Good Habits Will Get You Through.

My little three-stripe, tournament success, jiu-jitsu high came crashing down. I knew it was going to happen. That is the nature of jiu-jitsu. One day you feel comfortable in your abilities and what you have accomplished. The next you are frustrated, questioning yourself, and there you are, once again at the bottom of the next climb to success.

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Things had been going so well lately that I had almost, almost forgot as a white belt that you really don’t get long stretches of comfort in jiu-jitsu. If you do, I think you are doing it wrong.

Last night, my face lit up when it was said that we were going to be doing the escape drill/positional rolling rounds. It’s seriously become my favorite. I feel like it really pushes my progress forward since we get the chance to work from so many different positions, some that I don’t get a chance to work a lot in rolling. I also love that it gives me an opportunity to work with a large amount of people. It’s no secret that I am not good about asking people to roll. There is a voice in the back of my head that tells me no one wants to roll with the old, fat woman and I just worry that people avoid me. So I do what any sane, logical person would do. I avoid asking them. Sounds smart and reasonable, right? So I like this drill because it allows me to roll with a lot of people without having to ask.

Yay! Forced partnerships! It’s all fun and games until you get to the fat old lady or the spazzy guy or the one with the gi that smells like butt holes and moldy hot dogs…

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I’m kidding. I really do love rolling with everyone and would never turn down an invitation.

I knew it was going to be a difficult one when I saw the two groups split. First round I’m on bottom and as we go through all the positions – side control, scarf, mount, knee on belly, I can’t escape a single one. Not even close. By the time I got through every person, I couldn’t find a single victory, not even a teeny tiny one to keep my focus on a positive mindset. I was crushed literally and figuratively.

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Round two, I’m on top so now they have to escape me. I did better and could definitely find some victories, but I was still really disappointed with how I did on bottom. That first round dissatisfaction in my skills still lingered around in my head.

I’m doing my best to stay positive and not overthink my screw ups when it’s time to roll. And I did pretty good about it until someone bigger and stronger seriously picked me up like a sack of potatoes and flipped me over onto my stomach. It not only felt completely degrading, it was frustrating that I can’t compete with that kind of strength right now. I’m no bag of feathers so it definitely takes a decent amount of strength to pick me up like that. It also took that same amount of strength to just completely defeat me mentally. I was done. D-O-N-E. Done.

I sat on the side of the mat, fuming about my shortcomings, and almost letting it frustrate me to a point of walking off the mat, packing up my gi, and heading out the door. I’m learning that in these moments, that is where past experience and building good habits are really beneficial.

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Long ago I started the habit of not allowing myself to walk off the mat in a bad mood. I go and sit by the fan, but I do not allow myself to leave. A lot of times just sitting out a round and letting the frustrations kind of mellow out can make all the difference. It wasn’t an easy habit to build because I tend to be a quick reactor. My go-to for unfavorable conditions has always been escape and do so quickly by whatever means necessary. It took a lot of will power to stop myself from running away and instead slowing down and not having an immediate, I’ve got to get out of here reaction. What a difference it makes to not instantly react to everything that frustrates you. It’s still definitely a habit that is a work in progress, but it’s a strong enough habit to keep me from making excuses and running away instantly.

In past experiences, for me, getting frustrated and leaving only increases the frustration. If I do that, before I’ve even left the parking lot the regret sets in and I would be pissed at myself for not staying and working through it. I know that if I stick it out and fight through it I will never regret it.

Ever.

The cool part is that generally just the sticking it out is victory enough to leave on a positive note. I can have a frustrating moment and want so badly to leave and run away from it, but if I make myself stay for one more round, and it can be the worst round I’ve ever had, but just that choice to stay and fight through that urge to give up can be a big enough victory that how I do in that roll doesn’t even really matter. Sticking it out, fighting past that wall of defeat, is where the magic happens, people.

So last night, I stuck it out. I’ll be honest, I really didn’t want to. I was sitting there pissed at myself and questioning my abilities and doing the deadly comparison to my peers bullshit that I do when I get down on myself.

Thank goodness habit made me stay.

The next round of rolling was fun. Just good clean jiu-jitsu fun. It was a reminder of why I love it so much and why I will never give it up. When the timer went off at the end of seven minutes, I had returned to the land of jiu-jitsu happiness and walked off the mat with a positive attitude and even a few small victories.

The challenges I face, surprisingly, have become one of my favorite things about jiu-jitsu. It’s hard, it’s frustrating, there is no coasting or easy path to take and there are some parts that feel impossible to get through. It is a constant learning process that applies to so much more than just a sport. It will challenge you so much. Like I can’t even accurately describe how intense the challenges you face are. It’s obviously challenging enough that a large majority of people that try it don’t last. But, wow. If you stick with it and learn how to fight through the challenges that jiu-jitsu will force you through, it really does forge you into the best person you can be. What’s not to love about that?

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Thank you.

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A few weeks ago I got my third stripe.

On the surface, it’s just a piece of tape on a worn, dingy looking white belt. It’s really not much to look at if you don’t know what goes into getting one. You dive deeper into what that piece of tape represents and it becomes a badge of honor that was earned through perseverance, hard work, and determination.

And bruises. Lots and lots of bruises.

And pain.

And some tears.

And one crooked finger.

And a little bit of cauliflower ear.

