Sunday, August 23, 2009

everything is linked

Can't recall where, but I found a reference to an interesting sounding book. So interesting, I bought it. It's called "The Last Wrestlers: A Far Flung Journey In Search of a Manly Art" by Marcus Trower.

The first chapter is about India. The second which I'm reading now is about Mongolia. As the author visits the different countries (there are further ones in the book), he asks questions about the history of wresting, the customs, if there is a spiritual connection and how the wrestlers live, train, eat and conduct themselves.

What struck me this evening were the explanations of of some of the Mongolian wrestlers and how they train and what makes them strong. Mongolia is a country of herdsmen who live from and with herds of cattle, yak, sheep, goats and of course horses. Through my other great passion - horses and horsemanship - I have read a little about Mongolian people and their horses. Over the years of my involvement with horses, I have seen and experienced horses in numbers and on a professional basis, much more so than the average recreational horse owners. Ok, so where's the connection you ask?

Well, as the author travels to the country outside Ulan Bataar to visit the places where great wrestlers come from, he stays with herdsmen and talks to many wrestlers. When asked how they train and learn and how they become strong, part of the answer is that they learn from a young age to handle livestock. They literally wrestle foals and grapple cows! I have to explain this a little more in detail. Unlike here (Australia) and where I come from (Europe), in Mongolia, it's a daily chore to tie up the foals and milk the mares. The milk is used in milk tea, straight or fermented as an alcoholic drink. It's a staple of the Mongolian diet. Apparently, they tie up the foals so they can't suckle. When the mares' udders are full, they lead each foal to it's dam, let it have a sip and then take it away to milk the mare and collect the milk for the humans. Some foals aren't keen on leaving and wrestling matches are common.

While I can't say I'm used to drinking mares' milk (especially not the fermented variety!), I certainly have milked mares on several occasions (it's more difficult than milking a cow). And having been in the stud and breeding business, I have certainly wrestled foals :-). Not so much to take them from their mothers, but sometimes to catch them or teach them to lead or to administer medications or trim their hooves. And yes, in one of my previous lives as jillaroo/stationhand, I've also grappled calves, even sheep. So I can kind of relate to the what the author is talking about. It certainly tickled my funny bone thinking how ironic it is that I have wrestled with people and with farm animals.

It is also funny that my relatively new interest in wrestling has such a strong connection - at least in Mongolia - to horses. Everything is linked. :-)

Friday, August 21, 2009

BJJ Study

Bryan is running an academic study based on a survey of BJJ practitioners.

For details and links to the survey, please go to his blog BJJ Study.

Monday, August 17, 2009

gi pants

Every pair of traditional gi pants I own came with a drawstring made from pants material. That works ok the first couple of times, but then after a few wears and washes, the things twist.

I was soon fed up with the acrobatics and strength required to pull the strings tight. Having read that some gi pants come with cords, I bought some cord. I bought mine at the markets, because I happened to see some there, but any store selling sewing and craft stuff should have it. The stuff I bought is just the right thickness and it's soft so it doesn't cut into me if the slits at the sides of the pant top gape open during rolling.

I've replaced the material with cotton cord in all my gi pants now. To do that is very easy. Tie a knot in the end of the existing string to attach the cotton cord. Then slowly pull the cord through the pants (once along the front and twice along the back). Tie cord ends off. Wonderful.

The photo shows the simple figure eight knot I use to attach the new cord to the existing string before I pull it through.

Friday, August 14, 2009

Women's boxing

Times are changing - what great news!

I read on the news this morning that the London Olympic Games in 2012 will include women's boxing. Apparently, instead of having 11 men's events, there will be 10 men's and 3 women's events.

This will help a lot in getting more interest, more competitors, more sponsors and more events for women who want to compete in boxing.


Wednesday, August 12, 2009


Today, I came across this clip with JJ Machado:

NICE :-)

And what good timing for such goodies. Since getting over my recent slump, I'm attacking again and the difference in my mental approach to rolling is very noticeable. I'm actually getting submissions instead of spending all my time defending from the bottom.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Teaching - a learning experience

I've taught skills before, such as machinery operation, running a small office and using computer programs, all in an occupational/job scenario. To this end, I actually did a course many years ago, for which I have a pretty certificate to hang on my wall.

Primarily though, I've taught people how to handle and ride horses. I have a lot of experience to back me up and to help people, as I've been around horses since my teens. It's a subject area I enjoy very much. I find teaching fairly easy, mainly for those reasons. Casting a self-critical eye over my teaching skills, I have to admit that often I've been somewhat impatient. I guess I fell into the trap of making the assumption that things which are easy and/or obvious to me, are so perceived by my students. I didn't understand just how difficult the learning of a new task can be, as it had been some time since I learned a totally new set of skills. (I think that was learning to scuba-dive just over 10 years ago.)

