Tuesday, July 27, 2010

The Rio Open Finals...

On the final day of the 2010 Rio Open I went with my Aussie friends, who are from TP Gym Sydney. We went to the Rio finals after my first day of training at Gracie Tijuca. No matter where I am, I love to watch the black and brown belt finals. It's always a treat to see the legends in Brazilian jiu jitsu execute their technique against each other. I learned so much and of course, it is even more dynamic than seeing them on video!

I especially enjoyed watching the black/brown belt women compete. I dream about the day when I will be in this division. Sure, it will take a tremendous amount of work, but I know I will get there eventually.

The women's division is always a bit more exciting, especially the absolute division. Not all of the legends made it to the 2010 Rio Open, but as usual the amazingly talented Beatriz Mesquita won the leve division. As if the day couldn't get any better, I later had the opportunity to meet and hang out with Ida Josefin Hansson from Denmark. She took the médio division and second in the absolute!

I was also pleasantly surprised to run into my old friend Leo. He was the first jiu jitsu black belt from Brazil that I had ever met back in 2001. My instructor Phil Cardella brought him to Austin to train at the time. I wasn't training then, but instead got a firsthand introduction to jiu jitsu when I photographed him and Phil rolling on the docks of Lady Bird Lake.

It was great catching up with Leo after all this time. Meeting new people, finding old friends and learning from the legends in Brazilian jiu jitsu have been part of my fantastic adventures in Rio! More to follow...

Monday, July 26, 2010

Who's the biggest loser?

Often more knowledge can be gained from our losses than our wins. This is a lesson I learned recently in Brazil. It doesn't matter what sport, game or martial arts you practice. I was given some great advice last week after the Rio Open from one of my coaches. He said, “We don't compete to win. We compete to see if, and how our opponents might beat us. So we know what to work on and how to improve. Sometimes a loss has more of an impact than a win and a win is a devastating loss.” I thought about this for a while.

On Friday, July 22 I competed in the Rio Open absolute division. It was an exciting second chance to compete in Rio. I did not know what I was in for.

My first match was with the largest girl in the Rio Open purple belt division. I know that for some competitors it doesn't matter if there is a 50 to 100 pound difference. But I really believe that you need to train a certain way in order win an absolute division. It's yet another area I need to work on.

In my match I got thrown around like a rag doll, and then smashed until my arm popped. An arm bar finished me off. It was a less than exciting match to watch and somewhat painful match to be in. Regardless, I learned some valuable lessons from this experience to take with me.

I've learned that competing in Brazil is no different than competing in the United States. I think that I created a false image in my head. Hyped up, I believed competing in Rio would be very different from the U.S., considering the differences in culture and language barriers. Surprisingly the Rio Open was similar to other meets I had been in throughout the States.

I learned that in order to win an absolute division, you must train a certain way. Rolling with larger people requires a different strategy.

I also learned about some technical areas I need to improve on.

Most of all I've learned that winning is not everything. Although I would of loved to go home with a shiny new gold metal, my bronze is a reminder of what I need to work on, and of how I can get better. And even though I love to compete, I must say I am relieved that the competition is over. Now I can work on what I need to do in order to become the type of martial artist I want to be. I am in the best place in the world to nurture this passion, and I plan on taking full advantage of this opportunity. I will be training at Gracie Tijuca and with Daniel Moraes while in Rio. Then I'm off to Buenos Aires to train at Renzo Gracie's school! I am so excited and feel so blessed for this opportunity!

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Rio Open...

Today I started off the day worried about my weight. I hate having my brain preoccupied about weight instead of technique or strategy! I wish I had worked on my weight sooner. I ate some papaya for breakfast with water and then went to the nearest drug store to weigh myself again. Sure enough my efforts paid off and I was down to 58.35kg (need to be 58.5 kg). But this was still a little too close for comfort. So I drank a little bit more water and got ready to head out to the tournament.

The day before, when I came back from weighing myself, I was still in my gi pants and one of my bunk mates, a tall thin Brazilian girl, asked me in her limited English, if I did Jiu Jitsu. I found out that she was a purple belt and would be competing in the Rio open also! Not knowing how much she weighed, I thought to myself , "Oh great, I am sleeping in the same room with someone I might have to compete against tomorrow!" Thankfully, we figured out that she was in the Pluma division and I am in the Pena. Thank God!

She was super sweet and invited me to go with her and her friend to the tournament, so another concern of mine was solved! Despite the language barrier, we were able to talk like crazy about Jiu Jitsu. I was very happy for her when she ended up placing 2nd in her division!

