Embrace Discomfort – Do what you suck at
After a particularly difficult day at practice earlier this year, I sat down and thought long and hard about my training. My training had stalled completely and hadn’t been progressing as much as I would like. Striking scared me, my take-downs are less than desirable, and for the sake of honesty, I have stunted myself by only training with one person a majority of the time. The reality is, I did this to myself be staying in my comfort zone, being outside of it hadn’t really occurred to me. Frustration had been building up, like a bitter taste in my mouth. Time to ask the hard questions:
Where am I at currently? Where do I want to go? How do I get there?
Initially, I blamed my coach for not rotating me in with the men. Then, for not structuring his program in way that would fill the gaps in my game. Again, I re-evaluated and recognized the majority of it was my fault. He likes to place the women together as it typically makes them feel more comfortable. I have requested to work with other individuals, but I subconsciously drifted towards the only other woman in the room. I should have been more assertive about the request and should have been upfront about it with her (I never mentioned it). In the end, my training had suffered for a year and made me questions if I was even in the right sport. The blame was squarely on me. It was time for a change.
Our school offers a variety of sports, Jiu-jitsu, Judo, Muay Thai, even MMA & Boxing for a while. If I wanted to change my game, I needed to try something different. So I started with take downs. Now, a lot schools never work on the stand up aspect of a fight. In fact, we have people that come in all the time and are shocked that we start on our feet. Seriously, how many fights actually start on the ground? None. It starts on your feet and typically ends on the ground. From a self-defense perspective (which is why I started Jiu-jitsu) you want to be the one in control. If you can get someone safely to the ground and immobilize them without injuring yourself, wouldn’t you want that in your arsenal? My solution to this problem is Judo.
Phase 1: Judo
Take downs and proper breakfalls (ukemi) are a weak point for me, further increased by a bad fall early in my training that tweaked a muscle in my back that would take a year to recover (even now, I still have some issues with it). Being thrown in any capacity would freak me out, and I would spend a majority of my time trying to avoid it. Luckily, our Judo instructor is a training partner and he has this amazing ability to put beginners at ease by systematically walking you through each step and watching carefully to make any necessary corrections to prevent injury. Unfortunately, the only classes we had at the time were late at night and I wasn’t able to attend them, but through a series of events, enough students expressed interest in having a weekend Judo class that we were able to add it to our curriculum on the 1st and 3rd Saturday of every month.
My first few classes were exhausting, mentally and physically. We spent a lot of time on our breakfalls and basic throws which would inevitably build up into bigger throws that will require a secure foundation. I must have done a 100 breakfalls on my first day, but the muscle memory necessary to land uninjured was definitely improving. He taught us the power of unbalancing your opponent and how to use it against them; a slight shift is all it takes to break their balance for a throw. Even after nearly a year of practice, I am still working unbalance my opponent.
While my throws are still a work in progress (and always will be), they are improving. I’ve begun to try a few of them during Jiu-jitsu instead of just pulling guard (my safety net). I fail most of the time, but the attempt is being made and eventually, I’ll catch someone. However, the biggest benefit has been the boost in confidence when it comes to landing. The fear I used to have is still there, but with every properly executed landing, it has started to become a distant memory. I can now be thrown with minimal fear about the landing, actually, I get excited and high-five myself when I have a particularly good breakfall (I know it’s silly, but celebrate the little things! and yes, I get weird looks).
Phase 2: Muay Thai
Phase two is striking. By far, this is the weakest point in my game. I have some bad habits picked from a previous martial art, and quite frankly just suck at it. My coordination is poor, my power is coming from the wrong places, and I’m awkward and clueless. I hated striking days even when we work them from the ground (don’t worry, we have gloves on and don’t hit hard, it’s a fun drill to break up our routine). Enter Muay Thai.
I started this tree weeks ago, taking advantage of the Saturday class since it was easier to get to, it’s also a convenient way to fill my Saturday morning in between Judo sessions. I knew going in that there would be a lot of bad habits to break and new ones to learn. Luckily, most people don’t want to get up early on the weekend, so our instructor is able to provide more personal instruction than he would during a larger class. This couldn’t have worked out any better because it reduced my anxiety about not being able to follow the class or being paired with someone so experienced that I was boring for them. I’ve been to three classes and I can see my stand up is already improving.
Last Tuesday, our Jiu-jitsu coach focused the entire session on self-defense from our feet, culminating with our Muay Thai instructor and one of our amateur Muay Thai fighters pulling on some gloves to swing at us while we worked our way in for the clinch (to hold an opponent at close quarters with one or both arms ). Usually, I would be super nervous and blunder my way through this exercise, eventually succeeding in the sloppiest manner possible. This was the first time I jumped right in without hesitation or nerves. It was still awkward and sloppy but I was moving a lot better, remembered where my hands should be to protect my head and less afraid of the punches coming at me. My clinch was also faster as I had a better idea of what to look for and when to shoot in. Another positive change in my training.
While taking up Judo and Muay Thai on the side was an easy transition, the difficult part came with my training partner. Fortunately, due to a series of work events for my husband, I had to change the days I attended class thus changing up my training partners because she and I now only train one day a week together. However, there have been some changes at our school (for the better), but I will be addressing this in my next blog: The last woman standing.