I competed in the NABJJF Grand Canyon Open for the third time early last month. This tournament makes me a little nostalgic since it was the first one tournament I ever signed up for and the only one time I’ve signed up for two divisions. Last year I signed up for gi only and came away with a silver medal. This year, my first as a blue belt, I competed in no gi, a weaker area for me, and did not make it to the podium. I’m not upset that I didn’t place. I think it’s great that there were more women in my bracket than usual. Usually, it’s so small that everyone places by default, so this is good for the sport and competition but it doesn’t take away from the fact that I was disappointed in myself and frustrated. I’m still adapting to being at the bottom again and the competition at blue belt is very different compared to what it was as a white belt.
I wrote that paragraph at the beginning of May. Tomorrow is the first of June and my frustration has continued to grow; not just with being a relatively new blue belt but maybe, unfortunately with jiu-jitsu itself. I think I’ve been avoiding coming to terms with that and as a result, writing the original post, because of how much stock I have put into my training. I started martial arts right as I was entering a turbulent time in my life that had lots of change and I’ve jokingly referred it to as my quarter life crisis. Jiu jitsu was there for me through what amounted to lots of ups and downs and some very low downs. I don’t really wanted to get into the details about that right now because some of these things are still painful to talk about but jiu jitsu was my anchor and as long as I dragged myself to the gym and got some good rounds in, I knew I would be okay, even if it was just until I get back onto the mats.
It’s entirely possible that this wasn’t a healthy way to cope and now I’m paying for it. Lately, I’ve been struggling to be motivated while I’m at class. I feel like I’ve plateaued harder than I ever have over the past three years and I hate it. I hate not being excited to go the gym and work on improving my game. I know some of this comes with the constant change in training partners. My original cohort has dispersed and my personality doesn’t mesh well with some of the newer ones. The whole atmosphere has been different and despite my best efforts to hold fast, I’ve flirted with the idea of quitting all together. It just seems easier to go back to just striking but I think I would also feel weird if I did that. I’m not sure if that weirdness would be the result of shame but I do think I would be very disappointed in myself. Jiu jitsu is the first activity that I’ve picked up and really poured myself into with the intention of being the best I can be and not giving up. To move forward, I’m going to try to keep this sentiment in mind and compete again soon. Hopefully that mental reset will do me some good and pull me out of the funk. I hate being so whiny.
As for the books: I’m currently working on The Labyrinth of Solitude by Ocatvio Paz. It feels very academic but is still readable and enjoyable. I’m not sure what’s the best way to talk about it, just as I’m not sure how to talk about Vonnegut’s Mother Night, the last book that I read. It was good, like everything else of his that I’ve read, but I don’t have the words to properly describe how it made me feel.
I recently finished reading Donna Tart’s The Goldfinch. The book follows the life of Theo Decker as he reflects on the event that changed the course of his life and the fallout from the choice that was made immediately afterwards. While reading this book, I learned a new word, bildungsroman, which is a coming of age story that follows the protagonist from childhood to adulthood. I only learned this because I got a little impatient while reading and wanted to see what happened at the end. This is probably one of my worst habits and I really can’t help it. I even did this while reading the last Harry Potter book. I’m a monster, I know.
Anyhow, back to The Goldfinch! The story was a little slow moving and meandering and the longest book I’ve read in a while at 771 pages but I really enjoyed it! I also liked it a lot better than the last Donna Tart book I read, The Secret History, which wasn’t bad but it was just weird and a little a creepy. A fact that was further bolstered by one of my best friends having gone to Bennington College, the school that Hampden College seems to be based on. Alright, alright, back to The Goldfinch for reals. The story opens with Theo at what is the end of story, looking back at the linchpin that leads to that moment. The even that sets everything in motion is a terrorist attack the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City, shortly after the 9/11. Theo’s mother is killed in the attack and he walks away with a rare surviving painting by Fabritius, a student of Rembrandt. The painting is the titular goldfinch and throughout the story serves as a token that links Theo to the memory of his mother.