I've been competing in International Brazilian Jiu Jitsu Federation tournaments since the first USA Mundials (World Championships) tournament in 2007. The Rio open had all the same components of an other IBJJF tourament I'd been to, except it was a lot more "authentic". For instance location was the Tijuca Tennis Club which was a far cry from the upper middle class Pyramid in Long Beach. The floors were dusty and the gym had a very "rough around the edges". There were vendors selling bootleg BJJ videos outside. They even had Acia for sale at the snack stand. To get your t-shirt you had to go across the street and buy a kg of rice or beans. I couldn't understand a word that the announcer said, but I loved how they made my name sound even more exotic over the speakers.

I was very disappointed with my performance today. Cutting 1.5kg in less than 24 hours took a toll on my system. At first I felt good going into my 1st match despite my lack of food and water. Immediately I jumped guard and went into attack mode. I felt as though I was dominating the match until my competitor, Gislene Almeida , passed and landed in a solid side control. It was then that I felt gassed. I've never gassed out quite this bad before. I felt weak and helpless. It wasn't long before she landed a choke and I felt like I was going to pass out. I tapped. I knew I was done and I'd be going home with a 3rd place metal that meant nothing since I got it by default and not skill.

While waiting for my match to be called, Relson's daughter Karina Gracie came up to me and asked if I trained with Relson. She was super excited to see her Dad's patch on my back. She was also very helpful later when she translated that the refs were yelling at me to put my gi back on after my match. Unaware of the fact that I still had a chance, I was told that I would go against Mackenzie Dern in my next match. If I won against her than I'd fight Gislene Almeida again.

I got maybe a 3 minute break before I was called back to go against Mackenzie Dern. It was a good match. I only wish I would of had more time to recover after gassing out in the match prior. We went a good solid 3.5 min before she landed an arm bar on me and it was done.

I wish I could go back in time and do it all again...but would-a, should-a, could-a will get me nada. What's done is done, at least I have tomorrow to do the absolute...time for bed. Night!

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

The Adventures of Shama Ko-Rio De Janeiro

Hello Texas Combat Sports readers! It is a great honor to have my blog featured on Texas Combat Sports. I am very grateful for this opportunity. My name is Shama Ko, I am a light weight purple belt in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu. Tomorrow I will be making my international debut at the Rio Open in Brazil! I´ve been training Brazilian Jiu Jitsu for almost 7 years. It has been a long term goal of mine to travel to Brazil to train and compete in a tournament. Please visit my website shamako.com to learn more about who I am and to join me in my adventures.

Good Morning Rio...

I left Austin last night feeling anxious and excited. I don´t think it sunk in that I was actually going until I was seated on the plane. I couldn't stop smiling. My stomach was all butterflies. I've had the hardest time wrapping my head around the fact that I was really going to Rio. No matter how many travel guides I read or people I talked to about my trip, I had no idea what to expect. Like many cities in the world, I 'd heard about the good and bad aspects to Rio. It does have a bad reputation for crime and poverty but at the same time, it is known for friendly warm people and beautiful landscapes. Both of it is true...or at least that´s what I´ve come to see in the short time I´ve been here. My poor mother is worried about me being in a foreign country but she also has faith in my ability to take care of myself. Despite the language barriers and cultural differences, I think I am doing pretty good so far with hand gestures, body language and the very little Brazilian Portuguese/Spanish that I know and can understand.

A strange coincidence happened today. I was waiting for the shuttle bus to pick up another passenger when I looked up to see a familiar face. There was Daniel, Moraes with his father and one of his students! Even though I knew that Daniel was in Rio, it was still completely odd to run into him in a city of this size only an hour after I arrived. All I can think of is that it was meant to be and now I will be training with him and his crew later next week.

My mother gave me some pretty corny advice about traveling that she called FAO =Have Fun, be Alert and keep Organized. Well I hate to admit it but maybe she's right. Had I not decided to take a look at the schedule for the Rio open today, I would have never known that I was supposed to compete tomorrow! Oh crap! Good thing I checked. I assumed since I usually compete on Fridays, it would be on Friday this time also. The lesson learned is never assume that something will always be the same especially when you are in a whole different part of the world!

The only two things I forgot this trip was my belt and my iphone charger. Thankfully my friend Lauren who gave me a ride to the airport, lent me her ipod usb cord which is better than nothing. I was more upset about forgetting my belt, which will be a blog topic of it's own later. It's been a few days since I weighted myself and I knew I was close to being right at the top of my division. The hostel I am staying at didn't have a scale, but I was told that drug stores did have them. So I packed up my gi and headed off to the nearest drug store. I'd gone to the Leblon Shopping mall a few times already today to exchange money and I remembered that they had a drug store at the top of the escalators with a scale in the window.

