October 27, 2011

I Look Like Camouflage Patchwork

Today was brutal. I got to the gym at 6:45 and left at 10:15. I've never spent 3.5 consecutive hours at a gym before. To say "I'm utterly exhausted and feeling like a wreck" would be a terrible understatement. It's more like "what's going on? where am I?" right now.

The weather tonight was pretty awful (cold, icy rain) so not many people were there. I asked Killer, who I'd seen once or twice but never worked with, if he wanted to roll to warm up. 15 minutes later I was thinking do I really need a whole class now? That was enough for one night! The guy is big with strong holds that don't allow you to move at all (of course this is all relative to me; I'm sure more experienced grapplers and/or guys his own size don't have this problem) and, although he was impressed by how aggressive I was, he still kicked my ass up and down the mat. It was a massive effort trying to hold my own, but hey...I want to get in shape, right? What better way than desperately trying to not get utterly destroyed? A few times, I managed a successful takedown by flipping him backwards. Unfortunately, that was normally as far as I got. I'd fling myself down and try to pass but somewhere along the way he'd use his legs to get me into a head lock or flip me over and then that was the end of it. I was hyperventilating and dripping from head to foot by the time we finished and drained my water bottle in one go. Great experience.

When the no-gi class began, there were just 6 of us. After some coordination warmups, Christian turned it into a Q&A, letting us request techniques to work on independently. Homeboy, the smaller guy from Saturday's class, was there again and I paired up with him to practice escapes from side control. The moves are easy enough in theory but freakin hard to accomplish when someone's pushing down hard with their arms locked around you. I managed to do them effectively enough by the end but whether or not they'll work during an actual match is another story.

The gi class, which is usually overflowing, also only had a few people tonight so it sort of turned into an open mat and I stayed for a couple more hours to roll with Killer and practice triangles, armbars and simple sweeps from guard (failed miserably at all of them). Liz helped me out a lot with understanding a basic triangle from closed guard but my legs seem to be defective (or rather too short or not yet flexible enough) to finish the move properly. She was very patient in explaining and demonstrating but even once I understood what I was supposed to do, I couldn't seem to make my legs lock the right way, or get my body to move out to the side properly. Christian gave me a few additional tips, told me to stop stressing if I couldn't magically do everything after only taking BJJ for a few weeks, and noted some specific things for me to practice. Later on, I think I finally did it right one time, although that sort of move definitely favors those with longer legs.

So...great time tonight. Great workout. The only downside? I'm sore as hell right now and covered with so many bruises that I look like I'm sporting fatigues. Didn't even notice until I got home, looked in the mirror and was all Holy shit! I was feeling a little paranoid until I googled "BJJ bruises" and was treated to countless photos of grapplers with the same leopard-like look, so I stopped panicking and applied a few truckloads of ice. It's better now.

October 22, 2011

Takedowns and Rolling Again

Today's class was much busier than last weekend and there was a guy who was actually around my size, so we worked on takedowns together. It was quite different from the usual grappling classes and good stuff to learn. I had trouble with a few of the moves, mainly because my right quad was tightening up and hurting, but I suffered through it and got a few of the other techniques down well enough for Isley to yell out a compliment at one point.

When the hour was up, I decided to hang around for open mat and, you know...actually try to participate this time. First, I caught Dom and had him give me a little get-rollin' 101 to get a better idea of how to begin a roll without tackling like a drunken tiger. He imparted a few gems that were very useful and then told me to get some defensive tips from Christian, who proceeded to give me a better idea of what to do when on your back.

I stalked around the mat for a bit and when I saw that Big Boy's partner had gotten up to leave, I went for it. BB seemed happy enough to roll with me, even though it was only my second time. He started out light so that I could figure out what I was doing and made it tougher as we went along. He got me down a bunch of times but I did manage to get him into a couple of chokes from behind (when I say "get" I mean he pretty much gave me the opening intentionally, to let me practice) and Christian came by and helped me to tighten up my Rear Naked Choke.

