Sunday, June 28, 2009

Knowing when to tap

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Last Thursday was the first time that I was able to make it to the kids class since I got back from the Worlds. Unfortunately my training has gotten in the way of my helping instruct these classes. But with some adjustments in my schedule, I've been able to incorporate this back into my routine. I really missed working with the kids.

They offer me a different perspective. I learn a lot from the kids. Teaching forces me to focus on all of the small details apart of the reversals, sweep, choke, arm bar, etc. I also find their thirst for knowledge and care free spirits to be inspiring.

Some of the kids have been a part of this program for as long as two years. I can remember back when they were first taught the importance of tapping. One of the first moves that everyone needs to know in jiu-jitsu. Tapping is what makes jiu-jitsu a controlled sport. It is a way to prevent injury.

You would think that everyone would want to avoid getting hurt. Sometimes ego over shadows the sense of self preservation. It doesn't matter how old one is, some people are just simply not able to accept losing or being "beat by a girl, especially 7-year-old boys.

When I first starting instructing the kids class, I used to kind of toy with the kids like a cat does with its prey. I let them think they were getting away or sinking in a submission. Only to maneuver out and pass. Then sometimes I would make it seem as though they had "really" caught me in that triangle even though I was obviously taking them through the submission. My goal was to offer them confidence and for them to believe that anything is possible, even tapping the instructor.

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However, when I over heard them talking on the side lines calculating on how many times they had beat me, I realized that I was doing them an injustice. They were not really making me tap. I knew that, but they didn't. I was instilling them with a sense of false confidence and reassurance. I was doing them more harm than good. Truth be told, they had a long way to go before any of them were really tapping out an instructor.

So, I've changed my tune. Granted I am a small, I am not as small as a 7-year-old. So if I were to go full speed or use full force I could crush their little ribs. By no means do I take it easy on them when it comes to technique. Now I have them plotting and scheming on me, which is a lot better in my opinion.

The other day I was rolling with a boy who is an competitor and shows a genuine interest in wanting to learn jiu-jitsu. He was the first to want to roll with me. He was determined to tap me or give it all he had. At about about 2.5 minutes of our 3 minutes round I caught him in an arm bar. It was obvious that he was not going to get out without tapping. But he would not tap. I sat there waiting for him to tap just barely extending my hips out applying minimal pressure. But still no tap. He was convinced that he did not have to or refused to because he didn't want to admit he had lost.

Not wanting to break anyones arm, especially a child's, I had to call tap for him. This is common with the kids. I know that they know how to tap, but not when. Perhaps their lack of tapping in time has to do with the fact that they don't understand the repercussions involved. Or maybe it's because pride gets in the way or maybe a little of both.

But it is not only the kids that I find this happens with, adults do it, too. It's on rare occasions that this has happened to me with adults. But typically it goes like this: some new guy will ask me to roll. I will agree and then they will just use muscle to maneuver out of a positions or submission attempts I apply. About a month ago I caught this one student in a tight arm bar. Being nice, since we were only training, I didn't wrench his arm out of socket as I would in a tournament. I applied just enough pressure to his extended arm to make it obvious that I had caught him. However, he absolutely refused to tap. In a last ditch effort he used what I describe as dirty tactics to free his arm. He applied the knee-to-eye move. That is he used his knee to my eye. FYI: It was a totally inappropriate move to use in training ... especially to a woman.

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Not knowing when to tap could be a painful lesson to learn. One that will put you out for a while. Allowing the ego to dictate will only hinder the progression in jiu-jitsu. In my opinion, not being able to recognize and address weakness, leaves no room for growth.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

We are all in this together...

I feel that it is important to have a solid base of good partners to work with on a consistent basis. Having good partners is especially crucial to me because I am at a pivotal point in my development as a competitor, athlete and martial artist. Although it has almost been seven years since I started training, I still have many levels to reach and lessons to learn as I work toward my black belt.

My first partner (we started with in a few weeks apart) at the Relson Gracie Jiu Jitsu academy was a woman named Anna. We both came into jiu-jitsu hungry to learn. Once we got the taste for the sport, it made us desire more. We were hooked. And the addiction began.