After the accident Theo is taken in by the wealthy family of one his friends until his estranged father shows up and whisks him away to Vegas. While in Vegas he is befriended by Boris, another motherless boy. Together they scrap together a hardscrabble existence fueled by parental neglect, drugs, and all the weirdness that comes with adolescence. I don’t want to give much more way but at its, heart The Goldfinch is a story of friendship and what it means to be good and what role being good plays in one’s destiny. The last few pages were favorite and worth the slow start. Oddly enough, I ended up watching Tulip Fever which is set in the time that Fabritius created the painting and it was a nice juxtaposition for the contrast that made the The Goldfinch so special. The painting is atypical of the paintings coming from the Dutch Masters during that time. It is simple and bright whereas Rembrandt and Vermeer’s painting were dark and moody.
This book as also renewed my interested in finishing Walden. It is assigned reading for the boys while they’re in high school but that is a post for another time.
Where does the time go? The past few months have been such a blur. Time has alternated between excruciatingly slow and zooming past by me. I retook the LSAT this past Saturday and since I woke up that morning at 5:45, I have not stopped. Immediately after the test I went over to weigh-ins for Rise of the Prospects 3: Sanctuary, went home and tried to nap, met up with my family for post-LSAT and birthday celebrations, stayed out too late, woke up the next day and went run the timer for the grappling matches and watch the muay thai fights, got up the next day for work and just started training again. It’s been insane but I’m so relieved to be done with the LSAT.
I have not been able to relax since I decided I needed to retake it. Every time I was doing something that was not studying, I felt guilty and couldn’t enjoy whatever it was I was up to. This especially happened when I was at the gym and trying to train. The motivation wasn’t there and I wasn’t having any fun. I would show up and drill and maybe roll three rounds on a good day. This same mentality was also impacting my studying. I had such a hard time focusing and productively studying. I think I was burned from all the studying that went into the September test and disappointed in how it turned out. But despite all of this I didn’t give up! I did the studying for the LSAT equivalent of biting down on my mouth guard, which basically amounted to chaining myself to my desk until I finished whatever study goals I had set up for that day.
Test day finally arrived and it has been such a weight lifted on my shoulders! I can’t really say how it went one way or the other. I was mentally wiped out by the end of it. In September I felt very calm throughout the test and afterwards. This time, I felt that I had been pushed to my mental limits and was put through the ringer. I was so happy to be done and basically sprinted to my car so I could get some food and go to weigh ins for Rise of the Prospects.
Weighs in were held at Gentle Ben’s so there was food which was great! I didn’t realize until after I ordered my food that it was probably not very considerate to order food when I was sitting at table with a bunch of people that were cutting weight. I may have been called a few names that weren’t very nice but it was in good fun.
The next day was Rise of the Prospects. I was really looking forward to it even though I wasn’t competing because it was the first thing I’d be doing without the LSAT looming over my head. I also had the pleasure of running the timer for the jiu jitsu matches which means I got to watch all the matches! Oh my goodness, watching so many matches was so inspiring and it made me fall in love with jiu jitsu all over again! Training has turned fun again! Even though the matches were great to watch, running the timer all stresses me out. I get nervous about losing track of time and if I’m going to hit the bell right when the referee calls starts the match. Overall it was a success and I get to run the time for future events as long as I’m not competing! As far as competing goes for me, since I’m free, I’m looking forward to getting back on the mats in April and hopefully taking part in the next Rise of the Prospects.
It really does seem like I tend to post things almost two months after the fact. I’m not entirely sure what causes this but I’m starting to think it might be time and fear. Time because there are only so many hours in a day and fear because of the vulnerability that writing entails. I still haven’t told any of my friends or training partners about this blog. I’ve only alluded to it to maybe one or two people but no one has the address. One day, I’ll announce it.
Back in October I got to be part of something really cool in my city that was hosted by my gym, Rise Combat Sports. The owners, Jen and Chris, put together a promotion called Rise of the Prospects to give local fighters and grapplers a chance to showcase their skills. It’s really cool because Tucson does have a burgeoning MMA scene with plenty of gyms and lots fighters. Jen was telling me that she was advised to overbook the card because fighters tend pull out. This was not the case and instead, she was fielding requests to be added to card non-stop. This first card had Muay Thai and BJJ. The first half of the card was dedicated to Muay Thai with the second half reserved for jiu-jitsu.