I feel like this was a little bit of a milestone stripe for me. This was the first time that I got a stripe and I didn’t second guess it. I didn’t tell myself that I was only getting it because I show up or because they felt bad for me. I didn’t question if I deserved it. I didn’t listen to that voice in the back of my head that told me, “You aren’t good enough to be a three-stripe white belt.” It was the first time that I stood there with confidence, unafraid of the fact that everyone in the room was looking at me, and felt proud of myself and what I had accomplished on the path to that stripe.

The third stripe is the charm, I say.

So, I don’t really want to make this post about me. My last few posts have been very me heavy and I’ve already talked at great length the improvements I’ve experienced and I can’t take all the credit for this new and improved self.

The thing I love about SFC is that anytime I had a down moment someone always helped push me through. On a mat filled with simulated murder and lots of sweat, there were some pretty sentimental moments. Amide the somewhat intense nature of this sport were hugs and motivating talks and inspiration and everything in between. Jiu-jitsu may be individual in many senses, but I have learned you certainly are never alone in your struggles. At SFC I was never alone in my struggles.

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One of the biggest moments that stands out to me is when I injured my finger. That first class with it taped up was one of the most frustrating and challenging moments I’ve had in my jiu-jitsu life. At one point, much to my embarrassment, I broke down and starting crying out of defeat and frustration. Immediately two blue belts, Miranda and Dan, comforted me and told me exactly what I needed to hear. I was so defeated before that talk, but they both helped me get my focus back in the right direction. It made all the difference in the world. I will never forget that and how supportive they were in a really hard moment. Thank you so much to you both for pushing me through that.

Individually they both helped me in other areas as well.

Dan was the one that really encouraged me to get back out there and compete again. He was always telling me I could do it almost every class and anytime I showed any kind of doubt to him, he was quick to turn it around with encouraging words.

Miranda has always been a constant source of inspiration. There is 16-17 years dividing us in age and yet I look at her determination, her hard work, her mental strength as motivation and something I want to work towards. We may be on completely different paths in life and working towards completely different goals, but the core of what she represents is one that everyone, even us old asses, should strive for. One of my favorite things about her is how several times people have completely underestimated her and it never alters her mental toughness. In fact, I’m pretty sure it fuels her even more. Every time she gets out there and proves in a massive display of heart, talent, and a beautiful execution of her skill, how you should never underestimate Miranda. Those of us at SFC are fortunate to get a front row seat of what this girl can do. Thank you, Miranda, for simply being the badass that you are. It’s motivating on so many levels.

Brett, if our lack of no-gi attendance makes you feel like the red-headed stepchild in our family of jiu-jitsu, and this is coming from a real-life, legit red-headed stepchild that understands the neglect a ginger in a blended family experiences, our absence in your class is not for lack of love or respect. I don’t know if you realize how much you have helped me even though I rarely get the opportunity to take your classes. Sitting there two days a week watching the kid’s class, I walk away with what feels like a wealth of jiu-jitsu knowledge.

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You have a way of really breaking down the details in an easy to remember style that sticks with me. I almost always try out something you’ve taught in the next time I roll and because you have broken down the steps in such a clear form, I have a much easier time remembering and applying them. You really do have a gift for teaching jiu-jitsu and even if it’s just watching you teach, I learn a great deal. Thank you Brett for sharing your obvious love of jiu-jitsu with us, even if some of us are learning it from afar.

Gabe, thank you for not only really stepping in and coaching me a lot through the positional rolling in class in the last few weeks leading up to the competition, but also for coaching me in the tournament. I could always hear your voice even in my gi match when it was coming from two mats away. As cheesy as it might sound, hearing your voice almost calmed me. I knew that as long as I could do what you were telling me I would be alright. And, it was pretty amazing to know that I had a black belt coaching me through it. It just really made that tournament an extraordinary experience that I will never forget. It’s no secret if you read my posts here that Mike and I both have a tremendous amount of love for SFC and you are a big part of that. We both think you are a giant asset to what makes SFC so great and we are so very thankful that we get to learn from you every week.

Stacey, my sister, my wolf pack. My sister came to watch Jackson compete in the same tournament I did. When I tried to tell her not to stay for my matches, she refused to listen. Even when she learned that there was like a two hour gap between our matches, she stayed to support me. Through the last few years as I’ve gone on this wild ride of personal growth, she has been someone that has always been right there encouraging me and supporting me and sending me random texts calling me a badass (the way to my heart!) And, all of that doesn’t just come with the ups. She’s right there talking me through the down times too. Even listening to me ramble about a sport she doesn’t know much about. If we are in a crowd of people she will be the first to proudly tell them all, “My sister is a badass!” I am incredibly lucky to have her as a sister and I don’t even know how to explain how fortunate I am that she’s also my best friend. Thank you, Stacey, for always being my cheerleader!

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To my mom and my aunt, thank you so much for the continued support. Both of these women and are about as lady-like and proper as you can get and I always assumed that my interest in such a high contact, man-heavy sport would leave little interest in their minds of what I was doing. That could not be further from the truth. They are always supportive and encouraging and interested in what I am doing. It’s becomes much easier to transform into the person you want to be and shoot for the goals you have when you’ve got a tribe of people behind you who will support you in whatever you do, even if it’s not something they would pick for you to do. That is my family and I am thankful.

