Back into the unknown
NOTE: I have pictures to share, but can’t seem to get around to posting them. Watch this space for when I get my act together! Meantime, here are lots of words.
Lots of lasts on Fri, Sat, and today. Did my laundry for the last time at the Laundromat down the street. Had the same conversation I have every time with the kind old man who works there about how I should really dry my clothes on medium or maximum heat because it goes faster than just warm, even though every time he tells me that, I tell him I don’t want to shrink my gis too much. Had my last fruit plate from Water Gourmet (hold the walnuts and add extra coconut). Slept on that gnarly couch for the last time (creaka creaka creaka). Was the butt of an Eben joke for the last time (I think it was that I don’t look a day over 50). Sean Thai kicked me for the last time like a brother would—not hard enough so that I can tell on him, but hard enough so that it hurt. Said goodbye to Johnny and Vince, who left at 3 Friday morning to go to Sacramento for Saturday’s UFC; Johnny was one of the corner men for his student Hector Ramirez. (Hector did well in the first round against James Irvin but got TKOed in the second round—big jab to the chin and then a flurry of punches from Irvin to finish him off). Already trained for the last time at Big John McCarthy’s academy last Sunday and Raw on Tuesday.
Friday I weighed in for the On the Mat tournament and grabbed a bite to eat with Jimmy. He had cut something like 10 pounds—whereas I have been steadily drinking gravy and melted lard, or so it seems based on my current weight of 144—so he was unusually cranky until he got some food in his stomach. Then he was usually cranky. (Just kidding, Jimmy.) Then I heard from Cindy that there was a need for volunteers at the LA Sub X event. LA Sub X is the Professional Submission League, which puts on grappling tournaments that feature the best in the world. The main event for this time around was Randy “The Natural” Couture vs. Ronaldo “Jacare” de Souza. Couture is recently retired from the UFC, and this was to be his first straight submission event. Jacare (which means “alligator”), on the other hand, is trying to get into events like the UFC.
Other big names competing at the event included Marcelo Garcia, Jeff Glover, Kron Gracie, and Rafael Lovato, Jr. Josh Barnett, a Pride Ultimate Fighter, provided color commentary for the podcast. Rickson Gracie was there coaching Kron (his son). Bruce Buffer did the introduction of the main event and Big John McCarthy refereed. The guitarist for the Foo Fighters played the national anthem. Apparently Ed O’Neill (played Al Bundy on Married…With Children and is a brown belt) and Rikki Rocket (drummer for the band Poison and a purple belt) were also there. I also saw Joe Rogan (purple belt).
So it was a cool thing to be “backstage” for. I helped Cindy set up chairs before the event started and then sold T-shirts during intermissions. Fortunately, everyone wanted to watch the show, so when the fights were actually happening, the T-shirt table was deserted and I had a great view. I tried to explain to Erin, who was also helping, what was going on because she doesn’t have any grappling knowledge. She picked it up quickly! Here’s a picture of my credential, which of course I kept. It made me look and feel official!
It was also great to be able to hang out with Cindy. She is such a warm and friendly person; she's just so enjoyable to be around. We had fun hanging out in the headquarters trailer sticking stickers on compilation DVDs and eating M&Ms (now you know what goes on behind the scenes of a high profile grappling event. But it's all very classy--the M&Ms were DARK chocolate).
The catering for the volunteers was pretty funny; you knew you were at a martial arts event, because while there was typical stuff like beer, chips, candy, and sandwiches, there was also stuff like flaxseed oil, Cytomax, and Muscle Milk, which are all dietary supplements that give you extra electrolytes or protein. (Cytomax and Muscle Milk are powder based and you add them to water and drink them.) So you could either be in serious training mode with the flaxseed oil or be in party mode with the beer. Sometimes the guys at the academy have it both ways, enjoying a nice plastic tumbler full of “Cytogin,” for instance.
After everything was over, I hung out a little bit with Felicia, Jimmy, Kei (who is training for an MMA event himself), and Alicia, but we were all tired and Jimmy and I were getting ready to compete the next day (yesterday). So we didn’t grab a bite to eat, which had been the original plan, though Felicia brought me cream puffs from the Japanese bakery she likes. They were awesome. And then I drove back and crashed hard, getting up at 8am to make it to the tourney in time to compete.
So the tournament was weird. There were no purple belt women for me to compete against in the gi part, which, unfortunately, is kind of common. The higher up you go, the fewer people there are who compete, especially for women. Frequently tournaments end up collapsing the purple, brown, and black belt women into one division, which sucks for everyone, but especially the brown and black women, because they run the risk of losing to a lower belt.
