This much fun should be illegal
and probably is. Okay, lots of ground to cover, because it's been a busy and most awesome week.
First, the ADCC gi trials. I think I mentioned that I tied for 3rd. I wish I had won my semifinals match, but I made one mistake that my opponent capitalized on, getting a reversal in the last 30 seconds of the match for the win. Well, what can you do? In my case, you can congratulate her, enjoy the rest of the tournament and chat with your friends and opponents, eventually cheering for divison winner Lana Stefanac (WOO-HOO!!). You can go out with your teammates (who include my coach Johnny Ramirez, who won his division and is getting an all expenses paid trip to Abu Dhabi to compete there in April!!! WOO-HOO!!) and friends for bacon gorgonzola sliders in Santa Cruz. You can hang out with Darren and his awesome family, playing Fact or Crap. You can give Darren a hard time for dressing metrosexually. You can commiserate with Danny, who flew out to SoCal from Chicago, spent literally about 36 hours on this coast, and then flew home at 6am the morning after the tournament in time to start a shift at his job as an EMT.
In other words, you can have a blast anyway, and just resolve to do better next time. I really feel like I have turned a corner vis-a-vis competing. It's very important to me to do well in competition, and I'm going to train my ass off in the coming months to prepare for the PanAms and Mundial. But I'm also going to be happy, and beating myself up before and after tournaments is not conducive to that. I really do think it's possible to be happy and intense, and I'm going to work on that this year. Plus, Johnny thinks I did really well--I did some things right, and then I made the aforementioned mistake. So my instructor is happy, and besides myself, he's really the one I have to please.
We returned from Santa Cruz late Sunday evening, and then first thing Monday morning we started women's grapplecamp.
Ah, chick grapplecamp. In the immortal words of Erasure (which I think I have invoked before), how can I explain, when there are few words I can choose? I remember in college I wrote a paper for my American Poetry class contrasting the rhetorical styles of Walt Whitman and T.S. Eliot. I argued that both Whitman and Eliot felt hamstrung by the tools at their disposal--the English language--to convey adequately the ideas and feelings they experienced. Each of them used a different technique. Whitman used what came to be called "catalogues of images," where he repeated a concept in several different ways, using sweeping language and what may have seemed to be repetition, but was actually elaboration on a theme. Eliot, on the other hand, used an "imagist" technique, where he employed just enough words and phrases to create a picture for the reader, where every picture was a carefully crafted whole--no word extraneous. He even sometimes implied his point, or described the opposite of what he meant, because that was more descriptive than actively stating his ideas.
Wow, that was a walk down memory lane. It was a damn good paper, as I recall. The point is, now that the 3rd grapplecamp is in the history books, it's becoming more and more apparent that this experience has a profound effect on the people who participate, myself fully included. But I don't know how I can adequately describe the effect to people who weren't there. In my case, the limitation is not the tools I have, but rather my relative ability to wield them. Whitman and Eliot were geniuses bumping up against the limitations of communication. I am a reasonably intelligent mat rat who likes a good poop joke. So I'll try my hardest to do justice to this amazing "thing with legs" called Women's Grappling Camp, but I make no promises.
As it was with the first camp just under a year ago, we were excellently hosted at Big John McCarthy's Ultimate Training Academy (http://www.bjmuta.com). BJMUTA is an MMA enthusiast's Shangri-la, with a cage, a boxing ring, rows and rows of heavy bags, free weights and barbells, kettlebells and medicine balls, and, of course, what looks like miles of mat space. (Also an endless supply of low-carb Monster!). Emily, Felicia, Alaina and I met early to try to get ourselves together and seem organized. And then the campers started to arrive!
Each day Felicia, Emily and I, with the help of Kelly and Nikki, who served as assistant instructors, ran a gi and a no-gi session where we taught techniques and ran situational sparring and free rolling. We held informational round tables on nutrition, courtesy of Krista, health and wellness courtesy of my friend Traver, and eating disorders courtesy of Lily, our inspiring 60-year-old brown belt entrepreneur who runs http://www.catfightgear.com. We had evening discussions about different aspects of BJJ and life--how the choices you make on the mat reflect the choices you make in life, how to deal with competition fears, how to distinguish between issues we face that really are gender-based and issues we face that are just typical grappler frustrations, whether you are male or female.
And we're starting to realize that the true power of the camp is in these experiences, the opportunities women have to get reality checks, understand that they may be crazy for being BJJ-loving women, but that they are not alone in their insanity. And most importantly the women have the opportunity to "do" BJJ the way they never get to at their own academies, which is to say, to roll, kibbitz, hang out, troubleshoot, roll some more, with a roomful of other women. Many of the women at the camp have the same experience at their academies that I have at mine; they are part of the family, and the guys have their back without question or hesitation. And that is a beautiful thing, and I'm blessed that it's true in my case.
