Sunday, December 30, 2012

It's Just Me.

Yesterday in the mail Shark Girl received six dollars in savings from CVS! Not having time to look at the coupons closely, I put them aside and went to jiu jitsu. Shortly after I returned, Ten-Year-Old Son came up to me.
            “Look, Ma, it’s for you.”
In his grubby hands was that CVS flyer, with this emblazoned on it:

Is it hot in here or is it just you?
We’ve got cool news to share with women over 40.

So Consumer Value Stores, spying on my buying habits, finally figured out that I am over 40. What could have tipped them off?

Was it the armfuls of half-priced wrapping paper that I couldn’t resist yesterday? Because I’m not shy about that at all. So I did have a little trouble carrying it all to my car. So what? And maybe I did tell the checkout lady, while I brandished a roll like a lead pipe, that I was all set if attacked in the parking lot. You know what, I am totally good with paper now for the next few Christmases, and it is way cute stuff, with Santas hauling trainloads of presents and dancing snowmen. If spending too much on wrapping paper is under 40, then count me out. 

Maybe it was the oral hygiene products? Our Santa thinks tooth maintenance is a top priority. He leaves floss and electric brush heads and toothpaste in our stockings. Perhaps the Under-40 crowd worries less about impending tooth loss?

Most likely it's the fact that I know what the letters "CVS" stand for. (I also know why they call that thing in the car that you charge your iPod with a cigarette lighter. Some of my students did not. Yep. Shark Girl is old.)

Whatever breadcrumbs I left, I was now curious. What were these products for hot, Over-40 women like Shark Girl? I scowled at Son, snatched the flyer out of his hands and opened it.

Poise--that was the company logo I recognized. Don’t they make adult diapers? I thought. That’s not hot.
But apparently Poise is branching out. Inside this purple, specific-customer-targeted flyer were all sorts of products for the mature woman. From fresheners and washes to gels and lubricants, Poise has decided that they can help spare senescent Shark Girl all sorts of age-related embarrassment with their “new line of wellness products.” I will spare you the product names and functions, not because I worry about your prudishness, but because, frankly, Gentle Reader, it’s more fun to wonder exactly where Poise wants me to put their towelettes than to actually know.

So, this is it. This is over 40. Dry, dirty and hot. But not that kind of hot. Thanks, Consumer Value Stores.

If anyone wants $6 in feminine wellness savings, I’m happy to send it your way. I’m not sure I’m ready to admit that I’m over 40!

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Hair Wins the War

I change for no man!

That’s right—I said it. I have never changed my hairstyle to suit a man, well, directly that is. I have adopted a new do hoping it would be more generally attractive, and that could mean more pleasing to men in general. But I have never listened to any man tell me what my hair should look like (except that one fabulous stylist I had when I lived in Boston and I paid him too much money but damn did he make me look good!).

Honestly, no man has ever had the audacity to tell me what my hair should look like. Perhaps I exude “punch you in the face” too much, or maybe the hairstyles I choose don’t attract guys that would tell me how to wear my hair. Either, way, I have never changed my hairstyle for a man.

But, like so many jiu jitsu women, I have tampered with my hair countless times in the past two years in order to get better play on the mat. I’ve tried long, short, long with one pony, long with two ponies, bangs, no bangs. (I have never done the bathing cap thing—I’m not sure I could get used to it.)

Just how common a concern this is for fighting ladies can be seen by a quick google of “jiu jitsu hair” and of course, taking a look at MegJitsu’s “hair club for women” and reading Megan’s efforts to tame her grappling locks.

But did you know that “fighting women” have been worrying about their hair for many generations?

During WWII, women stepped up en masse to work in factories for the war effort while men were away fighting. Let me acknowledge that poor women of any generation have always had to work, but the conditions of war made a swift culture shift for most middle class women (one that was promptly reversed upon the return of their men). And this shift in culture demanded a shift in style. If they were going to fight the war from the factories, their old hairdo just wasn’t going to cut it.

Here we see Veronica Lake pioneering this change (although I’m pretty sure all she did was change her hairstyle, not work in a factory). The whole campaign was called “Hair Wins the War.” It’s so true, right? You really can’t win anything if your hair is constantly being pulled.

This fall I had another jiu jitsu hair “makeover.” Husband, who usually doesn’t notice that I’ve even have hair, said it looked like a helmet. But one of my training partners said, “This hairstyle’s working for you.” TP didn’t mean he liked it. He was saying that, as a training partner, my hair was not getting in the way as much. This hairstyle is a better jiu jitsu fit.