Something similar happened to me. Since there were no purples, the tournament promoters Ryan and Bill asked the blue belts if anyone wanted to fight me. Some of them did. So I had 4 gi matches. I won them all, and I’m happy about it, but without taking anything away from any of the women, who were really tough and game, I kind of should win them all. Sean said he heard a coach say just that; someone said about me, “Wow, she’s sweeping the division,” and the response was, “Well, she SHOULD.”
One coach, who is the black belt sister of the blue belt woman I beat twice, did compliment me on my matches and thank me for “stepping down” and fighting down a belt ranking. She said that there are lots of people who are unwilling to do that, which is true, for the reasons I just mentioned. Her sister was really game and kind of gunning for me. I didn’t mind, though. I have to get used to that kind of vibe. As my friend Natasha says, when you step on the mat, those women facing you are not your friend.
I think that’s part of why I didn’t like competing, because I didn’t like that vibe. I’m getting better about it, but I did let it affect my performance against Crystina, who took it to me in both gi and no-gi. In gi I won by ref decision after two overtimes (I was stuck in her guard and couldn’t open it, and while she tried a couple submissions I was never in any danger, and then when she opened her guard in the last minute of the second overtime, I went for a footlock that was pretty close. So they gave it to me), and in no-gi she took my back twice for a 8-0 win. She beat me fair and square in no-gi and gave me a really hard time in gi, for sure. But we are friends and I think I let that affect how I approached the match. It’s a good lesson for me that I won’t forget next time.
So if I let my ego talk, it was kind of a bad experience because sure I beat some blue belts, but that’s what I’m supposed to do. And I didn’t even tap any of them. And I lost to one in no-gi, though Crystina is also an Abu Dhabi veteran, not to mention a seasoned competitor. If I let my higher self talk, though, it was a great experience. I had 5 matches, which is more than I had in the last 3 competitions combined. So I got a sense of what it’s like to have to draw on reserves of energy (it sucks—I need more conditioning). I was able to set up two submission attempts—a footlock and a bow and arrow choke. I didn’t finish either person, but I think I came pretty close. I took another step toward being competitive on the mat and leaving it there so I can continue to be friends with the people I compete against.
What I’m realizing is that if I’m going to live in this BJJ world, I will have to get used to living with a sense of inadequacy all the time. Forever. I will lose and win, I will improve (I hope), maybe someday my belt color will change (though not any time soon, I hope), but there will always be more to learn and more I could do better. Not to mention all the other things to think about like: refereeing, teaching, bracketing competition divisions, knowing the quality of gis and mats, etc. Not to mention all the people who will always be so much better than I am.
There are times when it feels overwhelming, how little I know about BJJ, but the cure for that is to get out there and learn more. That means taking opportunities to bracket competitions, which I’ll be doing at the East Coast Grappling Championships on December 9 in Richmond, VA, which my friends Andrew and Chrissy are running. It means finding opportunities to referee, starting with kids’ matches, which I’ll try to do at one or another tourney, maybe when I get back out to LA. It means jumping into competitions, which I’ll also do in Richmond (gi match against Emily Kwok, the woman who beat me at the Abu Dhabi trials), as well as at a tournament Natasha told me about that’s going to happen on December 2nd in Joliet, IL. And leaving my ego at the door every time so that when I make mistakes, I shake them off and keep going.
(BTW, if I can get under 140, I’ll be in the lightest weight class for the Joliet tournament. Guess I shouldn’t have had extra caramel sauce on my bread pudding this morning—more on that in a minute.)
I think that what helps with all of that is getting to know more and more people in this world, which I’m definitely starting to do. It also makes it easier to go back to being “ballsy,” as people have described me for visiting all these academies. At the tournament yesterday I ran into Bevois, a long time acquaintance from the forum. He is now working for On the Mat, living in Las Vegas, and training at Cobra Kai, which is where I’m planning to train this week. So when he found that out, he introduced me to Scott Bieri, one of the instructors there. Scott was of course incredibly nice and welcoming and told me to just show up at the OTM store (which is next door to the academy) and he’d introduce me around. He might not be back from the tournament by then, but he will be before I leave. So now I’m not going in cold turkey, as it were. Connections are nice!
