Thursday, December 28, 2023

The Journey Continues


Almost a full two years since I started, I was promoted to Blue Belt this month. My last post about Brazilian Jiu Jitsu was back in March, and now here we are, deep in December.

Going from a four-stripe White Belt to Blue was a long and grueling time period. Physically it became easier, but still taxing, but mentally, it became much harder.

This was especially so given the long period of time between my fourth strip and Blue, much longer than any period between stripes so far. All of the stripes on my White Belt came almost exactly three months apart, but going from the fourth stripe to Blue was almost 10 months.

During that time I went back and forth between feeling ready and past-due for the Blue Belt to feeling like I was nowhere close. These thoughts and contradictions consumed much of my thinking around the process, on one hand ready for the next level and on the other, feeling inadequate.

If you read the posts on the numerous BJJ Facebook groups about the topic, you find that is the norm. It seems no one feels ready and imposter syndrome prevails. They say things like trust your coach's decision and don't compare yourself to others but to your earlier self. That all makes sense, but it's mentally taxing regardless.

A large percentage of people quit when they reach Blue Belt. I would bet that it has a lot to do with this mental challenge. I'm sure there are other reasons, but the mental side of it would have to be high up there.

My coach told a story of a former White Belt of his who was competing in a tournament. During the match another coach came up to him and said "that woman's a Blue Belt."

"Yeah, she's pretty good," my coach responded.

"No, I mean she was a student at my gym who I promoted to Blue Belt," the other coach said.

So it seems one way to get around the challenge of being a new Blue Belt is to just start over at a different gym. But I don't feel like I need to do that!

It's been a few weeks since my promotion and I think I have come to terms with everything. I definitely feel like I am way better than when I started and I feel like I have learned a lot.

There are still White Belts who are better than me at some things, but I don't think that's what it's supposed to be about. It's easy to think that a Blue Belt should be able to beat any White Belt, but there are so many variables at play that it would be impossible for a system like that to function.

I'm not really sure where I'm going with this, but suffice it to say that right now, I'm comfortable as a new Blue Belt.

There is a long road ahead to the next belt, but being new at any level is a good time to put those thoughts out of your mind, put your head down, and charge forward.

Thursday, March 30, 2023

Jiu Jitsu Journey

Earlier this month I was awarded the fourth stripe on my white belt in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu. I have been training consistently, about three times per week, for 15 months. It has been what can only be described as a grueling grind in the most positive sense of the phrase.

There have been highs and lows, aches and pains, routine muscle soreness, stiff joints, injuries, you know, all the fun stuff.

I'm 49 years and one of the oldest people in my gym. In addition to being on the old side, I'm also one of the smallest, barring women and children, weighing in at just 150 pounds on an small to average 5' 9" frame. BJJ was allegedly designed to help a smaller person defeat a larger person, but don't let that fool you, size can matter.

I'm at the point now where I think I can comfortably handle a larger, untrained person, but the day in and day out rolling around on the mat with larger trained people is a grind.

Despite the age and size disadvantage, my experience so far has been good. I feel stronger, look fitter, and have learned some good self-defense skills. A lot of people claim that Jiu Jitsu turned their life around, made them a better person, cured all their ailments, etc. I can't go that far because I wasn't that bad off when I started, but I can see their point.

As a teenager, I never liked wrestling as a sport. I was a huge fan of the old WWF, now WWE, but donning a singlet and rolling around on a mat with another sweaty guy seemed... yeah, weird. Now, even though BJJ is not that much different than that, minus the singlet, I'm finding it to be quite fun.

A guy at my gym once commented, "This is just like wrestling around with your brothers as a kid," to which I would have to agree. Growing up with three brothers, two of whom did wrestle in high school, this feels a lot like that.

I mentioned injuries earlier. The first couple months of training was almost torture. My ribs hurt constantly and getting up in the morning was like being the tin man with no oil can in sight. BJJ also takes a lot of core strength and I could never tell what hurt more, my abs or my ribs, and often I couldn't tell where one started and the other ended.

Oddly enough, when I started Jiu Jitsu, I was having problems with golfer's elbow, which is a tendon problem caused by repetitive stress. Jiu jitsu cured my golfer's elbow but made every other joint in my body ache.

After a couple months it got easier, with only occasional body parts being tweaked the wrong way and aching for a few days. I'm currently nursing a mild shoulder injury and lower back pain. At the start of my third month, however, I injured the ring finger on my right hand. It was a mallet finger injury where the ligament on the last joint in my finger tore completely and I could no longer extend that finger.

That took about a year to heal, including several months in various types of casts and splints. Even today I can't fully extend that finger (and will never be able to) and I can't fully bend it yet either. Even with the injury I never missed a day of training. I sparred with the cast on and taped up.

That was difficult because BJJ is all about grips, especially wearing the Gi. There are two flavors of BJJ, Gi and No Gi. Gi Jiu Jitsu usually requires you to firmly grab the other guy's Gi to either throw him to the ground or choke him to near unconsciousness, difficult with a cast on your finger. No Gi was a little easier for me, you can really only grab wrists and ankles.

