End of day 4--Friday, August 31, 2007
Doing much better today, for a variety of reasons. As Midget said, everyone seems to be loosening up around each other, which is nice. I guess it takes a little time to get to know people and feel comfortable with them, but fortunately, that’s starting to happen. Plus, I felt like I had my timing back today during training, and I got a few new toys to play with. Different people in the group shared different technique ideas and that felt good. Everyone is so talented and their games are unique, so one of the best takeaways for me is to get to pick everyone’s brain. So we kind of got a grab bag of things and then chose what we liked and worked on that. We keep saying that we don’t have enough time to completely change our games, but we can refine things and add stuff to our arsenals, and the technique sharing today in the context of the rules and the structure of the tournament was really helpful to me.
We were all feeling a little banged up and weary, as evidenced by the fact that more people were drinking Red Bull and Monster than on the other days, but I ended up feeling motivated enough to spend our afternoon off drilling with Darren. More on that in a second.
This morning we lifted weights while Jason and Chris snapped candid photos. We look tough and sweaty in them. Don’t mess with the US!
And since no blog post is complete lately without a picture of my keister, here goes:
“Thanks” to Jason for that one. Midgie’s in the background. I will post more pictures soon. I’m realizing I still have pictures to post from the Mundial as well. And between me, Malcolm, and Midget, we’re gonna have a crapload of shots of the entire Turkey experience. Malcolm got a sweet shot of me placing my foot perfectly for a takedown on Jason. He also got a shot of Midget looking kind of like I do above, only she’s trying to keep Darren from passing her guard. And then of course there are the group shots, the awed shots of the No Limits facility, and the candid shots. There was also a professional photographer to do some posed pictures the first day, and Kenny, who runs grappletv.com, is going to come tomorrow to do some more. Alicia was going to try to make it too, but she has a conflict. For those posed shots, I was one of the people down on one knee, you know, like in high school sports teams photos. Some people stand, some people are up on one knee, and if there are enough people, some people sit. Only problem was, my quad was killing me from the weightlifting earlier that day. So I could barely stay in position long enough for them to take the picture. I guess you gotta suffer for your art. Or sport, as the case may be.
So the days go something like this, if you’re me: wake up from a dead sleep, make a protein shake and have some fruit, head over to the gym, hop in The Pod, mill around with the rest of the group, warm up, lift, drill, problem solve specific positions, break for lunch, Pod it some more, grab something from Panera, train some more, break for the day, hang out in The Pod yet again, try not to be overcome by my own funk while confined inside The Pod, use some of the wireless, shower, mill around a little more, head over to the Santaniellos, eat a terrific dinner (last night was salmon, which I’m allergic to, but people seemed to enjoy it, and I had plenty of the pasta salad and green salad with strawberries, so don’t worry about me), crash, repeat. So we spend most of the day at the academy, and the time just flies. (As an aside, I decided not to start teaching online until the second half of the semester starts in October, and it’s a damn good thing. I would be really floundering right about now, with no time or brain space to devote to being a good teacher. So with the blessing of my faculty mentor, I decided to wait.)
While we’re milling around, we take pictures, shoot the breeze, and learn a little more about each other. Lisa is an MMA fighter, as I have mentioned, and one of today’s conversations involved trying to figure out a good nickname for her. Her last name is Ward, and her friends and teammates have already tried The Warden, Hospital Ward, and Mental Ward. For some reason, I like Lisa “The Lasso” Ward. I don’t know what she does that is lasso-like because I don’t know her game well enough yet, but I was thinking that if she reaches for the guillotine with her arms or bites for the triangle with her legs, that’s kind of lasso-like. Well, she’ll figure something out. Don has done MMA too, as have Darren and Midget. Don said he doesn’t have a nickname, but his could just be “The Don” Ortega. Darren’s is Bone Crusher. And Midget is Midget. Well, her full, given name is MidgetTwister, of course.
I don’t have a nickname. Darren suggested V-Dub. Maybe. Or what about Valerie “The Grappling Granny” Worthington?
I’ve decided I need to keep track of the sayings on Juliano’s shirts from day to day. They are RVCA shirts, RVCA being a gear brand, and they are hilarious. Today’s said, “I wasted all my pretty years on you.” I told Juliano that he is still pretty, but he insisted that he used to be even prettier, before the cauliflower ear set in.
Today Gene Mills came to the camp for the first time. He is a legendary wrestler, from Jersey, even, which, for those of you who didn’t know, is where I was born and raised. Born in Trenton and raised in Pennington, right near Princeton. He thought he knew me from a seminar he attended somewhere in North Jersey. I didn’t attend that seminar but apparently have a good twin out there. (I am the evil twin.)
Anyway, Gene was way cool. According to Jason, he was the kind of wrestler who toyed with the state and national champ kinds of wrestlers, and could signal to his coach when he was going to get the pin. He seems fascinated by submission grappling and had no qualms about getting down on the mat with me and letting me show him the basic positions—guard, mount, back, side control. He had a lot of context for those positions and asked a lot of questions. Jason had him do an x-guard sweep on me, and then had him show me a variation of a takedown I had been working on. After about 10 tries, I started to get it (it’s the one Malcolm caught me on film executing well), and I got really excited, because I think it’s going to work really well for me.
