Getting caught up
I figure I'll write a little about the camp and then a little about me till I'm back up to speed. So, camp. I arrived at BJMUTA (Big John McCarthy's Ultimate Training Academy--http://www.bjmuta.com/) on Sunday during the day. The camp officially started on Monday, but campers starting arriving the previous day. Plus, there was a tryout for BJMUTA's MMA team, consisting of grappling, wrestling, kickboxing, and MMA trials. Oh, and TWO conditioning workouts, including a surprise one at the end of the day when everyone was trashed. By the way, huge congrats to our own Felicia, who made the team and showed some of the young male whippersnappers how it's done!
It was PACKED. Lots of people trying out, lots of spectators. And if you've seen the facility, you know how impressive it is that the place was full. If you haven't seen it, it's a mixed martial artist's Shangri-la. After all, John has been in the business for many years, so he'd be unlikely to do things half-assed. If you get a chance to visit, it's worth it. If you get a chance to live there, as I did all last week, even better.
The place is a cave, literally and figuratively. A big cave, but a cave that serves as a time-suck. And there are skylights, but you still can't really see whether it's light or dark outside, so you can spend hours there enjoying yourself but not knowing whether it's raining or sunny out. And on the figurative end, it's amazing how much of your "real" life you can screen out while you're at camp at BJMUTA--and MY "real" life is pretty sweet to begin with. But at the end of the camp, and whenever I did emerge from the cave to run an errand or be put through a grueling hill sprints workout, I would blink a couple times like a mole (though moles are blind, aren't they?) and have to orient myself.
As the MMA team trials were going on, campers began to arrive. We took over two matted rooms in the corner, one for our stuff and one for us to sleep in. The main matted area, which, with my powers of estimation I guess to be around a million square feet, was for training, hanging out, and chatting. We even got a lesson in black belt fight hair from Felicia there (it was a women's camp, after all). The cage was for photo ops with John, among other things like MMA classes. The weight area was for enduring CrossFit workouts, including an intense one Felicia concocted that she and I put each other through: sumo deadlift high pulls and ring dips. She also had us doing burpee pullups--me for the first time.
Sunday night, it was like sleeping in a cave in Siberia. FREE-ZING. The women who had come from Vancouver, Toronto, and Virginia were unhappy to realize that they were not getting the sunny SoCal weather they had assumed they would--it was nasty and rainy outside. So we used a heater that seriously looked like a rocket engine, and it shot out heat in flame form, so that comparison isn't too far off the mark. When I moved the heater too close to a wall hanging, the hanging got sucked into the back and I almost set the place on fire. Yay me! Later in the week things warmed up and the sun came out, but not before we almost lost an extremity or two.
The camp officially started on Monday morning, though people came and went throughout the entire week. Emily (Kwok, the third instructor with me and Felicia) arrived on Wednesday. Felicia and Alaina had PACKED the schedule; at a playground like BJMUTA, there are lots of things to play with: kettlebells, kickboxing, MMA, CrossFit, wrestling classes. Oh, and then the gi and no-gi training. There was some of that too, of course. Lots of that, in fact. In the beginning of the week, it was me and Felicia kind of scatting and riffing off of each other, which was a great experience for me, as someone who is learning to be confident in her knowledge and teaching ability. I realized that I do have a lot of knowledge at my disposal, and sometimes it's even better NOT to write things down, because the things you come up with on the fly are more consistent with what others are showing--and this continued to be the case when Emily joined in.
That being said, I keep going over what I taught and thinking about ways to teach it better next time. Maybe when I have taught for longer and for a wider variety of audiences, I'll be able to strike a better balance between spontaneity and sufficient attention to detail.
One of the most important elements of the camp was the round table discussions. Apparently they were Felicia's idea, and they were a great one. Most evenings we'd set aside some time for people to grab dinner and then we'd all meet in John and Elaine's office upstairs (Elaine is John's wife and the other big boss :) to discuss some aspect of grappling, some related to being female and some just general topics. Competing, finding training partners when you are small, nutrition, why/how some people (read: Felicia, Emily, Alaina, me) change their entire lives to revolve around grappling.
I'm projecting here, but I think it's safe to say that hearing other women's experiences and getting to share our own was as important as, if not more important than, learning cool techniques and getting to train with other women. We laughed about how the feelings-and-crying portion of the camp--and oh was there crying--probably wouldn't have happened at a men's camp.
One of the many things I realized/was reminded of is that grappling is insidious, if you love it. It reminds you that there is something in the world that can make you feel absolutely alive and in that flow state I think I blogged about earlier. Then when you come out of that state, you are faced with the reality of your life. And if you don't like aspects of your life, returning to them is like a slap in the face and can be an incredible downer. Witness my own transformation from white collar malcontent to grubby, happier matrat.
I'm not saying that everyone at the camp is dissatisfied in their lives. But grappling can serve as a vehicle for self-improvement in a variety of ways, and as Felicia said, it seemed that everyone got out of the camp what they needed.
I certainly got some things out of it. (Now we're on to updating you about me.) I'm debating now whether to write about them or whether to write about my latest health condition: alopecia. I think I'll write about alopecia, because I'm still wrapping my mind around what I got out of camp. I got a different perspective on many aspects of my grappling life: competing, teaching, my beliefs about my leadership capability in the grappling world, among other things, but I am still processing. And my coaches are wrecking us in our tournament prep, so I'm shell-shocked too. But I am coming to some good realizations.