This event was was a lot of fun. It was an opportunity to compete without having to pay a tournament fee and I only had one match, so I didn’t have to deal with the anxiety of “What if I win and have more matches?” Every fighter also got to choose their own walkout music and the atmosphere was so different from tournaments. Instead of being a hot and sweaty gym, we were this neat venue downtown surrounded by an actual crowd which was really cool. My match ended up being a loss for me. I got caught in a bow and arrow against a very tough competitor. It was disappointing to have lost again so soon. This was the weekend after my disastrous performance at the Southwest Classic. But it’s okay because before my match I got to cheer my sister, Bianca, on her in Muay Thai debut!
Bianca is my little sister and joined Rise about a month after I did. In the beginning she was a little timid and would only take the women’s muay thai class and then, only if she had a guaranteed partner that she was comfortable with. Bit by bit she started to get better and become more confident. Eventually, she just got really good. Bianca has always been really athletic. She played varsity basketball and softball in high school and did really well there too. I remember a write up in the local paper that referred to her as the basketball team’s “tenacious little defender.” So naturally, she would take to this new sport. She spent some time going between wanting to fight and not fight and I’m so glad she finally decided to. She worked so hard in the lead up to the fight and ran actual camp. She was running, eating well, hitting pads, and sparring. It was a huge step out of her comfort zone and it paid off! OMG! It was such a good fight and I’m so proud of her!!!
Rise of the Prospects 2 will be taking place this weekend. I won’t be competing because initially I really wanted to go to No Gi Worlds but I won’t be doing that either. The week after this match, my LSAT scores came in and I have to retake it. I need to improve my score to get into the school I want because I’m not settling for anything less!
I had blue belt debut last month! It did not go as well I would have hoped but as always it was a good experience. Going in to this tournament I didn’t feel as nervous as I normally do and I wonder if it has to do with my haphazard decision to sign up. I had spent time going back on forth on if I was going to compete. I hadn’t been able to train for this tournament like normal and I kept hearing that The Southwest Classic is one of the tougher tournaments in Arizona. I was also studying for the LSAT and had my trip planned for Montana the weekend before the tournament. All of these factors had kept me on the fence about competing for this tournament. I was also scheduled to compete the following weekend. So I was busy and a little unfocused but ultimately I signed up after one of my teammates convinced me to; he didn’t want to be the only one, and a talk with my coach about “showing up.”
This tournament turned out to be one of my worst performances. This can be chalked up to essentially not being as prepared as I should have been. I had too much on my plate and not enough to devote to training but after signing up I was committed to showing up. It was also one of the strangest divisions I’ve compete in. Even weirder than NAGA back in February. I ended up competing against a 13 year old and a 15 year old. We were probably the only ones in our respective brackets and the other girls must have agreed to be moved up a division/weight class if they were alone in their bracket. I had also marked to move up but it seems that the three of us were able to make a bracket at middle weight. Anyhow, I lost both my matches. The first match kind of broke me mentally. I got hit in the mouth and bled and after that I was distracted and unfocused. I ended up getting caught in side control and maybe eventually mount (I haven’t rewatched the video) and tapped to what felt like an Ezekiel choke. This was also the first time I wanted to cry while still being on the mats. I was upset with myself and frustrated for giving up and losing control.
The second match was similar to the first. I did a little better this time but lost focus again. My opponent had really long hair and it felt like I was eating it at one point and that was gross. Again, I found myself holding back tears! I’m no stranger to crying after competing but I usually try to wait until I get home. I was just falling apart this time and had to go outside for some air and wash my face to feel better. At the end of this I kept thinking of the different reasons why this went so badly. Those reasons started to sound like excused after a while. Ultimately, I think it just boils down to lack of preparation. I didn’t train hard enough for it and my performance showed. I also felt very weak and that may have been due to stress from studying for the LSAT, the actual test, and not resting enough between that, travelling, and the tournament. I also considered that maybe I was in the wrong weight class. I’m still proud of myself for getting that first competition out of that way. My family was misled from the picture I sent them of the medal. My sister congratulated me on my gold medal and it was telling her that it was actually a bronze.
