I just was awarded my brown belt in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu For The Street.
For those of you who don’t know what that means, the ranking goes as follows: white, blue, purple, brown and black. With four stripes on each belt before you get to the next color.
BJJ for The Street was developed by my husband Burton Richardson. It differs from tournament BJJ: we add punches, kicks, groin strikes (one of my favorite attacks) and eye gouges. We also learn knife and gun defense.
I was pregnant with our first child when I received my purple belt in 2009. I’ve had it long enough that I’d stopped believing I would ever move up to the next level.
My body and life were quite a mess after I gave birth and jiu jitsu just didn’t belong in my new reality. For one thing, the first time I tried grappling post delivery, we found milk squirts on the mat; clearly I wasn’t the ideal training partner. As a new mom, who was tired all the time and whose body was constantly in pain, I put jiu jitsu at the very bottom of my list. Actually, for a while it didn’t make the list. Time passed. About two years I would say. At which point, we figured it would be good for me to get back into it. My milk supply was under control. I was sleeping more at night. Our daughter was of age to start her own initiation into our martial arts world. I wanted to lead by example.
I still couldn’t attend our group classes since they are held at night so we trained at home. A few students came every Monday for an afternoon training session with my husband and I planned on joining. One of them was a blue belt. A good blue belt. A good blue belt who trained multiple times each week. And I, well, I may have been wearing purple, but I was feeling green. As much as we try to leave our ego out of the mat, the goal of Jiu Jitsu is to submit your opponent and not to get submitted. (A submission is a position from which you could break the opponent’s arm, or ankle, maim his knee or choke him out unconscious). And I don’t think there is one jiu jitsu practitioner out there who would be looking forward to getting tapped out by a “lower” belt. That’s just the truth.
But here’s another truth: you don’t get better by sitting it out so despite my -well founded- fears, I stepped up. I was a thirty something out of shape mom who hadn’t worked out in years.That was going to be interesting. And boy was it!
I did great that day! I grappled better than I ever had pre-baby. I held my own and then some. It was amazing. How could that be? I’m sure the student thought I had been training secretly but I hadn’t.
Here is how I explain it:
1: My mindset had changed. Pre-baby I was a lot more conservative in my grappling. It was more important to me not to get tapped out, than to tap somebody out. I played defense most of the time, very aware that I was smaller and lighter than most of my training partners and that it was unlikely I would get to a finish. I played it safe.
After a two year break, it would have been normal to get submitted so I worried less about it. I tried more things. And by trying more, I succeeded more.
2: My basics had gotten stronger. The long break had allowed my brain to work in the background and solidify my technical knowledge. Almost like a defragmenting of a computer hard drive. Everything got consolidated because no new information needed to be processed. I hadn’t learned anything new in a while but what I did know felt stronger.
3: Mothers are not wimps. I credit my status as a mother for my new fierce spirit on the mat. Motherhood is hard stuff. Grappling, in comparison, easy peasy.
In the years that followed, I trained on and off and finally when I turned 40 in March, it became important (and more feasible) to be consistent. Hearing about the crazy things that happened in the world made it necessary that I keep up my skills should I ever be in need of defending myself.
I had been more diligent about working out for fitness and we decided to try a different martial arts regimen. Instead of planning for one hour once/week, my husband and I would train for ten minutes after my regular morning routine. This worked so much better for me.
For one thing, finding one hour didn’t happen each week. There was always something else that needed done and it was hard justifying taking time away from life’s obligations for jiu jitsu. One other thing is my reputation for having an extremely short attention span. Turns out that whether I train for one hour or for ten minutes, I end up retaining about the same amount of information. Actually, I retained more from the shorter sessions and I made great technical improvements. So much so that, last week, my husband dangled the Iphone screen in front of my face and asked me to pick… A BROWN BELT! That was a surprise! We scheduled my test for two days later and…
…I passed! (I’ll link to the video once we’ve uploaded it to youtube)
I am so proud of this. I started training jiu jitsu when we got married 18 years ago. It’s been a long journey. Now it’s up to me to keep training, keep learning, keep improving. To leave the ego out of the mat as much as possible and to not worry too much about who is tapping out whom.
Ten minutes of grappling a day, may not help keep the doctor away but I now do believe it can bring a black belt my way…
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