Also, after my initial surprise and dismay, I intend to look on the bright side about my alopecia. After all, it isn't life-threatening or contagious, and if it continues, I might never have to pluck my eyebrows again. I didn't even know I had it, because of the location of the affected area, until my mom said something when I was visiting my family the week before the camp . In the spirit of being optimistic and grateful that it isn't worse (I'd much rather have the alopecia than the breast cancer I thought I might have last year, for instance), I have a couple funny stories to tell about my treatment so far. Plus, it will just be easier for people who read this and then see me with my hair in a ponytail to know why it looks like I have been the victim of a Jackass clipper attack.
That gives you a couple hints about what alopecia is, if you don't know. It's when your immune system attacks your hair follicles, leaving you with, in my case, a can-sized patch of complete baldness at the nape of my neck (For those of you who were at the camp, that's why I wore my hair down instead of in a ponytail--it was probably more annoying to roll with me, but I wasn't ready to come clean yet. It looks really weird). There are a couple smaller patches too, but everything so far is covered by the hair that I do have when I wear it down. So it's a good thing I decided not to go to the Oscars; I wouldn't have wanted an upsweep, and my gown wouldn't have looked good with my hair any other way. The reasons alopecia occurs are unknown but may sometimes have to do with the thyroid, as evidenced by the fact that the usual diagnosing process involves thyroid tests. And lo and behold, the Worthingtons are lousy with wackadoo thyroids.
The baldness is apparently not permanent, but once you start to get it, it can happen on other parts of your head and body even when the original parts are filling in. (Of course this couldn't have happened on my legs.)
There are more details here: http://www.webmd.com/skin-problems-and-treatments/hair-loss/tc/alopecia-areata-topic-overview
So on Monday, after camp was over, I went to get checked out. The nurse asked me why I was there and I said, "I think I have alopecia." I showed her my bald patch, and she said, "Oh, no, that's not alopecia; that's a thyroid condition. The doctor saw something like that the other day and did some thyroid tests."
Then when I talked to the doctor, he said, "The fancy term for what you have is alopecia."
But the nurse was super nice, and to be fair, I think I may have misunderstood her. Plus, she was one of the best blood-drawers I have had--and I hate having my blood drawn. Didn't get a lollipop or a balloon afterward, but maybe next time. I get the results of the blood tests later this week.
So then, during the course of the doctor's examination of me, he had me show him the bald patch and then he used a magnifying glass to examine it more closely. He said, "I'm looking to see if there's any follicular activity at all right there...Nope, completely bald."
That's what he said. What I heard was, "You have enormous guns, sometimes you lose your period because of your intensely athletic lifestyle, you have a brown belt in a martial art designed to make opponents submit to you, you wouldn't know how to decorate a home if your life depended on it, and now you are losing your hair--and not in the good, Sinead O'Connor/Persis Khambatta way, but in the bad, Telly Savales/baby chihuahua way. I'm afraid I'm going to have to check the validity of your Femininity Card. It may very well have expired, and you are not eligible for renewal. I suggest you begin to practice adjusting yourself, insisting on driving, and calling everyone 'Bro.'"
There isn't a cure for alopecia. But as evidenced by my "creative" rendering of the subsequent portion of my conversation with the doctor, the treatment is as bad as or worse than the disease:
Doctor: Okay, we'll wait for the results of the blood tests. Meantime, I'm going to prescribe you a topical steroid that you should put on the affected area twice a day for A YEAR AND A HALF. Yes, that's right. You shouldn't expect to see any regrowth for 18 months, and you should put this steroid on your skin twice a day for that long. You can add that to the list of issues you have about your femininity.
Me: I know it's topical, but that's a long time to be using any kind of medication. Can't some of it get absorbed into my bloodstream?
Doctor: Are you pregnant?
Doctor: Are you planning to become pregnant?
Doctor: Do you stand next to pregnant people for any length of time, ever?
Doctor: Do you ever take pregnant pauses?
Doctor: Do you say the word "pregnant" more than once a week?
Doctor: Then you should be fine. Oh, but you need to stop wearing hats. The steroid doesn't like to be covered up or restricted in any way.
Me: Doesn't "like"...?
Doctor: No. It's similar to Happy Fun Ball. Thus, you should not taunt the steroid either. And consider locking the tube in a strong box, unless you don't mind sleeping with one eye open. It will stimulate hair growth in its own good time--did I mention that the regrowth doesn't start for A YEAR AND A HALF--but it will also pick fights, dress in wifebeaters and self-tanner, and, as I have implied with my line of questioning, kick unborn babies.
Me: Are we sure this is a good idea?
Doctor: Shhhhh! The steroid will hear you!
Um, obviously I'm ambivalent about this treatment option. Cynthia has already done some research for me on the steroid (thanks to you, Cynthia), known as clobetasol propionate, and it doesn't look like it gets much better with time. So I have decided to do my own research and see if I can come up with some less menacing remedies. Or if anybody has any personal or professional experience with alopecia and/or clobetasol propionate, I'm all ears! And if the hair loss progresses, you will be able to see them (my ears) for yourself! All the time!
Okay, as usual, this post did not go in the direction I intended or expected. But there you have it. Next time I will write more about the camp and then more about me, probably little bits of business about camp life (unless anyone has any specific things they want to hear about) and then about why the hell I have decided to compete again after, Alaina reminded me, last year when I swore up and down as God was my witness that I would never compete again. I am a mystery wrapped in an enigma wrapped in a gi (for this tournament). And when I'm taking a cheat day and missing the east coast, wrapped in a cheese steak.