Over the course of the next five years, Anna was my most consistent training partner. We progressed through so many levels together. We were both promoted to blue belts on the same day. In our long conversations, we would attempt to strategize together on on what areas we needed improvement. We were eager to discover techniques suitable for our size. She was my first gage.

By gage I mean some one whom acts as a way for you to accurately gage your technique against. Some one who is at that same level and weight. A realistic opponent in competition.

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As a blue belt, one of my most influential partners was a 12-year-old boy named Sawyer. He was already a black belt in Japanese Jiu Jitsu and instantly excelled in Brazilian jiu- jitsu. He absorbed the lesson plans and techniques he was taught like a sponge. He dominated in competition and was a heavily decorated competitor. It was truly amazing to watch him in action. Kids in his division didn't even stand a chance.

His game was tight and in my opinion he was one of the most technical members of the academy at that time. Frankly, he had no other choice but to have solid technique since he could not possibly out muscle grown men. Yet, he regularly dominated despite his obvious short comings.

He taught me one of the most important lessons I've learned so far. The importance of all of the little details in Relson Gracie jiu-jitsu. How they all pieced together to work beautifully. He made me believe.

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I've had a lot of training partners come and go for various reasons. I see them all as little pieces in my puzzle in progress. I've learned different lessons from each and every one of them. I look forward to being able to see the whole picture some day.

The partners, mentors, teammates and instructors I have today are amazingly talented and generous. I am very fortunate to be on this team and to be apart of this family. I may be the one on the podium who is awarded metals, but I also share my success with those who've trained with me.

Monday, June 22, 2009

Injuries

There is nothing worse than to be taken out by an injury and not be able to train. In the six and a half years that I've been training I've hand my handful of injuries. Some broken fingers and toes, bruising, busted lips, black eyes, banged up knees/elbows and a fractured rib. But thankfully none of them caused me to miss training for long periods of time. In my opinion, I have been fortunate.

Unfortunately, I've been a witness to a few painful injuries that have taken people out for long periods of time or in a few cases they quit and are never heard from again. Jiu Jitsu is the gentile art. But if people don't use control, are too aggressive and out to prove something that is when things can go horribly wrong. Also sometimes new people have a tendency to "freak out" and it can be dangerous for the their partner or them selves. And then too, sometimes it just happens.

The best thing to do when injured is to just nurture your body. Take it easy, rest, ice, medicate, elevate, etc. However, I am not the best at taking my own advice. I tend to push my self no matter what and expect my body to just take the abuse. Thankfully, most of the time it cooperates. But I am still young and I tend to heal fast. Nonetheless, I realize that this this will not always be the case.

The worst type of injury is when you inflict it upon your self outside of class, like I did the other night.

One of my favorite hobbies outside of Jiu Jitsu is cycling. Unlike Jiu Jitsu I have no interest in doing this competitively. It's just something I enjoy to do and I do it quite often. Austin is considered to be a bike friendly town. Perhaps that is because it is home to Lance Armstrong or just because the city has some of the best maintained bike paths that I've ever seen.

Anyhow, so the other night I was riding home by my self. I decided to take a short cut on a gravel path instead of the nice paved one. As I cruised around enjoying the cool nights air, my front tire suddenly hits a buried railroad tie and my bike keep going in one direction and I was catapulted off in the other. I remember thinking to my self "dam, this is really going to hurt" as I flew face forward onto the ground in slow motion.

You'd think with all the millions of times that I've drilled falling properly or the tumbling drills that Richard G. tortured us with in class would of prepared me for this situation. But instead of gracefully tucking and rolling, I face planted onto the gravel path. The only good part of this story is that I nearly missed a large rock that surely would of knocked me out.

In a daze I quickly checked over my body as I sat up. I instantly had a head ache and my face was numb. Had I knocked out my teeth? nope. Where was I hurt? knee. hands and head. Was I bleeding? no...oh wait YES! Blood oozed down my eyebrow, across my right eye and trickled down my cheek. My nose appeared to be bleeding too. I was what my BFF describes as being a "hot mess".

