Thursday, March 31, 2011

A Journey of Epic Proportion

This is it. Tonight marks four months. Well, a little more than four months. I started Brazilian Jiu Jitsu just before Thanksgiving. I committed myself until the end of March, and started this blog to make me stick to it. You see, with this blog, I could gain support from others as I weathered the newbie storm. And since the blog was a public proclamation (anonymous as it is!), I would feel debilitating shame to tell the whole World Wide Web that I failed to stick out the four months. This blog has served me well! I thank all of you who have offered support, encouragement, pearls of wisdom and nuggets of truth as I braved snow banks higher than my waist to fight strange men in an industrial-park dojo with a dimly-lit and seldom-frequented parking lot.

This has indeed been an epic journey. In my travels, I have faced the Bone Crusher, the Kidneyberg, the Bloody Gi, and the Assistant Little League Coach. I have been choked by mouth guards and men. I have been tortured by endless rib pain. I have grabbed things not meant for my hands. Yet still I dutifully pressed on. With fancy panties as trusty companions, I faced fear and feelings of inadequacy as I traversed the Underworld of BJJ and came out . . . alive, but with a few bruises on my shins.
I have come to love this sport. I have been transformed. I do not completely know how yet. But I know the old me was never locked in a combat so desperate that I dropped an F-bomb at my competitor, pissed that he was foiling my best laid plans to break his arm. (Oh, yeah. It was an “F.U.” This is when I ask you all to tell me how you swore at your partners so that I feel better about myself. Please?)

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

He Dropped a Bomb on Me, Baby

“I’m worried that this is going to cut into your jiu jitsu,” Husband said last night. He was talking about his new responsibility—Assistant Little League Coach for 8-Year Old’s team
“Uh-huh,” I replied rather absently. Sure, some Saturday games. I get it. Sometimes weekends aren’t made for jiu jitsu. You’ve got to show up for the family, too. Besides, lately a lot of things have encroached on my Saturday class. One more thing. Ho-hum.
“Really,” he said. “I think it might when we have practices and such.”
“Wait a minute. . . .” Was he talking about my classes during the week? I think he was. “Do you mean Monday–Wednesday?”
“Yes,” he said with some agita. “I mean, I don’t think I can take 4-Year Old to practice with us.”
“Why not?”
 “Balls will be flying; it will be dangerous for him. You don’t know.”
“It’s Little League. He’ll have a great time coming to practice! Give him a job; keep him out of the way.”
“What if he runs into the street?”
 “You’re going to be on a huge field.”
“It’s surrounded by streets. People have to get to the field. There have to be streets.”
“A four-year old on a huge playing field with swings and a playscape and balls and sports equipment around. You think he’s going to run into the street?”
“It could happen.”
“I don’t think so.”
 “What if I’m throwing pitches to the kids and he runs into the street? Huh? I have a responsibility!”
“Honey, you’re the Assistant Coach. I think you can stop pitching for a minute to save your son’s life.”
“I’m just saying, you may have to not go to jiu jitsu.”
I stamp my foot. “You are going to get such a flaming blog post!”
“No, I’m not. That is not how we work things out.”
“It is now!” I spy a rug burn on his elbow. Husband indulged me on Sunday. He let me show him my grapple skills. Afterward, there was much bemoaning: “You do know I have arthritis in my lower back?” “I really don’t like doing that.” “That’s not fun for me at all!” And then the next day when the soreness kicked in, “I can’t do that with you anymore.”
“I bob my head in the direction of his rug burn. “Is that from me?”
“See? That’s how we work things out now!”

[This post dedicated to Georgette, and women with non-grappling husbands everywhere.]

 post scriptum
In Husband’s defense:
Husband testified in front of the state legislature on Monday. He was supposed to go at 2:00 PM, but by 6:00, he still had not been called. He phoned home. “I’ll be home in time for you to go to jiu jitsu—I promise.” He asked the folks if there was anyway he could go ahead of time. “My wife has an engagement,” he said. Unfortunately, the answer was no. He made it home in time and I got to class.
This afternoon he proudly showed me the video of his testimony. I noticed he stumbled over the word “judiciary.”
“Honey, were you about to say ‘jiu jitsu to the state legislature?”
“Um, yes, but I caught myself!”

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Shark Girl Cheats

Usually I’m loyal. Very loyal. But this weekend I just couldn’t help myself. It all started with a work-related trip—a conference if you will. Husband once said, “Anything goes when you’re on the road.” Of course, Husband wasn’t talking about me and my road, nor did he realize that his words would come back at him manifold since the day he uttered them, usually when he was going on the road. But this weekend, Shark Girl went on the road.

