Monday, August 6, 2018

You Can't Fight City Hall

In the mid-90s, while alt-rock raged across the airwaves, twenty-something Shark Girl used to visit two elderly Italian sisters who lived in the North End of Boston. They would make me lunch. We would talk about Italy and life as an immigrant in Boston. We told stories of our families and discussed the problems of the world. These conversations usually ended with the older sister, Filomena, saying, “Well, you can’t fight City Hall.” It was one of the few English expressions she could say clearly, understandable even to those not well-versed in Italian-tinted English. Almost once a visit, Filomena would declare to me that City Hall could not be fought.

The other day I was leaving the kids jiu jitsu class that I started assisting. (I know. We have a lot to catch up on.) In my head, I heard Filomena say those words: You can’t fight City Hall. 

My blog has documented well the outsider feelings I have as a woman on the male-dominated mats of jiu jitsu. I guess I thought the kids class would be different. It’s not. It’s more of the same. When it comes time to work with me, I see the boys avert their eyes to the other male coaches or another member of the class, hoping that lack of eye contact will “save” them. At first I thought, Maybe it’s just the pre-teen weirdness of rolling with a female. That could be it. 

But the other day one of them got stuck working with me and said, “This time can you go full force?”as if he was insulted that in the past I had not. “Do you want me to?” I asked. “I don’t know . . .” he said. This summed up his whole dilemma for me. He was anxious that I wasn't going full force and it would look like a “girl” was taking it easy on him, but he was also afraid that if I didn't go easy on him a “girl” would crush him. He didn't have these same concerns with the male coaches.

(I use the word girl here, because I think in those moments that's what I was to him, even though I am I’m a 48-year-old purple-belted woman who clearly should have some skill over a white-belted 11-year-old boy, if there is any truth to jiu jitsu.) 

I'm not sure why I thought maybe kids would be different. This youngster is simply reflecting his culture.  Filomena’s words came back to me: You can’t fight City Hall. As women in jiu jitsu, we can’t fight City Hall. After eight years of jiu jitsu, it still stings. I bet it always will.

*After reading this post, many of you jiu jitsu playahs, well-versed in fighting, are saying, "Wait a minute Shark Girl! You may not be able to fight City Hall . . . directly. After all, isn't that what jiu jitsu is about? Figuring out how to fight the bigger, stronger opponent?" To you, I say, "Well played." You are absolutely right! No self-respecting jiu jitsuer would try to break down the locked front door. No, we look for the key under the mat at back door. Now, I'm going to stop before you all take this in some, tawdry, NSFW metaphorical way. But know this: I have a companion piece percolating about how we actually can fight City Hall, but we have to do it jiu jitsu style. Stay tuned!

Monday, November 20, 2017

Shark Girl Faces a Change

It is a turning point for Shark Girl.

I haven’t written in a while. When I was a white belt, everything was new and curious. And being a woman on the mat was challenging. I needed help and support, and you, faithful Internet readers, were there for me. You helped and guided me.

Now, as a purple belt and then some, I have drifted into stasis. My game doesn’t change so rapidly anymore. The huge strides I used to make in a month are now incremental improvements over months and months. I used to practice how to escape; now I work on shifting moves slightly to the left to see if that will help, or moving my center of gravity *here* and seeing what that will do.

Likewise, in being the lone woman at my gym (still), I have fallen into a pattern, a habit if you will. Some of the same problems remain, but after this many years, you either put up or get out, and I have chosen the former. I believe I made the right decision.

So at this point in my jiu jitsu career, change is slow. Glacially slow. And to write about that on a regular basis seemed, well, boring.

Now its global warming time, my friends. My gym just announced that it is closing. I don’t have many options. But one thing is certain: Change is coming, and it is coming fast.

Tuesday, August 1, 2017

It Took Me Over Seven Years, But I Have Finally Done It!

