Last summer, I signed up for a few Brazilian jiu-jitsu lessons. I shrimped a little, I triangled a little, I choked out the occasional unsuspecting newbie with my only, poorly executed move, and then work got crazy so I let it drop. This summer, I got crazy and dropped work instead. In July I returned to my peeps at Kimonogirl, an all-female BJJ group. They welcomed me with locked arms. Thus began my Summer O’ Beatdowns.
It started innocently enough, as these things do. I signed up for morning classes a couple of days a week and slid into a routine of shuffling out the door at 6:30 am dressed like a martial arts dork, toting a power suit and a bagful of veggies for lunch. Then I wandered into a few evening classes. Then I found myself cruising BJJ boards. Then I got tips from BJ Penn and sweated on by Saulo Ribeiro (I shall never wash again!). Then I noticed about 98% of my conversation with OMGBFF A consisted of BJJ discussions. So enough about me and BJJ, what do YOU think about BJJ? Do you think Bruce Lee could leg lock Superman? Then I found myself taking Intarweeb nerdiness to new levels by generating LOLBJJs. After only a few weeks, I was hooked like a cheap Lysol snorter.
Things were going along smoothly and I was accumulating a lovely selection of bruises. Life was resettling into a predictable schedule of what the French call metro, boulot, dodo, with regular injections of omo, as in plata. My teammates passed around a flyer for a competition at the end of September, but I would be out of town seeing Middle Sister that weekend, so I didn’t give it much thought. On Tuesday Sept 25, MS called to cancel. Suddenly my weekend was free. What to do? On Wed Sept 26 I said to OMGBFF A, “Nah, I couldn’t compete. I’m not ready. I’ve only been training for three months. That would be crazy.” On Saturday, Sept 29 I found myself semi-naked and standing on a scale in a high school girls’ changeroom, thinking, as Stephen King so poetically put it in The Stand:
This decision — which was really less like a decision implying conscious, careful deliberation and more like taking your eyes off the road to fiddle with the radio while driving and discover upon returning your gaze to the highway that you’re in fact hurtling off the overpass — unlocked the door to Krista’s Childhood Hangup Storage Facility, and boy did shit start spilling out fast.
First was my Fear Of Sport. I’ve written elsewhere on the site about how I began my larval stage as an uncoordinated four-eyed dweeb who hid in the changeroom during gym classes. Perpetually picked last for every team, I could pretty much be counted on to drop the fly ball, flop off the track with a belly cramp or twisted knee, miss the basket by a mile, and generally fail at every sport ever invented, including checkers. Every year in the Canada Fitness Test, I ended up with the “Thanks for coming out” participation award, the lowest of the low, except one year, when I got a silver medal… because I cheated.
This childhood nemesis sportif made a sudden and angry resurgence during one of my first grappling classes run by a guy who, given his “Olympics ’96” tattoo and bulldog physique, probably held no such fears. He lined us up into teams (teams! eek!) and put us through our paces. I looked around and noticed that I was the only woman, the only thirtysomething short woman standing in a forest of about forty, tall, peachfuzzed males who looked as though they had nothing better to do than skip first year stats and hang out at the dojo. Great. Already my cool quotient was nil.
One of our first tasks was to somersault then jump up and sprint the length of the room. The class before us had sweated like a bunch of GIs in the shit in Nam, so the mat was greasy and slick. Thanks to a few gymnastics classes in seventh grade, I somersaulted like a Cirque de Soleil pro, but forgot about the temporary loss of equilibrium that going ass-over-teakettle entailed. I jumped up to sprint, got 10 paces, and thanks to the frictionless surface and inner ear traffic controller going MIA, promptly face planted. In front of everyone. The only thing that separated this from a horrible anxiety dream was that I wasn’t naked. My cool quotient approached absolute zero. Nursing a possibly broken foot and a possibly torn calf, I limped off to the end of the line. But I stayed. I stayed. I damn well stayed, looking up at the ceiling because I read somewhere that this eye position turns off the impulse to cry. I waited till after class when I was in the shower and then stood there bawling in anger, embarrassment and pain, watery snot running down my chin like the Blair Witch Project.