I knew I was in for a lot of learning when I stepped on the Dojo floor for the first time in March 2008. I wasn't wrong.

I was asking my body to do things which it had never done before. I watched my teachers perform movements with effortless ease. When I tried the same (basic) movements, it looked like a parody performed by a wooden toy with inbuilt wobble-effect. Well, it felt bad enough, most of the time I was too embarrassed to look in the mirror. I was determined to get better and I did. But still, there were and are times when it seemed near impossible to string together three simple movements. And when the frustration set in (doesn't take long with me), it becomes even harder.

Then I started BJJ and learned yet another completely different set of skills, using (and abusing ;-) ) my body in ways it hadn't experienced before.

Haha, now I knew how my riding students felt!

Well, as a result I'm more patient with them and I break things down further. I have more realistic expectations of training outcomes, too. So learning one art has made me a better teacher of another art.

Now I've come full circle. I was asked to teach basic grappling skills to a class. I felt honoured to be asked but a bit apprehensive, too. After all, I have only been grappling for some 10 months, and - pardon the pun - I'm still grappling with the subject matter ;-) . There is so much of it. Sure I know some basic drills, basic positions and a number of attacks, sweeps, reversals. But I know that I only have a basic understanding. The fact that BJJ black belts still improve on their basic stuff is a bit humbling, after all, most of them have been grappling for 10 years or more. I am getting to the point where I am seeing underlying principles and beginning to string techniques together. I'm feeling for points of balance and I can see a point of attack. But I am humbled every time I roll! What I'm trying to say is that I know how little I know and how much more there is yet to learn. Even though I know a lot more than those I'm teaching, I'm acutely aware of the gaping holes in my game, but I will teach them to the best of my ability.

I took one class tonight and I feel it went quite well. It wasn't a big class, and I know all the guys. Basics is what they need and that's what we worked on. For example proper back control with hooks in and a correct RNC.

But teaching sure is harder than learning. When you learn, you only have to worry about yourself. When you teach, you have to worry about everyone in the class :-) But more importantly, different persons see different things and as a result ask different questions than the ones you asked when you learned the same thing. Other people have different body types, and what works for you may or may not work for them. To be able to teach something, your level of understanding of the subject matter has to be much higher, so that you can deal with the differences and the questions arising. However, this goes both ways. Watching and interacting with people you teach also helps you reach a higher level of understanding. When students are truly passionate about learning something, they will really apply themselves and they will ask holes into your head as well as freely share their observations.

So I view the teaching part of it as part of my learning experience. It will make me a better martial artist, and the skills I teach will help others to become better as well.

And after the first session, I'm not so nervous about it any more. I enjoy grappling too much :-)

Sunday, August 9, 2009

Grappling for older folks..

Being in the "over the hill and halfway up the next" age group, I always read with interest any wisdom imparted by others who are involved in the martial arts as they get older. I'm particularly interested in their opinions when it comes to wrestling.

Now, I'm not bitching, but my personal challenge (I'm not allowing myself to see it as a problem) is compounded by the fact that I'm a woman and that I started martial arts less than two years ago. What I have in my favour is the fact that I've always been very active, due to a work and life on a farm and around horses. Also I'm not too squeamish and have a reasonable level of pain tolerance.

... With other words I thought I was tough and in shape until I started grappling ;-) Well, that was my first mistake.

I've had my fair share of bumps and bruises and more serious stuff. But at the height of my competition 'career' with the horses I was several years younger and all the injuries I sustained and all the sore bits I had I got over pretty quickly. I never managed broken bones, but I ended up in the casualty ward with things like a kick to the abdomen, a broken nose and concussion and a near busted ankle. I injured my knee, nearly dislocated my jaw, was knocked out on a couple of occasions and my toes were bruised and battered. Yes, I was a wild child.

I had some years off from competition and that whole scene is behind me now. Instead, I discovered the martial arts. Only now, my body takes longer to get used to new things, takes longer to get over exertions and especially takes longer to get over injuries. That's something which frustrates me but with old age comes not only a more decrepit body, but a more mature mind (well...). So I know I have to deal with it and I guess I'm coming to terms with it.

Having recently come through a bit of a slump which I'm sure was mainly due to overtraining and post-flu fatigue, I've learned a few new lessons. The hard way. I need to listen to my body. I need to back off sometimes and miss a few sessions. Hard to do when BJJ is a bit of a burning passion, but if I still want to do this stuff in 10 years, I need to look after the body I was issued with. There are no warranty claims, no parts exchanges, no upgrades. What you see is what I've got. And like any ageing mechanism, it needs regular maintenance and a bit of TLC.