So here I am two days later...the swelling in my lip has gone down, my cuts are scabbing up and healing. I am on the road to recovery. The hardest part for me is that I can't train at least until next week. It's like a part of me is missing. Jiu Jitsu is so much apart of my regular routine. Not having it there has left a lot of open time for me to "be productive". But I already cant wait to get on the mats and it's only been a few days.

The lesson that I found in this one is that in order to return to training, I have no choice but to take my own advice. I must nurture my body and I am. I only wish I didn't have to keep learning these lessons the hard way. But what doesn't kill me only makes me stronger.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

What is my game?

Several times I've been asked a simple question: What is your game? When asked this question recently, I had a difficult time answering. What really is my game? What does this question really mean? Does my game entail what position I enjoy working with and submitting from most? Does my game mean how do I transition from position to position? How am supposed to I answer this question when I don't really know what it means to me?

So, I've been thinking more and more about how to answer this question. After thinking long and hard I realized that for me, at this point in time, my game entails a lot of things and there is no set right or wrong way to answer.

My game up until recently has been played out primarily from the guard. For most of my competitive career, this has been the position where I've victoriously submitted from most. Perhaps I rely so strongly on this position because it is the position that I've been taught to attack from on the most consistent basis. The instructor I train under has a strong guard game and he too has been very successful at executing submissions from this position. But unlike him and most of the people I train with, I am very petite. I've recently decided to expanded my comfort zone for a number of reasons by moving onto having more of a top game.

I remember when I first discovered that with larger opponents being caught on the bottom (even though it is an effective position to attack) is not always the best place for me to find myself. A few years back at a local tourney--because of the lack of women competitors in Texas--I was paired up with a 200lb+ woman named Star. Since she almost was twice as big as me I didn't want to go the distance with her or get caught under her. Finishing her off quickly was in my best interest.

Incidentally, this was the last time that I decided to cut weight for a local tournament. In those days and still to this day not many women compete in Texas. There was never a weight division for people my size. I was destined to fight larger women and it was pointless to even look at the weight divisions.

In wanting to end this match quickly I decided to do a flying arm bar when given the opportunity, which ended up being a bad call on my part. I landed the arm bar, but she also came down on me like a ton of bricks. And since I was unable to leg press 200lbs, I was not able to extend my legs or maneuver out from under her to finish off the arm bar that I set up. So she proceeded to lay on me and smash with all of her weight. I recall her child screaming these words of encouragement, "Put all your weight on her mama!" And she did. After a few minutes of me attempting to squirm out from under her enormous body, I was forced to tap--mostly because I could not breathe. This was not the finest moment in my career as a competitor. Nonetheless, a lesson I needed to learn. I just would of preferred not to have learned it the hard way.

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So anyhow, back to my original point. What is my game? My game is forever evolving and as I understand it probably always will because of the infinite possibilities in jiu-jitsu. At this point in time I am working to solidify my top game (mount and side control) and the transitions to these position using sweeps and reversals. I don't have a whole lot of weight to "smash" opponents with or training partners with. So I have to use what I got and apply technique as opposed to just using sheer weight in my favor.

I've been working with and studying the techniques of the smaller men and women competitors in jiu-jitsu. My logic is that what works for them will work for me because I too am working with the same equipment. I've come to learn that as important as it learn how to transition to these positions, it is just as important to maintain these positions.

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Most recently at the Worlds I was successful in that I was able to obtain and maintain a top position with two of the three opponents I went against. As for submitting once I got there, that is another story for another time.

As far as what submissions I incorporate into my game the most, that would be arm bars. The worst part of arm bars for me is when you are up against a stubborn opponent and you feel their arm popping out of joint. Although I do an aggressive martial art, I don't really want to hurt some one unless they really deserve it.

I was lucky enough recently to do a seminar with Royler Gracie. I recall him telling a story about a conversation with his late father Helio Gracie. He was talking with about his love for arm bars. How it was his favorite submission. His father basically said to him that although arm bars are good submissions, there is always another arm for your attacker/opponent to use once one has been broken. The point that he was trying to make to his son was that when using chokes the fight/match is automatically over because the other party involved passes out.