I end up training mostly in No Gi. The gym I go to happens to have more No Gi classes on days and times when I am available. They say No Gi is quicker and more explosive, not a good combination for an old guy, but I tend to enjoy it more because it's easier on my fingers.

Gi Jiu Jitsu requires strong grip strength and it beats the hell out of your fingers, my injury being the perfect example. Even training about a third of the time in the Gi, my fingers are still stiff in the morning and need a lot of stretching.

Now with 15 months under my belt, I'm getting closer to a promotion to the next level. In BJJ, there are fewer belts and longer time between them than any other martial art. I think to compensate for that they add the stripes on the belt. Assuming I stay on the course I've been travelling, I should hit Blue Belt later in the spring or early summer.

I have some thoughts on the whole belt process and the Asian-inspired trappings that surround most martial arts, but I think I'll save that for another post.

So that has been my experience so far. I plan to stick with it because it is a lot of fun and do feel like I get a lot from it. That said, I'll admit it's probably not for everyone. But if you can make it through the first few months, it can be rewarding.

Sunday, February 5, 2023

Here We Go Again!

The other day I came back to the blog and read a few of my old posts. Based on those posts, it seems like I come back here every three years or so and decide to start the blog back up, make a few comments about how I never post and I should post more often, then promptly stop posting. Not this time though! (And I say that a lot too.)

I like writing here because it feels both productive and therapeutic. Sometimes I get stuck on the couch, scrolling through Facebook or playing Animal Crossing on the Switch. There's no way that can be productive.

So how about an update? Well, the last several years here have had posts about my boat and my political opinions.

Regarding the boat, the Pearson 28-2 "Ramble On" that I last posted about has been sold. We kept if for a few years and then sold it to upgrade to a larger boat. The new boat is an Island Packet 32 called "Island Thistle."

In fact, I have a whole YouTube channel  that I started right when I bought that boat. I've finished two "seasons" on the channel and I'm now on a winter hiatus. So even though this blog has dropped off, a vlog has mostly taken its place.

That channel has been doing fairly well. I'm almost up to 200 subscribers and 58,000 lifetime views. Maybe that's not great compared to a lot of channels, but it is growing.

Regarding political rants, I also created a YouTube channel with those! That one is not nearly as popular with only two subscribers. I started trying to put up a lot of content on that channel, but that got frustrating so I stopped. I'm debating whether or not to start that one back up.

So even though I have more than 400 hours on Animal Crossing over the last couple of years, I have still been somewhat productive!

Sunday, October 18, 2020

Choot 'em in da Leg!

Yes, I believe we need to have some sort of police reform in this country. But someone please tell Joe Biden, "shooting 'em in the leg" should not be any part of that reform.

I've heard Biden say it at each of his two town halls, as a means of "de-escalating" a situation.

First, how on Earth is shooting someone in the leg a de-escalation tactic? That doesn't even remotely make sense.

De-escalation can be described as a series of tactics to calm a person or a situation down. It's "Verbal Judo," persuading an angry person to do something they may not want to do at first.

Anyone who's been shot in the leg is unlikely to be calm, and if they happen to have a gun too, you can bet they will be returning fire.

By the time the weapon comes out, it's too late for de-escalation. Drawing a weapon is the last resort and the very act itself is among the highest levels of force.

Where the reform needs to come, in part, is giving police more options before drawing the weapon, and training to better recognize situations where a weapon might not be required.

We've done some of that with Tasers and pepper spray and other non-lethal means of subduing a suspect. But we need to do more.

The idea of bringing psychologists and social workers in to help in some situations has merit. We can't expect police officers to continue to take on those roles in society.

We could also take a look at what mental health support we provide to people in need. There are a lot of those types of options that we can expand upon, but shooting them in the leg is not one.

This ain't the movies. Once the weapon comes out and the first trigger pull happens, every round is going center mass and it's not stopping until the target it neutralized.

People often criticize police when they shoot someone 15 times, even in justified shootings. Why can't they just shoot once? In the leg?

Well for one, he's going to keep getting shot until he drops and is no longer a threat. And second, in the heat of the moment, when it's shoot or be shot, and tunnel vision is kicking in, and the cortisol is flowing, and your ears stop working, the only thing you can see is center mass.

I've been through a lot of firearms training, shoot/don't shoot stuff, live-fire shoot houses, high-stress role-play scenarios, firearms scenario simulators. I've even experience the real deal a few times, once responding to an armed robbery in progress, and a couple of times on the bad end of ambushes in the sandbox.

It ain't pretty. Training helps. But no amount of training and experience would make shooting someone in the leg a good option once the weapon comes out.

Sunday, October 11, 2020

Party of Freedom? Less Government? A businessman?

Muh Freedoms! I had an exchange on Twitter with a Trumper who claimed he was a proud gun owner who believes in less government and more freedom with a businessman as president. This was in response to my comment that he had been duped by conservative propaganda and I think his response proved my point.

