Friday, May 13, 2016

Why Women Should Train With Other Women (It's not men that make them nervous)

Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu is a male-dominated sport. It is growing in popularity for women but most academies have more males than females training. Being one of these many females, I learned to fight with the big guys. I was never afraid. I gladly launched my five foot frame at the 250-pound bruisers. People thought I was really tough. They would cheer when I would choke out a new guy or marvel when I climbed someone’s back like a spider monkey. I felt special and was fearless.
I was fearless, that is, until I went to an all-female open mat.
All of a sudden I was surrounded by women that did jiu-jitsu. I was nervous and had no idea how to act around them. We seemed to notice everything about each other:  hair, makeup, new gi, old gi, new belt, old belt, patches, nail polish, braids, embroidery, no kids, lots of kids, big chest, small butt, weird lips…. I was not in Kansas anymore.
It became even more evident when it was time to train.These ladies rolled completely differently. They were faster and more technical. They were also very focused and didn’t fool around. I was out of my element. I was slow and smashy.  I knew how to use my weight to make my 120 pounds feel like 200 but it didn’t matter because I wasn’t getting the opportunity to get top position anyway. I couldn’t use the same techniques on the women because they played a completely different way.
I got beat. Bad.
I had to make a decision. I would either have to start training with women or come to terms with the fact that my jiu-jitsu education would not be complete without female training partners.
What I really wanted to do was run away because I realized one very painful truth.
I was afraid.
I don’t know why it is – whether it is a primal response that is coded in us from the caveman days that tells us women to be wary of other women but over the years I have learned that I was not alone. It happens in neighborhoods, schools, workplaces, households and on the mats. Women often feel an immediate and irrational competitiveness with other women. We prejudge their personalities, talents, abilities, and jiu-jitsu skills based on their appearance or our first impression. 
It happens in competition. The same pony-tailed sprite that would gladly take on the HULK in the gym trembles when a 110-pound white belt with pink toenails and frosted blonde hair steps up to the mat. All of a sudden, all the bravado and confidence that we had shrinks and a rapid heatbeat and sweaty palms takes its place. 
Men often tell the few women in the gym, “Oh, you beat all of us guys up all the time, think how great you are going to do when you fight women.” 
Women know other women. Women are fierce. When women compete with other women they are often not just out there for the joy of “just being there.” It takes a lot of courage to compete in a male-dominated combat sport so many women devote a lot of time and energy into preparing so that they are not embarrassed. Many women fight differently than their male counterparts. Women’s bodies and minds are different.  
No matter if you have one female in your gym or ten, find open mats and look for female-only events or seminars.  Pick out a female that you don’t know to roll with when you train or visit another school.  If you are looking for a new school or want to compete try to find one with a strong women’s program.  You can sit around with the one or two other women at your gym and train only with the guys or you can face your real fear and put yourself out where you feel most vulnerable. If you are going to compete against women, it stands to reason that testing yourself and learning in the gym with other women will give you the best education. Males are great teachers and training partners but training with males-only may not be sufficient enough preparation for competition and competition is the best way to test your jiu-jitsu.
Your jiu-jitsu will never be the same.  And that will be a good thing.  

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Friday, November 7, 2014

IKEA - Not even once.

"My name is Melissa and I went to IKEA.”

“Hello, Melissa.”
At first I didn’t want to do it. I had walked through its fog once before and it had made my eyes twitch. I vowed to stay away. But time passed and my memory faded. I thought maybe it would be different this time.  It was so cheap.  Everyone was doing it.

Other moms had done it and they were OK. Maybe I would be OK just this once. After all, I had never done it before. How bad could it be?

Well, it started out fine and then it got really bad.

Here is my journal from that day:

10am:  I am excited for my trip. I have never scored any in the past and I think I have enough money to get the good stuff.

10:20am:  I have arrived and am feeling good. I show them my money. I breathe it all in. Suddenly I am amazed by all of the things that I see.

10:30am:  I see dressers and chairs everywhere.

10:45am:  Lots of boxes. My cart won’t steer straight…

11:00am:  I have to go to the bathroom but I don’t know where I am.

11:15am:  I can see the bathrooms but I can’t get there.

11:30am:  I feel lost and smell meatballs but all I see are patterns.

Noon:  I try to catch one of the Swedish-made, simply-designed household items that are towering over me but apparently I have to carry it off the twenty foot shelves with my superhuman strength and my own imaginary ladder.

