It’s the Little Things

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I had a friend who once told me about a journal she had that each day she had to write down what she was grateful for. The journal spanned over a year and you couldn’t repeat anything, each acknowledgement had to be unique. She said at first it was easy. You go with the basics: family, friends, job, health, home, etc. Eventually it gets harder and harder. That was where this journal really becomes more than just a journal. Eventually it forces you to really appreciate the little things in your life that often times go unnoticed or overlooked. You train yourself to find the good in the little things.

BJJ reminds me of this journal.

The road in BJJ is curvy and hilly and complicated. You pass through so many different challenges and just when you think you’ve got one under control another challenge presents itself. Some days it’s feels like a million challenges are thrown at you all at once. It is a never ending learning process. It can become easy to focus on your shortcomings and let frustration get the best of you. There are many days I have wondered, “Am I ever going to get better?”

That’s when you have to start training yourself to find the good in the little things. To appreciate that progress is progress no matter how small. For me, BJJ is just as much about mental growth as it is about physically getting techniques down. I think being able to search and dig out those little positive points makes you a better person. It’s a skill that no doubt will bleed into other areas of your life.

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I tend to be really hard on myself and if I don’t perform the way I think I should, I can develop a really bad attitude. I start beating myself up and sometimes have a hard time enjoying what I’m doing because of it. Sure, most would call it being a sore loser. I call it a mix of being competitive and a perfectionist. Basically, I really suck at sucking at something. It’s not that I’m an asshole to someone else, I am a asshole to myself.

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BJJ has been the first thing that I have done that really, on all levels, has challenged me. It is forcing me to be a better person. Not just in physical skill, but as a person in general. It is teaching me to find those little things to be grateful for. For months I would leave class mad at myself and frustrated. Sometimes I would cry on the drive home. Today, I have learned that I need to find the positive, the victory, no matter how small before I leave. It makes it so much easier to leave and live in a positive mindset. And, since I’ve been doing this I find that I am just a much more positive, happy person in general.

The benefits of BJJ are no doubt seeping into my everyday life. That’s amazing.

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Starting today and for 2017 my goal/challenge is going to be to find the good in the little things and to focus on staying positive, no matter what is thrown at me in BJJ. After every class I am going to share in my posts here my victory for that class. Something that I noticed progress in.

BJJ “Focus on the Positive” Challenge, Day 1 – When I first started I couldn’t bridge with someone on top of me. I felt so weak and the idea of being able to lift someone up that was sitting on me seemed impossible! Last night I happened to notice during some mount escape drilling that I can bridge so much better and with much more explosiveness. Progress!

Just a Piece of Tape

By this time a year ago, in a time frame of two and half years, I had received 14 belts from a McDojo.

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Orange, yellow, green, purple, blue, blue phase 2, brown phase 1, brown phase 2, brown phase 3, brown phase 4, red phase 1, red phase 2, red phase 3, and red phase 4.

Or, bullshit, bullshit, bullshit, bullshit, bullshit phase 2, etc.

Every two months we participated in a big production they called testing and at the end we got a new belt. They should just call it a fool’s dance.

I beg of you to watch this video. It doesn’t disappoint.

 

Good stuff, right? Legit badasses, right? You’re welcome.

There are zero standards for advancement and surprisingly what most people that participate in this don’t see is that it’s not about your skill and rewarding that. It’s about profit. That’s why we paid ridiculous testing fees, tested so often, and went through so many different belts. It’s all about getting as many people to test as possible and having as many belts to go through as possible.

Cha Ching.

They don’t give a crap about you actually learning the skills to be a real black belt. And yes, I’m calling your black belt bullshit. Sorry. Not sorry.

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If skill was a priority there wouldn’t be kids that are 3rd degree black belts or 1st degree black belts that can’t do a side kick without falling over.

“Standards shm-andards,” says the McDojo.

It’s all about watering it down, making it easy, and everyone passing so that their students always come back for more.

I, much to my embarrassment, did the dance at this “testing” and walked up there 14 times to get 14 different belts. Each time I always thought testing was going to be fun and that getting a new belt was going to mean something to me. But, each time I left feeling a little empty and disappointed. I would look at my new belt and new certificate that said I had earned the rank of blah blah blah and something about it never ended up feeling like I thought it was going to.