There were two highlights of my roll with BB. The first was when I managed to catch him off guard with one of the takedowns we'd just learned in Isley's class, got him into side control and then applied the submission we learned last Saturday with Dom. When Dom saw what I was doing, he got all excited and started yelling "Oh, son, she's about to fuck you up! You better watch out!" It was hilarious. BB tried to get out but I got an arm under his neck, successfully did the spin around to push my head into his side, dropped to my stomach and squeezed. It took a while because my elbow wasn't tight enough and I had to adjust a few times but by the time I got the tap, it seemed like everyone in the fucking room had stopped to watch. Of course, BB had been going very easy on me beforehand, which was probably the only reason I was able to get the takedown in the first place. But it was still a wonderful experience to have all that encouragement and to see a set through in a way that didn't involve getting immediately squashed.

The second highlight was when I was attempting to get side control and was struggling to maintain the offensive. Without even thinking about it, I suddenly switched my legs and kicked one over BB's head in another move that we'd learned last week. Holding onto one of his arms, with the other one disabled and my heel pushing into his neck, he was stuck. Dom saw this and I got another "Oh shit! Good job!" from across the room. Unfortunately, BB knew what I was doing and bent one arm under his back so that I couldnt easily get to it. He was also way too strong for me to move his other arm to get the kimura that way. Christian told me how to slide a hand under his elbow and pull up, forcing him to tap or release the arm, but I was having trouble applying the pressure properly. Meanwhile, BB had some trouble escaping my leg-neck-whatever hold and we ended up in a bit of a stalemate for what seemed like a few solid minutes. That may not sound like much but when you're exerting every ounce of strength you've got, it's a damn long time. Eventually, I got tired and he managed to flip me over, but it was a really good round and I was proud of myself for the effort.

I was also exhausted at that point, so I thanked him for the great practice and took a much needed water break. After a little while, Ironman asked me if I wanted to roll. Now, I can only describe this guy as the Energizer Bunny on PCP. He literally has no off button. It's pretty fantastic to watch him go, because he just rolls balls to the wall with one person after another and never takes a break of his own accord. I wish I had that level of endurance, it's seriously fucking incredible. I warned him that I didn't know shit and probably wouldn't be useful for training so he offered to let me practice passing guard. Sounds easy enough, right? Wrong. Every time I thought I'd gotten in and gotten a leg or a hold on his torso, he caught me off balance and flipped me over. Clearly, balance is something that I really need to work on because I get caught off guard and flipped very easily. I finally passed once at the end and got side control but I think he might've let me just to cut me a break. It was really good practice though.

October 20, 2011

A Real Rolling Experience

Today was the first time that I rolled. For real. As in, not just learning and practicing a few specific moves with basic resistance but rolling properly and actually going for the submission. Getting a few standalone moves down is, I've learned, completely different from trying to roll and apply them while you're being dominated every which way. I got a taste of that on Tuesday but wow, today I got completely whipped by three different people.

There were only six of us in the no-gi class today and I ended up with Spaceman again. Yanitza was sitting on the mat next to us and attempted to coach me from the sidelines, with my partner helping out as well. They both offered some great advice but I can't say that I was able to do much with it considering how fucking fast the guy moves and how little practice I've had with this sort of thing. I tried to give him enough resistance to be a good training partner but not knowing anything more than try to keep the knees up and get your legs around him I'm not sure I gave him much to work with.

Spaceman kicked my butt a few times before noticing that one of my big toes was blistered and bleeding, and we stopped so that I could tape it up. Before we could start again, Christian had him switch to work with one of the guys who had more experience and asked Yanitza to help me out. I felt bad because she'd just finished the kickboxing class and was going to do the gi class afterwards...the no-gi hour is usually her break in between the two so I had to figure she was completely exhausted. She was a really good sport though and worked with me for the rest of class, patiently showing me a few options for breaking out of closed guard (which I eventually managed at half-speed and with a bit of flailing) and rolled with me a bunch of times so that I could get a feel for it. I had a great time and learned a bunch of things to not do.

The hour went by fast. When it was over, Yanitza went to change into her gi and I sat down and talked with Liz a bit, who's now a purple belt and has won and/or done well in various competitions. She offered to roll with me before her class started, to give me some extra practice, and promptly destroyed me. I'm guessing she wasn't even trying, but that girl knows her shit and...well, I don't know shit, so it was great to work with her and to get that experience, even if it primarily involved a face full of sweaty mat.

