March 10, 2013

Gym Junkies

Well...I turned 29 earlier this week and have officially been training MMA for almost a year and a half. I think it's a good sign that I still love it (and my gym and teammates) as much as ever. And although in many ways it feels like business as usual, it's strange to realize how much has changed.

For example, I am no longer "the newbie." It's hard to accept, because there are so many people with so much more experience, yet it turns out there are in fact others who have far less experience than I do, and it's my turn to help them and to put up with all of the newbie mistakes that I used to make. It's also my responsibility to recognize the mistakes that I'm making now and to actively strive to improve myself in those areas, because the whole "I just started, so I have no idea what I'm doing" excuse just doesn't fly anymore.

I've also found that my view of training has changed a lot. I've had enough time to develop my own personal perspective now. In the beginning, I was obsessed with not missing anything, because god forbid I skip a single class and fall behind FOREVER! What if someone who started one week after me got promoted first? The horror! Luckily, I grew out of that stupid mindset and have taken a much more zen approach. I learn faster than some teammates, and some learn faster than me. The only thing that matters is that I continue to move forward and that I enjoy the journey.

Ironically, once I adopted that attitude, I started to progress a lot faster. My kickboxing isn't perfect, but I'm keeping up with the classes and handling most of the moves well. I probably have Rocky to thank for my sudden improvement in blocking, since my skills in that area considerably improved after a 20 minute one-on-one a few months back, in which he threw such hard blows to the head in such rapid succession that screwing up was not an option.

For jiu jitsu, I'm almost exclusively doing gi now, which has allowed me to focus so much more on technique. I wasn't even aware of it until recently, but that smooth flow that I observed and envied in others when I started is now something that I'm developing. Not always, of course (especially when I'm tired); I still get crushed by plenty of people, but I also get sweeps and submissions. I can hold a strong mount, tend to play a lot of De La Riva, and hop over someone to escape an omoplata. Somewhere along the way, "rolling" stopped meaning "try not to get tapped out" and started to mean "trap the arm and roll into halfguard; smear across the chest and go for s-mount; swing into an armbar from a failed bow and arrow" and so much more. I mean, I loved rolling even when I was doing little more than trying to delay submissions, so you can imagine how enjoyable it is now.

Of course, there are other people who are still in that "gym junkie" phase where they feel the need to prove themselves and to progress or elevate themselves as quickly as possible. For instance, the guy who just started but feels entitled to tell you the best way to do certain moves (even though he's telling you to do it wrong). This sort of guy is normally quite nice and because he means well, you have to fight the urge to tell him to shut it. I've found that my favorite way of dealing with this is to politely smile and say "thanks, I got it," and then use those same moves to kick that person's ass when rolling.

In some cases, this type of person will actually try to cover the fact that they're getting their ass kicked by instructing you while rolling, so that when you land a submission or they fail to escape a hold, they can act like they successfully coached you into it. I've even seen brand new white belts trying to tell blues and purples how to roll and telling them afterwards "I think you could do X or Y a little better, but that was pretty good!" Really, I know that I did a lot of silly things when I started (and still do plenty of silly things, for sure), but one thing that I've never done, not once, is attempt to instruct someone with more experience than me. And of course, these are the same people who tend to bear hug you when you try to pass, because they don't know what else to do yet.

Another kind of gym junkie is that guy or girl who just has to show everyone up, not only when sparring but all the time. Running faster to lap people instead of jogging in a circle with the rest of the class...punching and kicking so hard that they knock their partner over and brushing off suggestions from instructors or teammates on how to improve their technique (a dismissive "yeah, I got it" followed by doing it wrong, again, and nearly hurting someone in the process)...attending a more advanced grappling class, getting angry when they can't get the moves, and then intentionally flailing around and kicking at their partner while rolling because "well I'm sorry, but that's all I know right now." Luckily, they either disappear after a month or two, or eventually get control of themselves.

The last type is the sweet but oblivious workout buff who rolls to tap people out as many times as possible rather than to play and learn. One guy, who is not huge but is quite strong, really wants to compete, which is great. What's not so great is him treating every single roll like a competition match. He's a really good partner to have while learning the moves in class and doing basic drills, but when it comes to actually rolling, there's no in-between. The problem is, he's someone that I get along with so well on a personal level that I can't bring myself to tell him off. But he's extremely rough (a lot of the smaller and/or newer guys are also put off by it) and being manhandled into a bunch of armbars and violent chokes by someone who is going 200% when you are trying to kick back and flow-roll...well, it does absolutely nothing for my jiu jitsu (I can't imagine it does much for his either), is not at all fun and is likely to result in someone being injured.

I mentioned it to him once, but short of flat-out saying "I refuse to roll with you until you calm down," I'm not sure he gets it. I did politely avoid him when rolling the other day, although I think he caught on since every time he came over and asked to pair up, I lunged towards someone else and cried "I'm with him! Sorry!" He looked kind of dejected after the third time this happened, which made me feel bad, but we worked together in class the next day so he knows I'm not shunning him completely. I think the next time we roll, I'll nicely tell him that he either needs to chill out or I'm going to kick back and offer zero resistance, which would be no fun for either of us. Since he does genuinely want to get better, I'm guessing that will annoy him into finding a better balance.