Second, I had to confront my Fear Of Frustration. Normally a rather placid Canadian type by nature, I am talented at passing time quietly in waiting rooms, untying difficult knots, and defusing tense negotiations. But some things turn me into a frazzled Type A fussbudget. One of them, fairly reasonably I think, is being trapped helplessly under a 200-lb man while he gleefully turns my arm into a pretzel. (Good for you, champ! You aggressively submitted a 110 lb woman! Hey, I think there’s a seven year old child in the parking lot that you could beat up for a finale! Seven year olds totally can’t take a punch.) BJJ is like human chess played with all four limbs and your neck. As such it’s incredibly complex, and hence incredibly frustrating, especially when everyone seems bigger, faster, and stronger. Half the students could just sit on me and take a nap, and I’d be stuck. By way of encouragement, people would go on about So-and-So Gracie, the champ who weighed 98 lbs soaking wet and didja know he totally pwned some 300 lb dude and blah blah blah well guess what, that works great if you’re a billionth degree black belt but for a two-month white belt who can barely find her ass with her hands, that does exactly jack squat. Back to blubbering in the shower.
Third was my Fear Of Competition. This one was a biggie. I’ve avoided competition all my life. In the first place, much of it is unnecessary. I’ve still yet to understand, for instance, why otherwise rational women compete tooth and reddened nail for the prize of folding some unappreciative male’s socks for all eternity, or why anyone would care what the Joneses think, much less keep up with them. It seems to me like there is a competition for everything, even rock-paper-scissors or (as I recently learned) eating grits. Many humans just appear to enjoy trying to being the best at something, even if that something is ingesting 10 kilograms of tasteless glutinous sand. (“Good old rock. Nothing beats rock.”)
Competition can bring out the worst in people. As soon as people perceive a shortage of something, they go apeshit to get their hands on the scraps. I can think of no other explanation for fistfights over Tickle Me Elmo (or, if you remember the eighties, Cabbage Patch Dolls), or over belching missing links wearing holey NASCAR tshirts on You Stole Mah Man – I Gon Skritch Yer Eyes Out, Bitch episodes of talk shows.
As a gentle soul with a touch of Byronic temperament, I also find competitiveness immensely stressful. Many people find that a little competition makes things fun — for me, competition sucks fun out of my existence like… uh… well, make up your own Hugh Grant joke here. I “competed” in soccer as a child, which basically meant I showed up at games for the free oranges at halftime and stood in one corner of the defensive area waiting for the ball to come to me so I could kick it in a random direction. I “competed” in music as a child, which basically meant some overzealous teacher signed me up to get on stage with a bunch of other firstborn children with domineering parents and plink out Tukka Tukka Ruff Ruff or some similar ditty, followed by me getting Baby’s First Ulcer and a trip to the doctor for industrial-strength antacids.
You get the picture. I am not, shall we say, one of those people who finds competition as invigorating as an autumn morning constitutional.
On Thursday night before the competition I cornered my coach. “What if I hurt someone?” I worried. He assured me that the girls were tough enough to take it. Tough enough? Oh noez! “What if they’re too tough?” Coach didn’t waste time on fluffy I’m OK you’re OK that there’s what it is affirmations. He placed his hand on my shoulder, looked into my eyes, and like a young David Carradine, dispensed wisdom right from a remote Himalayan monastery. “Krista,” he said with great seriousness and deliberate enunciation, “I want you to go in there and Fuck. Shit. Up.”
*sound of gong*
Friday night I slept like a log. Saturday morning, while other competitors paced, I calmly read the newspaper. The women were on last so it was 6:30, nine hours after weigh-in, before I even stepped in the ring. Finally my name was called and I walked into a dream. I was on autopilot. I was Zen. I was the friggin Fonz. I smiled at my competitor and shook her hand. I thought, in some far-away portion of my brain, wow, she is strong. And then I ran at her, as OMGBFF A said, like an angry little monkey.
Everything around me was a blur but my hearing was crystal clear and I calmly followed the shouted instructions from coach, OMGBFF A, and another teammate. Hand here, leg there, sweep, hold. To my complete astonishment and the utter delight of my coach and teammates, I fucked that shit up.