So tomorrow, I'm having a massage. Not because I'm hurting all over, I'm actually back to my usual training levels and holding up well. I'm having a massage because it will make me feel good and because it will loosen things I don't even notice are tight, and hopefully make me perform better. I'm sure I'll have down times again, but by investing in a bit of TLC for my old bones, I hope that I will feel better for longer or ward off another low spot.

Am I regretting getting started in BJJ? No way. Yes, it can be tough. Yes, I need to pace myself a little. Yes, I need to tap often and early. And yes, I enjoy it tremendously, even if it hurts at times. And I don't care that I'm old, a girl and a latecomer. The odd one out in most classes. I'm alive, and I'm so much more alive and in the moment when we're rolling, so it's all worth it.

And just to prove that I'm not the only one who's grappling on the downhill side of things, here are a few posts from Stephan Kesting's site, Grapplearts. Some of his Grappling Tips Newsletters deal with the older grappler. So if this subject is dear to your heart, read and enjoy :-)

Saturday, August 8, 2009

Fuji gi

I don't like to tumble dry my gis and as as I do several BJJ classes per week, winter is a difficult time to get them dry after washing. My house mates are now used to the sight of gis hanging about the house on coathangers for drying purposes :-) Anyway, I needed another one, so after a bit of research, I ordered a Fuji gi from Their service was great, I ordered on Tuesday and it was in the mail on Wednesday.

I tried out my new Fuji gi in class today after giving it a quick wash at 30 degrees to see if it would shrink. Yes, there was a little shrinkage and I expect a little more in subsequent washes, but the fit is excellent for my size and shape. Having pretty long arms and legs, I ordered an A3. With shrinkage, sleeves and pant legs are perfect. It certainly felt good during class and seems much softer than my Atama gi. I like the collar and the seamless back design. And there is plenty of reinforcement on the pant legs.

There is a logo on the back and on one of the sleeves. I haven't decided yet if I'll sew on any or all of the patches that came with it. One the one hand, patches can look cool, but some gis look like advertising billboards.

Anyway, my first impressions of the gi are excellent.

Trying harder

As much as I'd like to think of myself as superwoman (only kidding), the reality is that like everyone else, I have my comfort zones. In terms of training, it's the drills I know well and like, the number of pushups I know I can do, the positions in rolling which I'm better at. These are just examples.

I admit, I'm not the greatest self-motivator. When nobody is around, I work during my workouts, but I rarely push the boat out, or when I do, not long enough. I know it, I just seem to have trouble doing better. I will try some goal setting so I have something to work towards.

Now if I'm in class or at a grading, it's a different story altogether. I'm not sure if it's my competitive nature or if someone's expectations are motivation enough for me, but I sure push myself then. Suddenly, my comfort zone boundaries stretch substantially. I don't care how difficult or tiring it is, while there is any gas left in the tank, I keep pushing. Knowing that this works, I have used it. For example, stayed for sparring classes straight after full on Karate lessons, so that I would need to dig deep. And I don't think it's an ego thing, I just want to get used to fighting in a fatigued state, and have the opportunity to push myself.

During BJJ classes, I have come up against my limits quite often. I think I automatically step outside my comfort zone every time I step on the mat :-) But that's ok and in a way it's part of the overall challenge of BJJ. Especially when I first started, I'd inevitably end up on the bottom during a roll. Most of the guys are heavier than I, so I was squished and squashed and submitted every which way. There were times I couldn't breathe, couldn't move, was in pain and all those sorts of things which is why people love submission wrestling ;-) And there were many times when the gas tank was empty. Nothing more to give, arms like jelly, vision narrowing, breathing hard. But not once, even if at that instant some big guy sits on my chest, trying to rip my arm out, will I moan about how hard it is. Let me have a breather, a sip of water and let me at it again.

But there is no way that I would be able to replicate that kind of energy output while I'm working out solo.

Well, I'm not unique in this respect. I stumbled across a post on The Psychology of Success blog which talks about the same thing. It's called: To improve performance, you may want to get an audience or compete.

Also interesting are Roy Dean's comments regarding how to set a goal and then have a special occasion when you demonstrate to yourself and your teachers and peers that you have reached that goal. Have a look at Jimmy DaSilva: BJJ Brown Belt on Roy Dean's Blog. Awesome.

Friday, August 7, 2009

Starting late and excuses...

I sometimes wonder about starting late in life in something new. But I'm convinced that you are as young as you feel and medical problems aside, you should never say "I can't" or "I'm too old".

Of course it's great to discover a new passion when in your prime, like in your early twenties or even before that. But it's never too late until they nail the lid down. And why shouldn't you be passionate and give it your all, just because your fourtieth (alternatively, insert ANY age) birthday came and went?

There's a great post and comments on Steve's BJJ Blog, titled Don't let ____ be your excuse.

So if you are out there wondering if you would like to try BJJ, Karate or whatever. Stop wondering and give it a try. Do it now.