This concept resonated with me. So I am now trying to move on forward incorporating more chokes into my sequencing. Instead of using chokes as bait for the arm bar, perhaps using arm bar attempts to bait for chokes. The possibilities are endless.

So as I've talked my self in circles. I don't know if I really answered the original question I presented. Maybe as I move forward on as a martial artist, I will be able to answer this question directly and less like a politician (which I've been accused of in the past).

Anyhow, it's time for class. So off I go. Until next time...

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

PURPLE-BELT SHAMA KO WINS THE SILVER AT THE 2009 WORLD JIU-JITSU CHAMPIONSHIP

PURPLE-BELT SHAMA KO WINS THE SILVER AT THE 2009 WORLD JIU-JITSU CHAMPIONSHIP

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Life back on the mats

Since returning to my "normal" life, I've been bogged down by my responsibilities (i.e. working and maintaining my life). I've only been able to get back on the mats and train maybe once or twice. This is never easy for me since I am a total Jiu Jitsu junkie. On the other hand, I have to say it is nice to kind of slow down a bit, nurture my body (at least for the next week) and give it a break from the intense training that its been put through.

The most enjoyable part is that I can (for the most part) eat what ever I want for a bit and I don't have to be as strict about what foods I eat. I can enjoy what I lovingly call "fat girl" foods like BBQ, cup cakes and Lasagna. Normally I am not a huge food person and I just kind of eat because I have to. I don't even normally have cravings for much. But after cutting weight and only eating oatmeal, protein shakes, Acai, granola, fish and broccoli for months on end my imagination goes wild when it comes to food. I can not wait to get my hands on something different.

One of the best parts of being at the level that I am in Jiu Jitsu is I am really starting to see where my strengths and weakness are. Which is exciting for me because I am able to analyse my "game". I can build off my strengths and improve in the areas that need attention. I figure I got until the end of this week to "take it easy" and then it is time to kick it into high gear again to get ready for the Abu Dhabi tourney. With the 100 degree weather upon us, I am stoked about training more no gi. As much as i love my gi, it will be nice to not be rolling around in a sweat sponge all summer long.

One of the areas that I am going to be focusing on in the coming months is take downs. How I've gone so long with having little to no game when it comes to take downs is slightly embarrassing. I've some how justified it because most women don't use or know take downs so why should I. It is horrible reasoning. Following the monkey see monkey do philosophy I will get me no where and I realize this. That is why this is going to change. I am not in this to be just another women competitor. I am in it to win it. I have high hopes of going above and beyond. I know what it takes and am ready to set the wheels in motion. So on ward goes my quest for self improvement.




Monday, June 15, 2009

Post 2nd place win in the Brazilian Jiu Jitsu World Championships-Continued

It's been quite a few days since my last blog entry. I am new at this and it has not become 2nd nature for me to pour my heart out on paper to be publicly viewed. That and I had a momentary meltdown because I thought that my computer had crashed. Nonetheless, my "technically savoy" friend (that "if I listened to more would offer me smooth sailing through life") advised me to eject the battery and put it back in and what do you know...it worked!!!!! So I am back on line and at it again.

Anyhow, so back to my story...as I waited among the sea of competitors in the bull pen, I did my best to clear my head and just think positively. It wasn't as easy considering that I was now running on an adrenaline high. My mind raced. I was still in shock that I'd come this far. All of my hard work had built up to this moment and here I was minutes away from that defining match.

The realization that I was going to compete in the finals was intense...I was going to place 1st or 2nd regardless of how this next match went down. I had a 50/50 chance of taking home the gold and I wanted it bad. I had increased my odds. Originally starting out with a 1 in 7 chance of going home with the gold (being that there were 7 competitors in my division) and now it was down to the two of us.

