Sunday, March 27, 2011

Over the Horizon

Training this week was sort of light.  I made class Monday and Tuesday, but I couldn't train after class that much.  Monday JD and I worked for a bit, but not long.  And this was after Klint checked our progress by rolling with us for a few minutes each, seeing how we progressed while he was away.  I couldn't make practice Thursday because of a school thing, and I lost open mat Friday because a friend was in town and we had a poker game scheduled.  Gina was nice enough to invite me to participate in the women's class Saturday morning, though, and a few training partners were being tested for promotion after class Saturday afternoon.

Women's class was completely different from our regular class.  First off, it was at 8am on Saturday.  Usually, that's prime sleepin' time.  But on top of that, they set their soundtrack accordingly.  We warmed up to some Salt n Pepa, some Jay-Z "Can I Get A," some N'Sync....Nothing that the Woodbury class would ever listen to.  It was a small class--four women, myself, and Gina instructing.  We drilled armbars and cross chokes and switches, drilling ten-a-side with partners.  After class, we had the mat for some rolling, and I got to work with four of Gina's students.  (Gina told her students, "Make sure you take advantage of Chris while he's here."  That got a good laugh.)  When I was rolling with the women, I realized how far I've developed as a martial artist since I began.  All of them are white belts, and they're tough girls.  I was able to move smoothly, to keep myself from muscling into and out of everything, and to pay attention to my technique.  At the end, T tweaked something in her side and I thought I'd absolutely wrecked her arm.  Thankfully, I hadn't and I had (apparently) done nothing wrong.  She had killed herself on a kettlebell circuit the day before and her body was starting to revolt, so when she tried to roll out of a kimura, something screamed at her and she kind of flipped.  Scary few minutes, but she's all good.

The other thing that happened at women's class is that I almost certainly broke my big toe.  It caught on the mat at some point---the toe itself, not just the nail.  I taped it up with its neighbor and just moved on.  As of right now, it's not really a big deal; I checked with my doctor/former-roommate, and it's not off-center, it isn't cold or purple, and it isn't debilitatingly swollen.  But I'll meet with him next weekend for something else, and we'll chat about it then.

Class in Woodbury was good.  We worked on peek-outs again and what the correct technique is (which is different from the traditional peek-out that everyone imagines when they think of the technique).  So we're working on building new muscle memory for that.  At the end, Klint had the four upper belts roll with the four guys he was promoting.  So Chris, Tony, Colin and I stood on one side of the room while JD, Andy, John and Kyle lined the other.  They went for three or four minutes with each of us, just restarting if anyone tapped.  Afterwards, he put them through some technical drills and then presented them with their half-white-half-blue belts (equivalent to 3 or 4 stripes; technically it's their third stripe, but their next promotion is to blue).  He told them all that he would be confident putting them all into a blue belt division at a tournament, but he's keeping the standard for promotion high and he wants them to work a little more.  I took that as a subtle compliment, even if he didn't mean it that way.  Compliment to me, I mean.  (This blog is, after all, about me.  And even though I'm trying as hard as I can to cut my ego and be a better training partner, I would be lying if I said I was always successful.)  I heard it as a compliment because a) that means that he had his standard of promotion pretty high when he gave me my belt, and 2) that I met that standard.  Good work, me.

I'm also thinking about how much competition I should think about incorporating into my schedule after the bar exam, what sort of things I can do to be a better partner, whether to start thinking about teaching (even though I'm pretty sure I don't know that much well enough to teach it)---you know, the standards.  So now I will study law with the Pan Ams broadcast in the background.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Eyes Up

Klint is back in town, and after a few weeks of Brazilian warm-ups right into training, we're back to five-to-ten minute warm-ups right into forty minutes of technique.  It's a preference thing, I suppose--I'm not huge on working cardio for the sake of working cardio (as anyone who has trained with me can attest).  I like learning the techs, working on hip movement in context instead of in a vaccuum.  Still, the practices that Gina and Chris and Brady ran were super tight.  Having different instructors come in and run class for a while is something that I think everyone should do, especially if you have only one instructor.

So how is may training going?  I really don't know.  I had a few weeks where I was feeling good, executing the very things that I was attempting, performing above my own expectations, that sort of thing.  I didn't have much time to train after class Monday and Tuesday, but I trained the double-open-mat Friday and open mat again on Saturday.  So that was three hours training Friday, another hour Saturday, and technique work (mainly) Monday and Tuesday.

I need to pay more attention to my goals when I roll.  That might bring me back to that place where I feel like I'm accomplishing something when I train.  Friday and Saturday were good in terms of getting some training in, but I lacked direction.  I wasn't working specific positions, trying predetermined setups or anything like that.  The benefit of Friday and Saturday, though, is that I was working with Josh (a smaller, mobile blue belt), old Mike (the purple who reminds me that I don't have nearly the technique that I want to have), Dan (a serious blue belt who gives me problems), and Ron (a blue belt as new as I am on whom I can try new techniques and still feel comfortable).  Going across town for open mat is great; the pool of talent from whom I can learn and get mauled is three or four times the pool at our academy, and everyone is super cool.  It took a bit of time to become a familiar face around there--the same as it is in any social clique, I suppose (you know, like a pool hall or bar or frisbee game)--but once you're in you're in.

