Monday, August 22, 2011

The Europa Experience-Where Women Rule The Mats

The Europa Fitness Expo-Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu tournament has to be one of the most unique venues in Texas.  The jiu-jitsu tournament is just one of the many attractions at this expo.  The Europa Fitness Expo includes body building competitions, weight lifting competitions, a car show, vendor booths with lots of free swag, Cross Fit games, and other Martial Arts tournaments.  You name it and it is probably there.  This year's Europa jiu-jitsu tournament was by far the biggest tournament I've seen all year.  Dare I say even bigger than the IBJJF Houston Open.  The final count of eight hundred and fifty-five competitors was damn impressive, but what really made an impact with me was how the stacked with competitors the women's divisions were.  Holy crap!  The flood gates are open!  However, the real question is how many will stick around for the long hall?  Is the popularity of jiu-jitsu just a fad among women or is the new generation of white/blue belt women emerging on the scene, signs of a new tomorrow when women's divisions' are as well attended as the  men's?  

I can only speculate on the official count of women competitors, but it had to be at least close to forty.  Even though the women's divisions started an hour earlier than the men's at 9:30 am, matches were going strong all morning long and into the afternoon.  The spectators were entertained by one exciting match after another.  It's like the women's divisions just didn't stop and neither did the action.  Watching these women from the sidelines I couldn't help but wish I had so many women to compete with years ago when I was a white and blue belt.  Six years ago, when I first started competing in Texas, sometimes you were considered lucky if any other women even showed up.  There have been countless tournaments where in order to get a match I would compete with lower belts or with women several weight divisions above me.  In some cases, I'd have no other option but to get a refund.  This is seldom the case anymore for white, blue and some purple belt women.

I was also pleasantly surprised to see two women (purple belt Tara Arrington and black belt Roberta Bernini) reffing the matches at the Europa.  Women like Hilliary William (the 1st female referee for IBJJF) have led the way for other women referees through out the USA.  Regardless of sex, refereeing is never an easy task and you're not always going to make everyone happy.  However, Tara and Roberta proved to be just as competent as the men referees and in my opinion they both did an exceptional job at Europa!  

This got me to thinking, if not for the efforts of jiu-jitsu women before us we would not be where we are now.  The jiu-jitsu women of previous generations have paved the way for all women and girls within the community.  These women's efforts on and off the mats have given us the opportunity to continue to prove ourselves as equals in a male dominated sport. I can only imagine the sexism and stereotypes these veteran women first encountered.  I am glad the times are changing.  Instead of women's divisions being seen as a sideshow attraction, the athleticism among women is finally being noticed.  Through all of our actions and involvement, women are proving to be a valuable component of the jiu-jitsu community.  I feel indebted to the generations before me and the best way I see to honor their legacy is by being the best person I can be, pushing myself towards excellence and most of all supporting other women in the community.  As we encourage and support more women in jiu-jitsu, this will makes it easier for all of us.  With every hurdle we overcome we will continue to pave the way for the future generations.

At the rate jiu-jitsu is spreading in the USA, I don't see it slowing down anytime soon, I think over the next few years we will see black and brown belt women's divisions in the IBJJF break off into their own divisions.  I also think we will see white, blue and purple belt divisions get closer to that of what the men's divisions were a year or two ago.  I also think that as more of us compete we will start to see equal prize money for women's division at tournaments. At this rate of growth, all signs point to that this jiu-jitsu "craze" is far from over.  However, retention among women always seems to be the hardest part, perhaps because it really does take a certain type of woman to live the jiu-jitsu lifestyle.  Not everyone is cut out for the sacrifices that go along with being a jiu-jitsu competitor or martial artist.  Obviously women enter the sport with many different motives and goals, but as the popularity of the sport grows among men, it also reaches out to more women.   I can only hope that the increased number of women entering jiu-jitsu will bring more change and opportunity for all of us.  Only time will tell, but I am willing to bet on this one!  Big congrats to all the women who competed at the Europa.  Way to represent!  Keep the tradition alive! 

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Saturday, August 13, 2011

BJJ Tour of Texas-Remember the Alamo

There is a reason why they say "Remember the Alamo" and for me has nothing to do with the Texas Revolution or Pee-Wee Herman. It's Jiu-Jitsu! Every time I visit a new school, I am always learning more about the variations in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu styles, techniques, traditions, customs and class structure. Can we really say one style of BJJ is really the best? Aren't they all special in their own way? Or is it about finding what's right for us?

