Jiu Jitsu Adventures: The Gi and I

I can’t believe that I’ve already been here in Singapore for over two weeks, and that in ten days’ time I’ll be back in Adelaide.

My holiday so far has allowed me to live out the fantasy of not needing to do anything except eat well, sleep when tired, spend time with family and friends, and train. No matter how many sacrifices one makes, this is not the reality of everyday life, when the more burdensome aspects of our responsibilities in relationships, study and work all get in the way of our peace of mind, recovery-sleep and focus.

Training at Evolve MMA is always rewarding. I first trained at Evolve in 2011, and it marked a turning-point for me at the time, in terms of health, self-esteem, ambitions and relationships. Being exposed to such a positive environment allowed me to envision a life of positivity and progress for myself, and experiencing BJJ and MMA for the first time helped me to clarify my sporting goals.

It wasn’t easy to create the vision that I saw back then, but three years later I can certainly say that I’ve changed my life for the better. When I look back on the sad, lost young woman who walked into Evolve in 2011 and put on a gi for the first time, I am proud. People who know the real me have commented on it as well – my energy goes towards betterment and progress now, rather than to damage-control.

I have chosen good people with whom to surround myself, and this has strengthened me in the pursuit of my goals in all areas, not just training. In the last two years, I’ve upgraded my Fitness qualifications, achieved High Distinctions and Distinctions for all of my Nutrition subjects and in my first year at University, got my first win in MMA as part of the first WMMA fight in South Australia, won gold in my weight class at the South Australian State Championships and Grappling Tournaments Australia as a white belt, won gold in my weight division at the State Championships at Blue Belt, and competed overseas for the first time. I could not have done a fraction of this without the support and positivity of the people who are in my life now.

Coming back to Evolve has become a sort of ritual for me, something which marks the passage of time, gives me the chance to reflect on my progress, and which always renews my passion for what I do.

This time I’ve particularly been enjoying gi jiu jitsu. In the past, the gi has been an obstacle for me, something that I tolerated but didn’t always enjoy. There have been many times where I wished that there was the option in Adelaide for me to train under a Tenth Planet gym, and be able to do away with the gi altogether. While I do love the Tenth Planet style, and find the Tenth Planet techniques that Nick has helped me to use really relevant to my no-gi and MMA game, being at Evolve has helped me to love and understand the gi.

Almiro Barros’ coaching in particular has been helping me to use the right grips, and to understand the battle and exchange of grips, in order to have more success in implementing some of my regular no-gi sweeps and passes in the gi. I’ve been told often, and by many people, that I need “better grips” in the gi, but Almiro showed me very specifically what grips to use. He wasn’t trying to change what I do or to replicate a particular style of jiu jitsu in me, simply helping me to solve a problem in my existing game and help me to open up more options to use a lot of the techniques that I already knew how to use, but which I had been allowing my opponents to block because of my lack of understanding of gi grips. Using lapel grips with my over-hook arm from bottom-half like the Jaws of Life allows me to make space and control my opponent’s weight to get on my side and get an under-hook so that I can work my Old School or Electric Chair sweeps, and taking grips on the lapel and pants allows me to work my half-guard passes and a variation of a matador-style pass which I normally do in no-gi with my hands on the hip and knee.

Another thing about Evolve which turns out to be great for me is the variety of training partners here, particularly in terms of size.

Back in Adelaide, many of my regular training partners are men who are around 70kg to 80kg. This is purely a matter of circumstance. When I tell people about this situation, the response that I often get from the not-so-well-informed is, “Oh wow, you train with men, imagine how easy it’s going to be when you fight a girl!” This is ridiculous of course – I don’t fight girls, I fight women, and all of those women are training at least as hard and smart as I am.

The reality is that while having larger training partners does help me in some ways with my conditioning as I’m forced to use more strength when I roll, and while it has helped me to develop good defense, as I am constantly having to work out of bad positions and defend submissions which are being put on by stronger people, it means that I rarely get the opportunity when rolling to experiment with attacks and submissions that I’m learning.

Having training partners here who include smaller and evenly-matched people has given me the opportunity to work on submissions that I don’t normally go for in rolling because they usually result in my being out-powered and passed. This is especially true of arm-bars and triangles from guard. I feel that if one has truly good jiu jitsu, it’s possible to submit bigger, stronger opponents, but I also think that it’s helpful to have training partners who can’t power through everything that you’re doing when you’re learning and practising new techniques.

Training with different coaches and training partners here has taught me about myself, too. I’ve realised that relationships are important to me. I thrive in situations where I am given constructive, non-emotional feedback, and where I’m free to express myself and experiment in rolling without feeling that there’s be a consequence for getting it “wrong.” This is one of that reasons why I have enjoyed Almiro’s classes so much – despite thinking that gi jiu jitsu isn’t my “thing” – and have attained so much progress and benefit from them. After all, every technique that one learns, regardless of the fact that it has been tried and tested by many other people, is new for you the first time that you try it, and I am yet to meet anyone who is able to execute a new technique perfectly in rolling the first time they try it.

This knowledge about myself is definitely something that will inform many decisions when I get back to my regular life in Australia. I wouldn’t expect a seed to grow and bear fruit if I planted it in the wrong soil, so I have to make sure that I put myself the types of environments that give me the most potential for progress. If I’m a mango seed, I’m not going to be successful in a cherry orchard, no matter how much I try to shame myself into doing better by looking at how prolific the cherry harvest is. Something which I have always appreciated about Nick’s coaching – and one of the reasons why I nominated him as my MMA coach in 2012 and followed him when he and Turner went out on their own and established Trinity MMA – is that he is able to recognise and capitalise on his students’ learning styles. It’s time for me to take some responsibility for recognising my own learning style too, to make sure that I’m getting as much as I can out of the other training sessions that I’m doing.

I’m still in the midst of my Singapore experience, and I will no doubt learn much more about jiu jitsu, wrestling, MMA, Muay Thai, and training methodology, and come to many more realisations about myself while I’m here. Being on holiday means that I have the time to reflect on all of this, and I’ll certainly be writing about some of it soon!

Stay safe and hopefully the last few days before Christmas are not too hectic for you!

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