I'm also becoming a little more apprehensive about what it means to be a blue belt, especially the first blue belt at our academy.  I don't know what the balance should be between a) taking time to tailor my training to my partners' benefit and 2) being somewhat selfish with the training time I have and working to finish every time.  I also am starting to look long-term and trying to figure out exactly what how much competition experience Klint will want me to have.  I know that competition experience isn't a necessity for progression, and plenty of hard grapplers progress without it.  But I also know it's something that would harden my game and build up my endurance and confidence.  My next training will be Saturday, so I'll have until then to ponder.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Breaking in the new belt. Still.

It's been a good week of training.  On Friday, I got to train at two open mats--one at Rev, and one at our academy.  How do I get so lucky, you might ask yourself, as to train at two different open mat sessions in one night?  Well, I don't see my wife that often, and I drive from one end of town to the other in order to get it done.  So I probably spent equal amounts of time in the car and on the mat Friday.  But it's all good.

At rev, I worked with a few blues and then purple Mike.  The work with the blues went alright.  The first was a moose who always wants to work his way out of side control, so he just starts flat on his back.  I'm fine with that, as it affords me the opportunity to refine my attacks from side mount and see how new grips and wraps might work.  Of course, at one point I got to his back and he said I tweaked his back when I was flattening him out.  So that wasn't great.  Then another blue--much closer to my size and body type--came up and we worked for a bit.  It was back and forth; I can't remember whether either of us effectively passed the other's guard, but I remember that we were pushing each other pretty well.  He had just come off a lengthy roll with another guy, so after about ten minutes he needed to break for some water.  That left an opening for Mike.  I always seem to pick up a lot from Mike when I get to train with him.  He's deliberate without being slow, and methodical without being planned.  It's the kind of game I want to have.

That couldn't last forever, though, because I had to get across town.  A purple belt who teaches in the area was going to show up to train for a little while, so of course I came.  We have so few people at our academy that any time anything jiu jitsu related happens, I feel an obligation to be there and represent.  So it was myself, the purple Jon, one of his new-ish white belt students, and Kyle.  We only had about a half hour to train because Jon had to get to the airport, but we made the most of it.  Jon and I worked a little bit first, just to feel each other out.  He's about my height and build, but he has a much more extensive history with both the martial arts in general and jiu jitsu specifically.  So we got a little work in, and his student watched.  When Kyle showed, Jon worked with him for a while and I took on his white belt.  The kid was strong--he has a wrestling background and has only been doing jits for a few months, so he's still in that "my grips are my life" stage.  It was good, though, he was trying to do the right things, I think.  I used the opportunity to work on some things that I don't usually use.  I still ended up with some armbars and triangles, but I was just as often using the position to transition somewhere else, going from the armbar to the back, working collar chokes.  After a bit, Jon and I worked again while Kyle and Sebastian worked.  This was a little faster than our initial roll, and it was very, very fun.  I was attacking instead of laying back and waiting for something that demanded a reaction, and that is a huge change from just a few months ago.  I even had him in some bad spots, one of which I really should have been able to finish but let go in favor of keeping a dominating position rather than burning out my grips on a tenuous and doubtful submission.  He even told me after that I was really close to finishing it.  Dammit.

Klint is still gone this week; I think he gets back sometime next week.  And he'll be sore, fit, and probably more than a little frustrated.  So those classes will be interesting.  And terrifying.  But until then, we have Gina this week, we had Tony work our wrestling last night, and with a little luck, another open mat with Jon Friday night.  I really should think about finding a way to have this habit support me while I study for the bar this summer.  It would be a lot easier than juggling BarBri, restaurant life, jiu jitsu, and marriage.  If anyone has a recommendation, I'm all ears.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Checking In

It's my night off of training, and instead of researching an abstract and somewhat confusing area of international law, I thought I would sit and type a bit about jiu jitsu.  Because that sounds like much more fun.

I got to work with John last night for the first time in what must have been months.  He took off to backpack in southeast Asia last fall and vanished for something like 10 weeks.  When he came back, he injured some cartilage in his ribs, so he was hitting maybe one training session a week for a while.  He's back, and for once we both had time to train after class.  And I now completely buy into the idea that so long as you keep showing up, you will improve.  Danaher said it, Forrest Griffin said it, Klint said it, and I for once have had an experience that told me the same thing.  When he left, John and I were pretty comparably skilled.  He's just a bit larger than I am, and he can grow a much better beard, but last night I was able to work open guard comfortably.  I hit a few sweeps, took away his base--did all those things that you're supposed to do.  It was strange.