Nate, I don’t know if I would have ever been able to do half the things I have if it wasn’t for you. You have relentlessly been a voice of encouragement, support, and motivation. There is no one else that has pushed me as hard as you have and helped me get through some really frustrating times. I don’t think a lot of people realize when they start jiu-jitsu how tough the mental aspects of it are. What I think one the best things about you is that you coach us on not just the techniques or physical side but the mental side as well. I’ll never forget the talk when you told me that I needed to find the victories, no matter how small, and focus on the positive before I left the mat each class. That shift in my focus changed everything in jiu-jitsu for me. That talk was a giant turning point for me not just on the mat, but in life as well. I think all of us at SFC are better people because of you. You truly are a ginormous part of what makes SFC such an amazing atmosphere and place to train. Thank you for believing in me and being a constant support and push.

Mike, my contractually bound training partner.

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I know that I’m not an easy wife to have. I’m stubborn and defiant and I tend to like things that girls aren’t suppose to like. I’m sure it would be an easier life without some crazy, semi soul-less red-head, that thinks at 36-years-old she can get out there with all those men and try to kick some ass, but you have never wavered in your support. And you’ve never made me feel like it is wrong for me to want to do things like jiu-jitsu. I don’t know how many times I’ve cried in frustration on the drive home and you always talked me through it. There were many times that I talked and griped about the shortcomings that are there when you are a girl on the mats and while you couldn’t always relate to that situation, you always told me that I could do it. Always. Except that one time you didn’t and only then was it out of concern for my wellbeing, not because you thought I couldn’t. I’ve been a mess the last few years. On a crazy ride of emotional shit and personal growth and you have been right there with me in every way.

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I couldn’t have asked for a better partner both in jiu-jitsu and in life. I would never be the person I am today without you.

To wrap it up, thank you so much to everyone at SFC. I don’t even know where to start to name you all individually and I’m afraid that if I tried I would leave someone out. The team, the brotherhood, the support and encouragement has been amazing. I can’t imagine there being a better feeling than belonging to team SFC. I love you all so much! I walked into that first class as an old ass, overweight mom and figured that no one was ever going to take me seriously.

I couldn’t be more wrong.

Maybe it took a few months to prove that I was there to stay, but since then it’s been nothing but support and love. The last few months especially have been full of encouragement as we did the tough positional rolling drills and such in prep for the tournament. Through those intensely tough drills my love for all things SFC continued to grow. Thank you for kicking my ass, smashing my guts out, and making me a better person.

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I know that a new stripe and a gold medal aren’t considered the awards of a lifetime that people would swoon over. I get that this post kind of turned into the equivalent of me stepping up to a podium and giving an acceptance speech that rambled on and on. If this was a Hollywood awards ceremony they would have shut me up with incoming music when I hit about the second paragraph. But, with the ways things have gone lately and reaching some pretty big milestones, I just had an overwhelming need to tell these people thank you. My biggest trophy right now is not one that you can see and touch. The medals and the stripes are amazing, but my biggest accomplishment right now is all internal, things that a lot people won’t understand or be able to relate to. But these people that I speak of do and they have been right there with me this whole time helping me get to this point. I would be a giant asshole if I didn’t stop for a moment and thank them for helping to shape me into the person I am right now. It’s been a hell of fight to get here and it never would have happened without each one of them.

Thank you.

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Your Choice.

More catching up with this post. For the month of April and the first few weeks of May, my life has been a blur of work (my biggest work deadline of the year is the first weekend of May), planning a birthday party, Mother’s Day, graduations, the last few hectic weeks of school for the kids, and all the other normal everyday stresses and such. Don’t even get me started on the challenges we are facing while raising a pre-teen at the moment. Long story short, I’ve been busy and super stressed so writing and even jiu-jitsu had to be put on hold for a bit. Usually I wouldn’t play catch up and write about things that are weeks behind me, but it just so happened in that blur of craziness going on in my life, I hit some big milestones in my jiu-jitsu life and it would be a shame not to take the opportunity to write about them.

So, buckle up. It’s a long one.

My gi match at the tournament is the beginning topic of today. This one has some shoulda, woulda, coulda involved when I think back to it. I’ve never been one to talk or even really think positively of myself and give myself credit where I should. But, thanks to a handful of events lately and mostly the positive results of jiu-jitsu, I have found some much needed confidence and I’m going to channel it today to make the following statement:

I was the better opponent and the only reason I lost was due to my own mistakes. She won because I lost. I get that that might sound like a really dumb statement, but bare with me.

Let’s get to the match breakdown, at least as best as I can remember today.

I think my mistake number one was walking into this match on a high from my no-gi win and gold medal moment and initially not really caring how this match went. In someways I think it helped for the obvious reasons, I was more relaxed and I was walking into it with very little nerves. The reason I think it hindered me was that I had lost that killer drive, focus, and mentality.

One of my biggest victories of the match was in stand up. In my previous tournament experience this is where I fucked up in each match. I rushed things and grew impatient with the thought that it had to get to the ground immediately instead of waiting or creating the right opportunity for it to get to the ground. My approach this time was to only go for the takedown when the opportunity presented itself and to be patient. I suck at takedowns. I don’t do them enough and just haven’t developed that area in my jiu-jitsu game. My hope was that I could defend her takedown attempts, let her wear herself out, and let her be the one to grow impatient.