1 pm:  I am pale and sweating but the magical elf turns off her special light just as I arrive with 600 pounds of compressed sawdust and Elmer’s glue on my back. I utter swear words under my breath and look for another “helper.”

2pm:  I am reduced to simultaneously getting Tourette’s and my first hernia when elf after elf magically disappears when I need to load my sleigh.

3pm:  I have no idea how I got home.

4pm:  I am tired and have a headache.  My vision is becoming clear.  Oh God, What have I done?

4:20pm:  haaa haaa... it is 4:20.

4:30pm:  I creep slowly over to two ginormous boxes that are in the middle of the living room. There is a pamphlet. Apparently someone was kind enough to draw a picture of me in it.

5pm:  There is more. WTF??!! Did two year olds pack this?

5:20pm:  I call IKEA and yell at them because there is something missing.

5:45pm:  I find the missing piece.

6:pm:  I watch the “wood” split as I put a square peg in a round hole. I see another diagram…  uh… this is NOT what I did, thank you very much. Not exactly sure WHAT this guy did...
7pm:  I start shaking and open a bottle of vodka.

7:30pm:  No longer shaking.

8pm:  I am drinkng heavlyly and no longer care about your stinking instrucshuns.

9pm: My daughters come in and tell me that they get scared when Mommy yells at the furniture.

At five a.m. the next day I wake up next to a shovel, a roll of duct tape and three daughters that LOVE their new dresser.

IKEA – Not even once.

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

The truth about Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu

It is not for the weak.
It is not karate, tae kwan do, or hot yoga. 

There is no choreography or fake fighting during training.  Everyone does not get a medal and there are no twelve-year old black belts. You are very literally being challenged physically and mentally by another person and by yourself every time you train.  If you do not tap you can and will be seriously injured. Sounds harsh but it is the truth. Nothing is more motivating and challenging than having another person trying to do something to you against your will.   It is hard work. Sometimes it hurts. Sometimes you bleed. Sometimes you cry. Sometimes you want to quit because it is frustrating. 

Jiu-Jitsu will show you how great you really are.

You may want to cry because you are exhausted. You may want to go home. You may feel like you are going to be sick. If you listen to that inner voice that tells you to stop because it is too hard you will miss out on the voice that yells in triumph, “I did it!”And this majestic voice will fill you up and show you just how strong you really are. In our every day life how often is the average person really (and I mean really) challenged physically? When every fiber of my being tells me to quit and go home and I tell it to “go piss up a rope” and hang in there instead until the end I know that I am strong. I find out that I really didn’t die. I find out that the limits that I set for myself were wrong.  Our bodies and our minds are incredible but we don’t realize it until we test them. Jiu-Jitsu shows us that we are stronger than we think.

Your jiu-jitsu coach is not your therapist.

Do not under any circumstances tell your Jiu-Jitsu coach that you are feeling down or are having a bad day. This is not your yoga coach or your little old lady neighbor. This is the individual that is working hard to make you strong. Your passive aggressive pleas for attention on Facebook only sharpen his resolve. He will make it his personal mission to shove you into your big kid panties. You will cry for the days that you could walk without assistance. He will make you drill and train and forget all of your worries. Every molecule in your body will be focused on basic life support instead of the residual junior high drama you are carrying around on your thirty-year old shoulders. You will wish you had posted a picture of a cat sleeping on a kid’s head instead of “Hey guys, where you at?  I am all alone tonight.  Why won’t someone come out and play?  FML You will never want attention again. But ironically you will feel loved and strong as soon as they release you from the hospital.

Everyone does not get a trophy.

If you long for the “old days” when awards were based on how hard you worked or whether or not you actually beat someone else, then Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu is the sport for you. Your coach does not pat you on the back and tell you that you did a “fantastic job out there, kiddo” if you did not. He will smile and tell what you need to do to get better. This is why champions are made in Jiu-Jitsu. Belts are not given to the person with the “most spirit” or the one who paid the most money. It goes to the ones that actually work hard and make progress. Many coaches give stripes to students to help them know where they are on their journey towards the next belt. Grown men have been brought to tears by a quarter-inch wide piece of athletic tape placed on their belts. Each stripe is a symbol of the hot coals that have been walked and the ravines that have been crossed. No trophy in the world is as great as this. 

You do not have to “get in shape first” in order to start Jiu-Jitsu

What?! Didn’t you just say it was hard? Duh. Yes. But I also said that you will challenge yourself. You do not have to get in shape to start. Jiu-Jitsu will get you in shape, don’t worry. Everyone huffs and puffs in the beginning. Everyone struggles and feels exhausted. This means that you are working hard. Don’t be afraid of it. Sweat is just your fat crying. (I am obviously not a doctor, thank you.)