When the gi class began, I thanked Liz and pounced on Isley, who worked with me for a while longer, which was really nice of him considering he was neither working nor taking a class at the time and was probably still recovering from his neck injury. He showed and practiced quite a few moves with me, including how to get a choke from behind and various defensive and offensive basics.

All in all, it was a really good evening. I was there for almost an hour longer than expected and even though I got killed, I feel like I learned a lot from it. Plus, it's good motivation to keep practicing!

Side note: unlike the other day, rolling with both Yanitza and Liz was great. I didn't feel awkward with them at all, so I'm thinking my discomfort over working with Britgirl was due more to her total lack of aggression than the fact that she was another female (as predicted, she never came back). I'm glad to have that sorted out because for a few days, I was feeling like a hypocritical douchebag.

October 18, 2011

The Big and Little Dogs

Just got home and am feeling so invigorated. I smell like a monstrous combination of man sweat, old cologne and gym funk and I couldn't be in a better mood. Something was different today. Five classes in and it's like I finally found my groove. Do I still have tons of catching up to do? Duh. Do I know everybody yet? Course not. But my confidence has magically gone way up.

When I walked in today, it was the first time I didn't have that imaginary audience everyone's-watching-me feeling. I said hi to some folks I'd seen around, talked quite a bit with people I've gotten to know and then when class started, for the first time since day one, I had no trouble. No staring blankly trying to figure out what the fuck everyone else was doing and how the fuck they were doing it. No struggling to keep up with the warmups. No overwhelming HUH?? feeling when Christian demonstrated the move. No requests for extra help because I was totally lost. I just...did it. Not perfectly, but as well as any other beginner. The biggest sign that I'm feeling more at home is that instead of hanging back when the class was told to pair up, waiting for whoever was unlucky enough to be left over and stuck with the newbie, I turned straight to the guy next to me, who I'd never seen before, and said "let's go." Ambitious, perhaps, but I was finally in that zen I can totally do this shit too place.

IT. WAS. AWESOME. It only took a couple of tries and I felt like I'd gotten the move down enough to at least work it properly. Also, for the first time, I got a feel for how intense it'll be to roll with someone. Not that we were all-out sparring but in the first four classes, I was so busy going step-by-step, trying to figure out what body part went where, that resistance was pretty minimal since the focus was on getting the basic motions down. This class, both partners were required to start from a certain position and work with a certain move, but to really put the pressure on and resist, respectively. The first time we did this, I got my ass handed to me. I think it took KGB about 5 seconds to go from open guard to side control (and that's probably being generous). I didn't even know what hit me until after the fact. One second he was at my feet, the next he was at my neck with my arms and legs going in all different directions. The second time around, I was more prepared and was able to put up some pretty decent resistance, even getting him into closed guard at one point. He increasingly challenged me, helped me to fix my mistakes and gave me no special treatment, so I'll definitely be adding him to my mental list of "good partners for training."

Later on, Christian paired me up with LJ, who is the only guy I've seen so far that isn't, well...big. He's about my size, in fact. Short and thin, although more advanced so he could undoutedly kick the ass of any super-sized beginner. Funny enough, practicing on him was harder simply because he wasn't big and I'd gotten used to working with larger guys where I wasn't worried (too much) about hurting them. LJ felt so small in comparison that I spent half the time feeling paranoid that I was going to break every one of his ribs. He had to keep telling me to crank up the pressure and I finally got the hang of it but man, I can see how some guys might worry about rolling with girls. It's a little unsettling digging your shoulder into someone's lower torso when there isn't a thick wall of muscle in between you and their internal organs. It took me a few tries to get over that. I've also got this ongoing worry that my movements are sometimes spastic (in a punch-you-accidentally-in-the-face-as-I-go-for-side-control sort of way) but LJ assured me that this was not the case.

After ten minutes, we switched once more and I partnered with Spaceman again. As before, drilling with him was great because he doesn't assume that I'll break in half, makes me work for the pass, gives helpful pointers when I'm fucking up and makes encouraging comments when I get it right. Anyway, it was a fantastic class, by far the most fun I've had yet and the best I've felt afterwards. Aside from the fact that there are tons of splotchy red patches (ie. broken blood vessels) covering my upper arms and making me look like a recovering junkie, it just keeps getting better.

