This is the beginning of my personal journey in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu.
Am I Better Today Than I Was Yesterday?
I started training Brazilian Jiu Jitsu (BJJ) in September 2015 with my husband. Little did I know I would develop a love and addiction for the sport, hobby and way of life. Yes, that last one threw me off a bit too, but it truly is a way of life, and the reason why I’m writing this. This for me is where, project BJJ begins, where my consistency in fitness begins, where my marriage is strengthened, my personal reflection is deepened, my patience challenged and my parenting questioned. The big question is, “am I better today, then I was yesterday?”
My First Martial Arts Experience
I’ve come to the realization that I didn’t choose BJJ, it chose me. And it all started with the man I love. I’ve known my husband for 17 years and for as long as I can remember he has always been passionate about martial arts. Before I met him he was a certain kind of gym rat, not the kind that goes to the gym to socialize, but someone who really took his health and fitness seriously. He was into Jeet Kune Do (JKD), Muay Thai, running and eating pretty healthily, that is until he met me. When we started dating he was training in Filipino Martial Arts (FMA) and falling in love with stick fighting. It was clear he had a natural talent for it. Watching him perform, compete or move with a stick was like watching a prima ballerina in The Nutcracker. That’s just how graceful he was, is.
After his first FMA instructor couldn’t teach him anymore he was on the search for a new place to learn. Now married, and wanting to do just about everything together I decided to join my husband in training. This would be my first experience in any kind of martial art. As a kid I remember bringing home flyers for Karate camps and tap dance classes, but at the time our family wasn’t in the position to afford such extracurricular activities. Don’t feel sorry for me though, I found other things to do like ride bikes, roam the canyons and jump off bunk beds.
Anyway, I was so excited to start training and connecting with my Filipino roots, learning the history of stick fighting, the possibility of competing and growing in the sport together with my husband. I was also nervous. Like in most martial arts, there weren’t many girls who were actively training in FMA.
When it comes to learning something new, I tend to ask a lot of questions. I enjoy being a student. I like to dive in and soak in as much as I can. Academically, I am a good student. When it came to martial arts, I found every move a challenge. I was becoming too technical, thinking about things way too much and not letting my body flow naturally. Heck, I wanted my body to move like my husband right away, but I quickly realized that wasn’t going to happen, at least not overnight. I began to get frustrated, but I kept on. I began to retain information, and after several months of training the movements became muscle memory. I was learning some history about my culture, including why it was convenient to use sticks as a primary weapon. I was enjoying taking classes, and my husband and I were building a new block in our relationship. It was nice, until one day it wasn’t.
That Time I Quit
I’m a competitive person. There, I admit it. It’s in me, and it drives me to do better. There’s nothing wrong with that right? Except for when it gets too much for me; and I become emotional and critical about myself, that is when it gets dangerous. And as much as I didn’t want to seem like I was in competition with my husband, there was definitely some indirect competition going on. I found myself fighting for the attention of our instructor. I felt he [our instructor] had stopped placing any value in my attendance. I felt unwanted as a student, mostly because I was a girl. I felt like I wasn’t being taken seriously. I had a strong feeling that our instructor believed that I was only there because my husband wanted me there. It was a horrible feeling that made me leaving every practice defeated and miserable. There were days I had to hold back my tears during class, and I began to resent ever joining. Although I had a great relationship with our instructor’s wife and kids, I couldn’t find it in my heart to respect him or his personal values. I never told him this, and I tried to relay these feelings to his wife, but once I got pregnant they pretty much made the decision for me to stop training.
My husband would train and I would hang out in the house where everyone thought I belonged. Okay, I hear you, I didn’t have to quit, but I admit I was a bit relieved to not have to endure the emotional stress of being his student, but a part of me wanted that stick in my hand. I wanted to get better, to crush my feelings of defeat and to prove everyone wrong. Girls can do this, I can do this, and no one can tell me not to. I’m not sure why I didn’t, but I’m sure it was the best decision at the time. I decided to sit on the sidelines, cheer my husband on at competitions and drink coffee with the ladies. Did I sell out? Maybe, but I was there to support my husband and his dream for years. I was, and still am, very proud of him. I only wish we had found an instructor who saw his raw talent and my willingness to learn and appreciate the art. He [my husband] never did test to the finish; even after I tried pushing and encouraging him to. In the end, his moral compass would not allow him.
