Grappling with Grief: Jiu Jitsu After Loss


A few months ago a friend of mine lost her partner and asked me  "How did you manage to go back to Jiu Jitsu after losing your father? I can't even get out of bed." This was too familiar. We discuss Jiu Jitsu as therapy and for so many of us it is, however, when facing catasprohic grief, getting to training feels like the greatest battle you will ever face.

I lost my father (rather unexpectedly) last April and it is a pain like none other I've ever felt. It was like waking up in someone else's life. One of the benefits of Jiu Jitsu is that it helps us deal with emotions, work through difficulty and cope with depression. When you lose someone you love, the loss manifests itself in so many ways. Grief is not neat. It is not linear. It is not reasonable. It doesn't listen to your requests, or your feelings. Grief leaves unwashed dishes in the sink, makes bathing feel like an arduous task, it forgets, creates new physical pains you never knew existed, eats way too much or way too little and grief sleeps. Grief sleeps a lot, until it doesn't, and then it keeps you awake for hours on end.You obsess about how that person smelled, how they walked, the sound of their voice and all of the little things you know you should have said. Grief makes you a relic collecter, who grasps all of the tiny pieces of that person before they fly away. The biggest fear is the forgetting.  It becomes an obsession.It comes in great waves of horrible sadness and then profound guilt when you have an enjoyable moment. Grief makes it difficult to reach out, to focus or even enjoy the things you used to love. For me, that was Jiu Jitsu.

I spent the first weeks in bed, sleeping, crying, refusing to move unless it was to use the restroom or drag myself to work. I had pains I'd never felt before, I gained weight and I had no interest in doing anything.  People reached out and messages went unanswered. One day, my boyfriend dragged me to the gym. The first day I returned to Jiu Jitsu,  I tried my hardest to keep my head down and hoped no one would say "I'm sorry for your loss" or ask how I was doing. The truth is, I'd rehearsed what I would say for hours each day "Thank you. I'm sorry too." My team mates were persistent in reaching out to me. They were unrelenting even if they weren't asking me "will you be training tonight?" They were encouraging, even though my game was completey off. My brain was foggy, my hands didn't work, I walked around in a daze for weeks at training. Each day I would tell myself the goal is just to get out of bed even if everything hurt. Then the goal became to drive to class. Each day it was a little more "I will remember a technique" or "I will roll a few rounds." When grief became a bottomless pit of disbelief and dissillusionment, Jiu Jitsu was still there and more importantly, so were my team mates. The first people to check in on me were my Jiu Jitsu partners past and present. They didn't treat me like I was fragile or broken, they didn't take it easy on me and they pushed me harder than I ever remember working. They reminded me that I didn't have to be great, I just needed to keep going.

My father had loved the fact that I was training. He'd taken an interest in my journey and competitions. I decided that if I set a goal for him, I might have a little closure. I set my sights on Pan Ams. When my father was alive, I told him I was going to win Pan Ams and Master Worlds. It had been a silly offhand comment at the time, but suddently it became a real and attainable goal. I was desperate to work towards something, I was desperate to make him proud. That goal got me out of bed, losing some of the grief weight I'd gained, and most importantly no longer thinking of my father tragically, but rather as my greatest motivation. Training was still hard, but surviving each round reminded me that I was strong and I was capable. In comparison to losing my father, being a little tired was really nothing. I wrote down the things I needed to do:

Getting Back to Training:
1. Set small attainable goals- "I will do one class a week" etc.
2. Be patient with yourself as your body/mind adjust to a new reality.
3. Realize nothing about grief is linear and some days will be better than others.
4. Find team mates to hold you accountable and some you can confide in.
5. Think about training as a series of steps. "If I can achieve this, next I will move on to this"
6. Set a long term goal to work towards, something that requires your daily attention.
7. Let yourself grieve: be angry, cry and let yourself heal.