October 15, 2011

Learning Submissions

After convincing me to come for the weekend takedowns class today, it turns out Isley hurt his neck and will be out for a week or so. Instead, we got a grappling class taught by another part-time instructor, Dominick. It was a slow day so there were only 4 of us there and two of the guys were more advanced, which meant that Dom focused his attention on me and my partner, Big Boy. It was as good as getting a private lessson.

With Dom's patient instruction, I learned my first few submissions. The first was an americana from side control, then a few armbar variations from different positions, one of which involved kicking a foot over the other person's head, twisting the hips around and pushing arms in all kinds of directions. Let's just say that wasn't me at my most graceful. Plus, BB apparently has extremely flexible arms/elbows and even Dom had a hard time getting him to tap. Then again, BB doesn't have the most flexible legs and struggled with the second move, which we had a good laugh about. Dom helped us both to address our individual strengths and weaknesses, and I think we both got a lot out of it.

The other sub was some sort of guillotine choke from side control that involved this fast spinning motion, which I successfully accomplished one time by the end of class and brutally destroyed every other time. If I can learn to get it right though, I'm sure it'll be an awesome move to have and one that most of the guys in the usual Fundamentals class won't know since many of them don't seem to come on the weekends.

When class was over, I stayed for half an hour or so to watch some of the more advanced guys roll during open mat. I would've liked to practice a bit more but most of them were jumping right in and going all out. Not having any real rolling experience, I didn't want to hold anyone back and I was feeling too shy to ask. When I'm given a partner, I have no problem being aggressive. But recruiting one, especially on their own time, is something I still haven't gotten comfortable with. I figure I can try that sort of thing later on when I know a little more.

October 13, 2011

Sweeps and Passes

Another great day. I've been arriving at the gym 15-20 minutes early so that I can watch the end of the kickboxing and take my time settling in. It's also nice to catch others and talk a bit before class starts. I figure the more people I get to know, the less I'll feel like the new kid.

There was actually another girl there today, a young English woman around my age. I made an effort to introduce myself and told her how much I liked the place so far. When kickboxing ended, I got to stretching and Britgirl followed me, which I didn't mind. But after a few minutes, I moved to the far end of the room and only later realized that she may have taken it the wrong way. I prefer being near the wall when I do a stretch that involves the butt being up in the air, so that I don't feel like I'm shoving my ass into everyone's face, but she seemed a bit put off that I'd suddenly switched locations. Oops.

Class started shortly after that. To be totally honest, I was glad when Britgirl ended up paired with Isley, one of the part-time wrestling instructors. Since I have absolutely no idea what I'm doing, I really didn't want to be put with someone who knew even less. Of course, I've still been too shy to stalk my own training partners without an invitation or instructor intervention so I was left the odd girl out. Christian asked one of the blue belts to train with me instead, which turned out to be great. Blue was looking a little panicked when he realized that the first warmup we were doing involved lying on your back, placing your feet onto the other person's hips and kicking them up into the air like a spastic leg press. He seemed to be searching the room for someone my own size and I don't blame him. I wasn't entirely confident that I wouldn't send him crashing down into the wall or hell, right on top of me. To make matters worse, I have a birth defect and my right thumb is half the size it should be and doesn't bend. As a result, my right fist doesn't close properly. So not only was I a girl with much less weight to throw around, I was a lighter girl who could only hold on to one wrist.

Christian, however, is not interested in silly things like size difference or dysfunctional body parts. He swung by, asked WTF we were waiting for and told me that if Jean Jacques Machado could do it, I had no excuse. If that doesn't motivate you, I don't know what does. I yanked Blue up into the air and held him up successfully for about ten seconds. It's really amazing what you can do with a couple of well-placed feet on the hips.