Train to the best of your ability no matter what it is. Believe it or not, you can be successful no matter what age or weight you are. You can be successful whether you have one leg, three eyes, or no arms. In Jiu-Jitsu you learn how to play to your strengths and to the weaknesses of your opponent. And your weight is not a judgement in Jiu-Jitsu, only a classification. I remember when I first fought in the 156lb weight class (I am only 5’2”). The other women were much taller than me.  A light bulb went off and I made a decision to change my diet because my weight was not just weight, it was useless fat that gave my competition an advantage. My weight was high because my bottom was heavy not because I was tall.  I dropped two weight classes and not only am I now fighting women my height but I am also faster, more flexible, and have more endurance. And it feels great.

Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu should be taught to children.

I believe that children should learn Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu. It teaches them to be strong and also to believe in themselves. Jiu-Jitsu does not make them bullies, but rather confident defenders that do not have anything to prove.  Their self-worth is not dependent on anyone else. They earn their belts and stripes just like adults. And each belt rank is similar around the world. There aren’t wild fluctuations in skill levels in competitions. The training regimen is less intense than adults and they are watched very closely so that no one gets hurt.In fact, kids can’t even receive their blue belts until they are 16 years old. In some cases, this means that a child that starts at six years old may not get her Black belt until she is 20. Does this deter her? No, because Jiu-Jitsu is about learning every moment that you are on the mat. Children that start young get a very deep and intuitive education in JIu-Jitsu that teaches them how to be calm under pressure, use their minds and bodies to escape a tough situation, succeed, and to have confidence in themselves. It becomes a way of life that carries into their schoolwork, home life, and their very formation. Children that train Jiu-Jitsu tend to be exceptionally respectful to authority and peers and have a self-sufficient attitude about life. 

Jiu-Jitsu is beautiful.

The beauty of Jiu-Jitsu is the technique. Aggression and negativity actually make fighting more difficult and increase the odds that you will fail. Your own aggression and forcefulness is often used against you to gain the submission. The best strategy is to remain calm and use your mind as well as your body.  You can spot Black Belts because they are the ones that are relaxed and catlike in the way that they approach their opponent. They watch, learn, and think ahead to entice their prey to fall into their trap and then they pounce. Testosterone-driven hulks trying to smash you into submission don’t last long here. They get humbled by men (and even women) a fraction of their size and strength.  Jiu-Jitsu teaches us to listen to our bodies, to be aware of our surroundings, to use strategy and technique instead of fear and force when we are in a difficult situation, to be respectful of other people, and to never give up.

Jiu-Jitsu academies become families that nurture and care for each other. Training partners watch out for each other and keep each other safe on the mat. The relationships extend past the mat and into the neighborhoods. The idea of family even extends between academies and across geographical lines.  For example, when I traveled from Arizona to California last summer, I was welcomed at Outliers Jiu-Jitsu in San Diego as well as Claudio Franca in San Jose despite not knowing anyone there. 

The jiu-jitsu community shares a common warrior-bond that only those who have (quite literally) put their blood, sweat and tears on the mat can understand.

Jiu-Jitsu is for us, a way of life.


Saturday, July 5, 2014

My life as a warden for the criminally insane

While ankle deep in sewage spilling out of my children’s bathroom and down the hallway into the living room one of them asked me to make her a glass of chocolate milk.

One night when my husband was out of town I put my oldest daughter down on a mattress next to my bed so she could sleep in my room. In the middle of the night I heard a muffled, “Mom…Mom.”  I looked over the side and she was nowhere to be found. I searched frantically and discovered that she had rolled off her mattress and was all the way under my bed. I lifted up the bedskirt, crawled through the dust bunnies and pulled her out. She then rewarded me by throwing up on me.

I let my daughter pick out a plastic dollhouse at a local Thrift Store and we washed it together when we got home. She then excitedly informed grandma that I let her get something at the “dirty store”.

When my daughter was a toddler I sat on the floor of the bathroom next to her and read a book while she was in the tub. When I looked up, she had a frantic look on her face and a turd on a spoon. So much for the commemorative light saber spoon from the Cheerios box.

A few years ago some good friends of ours asked us to be Godparents to their son. Everything went well.  We stood at the front of the church with them as her father (a former pastor), baptized the baby. I smiled proudly with one arm around my husband and another around my daughter. It was only then that I realized that my darling daughter had wedged her index finger firmly up her nose.

