A Female Gym Owner’s Take: Keith Owen’s Blog Post

There is a lot of talk and controversy regarding the blog posted by Keith Owen (http://keith-owen.blogspot.ca/2013/02/can-women-really-handle-brazilian-jiu.html?m=1) about women in jiu-jitsu. Before I get into my take on Keith Owen’s article, I think it is important to tell you a little about who I am. I am a purple belt in Brazilian jiu-jitsu, a 2nd degree black belt in Karate, and the owner of a Brazilian jiu-jitsu/MMA/Fitness facility in Wisconsin (with my fiancé James). I have been a female in a male-dominated arena for the last 18 years.

When I started jiu-jitsu I was the sole female in the gym that I now own. We now have 8 women in our jiu-jitsu program, which is unprecedented for our school.  I would like to take full credit as a female school owner/instructor for bringing women into the gym, but I am not sure that I honestly can.  The truth is, it is so difficult to tell which women are going to keep at it and which ones will disappear. Some women come in for their free trial, take one class (with me!) and never come back. Sometimes, I think it isn’t what women expect and decide it isn’t for them (it is too physical, it is hard work, they don’t like the contact with other people). Some women sign up, but end up quitting, usually due to time constraints from work and family. Some take long breaks for injuries. And, to be honest, there are women that come in for the wrong reasons: They want to feel “like a fighter”, want the male contact, or are looking for a boyfriend (these are the most irritating reasons of course). When they get or, perhaps, don’t get what they are looking for, they leave.

The thing is that (with the exception of “looking for a boyfriend”), the reasons that women leave are the same reasons that men leave. Free Trial participants don’t sign up. Turnover happens in schools. It is part of the business. But, as many have said before, it is more apparent when one of the few women in the gym leaves. The question really is why it is so frustrating and such a topic of conversation when schools cannot seem to retain or quickly increase the number of females in their programs. As a school owner, I have my own reasons for wanting to recruit and retain women in the program:

1)      Women help complete the community: Part of what makes BJJ so amazing is its ability to bring people from all walks of life together. Different minds, bodies, perspectives, and personalities make a fun training environment. Women contribute to that environment too!

2)      I like training with other women: I like training with women because they tend to be more technical and mimic the types of games I may encounter in competition. I am a feminist, but I know in my heart that men and women are not built the same and, therefore, many times do not roll the same as many men. I partner and roll with men and women alike; I get different benefits from both.

3)      A good female BJJ practitioner is impressive and a good representation of the martial art: Having the underdog (smaller, not as strong, etc.) be able to win a fight is the essence of the art. I have had men sign up and keep training because they were submitted by a woman and decided “I have to learn this!”.  As instructors, we love seeing the underdog blossom and become an ass-kicker!

I have tried different things with incoming women and my female teammates. I have gone easy on them, made them take their lumps (like I had to), created all women’s classes (which did NOT work), and made everyone train together. It has been a frustrating process in many ways, which I think Keith Owen failed to express appropriately. I think he is scrambling for an answer to this apparent issue and, in the process, making some sweeping generalizations that come off as sexist.

I will say that being a woman in jiu-jitsu can be a journey that is more frustrating than some men realize. I got my butt kicked for years…tap after tap after tap; getting crushed by big guys; feeling like I got run over by a car some days after rolling with guys that lacked control or knowledge (we had a LOT more white belts back then). Now I have guys in my beginner class that get upset if they get tapped once in a match, or get positionally dominated for 5 minutes.  It takes guts to hang in there while you get your butt kicked and take the little victories of each practice with you. You have to be patient, develop your technique, your game, your strategy against different body types. It took time for me to do that; but now, I am a TRUE contender in my gym.

I think when it comes to keeping students; it comes down to creating an environment that truly embraces BJJ as a personal journey. It’s not about winning in practice, being the best in the room, being the strongest, imposing your will, getting instant gratification. It is about developing your technique and game, about learning…about developing as a martial artist and person! This should be a rule for men and women, big and small, strong and weak alike. Those that truly love jiu-jitsu will stay; but we will always lose students, men and women alike.

FVGC Instructor Spotlight: James Peterson

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Okay, who are you and what do you do?