To be fair to Husband, he now insists that it was just the way my stylist blew it dry that was distasteful to him. I’m glad he got used to it, because if hair wins the war, it looks like this hairstyle is here to stay.

Sunday, December 9, 2012

Shark Girl’s Top Ten: Biggest Jiu Jitsu Mysteries

It's the beating of his hideous heart!

No, it's just Shark Girl with her newest Top Ten . Some things about jiu jitsu are just . . . inexplicable.

1.  The Never-Drying Gi Collar.
You have taken the time to wash and air-dry your gi like you are supposed to. Yet when you go to put it on, that darn rubberized collar has somehow retained moisture. Sure, you can tell everyone, “No, it’s cool—I just washed it,” but you know they think you’re a sweaty mess.

2.  The Untieable Belt.
You just got a new belt and the damn thing won’t stay tied. Don’t worry; it will break in just in time for you to move up to your next belt rank.

3. Blood of Unknown Provenance.
You’re rolling with a partner and he spots fresh blood on your gi. Everyone checks to see if they are cut, but no one is.

4.  The Errant Hair.
Much like #3, everyone wonders where it came from, but most times it’s best not to find out.
5.  Backward Roll Stage Fright.
If you are like Shark Girl, you can (now) pull off your backward rolls. That is, except when everyone’s watching.

6.  Video Exertion Distortion.
You were just videotaped in the fight of your life. Sweat was pouring off of you, and you were all over the mat, giving your opponent hell. You can’t wait to see the video and show your friends how exciting, demanding, and strenuous jiu jitsu is. When you fire it up on YouTube, you and your partner look like you are dancing to classical music. During-Roll Perceived Exertion Level? 100%. Video-Distorted Exertion Level? 13%. The camera may add ten pounds, but it really does make jiu jitsu look easy.

7.  The Disappearing Dude (or Damsel).
He showed up to every class for three weeks straight. He bought some expensive gear and a dojo sweatshirt. Then . . . poof! He disappeared. No one knows why he didn’t come back, but he’s still on the Facebook fan page.

8.  The Time Warp.
You are sure your instructor said they were three-minute rounds, but it feels like you just slapped hands when the buzzer rings. Conversely, if a Big Dude is sitting on your chest, those three minutes seems like eternity.

9.  Magical Potions
Or Wolfman Jack?
One of your gym mates drinks a strange-colored liquid before and after class. He swears it’s a protein and electrolyte replacer, but you can’t help but wonder: Is he really a lycanthrope? He’s certainly hairy enough.

10.  The Magnetic Mat.
You started out rolling all the way across the mat from your classmates. Before you know it, you are butting heads with them. What makes us gravitate toward each other on the open mat? Is it some sinister magnetic force? Or are we like heat-seeking leeches?
Ew! Gross!!!!

Sunday, December 2, 2012

Jiu Jitsu Submits Migraine!

Yesterday there was a war going on in my mind.

A sinus headache was pressing down on my back teeth. There was also a dull presence in the front of my skull. Not a pounding, but a just-enough-there-to-cause-discomfort throb—the steady reminder that a migraine could blast out at any minute.
It's important to get your Latin verbs right!
To battle this, I downed 600 milligrams of ibuprofen and went on with my day, just as I always do. I am thankful that, while I get hormonal migraine headaches, I usually manage to beat them into submission with ibuprofen before they send me to bed for three days or make me vomit all over the place. Shark Girl uses ibuprofen more than prophylactically. I can’t afford to let a migraine hit while I’m responsible for getting a roomful of twenty-something teens to learn their Latin verbs. So, Shark Girl admits to popping ibuprofen at the slightest hint that a migraine might pay a visit.

But I do try not to use ibuprofen too much. They say that, in the end, ibuprofen will betray you. After years of valued service, it will make your migraines come back more fiercely. I think they call it “rebound,” but it seems more like a pact with the devil—ibuprofen will give you relief today, but then you owe your soul to it tomorrow.
That's me on the left . . .
 The previous night I had gone to sleep with the migraine, hoping it would disappear in the morning. When I woke, that dull feeling was still there, promising me that, with a too-quick turn of the head, or a louder than usual scream from Youngest Child, or perhaps not enough food or the wrong kind of food, I would be relegated to a dark room for the rest of the day. So, I did what any good Brazilian Jiu Jitsu practitioner would do: I took the ibuprofen and went to class. 