I have had to break up screaming arguments over cartoon characters.

I have had to grease a plastic Hannah Montana bracelet off of a toddler’s thigh.

I have been called to preschool to extract a dyed-green macaroni noodle from my child’s nose.

I have been woken up at 2 am by a child reminding me that she needed new shoes.

I have taken lasagna apart.
Once, on a Costco shopping trip I asked my three year old to remind me to pick up peanuts for Daddy.  A few aisles later she did her job by loudly shouting that I should not forget Daddy’s peanuts… except that she did not pronounce the “t” in peanuts…

I have carried my pajama-clad children against their will to the principal’s office when they have refused to get ready for school.

I once paid a $20 copay to find out my daughter was getting boobs.

Last winter my children used a Tapatio bottle as a snowman nose.

I once found an entire flour tortilla shoved in the seatbelt hole in my daughter’s carseat.

I have showered with naked Barbies, stepped on Lego’s, been impaled by forgotten thumbtacks, and been clubbed in the head by wooden blocks.

Every day is an adventure and a struggle to maintain order. It is my hope that one day my lovely inmates will be competent enough to stand trial and be rehabilitated.  Until then, you can find me at my desk denying requests for candy at breakfast and permission to borrow my high-heeled leather boots to play in the sprinkler.

Thursday, July 3, 2014

Misguided Facebook Quotes: "...give your children permission to be human."

This quote has made the rounds and at last count received 2,221 likes:
So often children are punished for being human. Children are not allowed to have grumpy moods, bad days, disrespectful tones, or bad attitudes, yet we adults have them all the time! We think if we don’t nip it in the bud it will escalate and we will lose control. Let go of that unfounded fear and give your child permission to be human. We all have days like that. None of us are perfect and we must stop holding our children to a higher standard of perfection than we can attain ourselves.” (attributed to Rebecca Eanes, author, blogger).

I suspect the author was just trying to remind parents to ease up a bit, but here is the deal:
When my children feel grumpy and have a bad day everyone pays for it. They hit and bite and growl. They cry and sass. Am I supposed to just chalk it up to their humanity? Yes, adults have bad moods but yes, we DO indeed get punished for them: we end up alienating our friends and family, get written up at work, lose customers, and irritate our neighbors.
It is much easier to help children calm down if you teach them how to control their emotions and catch them in the beginning of their emotional breakdown. So, yes, Rebecca, parents really do need to nip it in the bud! My fear is not that “it will escalate and we will lose control” but rather that my child will lose control. It is our job as parents to teach our children how to control themselves so by the time they are adults they will be able to handle strong emotions without having to scream and throw themselves down on the floor at the Department of Motor Vehicles because they waited 3 hours just to be told that they were in the wrong line. 
If we let go of our “unfounded fear” as the quote suggests, here is what I envision:
 “Katie, what is the matter?”
“I hate you.”
“But what is going on and why is Sarah crying?”
I then go over to the playground and kneel in front of Sarah.
“Sarah, honey, what happened?”
“Katie got mad and pushed me off the swing.”
“Katie, did you do this?”
“I am not talking to you!!  I am mad!! You are a witch.”
“That is fine, honey.  I am so glad that you are mad.  It is normal to have those feelings.”
“Sorry, Sarah, Katie is just having a grumpy day, I guess.   She’s only human.”
“Auuggggghhhh!!  Shut up!  Shut up!  Shut up!!!!”
“Melissa, what is wrong?”
“The kids!!  They are driving me crazy!!”
“You don’t have to yell so much.  What did they do?”
“I can’t go to the bathroom alone!  Auuuggghhh!!!! And I stubbed my toe and I can’t find my favorite watch.”
“It is OK to have bad feelings.  Go push the middle one off the swing.  You will feel better.”
“Thanks, honey.  I love you.”
“I love you, too.”

Hmmmm….. on second thought…I guess maybe it is a good strategy after all…

If you need free parenting advice from someone that does not believe in "talking it out" with children and has no experience in child psychology other than the time a child psychologist asked me, "Who is the parent here?" then, please feel free to submit your questions and I will answer them on the blog.  

