Monday, August 22, 2011

A Good, Old-Fashioned Fanny Kicking

I’ve been away. Unfortunately, my BJJ is suffering. I’ve been to one class in three weeks. I could barely remember anything. That’s why when I travel, I like to train at other gyms. I lose my practice so easily.
School starts soon and I’m pretending I don’t go back to work in a week. In my dodging of real life, I realize I have not yet finished updating you all on my tournament.

So, where was I? Oh, yes. The tournament. Since Cousin of Shark Girl was competing, Shark Girl’s aunt and uncle came to visit. What does this really mean, you may ask? Well, it turned into an Italian extravaganza. While Uncle of Shark Girl was preparing many and varied delicious items from his lovingly-tended garden, Cousin and I weighed in. We had to weigh in before we ate that night.

Just parking in the garage was interesting. Few women. Many tattoos. Not much hair. Big muscles. At registration, no one seemed to think I was competing. The registrar asked Cousin for his bracket. Cousin got his cards. I stood next to Cousin, looking straight at the registrar. “Ahem,” I cleared my throat. He looked at me and smiled. New Guy approached the table and asked for his cards. I waited politely and said, “I’d like to get my cards, too.” “Oh, I’m sorry. I thought you were the girlfriend.” I smiled at this. Cousin is younger than me and quite a hottie! (He’s blushing if he’s reading this. But it’s true!) I was flattered to be construed as Hottie Younger Cousin’s Girlfriend, but maybe that underscores the lack of women in the sport—this old bag must be this poor sod’s girlfriend, because old bags don’t compete.
With cards in hand, we went to weigh in. Cousin weighs in, no problem. Although I am standing in front of the weigher, clasping colored cards, I have to physically shake the person in front of me to get him to weigh me. Strange, I thought, I can’t be the only woman here. Am I that much out of the demographic?
And what a demographic it was. The tournament was combined with a bodybuilding event. There I was, dressed in my Gap khaki shorts and a red cardigan sweater (that sweater screams “I’m gonna kick your ass, bitch!” like nothing else I own). Most of the other ladies I saw were wearing black and spandex. High wedge heels. I did not see a real boob in the house (other than mine, and you can’t really count those as boobs, and I wasn’t looking at them). Most of these boobs were encased in very tiny bejeweled bikini tops. There was a septuagenarian woman who had wine barrel arms with veins popping out like caterpillars. As I stood there feeling quite out of place, I realized, “Wait! I signed up to be here with these folks.” Even though I’m a 41-year old plastic-surgery averse, conservative-clothes-wearing, suburban mother of two, I fit in here, maybe more than in suburbia.
After a tour around the exhibit hall, Cousin and I look at each other. Aunt and Uncle of Shark Girl were planning to come to watch the tournament the next day. Conservative, old school, Italian Aunt and Uncle of Shark Girl. Here’s an example of how it works in “the family”: Once Uncle of Shark Girl met some Dead Heads in a public bathroom. The Dead Heads were camping. They were washing their feet in the bathroom sink. There were probably other hijinks involved. Cousin can flesh out anything I’ve missed. But when Uncle got home, he said to Cousin, (read with Italian accent for correct intimidation factor) “[Cousin of Shark Girl], heef you hever go to one a dose concerts han’ act like dat, Hi kick you in da fanny. Han heef [Brother of Shark Girl and Reputed Dead Head] goes to dose concerts han' hacts like dat, Hi kick him in da fanny too, because ee’s a relative!”
“Maybe we should discourage them from coming,” Cousin and I both said on our way out. “I can’t have my mother shouting ‘O dio!’ while I’m on the mat!” Cousin exclaimed. I was more worried they would think it improper for a nice Italian girl to submission grapple. I didn’t want to risk a fanny-kicking from my uncle after a fanny-kicking on the mat.


  1. this!

    Did they really combine a body building competition and a BJJ tournament?

  2. Holy mackeral, HI-larious! And methinks you are a light year or so from being an "old bag!" lol...

    okay so how did it go on the mat????

  3. Bodybuilding is a fascinating subculture: I don't have the dedication or willpower to do it myself, but I've enjoyed learning about it since seeing the best sports documentary of all time, Pumping Iron.

    Women's bodybuilding is even more interesting, given all the additional cultural issues that raises. E.g., how they are still expected to conform to 'femininity', hence lots of surgery to fit what mainstream society thinks a woman 'should' look like, which jars with totally going against those social norms through awesome muscles.

    At the same time, depressing how many female bodybuilders seem to get forced into selling dodgy pictures of themselves (which would also explain the surgery) to make enough money to compete and train, because women's bodybuilding pays so much less than men's. E.g., Joanna Thomas, who I saw on another documentary a while back, Super Size She.

    More recently, I saw yet another a great program on the topic, which focused on older bodybuilders, Bodybuilding Pensioners. I'm not sure if there were chemicals involved (which obviously wouldn't be surprising in bodybuilding), but amazing how buff you can still get at 60+ years old! For example, this guy.

    There were also a number of women included in the program, which was cool. You could draw comparisons to both MMA and BJJ too, with the examples of Cris Cyborg and Gabi Garcia. Both powerful, successful competitors, but they both get enormous amounts of crap because people don't think they look 'feminine' enough.