As I stood in the window of the drug store of the busy shopping mall fully geared up in my gi like a Jiu Jitsu mannequin, I got some strange looks but I didn't care. I threw my self into a mad panic after realizing I was 1.5 kg over weight but it totally made my day when a group of young boys created an even bigger scene from outside the window by freaking out with excitement at seeing me fully geared up! Even though I couldn't understand most of what they were saying, I did hear them say Jiu Jitsu over and over again. They laughed and smiled as I gestured to tell them that I was too heavy!

Afterwards, immediately I went for a run on the beach and ate a light meal. I am going to go to the mall again tomorrow morning and be their "Jiu Jitsu mannequin" again as I verify my weight after my efforts to bring it down. I am sure it will be just fine. I am so excited about competing, I hope I can sleep tonight. Until next time...

Saturday, July 17, 2010

I bleed açaí...

Açaí has been a staple in my diet for a while. I first starting eating açaí daily last year when I cut weight to the Light Feather weight division. Every day for months I ate açaí for lunch. I have to admit after 4 months of this diet, I was pretty sick of it. But it wasn't long before I was craving açaí again.

My favorite way to eat açaí is a Rio Bowl. It consists of açaí, granola, banana pieces and Hemp or Flack seeds. Just scoop the açaí like ice cream/sorbet, chop a banana (sometimes I substitute with berries) and put on top of acai, then sprinkle granola and hemp or flax seed on top. Açaí smoothies are great too. I've never had the berry fresh. Perhaps I'll have an opportunity to in Rio.

"The açaí berry (pronounced ah-sigh-EE) from the Brazilian rain forest has been trumpeted as the next important food, a true super fruit. It may in fact be one of the most nutritious fruits on the planet: Açaí’s antioxidants are significantly higher than green tea, chocolate or blueberries and 10 times higher than red grapes. It has 10 to 30 times more anthocyanins (flavonoids that bind free radicals) than red wine. Açaí also has a synergy of omega 6 and 9 essential fatty acids (healthy fats), fiber, amino acids and vitamins A and C. however açaí is not one of the most palatable fruits. The plain berries are very tart; like eating plain cranberries, very few people enjoy them straight. Brazilians drink açaí in sweetened juices, which are now in U.S. supermarkets in a variety of blends with more familiar fruits (banana, raspberry, etc.). Açaí sorbet and frozen juice for smoothies is also available at most health food stores."

Thursday, July 15, 2010

shamako.com launched!

Yes, it is true. It's taken sometime, but It's looking good. Got more updates coming shortly. Check it out! Thank you!


Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Be your own coach...

In my earlier years of training, I struggled really hard in identifying my weaknesses but I found it was even more difficult to fix them by myself. Also, for that matter, I had no idea what my strengths were or how to effectively build from them. I relied heavily on my instructors and coaches for direction and assistance. In tournaments, I completely relied on my coaches for support and encouragement. I felt secure having a coach present even if I couldn't always hear what they were telling me to do in the middle of a match.

Of course, I still rely on my coaches today for encouragement and support. I am so very grateful to my coaches for all that they have invested in my growth and development. I may not be as blind as I once was, but still struggle to see exactly what I need to work on and to find ways that will effectively fix them. Thankfully I got a few coaches that will do what it takes and even go above and beyond to help improve my game. I can only assume that as I progress it will be easier for me to identify my areas of weaknesses with more clarity and thanks to my instructors, I'll have more tools to fix them. I am learning how to be patient. I know it's a long road ahead of me.

Over the years I've competed several times in tournaments without a coach but I've always had at least one person there to cheer me on. At my very first tournament my boyfriend at the time was the only one there to support and cheer me on. No matter how many tournaments I've done, I still find a lot of comfort in having an entourage of coaches, family, friends and teammates present when I compete. I also find that it makes me push harder knowing that I have people wanting me to succeed.

This past year at the Pan American Championships was my first time competing in a large scale tournament without an actively participating coach there to support me. Thankfully I had my friends, teammates and family. I learned a lot from this experience about stepping up to bat and being my own coach, being direct and asking for help, and preparing mentally and physically.

When competing, I think it's good to be direct and ask for what you need. Thankfully I don't have a problem asking for help or directing others, especially when it comes to something I want done. I find that it helps to have at least one person available to help with the little things like getting water, massaging out my arms between matches and reminding me to breathe.