I’m excited to see how I progress with competing as a blue belt. When I first started training, one of the guys told me not to quit after I got my blue belt. I don’t plan on it but I I’ve heard that quitting after blue isn’t uncommon. Given that and the attrition rates for whit belts that don’t make it to blue for whatever reason, the pool of women that compete is going to continue to get smaller.
Currently taking a break from Under the Volcano. I wasn’t getting anywhere with and maybe a break will help refocus my attention.
I was promoted to blue belt last night! This means so much to me because through jiu jitsu I’ve been able to find something I truly care about and am passionate about. Something that had been missing from my life for a long time. I love that it’s something that doesn’t come naturally or easily for me because it does push me to improve and test how far I can go physically and mentally, rather than quitting. I also really love the sense of community I’ve been able to build with my teammates even though they said when I roll there are only two levels: sack of potatoes or monster. I’m excited for this next step on what I’m hoping is a lifelong journey. Thank you @chriscariasomma for being an excellent coach and believing in me and thank you @risecombatsportstucson. And thank you to my teammates who have become some of my closest and best friends. 💙💙❤
I was actually promoted in July! This is what I posted on my Instagram the day after I was promoted. The promotion itself came as a shock even though I knew it was eventually coming. My coach had consistently been commenting that I had been improving and was able to gain opportunities for submissions from several different positions. The timing was also, I guess serendipitous. I was in the middle of one of the worst weeks I’ve had all year and the promotion was just what I needed to shift things back into perspective and get my to stop feeling so sorry for myself.
Shortly after this, I ended up taking the most time away from training since I got my wisdom teeth pulled in 2015. I was out for two weeks then. This break resulted in me limiting my training schedule from 5-6 days away to 2-3. I needed the time off so that I could study for the Law School Admissions Test (LSAT). It’s always been my dream to go to law school but it’s something that I want to do on my own terms as much as possible and that means going to the school of my choice. I have applied to it twice in the past and was placed on the wait list both times. After this first time, I began to doubt if pursuing a career in law was something I really wanted. I was accepted into a few other schools but for a variety of reasons chose not to go but that main was that none of those were the school I wanted. I don’t want to too get into, “Well, if you want to be a lawyer, why are you letting where you go to school dictate whether or not that happens?” But this comes down to: law school is expensive, in-state tuition would help offset some of that cost, and I’ve built a life for myself in current city. I think I may also have a bit of stubborn streak.
Anyhow, I took the test earlier this month and am waiting on my results. I should be seeing those in about two weeks. Fingers crossed that my score has improved! Comparing the difference between how I felt taking the test in 2011 and earlier this month is almost night and day. I took the LSAT in 2011 twice within a two month span and was just a nervous wreck. I felt as my entire future and self worth were wrapped up in that score and if I didn’t do well, I was worthless. I didn’t do badly but my score was extremely average. The stress from the exam an application process really did a number on me. I was so focused on that that I would feel guilty if I wasn’t studying and eventually stopped working out which led to a steady weight gain of 30 pounds and my self-esteem was shot.
This last round was so different and not just because I knew what to expect. I was expecting to be anxious, losing sleep, and miserable going into the test. This time, when I was actually sitting in the exam room, I felt really calm and zen about the whole thing. I didn’t panic about time and afterwards wasn’t agonizing over what I could have done better. I also kept telling myself, it’s just a test and it doesn’t define who I am. I think a lot of this has to with jiu-jitsu being part of my life. Jiu-jitsu has been a constant study in self-improvement and has really helped rebuild my self-esteem. Every training session teaches me something new even if it’s reminding me not to give up even when I have a bad day. Competing also definitely helped with nerves an the actual test day. It’s way scarier trying not to get strangled by another girl.
As for reading, I haven’t done much. I read Michael Connelly’s, The Closers, right before I got super caught up in studying and that was a fun read. I’ve also been working my way through Hunter S. Thompson’s The Great Shark Hunt. I haven’t read too many of the essays but each is super revealing and engrossing. Currently, I’m reading Malcom Lowry’s Under the Volcano, which I bought with several other books as treats for after the LSAT and when I had more time to read. I also treated myself to a trip to Glacier National Park in Montana and this was my airplane book.