Day Three: August 8, 2011-On Monday I decided to dive head first into training. In the morning Lana and I woke up and we dragged ourselves out of bed to get to her circuit training class at 9:00 am. We did a variation of kettle bells, plyometrics, pull ups, dips, squats, etc. for an hour. It felt good getting a good sweat on. Immediately after class I rushed over to Rodrigo Pinheiro Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu for the 10:30am-11:30am class followed by open mat 11:30am-12:30pm.

To this day, I still get butterflies in my belly on the first day when I am the "new kid" at an academy, but at the same time I absolutely love the experience of going to a new school. It also takes the edge off a bit when you have a friend that already trains at that academy. Instantly, I felt relaxed when Rodrigo Pinheiro and my friend Tara Talanco greeted me at the door. In all of the schools that I've trained, the most common denominator is that no matter where I've gone in the world, I am always greeted with a warm welcome as if I am already apart of the jiu-jitsu family. This was my first class at Rodrigo Pinheiro's school and I had no idea what I was in store for.

As I've been visiting more schools I've realized that there are some big differences in each one's customs and traditions. For instance, I am not used to the custom of giving respect by bowing. It's something my school Relson Gracie Jiu-Jitsu Austin has never practiced. But as I visit more schools, I am learning more and more about these "foreign" customs.

At the beginning of class all the students line up on the mats before the warm up. It was kind of funny when I tried to duck back to the third row with the white belts so I could blend in and not be at the front of the class. I totally got called out and was told to go stand at the front of the class with the other purple belts. The class began with bowing to the instructors and then to Helio Gracie, followed by a 1/2 hour or so warm up of typical running laps, high knees, knees to butt, etc. The instructional portion began with a review of what had been taught last week. In watching the review, I got an inside look into how classes are structured and Rodrigo's teaching style. Instead of showing a whole series of transitions to various submissions in a class, the whole week was focused on all the details and doing drills that relate to the body movement used in the technique. By showing only a small piece of the puzzle, Rodrigo was able to focus on all of the small details that lead up to the final point.

This lesson began with a spider guard transition to a omoplata set up. I found that his teaching style and class structure was easy for me to understand and keep focused. This was one of the most enjoyable classes I've taken recently. I was especially grateful that I got to roll with Tara, Rodrigo and another white belt female. I am sorry I can't remember her name. Everyone at Rodrigo's was super cool, friendly and I felt right at home.

After rolling with Tara she made a comment that resonated with me. We were talking out our roll and she said to me that what I did was definitely a Relson pass. I found this interesting since we are able to identify who we train with based on how we roll. Which is another whole topic that I'll have to revisit. I have to say it did make me feel proud and grateful that I was able to represent my school, team and instructors to the point where it can be identified. I had such a great time at Rodrigo's, Tara was a perfect training partner, she's a monster! I'll definitely be back for more!

By 6:30 it was time to train again and I was ready to go! Lana and I headed over to her gym Carlson Gracie Jiu-Jitsu. I was pleasantly surprised to see that Monica Carrizal had also come to take the class with us. The class began similar to Rodrigo's in that they also give respect by bowing and lining up. This time I stood in front with the other purple belts. However, I was on the wrong end of the line and had to be pushed in the right direction. It seems as though I am always learning through trial and error. I think I finally got the swing of things and next time I'll be a pro.

Bruno taught the class which began with a typical warm up followed by pairing up into groups of three. Monica, Lana and I worked together on passing the open guard. The entire class consist of drilling. I was ecstatic to be drilling with such talented women. Then we did some positional sparring. Bruno was helpful and everyone at Carlson Gracie made me feel very welcome. I appreciate their hospitality and sharing their mats with me.

The only downside of this trip was while training, I re-injured my knee to the point where I will not be able to continue my tour of Texas. It has been two months since I injured it but I convinced myself that enough time had passed and it was healed. Obviously my brain lied to my body. These things happen and injuries just come with the turf. I'll have to postpone this tour for a bit, but as soon as I can I am hitting the road again!

Lana was an amazing host and I really enjoyed her company. We had a great time just hanging out and training. I can't wait to come back and train in San Antonio again. The training was top notch and I'd like to check out a few other schools that were recommended to me.

