Kelly

A little bit before I started Muay Thai, which was my introduction to combat sports, I was caught in a cycle which many girls and women will find familiar, of hating my body, wanting to be “liked”, slavishly following poorly thought-out diets, and doing hours of cardio at the gym.

Needless to say, none of this was very fulfilling. In my quest for ever more cardio, I ended up in a Les Mills Body Combat class.

The instructor’s name was Kelly, and I remember thinking that she was amazing. She was lithe and strong in a way that I had always been told that women were not, and unlike the step-class instructors she made no apology for her athleticism – no thick layer of make-up or pink accessories or feminine affectations.

Unlike those other instructors, she was also very approachable and generous with her time. I spoke to her after class and she told me that she had a background in Taekwondo. I think she may have been the first person in whom I confided about my desire to learn to fight.

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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.

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Jiu Jitsu Adventures at Bull and Tiger Grappling: Evolving Beyond My Comfort Zone

On Wednesday night , I did something out-of-character and registered at the last-minute for a BJJ competition that I literally found out about mid-roll that day. I’m a creature of habit when it comes to pre-comp and pre-fight preparation and routine. Although there are many people who take a relatively casual attitude towards BJJ competition preparation, I usually treat mine like a fight-camp and make it the sole focus of my training.

At Bull and Tiger Grappling Comp, Singapore
At Bull and Tiger Grappling Comp, Singapore

But ever since I first put on a gi in 2011 and started thinking about MMA, I have wanted to fight in Singapore. A last-minute BJJ comp is hardly a fight, but it seemed serendipitous – as if the Universe was posing me a question that I needed to answer.

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The Fortnight That Was: Gi Problems, Weight-Cutting, and The Gout Strikes Back

Hot cacao-and-almond-milk after a walk by the riverI’ve just gotten back from a long, slow walk. This rather unexciting circumstance has been brought about by a flare-up of Gout. It’s one of the most ridiculous things that I have to tell people – that I, a thirty-year-old, non-drinking, non-smoking female athlete have Rich Man’s Disease, but without the patriarchal or financial privilege that is supposed to predispose one to it!

I first became aware that I had gout when, on a Saturday night in 2012, when working as a gaming manager after a day of BJJ training and MMA sparring, I started to feel a little pain in my ankle. Within half an hour, the pain had escalated to the point where it was completely debilitating and even the touch of an ice-pack on my foot was excruciating.

I was taken to hospital, in my black work dress make-up and other non-sporting accessories, where I had to explain all of the bruises on my legs and how my ankle couldn’t possibly just be broken, because I had fractured, sprained, broken, torn and crushed many things before with not even half the amount of pain I was in now.

I was given anti-inflammatories, which were surprisingly effective, and a diagnosis of Gout. I remember laughing when I heard it; I thought the young intern was trying to lighten the mood. But no, really, at the age of 27 I had developed Gout.

I went on to discover that it’s not unheard of in athletes. A diet rich in purines and alcohol is only one cause of the build-up of uric acid crystals in the joints which cause this intensely painful condition.

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Tapering, and The Burden of Proof

It’s Thursday night and I’ve finished my final training sessions for the Synergy Pro BJJ comp this weekend. I’ve had a near-perfect lead-up, with no personal stress, minimal injury and little disruption to my training routine.

The final week before any fight or competition is, for me, always a relatively light one. I halve the duration of my training sessions, and switch from full rolling to doing drills which are specific to my game-plan. My priority is being mentally and physically fresh, fully recovered, on weight, focused and happy. So far, I consider this week successful, because I am all of these things. The soreness of the last and hardest weeks of full training is gone; the minor injuries I that accrued have almost completely healed.

Tapering is not a new or revolutionary concept. Any strength and conditioning coach or experienced athlete is familiar with the concept. However, as I have discovered over many years of training in different disciplines with different coaches, not all martial artists do what is physiologically best.

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Progress is Incremental

I had a hard night at MMA sparring tonight. At the end of it I leaned against the wall in the women’s bathroom (yes, there is one of those, awesome) and looked up at the shower-head (wow, we have all the amenities!) and wondered if I could “do this.”

Wondering if one can “do this” is almost always counter-productive, because doing “this” usually means succeeding 200% of the time and being the Best In The Whole World Ever Of All Time. In other words, it represents an all-or-nothing, be-all-and-end-all definition of succeeding.

Luckily the same sparring partners who took me down and smacked me in the face from top half-guard reminded me of the incremental improvements that I had made. It’s hard to view one’s own progress objectively, so this kind of feedback can be valuable.

I was still angry at myself – angry because I was “unimpressed with my performance” and angry about the fact that I had allowed it to unbalance me emotionally. I didn’t feel like staying for the second training session (No Gi jiu jitsu), but I did because I knew that that was what I needed to do. (After all, discipline consists of doing what you need to do, not what you feel like doing.) I’m glad that I did. I exhausted myself with good, controlled rolling, and the success that I achieved ameliorated my frustrations about the sparring session.

Jiu jitsu has allowed me to learn a lot about what it takes to make progress in all areas of life. It’s important to allow yourself to enjoy what you do, and to be willing to make mistakes and get countered hundreds of times while you’re working on perfecting something.

Tonight I tapped someone for the first time with a submission that I’d been taught in 2011. You can imagine how many failed attempts there have been in the three years that have passed since that time.

It was a fitting reminder of the importance of persisting, of relinquishing unrealistic expectations when it comes to progression, and of striving for that 1% improvement every time I train. It’s not an all-or-nothing process, it’s a 1% improvement, one day at a time.

Where Did You Want To Be Two Years Ago?

I was recently prompted to “write the post that was on my mind when I decided to start this blog.”

I went back over my archives and read my first post. It was February 2012. I was enjoying my first year of good health after chronic fatigue syndrome.

I wrote:

Me, 2012, with cake and neck injury
Me, 2012, with cake and neck injury

“Where I’d rather be now is reaching more people through my personal training business, competing in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu, fighting in Muay Thai again both here and in Thailand, and making my debut in Mixed Martial Arts. These are the things that have formed the basis of 2012′s Resolutions, which in turn determine the actions I take each day to make these a reality.” 

Since then, I moved some goal-posts. Transitioning from Muay Thai to MMA was more difficult than imagined, so my goals to have more Muay Thai fights and to go to Thailand have been superseded by my focus on grappling.

I have seen how competitive the personal training industry has become, and how much more clients need than basic exercise programs. I continue to work with fitness clients, while making myself a better exercise specialist and, eventually, a holistic nutritionist through formal study.

One area of my life has gone according to plan, and that’s Brazilian Jiu Jitsu. Losing via ground-and-pound stoppage in an MMA fight against Arlene Blencowe last year turned out to be a blessing. It has driven me to develop my grappling skills.

Last weekend I competed in the South Australian Brazilian Jiu Jitsu State Championships – my first competition as a blue belt.

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