My training had paid off in the prior matches and proved to be effective. The same heavy set Brazilian man retrieved me from the bull pen and I walked back over to mat 6 with him. I was confident, relaxed and that same cheek to cheek smile was plastered to my face. I felt happy and light. My mind had not settled down, but my body was still fresh and ready to go. The match before us cleared off and on to the mats we went.

My final opponent was Sofia Amarante of South Florida Fight Club. Like all of the previous competitors, she was not to be taken lightly. She too had teared through the competitors on the opposite side of the bracket. Within the 1st few minutes of the match she sunk in a choke that I was almost sure would have put me out. Everything started closing in on me and I was on my way to darkness. But as I defended, on the verge of taping out I told my self that this was not how it would end. So I continued to fight off the choke and sure enough my will over came the strength of her grip and I felt it weaken. I took advantage of this opportunity and squirmed out and on went the match.

It was an evenly matched round. From that point on both of us maneuvered around each others submission attempts. 6 minutes into the round and only one more to go...no points on the board, no advantages, nothing! Was this going to go to over time or result in a decision called by the ref? Both of us worked hard to finish strong. Back and forth we went attempting to submit and shutting each other down. Attempting to transition for positions to score points...nothing.

I had her in my guard and decided to move to an open guard to attempt a sequence of submission attacks. In the end this decision proved to be a bad choice. She was able to shift out from my open guard and pass. 3 to zero. I was down now. I was less than a minute to go, I was down on points and I had nothing. No submissions open, no transitions to gain points. Nothing.

My mind was swimming and I couldn't figure anything out to put me ahead. Soon after the time ran out and it was done. I had lost and I was going home with the Silver. There was nothing I could do to change it. It was over now. I was disappointed with the out come, but nonetheless I was so very proud of my self and how far I had come. In this experience was another lesson learned. It was just another area to work on when I got home.

I stood proudly at the podium when awarded my 2nd place metal. Words can not describe how content I was. How strong I felt. How confident I was now that I had accomplished this goal. To top it all off as we (1st, 2nd and 3rd place competitors) stood on the podium the 1st place winner was awarded her Brown belt. I had come so close to winning against a woman who was on the verge of a Brown belt! I am only a 1 stripe purple belt and she was a 4 stripe and now a Brown belt.

Her promotion made me appreciate my 2nd place title even more. I was on top of the world and my energy was running high. Good job Shama! Way to represent your team and prove to your self what you are truly capable of.

Pushing those limits are what defines us. If you never test them, then you never know what you are made of. I honor this victory and am so grateful for this opportunity. I've learned a lot and am ready to go back to the drawing board and make some adjustments that will only make me better in the tournaments to come.

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Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Post 2nd place win in the Brazilian Jiu Jitsu World Championships

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It's been a few days since I placed 2nd in the Brazilian Jiu Jitsu World Championships. I walked away with a 2nd place win, a new broken finger (now up to 3 broken fingers in the past 6 months) and a many new lessons learned. I am truly proud of my self for this accomplishment and have a renewed sense of confidence. However, getting here was not easy.

I made several sacrifices along the way. I've devoted hours upon hours on a daily basis preparing my self for this tournament. I incorporated new training regiments into my raptor. I cut 8 lbs (after ballooning out after the Pan Ams) to get back into the Light Feather weight division. I starved my self and worked my self into exhaustion on a daily basis to get on that podium.

Did I have any doubts? To say that I didn't would be a lie. It's always a gamble when going after any dream. If I've learned anything in the 30 years of my existence, it's that you have to take risks, work hard, be dedicated 100% in mind, body and spirit. Most of all you must believe in your self in order to make your dreams a reality. I've overcome some of the hardest of obstacles. But in the end I know that I made the right decision and that I am on the path that I am intended to be on.

Several times on my road to the Worlds my dedication and confidence was shaken and I could of found many reasons to throw in the towel. A pending job opportunity, intense emotional experiences and losses and financial concerns stood in my way. But I endured through these hard times and continued on in pursuit of my dreams.