Thank you to Lana Hunter, Tara Talanco, Rodrigo Pinheiro Jiu-Jitsu, Carlson Gracie Jiu-Jitsu and everyone I met at both of these schools for making my experience a memorable one. I learned so much in such a short period of time. I was also reminded of how much I love BJJ! Training brings out the best in me and puts me in a great mood. The best part of this experience is that I have a renewed excitement for BJJ. I am eager to continue this tour, but in the meantime I'll have to just sit on the sidelines and focus on my photography while my knee heals. I saw great jiu-jitsu at both schools and have realized how important it is to find the academy, class structure, technical style and customs that best suit you. Everyone has different needs and some schools that are best for some are not right for someone else. To each their own. Until next time...

Friday, August 12, 2011

BJJ Tour of Texas-Texas Pride

You'd never guess it but Hawaiians and Texans have a lot more in common than people think. Both states at some point in time were their own countries and perhaps that's the reason that Texans and Hawaiians are so openly proud to represent where they are from. No other states that I've been to seem to have the same level of pride. Texas is also the biggest state in the US. and said to be the same size of entire countries like France. Even though San Antonio is only an hour and a half from Austin, San Antonio is a very different place. It's strange to me how something can seem so familiar, but yet feel like worlds away. I am talking about the jiu-jitsu of course. How different can jiu-jitsu be if we all stem from the same source?

Day Two: August 7, 2011-Sunday afternoon was filled with an impromptu open mat with Lana Hunter and a few of her teammates at Carlson Gracie Jiu-Jitsu of Castle Hill. On short notice, five of us were able to make it out and spend the "holy" day choking and arm baring each other. Having the mats to ourselves was great! Lana and I reviewed some of the material from the seminar the day before. Which is something that I strongly recommend doing after a seminar so that what you learned doesn't just fall to the wayside. It also helps to have a great training partner like Lana to work with who can remember the details I quickly forgot. I can't thank Lana enough for setting up a last minute open mat session so we didn't feel deprived of jiu-jitsu for the day that usually has no classes.

After training, Lana and Will (her boyfriend) and I headed out to indulge in Texas's Best BBQ at Texas Pride BBQ which is owned and operated by my friend and fellow jiu-jitsu badass Tara Talanco. I'd been wanting to check the place out since we'd missed going out there last time we had Girls in Gis in San Antonio. It was a quick 25 min from Carlson Gracie Jiu-Jitsu to Texas Prides BBQ in Adkins Texas and well worth the drive. To be honest, I don't know what was better, the training session at Carlson Gracie jiu-jitsu or the BBQ at Texas Pride BBQ after. My taste buds were in heaven. The ribs were so tender they just fell off the bone. It was finger-licking good!

Texas Pride is not like your usual BBQ restaurant. It's an experience of it's own. I jokingly call it the Texas Pride Compound since it is equipped with a playground for the kids, a motorcycle shop, Tara's Market, a full stage and the newest edition, a Tattoo shop! I was lucky to have come out for the Grand Opening weekend of the Texas Pride Tattoo shop which has been running strong every day since it's launch on the 4th of August. If you are in the San Antonio area, you don't want to miss Texas Pride which will leave you full of great food, entertainment and maybe even a tattoo while you're there!

I ended the day in a food coma- Fat, dumb and happy! Training, BBQ and good friends-I couldn't of asked for a more perfect day!

Saturday, August 6, 2011

A Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu Tour of Texas

Ever since I got back from Brazil last year, all I have talked about is going back. I never thought I could form such a strong connection to a place I only visited once. But I find myself haunted with recurring dreams of returning. I've been yearning to stroll along the pristine beaches, hang out with my friends again, enjoy the Brazilian lifestyle and of course train at one of the best academies in Rio--Gracie Tijuca. However, as I am constantly learning, things don't always go as planned, I realized I will probably have to put my dream of returning on hold for another year when I have more time. Things are hectic lately and between my business, school and all of my many projects it's hard to get away for long periods of time. To me, Brazil is not one of those places that you can just go visit for a few weeks. It's got to be at least a month to really soak in the Brazilian experience. So I guess I'll just have to keep dreaming about returning to Brazil for a while longer.

Then I began to think...What else can I do? Where can I go? Who can I see? And it hit me. I'll be honest, it isn't exactly my ideal vacation, but an adventure none-the-less. In efforts to appease my need to "escape" Austin and desire to shake things up, I've decided to embark on a "Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu Tour of Texas" and document my adventures as I travel throughout the Texas triangle of Jiu-Jitsu.