I’m James Peterson and I do whatever the hell I want. Just kidding. I win tournaments. And teach adult and kids Brazilian jiu-jitsu at Team FVGC.

How long have you been training in the martial arts?

I wrestled in high school and a year in college. I have been training BJJ for almost 12 years. I trained MMA for a while, but stopped doing that to concentrate entirely on BJJ coaching and competition.

What do you consider your greatest martial arts accomplishment?

Winning the Pan-Ams twice, once as a blue belt and once as a brown belt. Each one is special for different reasons. Winning as a brown belt was great because it is such a high level belt; but winning at blue belt was awesome too because I submitted all of my opponents.

What were the most important aspects of your preparation for that accomplishment? That is, what were you doing to achieve your goal?

There was a lot of mental training that went into those wins. Even when I was training physically, like doing road work, I would be mentally running through matches in my head. The winning took place far in advance of the actual matches. I was also trying to train with as many high level guys as I could. I took a lot of beatings; a lot of subs. But I had to just take each of those as learning experiences and not look at them as the whole of my game. Oddly, I developed confidence through that adversity that I carried with me to the Pans.

What makes a great martial artist?

Great technique, thoughtfulness, and humility.

Who inspires you?

My family, my coaches and my team.

Any words of advice for people training now?

Always be learning. Learn from your instructors, from books, videos and whatever else you can learn from. If you are really interested in your art, then you should constantly be striving for improvement and trying to advance your skills. Study broadly. I mean, not just the study of your martial art, but other martial arts and other facets of life as well. Also, try to understand your performance moves in cycles. There will be times when it seems like you are not only not improving, but backsliding as well. That is not the case. If you are still learning and taking in information, it just means your body has not caught up to the contents of your brain. You should actually be looking for an upswing in your game in the very near future. Finally, have fun. If you are not having fun, then what’s the point of doing it at all?

Why Should I Attend a BJJ Seminar?

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At least three times per year, Team FVGC hosts a seminar with Luiz Claudio and Thiago Veiga,  the head instructors of our affiliation, the Luiz Claudio Combat Team (LCCT). The seminars are usually three to four hours long and are formatted like an extended jiu-jitsu class.

Some people hesitate to attend seminars for a number of reasons, including the one-time cost, the time commitment, or being intimidated. But, if you are serious about improving your jiu-jitsu game, seminars are a great investment. Here are a few reasons why:

 

  1. New Horizons: Even if the head instructor of your school is very skilled and knowledgeable, seminars are a time that guest instructors bring out special techniques or “extra details” that may not be covered in regular classes. The same way you can in private lessons with your head instructor, you can use seminar techniques to open up and expand your game and expose you to positions or philosophy you haven’t encountered before.
  2. Role Models: One of the best ways to elevate your game is to have a role model, someone that moves and performs well. Many seminars include a decent amount of demonstration time as well as explanation of theory and movement. Different jiu-jitsu players move different ways; sometimes it takes a while to find a style that you feel most comfortable imitating. The more high level people you train with, the more styles you have available to emulate.
  3. Face Time: Especially if the seminar is with the head of your school’s BJJ affiliation, attending seminars can show your dedication to the sport and the association and let the affiliation know who you are! Once they know your face, it is easy to contact them, ask questions, and visit them at their home schools if you have the time!

 

We hope to see you July 21st at 10am for the next LCCT seminar here at FVGC! Keep the hard train!

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Habits Aren’t Just For Nuns

Motivation is what gets you started. Habit is what keeps you going.

Jim Ryan

Some say getting started is the hardest part when it comes to training or achieving fitness goals; but I think that once you have a goal and some motivation, it is a straightforward task to get a plan and get started (especially if you have a good set of coaches, trainers, teammates, etc.!). The hard part is maintaining your plan once the excitement of a new endeavor has faded or once your initial goal has been achieved. Once you decide to be a year-round athlete or decide it’s time to just “be in shape”, creating good training habits is essential.

