to the mix.  I'm curious about the tips other people have for women that train or want to train, and for men that are unsure about training with women.

If you are a woman that wants to train

1) BJJ / grappling is a contact sport. I know this seems obvious, but you need to really think about this before you start. You will likely have to overcome some issues with this. It might be that you feel a little funny wrapping your legs around a strange man's waist. It might be that having someone sit on your chest is more than you can handle. Maybe you'll be totally fine until someone accidentally pulls your hair. At some point, there will be some contact that surprises you (read: someone whose name you may not know yet is going to touch a lady-part). Odds are really good that it wasn't intentional and if you don't make it weird, it won't get weird. Just keep rolling.

2) In BJJ, some days are going to suck. You are going to lose. A lot. This happens to EVERYONE. This has nothing to do with your gender. Everyone gets the crap kicked out of them in the beginning. And, here's a little secret: it's going to happen the whole time you do BJJ, unless you magically morph into Roger Gracie sometime soon.

3) If you don't take training seriously, the other women in your gym will not treat you kindly. This means dress appropriately, remove your makeup, and don't giggle and flirt with the guys in the gym. There are still men out there that think we don't belong on "their" mats, and we don't need any women coming in that are going to make it harder for us to be taken seriously there.

4) Some guys will roll with you like it's the Mundial finals. If this is happening to you, protect yourself first. Don't get caught up in that game. "Winning" a round isn't worth getting hurt and being out for 6 weeks. Be aware of your partner's breathing, muscles tensing, etc. If he's having trouble passing your guard and you feel his frustration meter creeping into the red, give him the pass. Big deal. You're not hurt and now you get to recompose guard. Everyone needs to work on escapes. You don't need to tell him later that you gave him the pass, either. It's the gym. You're supposed to give up position sometimes. Just make a note about him, and ask him if he'll drill something next time, instead of rolling. Eventually, you'll have your own group of preferred sparring partners, but you will want a way to cope with people who you are less comfortable training with until you can trust your BJJ. And, if you're ever in doubt, tap. I can't stress this enough. I don't care if you're in a gym where you aren't allowed to tap to a position. I say that's bunk, and if you aren't comfortable (whether it's physical pain or you have a creepy feeling in your gut), you tap. Reset, or take a break if you want.

5) Some guys will never train with you. This is on them, not on you. It could be a religious thing. It could be a jealous wife/girlfriend. It could be because they're a little awkward and don't know how to ask you to train, or don't know what's "allowed" when rolling with a woman. You can ask them to train (BJJ is not the school dance, as much as it may feel that way in the beginning), or you can stick with the more friendly guys. Again, if guys don't ask you to train, you can ask them. Don't become a BJJ wallflower and wait for someone to ask you to drill or roll every night.

6) BJJ will change your life, if you give it a chance. You will make new friends (male and female). You will get into shape. You will learn a physical skill, which keeps your brain young. You will laugh and cry (please make it to the bathroom/changing room/car before the waterworks start if it's not injury-related). You will come back for more if you are stubborn and like puzzles and have never stuck with anything before because you bore easily. You were probably looking for BJJ.

If you are a man who doesn't know what to do with women at the gym

1) We won't break. You don't need to train with us like we're made of porcelain.

2) We aren't as strong as you. You don't need to Hulk Smash us every round. There is no shame in "losing" in the gym, to anyone. I'm not saying to roll over and play dead, but you aren't going to make any friends in the gym (male or female) if you're trying to steamroll people all the time.

3) If you are brand new and you are paired up with a woman wearing a blue, purple, brown, or black belt, expect that she knows a little something about BJJ. Expect that she can use what she knows to obtain a better position, and it's quite likely that she can even submit you. There is absolutely no shame in this. If, for example, she catches you in a triangle, you should not pick her up and slam her onto the mat to avoid tapping to a woman. The whole point of BJJ is for a smaller person to be able to use it against a larger one that doesn't know anything (this is you, right now). You'd be okay tapping to a dude wearing a colored belt if he were smaller than you, right? This is jiu jitsu winning, not the person wearing the belt. Jiu jitsu works.

4) We're part of your team. We're there to learn BJJ, just like you are. We aren't there to bring the bandages, ice packs, carry the Gatorade to tournaments (except for our own), and so on. We aren't the mascots or the den mothers. We are grapplers, just like you.

5) Sometimes, your hands are going to end up in places that they probably shouldn't touch. If we've been training a while, we know that. It's cool. A quick "sorry" and move on is sufficient. Oh, and we know the difference between someone posting and someone, well, groping. So, no cheap thrills. We know.

If you are a man or a woman that isn't sure how to train with another man or woman

1) Get off of the internets and talk to them. Ask them if they'd be more comfortable just drilling or flow rolling or if there's too much pressure or if you're being too much of a limp dishtowel. We give our partners constant feedback in the form of pressure and resistance with our bodies. Sometimes, we can use our words, too. Just ask the question, and then listen. The answer could change from day to day. At the end of the day, we all tend to over-think all of this too much. Grapple one another with a little common sense and all will go fine. Don't go after someone the size of a 14 year old like they stole your lunch money. Don't wonder if you're rolling the "right" way. Roll with some decorum (as much as possible while laughing at fart jokes, anyway).

Friday, March 18, 2011

What does it mean to win in the gym?

