Monday, September 20, 2021

Shark Girl Is Ready to Pull the Plug on Her "New" Gym

I need your jiu jitsu therapy again, o vast and all-knowing readers. 

About a year Before Covid (BC), my native gym closed down--the one where I trained from a lowly white belt, made great friends, and found my stride. 

Eight months BC, I decided on a new gym. I worried that I wouldn't fit in. I was a brown-belt, dare I say over-promoted by my laissez-faire gym environment that focused more on training consistently with pals then going for the gold. To be sure, I welcomed a more challenging environment. I wanted to improve. I set my ego off the mat, tied on my brown belt (because it's rude not to), and hopped into a competition-focused gym. I gave it my all until covid.

I went to every class, stayed until the end and, despite getting home late, took copious notes on techniques, drills, even the partners I was rolling with. I wanted to make this work.

My new coaches were great teachers. They had solid techniques that were not super flashy but worked. They gave me some good advice to improve. And then . . .

Covid hit. 

This isn't a story about covid. So I'll just skip along to the After Covid (AC) period.

I went back to classes this summer, ready to pick up where I left off. My goal was to get better with each class and not worry about my belt, how I compare to others--all that shit. I'm fifty-one after all. I just want to have some fun with a sport I love.

But now I am realizing that, every class, I feel like a disappointment to this group. I feel like they are embarrassed that they inherited a brown belt that isn't up to their standards. Honestly I feel like it would be a load off their shoulders if I leave. 

So, I think that's what I am going to do. There is one other gym in the area that I am looking into for a little later, Post Delta (PD), or whatever variant comes along. (My family is covid shy, so I might as well wait.)

Other than that, a buddy of mine has a few mats and we are going to roll intermittently. If you have any other ideas, I am open. 

Those of you who have been reading along know how hard I have fought against leaving jiu jitsu. I hope this is not the end. But if it is, it's been a good ride.

Wednesday, July 7, 2021

It’s A Dick Move--Or Is It?

This was my first night back on the mats post-Covid lockdown.

Last night I rolled with a new white belt, one month in. 

“What do you want to work on?” I asked.

“Breaking the guard and getting to side control,” New White Belt replied.

NWB seems about thirty, not too tall, not too short. Average build, maybe a little meaty. I would guess he’s about 160-170 pounds.

“Well, that will be easy to do on me.” My stubby legs usually they pop open with no resistance. 

I wrapped my legs around NWB, barely connecting my feet together. NWB took a deep breath, stared at the ceiling, went over the breaking-guard steps in his head as he carefully postured up, slid his knee into my posterior, stretched away. My ankles snapped open. I resisted the urge to activate my open guard—this was his learning experience, after all. I waited patiently as he transitioned to side control, leaving gaps large enough to drive a truck through.

NWB worked to side control and exhaled. 

“That was good!” I encouraged him. 


“Yeah. Now you gotta work on your spacing. I could have escaped while you were passing.”

I demonstrated how to keep his knee close to the hip on a punch-through, how to underhook the opposite arm, and how to transition his other knee under the shoulder.

He tried again, maneuvering a little better this time. As he settled into the position he asked,

“Now, what’s that thing you do where you crush the person’s jaw?”

    “Oh?” I replied, not eager for a jaw crushing just then.

“You know, with your shoulder?”

The thought of his extra 60+ pounds driving into my jaw made me say what I said next:

“That’s kind of a dick move.”

He seemed shocked. “Oh, it is? I didn’t know. I’m sorry. Some of the purple belts have been showing me how to really crush someone’s jaw when you’re in this position.”

Oh the purple belts have been showing you? I thought maybe he had seen it on YouTube. But he was learning it from my teammates. I didn’t want to dis them. I also don’t want to end up with a broken jaw when this guy spazzes out during sparring. So I regrouped.

“Oh, I see. Well, with me, it would be kind of a dick move, because you are twice my size. You don’t need to do that to control me. But, if you were rolling with that guy over there,” I jerked my thumb toward to our resident 260-pound black-bear of a mat-mate, “You might need to do that to keep him down.”

I went into side control on NWB and gently crushed his jaw.

“It’s like this: in Jiu Jitsu you want to expend the least amount of energy necessary to control your opponent. If you can do it without the jaw crush, you should.”

So, here’s my working definition, folks: a Dick Move is when you use more force than you need to in order to control your opponent.


Do you have other ways to define a Dick Move? When is it all-is-fair Jiu Jitsu, and when is it a DM? When is someone calling something a Dick Move actually a Dick Move on their part?

Tuesday, April 20, 2021

Coaches: 13 Ways to Get (and Keep) More Women in Your BJJ Classes

 Most of the time I am the only woman at my gym. Every now and then, a pair of women will come in, stay for a bit, move on. Sometimes a singleton will brave a class or two. Most do not stay. Let’s face it, most guys do not stay, either, am I right? You have to be a special kind of person to enjoy being smushed repeatedly, miserably punished, striving bleakly to overcome the gargantuan dude crushing your thorax.