I could feel all that sinus- and migraininess as I warmed up and drilled. When we stopped to spar, I contemplated, Should I take an ibuprofen booster? I keep a little bottle of it in my bag. In fact, I keep ibuprofen stashed everywhere—a little Ziploc pack in my coat pocket, a refillable bottle in my work bag, some in every purse. People at work know that if they need some of the good stuff, I can hook them up.

No, I decided. No more ibuprofen. The impending migraine did not seem bad enough or imminent enough to test 800mg, a threshold I’ve never crossed (I think). I crossed 600 after giving birth. They gave me a refillable scrip for these giant 600mg horse pills that conquered any pain I could imagine, and I loved it, and I loved that hospital in Boston for it. When I gave birth a second time, my new hospital tossed me a small bottle of Motrin 200mg. each. “What the hell is this?” I screamed at the top of my lungs in my beautiful, new birthing room to no one who would hear or care. “A train just ran through my vagina and you are giving me OTC ibuprofen?” That’s when I remembered that 200 x 3 = 600. Hooray for math. It really does come in handy.

Back to yesterday. Having decided on no more drugs, I put in my mouth guard, returned to the mat, and sparred. [Insert great video or dramatization or narration of Shark Girl totally kicking ass for about thirty minutes. Oh, hell, just find something cool on Youtube.]

When I walked off the mat and got ready to leave, guess what? No pain. I felt great! No headache or threat of headache. I smiled and skipped out of my dojo. Jiu Jitsu had given my migraine the smack down. I entered my home ready to embrace my perfect nuclear family. Life is really good. I heard the sweet sounds of my lovely children. Sigh. Kids are the best, aren’t they?

I’m playing with it!”
“No, I’m playing with it!”
“Don’t hit me!”
“I didn’t do anything!”
“Yes, you did.”
 And then, no, please God, no . . .

. . . the scream. That first-grade, piercing screech. It had a direct line to my frontal lobe. I placed my cool palms over my eyelids for relief. And ran for more ibuprofen.

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Jiu Jitsu Relieves All Kinds of Stress

"Hanging out with friends, beating the crap out of each other, there's nothing more fun than that. You got drama at home. You got school. You got homework. But when you're on the mat, nothing matters. You know, everyone has their own different way to cope with things, and I guess fighting's mine." --Justin Hayes
This is a quote from an article I heard on National Public Radio a few days ago. It's about mixed martial arts as a therapy for returning vets with post-traumatic stress disorder. (Listen to it here.)

Just the other day, I wrestled a really cool vet who felt that jiu jitsu helped him get his life back on track since he returned from duty with PTSD. He described drunken fights, bouts with the police, and lack of physical self-control, all which he felt slipped away since he has been practicing jiu jitsu. Of course, he is not cured, and still has night terrors and other symptoms. One thing is for sure, there was no choking that man out.
     "Was I at least close?" I asked him, after trying my new Shark Girl Surprise on him.
     "On a regular dude, it would have worked. But me, I've taught waterboarding and I've been tortured. It wasn't gonna work on me."

Props to you, man, and to all vets trying to get their lives back together.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Shark Girl’s Top Ten: Giving Thanks

 In the spirit of eating turkey, here’s a shout out to some of the Jiu Jitsu things I am thankful for this year:

  1. Husband. He gives me time away from the demands of family to train at least three times a week. What a man!
  1. Health. No broken fingers or toes, no black eyes, ringworm, or other mystery ailments. (Okay, if I were superstitious, I’d be knocking on wood right now!)

  1. Cracking the Mystery of the Funky Gis. More importantly for me and my training partners, I corrected it! (Hint: Do not buy a Bosch washer. Sorry, German engineers. Your precision equipment can’t stand up to the demands of ultra-sweaty Shark Girl.)

  1. Help! The on-line Jiu Jitsu community has been a great support, from the bloggers to the readers, to the women and men who have been like, “Dude (yes, they call me “Dude”), you are totally not too old to be rolling around on the floor trying to beat the crap out of people. In fact, let me give you some tips on how to do it!”

  1. Ladies. A few more are training at my gym. Soon, we will take over the world.

  1. White Belts. The newer, the better, so I don’t feel like I’m running in water when everyone at my gym improves at the same (or faster) rate than I do.

  1. Time Off. I have developed the sense to stay away when I am sick. This ain’t running—I can run no matter what is dripping out of my nose. I have confidence in myself now, that one night missed will not mean a rollback of skills. So, when there’s ick to be shared, I keep it home, and, if I really need to get my exercise on, I just take it to the street or the treadmill.

  1. Great Training Partners. There are even a few new extra-large men who have become my favorite training partners. They actively work technique and not muscle. They even let me get a tap instead of using muscle to get out of it. That takes a special kind of man!

