Tag Archives: self defense

No Gi, Yes Gi, Yogi sticker on orange car

BJJ: Finding Balance

The last several years of my BJJ journey have been out of balance (to say the least).

Off Balance

Something started to change for me at my old gym in early 2022. There was a separation. A hardness. I tried to push through the feeling with my trademark “long legs and stubbornness,” but those can only get you so far.

I was nursing a soft tissue strain in my shoulder that kept teasing me, convincing me it was healed, only to flare up again. To protect my shoulder, I mostly opted out of live rounds, outside of “Church” (10 am Sunday open mat) where I would roll selectively. My overall health started to deteriorate – though I didn’t fully recognize it then – and it took all my energy to stick with my regular training schedule. While I neglected things at home, I went to all my usual classes.

In April, I got COVID. The symptoms were pretty mild – mostly a killer headache and cough for 2 days – but I couldn’t seem to get my energy back afterwards. The malaise and fatigue I was feeling prior to the virus were amplified.

From the outside, according to some people, I was making excuses and not showing commitment to my training. And still, I began making small progress as we moved toward summer. Long legs and stubbornness taking charge once again…

Off the Rails

Then on Memorial Day Weekend, the wheels came off. I had to find a new gym. I was upset, but it had to happen. Talking over my options with my good friend Robin, they made the observation about the hard edged teaching and training style I would be leaving behind.

“You’ve ground your face against the wheel for long enough.”

They reminded me that I had gone through my process of getting tougher (they should know, they did much of the smushing) and I needed something different now. I could look for another style of instruction. Explore a new approach.

I quickly settled on my new destination. It was a very different gym but with some familiar connections. A few long-time members had trained at my old gym while their current (gorgeous!) facility had been built. One member, Lu, had even been at my one and only tournament. Despite not knowing each other well, he’d warmly cheered on me and my teammates. When I reached out to ask him about classes and instructors, he was immediately welcoming.

Shifting to my new gym took some adjusting. The logistics of a new location and slightly longer drive; and the glorious additions of a full service gym, changing rooms, and a sauna. The not-so-glorious switch to no Saturday classes. And weekend open mats at 8am – a no-go for this late night dancing queen.

Effort & Ease

I found myself missing my Sunday morning “Church” routine until I discovered an alternative. On top of all the other wonderful additions, my new gym had yoga classes, one of which was Sundays at 10am. I was able to resume my Sunday morning routine, but my activity and mindset began to shift.

I took an immediate liking to Kayla, the yoga teacher who I’d already met on the mats. She was active in Jiu Jitsu and kickboxing, so she understood how our bodies get used and abused. Her classes were all-levels – accessible to newbies, experts, and the off-and-on practitioners like myself. (I was introduced to yoga way back in my college rowing days and find my way back every half decade or so.)

Back in action w/my homemade yoga mat bag, circa 2005

One of the things I especially enjoyed about Kayla was her incorporation of traditional yogi philosophy into classes. Picking themes or chakras to focus on. Mixing it up to move with the seasons. And an emphasis on balance – in your mind and your focus – allowing you to honor your effort while also allowing moments of ease.

But Still Not Balanced…

In spite of these positive changes, but my health was still deteriorating. By early 2023, I was struggling to have energy for anything, not just training. My sleep was garbage, my energy and mood followed suit. I was thankful I worked from home, since my lunch breaks were often taken up by naps. I was quite simply out of juice.

I happen to run into a former teammate who’d just started a side hustle in nutrition. I thought I was just going to work on spiffing up my diet. But our conversation lead to running some labs to dig up the root cause. What we found was a whole host of things that needed fixing before my diet could even make an impact.

It’s been just over a year now. It is a long slow battle but things are moving in the right direction. I no longer nap regularly and I’m starting to feel my strength and stamina return. But the things that were damaged are slow to heal and some setbacks (like COVID bout #2 in January) are inevitable.

New Year, More Balanced Me

After the initial setback of COVID in January, I plotted out the beginning of my year. I already had a regular every other week schedule with my chiropractor and my LMT to manage my body’s dysfunction, but I was going to start a more proactive approach.

I’ve focused on the upper body strength training class on Wednesdays and am abstaining from that night’s Takedowns & Transitions class (for the time being). I aim to attend 2 out of 3 yoga classes per week, to keep everything moving and have time to center myself. And I’m attending Monday night’s Gi Jiu Jitsu class as much as possible – on top of being my favorite class, Coach Kramer’s warm ups are a killer lower body calisthenic workout.