After that, we practiced tripod sweeps and passes. The sweeps I did fine on. The first part of the pass I did fine on. But when it came time for the tripod pass, I really struggled at first. I mean, it's like doing a fucking pushup with your head. Have you ever done a pushup with your head? It's not easy and it took me a long while to get right, although I finally managed a half-assed semi-successful attempt by the end of class. Did I mention this shit is really exhausting? At one point, I asked Blue to demonstrate the move on me, just to see how he did it. MISTAKE. This guy isn't one of the biggest in class but he is pretty buff. He did the pass once and I was thinking holy shit, did my spleen and kidneys just rupture? If someone puts that kind of pressure on me on the regular, I'll probably be tapping out before they even finish the pass. Sad...

To wrap up the class, each pair joined up with another pair - for us it was Isley and Britgirl - and did a sort of round robin where all four of us practiced the moves on the other three and then swapped. I'd generally figured out what I was doing at that point and didn't embarrass myself too much. Britgirl, however, seemed uncomfortable and kind of giggly. Trying the move on her also felt really awkward when my turn came. Apparently, I don't mind rock-hard pecs smashing my chest but with two sets of boobs, I literally had no idea what to do with the damn things. I don't care about the close contact but from a purely physical standpoint, I found it really uncomfortable. Maybe it's different in a gi and maybe it just depends on the size of the girl's "girls" but for whatever reason, that was my least favorite round. I found working with the guys much easier.

When the hour was over, I talked with Spaceman and Yanitza for a while and a few other guys introduced themselves to me, which was nice. I'm slowly starting to feel less lost and out of place here. On my way out, I saw Britgirl talking to Christian but her overly polite look and excessive nodding, I have a feeling she won't be back. I'm not sure martial arts are turning out to be her thing...pilates seems more suitable for someone like her, but I guess we'll see next week. Isley convinced me to swing by for his Saturday takedowns class, so I'm looking forward to that.

October 11, 2011

Second Class

Whoo just came back from my second class and yep...I love grappling! Totally love it. So much more than kickboxing, although that is a great workout. But BJJ had me sweating pretty hard today too. It's a lot of work but very enjoyable, even though the sheer volume of complicated stuff there is to learn is totally overwhelming.

It does make a real difference who you're training with though. I ended up with a bigger, bulkier, younger, newer guy this week, who seemed a bit uncomfortable grappling with a girl. I could tell that he wasn't working the moves on me the same as he would've with another guy. Even though I told him a few times to crank it up, he seemed to be trying way too hard to be careful. Halfway through the class they switched it up and the instructor said to find someone in the same size range, which I'm betting was a relief for him. Of course, I was the last one to pair up and the only one left at that point was Trek, one of the biggest guys at the gym. Luckily, he was happy enough to be partnered with me since he was actually recovering from a bruised rib and didn't particularly need 200+ lbs pushing down on him.

For the last part of class, Spaceman - from last week - offered to work with me again, which surprised me because one would think he'd want to train with someone who knows more than a fucking leg lock. But I loved working with him because he didn't treat me any differently as a girl and had no qualms about getting into full contact, using his weight (I swear the first guy was using his hands to hold himself up the whole time; he seemed to think I might be uncomfortable with getting too close and/or that I'd break in half) and actually making me work to get the move down, helping me when I didn't do it right. I definitely need to find more guys in the class like him, who pick up on things quickly and who are going to seriously push me to get it right as well. But everyone at this place is very friendly and supportive, and makes it fun regardless of how much you do (or, in my case, don't) know.

October 4, 2011

Day One

Well, I went back for my first MMA classes today. Due to an injury, I haven't worked out properly in months, so an hour of kickboxing nearly killed me. I was ready to cry five minutes into the warmup. Seriously. But there's no denying that it was the single best workout I've ever had. A few more classes like that and I'll drop the 20 lbs in no time. It was extremely intense but damn effective. Yanitza, the one other girl in the kickboxing class, was kind enough to partner with me and patiently helped me through my flailing and hyperventilating, which was a great thing to have as a first-timer. Then, in spite of initial apprehension, I did an hour of BJJ. I'd never really gotten the hype but it looked fun tumbling around so I figured I'd give it a try. Wasn't expecting much.

Turns out, I love it. And I actually did much better at that than at kickboxing, which really surprised me. I'd assumed it would be the other way around considering I used to box in high school, but it was the exact opposite. I was lost with the standup work yet the instructors seemed to think I did decently with grappling. Being the only girl in the no-gi class, plus the only total newbie, my main fear was that I'd make an absolute idiot of myself but I picked up on it much faster than expected and had a total blast. It took a minute (or ten) to figure out what the hell they were telling me to do sometimes but once I got it, I really went for it.