  1. McStephy over at You Want Me to Put My Head Where?! She introduced me to Flula Borg and I can’t stop watching him. Children of Shark Girl are also mesmerized, mostly by Flula’s use of the word “poop” and his critique of Rock, Paper, Scissors. Flula is a god to six-year old boys, if not everywhere, than at least in my house. Don’t make the same mistake I did, though. Preview his clips before showing them to children, or their cuss vocabulary could increase quite a bit.

  1. The New, Secret Move I Developed. If I told you, it wouldn’t be secret anymore. So you’ll just have to train with me to see it. I call it “The Shark Girl Surprise.” Also, just being able to make up a new move is something I am very thankful for!
Now, go eat some turkey!

Sunday, November 4, 2012

Breaking Out of the Box

“. . . I knew I needed to do something completely different, something I had no idea I wanted to do—no, something I actually didn’t want to do. I needed to get off track, to completely challenge every assumption I’d ever made about who I was and what I wanted. I had to do something that would quite possibly make me miserable. It could end up being a terrible mistake.”
 Shark Girl read these words today in “Regrets of an Accomplished Child” by Pamela Paul in the “Education Life” section of the New York Times.

I could have written them myself two years ago. This is how I felt when I started learning Brazilian Jiu Jitsu. In my very first post, I describe a middle-aged longing for something different. The blog was a way to force myself to stay in something that could have made me miserable. And, of course, if I broke an arm or lost a tooth, BJJ would have been a terrible mistake. But something drove me to get out of my comfort zone, challenged me to see myself in a different light—not the tiny woman who grew up getting good grades and going to college, finding a job, paying the mortgage and playing by the rules for women in our society. I wanted to see something underneath this outer shell, something mysterious and unexpected.
This chick can omaplata your ass off!
In her article, Ms. Paul warns against the dangers of “checking off boxes” in our lives: homework done–check; college–check; job–check; marriage–check. Box-checking keeps us focused on completion, not excellence. It is the antithesis of learning and stretching. Box-checking leads to safe choices and failure avoidance. But the very possibility of failure is what can bring the best out of us and give us a chance to excel.

For me, Jiu Jitsu was breaking out of the box. I had no expectations of even liking it, never mind being good at it. It scared me to even go to class. I had to psych myself for a half hour to get out the door.

I could write a cheesy litany of things jiu jitsu has taught me. Indeed I started one and then stopped when I realized how much cheese was dripping off of it. (You’re welcome for my editorial restraint.) Probably the most important thing I have learned is what it is like to “play,” that art lost when we enter middle school and become self-conscious and start to notice that the world has its own ideas for us, and no you can’t be an altar girl.

I could have played it safe; I could have taken a Zumba class (or maybe Boot Camp, if I wanted to be a little edgy). I would have stayed fit and even enjoyed it. And I wouldn’t have learned anything.

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

How to Protect Your (Kids’) Candy on Halloween

We here in the Northeast are celebrating the retreat of Frankenstorm tomorrow night by hitting the streets  and threatening folks for candy. But beware! Many hooligans are poised to steal your (kids’) candy without putting in any of the hard work of verbal coercion and knocking on doors.

Here John Machado shows you some armbars to protect your little goblins:

 Please do not use your jiu jitsu to get candy. That’s just wrong. Have your own kid and steal theirs.

 And finally, if you want to do some of the tricking, watch this:

 Have a safe and happy Halloween!

Shark Girl’s heart goes out to all of you who have been affected by Hurricane Sandy.

Saturday, October 20, 2012

My (Short-Lived) Life as a (Soft-Core) Porn Star

Last spring Shark Girl found herself really busy. Too busy to blog. As I watched my stats dip from disuse, I decided not to check my blog at all. I mean, who cares about stats, anyway?
 Finally, when precious time came back into my life, I gingerly clicked my blog and braced myself for zero stats. To my surprise, my graph had been skyrocketing for over a week! What the deuce? What has happened since I last visited you, blog?

Out of curiosity, I checked my traffic sources and found that an older post had been receiving lots of attention, and most of it was from a little message board.

Don’t do it! You’re whispering out loud to yourself. Don’t click on it! It’s like the girl in the horror movie who you know is going into the house alone to investigate. You, dear readers, know I should not click on unknown websites, and you are shaking your collective head in dismay and terror. But I did. I did click on it. You must know I did. And I explored that message board. It was all about women and bodybuilding. I posted a thank-you. The message boarders received me friendlily. Maybe too friendlily.