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My game plan played out on that mat exactly the way I wanted she was constantly rushing takedown attempts, wearing herself out, and at around the two minute mark her impatience took over and she pulled guard. I might have actually smiled at this moment. It felt weird and rewarding to be in there and actually feel like I knew what I was doing and that I had enough experience to be able to predict what my opponent would do. It was a really cool moment that to most people probably went unnoticed.

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I’ve gotten really comfortable lately with being in someone’s guard and passing so I didn’t feel any kind of threat at this moment. I was able to pin her right leg and keep her from closing her guard and got my left knee passed. I did rush it a little bit and completely passed my knee instead of using it to pin her leg so I could pass my other leg as well. I ended up with my leg stuck in half guard. I was completely okay with that though because this an area I work a lot in live rolling and I am comfortable here.

I smashed her down so she couldn’t get up, got my underhook on her left side, and as my leg was sliding out and was getting down to only my ankle and foot still stuck, she started grabbing my collar and trying to do some sort of choke.

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I honestly don’t even know what it was, I just knew that I needed to get my hand in there to block it. This hindered my passing for a little bit. Once I felt that choke was not a threat, I reestablished my passing. Smash, underhook, forehead to the floor, and then I used my left leg to block hers and pulled my right leg out.

Pass!

I get to side control and this is the moment I lost the whole match, in my opinion. My usual, my path when I get to this point for the last few months has been the same. I go to side control, I go to scarf, I pressure in, I get the arm partial extended, I put my leg over the arm to lock up crucifix, I switch my hips over locking up the crucifix as tight as I can and basically sit my hip on their face as I attack the arm. It’s my go-to. The place where I have dominated and gotten the most submissions and success in my small little jiu-jitsu life. It is my favorite place to be.

And I second guessed it.

Because I followed this path in my no-gi match and fucked it up and this girl was tougher than my no-gi opponent, I didn’t want to fuck it up again. Big mistake. I am pretty positive that I could have submitted her from there if I had locked it up. I’ve been working this path on men bigger and stronger than her and have been successfully getting armbars from there often. I should have went for it. It was my planned path and I should have stuck to it instead of hesitating.

See. Here come the shoudas. They are such little bitches.

Now, here’s the part of the match that afterwards was eating at me a little. And I’m only putting it in this post, not as a complaint, but as a full disclosure of my feelings and struggles. I’ve dealt with and moved on from these frustrations.

I get to side control. I maintain the side control for the three second count. The ref holds up his hands with three fingers and as he says, “Three points for…” she gets a knee in and locks up half guard again. He takes away my points.

My confusion and outlook on this moment is this, the rule states that you have to hold the position for a three second count, which I did. Actually I held it for longer than that when you consider the fact that he was in the middle of rewarding the points when she locked up half guard. Her getting that half guard shouldn’t have mattered at that point. I had already maintained the three seconds. I was really kind of frustrated about this for a little bit, but I get that everyone has their own style to reffing and awarding points and I’m not going to doubt or complain about his choices. He could have a different count system or he could have seen something else that stopped him from giving me the points. There’s a lot of factors that can come into play. What it all comes down to is that it’s my own fault and I take full credit for the loss. I should have established and maintained a better side control.

Damn. There is that shoulda again. Bitch.

So, she’s locked up half guard and I pass again, quite easily, to side control right as the timer goes off. We are tied 0-0 and go to overtime, first one to score wins.

I had the same strategy for stand up and wanted to just let her grow impatient. Plus, at this point the exhaustion has taken over me. At one point her leg was right there so I grabbed it and used my last bit of energy to try and drive her over. It was so close too. But, you know what they say about close, it only counts in horseshoes and hand grenades (and definitely not jiu-jitsu.)  Big thanks to my high school geometry teacher for that dandy little phrase. Minus the jiu-jitsu addition, of course.

That takedown attempt used my very last drop of energy so I eventually sat down to my butt. I didn’t realize that doing that, sitting down, would give her what I am assuming were takedown points. Or, there is a great chance that in my exhaustion, I don’t recall what happened exactly at that point. But, I honestly don’t remember a takedown.

They separated us. He raised her hand. I lost.

At the moment, I honestly didn’t care at all. I had a huge smile on my face. I had conquered so much of myself and my fears and had so many victories well beyond the obvious wins and hand raises. I was proud of myself and counted the day as a major success.

When I walked out of that building and had time to think and process it all, I started kind of beating myself up about a few things. Especially that gi match. I dominated the match yet walked away with a loss. I had a hard time accepting that. I really talked down to myself and had a brief moment of getting upset with myself and the fact that I lost.

But then…

That’s a big “but then…”

But then, the overwhelming happiness I felt over the many victories I had in conquering the old me, man, they really flooded out any kind of disappointment I had in myself over anything else. It was a moment that I learned that the true value of victory is not always over an opponent. It is the victory over yourself that is the true win. The win that, a lot of times, really matters the most.

This is especially true in my case.

Something happened when I turned 30. A big turning point and change started in my life. I had lived my whole life feeling like there was something wrong with me. I guess, in a way, you could say I was living my life as a victim. I always clutched closely to that “poor me” mentality. Poor me, I wasn’t pretty enough. Poor me, I wasn’t as good as my sister. Poor me, I was too shy. Poor me, I sucked at everything (or at least in comparison to a few peers and my sister.) Poor me, I was too sensitive. Poor me. Poor me. Poor me. I felt like everything I did was wrong, even the things that were out of my control.