I consider good training habits to be a sort of momentum that I keep by maintaining a consistent training schedule. It can be as simple as three days on, two days off. I personally train BJJ Monday, Wednesday, and Saturday, with strength and conditioning on Tuesdays and Thursdays. Friday and Sunday are my rest/recovery days. If you keep a framework to your training schedule, it is simple for your body and brain to sustain a training baseline, or minimum that you will be doing each week, so that your technique or strength or conditioning is at least maintained throughout the year. When you have a baseline, it is easy to ramp up the training by increasing the intensity of your workout or adding sessions throughout the week once you have an imminent goal, like a tournament or fight.

I can’t tell you how many times I have seen people train hard for a tournament or a fight, then drop off the face of the earth for two or three weeks or until they have a new tournament or fight coming up. I watch these guys struggle to progress in their technique and their conditioning; it’s as though they are starting from square one each time.  They come back feeling out of shape, tired, out of the loop, rusty, and having to work hard just to get back to a level where they can really start to work for their fight.  Or, they come back and wonder why that guy they used to beat up on seems so much better now.

Other times, “life just gets in the way”. People have long work hours and families and social schedules. One week off turns into two and three and, soon, it is easy to feel discouraged and give up when that first class back is so much harder than you remember.

I’m not saying that you can never go on vacation or that missing practice for your kid’s piano recital is a bad thing. But I will say that the more you stay consistent (just showing up!), the more you will steadily progress and the easier it is to maintain in the long run for both your body and your brain.

Cross Training for BJJ

What should I be doing when I am not in jiu-jitsu class?

When you are looking to be in great shape, one of the most important things is to get a variety of different workouts that work different muscle groups and functions. Jiu-jitsu is great in that it has the potential to work muscle endurance, explosive muscle movement, flexibility and cardio. However, sometimes it is good to pick up the intensity in some of those categories…Here are some of my favorite cross-training activities for BJJ:

Cardio: Swimming

Some people prefer to run or use the exercise bike, but because my knees are not in the greatest shape, swimming is my favorite way to boost my cardio fast. It is easy on the joints and not too taxing on your muscles on your “off days”. I swim for 25-35 minutes at a time, doing a mix of swimming laps, using the kickboard, running front and back…and just moving, moving, moving to work your heart and lungs!

Flexibility and Static Strength: Yoga

Yoga is a great activity for BJJ for a few reasons. Yoga is great for increasing flexibility (think: great guard work and flow) and your static strength for holding positions. Yoga is also great for learning to control your breath! If you can’t make it to a yoga class and still want to increase your flexibility, spend 15-20 minutes after BJJ class doing static stretching and breathing…Make sure that you are already warm! Never stretch cold!

Muscle Endurance/Explosive Movement:

For this, use a combination of body weight exercises and resistance training (using weights, resistance bands, medicine balls, etc)…Just come to Team Conditioning at Team FVGC 😉 But, generally we pick 6 exercises that work different muscle groups to get a full body workout. For muscle endurance use low weight and high reps. For more explosive movement, do less reps but make sure you either have resistance or are exploding through the movement (e.g. for each burpie you do, jump as high as you can, rather than doing more burpies with small jumps). I personally don’t use a lot of traditional weight lifting. My “heavy lifting” ends up being rolling guys bigger than I am. For cross-training, I focus on controlled, functional movement.

Happy training!

Tournament Time

It is tournament time again for our gym. IBJJF Chicago Winter Open is a mere 5 ½  weeks away, which simultaneously feels like forever and no time at all. In reality it is a good amount of time to clean up some technique and get our conditioning up to par. It is also a good amount of time to start mentally preparing for the stress and nerves associated with competition…and convince some more than qualified members of the gym to participate. It is understandable that not everyone is psyched to compete. Some people never really compete or have any desire to do so. However, I can tell you that I was one of those people at one point.

At the beginning of my jiu-jitsu career, my attitude toward competing was kind of like my training: Too much panic and not enough thought and flow. I would be nervous for weeks before. During the tournament, I would get stressed, get gassed out, stop thinking about what I needed to do and, consequently, get submitted or at least laid on until time ran out. I was afraid of losing, making mistakes, knowing someone was better than I was, and being embarrassed. It made for an unhappy and stressful experience.

