Why Choking Someone Last Weekend Gave me Life
My journey to meeting a new challenge.
Okay I lied. It was the weekend before last. Between the time I started writing and the excitement started fading to a point that I could bring myself to actually finish this, a week had passed and the title stuck. It has worked out for the best though — it’s catchy and you’re still reading…keep going…it wasn’t click bait, I promise.
So yeah… it’s not often that you read on LinkedIn, Medium — or any news outlet for that matter — about why the author’s infliction of pain gave them “life”, or — for those not adept at Urban Dictionary-esque terms — made them excited or pumped.
I can hardly believe it either. I fought with my sister plenty and oftentimes enjoyed it, but at least a decade has passed since our last albeit lopsided living room bout (she is five inches and 40 pounds smaller). Moreover, as far as I can remember I was never a fan of martial arts, and explicitly recall ‘how weird’ a girl in my 2nd grade class was for going to karate (‘I would never wear that thing’). My judgmental personality prevailed for the next twenty years.
I did however have an unhealthy liking toward WWF (World Wrestling Federation) as it was called, Kane vs. The Undertaker (R.I.P.) being among my favorite performances (as I realized they were in fact merely shows some years later). In writing this now, I’m thinking it might have been more the entertainment aspect that I liked about “fighting”, and only from afar; sometime after college I became enthralled by UFC through the TV screens at bars, frequently going just to catch a glimpse of a five-minute fight. And I know it wasn’t just the whiskey (neat, please) because I would also search online at home in case it was streaming.
Personally, during the past couple of years, I’ve become aware of people I know who were fighting — including a childhood friend going pro in MMA — and plenty of Facebook and Instagram posts probably occupy some of my subconscious. I also once withstood a three minute debate with an impassioned Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu hottie but my yoga-loving, peace-be-with-you, be-open-to receive-everything self was (ironically) against this beautiful art because it was “too violent”.
So I can’t really explain the history behind what drove me to want to choke out someone else so badly, because I wasn’t sure what anyone on the mat was doing, nor was there any technique I could know to look for, and I cringed every time someone was punched. Blood…forget it.
So, what is with this catchy-headlined post all about anyway?
Well, I competed in my new-found love, Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu (winning by submission — cross choke from mount, but that’s besides the point) and I’m ecstatic.
Why? First, because I showed up. (It matters. Sometimes all it takes is showing up: the other girl in my bracket got a silver medal for it. The other girl didn’t show up at all.) Some people don’t compete for years, or ever. It’s not easy, and I’m not just talking about the part where you’re fighting for your next breath or desperately trying to stop yourself from being crushed. Competing means completing a series of logistics.
For example, in this instance I woke up sometime before 7am on Sunday (after being up till 2am dealing with a garage break in — no, I didn’t get to choke anyone) and prepared pre-fight-for-your-life foods and liquids. After a 50 minute ride to San Jose with my supportive friend, Gabby and a huge Ikea bag of goods, I walked my freezing Florida-bred butt from the parking lot to the arena (it felt like eternity). I checked in with my ID and stepped on the scale to weigh in — I was sitting pretty as I had gotten down to a good weight for my first tournament and never gained it back. (That is a whole nother post.) I also had to wear a gi (the traditional robe-like garb) that met all size requirements and not to mention was closer to $200 than $100. (The competition registration fee, which I signed up for online weeks earlier, was in the same range.)
Since the match only lasted about 75 seconds because she tapped, it was probably the most expensive minute I ever spent. It was the first time I had won a competition match by submission (fun fact: on the same day I also ate my first peanut butter and jelly sandwich, true story), but the point is that I was able to use what I had been practicing: I got myself into advantageous position so much so that she had to end the match early (otherwise it goes to points or refs decision) because she couldn’t get out/take it anymore. Regardless, I brought my hard work to the big stage. Dedication is choosing the mats over the couch, dripping sweat instead of ice cream. It’s feeling the euphoria of the ref raising your hand at the end and working on getting better the next time anyway.
Then, there’s the podium. Have you ever stood on one? I couldn’t have grasped the feeling and meaning until my first time this past December. (It’s a strange thing; thinking back at it now, you are standing side-by-side with people you were just trying to choke the crap of or whose arms you were trying to break, and I cannot help but allude to some sort of superiority complex being higher up). Nevertheless, it gives you a sense of pride and accomplishment, and if you are smart and humble you know that a series of events, specific conditions and possibly luck put you in that temporary spot. At that moment in time you were better than the next guy/gal, you were #1 and that is yours to hold forever. It is yours to use as motivation, for overcoming adversity, your inner voice, for being triumphant every time you feel like giving up.
Standing up there alone gives me a whole new lease on life. The thing is, I was only ever involved in team sports; take soccer, I was one of 11 people on the field, and of at least 20 people on the team, and — at one point, frequently — one of nine on the bench. And while you represent a team in martial arts — and literally could not compete without their support — there is something about being the only one on the mat. It’s all about you. There is no one to rely on, no one to blame, no one to look for. It’s a responsibility, and it’s more empowering than I can put into words. All eyes are on you. For someone who doesn’t like attention, usually preferring to fade into the background, my entire Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu “career” has been a personal milestone, and this lesson has translated into many areas of my life as I am more independent and disciplined than ever.
Naturally, I also experience nerves I never had before. The jitters that set in spontaneously as far out as weeks before the competition often makes me wonder why I do this, but I’m immediately reminded — because it makes me feel alive. The moment before stepping on the mat at a competition is especially poignant, as the adrenaline surges through my veins; I use all my strength, physically and mentally as I am constantly searching for the head space to think through a strategic series of moves that I’ve been honing day in and day out.
Competing has a way of reminding you where you came from — in life and in the sport. It often brings me back to walking in the gym that very first time. Something possessed me that day and I can’t be sure what; it certainly wasn’t my mother, who despite signing me up for all types of activities growing up is still not a fan. I can only postulate that it was a mix of my subconscious, divine intervention and — I keep thinking — a past life (the yoga force is still strong). A catalyst came when I moved to Berkeley, a northern California city abound with muay thai, boxing, Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, judo and all sorts of karate and other combat and Eastern practices; I had visited often and knew I wanted to try it out. So when I met a guy my first day there, August 1, who did “BJJ” — an acronym I was super confused about when he first texted it — the pieces couldn’t have fallen together as seamlessly as our relationship was falling apart. Our last hurrah was his fight gym. Perfect. Within a couple days I had found and appeared (yes, with a glowing light around me) in another gym near my house and by the second class I was filling out sign-up forms. I still feel like I am having an outer body experience to this day.
Upon BJJ guy moving to another country (the main reason for our break up, so he says) he told me we might not ever talk again, which he paired with, “keep me updated”. Bewildered, I stood my strong feminine ground, “I thought you just said not to talk to you,” to which he responded “…talk to me about Jiu-Jitsu, that’s your ‘hook’” (I think he made some arm movement. Anyway, what an Ass.). This really ignited the fire in me to keep going (I am thankful for the Ass). A month and a half passed and I still never said a word to him. The other day he called me because he saw some of my videos.
Not a class goes by that doesn’t make me feel alive, that doesn’t take my breath away. Almost six months later, here I am with the longest gym membership — let alone lifestyle — I ever signed up for.