Now, as I said, Shark Girl is pretty loyal. I’m loyal to friends, husbands, employers, ideas, clothing styles, coifs, and cars. I’m loyal to this conference, too, and have been going every March for the past fifteen years. Perhaps, in some ironic way loyalty is what drove—no, forced—me to cheat. You see, going on the road meant that I would miss my Saturday morning jiu jitsu. Racing in and out of my mind were all the techniques and practice that my classmates would be getting. I would be sitting with my classicist friends, hiding my bruised shins behind khaki corduroys, nodding intently at orations on how strife between the optimates and populares in late-Republican Rome influenced the literature of the period. What I would not be doing was jiu jitsu. How could I remedy that? By cheating.
            I found a gym near my bed-and-breakfast (which, for you foodies, had an on-site sugar shack—I slathered my Amish pancakes with house-made maple syrup). I found a class that fit my schedule. I snuck out so I wouldn’t have to explain to everyone that I was going to a submission fighting school before meeting them for dinner at a local fancy French bistro. I changed into gear and headed for the school.

It must be surprising to a Brazilian jiu jitsu instructor to learn that the person e-mailing them about classes is a petite, 40-something, high-school Latin teacher. Maybe skeptical is a better word to describe the look on the instructor’s face when I walked in. If I had a thought translator (and I’m probably better off without one) I’d guess the transcript would have read something like, “Ummm, does she know what kind of a class this is? Is she seriously here? What the hell am I supposed to do with her?” I don’t think I’m the usual demographic. There was some awkwardness until other students dribbled in and we settled down to grappling. After a roll or two, the instructor seemed satisfied that I was in the right place. He worked with just me and another student so I got lots of attention. He watched us roll and then chose certain techniques based on what he thought would be helpful. He coached us through the techniques while we rolled. It was great instruction, great fun, and a great workout. Oh, and one more thing. Not only did I cheat last night but it was also with my first . . . woman. Yes, folks! I rolled with a lady!

When I finally looked at the clock I realized it was time to take a shower and find the restaurant. I said my thank-yous, went back to my room and cleaned my dirty, cheatin’ self up. I hopped in the car and in no time at all I was sipping a cabernet blend, listening to the day’s specials, frosting chick-pea spread onto some crusty, French peasant bread, and cooing over appetizers. No one noticed the new bruises on my legs. Anything goes when you’re on the road.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

A Shower Well Earned

Wow! I walked out of the gym tonight with jiggly knees.
After our drills, I rolled with The Crusher. He’s been not so crushy lately, which is good. Then I rolled with another white belt. He had the fire in his eyes. He almost armbarred me but I wriggled out, rolled him over, and put on the choke. Then I rolled fiercely with another white belt. He peeled off my left arm and shoulder-locked me. I challenged him to a rematch. We were locked in combat. My feet were slipping on the mat from the rivers of sweat we generated. I was exhausted but felt the smoothest I’ve ever been. I don’t know how long we were going for . . . five minutes? ten minutes? three hours? Who can keep track of time when you’re so focused? I only know that at some point we clapped each other bro-style on the shoulder to call it a night. The gym was closing, and we were no closer to the end of the roll than we were to the beginning.

I came home so sweat-dampened that Four-Year Old told me I had to shower before I brought him up Red Bear and tucked him in. (He also didn’t want me to move his pillows because he had secreted a Tupperware full of oatmeal chocolate chips beneath them. He’s definitely my son!)
            “Your wife is a beast!” I slapped Husband on the back as he sat drinking peppermint tea in front of the computer, trying to finagle a seven-letter Scrabble word to beat Maven, his computer opponent.
            “I know,” he said, not taking his eyes off the board.
            “Feel this gi!” Now, you know someone loves you when they feel your sweaty gi. I guided his hand to my pants, collar, and tee shirt. I threw out some word combinations to try to jump-start his game. “Thistle! Tightest! Highest!”
            “Wow! That’s some serious sweat,” he said, eyes still on the computer.

Husband got his seven-letter word. He beat Maven. I took a well-earned shower, luxuriating in the hot spray that rolled over my back, shoulders, and my legs, leopard-spotted with righteous bruises. I put on my robe and went downstairs to get Red Bear. I tucked Red Bear in next to Four-Year Old, who had fallen asleep, and I gently kissed him on the cheek.

Monday, March 14, 2011

I Show Up

Husband is making me post this. Husband said I had to because there are other women out there who need to know how long it will take before they feel comfortable. There are still times when I’m self-conscious because I’m the only girl. But I don’t feel like an outsider anymore.

Saturday afternoon after class I came home and said, “I feel like I’m a real class member.”
            “What do you mean by that?” Husband said.
            “Well, I don’t feel like a total loser, like people don’t want to roll with me anymore. I don’t feel like the ‘new girl’ that everyone’s waiting to see how long she’ll last.”
            “That’s something,” he said.

When I started BJJ, Husband reminded me that to gain respect, you gotta show up. If you show up and make it important to you, people respect that. So, I’ve been showing up. I’ve been showing up for 3 ½ months. I finally feel comfortable most of the time—like I’m now a member of the group. I know that to get here, I’ve had to show up consistently and practice hard. I’ve battled muscle pulls and kidney stones and still showed up. I’ve had to be tough, not sensitive. I’ve had to be fierce, not timid. I’ve also had to be serious, but not too serious. After all, it’s so much fun.
I’m sure there are some places where women never feel accepted, or some women who felt at home right away. Do men feel like it takes some time to earn their place? I’d love to hear how long it took before you were comfortable at your gym.