I kept getting traffic from the message board. Why are they so interested in my stupid story? I wondered. I dug deeper into the site, curious to know more about the place. Most of the posts were from men, and some of them started asking more personal questions. Hmmm . . . this was a little strange. And then it dawned on me—this was a fetish site.

A fetish site? I was being highlighted on a fetish site? Now this was something really new for me. I’m about as sexy as a carpool mom on Saturday morning (cf. Chess Hot). Never have I been the subject of fetish. So, now I was slightly stunned and I must admit intrigued.

When I shared it with Sister of Shark Girl, she got really excited. She started drawing up plans to go big with this whole thing. She now wants to monetize Shark Girl BJJ and sell subscribers videos and other stuff. (Sister is the corporate one; she often runs with ideas and takes them to their money-making end. Like the time we picked up stray balls at a nearby golf course and sold them back to the golfers. This is why she works in banking.)
Anyway, the buzz has died down. As the weeks roll by, I get fewer and fewer hits from my little message board. But I will never forget that, for a while, a short while, I was not some suburban mom dragging my kids to activities and losing my shit at overflowing toilets and battling boys. I was not waxing my mustache and hiding grey roots. I was a Brazilian Jiu Jitsu Goddess who could sweep you into submission, put on a rear naked choke, and never, never let you forget you’re a ...    
Oh, and don’t worry. I’m not going to go all soft-core on you. I can’t sell videos and remain anonymous. But I think this whole experience has added to my caché: International Woman of Mystery and Soft-Core Porn Star. It has a ring to it.

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Prepare to Meet Your Doom!

A training partner shared this with me recently:

It would be so much funnier if I didn't feel like Artie most of the time!

Saturday, September 29, 2012

Shark Girl Submits

He came at me.
            “Really? You really want to do this?” I asked.
“Let’s see what you got, Shark Girl.” (Although he didn’t call me Shark Girl, because Shark Girl remains anonymous.)
“Okay, then. Bring it.”
We closed the distance between us, from the desk to the sink, both of us crouching and cautious. Yes, there were some onlookers. Might they think it strange? Unprofessional even? Perhaps it was both. But my colleague, who has some vague wrestling experience and a strong unrequited desire to train jiu jitsu, has taken an interest in my training. At various points in my jiu jitsu career, he has “tested” my progress. Today was one such day.
He reached out for me and put his hand on my shoulder. I reached out for him and grabbed behind his neck, pulling him down. Then, as he moved forward, I threw my left leg over his back, climbed up and slid my left arm around his exposed neck. As we tumbled to the ground, I adjusted my grip and put on the rear naked. He hit his heel on the floor in submission. Or something like that. It was all too quick to remember.
At that point, the others in the room took notice, and I heard, “Oh, my God. Did you see that?”
I went out for drinks with a teacher after work. We were discussing our profession and our loves and dislikes, our growing edges and where our craft is taking us. Amid the prosciutto and mozzarella di buffala appetizer, while we were delicately dipping focaccia into creamy extra virgin olive oil and sipping pinot noir and cabernet sauvignon, I told her about my morning spar in the Teacher’s Room. “I know, it’s not very professional,” I said.
“Um, it would be unprofessional,” she replied, “if it weren’t so awesome. You should write about that!” And then we shared an order of fried artichoke hearts.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

On Money and Success

Shark Girl doesn’t like to get political, but . . .

Today I saw this post on Husband’s Cousin’s Facebook page. I was deeply offended and contemplated writing back. Husband restrained me. He is, really, a voice of higher wisdom most times! Anyway, as he said, “You’re not going to change her opinion.” And he’s right. I’m not. No response I could possibly make would change Husband’s Cousin’s mind. In fact, she might back-pedal a little and then try to explain how she really was right. But I, for one, think she is really very wrong. So, where can I go to vent my frustrations? Yup! You guessed it! To the captive audience called My Blog.

Here is the quote. Shark Girl doesn’t like to get all politicky, but I think the comment is offensive no matter what side of the political spectrum you swing on.

“. . . I don't care whether a President is wealthy or even ‘disconnected’ from the average American when it comes to money. I would rather vote for someone who has been incredibly successful (and wealth typically reflects success in some form or fashion) and can transfer that knowledge and skill to improving the country's situation than someone who is or has ever been poor or middle-class.

Harrumph. So money = success? Was Mother Theresa unsuccessful? Did she have no skills or knowledge to transfer to improving a country’s situation? Does this mean that only those who know how to turn a buck are worthy of running anything? What does this say about all our hard work at jiu jitsu? Should we run to the gym with the wealthiest instructor, because surely his wealth is an indicator of worth and success? Where do generosity, integrity, compassion, hard work, honesty, come in?