So this is how the day of the Worlds went down...my 1st match ended up being a result of a strange mess up. The mat coordinator some how put me into a match that i was not supposed to be in. After my opponent quickly jumped guard, I escaped, passing her guard and landed her in my guard the ref called time out. My adrenaline was pumping hard. I had successfully transitioned out of a bad spot into an advantageous position of attack. To have it end with an abrupt foul up was extremely frustrating. But after relaxing for a bit on the sidelines I realized that I had gotten exactly what I wanted...a warm up match.

I had just been talking the day prior with my friend Angie about how she wished she had a warm up round before the 1st match of the tournament and I had agreed. How nice would it be to have one match on the mats to get you used to the texture of the mat, get your adrenaline pumping, clear your head and alleviate any stage fright jitters. And there I was with the answer to my request, a warm up round. A round where I got my blood pumping, body warm, brain firing and in this case I was even offered a mental and physical pre-test in being able to stay calm while I transitioned from a tough spot to a position of dominance. Although frustrated by the incident in the end it was just yet another blessing in disguise.

As I waited, I returned to my normal warm up routine...music obnoxiously blaring into my ears, eyes closed and my body lightly moving to the rhythm of my theme music. I relaxed my body and cleared my head. After about 14 min of waiting on the sideline a heavy set Brazilian man, incidentally the same one that had mess up earlier spoke to me in a broken English-Brazilian Portuguese accent indicating that I was next. Here we go Shama...It's go time!

I stepped out on to the mats dragging my feet along as to dry up any stress sweat that had accumulated while waiting to go on. The mats were slick and my feet glided along with ease.

Earlier on in this adventure when I landed at LAX I turned on my phone and a friend of mine had text me saying that the brackets were up and he had research on my 1st opponent. As I waited for our plane to park at its designated gate I called him. He told me about my 1st opponent, her accomplishments, her game and what to look out for based on the videos that he found on her. My 1st match was going to be tough and I had to play it smart and safe with her. I was also on the heavier side of the bracket...it would take 3 wins to take home the gold.

Even though I was sitting on a plane on my way to the Worlds I still had a hard time accepting the fact that I was really going to the Worlds. I was really going to compete in less than 3 days. But for some reason this conversation with him made it all sunk in and my stomach dropped a bit. I muttered " I am getting nervous". He laughed and assured me that I had nothing to be nervous about. Followed up by an encouraging pep talk that made me fell more at ease and then we hung up.

Although I was grateful for the support, I had decided that it would be best for me this time round to do limited if no research on my opponents. I felt that the less I knew at this point the better. With the tournament only days away If figured it best I didn't get caught up in who it was that I was competing against or get fixated on their prior accomplishments and techniques used to win. It didn't matter how I studied them...all that matters is how I was going to do. I was going to go in there and play my game regardless.

So there I found my self on the mats facing Carla Franco, last years World Champion, this years Pan Am and European open champion. As guessed she was tough as nails. She played a quick and aggressive game. I made several attempts to submit, but was repeatedly shut down. I transitioned from position after position for a full 7 min. In the end the match concluded with her face down on the mats, my self on her back, her breathing deeply with exhaustion and a winning score of 15-6. One down...2 to go.



She commented on how exhausted she was after that match, wished me luck and then went on about her way. In went my headphones, on went my socks and I quickly returned to my "happy place" to prep for the next round.

Round 2...time to kick some butt! My next opponent was Van Milnes a short Asian girl from Universal Strength . Once again my submission attempts were unsuccessful. But I held my own in transitioning from position after position for the next 7 min resulting with an ending score of 10-4 or something close to that.

After winning the 2nd match it dawned on me...I am going to the Finals!!!! Holy crap it's really going to happen. As much as I wanted the Gold, I was also fantasizing about devouring a deep dish pizza and a pint of beer. Having been deprived of the simple pleasures in life for over a month and a half...I was ready to indulge! She is what stood in between me and my victory feast. Only 7 more min or less to go...

A huge smile was permanently plastered on to my face as I walked back over to the bull pen. While I waited in the bull pen amongst the sea of other competitors I entered into my final tranquil state of mind. I relaxed, breathed calmly and cleared my head. Only one more match, you can do this!
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