I still struggle with shifting my mindset from the old way/place. I’ll start to beat myself up for acting “weak” or “soft” – for not training often enough or hard enough. I mentioned to Sarah Lee, my Thai massage therapist (LMT), that I felt bad that I didn’t roll as often or as hard as I did before. She pointed out that my body has become much more integrated since I slowed down and focused on my health. She could feel the changes in my strength and decrease in muscle dysfunction. After several years working together just to keep me functional, she was finally starting to see progress.

Moments of Balance

It’s cliche but true – everyone’s BJJ journey is different. I’ve proven that I can do the hard stuff. I don’t have to do it all the time for that work to count. It is a trait I can use when it’s necessary or important to me. Not when other people think I should, especially not the echoes of voices from my past. I’m not where I imagined I’d be back in 2020. But now I know where I’m going.

Ironically, it’s taken me a long time to write this post because I felt like I needed to be in a perfectly balanced place to hit publish. But the reality is that balance is a fluid state – something Kayla reminds us of when we’re practicing Tree or Crow or other balance-intensive postures – and it changes moment by moment.

I’m continuing to work towards balance. I’m giving myself both the space and grace to move in the ways that I need to move. Though Jiu Jitsu and Yoga have been more hit or miss than I hoped for, I’m on a nearly 3 month streak with lifting and starting to see some PRs and other encouraging progress.

Tree pose for balance, t-shirt for laughs
Embracing the Majestically Awkward

Speaking of balance… I was able to snag a cute Gaidama sticker for my “new” ride. It is an orange 2018 Subaru Crosstrek, aka the Atomic Tangerine, aka reason that my bank account is currently very far out of balance…

No Gi, Yes Gi, Yogi sticker on orange car
The Atomic Tangerine repping the balanced mindset.
The Academy Women's Team

BJJ: Embrace the Opponent (Empower Women Tournament)

At the end of January, I heard that Team Lawton was hosting the Empower Women Tournament on March 25th – women only, submission only, white and blue belts only. The format was round robin with 3 weight divisions. Each weight division would break out into separate white and blue belt brackets if entries allowed.

I should have known I was in trouble right away. Any other time people had talked about tournaments, I’d nope’d on out of the conversation immediately. No thanks, all set, hell no.

Continue reading BJJ: Embrace the Opponent (Empower Women Tournament)

BJJ: Grind This Way

August 31st was my two year Jitsu-versary. The picture of my feet on the mat for my first BJJ class is a Facebook memory that I will always want to “share.” It is the inspiration behind so much of my writing these days that perhaps this blog should be called ‘Grind This Way’ instead.

my feet on the mat of my BJJ school
First steps, first reps

Continue reading BJJ: Grind This Way

BJJ: The First Step to Being a Bad Ass is…

Over the summer, I had been training in earnest for my first stripe in BJJ. Two weeks ago, I was signed off on all the drills and techniques except one … the sprawl. For a combination of physical and mental reasons, the sprawl is my personal Everest. The mental reason is easy to describe – to perform a sprawl, you essentially throw yourself to the ground and my brain thinks that is a bad idea. The physical part is harder to describe, suffice it to say that some parts tighter than they should be and others aren’t as strong as they need to be.

Continue reading BJJ: The First Step to Being a Bad Ass is…

BJJ: Self Defense without the Nut Shots

The first time I mentioned Brazilian Jiu Jitsu on this blog in 2015, I said that I was looking to acquire some skills as a newly single woman and “learning to grapple and defend myself in awkward situations seemed like an excellent choice.” What I didn’t mention was what prompted me to finally act on my thought.

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BJJ students lined up for the Shark Tank

BJJ: The Friendliest Shark Tank Around

In late April I finally made it to the gym to watch testing for the first time. The format was simple and I suspect it’s pretty universal among BJJ gyms.* The instructors sit at the front of the room and ask people to demonstrate techniques on the curriculum. Describing the reasons for the test and the focus for each belt color may not be standard but as a newbie, I appreciated it. I doubt Jay’s brand of commentary is considered par for the course, but it would have felt like I was in the wrong place without it.

BJJ Stripe Test

Jay and Eli providing direction and color commentary

Continue reading BJJ: The Friendliest Shark Tank Around

BJJ: Embrace the Stranger

A while back, I posted what has become a fairly pivotal piece for me on my dog blog, All Around Dogs. The post was entitled Embrace the Awkward and talked about the “conscious incompetence” stage of learning where things feel difficult and, well, awkward. While the post relates it to dog training, I’ve taken my own advice to heart and have tried to apply it to every area of my life. Continue reading BJJ: Embrace the Stranger

On My Own Two Feet

I came to a small but powerful realization today. In my last post, I lamented the end of my “First Feet” photo album entries. I had privately wondered if I could make it a tradition with the next serious guy in my life (not that I’m going there anytime soon) or if that would be too weird. I was caught up in how I started it and wasn’t thinking about how it could evolve. Continue reading On My Own Two Feet