See, that’s the thing. When you don’t earn it, and deep down you know you didn’t earn it, it doesn’t mean anything to you. It’s a participation award.

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Fuck participation awards.

Yesterday, I received the second strip on my white belt at Springfield Fight Club.

That one piece of tape meant more to me than all 14 of those ridiculously stupid belts before. Combined. It doesn’t even compare, not even a little bit.

In the end, I know it’s just a piece of tape, but I can’t help but to reflect on what it represents to me. It’s a piece of tape that proves that I worked hard, I learned, I survived, I grew, I persevered, I didn’t give up.

I. Earned. It.

There was blood. There was enough sweat that I’m slightly embarrassed as a woman that I put out that volume of bodily fluid. There were tears many, many times over. And, every hard second and moment was worth it to be where I am today.

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In this last year I have went through so many ups and downs and highs and lows and everything in between. I got my ass kicked on almost a daily basis and here I am, still chugging along, stronger than ever, and excited about my BJJ future.

I also found out that I am only the second girl to make it this far at SFC. That’s proof to me of how hard and how special this is. How non-participation-McDojo-y it is. (There I go, making up words again.) Finding that out filled me with so much determination and motivation to continue the path I’m on. To go where only one before me has gone. Miranda has been a continued inspiration for me, blazing the trail for the girls at SFC. I hope to follow that trail and continue showing that us girls can do this.

One of the cool things about standing there and watching people get new stripes is realizing what they have gone through to get there. As they started getting into the purple belts and the brown belts I couldn’t help but to think about how long they have been doing this and how much dedication that takes. Being in the presence of these people in that moment was quite amazing and inspiring. These guys have started at the bottom and risen above to achieve something very few in this world do.

The whole process made me feel very lucky to be a part of the SFC family. It’s one badass family to belong to.

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Now, I know it’s no major award…

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…but I still have to say some thank yous.

My husband, Mike, has been a constant source of encouragement.

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He has lent an ear for me to vent to too many times to count and always stands by my side in battle against the demons from my past that bubble up from time to time. In return for this service he provides for me, he gets to kick my ass on a daily basis without the assault charges.

To those of you that have pushed me, believed in me, and kicked my ass all for the sake of making me better, thank you. I can be an absolute mess sometimes, in my head and struggling with simple social tasks, and you guys never make me feel like shit for it. There are so many of you that I don’t know if I would be where I’m at if it wasn’t for you believing in me.

Thank you so much.

It feels great to be a two-stripe white belt, even if it is “just a piece of tape.”

Survival

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I am currently floating around on a BJJ high.

Yesterday, at open gym, I had the opportunity to test out my BJJ progress on a newbie. Not just any newbie. A young man that was about 100 lbs. larger than me.

I watched him roll with my husband and his strength and youthful explosiveness was undeniable. I don’t know how new he is to BJJ, but he did seem to know a few basics. At one point when my husband got to mount he pretty much picked him up and threw him in the air. If you know my husband, he’s not a small guy. I don’t think I’ve ever seen someone bench press him like that. In the end though, jiu-jitsu beat out strength.

After it was over I heard, “Hey Allison. You should roll with him.”

On the outside I smile. On the inside I’m thinking, “You’re insane! This guy will murder me.”

But hey, I love a challenge and honestly, I’ll roll with anybody just for the experience.

Here we go. Six minutes on the timer. Six minutes of me getting tossed around like a rag doll and smashed to death. Six minutes of oh-my-god-I’m-going-to-die.

I knew from the get-go that I absolutely could not let this guy get on top of me. That would mean instant death. I attacked his legs to try to take him down and he went for several chokes from there. He laid on his back and had me in a guillotine at one point. I remembered the escape and cartwheeled to the opposite side and slipped my head out.

Survival.

I remember thinking at this point, “I actually have this guy on his back! I actually have him in side control! This is insanity!” After holding control and smashing for a bit, I slide my knee across his belly and went to mount. I should have known this was a bad spot after watching him throw my husband out of this position. He did the same to me, but I somewhat held on with my legs and as he rolled over I locked up my guard.

Survival.

