Little gains become giant steps; when you take giant steps then you must be a giant. Last night marked my fourth no-gi jiu-jitsu class in as many weeks, and I am slowly beginning to overcome the anxiety about continuing to attend my weekly class. From everything that I have read about jiu-jitsu and its challenges, the number one factor in becoming better is consistent class attendance. The temptation to skip a class because I am exhausted has to be balanced, however, with being self-aware enough to know that tonight may not be the best night of the week for me to enter the gym. I have had to create a “battle-plan” to keep me honest about getting to the gym to learn fundamentals. I need a series of fail-safes to propel me into an emotional/physical space where I want to attend class on the night I do.
- Share my experiences about jiu-jitsu with others. I find that by telling friends, colleagues and blog readers about my experiences I am accountable for going to my next class. I am not required to go, but rather I enjoy sharing how going made me feel and demonstrating that I care about my health.
- Find complimentary exercise activities that will help your jiu-jitsu practice, but that may not require putting as much on the line. I can go to yoga class down the street or work out with heavy weights at home during more convenient times than a second no go class.
- Watch online videos with commentary to learn the nomenclature of the sport. Hearing the words lockdown, kimura, whizzer, or sidemount can be confusing when they are heard for the first time, and there is a great advantage seeing how other people make the moves, you study in isolation, flow together. I signed up for a month of video access at the Robert Drysdale Virtual BJJ Academy, which is something I did when I had specific challenges learning banjo technique this Fall. While never a replacement for class, these video lessons really help me figure out the little parts of a technique and the bigger parts of the theory. Drysdale’s instruction is thoughtful and engaging.
- Write notes at the end of class about what we learned. Focus on the drills and parts of the techniques that I struggled with. I spent two weeks learning how to properly “shrimp” for drills.
- Plan on going early during the week. If I miss Monday, then I have three more opportunities to attend. If I am sick, then I can wait until I feel healthy.
- Eat better food. I have no problem with altering my diet. I have done it throughout my life. Some months I need BBQ, sometimes it is all about French food, but as I begin jiu-jitsu I need to take off significant weight to improve how I feel in class. Wearing tight compression clothing leaves few ways to conceal your lost cheeseburger battles, and I find that accountability to be a great motivator when I sit down to eat. I have lost 5 lbs and a belt notch this month by making a few simple changes.
- Sleep more. Perhaps this is my greatest challenge, but I am working on allowing myself more sleep. My brain just wants to keep going; it rolls on the presumption that time is slipping through my fingers and there are some may roads I want to explore. Sleep. Sigh.
Dressing the part is perhaps my favorite part of the plan. While I am not decked out from head to toe in blinged up spandex and kimono go in class, I will admit that I have procured a great collection of super cool clothing from a few companies that produce wicked lines. For Christmas presents this season, my dogs may have ordered a few rash guard shirts, pants, t-shirts and singlets from the Meerkatsu line. Seymour Yang is a brilliant London-based artist and bjj roller whose Meerkastu artwork appeals to me on a deep level. The rash guard looked awful on my body during Week Two, but now at Week Five it fits my newfound body much better. I also committed to buying a white kimono gi from CTRL Industries, a west-coast company that releases limited runs of their products. They hired Haida artist, Corey Bulpitt to design their new The Eagle gi. I will not need a gi until at least 2016, but when I do feel comfortable enough to attend Toronto No Gi’s Gi Basics class, then I will be ready. So what kinds of things am I learning in the no go classes that I have attended thus far? Interestingly, the most important thing that I have learned is that my training partners are what makes the time and money I spend at Toronto No Gi have value. A person can watch all kinds of online videos, read books and practice on an inanimate dummy in their garage, but the synergy of learning that two humans can create while trying to perform a common goal is what is most powerful about the classes. When I tell my partner that he needs to move a little lower to maximize his weight pressure on my chest or he gives me feedback that improves my grip on his arm we both benefit. The little “good, man” or “that was so much stronger”, which is shared between partners, is what builds more confident jiu-jitsu.
The skill set that I worked on this week related to the backward and forward shoulder rolls we had been drilling for the past two weeks. As a kid in Grade 5 I had never been able to complete a single forward or backward roll. I was an awful gymnast. However, with a bit of elbow grease I have been able to turn out a pretty solid version of each type. Too bad this week’s drill shifted to Granby (side) rolls. Yep, pretty much useless at those until I spend a week woodshedding them on a mat at home.
Fortunately, I work at a superb school and with excellent people. The Phys-Ed department let me borrow a gym mat so that I can practice rolling in my class after school, while I wait to go to evening class. Being able to take a few mindful minutes in a crazy energy workplace really supports my plan to develop as an individual, and any new dynamic exercises I learn may make their way into the drill routines of my rugby and cross-country teams.
In the end, I am truly enjoying the first few, little steps in my BJJ journey. I feel like I have found a place where I can learn an art form that rebuilds my health and engages my mind in a new, critical way. My style of life is evolving to meet an improved version of me, and while such a notion appears hyperbolic after only four class, each hour spent on the mats is hard fought. Class five is tonight; I am ready to roll through the next door and archway ahead.