My attitude toward competing has since changed and evolved as my jiu-jitsu game has evolved. I realized that I was so afraid of losing during a match, that I was losing sight of what I needed to be doing in the moment, like staying tight, passing the guard, working for good position before transitions or subs, or defending an attack.  I realized I needed to be rolling the way I rolled in practice…you know, not freaking out. Part of tackling that obstacle is realizing that losing at a tournament is not the end of the world, while winning is merely a stepping stone to your next goal. Either way, it is a learning experience that has the potential to make your jiu-jitsu better. It is a time to give it your best, roll with people you are not used to rolling, and try out all that technique you’ve been practicing. It is a time to be with your team and have fun together. (Road trip! Woot Woot!)

Physical preparation for a tournament can and should be deliberate for most of us. Make the tournament a goal and make a training plan. How many classes per week will you attend? How often will you do cardio or strength training? How are you going to eat to fuel your body well and keep your weight where you need it? It may seem like a lot of work; but, really, what else are you going to do in Wisconsin in January and February?

A huge part of preparation is strength and conditioning. Regular jiu-jitsu class usually is a great workout in itself, but supplementing your training with separate cardio and strength training can ensure that you don’t have to worry about being tired during your matches. Why worry about your endurance when you have so much other stuff to think about? Meanwhile, keep up with your technique and rolling. Think about the things you’ve been learning, where you have the most trouble, what you need to work on. While you are rolling, focus on staying cerebral, calm, collected, and flowing. Staying calm in practice helps quell the panic in more stressful situations (i.e. a tournament).

With proper physical and mental preparation, you will feel good going into a tournament. Go in knowing that there was not much more that you could do to prepare; you will go in to do your best and have fun. That is all your team expects. Happy Training.

Cleaning Our Games

In life we usually realize our mistakes if there are consequences: We act out in school and get detention; we miss a work deadline and lose a customer account; we rush through traffic and get a ticket. The same goes for jiu-jitsu.

In the gym we have the gentler reminders while learning technique from our partners and our instructors. In that setting, we correct mistakes in our movement, body placement and position just from watching the technique or having someone tell us “You need to do ______ instead”. We learn right away when we start training that part of being a good teammate is giving good feedback so that we correct mistakes in a slower paced environment. I believe that cleaning your game, or perfecting your jiu-jitsu game, starts here: methodical, consistent, focused drilling that commits corrected movement to muscle memory. So, yes, come to technique class, not just open roll.

Live rolling has its place, though. Our most deeply rooted mistakes are exposed in live rolling. It is very obvious that your technique is flawed if you get stuffed or reversed or submitted. There is an error somewhere, but where? Sometimes you can pick it out yourself. But sometimes it isn’t so easy to do on your own, especially if you are newer. Of course, having your instructor watch you and give you feedback is always good; but they can’t watch you always! So, many times if you are rolling a more experienced person, you just need to ask, “How did you sweep me?” or “Why didn’t that guard pass work?” and they can tell you that your base was way too far over or that you didn’t block the hip on the way through, or whatever. But usually, you need to ask!

Another way to pick out some mistakes is to videotape yourself rolling. Yes, I know, it sounds awful. You will probably look at the tape and realize that you felt much faster, cleaner and better than you look on tape. Despite any embarrassment, videotape can be a great tool for picking out your mistakes or even just figuring out which position you need the most work on! And don’t worry, you don’t need to watch in front of anyone else if you don’t want to.

We could get even more philosophical and ask, how do we fix mistakes that we don’t know we are making? What if we are winning without proper technique? Can we know what we don’t know? I guess that is a place for our instructors to yell at us for muscling position. Or maybe you’re just a weird phenom. When I run into that problem, I’ll let you know.

Learning from our Mistakes

“Tap”

“Tap”

“Tap! UGH!”

“God*%^& it Tap!”

Whether we are brand new or seasoned BJJ veterans, everyone goes through phases where they feel like they are getting beat by everyone, or getting caught when “you know better”, or just not rolling at your best. It may be just one guy that you constantly battle with back and forth.

It can, without a doubt, be extremely frustrating to be in this position; but it is what you do once you are here that will define what kind of jiu-jitsu fighter that you are and will be in the future.  If you let your frustration overcome you, your game will only continue to suffer and you will, eventually, mentally break yourself down.