Yep. Last night. I let out an expulsion of gas that echoed throughout the chamber, shook the walls, and was finally absorbed by the mats. How embarrassing! 
Others before me have done it, followed by eruptions of laughter from the class. Usually it's the older
guy. Every once in a while it is one of the younger dudes. Me, for my part, up until now, I have only let out those ones that could be mistaken for a foot rubbing against the mat, making a squeak. Should I say excuse me? Or would that call attention to something that no one noticed anyway? Best to let those go.

But last night was different. Last night, it was like a balloon letting out a quick burst of air when some little kid spreads apart its lips to annoy a roomful of partygoers.  And of course I was in north -south. “Excuse me,” I said sheepishly. It was clear I could neither ignore or deny this one. 

Now, I am always very careful on the mats. I do my best to hold my sphincter tight. As a mom who pushed out two babies in less than fifteen minutes a pop, sometimes things are not as . . . sealed . . . as we would like them to be. But, Good Lord, I use all my muscles to keep it in! Sometimes I sacrifice power moves and opportunities because I have to keep my “core” engaged. But last night in drilling, I was committed to holding down my partner with my upper body, and I had to jerk my leg away. There was only so much my core could keep track of at one time. Kind of like when someone talks to me at the copier. Look, I can make copies, or I can have an intelligent conversation. I cannot do both, and if you make me, my brain will fart.

Last night, I was pulled in so many directions that I was not able to hold in my body's brain fart. In fact, I never even suspected it was coming. My partner, gracious even though his face was inches from the scene (scent?) of the crime, remained professional and businesslike. We continued drilling the move. I, however, decided to use slightly less power than before.     

Sunday, February 12, 2017

What Shark Girl Would Do. . . to Not Miss Class

I don't know about you, but skipping class freaks me out. Here is why:

My friends and partners, whose Jiu jitsu I want to encourage and foster, whom I care about as human beings, whom I love dearly and spar with only to improve their Jiu jitsu and NEVER for any egotistical reasons (I am much more Zen than that), if I miss a class, those wonderful people will totally get a leg up on me with some new move or extra practice. Then they will wreck me mercilessly the next time I am on the mat.

I also hate missing class because mat sense is real. I have been sidelined by inuries, keeping me off the mat for months. When I came back, it felt like that blue mat was water and I was floundering to stay afloat. It takes a while to get used to the mat after an absence. Like walkng on land after being at sea. Any time I miss mat time, I worry that my mat sense will diminish.

 Here is a Short List of things I have done instead of missing class:

Skip Eating
I love food, just not when it is within an hour of Jiu jitsu class. Dinner will have to wait until I come back. Speaking of food . . .

Not Feed My Children Dinner
Look, there is cereal in the pantry, and they are old enough to understand the beauty and ease of ramen noodles. I am confident their instincts will kick in and they will not become some Darwinian statistic. In the meantime, I got me some learnin’ to do.

Laundry On the Off Day
SG has so much laundry. Sometimes I feel like Sisyphus rolling that big rock up a hill. Instead my rock is a laundry basket, the hill is the basement stairs, and when it all rolls back down it goes through a laundry chute that wouldn't exist anymore if I had my house renovated because it is against fire code and no self respecting contractor who wants to keep his license is keeping that shit around.
     But no matter how much laundry I have done, no matter how tired I am of my basement corner with the dryer sheets and the Arm and Hammer and the big bins of sorted, sweaty, elementary-school–boy laundry, I will get my ass downstairs and make sure I have clean Jiu jitsu gear for my classes. Period. My son doesn't need clean underwear or socks, really. Half the time he wears them for days straight of his own preference. But I need a clean gi.

Take Maximum Ibuprofen.
Whether I feel a migraine coming on, or my muscles are sore from running, it doesn't matter. I will pop this wonder drug like candy if It means being able to make it through jujitsu class.  