  4. Hello,

    I finally felt obligated to post, as I've been reading your blog for awhile now. I'm starting to feel like a creepy stalker, so I'll at least say hello. I'm in my mid-40s (male) and have a female friend who is starting BJJ in her 40s.

    I loved reading about your BJJ journey, particularly considering your background and 'atypical' demographic. Reading about your journey helped convince her to try BJJ. I would imagine there are more and more women in your/our age bracket who would be willing to try BJJ. Of course, leading the way is difficult and I wanted to congratulate you on striking out on your own.

    So just a quick hello, and wanted to let you know that there are other people out there reading and interested in your story.

    On a different note, it is nearly a statistical certainty that 'chemicals' were involved in the winner of that bodybuilding contest. However, I think the broader point is that with the right combination of chemicals/lifestyle/exercise/nutrition, you can stay healthy, virile, strong, active, etc., a much longer time than typically viewed as possible. Done properly, Hormone Replacement Therapy can be as much a boon for men as (I believe?) it has been for women. On the other hand, even without chemicals, the lifestyle/nutrition/exercise factors can give you a shot at being like this gentleman at age 91. Amazing, and a wonderful goal for BJJ practitioners.

    Helio at 91!

    But more importantly, love reading your blog and have been checking for the tournament updates. Please stop teasing!

  5. @Megan: They sure did.

    @slidey: Women's bodybuilding is a strange contradiction. Your linked picture is the male version of the woman I saw. (She could have crushed me, given a reason.) Thank you for giving me some good movies to check out. One day I will find a subject in which you are not well-researched. And I will dance. : )

  6. @Anon: I'm so glad you posted! You made my day. Sometimes it feels like I am sending words into a void. I would love to hear from your friend who has recently started. How is she doing? Does she like it? The first three months were the hardest for me.

    You raise an interesting point about combining resources to live strong and healthy into old age. I haven't heard much about HRT for men, mostly for women. Is it prescribed? I thought they stopped doing HRT for women due to complications. I ignored the hoopla when it all came out because I was far from the point of needing them and figured things would change drastically by the time I was. However, that time is creeping ever closer. . . .

    Thanks for your smile-inducing note. I am glad you enjoy reading.

  7. @Dagney and Anon: Okay, okay! I am sorry for teasing! It's just that I have so much to say and one crazylong post seems like death to me. And also, I'm still processing it. And, if I'm really honest, maybe I'm trying to forget some of it!

    Plus, other stuff keeps happening...

  8. Hah - easy enough, just means a subject I find sufficiently dull that I've never gone bouncing around the internet to read more about it. So, I can look forward to lots of future posts about gardening, golf and cars. :P

  9. Hi Shark Girl,

    Although you continue to tease us and withhold the account of your tournament experience, I will answer your questions anyways! (j/k, of course).

    My friend went for less than a month - and promptly was injured. She has been rehabbing for nearly 3 months and is about a month from being cleared for full activities. What a shame - she has been active in her adult life and used to perform lots of cardio-type activities; running, steppers, etc., This was clearly change, but her initial impression was that was enjoying the competitive and learning aspects quite a bit. Unfortunately, getting hurt so quickly makes it difficult to discern any meaningful perspective. It was a simple roll with another new white belt. And she does not have the experience to evaluate whether it was him being a spaz, her being a spaz, some combination or simply bad luck. As with all contact sports, you realize these things can happen but it's a shame when it finally happens to someone you know - especially a beginner.

    One interesting note from the aspect of a 'female BJJ' player - it was funny seeing all the strange reactions to how she received her injury. The majority of people her age were quite confused when she explained how she received her injury, and there were numerous comments of the 'you're a mom, you shouldn't be doing that' type. That being said, as a male with kids in my 40's, I've heard a bit of the same thing. But likely, nowhere near as much.

    In regards the questions on HRT, I'm actually unsure on the benefits for women. That's actually why I phrased it the way I did - that "(I believe?) it has been for women." The question mark hinted at my uncertainty.

    As for men, there is some evidence that HRT in men can be beneficial in retarding many of the negative effects of aging, not limited entirely to athletic activities. There is substantial anecdotal and experiential evidence, however, that is clearly an individual decision in terms of risks/benefits.

    In regards to the HRT I am referring to, yes, this is done under a physician's prescription after a substantial battery of tests and blood work to determine whether this is appropriate for that individual. Then, any changes are monitored in terms of health factors to determine if it is making a positive change.

    So the point is to be healthy, versus merely fit, although it can have an impact on both if you manage your nutrition, lifestyle, exercise patterns, etc. As someone once wrote, you can be healthy without being fit and you can be fit without being healthy. My goal is to be both - and under HRT, I am now monitoring my health markers far more stringently than I had previously.

    Still waiting on the tournament update, out here in Anonymous-land....tick, tock... Just kidding, we all have real lives that interfere with our hobbies. Pity.

  10. HRT is associated with increased risk of cancer in women, breast I think. Pretty big no-no for them from what I've heard. Not sure if there's been any decent clinical trials in men

  11. @Anon: Is your friend planning to continue once she recovers? I get the same comments about "being a mom." Usually they are from my mom and it is because she doesn't want her baby to get hurt. I haven't had any visible injuries that would cause someone to raise an eyebrow yet. Wait til I get my first black eye. I'll have some 'splainin' to do. But really, my kids LOVE that I do this. They think it's cool.

    Thanks for the info on HRT.


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