This summer I hit my 5-year BJJ anniversary. Hitting five years into something is a lot different than a 1-year anniversary, in that there is more to reflect on.

Things I am proud of:

1. My coach believes in me. He had enough faith in me that he let me start teaching beginners! How cool is that!

2. I don’t denigrate my jiu-jitsu anymore. For a long time I would say things like “Yeah, I do jiu jitsu, but I suck.” When I was asked to start teaching, that stopped. I think that it has done me a world of good, mentally.

3. I intentionally sought out experience. It was a difficult task, but when I found out I was leaving Korea, I decided I wanted to train with other folks. I wanted to take advantage of my opportunities. Because of that, I got to train under Heejin Lee, the only female black belt in Korea.

4. My note taking has improved VASTLY. I keep an instructor notebook and I refer to it. For the first time, I need to refer back to these notes, so I’ve learned to make them precise and clear. No more weird hieroglyphics.

5. I am good at some jiu-jitsu. I’m pretty good at isolating arms, using leverage to get arms into place, and armbars and triangles from mount. I’ve also been told I’m good at conserving my energy and not having wasted movement.

My goal for the next year

I’ve been a 4-stripe blue belt for two years now, and when you’re intermediate, it can be difficult and slow to show improvement. I’ve been much more active lately, working on being present and not just doing the minimums. I think that a purple belt is achievable within the next year, and I’ll be on the mats working on my jiu jitsu.

At one of the all-women's open mats in Korea.

At one of the all-women’s open mats in Korea.

Q & A

I asked over at the Facebook group “New to Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu by Groundworks” what questions they might like answered. Enjoy!

Christopher Maniachi What advice would you give your day 1/white belt self?

“Don’t limit yourself.” I say this because I had all the “fat girl who doesn’t care about looking dumb” mentality DOWN. I was not, however, prepared to actually get better. I literally had resigned myself to be the worst forever.

Getting mount

Getting mount

Alisa Bullock Why do you keep at it? Best advice for beginners and how to get over blue belt slump :).

Somewhere near the beginning jiu-jitsu went beyond something that I did to something that was part of my identity. It’s a little hard to quantify. It’s like the difference between someone who cooks vs a chef, or someone who plays trumpet vs a trumpet player.

I think the slump happens for a few reasons: we start to believe we “should” be improving more, or we “should” be better than we are. We also get impatient with progress. At the not-so-fun intermediate stage, we don’t quickly show progress like we did in the beginning, and improving takes a lot more time and effort. My advice: accept yourself as you actually are, be patient with yourself, and stick to it.

One of the Women's Only seminars in Korea

One of the Women’s Only seminars in Korea

Rachel Brown Most embarrassing/humiliating moment? Day you came closest to quitting? Least supportive teammate and why?

I feel angry and humiliated when an upper belt agrees to roll with me and then acts VISIBLY BORED the entire time. This happened twice. The other was off the mats. A guy in an affiliated school saw my new blue belt and said, “I should have transferred to that school – apparently he gives blue belts to anyone.” I never spoke to him again.

Truthfully, I have not come close to quitting, but I have felt defeated at certain points. Getting kicked out of my first gym was the worst.

My worst teammate: a purple belt in Seoul. Dude never ever spoke to me, even to say hello. It was to the point that I thought he didn’t speak English. One day I heard him say something in English and said “You speak English” and he completely ignored me. One day I was speaking to my coach, a Korean, and the guy says “Learn Korean.” The worst, however, was when I was trying to talk to a new Korean woman at our gym in Seoul. He yells across rudely “She doesn’t understand you. Try speaking Korean” in front of all my teammates. “I WAS” I yelled, and walked off. Afterward, I had a VERY furious and tearful conversation with him, yelling out my frustrations with being already isolated because I was a foreign female, and he said, “I was just joking.” “No, you weren’t. You were being a jerk. We don’t have the kind of relationship where you can joke with me this way.” He said I made the Korean women feel uncomfortable. “That’s MY problem, NOT YOURS,” and he finally said “Maybe we should just ignore each other.” I still burn up thinking about it.

My main Jiu-Jitsu family back in Korea

My main Jiu-Jitsu family back in Korea. The purple belt in the front seriously awesome dude, NOT the one from the story!

Joe Margs Has there been a day yet (ikd I’m a 7 month white belt) that it all came together and made sense? Where you developed and utilized your style comfortably? Where you no longer TRY and think 3, 4 moves ahead… you just DO?

I think you’re asking if any of my jiu jitsu become automated. The answer is yes. There are certain physical chains where I no longer have to think about each step. Some is practice, seeing common responses, learning from mistakes, and experimenting. In general I don’t completely shut down wondering “Oh god what do I do next.” Ultimately, you start to see the common denominators and piece things together better. Moves stop being completely discrete and instead connect to pieces you’ve already learned.

Playing around - the gals from my first Jiu-Jitsu family

Playing around – the gals from my first Jiu-Jitsu family

Megan Williams How has the jiu jitsu scene changed for beginners since you started?

In Korea, there are now more schools, more black belts, a female black belt, women’s only open mats held monthly, English-speaking schools, and there are simply more resources. I view all of these as positive changes!

Some of the gals from my new Ribeiro family!

Some of the gals from my new Ribeiro family!

Brian Bergheger How has being a female affected your training? Ie. Whether or not people train with you, your attitude towards rolling with people of different shapes, sizes, and genders on the mat, etc

I’ve been training long enough and am a high enough rank that if someone didn’t want to roll with me, I would be more likely to guess it’s my style of training, physical limitations, or height. Unless they outright say something about gender, I don’t assume.

How gender specifically affects me: I am most aware of the physical differences between men and women when I’m rolling with muscled white-belt dudes, and I won’t lie, it makes me nervous. I am more emotionally supportive of brand-new women. If given the opportunity to train with a mediocre black-belt woman or a super-high-level black-belt man, I will likely pick the woman because it’s a rarer opportunity. I’ve made international friends simply because I was a woman in jiu jitsu, and I’ve had people go out of their way to meet me for the same reason.

Hugs and chokes – happy training!