The healing hasn't been as fast as I wanted it to be, but when my hand was raised during the final match of Pan Ams, I felt absolutely triumphant. Sure, getting gold was great, but feeling like I did something to honor my father was the best I'd felt since I'd lost him. It was a symbolic triumph over grief that had taken so much from me. The memory of my father motivated me to do my best and it still does.

Pan Ams


Women Determined to Rise: Why It's Amazing Training With Other Women


With my amazing training partner, Melissa Lozano, celebrating each other's win at Pan Ams

Too often we hear and believe the notion that women can only exist in competition together. We perpetuate the idea that we're too "catty," "too insecure," or "too emotional" to truly have meaningful relationships with other women. Fortunately, Jiu Jitsu has shown me and the many women who train, otherwise. I have met a community of brilliant, empowered, strong women and they are some of my favorite training partners. There are so many benefits to training with other ladies.

1. A chance to test youself before a competition. I love my male training partners and they are amazing, but training with another woman is hard to mimic. It is so different rolling with women and I also feel so prepared for tournments when I get to train with ladies with different styles. This is one of the many reasons I am grateful for the organization Girls in Gis, which allows those who may not have the opportunity to cross train, to train with other women in a positive environment.


2. Really genuine friendships. There is something to be said for literally spending minutes trying to choke your partner, only to be hugging moments later. It's sometimes really difficult to make friends as an adult. There is a bond built between Jiu Jitsu ladies that is like none other. Especially when it comes to encouraging and helping each other out- whether that be assisting them with all of their crazy methods to make weight, or being right there screaming your lungs out for every competition.

3. Redefining female relationships. We have an amazingly unique opportunity to coach new women through the toughest parts of their Jiu Jitsu career. Having an upper belt lady early on to encourage you, show you the ropes and walk you through the plateaus and frustrations is invalable. Having great female role models definitely strengthens your gyms retention rate, but also grows the sport.

4.  A different perspective. Although, I have always had phenomenal male black belts, there is something to be said for the detail other women see. Occasionally positions need modifications and it's amazing to have someone else who can say "That's not working. Try it this way. It always works for me." Training with women of all levels, especially those higher than you, can provide so much insight on little technical aspects that we occasionally miss when rolling with a much larger, stronger man.

5. The endless recognition and positivity! I've never met a better support system than another woman determined to rise! There are few things in life that compare to having a tribe of women in your corner. I am so grateful for the positive vibes and celebrations of our victories!

Where would we be without our phenomenal female training partners?

Shout Outs To:
"My drill buddy, Anne Avery Koellner. We’re working on starting a women’s program at our school and she’s helped so much getting it off the ground. She also comes and helps me with my “homework” from my private lessons so I can get extra drill time in during the week. Her encouragement and the effort she puts in has helped me push harder than I ever have before."- Emily Norris
Emily & Anne

"Mo Black. Her ability to want what’s best for me and want what’s best for her without those objectives conflicting is an example of aggression and compassion combined. We see into each other’s game and try to find the best thing possible to push that game to the highest level. "-Ali Vallaro
Ali & Mo

"Mely Benitez. We push each other to get better. We kick each other's asses and still let each other learn" -Amber Bruning
Amber & Mely

"Kylie Mcgregor Vella is my amazing training partner and badass inspiration! She pushes through every niggling injury, trains with permanently sore hands, rolls with passion and integrity, teaches me something every single class (most recently that I am still not very good and defending her chokes but I have a reasonably excellent lung capacity). She’s an amazing wife, daughter and mother to her family as well as being an incredible friend."- Ya'el Noonan


Kyle & Ya'el

"Carrie is a dear friend and favorite training partner. She is always there for me on and off mats. Love her to the moon and back." -Carla Sosa

Carla, you are the best partner a girl could ask for. A true badass on and off the mat. You make me laugh, listen when I need it, and keep pushing me to be better. I will always unconditionally be your friend- Carrie Duckworth
Carrie & Carla