I have to be in class in 40 minutes, so Shark Girl apologizes for the crudeness of her post. No proofing, no editing, no pictures today. I don’t have time to spend on that anyway. My blog doesn’t make any money, so clearly it’s not successful.

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Chess Hot

I’m going to give it to you straight. I’m not unattractive. But I’m not a looker, either. Most of the time, I walk through life unencumbered by the burdens of the beautiful—no one tries to pinch my buttocks, there are no demands for phone numbers, no jaws drop or heads turn when I walk in a room. I’m in my 40s now, but it’s been this way my whole life. I’m quite comfortable with being average looking, at most, kind-of cute.

However . . . put me in a chess tournament and suddenly Shark Girl is hot.

Oldest Son plays competitive chess, so I find myself in chess contexts a fair amount. At the last tournament, I was “hit on” more times than in the entire previous ten years of my life combined. “Hit on” in a chess context encompasses a broad spectrum of weird compliments, strange confessions, and awkward put-downs of my absent husband.

Apparently in chess circles, Shark Girl is smoldering.

Perhaps it’s because I come from good chess stock, and these guys think I will breed good chess babies. (I do, by the way . . . both my boys got trophies today!) At one tournament, a chess enthusiast hovered around the edges of my personal space, complimenting my son’s prowess until he found out he knew my brother and nephew who are both high profile chess players. Then, he went in for the kill. Chess Enthusiast entertained my restless children, mercilessly showing me how “good he was with kids.” He bragged of expensive chess accoutrements, and even let my clumsy son play with them, feigning not to be really angry when Son spilled a drink all over the high-end wood. He questioned where Husband was and commented that he, Chess Enthusiast, would never leave a woman of my caliber’s side (presumably until his chess match was called).

I’ve had someone tell me, “Hey, I was looking at you from behind and I thought you were a teenager! You’ve got quite nice hindquarters for a woman of your age!” Let’s not get into why he was checking out teen-aged behinds.

Yes, I am what you call “chess hot,” meaning that most of the male populace passes me by without notice, but for some reason, chess nerds find me irresistible. Is there something about my jiu jitsu physique that drives them wild? Do I have some heady BJJ pheromone exuding from my pores, alerting all nerd-type men in a hotel-lobby radius that “I play chess, baby, but horizontally”?

I guess I’ve got to take what my average-perhaps-cute-and-aging person can get. So today as I prepared to take my sons to another chess tournament, I pulled on my best Land’s End sweatpants and a ratty fleece pullover, threw my shoulders back and strutted into the lobby prepared to lean over the skittles table like some super-sexy chess diva. Take that, soccer moms!

Monday, September 3, 2012

Shark Girl Is Sad

sniff sniff . . .

Or am I just . . .
jealous?     feeling sorry for myself?
over competitive?     overworked?
                all of the above?

I’m a busy gal. You know, mom-of-two, spouse and full-time teacher. And I run three times a week and do BJJ three times a week.

Lately, some younger, spryer folks who started around the same time as me have been going to class more often. And getting better. Than me. You can see why I’m upset, right? Oh, I mean sad. Jealous? All of the above?

I know I’m supposed to concern myself only with “my own progress,” not “compare myself to others,” leave “my ego off the mat,” blah, blah, blah.

Let’s get real. I’m competitive and have high standards for myself. I work hard. I try to cut myself some slack and learn at my own pace. But when my ass gets handed to me by some young teether whom I previously trounced (okay, maybe stalemated), well, I’m not too thrilled. Intellectually I know they don’t have the pressures and commitment of spouses and children. They don’t have the same weight of years on old bones. But I don’t feel this inadequacy in my head. I feel it in those old bones.
Don't let the cute face fool you. He's a killer.

I have mixed feelings about this.

Part of me says, “Chill out, Shark Girl. You’re a forty-two year old lady doing righteous jiu jitsu. You should just be happy you can drag your AARP-solicitation-receiving ass on the mat.” But another part of me wants to embrace that unsatisfied part of me. Isn’t it those very “fighting” feelings that got me on the mat in the first place, the lone girl confronting men much larger in hand-to-hand combat (really, who does that?), convinced that I could have a shot at winning? If I “chilled out,” I would have been long gone after the first lesson.

In the end, I suppose I need to strive for that balance between competitiveness and reality, jealousy and satisfaction, hard work and rest. I need to find the happy medium that will keep me on the mat and striving to improve without feeling overwhelmed. It’s sort of like what I try to do everyday in my roles as mother and teacher. Jiu jitsu is so much like real life, isn’t it?