From there he smashed me and had a pretty gnarly crossface going. I look over at the clock and we are at two minutes, 30 seconds to go. I couldn’t believe that I, so far, had lasted that long with this guy. He was trying to pin my arm out as he smashed me and when his weight shifted I managed to scramble on top.

Survival.

He got me in his guard and had my arm in a pretty tight grip and went for an armbar. I stood up and stacked him and almost had my arm out when he did a super pull on my arm and thrust his hips to the moon. I tapped with a minute and 30 seconds left. Surviving is great, keeping my elbow in tact is better.

I sat there afterwards absolutely stunned. What just happened!?

I get that to a non-BJJ-er you might not get it yet. I rolled with a guy and lost. I’ve been doing BJJ for a year and he’s new and he still beat me. What’s so great about that?

WHAT’S SO GREAT ABOUT THAT?! Jiu-jitsu, dumbass!

I am a 36-year-old woman. A year ago I couldn’t do anything. A-N-Y-T-H-I-N-G. Anything. A guy on his first day would have completely dominated me, smashed me, and submitted me over and over. I was lucky to survive 30 seconds with someone. I would have been stuck on the bottom most likely tapping to just pressure. If it would have been a real-life situation I would have died.

Today, I am still a 36-year-old woman, but I am a 36-year-old woman that has a year of BJJ under her belt. What a difference that makes. I was able to handle a younger, bigger, stronger man and made it extremely difficult for him to defeat me. I grappled with him and survived for four and half minutes. In real life he might have broken my arm, but chances are I would have already gotten away when I had him on his back.

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Survival.

Isn’t that a big part of life? Being able to survive. Persist. Continue. Endure. Live on.

In a year I have been formed and forged by SFC and BJJ into my own living weapon that gives me the opportunity and skills to survive against a man. A bigger, stronger man. That is survival gold for women.

BJJ is the shit, people. The shit.

I know I am starting to sound like a broken record stuck on repeat, but ladies if you aren’t doing BJJ you are really missing out. BJJ is really that awesome and really that beneficial to us women.

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I get it though. It’s rolling around with sweaty men and at times you are up close and personal with certain areas of the body that might make you uncomfortable. It’s super challenging and frustrating and so many times it feels like it’s impossible for women to do this. That it’s impossible for a woman to ever defeat a man.

But, here’s the deal. It is possible. It’s very possible. BJJ is the only thing, aside from weapons, that makes it possible for us to defeat people bigger and stronger than us.

We become the weapon.

How badass is that!?

So, ladies, just do it. Get out there and try it. I was very skeptical when I first started and really didn’t think it was going to be something that I would go far in. However, I told myself that I had to give it a year. That I wouldn’t make any decisions about my BJJ future until I had trained for a year. Here I am a year later and I am so incredibly happy that I chose to do this. I don’t see myself ever quitting or giving up BJJ. BJJ is just way too valuable to give up.

 

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“Never gonna give you up…”

What blows my mind even more is what lies ahead. I’m just a one-stripe white belt. It makes me giddy to think of what I will be capable of in another year and another year after that.

So I challenge you, ladies. Give it a year. Get in there and give it a shot and commit to a year. I promise you, you will not regret it. The time is going to pass anyway. You can either be an unskilled, weak target for men to attack or you can be a bad mo fo that will make him regret ever picking on you. And, AND, don’t even get me started on all the other amazing benefits that come with training BJJ. Around every corner is a chance to grow mentally and physically and to surprise yourself.

If I can do this, anyone can do this. No excuses. Get in there and train, ladies! I hope to see more of you on that mats.

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We can do this!

Progress

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Don’t be a quitter.

Long ago, like two, three weeks into my BJJ life we learned and drilled the flower sweep. I had so much trouble with it I remember thinking there is no way I’ll ever be able to do this. I filed it into my “we can revisit this one in the far future” section of my brain and forgot about it.

Yesterday, we drilled this in fundamentals. The second it was demonstrated I thought to myself, “Great. I’m going to look like a fool trying to do this again.” It didn’t help my nerves that the others in the class went first and executed it quite well. Then my turn arrives.

Shit. Here we go.

Sleeve grip. Pant grip. Open guard while still squeezing my knees. Plant the foot. Slightly turn the hip. Lift their leg up as I lift my leg up and over. Bam. Mount.

How in the world was this as easy as it was?