"My bjjbestie Vanessa Sexton-Martin has been there encouraging me and helping me overcome any obstacles I face including learning movements and workouts I could do to help heal my body... she's amazing and has become my family. I love her family too and sharing JiuJitsu with her kids is my auntie joy."-Ashley Dewitt
Ashley & Vanessa

"My best friend both on and off the mats, and the person I started training with. Jennja Guts"- Katie Eagen

Katie & Jennja
"Tiffany Butler. We always push each other to be better"- Mona Bailey
Mona & Tiffany
All of the amazing ladies I've trained with past and present in Korea, Virginia and Texas! I am grateful for your passion, ability and friendship!- Maggie Moo
Ladies of Yorktown, VA
Training with the Yongsan BJJ ladies in Guam
Team Tooke- Houston
Girls in Gis- Team Tooke Cypress
Goddesses of Grappling Open Mat, Virginia

Team Tooke- Houston

Body & Seoul, South Korea





Elite Sports Gym Bag Review


First or all, let me just say this is the most versatile gym bag I have ever owned. It can easily convert from a duffel back to a backpack with simple detachable straps and internal extenders to adjust size.

Dimensions. 24' wide x 11.5 wide x 10 high.The bag is spacious enough to carry multiple gis, work out equipment, striking gear, a change of clothes, toiletries, shoes etc.



Options & Material: This bag comes in two sizes- Medium & Large. I personally prefer the large. While the medium is more compact, the large doesn't feel bulky and can even adapt to fit carry on size. The material is a heavy duty cordura and denier polyester.

Features: The bag features a wet pocket, air vent for sweaty gear, multiple internal pockets, mouth guard compartment and heavy duty adjustable straps.
Overall, I love this bag. I have used it regularly for months, for both tournaments and weekend trips and so far it has held up very well. The antimicrobial material is my favorite feature as it holds off smell and, in addition to the many compartments which allow for maximum storage. For further details or to see more, check out my video review below. Want to purchase? You can buy the elite duffel bag here.






EBI 12: The Female Flyweights

To say I was excited about this EBI would be an understatement. There is so much female talent out there and I knew it would be an extremely technical display of skill by women from all over the world.My favorite first round fights:

Talita Alencar Vs. Ffion Davies- Alencar via RNC

This was a fantastic opener for the night. Alencar was the number one seed, in the tournament and unsurprisingly pulled out a win in technical dramatic fashion. Alencar is a force to be reckoned with and blew through her weight class tournament, after tournament this year! That being said, I was extremely impressed with the heart and skill of Welsh flyweight Ffion Davies. Her style is aggressive and unrelenting and she is definitely going to be a phenomenal black belt.

Crystal Demopoulous vs Rachael Cummings- Cummins Via Dead Orchard

First of all, both of these women are absolute physical specimens. Crystal took the match on late notice and put up a tough fight against MMA fighter Rachael Cummins. This was an extremely athletic, highly skilled match and an excellent show by Rachael Cummins who ended the bout with a very impressive Dead Orchard.


Pati Fontes vs. Katherine Shen- Shen Via Armbar

This is one of matches I was most looking forward to as I've heard a lot about 10th planet phenom Katherine Shen and the absolute legend Pati Fontes. From the beginning, this was a fascinating match up.  Fontes held position and played a great pressure game the first half of the match with Katherine making an epic comeback and submitting Pati Fontes in overtime. Shen has generated a lot of talk leading up to this match and proved she's worth the hype!

Lila Smadja vs Olympia Watts- Smadja Via Guillotine
One of the fastest submissions of the night, Lila Smadja defeated Olympia Watts in 23 seconds via guillotine choke. Lila is fast paced, opportunistic and has a strategy from every position. She was one of my favorites to watch over the course of the evening with her meticulous game and quick finishes.