Take Other Pharmaceuticals
 . . . especially those quelling any gas that might erupt, embarrassing myself and my classmates. Yes I am saying that sometimes (maybe very often) I take a Gas-X about a half hour before class, what's it to ya’? Actually you should all be thanking me. I do it out of consideration for my classmates. 

Show Up Places in My Gi
Yes, I have appeared at school events in full gi in front of parents and students because I didn't have time to change after class. I have gone to the grocery store flaunting patches and a belt. I know my schedule is tight, but that doesn't mean I should have to sacrifice choking someone I care about.
Looks like I will have to wait until 2018 to be friends with Jason. 😢
And finally,

Fight With Husband

I don't care what he has scheduled, Jiu jitsu is sacred time. He best not get in the way! (I’m pretty sure I can take him!)

Thursday, December 8, 2016

Beat Down Off the Mat

I expect to get a run for my money on the jiu jitsu mat. But I wasn't expecting one off the mat this Thanksgiving when I visited a gym with Cousin of Shark Girl.

I traveled back to my hometown. Cousin of Shark Girl was at dinner, and we made plans to catch a class the next morning to roll off all that pasta and stuffing. 
Yes, pasta. We are Italian American!

Cousin and I were the first there, except for a man in his thirties, kind of oddly shaped and out of shape. He seemed out of place for a high-powered jiu jitsu class. While my cousin changed, the man, I’ll call him Silvio, asked us what we did.
                “We’re teachers,” I said.
                “What do you teach?”
                “He teaches physics,” I pointed to the curtain behind which my cousin was changing.
                “She teaches Latin,” Cousin called from behind the curtain.
                “Are you married?” We get that a lot when we visit gyms together. Most people think we are a couple, not related.
                “No, we’re cousins.”
                “Oh. I thought you were married.”
                “So . . .” Silvio hesitated. I held my breath. I knew this was going to be good. “Latin, huh?”
                “Yep.” There are basically 3 reactions I get when people find out I teach Latin:

        #1 Isn’t that a dead language?
        #2 I took that in high school thirty years ago. I hated it.
        #3 I took that in high school thirty years ago. I loved it. Let me recite something for you.

This looked like it was headed toward response #1.
                “What’s the point of that?” he asked.
                Seriously? You are not seriously asking me that? By this time, I realized that “Silvio” had some issues that I should, as a sensitive person, be alert to and compassionate about. But this just pushed my buttons. Sometimes patience is beyond my reach.
                “What do YOU do?” I asked.
                “Nothing.” he replied.
                Round 1 goes to the Latin teacher. But not a very sweet victory.

Friday, October 21, 2016

Mo Milk, Mo Problems Or, Shark Girl’s Bougie Coffee Dilemma

As an aging practitioner of jiu jitsu, I find it more important than ever to watch what I put in my body.

Like, I'm watching these Cheez-Its very carefully as I stuff them in my mouth.

For a few years now, I have been on the alert to cow’s milk. Too much causes my system . . . distress . . . to put it politely. I have been limiting my consumption of milk and cheese, and it has been good for the environment.

Last year, in a bid to find out whether I had an actual intolerance to milk, I tried to do a breath test with my GI. That didn’t work out too well. I almost passed out doing the  carb-deprivation prep and couldn’t take the test.

This year I am seeing a naturopath. We decided to cut out milk for a while and see what happens.

After two weeks, I felt like my morning fog cleared up. I had no bloating, even during my period. I felt “skinny.” I missed milk and milk products immensely. I craved cheese and delighted in sneaking cookies that I “couldn’t really be sure” contained butter. And I substituted soy milk in my morning cappuccino. Not great, but tolerable.

Then, the soy started affecting me worse than the milk. I tried almond milk—ick in coffee. (Two bitters do not make a right!) Then I tried coconut milk—it was like drinking water with a little coffee powder sprinkled in.