     But, some guys do stay. Almost all girls leave. Perhaps it is their acculturation--it’s not

nice to beat people up. I know I had to “unlearn” that. But if jiu jitsu is about the smaller person overcoming the bigger and stronger person, who needs it more than the ovaried sex? So, coaches, what can we do to keep the ladies? 

Saturday, August 22, 2020

Fucking Up the Blow Out

On a normal day, I'm not much to look at.

My eyes are too small, my nose is too prominent, my face too splotchy. 

Some days I make it to cute. The head-turning--that's for my sister. She can stop a fire truck with her good looks, even after age 50.

But there is one time, and one time only, that I turn heads. That is when I've just had a blow out. 

Ladies, you know what I'm talking about. But you dudes might be scratching your MMA-shaved heads right now. 

A blow out is when a stylist blows your hair dry. 

Usually Shark Girl ain't got time to worry about hair. I let it air dry. It frizzes and follows strange and circuitous cowlicks. But when I go to the hair salon and my stylist gives me a blow out, watch out, world. 

After my stylist has blown my hair into gloriously smooth silkiness, a transformation happens. Gentlemen vigorously wave to me from the next car over while we are waiting at lights. Old men hit on me in liquor store parking lots. Middle-aged men with dad bods approach me in therapist waiting rooms, right in front of my teenaged son. 

Yesterday, after my blow out, a handsome, much younger man eating Chipotle looked up at me from his cafe seat. His eyes followed me all the way to my car. And you know what? I knew they would. It was so predictable. It's the magic of the blow out. Shark Girl ain't much to look at, but give her a professional blow dry and watch out. It's like that old Salon Selectives commercial from the '90s. If you're too young to remember, here it is for educational purposes. Brace yourself. Commercials haven't been made like this since #metoo.

I'm telling you a lot about my hair and you may be wondering why. Here it is: A good blow out can last three or four days. I can't replicate it at home. I don't have the tools, the talent, or the time. So I schedule hair appointments for when I won't have wash my hair for a while, to maximize blow out longevity. That means I schedule them as far away from jiu jitsu as possible. 

I'm not alone in this, right? 

This week, the only available appointment was the day before I was doing jiu jitsu with my quarantine buddy. Oh no! I had a choice to make: Roll and wash my hair, or don't roll and keep my sexy blow out. 

I'm guessing you know which one I chose. I chose to fuck up my blow out.

After my roll with my quarantine buddy, my ponytail was a mess. Just to be clear, if you google "messy ponytail," you will get images of ponytails that are not messy, and have been teased and over-producted to look like Chrissy Teigen just had sex and then put her hair up. (See below) 

Not messy

This is not the kind of messy ponytail I am talking about. 

In fact my google searching could not find a picture worthy of my frizzy, disaster of a post-grappling scare-do Perhaps that is better for you all; no one needs to see that. The closest I came was when I looked for "hair" and "van de graaff generator."

As I left the gym, ready to wash the sweat and filth out of my hair and to destroy my sexy blow out forever, my quarantine training partner turned to me. 

"I like this hairstyle better," he said. 

That's why we're friends. 

So, ave atque vale, blow out. Until next haircut.

Friday, August 7, 2020

Shark Girl's (Evil?) Coronavirus Pact

So, after almost four months, I started rolling again. My jiu jitsu best friend and I decided to "pod" together. We only roll with each other. To do this, we discussed our coronavirus exposure tolerance and interrogated each other on our personal contact lists and our disinfecting routines. Then we made it official: we were exclusive. We would only roll with each other.

I am in a big, midlife jiu jitsu crisis right now. Switching gyms threw me. It shook my confidence in myself. It broke my social reasons for going to class. Sometimes I wonder why I am still practicing. My coach is a nice guy--a good teacher and communicator--but I came to him with a bloated brown belt. How invested is he in me? Certainly not as much as he is in the purple belt that he has cultivated since white belt. Not as much as he is in the new white belts that he needs to keep his cashflow positive. I broke into a community in progress. Where do I fit in? I'm not quite sure. 

I am friendly with everyone at my new gym, but I have not yet developed real friendships. Others in my new gym are missing the camaraderie of class; I'm not. To be fair, I was only there about six months before we closed. How integrated should I expect to be?

With my old friend, who is from my old gym, rolling is like a weathered loafer. It feels natural and normal. We know each others' moves but can still surprise each other, and are happy when we do. Of course, the danger is that we may not challenge each other enough. But I've found that I can roll for hours with my friend without even noticing the time. He reminds me of why I do jiu jitsu. (Which, after much soul searching, I have decided I do jiu jitsu because I want to be a creative badass. I think. I'm still trying to answer the question: Why does a petite 50-year old mother of two whose injury tolerance is waning by the month do jiu jitsu?)