My adventures began today in San Antonio at the Roberta Bernini seminar at Carlson Gracie Jiu-Jitsu. It was a great seminar and she showed close to nine transitions to various different positions and submissions.   I think she showed transitions to and from every position possible.  She also showed a very advanced choke that I look forward to sharing when I get back home.  Even though Roberta doesn't speak any english, the point definitely got across that she's a talented black belt with a big bag of tricks!   It reminded me of being in Brazil were all the classes were taught in Brazilian Portuguese.  She will be in the San Antonio area for the next few weeks training at Carlson Gracie Jiu-Jitsu.  If you are in the area I strongly recommend you check her out.   

While I am in San Antonio for the next few days I look forward to training with my friends and badasses Lana Hunter of Carlson Gracie Jiu-Jitsu and Tara Talanco of Rodrigo Pinheiro Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu. Tomorrow Lana has set up an open mat for everyone at 2 pm @ Carlson Gracie Jiu-Jitsu.  Come and train if you are free! Then up to Dallas on Thrusday to train with the many talented women in the area and finally to Houston where I will end my journey at the Girls in Gis event on August 21st.

One of the most valuable lessons I learned last year traveling in South America is that sometimes not having a plan is the best plan. Not having a locked in itinerary kept things open for me to explore and allowed me to have different experiences that weren't mapped out. So I am not over planning this trip as I usually tend to do. Of course, I have a laundry list of people I want to see, train with and places I want to check out. But I don't really know what is in store for me. I can only hope that the experiences I have and the people I share them with will lead me to a new understanding and appreciation for Jiu-Jitsu, allow me to meet new friends and gain a new perspective of my life, let the adventure begin....

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

The Fearless Warriors of Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu's Future

"What do you photograph?" or "What is your favorite subject to photograph?"--These are the ongoing questions I've faced as a photographer. As I grow as a person, a Jiu-Jitsu practitioner and a photographer, the answer to those questions have also changed.  In looking back, my photographic focus and muses have drastically altered over time. It was only a few years ago I had an "epiphany" that I could combine my passion for photography with my love for Jiu-Jitsu.  It was just sitting right in front of me.  Recently, to my surprise, even though I've photographed some of the top level competitors and MMA fighters, most of my inspiration comes from the fearless warriors of our future generation of Jiu-Jitsu practitioners--the youth.

With lots of practice, I've developed extremely accurate sense of timing in photographing BJJ and MMA. My sense of understanding for the movement of fighters is from my own experiences as an athlete.  I can recognize what's coming next based on their technique. This  has contributed tremendously to my success in a very difficult area of photography--sports photography.  Which is an area I hope to continue to build a career in.  Through practice and working to improve my photographic technical skills, I've noticed improvement in my work.  Some of my most recent shots from the Lone Star Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu Federation's Youth & Adult Texas State Championships are good examples of when my two passions come together.

At Lone Star Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu Federation's Youth & Adult Texas State Championships, I was reminded of why I love to photograph children & teens competing in Jiu-Jitsu.  They are some of the most fearless and technical warriors I've seen on the mats.  Not only do I enjoy photographing them in action, I love to capture the raw emotions on their faces.  It was truly amazing to see how they tore it up.  If only I could of been in five places at one time.  I found it to be extremely inspiring watching these kids and teens on the mats rolling against each other.  You could tell that so much heart was put into every match.

When I was in Brazil last year, I meet quite a few black belts who have been training since childhood.  In most cases they had been training with the same people for over a decade.  It has been said that kid's minds are like sponges soaking up everything around them.  I found this to be especially true for many of these black belts.  To them Jiu-Jitsu seemed to be as natural of movements as walking.  Even though Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu was introduced to the United States in the late 1970's, it's still not as common for American black belts to have begun their training as children.  However, there is another generation among us.  The UFC has been the catalyst for Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu in the US.  The popularity of MMA fighting among this new generation has increased enrollment in Jiu-Jitsu classes all across the U.S. I am positive in time that the amazing instructors of today will breed a number of phenomenal American black belt All-Star in the years to come.

As a competitor, I can't help but genuinely admire the courage of these youth. I wish I  could see the world through the eyes of a child.  Why do our fears seem to grow bigger as we get older? Can fearlessness be taught or is it just an inherent personality trait?  If you ask me, I believe that fear is the real culprit to success.  It is fear that limits our capabilities and ultimately holds us back.  Although easier said than done, by letting go of fear we can open doors and bring us closer to our true selves and natural abilities.  We all have a warrior that lies within all of us, but it's only a few find the courage to bring it out!