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Selective Hearing

After a fun afternoon in a community pool I happily sang out to my six year old, “Ok, time to go. Please pick up the swim noodle and get out of the pool.”
There was no response although I was staring directly at her.
I then called out her name so there would be no mistake, “Autumn, please pick up the swim noodle and get out of the pool.”
I was met with a blank stare. I double checked the identity of the child. Yes, it was my daughter and not someone else’s. I tried again.
“Pick up the swim noodle.”
She made direct eye contact this time.
“The swim noodle.”
No response.
“The noodle,” I clarified.
“ The noooooodle,” I emphasized.
She stared at me with no emotion. I wondered if my voice had actually come out of my mouth.
“Noooooooodle!" I screamed. The child next her glanced furtively around and ducked her head under the water.
No response. 
A mother next to me confirmed that she had indeed heard my voice as had the rest of the neighborhood.
I tried again but with a hand signal, “Noodle.”
Again, no response.
I cleared my throat and bellowed, “ Noooooodle!”
By this time I no longer cared about the pool toy and called out, “Autumn, time to get out of the pool!”
“ To.”
“ Go!”
 Seven children got out of the pool.
“Go now!”
 I put on white face makeup and mimed getting out of the pool.
“Get out!”
A neon arrow flashed the way to the steps and I waved my arms like I was parking a 747.
My voice cracked, “Out of the pool.”
“The pool.”
That is when the light bulb went off. 
I decided then and there that when I get old I am going to fake deafness.
“Mom, it is time to brush your dentures and take your medicine.”
“Your dentures.”
“Your teeth.”
“Your teeeeeeeeeeeeth.”  “Teeeth.”
“Time for bed and medicine.”
“Mom!” she will yell in my ear, “teeth and pills!”
I will wait until she is good and frustrated and then I will do it.
I will also tell her not to yell at me.
After all, I heard her the first time.

I'd love to hear what you think!  To comment, click on the word comment below.

Sunday, June 15, 2014

To Women on Father's Day

There really are good men in the world.
Men that are respectful and kind; men that have integrity and compassion.
I know because I am married to one.
He didn’t just appear. He wasn’t the object of a wish on a star. He didn’t fall out of the sky or pop out of a magic lamp. He wasn’t even born that way.
He learned how to be a good man from his mother, his father, his family, his friends, his teachers, and his faith.
He is a good man because he chooses to be. He was taught that actions have consequences that go much deeper than just “getting caught.” He learned that making bad choices not only affected his life but also those around him. Good relationships with family and friends were important. He treated his parents with respect and saw the value of education.
He wasn't the most suave person that I had ever dated.  He wasn't the most polished.  He was good-looking but not "my type."  In fact, I never intended to fall in love with him at all.
He was, however, the kindest person that I had ever dated. He was gentle and attentive but still masculine and strong. Superficial considerations quickly faded away and genuine love filled my heart.The honest truth is that I hadn’t realized until that time that I didn't know what real love was.
So many women settle for just OK or make excuses for the men that we think that we love. We tell ourselves that he will change. We excuse a man’s actions because he was mad, or drunk, or tired, or stressed, or whatever. We find fault in ourselves for his actions: “maybe if I hadn’t raised my voice” or “I should have been quiet” or “I should have worn something different.”
I firmly believe that love is a verb. It is an action and a choice. When you love someone you choose to do things that encourage, uplift and strengthen another person.
The opposite, my dear women, is not love.
Choose the man that treats you well.
Choose the man that respects the people around him, regardless of whether or not he likes them.
Choose the man that picks you up when you fall and kisses you gently at night.
This is the man that will make a good father.
This is the man that will raise children that will be good adults.
This is the man that won’t see your fat and wrinkles because he accepts you for your love.
I guarantee that there are many of them left out there. If you think they are scarce, you just don’t know where to look.
They aren’t the ones that start hitting on you at 2am when the bar closes.
They aren’t the ones that have the word “player” tattooed on their necks.
And they certainly aren’t the ones that lay a hand on you when they lose control.
Look for the ones that are kind to animals.
Look for the ones that love their mother and help their grandfather up from a chair.
Look for the ones that pay attention to you and what you are saying rather than the waitress or your cleavage when you go out.
Don’t look for perfection, though. They fart in public and wear stained t-shirt just like the others.
The best way to find a good man is to be the kind of woman that deserves respect and settles for nothing less. You will never find a man that respects you if you don’t respect yourself.
Happy Father’s Day to my husband, the love of my life, and the father to our three daughters. My greatest hope is that they one day will find someone that loves them as completely as you have loved me.
And Happy Father’s Day to all of the dads out there that teach their children to love and to be kind. It’s not easy but you are making the world a better place – one life at a time.
And blessings to all of the women that encourage fathers to be the men that their families need them to be.

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