So how does this relate to everything else?  Or anything else, for that matter?  A friend of mine gets on my case for writing about nothing but jiu jitsu in this space.  Part of me---and by part, I mean the part that could throttle him into unconsciousness---thinks that everyone should be as enamored with the gentle art as I am. But in reality, such is not the case.  So this little parable of getting better while my opponent got cultured is the same thing that everyone's parents told him while he was growing up; if you keep working at something, you're going to get better at it.  Think you're a bad writer?  Write 5,000 words a day and take the time to critique them with an objective eye.  And keep your attention while you write the next day so you don't make the same mistakes.  Think you can't legally analyze something?  Spend four hours on one case, go to class where you (in theory) figure out what it means, and look at your notes afterwards to see where you went wrong.  Want to play the piano?  Do you think those professionals were able to play for hours on end when they started?  Think Michael Jordan was able to hit a free throw with his eyes closed when he was in high school?

No.  Blood, sweat, time, and exhaustion.

Back to jiu jitsu, though.  After class on Monday, Brady and I talked for a while about training and jiu jitsu in general.  Then after class Tuesday, Gina and I did the same.  Before John and I rolled.  It seems that they are taking me under their wings as higher belts.  Our academy in Woodbury is very new, and as such we don't have many students.  Most of our team trains out of Edina.  But here are a purple and brown belt, students of my instructor, taking time to check on my progress.  It made me feel pretty good. And I've worked with Brady pretty extensively since I began training.  He would be the only person willing to train afterwards when I started.  It was great for him--he had a large white belt to try new things on, and I had someone to throttle me and show me how little I knew, and how much I was unaware even existed.  It's nice to have those higher belts guiding me, for lack of a better term.  Especially while my instructor is gone.  Keeps the motivation high.

Saturday, March 5, 2011

Where Have I Gone To?

Nowhere, really.

I had to take the MPRE this morning.  For non-lawyers, that's the Multistate Professional Responsibility Exam.  Every aspiring lawyer must pass it in order to gain admission to the bar.  Of course, I didn't give as much time to studying as I could have, but I felt OK coming out of it.  So there's that.

Also, Klint is gone for the month learning a combatives system.  So I had three different instructors at the three classes I got to this week.  All three of them were able to attend the seminar with Fabio Gurgel last weekend that I missed.  Two days, three hours per day, privates available if you have the time and dough.  And I was 400 miles away helping my brother celebrate his 30th.  But no worries.  Two purple belts and a brown belt took the time to fill in for Klint and teach us some of what they learned.  A new approach to side control.  A very strange armbar from the top.  Refinements to a butterfly sweep.

Having different instructors for the next month is going to be interesting.  I've taken classes from Brady before, but never from Chris or Gina.  Brady is a small wrestler, so his approach is very different from my own.  But that also means that I have a lot to learn from him.  His first class was a lot of discussion and a few test balloons---we tried out the position a little bit, and then got to talking about it a bunch, showing a few adjustments to make and then theorizing about how to get around them an how to work them into our game.  That came at the expense of trying them out fully, but that will come.  Gina is a tiny tiny brown belt, and she's fierce.  Her favorite position is knee-on-belly, and she'll put you there no matter how well you might think you're defending it.  I'm probably most looking forward to her classes this month.  Chris is a bit smaller than I am, but he's built solid.  He's a tough purple who loves the old style jiu jitsu fights.  He probably got us warmer before starting in on the techniques than I've ever gotten in class before.  It's going to be a good month.

Friday I got to open mat across town, and for once I rolled with only higher belts.  The timing worked out in my favor this week.  I worked with Enrique (a purple who's shorter than I, but weighs the same because of the muscle he has packed onto his frame) first.  He set us for 6 minute rounds, and we went at it.  I lasted 5 minutes of the first before he tapped me, and I think our second round lasted something like 9 or 10 minutes.  I was able to fight off a pretty deep ezekiel choke, and even got back to full guard after he passed once or twice.  I noticed a serious improvement from the last time I worked with him.  After that, I trained with Matt, a purple who is well-regarded in the academy.  We had never trained before last night, so I didn't want to embarrass myself, but I also didn't want to throw my technique out the window.  Thankfully, neither happened.  Of course, I didn't end up finding any taps. but I did much better than I thought I would.  I found some controlling positions, even dove in on a clock choke at one point (couldn't finish--my collar grip wasn't deep enough).  He showed me a great roll to get out of the turtle when your opponent is behind you without hooks in, and complimented my game overall.  After that, Brady and I worked for a few rounds.  Then I went home to study for the aforementioned test a bit more.  Yes, studying took a back seat to training.  It's nothing new.  And it's exactly how I want it.

Training as a blue belt is very different.  I don't know why that is.  It might be that the fact that your belt has some color on it gives you some confidence that you didn't have before.  I didn't think I would perform as well as I did last night.  Or against Chris on Thursday.  Or Tony last week.  I am more willing to take actual positional risks more often, figuring that I'll find a way back to neutral (or at least out from under a bad spot).  I find myself in something of a groove with my training.  Of course, I'd like to hit three-a-days like some people I know, but I'll settle with two hours a night, 4 or 5 times a week.  I don't know whether I really want to look into competing more, but that's something for after school if at all.  I need to get this diploma under my belt, otherwise these last few years have been really very confusing.