It was exhausting.

I hated myself. I don’t remember a time in my whole life, that I didn’t hate the very person that I was. I hated that I was so shy. I hated that social interaction terrified me. I hated that I let people walk all over me and treat me like shit and that I was always dumb enough to go back for more. I hated that the idea of confrontation would stop me in my tracks. I hated that I was a people pleaser. I hated that I had no confidence in myself. I hated that I stayed in situations that weren’t beneficial to me and my well being. I hated that I put so much focus and value on people liking me instead of me liking and valuing myself. In hating all of this about myself I had it in my head that all of this was out of my control.

Poor me.

The turning point wasn’t necessarily right when I turned 30. It’s not like it was a magical number and the meaning of life was presented to me in a glowing realization. It came in the form of a documentary. Mike and I were obsessed with documentaries and watched them all the time. I sat there and watched this particular one and cried because I was watching something that had happened to me that I had never realized could shape and form me into the mess that I was and that it was fixable. I thought I was born this way and that I was the sole reason of why I was so messed up. I blamed myself for everything that was wrong with me. I even had people in my life that blamed me for it too. Poor me, right? I watched that documentary over and over and cried every time. Good grief, it makes me cry now just thinking about it and how mind blowing that moment and realization was. It really fucked with my head. I finally hit a point that I thought maybe I should seek help so I called a therapist and began one of the most difficult journeys of my life.

I think a lot of people don’t realize how hard therapy can be. It sounds so simple, just talking to someone. I thought I would go and immediately feel better, but instead discovered that it was a roller coaster in a dark and twisted tunnel that I would have to go through every single week. I had to relive and revisit some pretty hard things from my past. I would go through my 45-minute session and leave with a mess of shit to process. Sometimes I would sit in my car in the parking lot trying to figure out how to navigate through it all and pilot a big metal vehicle at the same time. It felt impossible to carry that weight and function as a normal human being. Sometimes it was. I remember I would call my husband on the drive home and tell him all about it and my new realizations and cry. I would spend those first few days in a pretty dark place. And then, a few days later I would start to feel better. Stronger. I would practice and use the tools I had been given to deal with my issues and just when I would see the end of what I thought was the worst, I would go to my next session. It was a vicious little cycle and you really have to be committed to getting better to survive it.

And I did survive it.

I came out on the other side a different person. A much stronger person. I was starting to see little glimpses of the person I always wanted to be. The biggest tool I got out of all that hell was quite simple. A little shift in perception.

I can not control how people react to me or treat me and I can not change things in my past. I can only control how I choose to react.

I learned that everything I did was my choice. I could choose to be happy. I could choose to stay positive. I could choose to let things get to me or I could choose to let them go. I could choose to be brave. I could choose to set my own boundaries and stand firm in my choices. I could choose to walk away from anyone or anything that was not beneficial or a positive factor to my life. I could choose to move away from the old me, the one I grew up hating and blaming for my issues, and drop this poor me attitude.

We might be guided down shitty paths in life or stuck in unfavorable circumstances, but ultimately we get to choose how we handle them and what we get out of those situations. We can choose to come out on the other side as a stronger, better person.

So that’s what I did.

(I wish it was as easy as that last sentence makes it sound!)

This way of thinking was ultimately what started me on the path to becoming the person I always wanted to be. Therapy and learning that I can choose my life was the first and the toughest battle over my own self. It was exactly what I needed to start using struggles as motivation, frustration as fuel, and fears as focus.

To put into perspective of what kind of battle I was facing over myself, that was seven years ago and I am still struggling with a lot of those issues. For 30 years I had a certain way of thinking and to change that, it’s not an easy task. You can’t teach a old dog new tricks, right? Well you can, it’s just that us old dogs have more shit to filter and fight through to get to the new ways of being.

I still feel like I have a long, long way to go to reach the person I am striving to be. It is definitely a slow process. Honestly, I see it is as a never ending process. I see this path of bettering myself as limitless. We can always find ways to better ourselves whether it be educationally or physically or mentally and everything in between and I choose to always stay on that path of bettering myself in every way I can.

It’s never a simple uphill hike. It ups and downs and sideways and backways and slantways and every which ways you can think of. There are times that it feels like you take several tiny steps forward only to take one giant leap backwards. I’ve learned though that what matters most is that you never give up and always focus forward. I think as long as you can do that, you are always winning, even in dark moments and losses.

(Kind of sounds a little like jiu-jitsu, huh? Those that call it therapy know their shit.)

That tournament and the victories are a culmination of a very, very hard and very, very long battle I’ve had over myself. It wasn’t just a victory over the me that started jiu-jitsu a year ago. It doesn’t even feel like it was just a victory over the seven year ago me that started this process of healing and bettering myself. It feels like it was so much more than that. It feels like I’ve finally had a victory over my whole being, my whole life. I am no longer that scared, shy, super sensitive, self-hate filled, poor me Allison.

I still practice what I learned in therapy, that way of thinking, everyday and do my best to pass it on to my kids too. I feel like it is the most valuable perspective a human being can have and I hope that message is here today in what I am writing.