I had no preparation and only twelve weeks of training. My goal was simple: not to get submitted in the first 30 seconds. I thought I would lose. I imagined ending up in some skeletal configuration that would break the laws of physics and humiliate my ancestors. All I wanted was to survive.
I did not get submitted in the first 30 seconds. I did not get submitted in the second 30 seconds, nor all the subsequent 30 seconds after that, all of which were the longest 30 seconds of my life. When I finished, my mouthguard felt like sucking on a brick. All the oxygen had somehow disappeared from the room. But. I survived. I survived! Holy good mother of Jebus Q on a pogo stick, I survived! I stood in disbelief while the ref raised my arm, my lungs somehow re-inflated, my teammates squealed like a bunch of girls, and coach grinned like a Cheshire cat on ecstasy.
While standing around between matches, a little woman approached me and introduced herself as a Stumptuous reader. Pretty cool! We chatted a bit, then went our separate ways.
After my first match, I ran to the corner and shoved about a pound of kamut pasta in my dry mouth. Suddenly, my name got called again, and I ran to the mat, madly swallowing kamut chunks and thinking Oh crap please don’t make me puke on her. And then I saw my opponent. Uh oh, I was going to fight Stumptuous 2.
Long story short: Stumptuous 2 beat my ass six ways from Sunday. She put in such an impressive performance that I hugged her twice afterwards. I was almost as proud of her as her coach. Huge congrats to Stumptuous 2 for a well earned gold medal!
I left that competition with the realization that this sport is, or should be, about building community and working together to share an activity that we all enjoy. I left with a sense of immense accomplishment despite being beaten. I left with new friends and warm fuzzies from old ones. Oh yeah, and I left with a silver medal, but who’s counting?
The morals of this story:
- Screw your childhood. You’re in charge.
- Stumptuous works! Perhaps too well. 🙂
At 7 am the day after competition I woke up thinking, “I’m taking a day off”. At 7:20 am I said, “Hey, I’m going to find a BJJ class.” Onward!
Teammates, OMGBFFA (in pink gi), coach, and moi second from the right. Oh yeah, you may notice we all kicked ass. If anyone in Toronto wants to join us, Kimonogirl rocks! Come play! You don’t need to compete but you WILL have fun.
my matches on youtube
Tips and advice welcome, but don’t be one of those armchair Internet expert jagoffs who writes me to say that dropping guard is for losers.
Long boring explanations for the non martial arts nerds in the crowd:
Brazilian jiu-jitsu works differently than regular wrestling. It can
be done in gi (the traditional outfit) or no gi (sorta like what you’d see on Ultimate Fighter, in shorts and shirt), and the techniques are somewhat different for
each. This tournament was gi-only so you’ll see lots of grabbing the
fabric: collars, sleeves, etc.
The goal in BJJ is to either submit your opponent or win on points.
Points are gained for takedowns, sweeps (flipping your opponent from a
superior to inferior position), knee on belly (which you see me do in
the first match), taking the opponent’s back, passing the guard, and
submissions. Unlike wrestling, much of BJJ is done on the back. BJJ
uses “guard” positions which can be “closed” or “open”. A closed “full
guard” is the person on the back with their legs locked around their
opponent’s waist; a “half guard” is legs locked around one of the
opponent’s legs. There are a variety of open guards but they generally
involve somehow using the legs and feet to control the opponent, and
using the arms for leverage.
To someone not used to seeing BJJ it can look as though the person on
the bottom is in a bad position, but this isn’t necessarily so. For
instance, I lose my second match in part because I can’t pass my
opponent’s closed guard, even though she’s on the bottom. One can
sweep one’s opponent from the bottom (ie flip them from the top to the
bottom position) and there are many submissions that one can get from
bottom. It IS bad to be on the bottom and be mounted, ie have the
opponent above your hips, sitting on your belly or chest, and not have
your legs around them in any way.
I’m in the white belt; my opponent has
I immediately go in for takedown and control. I first attempt a hip
We get reset by the ref for going out of bounds. I try a hip throw
I get my legs up around her waist and put her in full closed guard. I
Stumptuous 2 is in blue. I try a few takedowns but she’s got