And Darren helped me modify it even more, by working it into a combination using a move Jason had helped me with earlier. Wrestling is like grappling/jiu jitsu in that if I try a move and my opponent defends or counters, another opportunity opens up elsewhere. So the more sophisticated a grappler or wrestler you are, the more you are able to set up moves in combination, going for one move but then using the energy the opponent gives you while defending or countering to change course and take advantage of the new opportunity. So we drilled the combination for about a half hour during our afternoon “off.”
And then we rolled. It was sooooo nice just to roll. The training and drilling has been really helpful, but it’s all been very wrestling and sussing-out-the-competition-rules oriented. And that makes sense, seeing as how FILA has recognized submission grappling as a form of wrestling and the competition is structured accordingly, but we also still need to be true to our roots, which for most of us is in the grappling part of it, meaning the part where we roll around on the ground and try to choke each other or break each other’s arms and legs (remember, “jiu jitsu” translates from the Japanese as “the gentle art.”)
So we rolled for a long time, just working positioning and playing with different things we have wanted to try. I tried out a couple moves Marcel had showed me during one of our Tuesday or Thursday morning training sessions, and while I didn’t execute perfectly, Darren said he could feel what I was trying to do and that when I got there it would be pretty slick. Same with some moves Johnny showed me earlier this week. One thing that’s nice is that I seem to pick some things up faster as I do this more, and while I can’t necessarily execute perfectly, I can see the openings faster and get in multiple reps of specific moves so they can become habit faster.
We rolled for probably an hour, and then once everyone got cleaned up, we went over to Chris’ place to meet up for dinner. Don stayed and hung out with Juliano, but the rest of us turned out. While we waited for everyone to get there, we watched some of the footage of the trials in Las Vegas. (We’re going to go over that footage more thoroughly tomorrow, at a BBQ at Chris’.) And then we went for sushi at a place called Chomp in downtown Fullerton. Cute town. College town. With the obligatory Tiger Lotus Karate School, or some such. Grapplers are such jerks when it comes to karate. We think grappling is so much better than karate, and this guy I know lives by the following rule: If you tell someone that you grapple/do BJJ and s/he throws up the karate hands or says, “Don’t kick me,” he walks away without another word. So we strapped on our huge superiority complexes and peeked in through the windows to watch the guys doing katas.
And Chomp was hilarious. It was one of those see-and-be-seen sushi places, not like the holes in the wall that usually have great sushi in lieu of great atmosphere. So since Chomp was very hip, I didn’t have high expectations about the food. But it was damn good. And there was a lot of it. Prepared in part by Lisa, the drunken, abusive head sushi chef. Seriously, this Lisa, not to be confused with our Lisa, did about 5 or 6 sake bombs while we were there, according to Midget. She called a couple customers “bitches,” and a couple others “motherfuckers.”
But they loved it. They were cracking up, as were we, and our waitress said that old Lisa is amazing; apparently she has even convinced people to take their shirts off. We tried to get Malcolm to do that, especially after she pointed at him and said, “Me love you long time.” No such luck. He has too much “class” or something like that.
I settled for a picture with her. Boy, was she loaded. But she makes a mean shrimp tempura roll. I wonder if while she was apprenticed to some sushi chef she had to be plastered all the time. State dependent learning and all.
Darren wondered while we were walking from Chris’ to Chomp what Turkey’s gonna be like. Hot as balls, as the kids would say. That we know for sure. Triple digit temperatures and humidity. But we’ll be near the beach, and we’ll hope the Turks believe in air conditioning. Other than that, nobody really knows, though Ricky bought a travel book on Turkey. According to him, it’s rude to show someone the bottoms of your feet, and if women cross their arms or legs directly in front of a man, it’s bad. I don’t know what it means—or even whether Ricky is making this stuff up on the fly—but I guess I’ll keep my arms at my sides and my feet on the ground. Except when I’m grappling. Jason also said women generally wear long pants or skirts, so if the female teammates wear shorts, we should expect some looks. Midget’s planning to wear Daisy Dukes every day just to give ‘em what for. I probably won’t be standing next to Midget very often.
So yeah, it was the first time we had really speculated about what it’s going to be like “over there.” I guess we’ll find out soon enough. In the meantime, we caught a glimpse of our uniforms. They are really cool; they are red and blue rash guards, board shorts, compression shorts, and warm ups, and say USA down the back of the rash guard. We have taken to getting in a huddle after practice, putting our hands in the middle, and yelling “USA!” before we break. That’s the kind of thing that boggles my mind, because it reminds me of where we are and what’s expected of us.
Tomorrow should be more of the same, with a sad kind of twist: Midget goes home. She is leaving for Turkey from Miami, and will meet us there. It’s gonna be a bummer to have her leave. But we will see her again soon!
Okay, it’s late and I have to get up early to post this and to hop into The Pod in the morning. But the ratio of nerves to excitement is getting bigger. (For those of you not good with ratios, I mean I’m just getting more excited. At least, I think that’s what I mean. I’m not good with ratios either. And I’m taking a cue from Darren, who is just having a ball and not taking anything—read: himself—too seriously. He’s intent on having fun, and I’m intent on doing what Darren does. I want to be just like him when I grow up: short, hairy, 27, slightly perverted, and really really sweaty when the altitude drops inside The Pod.)