I am in Vegas now. Staying at the Sahara. I have some crappy pics of the outside from when I took a walk on the strip earlier tonight. Had a funny conversation with the lady working in the 7-11, who sees all kinds, she says, including one guy who came in all disgruntled, blinked at another customer, and claimed that he worked for CSI and that the other customer had just been “scanned.” Tomorrow after the morning class at Cobra Kai I’m thinking I’m going to go to the Starlight for the public auction they’re advertising. I could also gamble, obviously. They make it virtually impossible for you to do much else. I’m starting to get energized about being on the road again. Far better than crying, which Felicia gave me a hard time about this morning at brunch, and I didn’t even do it, though I was sad to leave everyone.
Felicia, Britt, Jimmy, Rudy, Eva, Scott, Kei, Kenny and I went to brunch at a place called The Loft in Torrance for Hawaiian buffet. I have mentioned Hawaiian cuisine before, and the buffet featured things like spam sushi, Hawaiian chicken (it’s fried, but a little sweet and damn good), bread pudding with pineapple and caramel sauce, bacon fried rice, teriyaki beef, as well as normal breakfast foods like pancakes and omelettes. Top it off with some Hawaiian iced tea and some brownies and you have yourself a fabulous training diet. Only thing missing was a Muscle Milk mimosa.
It was a lovely sendoff, complete with a trip to the vitamin store, where everyone else bought things like Muscle Milk and I bought things like high-protein chocolate chip cookies, stevia (natural sweetener with few calories), and seltzer water. Then I drove away. I expected to cry, but I didn’t. Sometimes I actually think my crying gets in the way of being able to feel something, so I just drove along with the radio off, feeling sad and grateful to all the people who’ve been so amazing to me in LA. Below is a copy and paste of a post I put on nhbgear.com to thank everyone:
“Some of you may know I've been driving around the country training jiu jitsu in different places this summer and fall. I got to LA at the end of August, intending to stay here for a couple weeks. I have stayed for almost 3 months. I'm leaving tomorrow to travel back east and finish up my trip.
“The reason I stayed in LA so long is the people. The amazing, friendly, hilarious, talented people. I am so grateful to everyone I've met here who has befriended me/taken me under their wing, improved my jiu jitsu game, and made me fall in love with LA a little bit. I have been repeatedly astonished at how welcoming and helpful everyone has been, but then I remember that BJJ attracts terrific people, and then I just feel lucky. Lots of these people post on this forum, so I want to thank them publicly.
“I'm especially grateful to Johnny Ramirez and John Ouano from New Breed Academy in Santa Fe Springs, who put me up and account for most of whatever improvement there has been in my game over the past couple months. They are incredibly hospitable guys and amazing BJJ practitioners and instructors. If you EVER have a chance to visit them, you should. They will welcome you with open arms and give you terrific instruction, and their students are really talented and fun. (They also have Tekken and an enormous TV!)
“Thank you also, so much, to Uh Oh, Wutang, Wen, Xtina, 40, Belle, HPF, HPF GF, Twerp, Rudini, Alicia, Dr. Kimura and the current Mrs. Kimura, Noname, Andreh, Hura, Hardcorestreetthug, JC Plentee, Sweepem, Creek Warrior, and Ze Great Escojido.
“And thanks to the people I've met in LA who don't post here: Cindy, Vince, Rey, Sean, Eben, Sheldon, Charlie, Greg, Laura, Steven, Brandon, Shawn and Sean from Hollywood BJJ, and last but not least, UG D0uchebag.
“It's been great, everyone! I'm really sad to be leaving, and I look forward to seeing you all again in 2007.”
In other news, my friend Marcel, a Straight Blast Miami purple belt, accepted an internet challenge match against a Mike Moses purple belt, Greg Souder. Marcel is kind of cranky, which means he has no tolerance for people he thinks are stupid—makes me wonder how on earth we became friends. He thought this person was stupid and got into it with him on the keyboard. So now they are going to settle their differences on the mat at the Richmond tournament. I’ll also get to meet Marcel’s wife, Jenny, whom I have long suspected of being inflatable. Nothing against Jenny at all; the pictures I have seen show a lovely woman. But that’s the rub right there. A lovely woman married cranky Marcel. Well, stranger things have happened and will happen in the future. (For instance, perhaps I, too, will get scanned one day.)
I also missed the Princeton-Dartmouth game—Rachel and Jen* called me during it yesterday while I was competing. There was an alumni event, which was probably pretty fun. I didn’t call them back because I got the message late and then when I thought to call today it was late AND my phone battery was dying. I had been talking to Natasha and Debbie, who are both kick ass.
One last random thing: I passed Zzyzx Street on Route 15. Almost took the exit to see what it was like. Didn’t. Just liked the sound of the word.
Okay, it’s getting late and I am getting up for 10am gi class at Cobra Kai tomorrow morning.