But what the guys at my academy, much as I love them, cannot give me, is the opportunity to train with a bunch of other women in a non-competition setting. And at this camp, we all get that opportunity, where the stakes are relatively low, to learn and practice, get frustrated and have breakthroughs, and yes, to cry. It is a women's camp, after all, and as Felicia, Emily, and I not-so-subtly tried to convey, jiu jitsu is about life. And life can be intense, as can jiu jitsu. So some of the ladies got a little catharsis, and who doesn't need that?
On that topic, it's Felicia who said that everyone gets out of the camp what they need from it. And that's not necessarily technique. In my case, I get more and more confidence every time that I actually have some grappling skill and that I can help other people improve too. I become a better teacher. I put my ego aside and really listen and learn. Other people make friends, get ideas for ways to run their own warm-ups or even get a break from a life they are contemplating stirring up in big ways--but just need a little courage to get started on. We all get a little boost in one way or another.
What this means, writ large, is that we can give back to the broader grappling community, which is mostly dudes. When we started the camp, we never meant for it to be exclusionary. It wasn't about hating men and wanting to be our own island. I know I speak for Emily and Felicia when I say that whatever success we have achieved in BJJ is directly traceable to the many, many men who have befriended and supported us, taken an active interest in our development, and taught us how to be better grapplers. The camp enables us to take more of a leadership role in our own training and bring that mentality back to our home academies, hopefully to inspire our other teammates, men and women, to be stoked about women's grappling just like they are about men's.
And it's already happening. When Nikki told her boyfriend, who happens to be Lucas Leite (for those of you who aren't in the grappling world, think Michael Jordan or Wayne Gretzky), about the camp, he asked how he could help. So he came in and taught us a sequence of techniques that have worked for him in competition. And he said that he was impressed with what we were doing, because it meant that women were making a mark in BJJ. My male friends and instructors are always ready to help out. Some of the campers came with husbands and boyfriends who train, and they had to band together and go find other places to play because the women had important work to do. So we as a group are building our confidence and our knowledge base, and we can go back to our academies and participate in the growth and strengthening of this art we all love so much.
I have so much more to say about the camp, about the individual women I met, and about all the laughs and raunchy comments, but I'll stop for now because I'm tired and have other things to do. I need to keep looking for my voice, which is coming back slowly but, as Susan said, I still sound amphibious and primatey. That is glorious, for reasons which shall stay part of grappling camp.
One other side note: check out this video, courtesy of CrossFit Ventura, of the affiliate challenge Matty, Ben, Gretchen, and I won as the Clock Blockers a couple weeks ago. You can see all four of us at :58 seconds, running off to start our first WoD, me and Matty doing pullups and Gretchen doing thrusters at 1:14, the four of us starting our barbell run at 1:52 (we're on the right), my bottom half helping Matty help Gretchen do handstand pushups while Ben squats fater than the naked eye can see at 3:31, and me, Matty, and Ben (Gretchen had left), during our photo op after the winners (us!) were announced at 3:45.
There is also footage in that video of many of my friends lookin' and actin' badass: Eddie, Zeb, Alyssa, Su, Miguel, Karen, Dawn, Sondra, and others. And of course the homage in the middle to Crossley, one of Traver and Eric's students. Check out his fashion choices, which obviously contributed to his stellar performance.
And as the excitement of the week calms down and I head into another "normal" week, it's fitting to become a bit contemplative. Tomorrow marks the 4th anniversary of the death of Carlson Gracie, Sr., who passed away in Chicago after some kidney problems hospitalized him. Some of you know that I had the honor of training with Carlson, Sr., for the last 4 years of his life and that he tied my purple belt around me when he and Carlson, Jr., promoted me to that rank. I still count that as one of my proudest accomplishments.
I've said before that I only got to "have" Carlson for 4 years; I can only imagine the effect his death had on Carlson, Jr., and his stable of black belts, those guys who trained with him for years and years, and who viewed him as a father figure. He was a controversial, passionate person, and people had very strong feelings about him. I'm grateful that I got to see a bit of the man behind the legend: the man who wouldn't let me help the guys put the mats away because I was "a lady" (little did he know), the man whose record collection included both samba AND Britney Spears, the man who would literally take off and give you his watch or his jacket if you complimented him on them (I saw him do this), and the man whose love of jiu jitsu was so pure that he got as excited about the most beginnerest white belt match as he did about the most highly anticipated black belt world championship final.
So it's the time of year when I remember how blessed I have been in my jiu jitsu life to have had such a remarkable teacher. RIP, Carlson. And thanks to Chuong, from whom I stole this youtube link to a Carlson Gracie tribute: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oxSe2VqV1qU.