I've learned over the years to "relax" when I am taken over by waves of nervousness or anxiety. I've learned to use breathing and stretching exercises to relax my body and brain. The best distraction tool for me is music. I like to relax by listening to my MP3 player but that can have a downside too, like I sometimes don't hear my name called! Which is not good! Worst of all, I maybe because of the stress, I get extremely scatter brained and tend to leave things all over the place. For instance, last year I almost forgot my Pan American metal on top of a trash can. Having extra eyes and ears looking out for me really helps me to relax, let go and prepare mentally for my match. Laughing and smiling are also good ways to ward off the nerves. Just being happy and excited about the match works too. It is incredibly important to me to be focused, calm and alert prior to my match.

It is equally important to be physically warmed up. Without a coach you can still warm up with a jump rope, jumping jacks, jump squats, push ups, sit ups, etc. Yes, it helps to have a coach to push you harder but you can do it on your own too. When you don't have anyone yelling advice or pointers at you during your match, then it is up to you to keep an eye on the time and score, to work through your sequences, take advantage of openings and completely pay attention to what is happening. You really have to focus on the match as a whole, not just what is immediately happening. I find that it requires a totally different type of level of alertness that keeps improving as time goes on.

But what do you do when you have no-one and no coach? I am about to find out. The only other person I know that will be in Rio competing is my teammate Ian. I am not entirely sure he will be able to make it to my match. I might be flying completely solo. I am going to pack a backpack with all my gear in it and carry it around with me the entire time. I am also going to turn down the volume on my MP3 player! I will have to be 100% self reliant which I know I can do. I'll come back to this topic after the Rio Open and share anything new that I may discover. Wish me luck!

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Making lemonade...

For as long as I can remember one of my instructors has been telling me that I need to go and train with Leticia Ribeiro. He has said many times that not only is Leticia one of the most skilled competitors in BJJ, but he really liked her teaching style and I could benefit tremendously by training with her. So, earlier this year I made arrangements to go to San Diego and take classes with Leticia. However at the last minute, I was forced to cancel the trip.

Then in June of this year,The Fenom Project and Marcelo Garcia Dallas hosted the first ever Leticia Ribeiro seminar in Texas. Around 20+ women from varying academies and belt levels turned out from all over Texas for the seminar. It was a great opportunity to meet other female BJJ enthusiast. The seminar was amazing and as an added bonus, Leticia brought the very talented 3 stripped brown belt, Beatriz "Bia" Mesquita, with her to Dallas. This was one of the best seminars I've ever attended. I strongly recommend going to one if you ever have the chance. It's worth every penny!

As anticipated, I really enjoyed Leticia's teaching style. The seminar was structured well and was appropriate for belts of all levels. Her teaching method had a natural progression and she had a keen attention to detail. We started standing up working on grip breaks and worked our way to ground technique. Not only is Leticia an amazing teacher she is very supportive and very down to earth. It was an honor to meet both Leticia and Bia. I hope that they come back to Texas soon.

Image by Georgette Oden

After Leticia's seminar, I was motivated to learn more and I've been working for several months on planning to attend Leticia's first women's camp in Rio. Then a week ago I found out it was canceled and rescheduled for 2011! I was upset and disappointed but tried to stay positive since I had already bought my nonrefundable airline ticket to Brazil. So, even though the camp has been canceled, I am extremely excited and grateful for the opportunity to go to Brazil. It's a strange feeling having one of my long time goals becoming a reality. To be honest, I am a bit nervous about going to a notoriously dangerous country on my own. But with the help of some good friends, Rio Sports Tours and Leticia herself, my plans are coming together. I am extremely thankful for all the help in preparing me for this trip.

As just another reminder of the universe balancing out, it turns out that my friend Daniel Moraes will be hosting a camp while I am in Brazil. So naturally I am going to go spend a few days training with those guys. I am guessing that they will be training a lot of MMA, so I am thinking it will be a good opportunity for me to work on some no gi technique. Which will be an incredible help to me as I switch gears and focus on my next big tournament the No gi Worlds.

I am in a mad scramble to put all the pieces together in the short time I have left before I leave. I am weighing my options and rescheduling my adventures in Brazil. I am realizing that I am not a totally relaxed "go with the flow" type of person and need some structure to my plans to feel comfortable. But no matter what, I have faith and I know it will all come together. Who knows why things turn out as they do? Sometimes events happen beyond our control and we need to adapt and trust that it is all for the best! I am excited and happy about this life changing trip and know I will have a fantastic time in Brazil!