I post on a lot of BJJ forums. In other news, the sky is blue. I know. This is not news. Every week or two, there is another new post from a grappler, talking about "winning" in the gym. The post is usually one of a few different types. First, the grappler is brand new and wants to know when *he's going to start winning rounds. Normally, he means he wants to know when he's going to start submitting other grapplers. The second type is from the grappler who's been training for a few months (usually 4-6) and has "caught" an upper belt. He doesn't know that the upper belt is working on something new or is letting him work, etc. and foolishly brags about it on an internet forum. Then, there's the "I should have my X belt" or "how long will it take me to get my X belt" folks.

So, after seeing all of these threads (and at least a hundred variations of each one), I thought I'd talk about what I think it means to 'win' in your academy. First, winning is reserved for places where cash, medals, trophies, belts, or even swords are on the line. Hands are raised, referees are involved, etc. When you're training with your team, you're both winning. You're both getting better at jiu jitsu (ideally). That's sort of the point here. You actually can lose in your academy. Read on to find out how.

Ways to lose in the academy:
1) Only play your A game (which means you never develop any other game)
2) Only train with people that you are better than
3) Hang out in safe positions (hello, half guard of desperation!)
4) Take no risks

Are you seeing a trend here? The best way to lose is to never put yourself in a position to LEARN. You're paying good money for those ass kickings. Take them with a smile. Learn from them. Stopping someone from passing your guard by holding them in your half guard (I am so, so, SO guilty of this - so much that I'm pretty sure I'm the reason for a new rule in our academy) doesn't mean you 'won'. No one won. You had a boring round where no one got better at jiu jitsu. If you're stalling in half guard bottom, give up the pass and figure out how your opponent got there so you can stop him next time.

If there's, say, a 130 lb brown belt woman (hi, Marissa!) in your academy that armbars you 82 times in 5 minutes, don't avoid rolling with her. Learn to keep your arms safe. "Win" by making her switch to a triangle to tap you next time. (This is how I "win" when I train with Marissa, anyway - it's the little things in life.)

Set attainable goals for yourself that constitute a win for the day. Hit the sweep you've been working on against someone 1 belt above you. WIN! Work out the details of a new guard pass or the bow & arrow choke. WIN! Successfully defend an armbar against Marissa. DOUBLE WIN! (Trust me.)

If the only way you think you can win is by tapping someone out, you're going to spend a long time and a lot of frustrated hours losing. The academy is your home. Your teammates are like your big, dysfunctional family. Learn with them. Learn from them. If someone keeps doing something to you that you just can't puzzle out, ask them how to defend it. If they show you the defense, you BOTH win. Know why? Now you both have to get better at jiu jitsu. It's awesome that way.

*I'm saying he/his for ease of typing. Women want to win just much as men, though.

Monday, January 3, 2011

2010 BJJ Stats

I trained 126 times in 2010. I also had to take most of February, all of March, and some of April off for surgery.

This doesn't count days where I trained in back to back classes (or back to back to back), or am then pm classes. This also doesn't count competing, since I didn't do it a single time. I'll be improving that in 2011.

Still, my numbers are up from 2009 by a good bit, so I'm happy. Here's to raising them even more in 2011.
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Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Open letter to gi manufacturers

If you make a gi for women, we will appreciate it. If you take a woman's build into account, we will be even more likely buy your gi. It is not necessary to cover the gi with Pepto Bismol pink accents (or, Doogie Howser forbid, make a solid pink gi) to entice us. Really, standard white/blue/black gis are fine. Honest. Just make them fit us and we'll be happy. Honestly, I don't even care if you want to keep making the pink ones for the women that like them, but could you please, PLEASE give those of us that don't want to be dressed like a Care Bear some decent options?

Grumpy Bear

Tuesday, June 8, 2010


After nearly 5 years of training BJJ, I have my first black eye. I don't think it's going to be a terribly impressive black eye, but it's all mine.

In other news, I had four women in class again tonight, and I feel like I'm getting the timing of the class down a little better. Tonight, we had a brand new woman, so that slowed things down a little bit and I didn't show the submission I was planning to show. Ah, week. I'd much rather make sure that they feel good about what I did show, instead of rushing them through the things on my lesson plan. I also feel like they're getting the things that I show them, which is cool. I wish I had more time to watch them sparring in the regular classes to see if they're remembering things and trying them on larger opponents. I'll have to remember to do that soon.

Now that I'm done icing my eye (with a bag of lima beans), it's bed time.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

One month down

The first four women's classes are in the books. Well, technically, they're in my handy little Sasquatch notebook. True story. The classes are going well, and Rachel gets a gold star for perfect attendance (or she would if I had any gold stars). Last night, there were 4 women in class, which is a new record. I was really excited to have 4 women last night because I showed my favorite armbar from s-mount. I'm figuring out the timing of things, and keeping another idea or two for each class in the back of my head in case I need filler. More often, I end up needing to skip something in order to make sure we have time for positional sparring. I've noticed that some women tend to bail at the end of regular classes without sparring, so I want to make sure that they're getting a little bit of that in this class.

Speaking of sparring, I'm back in that achy saddle. I sparred for the first time last Wednesday (5/19), and then again Monday and Tuesday nights. I'm taking tonight off so that I will be semi-fresh for tomorrow night, and then heading off to Orlando to look at a venue on Friday.

In other news, Brian should be able to officially destroy his crutches in a few more hours. I'm keeping my fingers crossed - the sooner he's off of the crutches, the sooner he can walk around and get things off of the top shelves for me.