I mean I’m not saying I did it perfectly by any means. I had trouble keeping my knees pinched and keeping the sleeve control so they couldn’t post with that hand. But, for the most part it was so much easier than I remembered.

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I find this happening more and more. I learn a new technique and fail miserably at it. I think to myself that the chances of me ever trying that technique in rolling is slim to no fucking way. Then a few months later we go over it again and I find that it isn’t so hard anymore.

I get dominated in rolling all the time. The majority of classes I sit there and look around the room and realize that I am absolutely the weakest in the class. This makes it really hard sometimes to see progress. You get smashed and submitted all the time and sometimes you really have to fight your inner voice that tries to whisper, “This is impossible! You can’t do this!”

Progress, for me, can be really hard to find some days. Sometimes I really have to search hard for those teeny tiny victories. Those small little clues that I am moving forward and improving. Something that an outsider watching would never see as a win.

Keeping elbows close. Protecting from a collar choke. Surviving for 10 seconds. Trying to escape a submission before tapping. Trying something new. Keeping a positive attitude when I’m frustrated and defeated.

And then, sometimes progress and victory shows up in a big way in places you aren’t expecting it.

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You find that something that used to be really hard for you isn’t so hard anymore. You can feel your body adapting to the movement better. You retain the details more clearly. You understand the concept of the technique, the whys and hows.

I don’t know the exact reason why the flower sweep was so hard for me before. Those first few weeks and months of BJJ are overwhelming with tiny details and trying to force your body to move in ways you’ve never moved before.┬áIn those beginning stages, so much of BJJ feels like being reduced to a toddler learning how to navigate through the most basic of skills and fumbling through it all. I know I was also notorious for making things way more complicated than they needed to be.

Overthinking tends to be specialty of mine.

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I’m not near as dramatic about it as Spider-Man is here.

Last night, the success with that sweep felt like one of those big victories, a sign of progress. To you, it might not sound so big, but for someone who gets completely dominated almost every roll, every night, it’s a big victory. Proof that I am getting better.

The beauty of progress is when you notice it, it gives you a little boost of confidence that helps push you to that next level. Revisiting the flower sweep and having success with it gave me the confidence to try it in rolling. I’ve been a little hesitant when it comes to sweeping from guard. When you get smashed a lot, opening that guard, and attempting a sweep is kind of a scary thought. I know that I need to go for it and try it if I ever expect to get better at it, but I wimp out a lot. That little boost of confidence last night was just what I needed. I tried the sweep many, many times. Sometimes it failed and I lost position. Several times it worked. One time it got stuffed and I transitioned to an armbar. Another time it got stuffed and I transitioned to taking the back.

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That show of progress and the boost of confidence turned into a great lesson for me. I learned that you have got to experiment in rolling. You can’t play it safe all the time if you want to learn or to win. Get over that fear of losing, of getting smashed, of losing position. Go for it and figure out what works and what doesn’t and what you can do in those instances. Sometimes you will fail. You will probably fail a lot. But, you can’t have success if you don’t get in there and try.

The Dream Submission

When I say “dream submission,” I’m not talking about those times that you dream about BJJ in your sleep and wake up in an intense battle with your blankets.

Come on. Don’t tell me you’ve never done that.

I once woke up to find myself locking up my blanket in a pretty tight triangle. Even though it was a lifeless object, I was pretty proud. Hey, don’t judge. Us white belts have to find those victories where we can. I dominated the shit out of that blanket.

Anyway.

I’m talking about that one submission that you fell in love with the first time you learned it. The one that you have been on an impatient quest to make it happen in live rolling. Surely I’m not the only white belt that has a dream submission.

Mine is a sequence I learned in the Monday night no-gi class back in July and I’ve mentioned it here several times. Your opponent is in turtle and you are beside them, hip to hip. You lock up their arm with your legs, slip your arm under their other arm, and roll over the top of them to crucifix. From there you have the option to choke them or armbar them with your legs.

There is just something about this whole sequence that I love. It makes me feel badass and super jiu-jitsu-y. Even just talking about it makes me smile.

After we drilled this back in July I knew that I was at the beginning of a determined quest to make this move happen in live rolling. Every time I rolled and had my opponent in turtle I would jump at the opportunity to go for that sub.