I strongly, wholeheartedly believe that our circumstances do not shape our lives, our choices do. And, I believe that because I am proof of that. I could easily choose to be a shy, social recluse, who does nothing of any value for herself, who sits there and feels pity and shame about the events that took place in her life. But, instead I chose to walk the harder path. I chose to be a person that fights through her challenges to be the best version of herself that she can be. And, wow, what a life and adventure I have gotten because of it.

Today’s post may not sound very jiu-jitsu-y (I love making up words) since I went a little personal, but I have to give credit where it is due. Jiu-jitsu really propelled this progress more than anything else I’ve encountered. Therapy may have been the starting point of recovering and provided me with the right tools, but jiu-jitsu has been the exact opportunity I’ve needed to use those tools and really jump forward towards a better me. I feel like jiu-jitsu jumped me forward in a mental strength capacity in a way that I never could have done on my own or even with the help of therapy.

There’s a part of me that wishes I would have found jiu-jitsu sooner and I say that a lot, but in a way I’m glad I didn’t. I think jiu-jitsu came into my life at the perfect moment, at the right time. Any earlier and I don’t know if I would have been able to handle or welcome the struggles and challenges it brings with it. I wouldn’t have understood the growth that can occur in those hard moments and I wouldn’t have been able to appreciate it the way I do now. I probably wouldn’t have lasted beyond one class and that’s only if I could have found the courage to even step on the mat, which I doubt would have happened. Maybe I’m wrong, maybe jiu-jitsu would have been the perfect thing for me.

Who knows?

What I do know is that the last year has been, without a doubt, one of the best of my life. The person I am becoming is something I never thought I would be. I can feel the confidence seeping into so many areas in my life and slowly repairing the 30 years of damage I inflicted on myself. I walk different, with my head up. I look people in the eyes instead of the floor. I don’t fear confrontation, social situations, or even conversation. I feel strong both mentally and physically. I have never been more sure of my path in life. I am happier than I have ever been. I feel beautiful in my own non-conventional ways. And I, for the first time in my life, am proud of myself and the person I am.

I honestly don’t think I would have ever achieved that without jiu-jitsu and Springfield Fight Club and I don’t know how I will ever be able to repay that service.

It is priceless.

The Silent Assassin

On Wednesday, Mike and I visited Jackson’s school to have lunch with him. As we waited for his class to arrive to the cafeteria we checked out the “Celebration Board” on the wall. It’s a large bulletin board covered with pictures of kids and their big accomplishments. Ballet recitals, basketball tournaments, hunting achievements, gymnastics medals, and there, right in the middle, was a big picture of our Jackson on the podium after one of his tournaments. Seeing that picture gave us both a big smile and an almost emotional reaction when we thought about how far this kid has come and what he has grown into over the last year.

“Do you think these kids at his school realize that there is a legit badass among them?” I whispered to Mike with a big cheesy grin on my face.

Mike leaned down to my ear and whispered back, “He’s the silent assassin.”

And that, is how we came up with Jackson’s new name, “Jackson the Silent Assassin” We told him about it after we sat down for lunch and the immediate beaming smile on his face told us he approved.

It’s so fitting. He’s so quiet and timid and can be easily embarrassed in his day to day life yet when he does jiu-jitsu he turns into this confident, go for the kill, little machine. Every time I see him compete, I am almost surprised with how collected he is while pushing forward with an aggressiveness we don’t see in him outside of jiu-jitsu.

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It’s like jiu-jitsu gives him the opportunity to tap into an alter ego that allows him to be the confident person he wants to be. Or, maybe jiu-jitsu is something that he is just naturally relaxed with and it’s such a comfortable place for him that this inner confidence just leaks out without him even realizing it. Whatever the cause is, the beauty of it is that after a year of tapping into this confident self in jiu-jitsu, it’s starting to seep into all areas of his life. He’s just not the same kid he was a year ago, two years ago. He just keeps growing into this stronger, braver, more confident, and more self-reliant kid. I remember when he couldn’t walk across a room full of people by himself. Boy, how things have changed!

I admit, I was nervous for him at the AGF tournament. Maybe more nervous than I have ever been with him and these tournaments. It was his first time competing as an intermediate, a gray belt, and due to a little growth spurt since his last tournament we had to bump him up to a higher weight class. You would think I would learn at this point to never underestimate this kid. I’m pretty sure the last time I wrote about him and competing I said the exact same thing and yet here I was again, worried about how he would do. I’m chalking it up to it’s just what us moms do, we worry and make a mean mac & cheese. It’s just part of the job.

The kid killed it. Obviously. He is the silent assassin after all.

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Nailing a half-guard sweep with the help of some coaching from dad. They both walked through it beautifully.

As he stood there before his first no-gi match next to the score table at the edge of the mat, Jackson on one side, his opponent on the other, I could see the obvious weight difference and my stomach fluttered relentlessly with worry. The match started and about halfway through, my worries went away.

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He had great takedown defense, he was aggressive, he never gave up, and in the end he won two matches against this kid and earned his spot on the #1 podium with that gold medal around his neck.

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I always love how confident he looks in the hand raise photos.

His gi bracket was a little big bigger with five kids instead of just the one in no-gi. The kid he beat in no-gi happened to be his first match. Before they all started and were standing in the pit area, the kid was bragging about how he was a yellow belt and all the other boys were only gray belts and he was just sure that there was no way they could beat him all because of belt color.