Friday, August 17, 2012

Cute, Cute

“Ooh! That’s cute! Try it on!” said Sister of Shark Girl when she saw me take it out of the package. It was my new Tatami gi, and she was right—it was cute. Despite the splatter of patches that I swore I would never wear, despite that mat blue is not my favorite gi color, it was cute.
            “You have to try it on. Now!” Sister of Shark Girl ordered.
            Shark Girl slipped it on over her shorts and tank and Sister of Shark Girl confirmed, “Yep. Cute. You have to look at yourself in the mirror. Go upstairs and look at yourself in the mirror.”

In case you haven’t figured it out yet, Sister of Shark Girl is a few years older and in the habit of ordering Shark Girl around. Shark Girl usually does what she says without complaint or hesitance. Years of conditioning, and let’s face it: she’s usually right.

Shark Girl went upstairs and looked at herself in the mirror. “Oh my God! It is cute! I can’t wait to wear it!”

So this fall, Shark Girl will sport a new gi. Stay tuned for the review, but for now, you should know that it’s dang cute.

Many thanks to Martial Art Supplies for this opportunity to be so fetching while fighting.

Monday, August 6, 2012

It's Hard Being Anonymous

Here I am in NYC--surrounded by BJJ clubs. And no one will have me.

It's not that I haven't tried. I've e-mailed and re-emailed and forwarded e-mails. Some people haven't responded. Some have said, "Yes, you are welcome. Ask So-and-So for more info." And So-and-So hasn't responded. Then some have said, "No, unfortunately, unless you are a member or a member of an affiliate or a guest of a member, or you want to shell out huge money for a private, essentially you are not welcome."

Oh, how I long to wield the power of Shark Girl:
     "Yes, hello, I am Shark Girl. Perhaps you have heard of me or read my wildly successful blog? No? Oh . . . um . . . well . . . ahem. Let me start over. I write a blog and would like to visit your program. Afterward I will probably write about my experience on said blog, thereby giving you lots of free publicity as the cool, welcoming BJJ school you most surely are."

Who would refuse? But I can't do that because then I have to sign that waiver. You know, the one that says if someone kills me, the school isn't responsible. And I have to sign it with my real name. Believe me, I've thought about just putting down "Shark Girl," but something feels illegal about that. And when I say I am just some female blue belt visiting the city, the open arms, well, they are folded.

So instead, I am sitting alone at a restaurant because I turned down invitations to B'way plays in the hopes that someone, anyone, would respond to my BJJ query and let Shark Girl kick some tail (or get her tail kicked) and add to the bruise collection on my legs which is already raising eyebrows at my staid classics professionals conference. "Oh, dear, Muffy! Could it be? Don't tell me that poor woman is anemic!"

Anyway, it's restaurant week and instead of writing a review of that BJJ school, I'll write a review of the restaurant where I am eating. Stay tuned, New Yorkers, you know who you are.

Oh, and BJJ schools, you should really learn to be more open.

Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Girl On Top

Okay, I admit it. Husband made me use this title. But it’s true: I have been getting on top a lot more lately. If only I knew what to do once I got there.

You see, for the past 18 months, Shark Girl has been a bottom dweller. I started as the only female in my club. I have been routinely crushed and pancaked, flattened and steamrolled. 

I have been muscled and maneuvered, manipulated and manhandled. 

And now, a year and a half later, I feel pretty comfortable on my back, thank you very much. My legs wrap and wriggle with ease and my body twists in the correct angles to prevent an attack and facilitate an escape.

But put me on top . . . and I’m a newbie all over again.

Take this recent roll, which is indicative of many. In it, a new teacher-type rolls with me to assess my abilities.

  • Teacher Type lets Shark Girl (SG) get on top.
  • Shark Girl sits there and waits. Isn’t he going to do anything? How can I defend if he doesn’t do anything? SG thinks to herself.
  • Shark Girl realizes Teacher Type wants her to attack.
  • Shark Girl looks down at Teacher Type, catches a flailing arm, and then pauses . . . Now what am I supposed to do with this? I know there’s an armbar here somewhere! Do I have to get this from side or swing my leg over? Why can’t I just choke him? Oh, crap! I wish he’d sweep me already so I can get back on my back!
  •  After many awkwardly embarrassing moments of Shark Girl pressing herself against Teacher Type to hold him down and stare at him, SG confesses that she has no idea what to do.
  • Teacher Type laughs and comments that Shark Girl’s teammates must beat the crap out of her.
  • Teacher Type mercy-sweeps Shark Girl
  • Shark Girl springs into action.
  • Teacher Type says, “Wow—now you are in your comfort zone!”
  • Shark Girl pulls a rad sweep and winds up on top . . .
 Recently, probably due to the influx of like-sized women, I’ve started to catch some of these sweeps and get myself on top. Queen of the hill, if you will. Sounds great, right? But it’s a totally new experience for Shark Girl and I feel more like a flounder.