At our last rolling session, we shared that we each felt the same at our new gyms. "Honestly, what if we quit our gyms, got some mats for our garage, and just trained the two of us?" Call it jiu jitsu monoandry. We tossed that around for a bit, but in the end rightly concluded that having a black belt who was current, practicing, learning, teaching, and competing was significant to our development.

My gym is still doing solo drills only. I appreciate the effort. But, I need to be on the mat. Or I might never return.


Saturday, March 14, 2020

Jiu Jitsu in the Time of Coronavirus

"We won't shake hands anymore," my coach instructed. "And we won't tap hands before rolling."
     "But then we're going to roll, right?" someone asked.

This exchange happened after reminders to wash our gis after every class. This is jiu jitsu in the time of coronavirus.
But they look so cute! Like Frankenberries!

I was not sure whether to go to class on Thursday night. All around me are recommendations of social distancing. Jiu jitsu is the opposite of that. You get in close, you hug your partner, your gi soaks up the sweat beading off your partner's forehead. . . . I know. When I put it like that, it's a wonder everyone doesn't want to do jiu jitsu!

If I don't go tonight, I thought, then I really shouldn't go until all of this blows over. That could be weeks. Months. Am I prepared to go without jiu jitsu for that long? 

The answer was no. I am focusing on new grips. I want to try them out. I have been working hard lately, acclimatizing to a new gym, trying to legitimize myself and my brown belt. I feel like I can't spare a minute, never mind a quarantine.

So, with Husband looking at me sidewise, Shark Girl went off to class and heard words like, "As always, if you have any cold symptoms, stay off the mats."

I mean let's face it, I've been rolling around in these guys' sweat for months now. If one of us has it, we've surely passed it on. We know that carriers can be asymptomatic, I justified to myself.

Middle School Son wears shorts to school every day. In the middle of winter. Unless Husband forces him to wear "sweatpants at least." We've given up on the winter coat that he insists he does not have but has been hanging in our coat closet gathering dust and growing too small for about a year. Middle School Son has seen this coat. He knows it exists. Yet he refuses to acknowledge it.

One day I asked High School Son (who always wore pants but lived through this strange shorts fad a few years ago) why middle school boys did this. "Its a game of chicken," he said. "No one wants to be the first to wear pants and admit that they're too cold."

If I'm being honest with myself, part of my decision to go to jiu jitsu was like that. I don't want to be the first one to cave in to the virus. Especially as the token female. They are going to have to make me not go, in spite of the fact that I have a son who is at high risk if he develops the virus. (Yes, Shark Girl is crazy. But you knew that already.)

I also wondered if I was contemplating skipping jiu jitsu to wimp out on my feelings of inadequacy. Who knew that deciding whether or not to go to class was going to tap into all of my psychological issues?

When I got home Thursday night, I washed my belt along with my gi. I know that's sacrilege. But the belt was sweaty, too. What good is it to wash the coronavirus off your gi only to have it fester unchallenged on your belt?

Just today another gym I am connected with announced they would be closing for a period of two weeks, like our local schools. What a relief it would be if mine did that, too. Then I would not have to make the decision. Then I would not have to search my psyche to figure out why I should or should not go to class. Won't someone else please wear their pants first? You would make it a hell of a lot easier for me.

I really like Stephan Kesting's resource on COVID-19 and BJJ. I haven't read it all yet, but it looks pretty comprehensive. If I find anymore resources I find helpful, I will update this post. Please feel free to comment with any resources that have helped you, too.

Stay Healthy,
Shark Girl

Sunday, February 23, 2020

Shark Girl's Big Learning #2: Jiu Jitsu Is Harder As a Small Person

Jiu jitsu is even fucking harder as a small person. 

I know what they say—size doesn’t matter. But let’s be honest. That’s a myth in just about any arena.

When you are tiny, everyone is bigger than you. Brand new white belts can muscle you. Brand new white belts freak out when they see you because you they are like, “Oh, damn! A 100# brown-belted, middle-aged woman creeping toward AARP eligibility. Damn! If she beats me my penis will fall off!” 

The other night a new small dude joined our gym. (Mind you, a small dude is still has about 35% more body weight than me.) I was partnered with him to roll. We slapped hands. Immediately he leaped on me like a starving zombie who has not seen quivering flesh since the Apocalypse. Or like Voldemort attacking Harry Potter.

Small Guy had no idea what he was doing, but he did it anyway. Well-muscled arms were flying. His torso was thrown at my face several times. I’m sure when the five minutes were up, he was thinking, “I survived a brown belt!” I was thinking, “I am so glad I do not have a broken finger or tooth.”

Staying safe is usually top on my mind unless I am rolling with one of a handful of “pre-qualified” people. If you have tips, tricks, or mindset tweaks that can help me here, I am all ears.

Wait! I promised myself I wasn’t going to complain about being small anymore! Oh, well, Screw that.

Shark Girl Is Ready to Pull the Plug on Her "New" Gym

I need your jiu jitsu therapy again, o vast and all-knowing readers.  About a year Before Covid (BC), my native gym closed down--the one whe...