He was in for a rude awakening.

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The smirk kills me! I don’t think it was intentional, but it still looks kind of awesome.

Jackson completely dominated the match against him. Early on Jackson got to mount and maintained that position for the majority of the match. He made it look incredibly easy. While I don’t wish defeat and harm to kids, I kind of enjoyed watching his opponent eat those words about belt color.

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Kill face! The silent assassin snatches an arm!

The match for gold was against a kid that was quite impressive. He had a takedown to submission path that was pretty solid. He had obviously put a lot of work into perfecting it and it really showed. We tried to prepare Jackson for the takedown, but his opponent pretty much hurled him across the mat. He dominated the whole match with Jackson spending most of the time on bottom.

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He fought every second of this match.

You could tell after the match that Jackson was bummed, but he didn’t really get too upset about it. I think he realized that coming in second to that kid was pretty awesome.

All in all, it was a great tournament with great results. Coming home with a gold and silver is not a bad day at all.

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I’m coming to the part where I give my traditional speech about why you should put your kid in jiu-jitsu. I feel like at his point it’s my duty as a human being and jiu-jitsu parent to share with you the amazing benefits that this martial art has for kids. Feel free to check out pasts posts about that subject, there are a lot of them.

Please, don’t waste your time with McDojo, belt factory, “my 10-year-old has a black belt,” board breaking bullshit. Seriously. You can trust me with this one. I have more experience than I care to admit so take my word and save yourself the countless dollars you will throw away between the monthly charges and ridiculous testing fees and all the other stupid shit they will try to sell you. Don’t fall for the “we can teach your kid how to handle bullies,” nonsense sales pitch and the laughable techniques they teach.* If you want to see real growth, real progress, real life-changing results, real life skills, real confidence building, real self-defense, put them in jiu-jitsu. Now. It will be one of the best things you can do for you and your kids.

*Speaking of bullies, do you remember my post about my oldest son having a kid from the McDojo we used to go to calling him up (from the McDojo) and telling him things like he should kill himself. I was assured from the owner that the situation was being handle and the kid would be sharply disciplined. I found out later via another parent that he actually said in response to the situation, “I’m washing my hands of the incident. It’s impossible to please parents.” and they did nothing to discipline the kid. Of course it’s hard to please parents when your number one priority is focused on the dolla’ dolla’ bills, yo. I was truly disgusted when I saw Mr. McDojo on a KY3 live facebook segment talking about the bullying kids today face and how they can help with that. You could ask questions during the segment via the comments and it took everything I had not to ask why they didn’t handle the situation that took place in their own facility. 

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The Other Side of Fear

Long time, no see read, right? A month of no writing, no sharing my inner most and somewhat insane thoughts with you all. I’ve missed it. I’m not really sure if anyone is even wondering why there has been an absence, but this is my blog so I’m going to tell you whether you are wondering or not.

Take that, readers. All two of you.

(I have to break all that has gone on in the last few weeks into several posts because my month-long silence has resulted in an overflow of word vomit and I feel it’s best to spare you one novel-sized post and instead break it up into multiple posts.)

My absence was due to a recent trek to the other side of fear and it was a road that I chose to travel alone.

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I made the choice a month ago that I was going to compete at the AGF Springfield BJJ Championships on April 29. I also made the choice that if I was going to compete I didn’t want my focus to be on winning and losing. If I were a little bit (a lot bit, actually) younger maybe I would be more focused on winning and losing and collecting as many medals as I could, but for me, at my age, at the point I am at in my life, I am much more interested in personal growth. And, that was what I was seeking with this tournament. That might sound a little strange to some, but if I’ve learned anything over the last year it’s that winning isn’t everything and losing isn’t the worst thing that can happen. It’s what happens in those moments leading up to the wins and the losses and what you learn from them that matters, that feeds the seeds of growth within you.

I wanted to focus on overcoming my fears and instead of making the defeat of my opponents my central point, I wanted to worry more about defeating the old me that failed miserably at my first BJJ tournament. I knew I could do better and I knew that the only way to prove that to myself was to do my best to push that terrified feeling of putting myself out there again to the side and giving it another shot.

And, holy shit. Terrified is truly an understatement. But, I’m getting a little ahead of myself here.

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As for the choice to go at this alone, I was afraid that the more people that knew I was competing and the more I talked about it (or wrote about it) the more my focus would shift to winning and losing. Obviously I would love to win, but overcoming my fears was so much more important to me and I wanted my focus to stay there. I felt like before I could focus on winning, I needed to jump over a few mental hurdles first. So, like the weirdo I am, I didn’t really tell anybody I was competing. My husband found out about two weeks before the tournament and I only told those at SFC that asked me. My family didn’t even know. I just didn’t want the pressure of everyone knowing and feeling like I had to win because they were there watching. I was afraid that my focus of mental victories wouldn’t be understood and I just didn’t want that extra weight on my shoulders.

And so, I began my adventure over the wall of fears in front of me and found that the other side is a place that I should travel to more often. We all should.