Monday, March 7, 2011

Not Just Blood and Gore?

I’ve taught about Roman gladiators for years. Yes, you know, the dudes that beat up on each other in ancient arenas, and fought to the death for the amusement of onlookers. This year, after starting jiu jitsu, I find myself thinking about the whole topic differently.

Gladiators are one of the students’ favorite units. They ask a lot of questions. Being on the spot in front of a class, one develops a sense of anticipation to questions that might be thrown at you. So, as students ask one question, I answer it, and my mind moves forward to prepare answers to branching questions that could come out next. (Kind of like all you great BJJers do when you plan to submit me. You think of all the moves that could follow whatever just happened, and then next thing I know . . . ARMBAR!)

Today we talked about how there were different types of gladiators, differently armed, and the Romans liked to pit them against each other to see how they used their advantages and disadvantages. All that was going through my head was jiu jitsu:
Kind of like when someone has long legs and I have short legs and I have to figure out how the hell to get out of his guard! That must be fun for some people to watch!
Then students discussed the pros and cons of a gladiator that fought with a net and trident. They recognized that this gladiator would prefer to fight from a distance, since his weapon was longer than his opponent’s. One student said that the guy could throw his trident. All that was going through my head was jiu jitsu:
Yes, but then he would be unarmed. His next step would be to close the gap and wrestle his opponent to the ground, try to control him so he couldn’t use his short, thrusting sword. Better for him to keep his trident and keep his opponent at bay, just like those long-legged folks keep me from passing their guard.
And as I looked over the questions I assigned for homework, meant to explore how the students viewed fighting and violent entertainment, all that was going through my head was jiu jitsu:
I wonder if anyone tomorrow will say that they feel like fighting can be an art form and that it might be fun to watch highly-skilled fighters from a purely artistic perspective.

Many of the spectators at gladiatorial shows would not be strangers to combat themselves. Perhaps they were war veterans, or would be joining the military themselves in a few years. Surely most had lost loved ones due to combat. State-sanctioned combat was a more present part of a Roman’s life than it is to me and my students today. Why wouldn’t people well-versed in fighting find it interesting to watch a match?
Of course, the killing part at the end: not so much fun. But exploring the art of jiu jitsu has allowed me to look at gladiatorial combat from a perspective other than blood and gore. I can just see the looks on my students’ faces now when they ask Latin Teacher a question about Roman gladiators and Shark Girl responds.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

A New Religion (I'm Back!)

The cruise was relaxing. The new profile pic is me and 8-Year Old Son on a beautiful, Bahamian beach. Don’t we look rested? You will all be happy to know that my new, improved BJJ abs helped my side of the aerobics studio win the Ab Attack class on the ship. We held the plank pose for over 5 minutes. Most importantly, none of my innards broke on me while I was sailing international waters, far from tertiary medical care.
The doctor-on-call gave me permission to cruise after an ultrasound revealed a giant-sized stone squatting in my kidney. This, folks, and the raging infection it produced, is what has been causing my nagging side pain. So I loaded up on cipro and headed off to sea, promising to see my doctor upon my return.

I saw Doctor on Monday. She referred me to a specialist. I asked if I could still exercise. Doctor laughed. “You’re the only patient that asks that. Most people are relieved when I tell them they can’t exercise. Fine, just take it easy.”
            “Okay. I’ve started jiu jitsu, a contact sport. Does that mean no contact sports?”
            “I don’t think you want to get crushed and pushed around. That means no contact sports until you see the specialist and see what he says.”
            “Okay,” I acquiesced.
            I went to the counter and waited as Receptionist made an appointment with the specialist. I can take a little time off, I thought. No big deal. I’ll get an appointment this week, have this resolved next, and I’ll be back.
            Receptionist said, “How’s March 16th?”
            March 16th? Like two weeks from now? Did you tell them how big the rock in my gut is? “Ummm, is it okay that it’s so far away?” I asked hopefully.
            Doctor passed by. “Yes. You can wait until then,” she said reassuringly.
            Shark Girl’s thought process went like this: If I wait two weeks and the specialist says contact sports are fine, then I’ve wasted two weeks, haven’t I? And if he says they aren’t, then I’ve got at least another month before I can get back on the mat. I’m not going to wait that long, so why wait at all? Really. This kidney boulder has probably been brewing for years. What will another month hurt?
Yes, Shark Girl’s inner voice started to sound like a crazy jiu jitsu fiend. And then out loud, I said to Doctor, “Okay. But the deal is off. If it’s going to be that long I’m not guaranteeing I will stay away from contact sports.”
            “Come on,” Doctor said scoldingly. “What is this? A new religion?”
It’s not a new religion, but it does feel good. I went back to class Monday night and tonight. I warned my classmates that I’m going to be tap-alicious until my ailment gets resolved. They were all very understanding, and actually quite helpful. They offered to jostle me around to break up the stone.

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