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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Why Women Speaking for Themselves is “Facebook-Worthy” – Women’s Day Special

Some people think that you have to be “Facebook worthy” before daring to discuss your experiences in a public forum. It’s a shame that this attitude exists, because I personally find so much value in reading about the experiences of other people, especially other women, in combat sports as told in their own words. Historically, much has been written about women, and the voices of women that have made it into the public sphere have had to come through a thick editorial filter. The internet allows people to express their views and experiences without censorship, and while this can be both harmful and beneficial, I believe that in its capacity to allow women to speak freely about their own experiences it is invaluable.

Because it’s International Women’s Day, I wanted to share a few blogs and – yes – Facebook pages which are run by women whose shared experiences have added value to my own.

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Wrestling Camp

Wrestling Camp was a great success for all involved. It was one of the best experiences I’ve ever had, and I obviously learned a lot about wrestling, and how the wrestling community works here in Australia. Rather than inundate you with a long post comprised of fan-girl superlatives, I thought I’d break the experience down into a few categories:

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Confidence & Competence: Perception vs Reality

I have been thinking a lot about confidence lately, in the context of my own training. I go through cycles of feeling like I’m making great progress and solving problems, interspersed with cycles where it feels like I have run into a wall and am doing the “wrong” thing over and over again. I have come to view these phases somewhat fatalistically, accepting that if I just keep grinding, each phase will yield to the other in its own time.

That’s not to say that I don’t experience emotions in association with these states. When I feel like I’ve reached a plateau, I feel frustrated and inadequate, and I start to doubt myself and – yes – lose confidence.

Recently I’ve felt that I have been experiencing a plateau in my MMA training. I never feel that I am transitioning as fast as I want to be; I’m not winning as many drills as my team-mates; I don’t feel like I’m showing dominance in sparring or making enough progress from week to week.

While continuing to work with my team to increase my competence, I’ve been exploring ways of improving my confidence, which I consider my own responsibility.

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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.

The Grind: Someone is Watching

Screen Shot 2014-06-03 at 3.37.23 PMThere was a young woman at the gym this morning doing some observations as part of her Certificate IV in Fitness while I was doing a strength and conditioning session.

Dayni, my strength coach, introduced me as an MMA fighter and explained what we were doing in terms of strength and conditioning. The young woman was very interested, and asked me a lot of questions that I don’t usually “have time for.” Today, I took the time though. I answered all of her questions about how long I’ve been doing “this” for, why I started, how old I was, what I did for work, what I was doing for the rest of the day, what other training I did apart from weights training…

I’m glad that I did, because now I realise that she was asking because I was something that she’d never seen before. It’s hard for me to recognise that some people see me that way, because to me what I do is so normal, so ordinary, so tedious at times, that it doesn’t warrant consideration and I find it hard to understand why people are asking me “basic” questions like what I’m doing “after this.”

As if to confirm the validity of the thoughts I’ve been having lately about putting myself out there as a way to somehow add value to the lives of others – and particularly to expand the minds of girls and young women – this young woman said:

“I love it when I see girls do things like this. It makes me believe that I can do anything.”

 

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Why I’m Tired of Hearing People Say “You Should Learn to Love Your Body.”

From scan of copy belonging to the National Museum of American History, Smithsonian Institution, courtesy of Wikipedia CommonsMost of the marketing which is aimed at my supposed demographic – women in their twenties – at best irritates me and at worst just plain offends me. (Don’t get me started on how much of a f*ck I do not give about whether a new car has a shoe compartment, iPod connectivity or a “support network.”)

This rant in particular is about magazines and soap companies. You know the ones. The ones who have slender, skinny-fat models in their fashion spreads and most of their ads, but occasionally run a “real beauty” campaign showing over-weight women who haven’t had their cellulite airbrushed away, or who do a “body-image” issue showing “real” unfit women in unflattering underwear. For all the fluffy crap about “loving” yourself or accepting your “flaws,” all I really see is a consolation prize, a way out for under-achievers. “Don’t worry,” is what they’re really saying, “Here are some unflattering pics of out-of-shape women so you can compare yourself to them and feel better about yourselves. We know that you’re not happy with the way your body looks and feels, but it’s okay because not everyone can be perfect. Here are some real women.” (So, the models in your ads and fashion shoots aren’t real? Athletic women aren’t real? Women who are actually happy with their bodies – probably because they don’t put their time and energy into taking on your self-contradicting crap – aren’t real??)

Now at first you may think that this is callous, that I’m drumming up business by attempting to “shame” women into getting all OCD about their diet and exercise. Stick with me for a minute.

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