Saturday, July 7, 2012

Sometimes You Get What You Need

In a commentary on the rush of superhero movies that have flooded our theaters in recent years, this excerpt from Manohla Dargis caught my eye (You can read the full article here):

I like some comic-book movies very much, dislike others. But as a film lover I am frustrated by how the current system of flooding theaters with the same handful of titles limits my choices. . . . The success of these movies also shores up a false market rationale that’s used to justify blockbusters in general: that is, these movies make money, therefore people like them; people like them, therefore these movies are made.

So, in effect, movie studios pour huge money into these films, market and merchandise the hell out of them to recoup their budgets, and when they are successful, they use that as proof that they are giving people what they want. And perhaps they are. But, let’s face it, a lot of what they are putting out is just the same old story with a different costume and different effects. We might prefer something else, but the studios won’t chance losing their cash on a “maybe.” They stick with tried and true and we go to the trough.

Anyway, Dargis got me thinking, “Do we get what we want or want what we get?” Are people asking for these movies and getting them, or are they being fed to us and we are just playing along? And then I read this last piece:

The movie industry . . . persists in recycling maddeningly troglodytic representations of women that its embrace of superheroes has only perpetuated and maybe exacerbated. For all the technological innovations . . . superhero movies just recycle variations on gender stereotypes that were in circulation back in the late 1930s, when Superman and Batman first hit. The world has moved on—there’s an African-American man in the Oval Office, a woman is the secretary of state—but the movie superhero remains stuck in a pre-feminist, pre-civil rights logic that dictates that a bunch of white dudes, as in “The Avengers,” will save the world for the grateful multiracial, multicultural multitudes.

And that’s when I thought about jiu jitsu. Some of you may remember that last year on vacation I called a gym to visit a class and was told by the Gym Leader that I wasn’t welcome because, “well . . . women aren't really interested in jiu jitsu.” 

That man, I’ll call him Douche Bag Gym Leader (DBGL for short), DBGL was asking me to want what he was giving me rather than giving me what I wanted. He wouldn’t even let me be the super sex-symbol chick on the sidelines (which you know I would be). No, he gave me the 1930s “let-me-tell-you-what-you-want, little woman” (which never ends well with Shark Girl).
With a larger society (and some DBGMs) telling us that “strong” women are bitches, aren’t sexy, or at best are sexy but really not effective, is it any wonder that more women are not practitioners of Brazilian Jiu Jitsu?

For most people who start BJJ, practicing jiu jitsu is about gaining strength. Women who join jiu jitsu classes have to gain a lot of strength before we even step out onto the mat. For me, I had to realize that what the larger world was saying about myself was not what I wanted. It goes against all cultural norms about what a 40-year-old, suburban mother of two should be doing with her spare time. For a while I hid it from friends and family—heck, even my blog is anonymous! I had to be willing to go against that cultural narrative. I had to look Hollywood square in the face and say, “I’m the superhero, thank you very much.”


Manohla Dargis in “Super-Dreams of an Alternate World Order: ‘The Amazing Spider-Man’ and the Modern Comic Book Movie.” Published in The New York Times Magazine, June 27, 2012.

Sunday, June 24, 2012

Ruptured What? Part 2

the following story contains “lady issues.”
If you can’t hack it, leave now.

One evening, Shark Girl started getting lady cramps.
            “Hmmm . . . that’s funny. It’s a little early for lady cramps,” Shark Girl said to herself. “Oh, well, maybe I’m wrong. These days I’m too busy to keep good track.”
            As the evening wore on, Shark Girl’s lady cramps got worse. “Better pop a few ibuprofen!” Shark advised herself, and the drugs soothed the pain for a while.
Ibuprofen is my answer to pretty much everything--lady cramps, migraines, boredom . . .
Later that night, Shark Girl besought Husband, “Honey, rub my lower back!” I hadn’t asked him that since I was in labor. Wait. Was I in labor? No, impossible. Shark Girl isn’t Peggy Olson from Mad Men. Shark Girl would know if she were pregnant.