That's real milk on the left, folks, and all the others on the right!
Alas, because I couldn’t find a proper substitute, I went back to milk in my morning capp. And it didn’t stop there. Hell, after my milk-deprivation I went crazy and made a fabulous pasta with cream sauce, peas and prosciutto. Then I ate all sorts of my favorite cheeses like cheddar and manchego. I wolfed down cookie dough by the spoonful and then the cookies that actually got made. Mom’s lasagna? Seconds, please. Ben & Jerry’s? It would be rude to say no. It was a backlash that would give Bossie a concussion.

I think I am finally ready to try going milkless again after my bender, but I need your help. I am writing to you, Gentle Readers, to ask you two questions:

 1) What are your experiences with milk, on and off the wagon?

  2) What the hell can I put in my morning cappuccino that will make my naturopath, my digestive system, and my inner foodie happy? I am not going black in the AM, folks. That is barbaric.

Sunday, October 2, 2016

The Berimbolo Kid

I recently visited another school’s Open Mat. I had a fine time training with some women, something I don’t get to do very often. It is always easier to approach the women at a new school, so I do that first, if I can. After a few rounds with the ladies, it was approach someone new or sit it out. I looked around for someone who might be willing to train with my petite ass. I spied a guy, not too much bigger than me, but muscular and compact. He was sweating from a previous roll and wearing a white belt, one stripe.
     Perfect. I thought. Not too big—if he goes nuts I can handle him. A little tired, so he may have gotten some aggression out. I went up and asked him to dance.
     “Sure,” he said. We tapped hands and jockeyed for position.
     As always, when I roll with someone new, I try to respond to what they give me to get a sense of whether they are skilled and restrained or some crazy knee twister. With guys, I am always aware of the ego. In some men, ego can trigger EIIB—erratic, injury-inducing behavior . . . aka spazzing out. I’ve had my share of spazzing–out injuries and I really don’t need another. 
     This guy seemed to know a few things and was not too wacky. Between the initial grip fighting, I started small talk. I find small talk helps disarm tension that could lead to, you know, EIIB. I learned that this guy was about a year into Jiu jitsu.
We grip fought for a while, and then swept me. I countered, reguarding. He opened my guard, passed it, and pushed forward, hard. I hip escaped and reguarded, pulling him down. We went like that for while, and then he went for something . . . hard. When he didn’t get it, he shook his head.
     “Are you working on something?” I asked, figuring he was practicing some move on me. 
“Ahh, yeah. The berimbolo. I just can’t seem to get it.”
     “Oh, I see.” I reguarded . . . both physically and mentally. My mental reguard was something like: Hmmm . . . one-stripe white belt can’t seem to get the berimbolo down. I better watch out for this one or I’m the next YouTube video casualty.
    He lunged at me and arm–dragged me, looking for a Kimura. I wriggled out and snuck to his back. 
     “Kimura, ey?”
“You want to try it again?”
I moved toward a sweep myself, spidering my right foot on the crook of his left arm. My foot fell through and he clamped down. He’s going for a footlock. I play so much open guard I can see that a mile away. I punched my foot through to the other side of his armpit. He grabbed at my ankle but it was too late, I was already through.
I noticed his hand was swollen. It looked like a latex glove after someone blows air into it.
“What’s that?” I asked. “Everything okay?”
“Yeah, my hand is screwed up.”
“Too much grip fighting?”
“Okay. I’ll stay away from it.”
“Nah, you don’t have to. It’s all right.”
“Maybe, but I’ll stay away. Injuries suck. Both my knees have had ‘em.”
“Oh, your knees?”
“So I’ll stay away from the heel hooks then.”
“Hahaha!” I laughed, but he wasn’t laughing with me. Was he serious? “Wait . . .  were you trying to heel hook me?”
“Yes, NO heel hooks, please.”
“OK. Glad you said something.”
“Me, too.” 
I finished up the roll as soon politely possible (there were no timers) and moved on.

You Can't Fight City Hall

In the mid-90s, while alt-rock raged across the airwaves, twenty-something Shark Girl used to visit two elderly Italian sisters who lived ...