As fighters that are in it for the long haul, we need to take our training slumps and turn them into something more productive, something that will make us stronger and help us progress.  It may be cliché, but sometimes the best way to learn is to fail miserably. If your mistakes, either physical or mental, are never exposed, it is hard to fix them. That is why the best jiu-jitsu fighters do not always train with white belts, or always train with people that they can beat. They train with people that challenge them, that exploit their weaknesses; they train with people that cause them to fail. Those failures are not ignored: The best fighters spend time figuring out what went wrong and how to fix it.  Time is spent drilling the problem position over and over, so that one does not repeat the same mistake.

Of course, we cannot fail all the time, if just for the simple fact that mentally and physically we need to be able to “play”. There are times that we need to train with someone less skilled so that we can try new things, so that we can make mistakes without getting stuffed into the ground afterward. Sometimes we need to be able to do well and show ourselves that we are, in fact, progressing.

I think  the key, like most things, is finding a balance. In jiu-jitsu training with a variety of people will be benefit your game. Training with more experienced fighters will challenge you and push you to the next level; less experienced fighters will allow you to try something new with less consequence; your peers will push your endurance and determination.

Tune in next week for some tips on pinpointing your mistakes and “cleaning your game”. Happy training.

A Team is a Family

From its inception, Team FVGC has had a culture of sharing, brainstorming, and experimenting. This culture, although maybe present at other schools, was especially strong with us since our gym was started by white belts. The culture was both a curse and a blessing: Although we had very little guidance for our training and technique, we developed into a strong team whose members took care of each other as friends and as teachers. There was a sense of pulling together and doing our best to improve in a less-than-ideal situation.

Our school has since grown and is now headed by black and purple belts and has just added 5 more to our existing group of blue belts. I believe that the level of technique in the school has never been better. Having the guidance from a strong affiliation and a strong black belt in the school has given people something to strive for, something to model themselves after. However, as we began to grow, I wondered whether the level of camaraderie and teamwork would decrease; whether people would focus solely on themselves and their game; whether the Rank Race would begin.

But, on the contrary, I feel like the strength of our team as only grown to the level of family. There is a sense of our school as a force to be reckoned with, a sense of excitement that people are improving and getting promoted. You still see people coming in to work on technique together; trying to perfect moves from class or for a promotion test. People are being good partners, speaking up when they feel a mistake or cheering their partners on through conditioning workouts. People celebrate the accomplishments of their teammates that happen both inside and outside of the school. The gym has a feeling of optimism and kindness.

As we train, we must never forget it is important that although our leaders and instructors are important, the heart of our school is our team, our students. A strong student body only amplifies the gains from good technical instruction. It does not matter where you come from, how you dress outside the gym, how much money you make. If you come in with the love of jiu-jitsu and your team, you are part of the family; and family can be a beautiful thing.

Just how big is 135 lbs.?

No matter how big or small the tournament, I think it must be human nature to be constantly sizing up your competition.

The second I walk into a tournament, I instantly become some kind of secret agent, sitting in my spot ever-so-non-nonchalantly, looking at every woman within 100 yards to see if she is in my weight class. The thing about me is that, in addition to being blessed with poor depth perception, I am terrible at guessing what people weigh (I guess I’ll never get that job at the county fair). Yet, I continue to obsess (nonchalantly) over how truly dense a muffin top or good bicep is. She may be as tall as I am, but the density is the real issue.

It only gets worse…What belt is she? What body type is she? Would she pull guard or try to hip throw me? And on, and on, and on.

It turns out (as most of us know in our guts) that you should not worry about guessing how many girls you see that may or may not be in your bracket and just focus on whipping ass. This weekend at Combat Corner Vol 8. in Milwaukee, it didn’t matter what the other girls weighed or what body type they had; I played my game for all three matches and brought home some gold. Close to fight time, the focus needs to turn to your game plan and warming up, keeping the nerves under control and not caring who is on the mat with you. The confidence has to be there (or fake it until you make it); and the confidence will be there if you train and prepare the right way.