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I imagine I had the look similar to Daniel-san’s intense stare down before his epic jump front kick to the face. (While on the subject of this, jump fronts are super easy so it really makes the movie ending a little sad.)

Much to my disappointment, my quest to hit my dream submission always ended in failure. I think I was forcing it too much instead of exercising some patience and finding the right moment to go for it. I just couldn’t get the timing right and many times would end up losing position.

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Eventually I kind of gave up on it and figured that maybe it was too advanced of a move for me to worry about right now.

But…

When I just happened to have someone in turtle and they just happened to leave just enough space that I could get my leg under to scoop up that arm and lock it up…I knew I had to go for it. Before I know it I’m rolling over the top of them, landing with them in crucifix, and armbarring them with my legs. When the guy tapped I sat there in shock.

Holy shit! I just submitted someone with my dream submission. I did something super jiu-jitsu-y and cool and actually pulled it off.

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I can totally relate to you now, Karate Kyle.

It might sound kind of stupid, but it was seriously one of the coolest moments of my life to finally nail this submission.

BJJ has a funny way of handing you those “coolest moments of my life” situations. It’s such a challenging process so it makes even those small victories so rewarding and the big victories are truly amazing. There are so many times that I feel like things are impossible and BJJ always has a way of showing me that as long as I keep trying, keep showing up, keep a positive attitude, and keep working hard, my goals and my dreams are absolutely possible.

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How hard can it be?

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I’m learning that working from guard, whether it be you’re in someone’s guard or you’ve got someone in yours, is harder than it looks.

Typically that seems to be how it all works in BJJ. I think to myself, “How hard can it be?” to often find the answer somewhere between failsville and youfuckeduptown. In other, non-imaginary Allison words, it’s always way harder than I thought it was going to be.

It’s just that there are so many details that have to work together to build success.

A hand here. An elbow there. Your butt here. Good posture. Don’t let your shoulder go here. Head up. Knees squeezing. Break the grip. I get one down only to realize that since I concentrated so hard on it that I let another detail slip and suddenly I’m swept on my ass in a bad position. So then I fix what led to me getting swept only to let another detail slip and end up in a different compromising position.

I think this is when you say, “Well, you ARE a white belt, so…”

 

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Sweet! I love learning a new guard pass!

If you don’t do BJJ you have no idea how many tiny details come into play and how hard it is. I’ve been a huge MMA fan for a large chunk of my life and I just never came close to grasping the absolutely amazing things these fighters are doing on the ground. It still blows my mind how a teeny tiny detail can be the difference in it working and not working. Winning and losing. I’ve always had mad respect for those that get in that cage. Now, I have a whole new level of respect because I realize just how hard and how much work goes into learning and perfecting those tiny little details.

I get now why BJJ typically tends to be the elite martial art and why so many can’t hack it. It takes so many different and challenging components to be successful.

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You have to deal with so much defeat and failure and learn to build a mental strength that can handle that.

You have to find a way to see those many, many failures as learning opportunities and not let them get to your head.

You have to focus on the positives, the small victories and keep the negative, “I’m never going to be able to do this” thoughts out of your mind.

You have to have an enormous amount of perseverance and determination and basically an obsession with getting better.

You have to be able to intelligently use your body to avoid dangerous situations or to become the dangerous situation.

You have to recognize what your opponent is trying to do before he’s doing it and shift your game accordingly.

You have to teach your body to switch from flight to fight by overcoming the fear of uncomfortable positions.

You have to learn to use your mind to tell your body that you are stronger than the pain and you can push past it to survive.

You have to teach yourself to calm down and relax in situations where your body would usually tense up or panic.

You have to face your shortcomings head on whether it be gender, age, weight, size, etc and find ways to make it work to your advantage.

You have to purposely put yourself in bad positions and risk losing to learn how to win.

You have to be willing to put yourself out there and constantly try new things.

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Can’t a girl be a dangerous mother fucker too? #lifegoals

One of my all-time favorite components of BJJ is how many people on the mat just want to see their peers succeed. I was reminded of that several times over by several different people last night. It made a few moments of extreme frustration easier to get past and kept me going.

Even though my guard and guard passing sucks and everyone smashes and dominates me, I just love BJJ and the people on the mats.