Onto Better Beginnings
My husband fought in a few tournaments, won a trophy, broke some fingers and learned a heck of a lot, but I know he still wanted more. I don’t blame him. He went on a search for the right FMA instructor, and even joined BJJ for a few years. After kids, he stopped training for a while. And then I met Raquel who co-owns The Stronghold BJJ in San Diego with her husband Mike. She had been inviting me to train for almost three years. I always wanted to try, but it was never the right time. After years of working together on mom projects with Raquel and after talking to my husband – we finally made the decision to join their gym together. Yay!
3 Reasons I Started Training BJJ
We talked about it for a long time. I was hesitant to start anything new especially martial arts. I was a bit scared from the experience I shared above. I didn’t want to do something just because my husband wanted to. I needed to feel like it was something I wanted to do to. Plus, I didn’t want to disappoint my friend if I came and ended up not liking it. There were so many reasons to say no to BJJ, but so many reasons to say yes too. I said yes for three reasons:
1. For myself . I wanted to get fit for myself and learn how to defend myself; I wanted to try something new and challenging both mentally and physically.
2. For my marriage. I love my husband and I want to share his passions, this sport is a great way for us to connect outside the house and the kids, it brings a new chapter to our relationship and another level of connection and commitment.
3. For my kids. For the family in general. It’s always been a goal of mine to get fit with the family. I became excited of the thought of training with my husband and my two kids, I began to imagine us competing together, rolling together and taking pictures in our gi’s together! I also wanted to get in better shape so I could keep up with my kids. I hope to inspire them and encourage them to follow their dreams, whatever they may be, through my actions. I hope they learn that no matter how old they are, it’s never too late to try something new. I want my daughter to know that she can do anything boys can do!
It’s kind of ironic, but BJJ is something I always saw for my son and husband, but now I see it for myself and my daughter, and why not. We need it and deserve to learn it just as much as they do. And guess what, we love it!
Excited for the Journey
So, that’s the long story of why I started training. BJJ found me when I was I was in a tough place, when I needed something to help me get off my butt and really get in shape and feel good about myself. It helped me get wheels turning in my head I never knew were there. It brought my husband and I closer, gave us something new to talk about. It has tested my patience and endurance, it makes me want to run more and take care of my body more. But man, does it hurt. It hurts your body and sometimes your pride.
I’ve already learned so much, and most of it I can apply to daily living. And that’s where I realized, BJJ is a way of life. Your life choices affect the way you train on the mat – eat a burger before class, and you’re bound to get smacked! Not doing that again. On the flip side, if you’ve had a rough day, go to class and leave it all on the mat. There is too much learning going on to even think about the long day you had at work or with the kids. Even on days I don’t want to go, I feel rewarded after class and feel it was the best decision I made. I sleep better and my mind is clearer. And that’s very basic explanation my friends. BJJ is deep!
Although we haven’t been able to attend class as much as we’d like, we do have goals and a developing plan for how BJJ will continue to fit in our lives. It’s almost been a year since we started this BJJ journey together, minus a 2 month break so my husband could finish his master’s program, including a few unforeseen circumstances, so really it’s only been about 6-8 months if you want to get technical.
So, am I better today than I was yesterday? I’d say I am. That was my big takeaway for me from Coach Mike when he spoke at the blue belt promotion back in May. It’s what inspired me to share my story, because I was afraid to at first, a part of me still is. Who am I to talk about BJJ? I’m a newbie, I have not competed, I am a white belt. For now. And if I can encourage just one soul to do something for themselves or to try BJJ, why not? I may not be a natural at this, but I’m working towards being better. The battle is within me and the competition against myself. And we all want to win. To win in life!
I’ll close with a phrase I was told is said by Coach Mike often to students who are competing, “in bjj there is no losing, only learning.” To me, learning is winning. So he’s right! I’m looking forward to moving forward in my BJJ journey. It may be slow, it will be bumpy, but it’s mine. And I’ll do my best to share my progress here.
A White Belt