It’s well documented here on my blog how badly I failed at my first tournament. It’s funny, my whole life I always thought that in a fight or flight situation I would be a fighter. That first tournament showed me in a rather brutal manner that a fighter I was not. My response to the fight or flight situation was to freeze. That tournament and my paralyzed reaction has haunted me since. I’ve never been so mad and frustrated at myself and it took me down a pretty dark road. I eventually got better, but I knew that if I ever wanted to move on from that I was going to have to compete again and prove to myself that I can be a fighter. That I am a fighter.

I felt pretty chill about the whole situation up until about three days before the tournament. The nerves hit me at an alarming and forceful rate and suddenly time moved at a snail’s pace as I wished and pleaded with it to speed up so I could get it all over with. I found myself getting in my head and asking myself, “Why the fuck are you doing this!? Do you really need to do this!? You are a 36-year-old mom for fucks sake, why are you putting yourself in this position!? Just think of the years you are taking off your life with all this heart racing nervousness!” I had to constantly remind myself of my goals and honestly it did very little to help calm me down. The victory over myself that I was seeking sounded simple – just don’t freeze up, fight every moment – but because of my tragic tournament history, I was more scared than I’ve ever been in my life.

It got worse at the tournament. The closer and closer it got to my no-gi pit time, the more my chest hurt and my stomach fluttered. My pit time was called and I felt like I was going to throw up. However, when they lined me up next to my opponent, a calmness came over me. Part of it was that I knew that so much of this little game is mental. I knew that I couldn’t let her see me in a nervous state. I had to stand there and look calm and ready (there’s vomit on her sweater, mom’s spaghetti…) and confident. At my first tournament my opponent beat me mentally with intimidation before we even stepped on the mat. Now it was my turn to do the same. It also worked out perfectly that on the mat right in front of us, someone from SFC beat someone from her gym. It was a reminder that I am training at the best gym in the area with some of the best people in the area and because of that I have everything I need to beat this girl. The only thing that was going to fuck it up was me getting in my head again. I was determined not to let that happen this time.

We make it to the staging area of the mat we will be rolling on and as they lay out our weight cards I see hers. I knew because I was in the heaviest weight class and because it was open ended, that I was running the risk of having to go against a much heavier opponent. I could tell she was heavier than me, but I was not prepared to see that she was 90 lbs. heavier than me. There was a brief moment of panic and I might have started scoping out escape routes and wondering if anyone would notice if I bolted. After the initial shock I focused on taking a deep breath.

“My jiu-jitsu is better,” I told myself, “so her size does not matter.”

I wish I could give you a super detailed play by play of our match, but honestly I don’t really remember many details. I do know that I did not freeze. I do know that I heard my coaches and did my best to do what they told me to. I do know that I fought my ass off. I do know that I beat her 12-0.

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I remember her main attacks where with a lot of headlocks and guillotines attempts but they were very frantic and never much of a threat. She did get an RNC locked up without hooks, but I somewhat easily pulled her arms off. My favorite part was that I actually hit my path that I had been working on in training. Side control, to crucifix, switch the hips over, to arm attacks. I was so excited that I rushed it a little and didn’t quite get her arm locked up in the crucifix as tight as I needed to so she escaped. I also got to mount at one point and had an armbar set up, but I was afraid to pull the trigger.

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I hesitated due to the weight difference and I knew that if I fucked up the armbar I could potentially end up on bottom and I did not want that to happen. We were back at standing with 30 seconds left to go and I saw the scoreboard. She came at me hard and I just didn’t really do much other than try to survive the last few seconds.

The timer went off, and then the my moment came.

You know, I just wanted my victory to be not freezing or panicking. That was where all my focus went and in that intense moment I forgot about my dream. The dream I have had for a very long time, and with each passing day as I get older and older, a dream that I thought would probably never happen.

I got my hand raised.

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And while I thought that was going to be the best part, it wasn’t. The best part was when they turned us around to the crowd to do the second hand raise and there were all the SFC people cheering for me. I walked over to shake the hand of my opponent’s coach and there lined up against the gate was team SFC, both kids and adults, waiting with outstretched hands for congratulatory high fives. By the time I reached the last person I had tears streaming down my face. It was by far, without doubt, one of the coolest moments of my life.

It’s one thing to reach your dream and have that moment. It reaches a whole new level of amazing when you realize that you have a team of people behind you that wanted it to happen just as much as you did.

It wasn’t until after we were halfway to the podium that I realized that this meant I would be standing on the tallest, #1 podium, with a shiny piece of gold hanging around my neck. That, my friends, was the icing on this delightful, little jiu-jitsu cake.

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Getting to the other side of fear is no easy feat. Obviously. If it was easy, we wouldn’t be so scared and the reward wouldn’t carry the glory that it does. There were so many challenges I had to face in that moment before my first match. From being in skin tight clothing and being incredibly uncomfortable with my body to having everyone watching me to worried about getting hurt to failing in my attempts to reach my goals. I could probably list a hundred things I was afraid of. And, if I had listened to those fears and let them control my fate, I would have nothing but regrets and unfulfilled dreams circling my thoughts for the rest of my life. A constant nagging reminder that I am a coward.

But…

I proudly get to say that on that day I was not a coward. That in this intense fight or flight situation, I actually became the fighter I always wanted to be. Now I have this amazing story about bravery and fighting and victories and the support of a team and a second family that will forever be in my hall of fame of memories. And, I almost passed that up because of some silly fears.

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