Bottom line, kickboxing is a great workout but for sheer personal enjoyment, BJJ has definitely won me over. Apparently, rolling around in ridiculous positions with a bunch of big sweaty people is so much more fun than it looks (or sounds, for that matter). By the time the class was over, I was all like...MOAR!! I signed up right afterwards (my hand was shaking so much from the workout that I could barely sign the form...yeah, I'm that out of shape) and am going to start from next week with the fundamentals class for a month or so, 3 times a week. Once I've got more experience, I can come to the other classes as often as I want, both gi and no-gi. I'm thinking I'll try to do kickboxing once a week (build up to 2 times...maybe...it's a really brutal class, all these muscles I didn't even know existed are on fire) and try to do grappling 4-5 times a week.

Side note: Browsing the old interwebs, I'd seen so many discussions making a huge deal about guys and girls training together, and I don't get the drama. I had no problems with WTF is she doing here? looks or people acting like I was made of glass. The guy I was paired up with wasn't holding back on me the way I thought he might, or worrying about girl parts and cooties and whatnot. We were both there to learn and were focused on that. It was great. I think the moment I decided I was totally in was when the instructor working with me went off on a tangent to teach me a move that he seemed to think I was half-doing by accident. In truth, I was just bracing an arm against my partner's shoulder to lessen the weight on the neck. He's got a strong hold and while it wasn't tap-inducing, I did feel the need to try and lighten the pressure a bit at times.

Anyway, the instructor thought I was trying to do something far more thought out and decided to teach me the proper way to do it. I couldn't quite understand what he wanted me to do to finish the move, and then the other instructor came over to see what we were doing and was like "you wanna do this, and like this, YES! YES!! GOOD JOB!" and I just felt that enthusiasm and really got into it. Plus I don't know who I'll end up with next class (I'm sure most people don't want the newbie...I know I probably wouldn't as a fellow beginner) but the guy that got stuck with me was very cool about it. I thought he might find it frustrating or too easy getting partnered with someone smaller and totally lost, but he didn't act put out when I forgot to do something, just reminded me real quick and we kept going, and was very encouraging when I got stuff right, especially since he was learning too. So that sort of attitude from the boys (and girl) there definitely made a HUGE difference to me. Good experience. Good people. Next week can't come fast enough!

October 3, 2011

Finding a Gym

So...I've decided to join a Mixed Martial Arts gym. I've been thinking about this for a while now and finally, after much procrastination and whining to myself about the effort, settled on a place in Midtown that's gotten good reviews and seems to be the only true "full service" MMA school/training facility in NYC (at least that caters seriously to adults rather than being a more traditional, family-oriented school). At 27 years old, 5'4 and 149 lbs, no one thinks that I look "overweight" but I don't feel healthy or in shape and that needs to change. I want to reach 130 lbs and I want to be physically fit like I was back in high school when I was captain of all the varsity teams. Doing something interactive like MMA seems like it would be so much more motivating than trying to convince myself to get up from the computer and haul ass to the gym to work alone with a bunch of machines.

In my quest to find the "right" place to train, I came across aforementioned gym and stopped by there earlier this evening to check the place out, see what kind of vibe I got from it. I walked into the room and was greeted by the sight of god knows how many huge, sweaty guys, grunting and rolling around on the mats all red in the face. My first internal response was: RUN!! There's no way they'll take you seriously; you're just going to look stupid! They'll laugh you out of this fucking place! How could you ever think you'd fit in here??

Luckily, before I turned and walked right back out, the owner and head instructor came over and introduced himself, talked with me for a while and convinced me to return tomorrow night for a free trial during the Fundamentals class. He said if I show up an hour early, I can join in the kickboxing class too, which is great since that's what I primarily expect to be doing. So I'll be coming back tomorrow evening and we'll see how it goes then, and whether or not I feel like this is the right place for me. At this point, seeing BJJ up close and personal (I'm telling you, it didn't seem half as intense on video), I'm thinking I'll try it once and then probably stick to kickboxing.