Round 1
Talita Alencar Vs Ffion Davies- Alencar via RNC
Rachael Cummins vs Crystal Demopoulos- Cummings via Dead Orchard
Gabi McComb vs Kayla Patterson- McComb via RNC in overtime
Gabby Romero vs. Kristina Barlaan- Romero via RNC in overtime
Katherine Shen vs Pati Fontes- Shen via Armbar in overtime
Erin Blanchfield vs Livia Gluchowska- Blanchfield via RNC in overtime
Lila Smadja vs Olympa Watts- Smadja via Guillotine Choke
Nikki Sullivan vs Fiona Watson- Sullivan via Scissor choke
Quarter Finals
Talita Alencar vs. Rachel Cummins- Alencar Via Armbar with seconds to go
Gabbi McComb vs. Gabby Romero- McComb via Armbar
Erin Blanchfield vs. Katherine Shen- Blanchfield via Kumura
Lila Smadja bs Nikki Sullivan- Smadja via Heelhook

Semi Finals
Erin Blanchard Vs. Lila Smadja- Blanchfield via Armbar
Gabi McComb vs Talita Alencar- McComb via fastest escape time

The Final Match

McComb (19) and Blanchfield (18) was an amazing match up. McComb is the student of legendary Leticia Ribeiro and plays a solid, unrelenting game. Blanchfield, herself, attacks from every angle and is consistently going for submissions. This was a hard fought victory for Blanchfield who won in overtime with the fastest submission escape.

Combat Jiu Jitsu:

Semi Finals
Llima Lei McFarlane vs Brooke May- McFarlane via fastest sub in overtime
Celine Haga vs. Amy Montenegro- Haga via fastest sub in overtime

Finals
Llima Lei MacFarlane vs Celine Haga- MacFarlane via Kimura

Overall: I must admit, I was skeptical about the combat jiu jitsu but I seriously loved it! EBI 12 was definitely one of the best tournaments I've seen in a long time! I love women's matches because I find we are always going for the kill and as promised, this tournament did not disappoint. I am so thankful Eddie Bravo put this together, next time I'd love to see some lady heavy weights!

BJJ: The Struggle is Real in Gif Form- July 11th Edition

When I showed up late to the leg lock trend......

















When the new guy is laying on the mat while we're getting ready to bow out...











Me, when I finally pull off the move of the day in class....








When my boyfriend tells me to stop facebook stalking a new girl I met at a tournament..














When someone tells me I need to a submission other than the one I'm currently obsessing over...











When you show up to a tournament without a corner....









When you're confident in your leg lock game......












When someone who rolls like a crazy person tells you you're "going too hard on them..."










When you want to warm up roll and your partner actually flows....









When my partner (who also wasn't paying attention) asks what the next step of a move is.....


Elite Sports Company Ultralight Gi Review

I had the pleasure of trying out Elite Sports Ultralight black gi and was impressed with the price for a relatively quality gi. 

The Elite Sports Ultralight Gi retails for an extremely reasonable 79.99

*Made from a light-weight 400gsm Pearl Weave preshrunk fabric. We still recommend that you wash the gi in cold water and hang dry it


*Lightweight pants are made from 400 gsm ripstop fabric have a rope drawstring for tightening

*Contrasting and reinforced stitching in seams and other key areas for durability and added strength

*Fabric has anti-odor and antimicrobial treatment so that you don't have to worry about bacterial buildup or fungal infections, no one else is doing that at this price.






Check them out at www.elitesports.com




June Edition: The Jiu Jitsu Struggle is Real

When someone starts telling me I need to try some new healthy thing they are eating...














When I tell someone to go for a submission during a match and they lose the position....














My boyfriend when he sees me making a mistake I used to make as a white belt















When someone is trying to wrist lock me by grabbing my fingers....













When my partner uses up the whole drilling time......










When the professor is reviewing a sequence and asks me "what comes next.....?"

















When people are cheering in Portuguese and I want to join in so I just make stuff up...














When someone doesn't wear flip flops into the bathroom......













When someone asks me how making weight is going....














Waiting for my division to start after I've been in the bullpen for ages....