Conservative propaganda wants you to believe that today's Republican Party is for smaller government and individual freedom.

Every president in the modern era has increased government spending over the last, regardless of party, with Trump increasing spending to $8 trillion and the deficit to $28 trillion. How is that smaller government?

Republicans are also actively trying to take away numerous freedoms in the name of freedom. Women's rights, LGBTQ rights, voting rights... just a few of the freedoms targeted by the Republic party.

So what about this businessman? Trump is not a successful businessman. He is a reality TV star, a B-list celebrity, who has failed more often than not in his business ventures. Anyone who claims to support Trump because of his business acumen clearly has a superficial understanding of his background.

So to people who claim the Republican party stands for freedom and small government I say you have been duped by Republican propaganda.

Saturday, September 26, 2020

Is Breonna Taylor a BLM issue?

George Floyd. Elijah McClain. Philando Castile. Michael Brown. Eric Garner. Freddie Gray. Breonna Taylor?

First, let me say, I support the BLM movement, 100 percent. Without a doubt, black people, primarily males, are killed by police because they are black.

I'm not saying that any cop goes into a situation intent on killing a black man, but that their implicit biases, inadequate training, and systemic racism contribute to proportionally more unarmed black males being killed by police.

But that's not what happened with Taylor. She was accidentally killed by police returning fire after her boyfriend started shooting at them. It wasn't because she was black.

Sadly, this happens way more often than it should, people accidentally shot by police, and it highlights a huge problem with police today.

To some people's surprise, the cops who killed Taylor have not been charged in her death and only one of those involved was recently convicted of an unrelated charge. This also isn't unusual.

There's a great article by the AP that highlights the problem here. It details several cases of accidental shootings by police, due mostly to poor training.

What stands out is that in almost every case, the officer is never charged and ends up returning to work. How is that even possible?

I understand police work is not easy. In fact, I spent the first part of my work life in law enforcement. So I get it. I understand the pressure in life or death situations and the grave consequences of drawing your weapon.

It takes a lot of training, continued training that most cops do not get, to do the job right.

In Taylor's case, officers made a chain of mistakes in the investigation and subsequent raid that led to Taylor's accidental shooting.

From the incomplete investigation on Taylor's apartment to the no-knock warrant that became a knock warrant, that was likely executed as a "lightly knocking" warrant. A chain of mistakes due likely to poor training and overzealous policing.

That's not even touching on our country's gun problem that led Taylor's boyfriend to be legally carrying a gun in the first place (and where are the conservatives defending him in this case?).

I think it's important to recognize this larger systemic problem. It's not just about people targeted by police because of their race, but the bigger problem of police training, mindsets, and function.

I'll post more on those problems later, like the militarization of police, symbology, etc.

Thursday, September 24, 2020

In Defense of Civility

If Donald Trump is evil incarnate, are his supporters evil as well? I've seen that question asked, and answered affirmatively, several times across social media lately. While I lean more toward Trump being a clinical psychopath, I don't think all of his supporters should be put in the same basket.

I have several good friends who are Trump supporters. These are decent, smart people, and they support Trump. I'm sure there are Trump supporters who are genuine assholes and who support him because he is an asshole too, but clearly not all of them fit that description.

Republican Senator Joe Manchin of West Virginia was on TV this morning talking about Trump followers, explaining that they have been "misinformed and scared" by Trump. Trump has not told them the truth, Manchin said.

So there is a group of people who have been duped by Trump. He has convinced them that he is right and "the left" is some evil singular entity out to ruin the country. Manchin implored his fellow Republican Senators to help educate their constituents to Trump's lies.

Manchin even admitted that he could tell West Virginians that more coal jobs have been lost under Trump than any other president, but they might not believe him, even though he has the numbers to support his claim. Trump's grip is that firm.

Smart people see through those lies though, right? How can they still support him? Perhaps they are part of another group who supports Trump, but only grudgingly. He might have seemed like the best choice in 2016, the anti-politician coming to drain the swamp, but he didn't live up to his billing. They see through the lies.

But he's still a "Republican" (and I put that in quotes because I don't think he is). If you embrace conservative social and economic ideas, then Trump is your only option, especially if the Senate swings the other way.

You could make the argument that despite his failure as a leader, he is getting the job done for those conservatives. There are more Republican-appointed justices on the Supreme Court, judges in the federal courts, less regulation on business, etc.

Those are all political issues, with many angles, that have nothing to do with Trump as a person, or his incompetent leadership, or his botched COVID response. Political issues are why we vote and making these decisions at the ballot box is the cornerstone of democracy.

What we can't do though, is put everyone in one of two baskets, the left or the right, because we're more than that. By many accounts we are living in one of the most politically divided times in our nation's history, division that was created by putting people into those two baskets and spreading fear and hate of the other side.

If voting to decide the issues is the cornerstone of democracy, the walls are civility and compromise. How can we remain civil and work together for a better country if it's always us versus them, one or the other?