Playin’ with the Boys

Just finished grappling in another tournament. This was a small, local event for charity. I went with a few teammates to support the cause. The event only ran an absolute division: open weight, open rank, and I was the only girl. I’m a little hesitant to grapple guys in competition. Last year at Montgomery, I had a dude with at least 30# on me grab hold of my head like he was trying to pop a zit and squeeze for the better part of five minutes. He didn’t have the choke, but I lacked the mobility to get him off me, so we sat there, with him in my lockdown, me trying to whip him up, and him burning out his arms on a choke that wasn’t there. He won 2-0 because I sat half guard when he bull rushed me.


These things happen. Time to hitch up my knickers and do work.

First round was against a black belt. No, his black belt wasn’t in Jiu Jitsu, but I felt a little intimidated facing someone who has more experience as a martial artist. I heel hooked him at 1:19, but we were off the mats and the ref had to reset us.

I won my next match in 0:57 with an arm bar. Lost in the finals to a teammate 4-0.

All these guys had 30# on me.

Not a bad day at the office.

I need to move more dynamically and get to my side, for the love of all that’s holy. I gotta work more actively on guard retention, because it seems like my guard got ignored and that’s just not cool. On the other hand, my understanding of the arm bar has improved dramatically since Kakuto in March and I now have two tournament heel hooks – maybe the next one will actually count.

In the meantime, ladies, we’ll be working on arm bars this Wednesday.

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Jiu Jitsu FTW!


Carmen, why is there a bag on your head? Funny story, that. I was on my way to work. I’d had a nomtastic breffy and was all carbed up and ready to meet my awesome friends Becca,Katie, and Melissa for a killer session of BTP. I go to put the key in the ignition only to realize that it’s still on the hook in the hallway. Hey, at least I know where it’s at. Now I just have to break into my house to retrieve them. Problem/Solution. Onward.

I decide the only access point that may be viable is the master bathroom window. Pretty sure Josh hasn’t fixed the lock yet. Hop the four foot fence and avoid one of the craters my Pit pup has dig into the yard and circle the house, carefully navigating the stupidly uneven terrain.

I should level this.


I forgot the window was eight feet up. But there’s that rickety lawn chair I’ve been meaning to toss. I got this. Find a decent place to balance the chair and perch on one of the arms – pretty sure the canvas won’t hold my weight. Window is unlocked. Yayz! It’s still over my head. MRPH! And there’s only a foot tall opening to launch myself through. It’s all joy, brothers and sisters. It’s all joy. When I reach for the window, my humerus (the bone that connects the scapula to the two bones of the lower arm) is parallel to the ground and I can (1) monkey grip the ledge, (2) stabilize my shoulders with my back, (3) engage my core, (4) lift left knee, (5)and activate my posterior kinetic chain (all the muscles, etc. in the back of my body) by bringing my hips forward to drive the toes of my left foot into the house. I spring from my perch on the rickety lawn chair directly into the window…



And then the completely unexpected descent with the special surprise ending. I was so right about that fabric not holding my weight and, my, wasn’t that stop sudden. I clutched my head like the church matron’s pearls and whined. I wanna say I was stoically checking for blood or signs of trauma, but that would be a lie. I rubbed my window-bitten noggin and whimpered like a wounded child.

But this wasn’t getting the job done, so back to it! My rickety lawn chair now had no seat. No problem. I (6) connected to the chair and the house and (7) jumped my feet to the chair’s arm. Just like a cat. Kind of. It was totally ninja-esque, not straight up ninja, but just ninja enough. Get back to my starting position. I got one more shot at this before my head is throbbing too badly to balance on the arm of the broken, rickety lawn chair balanced precariously on uneven terrain. If I’m gonna get into the house, I’m gonna have to pike the moment I spring. Scrape your nose! JUMP! Hold on. Seal walk, seal walk, seal walk. Use lats to press forearms downward and protect body from the ledge. Get to my side. Lift right knee and find foothold in the window frame. Connect. Shrimp, shrimp, shrimp. Post left hand. Bridge. Recover guard. Stand up. Boom.

I open the door and the dog looks at me and at the keys. Yeah, Ava. I know Mama did it again.

I get to work and everything is wonderful. It dawns on me what’s just occurred. I was posed with a serious challenge. Any other solution would have affected multiple people’s schedules. I had a problem. I found a solution. I executed a plan. Adapted it. Mission complete. I did yoga and Jiu Jitsu and used the movements I tell my clients to do so they can do the things I tell them they can do if they train. Today I conquered Casa del Carmen. Today I won at life.

…and there’s no reason to recall that this whole series of fortuitous events occurred because I locked myself out of my house.

NOTE: This happened in October of 2014. I just happened upon in and thought I’d share.

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Sam Davis on the road to EBI 4

Sam Davis is a 10th Planet purple belt. He’s also my roommate and a friend. He was at the AGF Memphis Tournament with me last weekend and he had an incredible showing. Eddie Bravo is holding trials for the last spot in EBI4 in two weeks and has all but invited him (check out the screen shot when you follow the link). He needs help with air fare, transportation, and lodging. If there’s any way you can help him, I know he’ll be super grateful. He’s devoted his life to Jiu Jitsu and this tournament presents a huge career opportunity.

Thanks, y’all!

And now back to our regularly scheduled programming.

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The privileges of rank

I’ve been meaning to do this. I’ve wanted to do this. I have two other posts I’ve been chipping away at, but this just came to me, so it’s jumping the line.

One of the privileges of rank in our moon is the opportunity to teach. I’ve learned so much from my ranked teammates and was beyond thrilled when Coach offered me the women’s class. I’ve wanted to be a part of this since I started and jumped at the chance. I’ve limited my curriculum to self-defense grappling and basic sports Jiu Jitsu. Our class opens with conditioning work that develops fundamental movements, because shrimpin’ ain’t easy when you have no clue how to connect to the ground. We review what we did the week before, then drill new material. Depending on the day, we’ll roll for 15-30 minutes at the end of class. The guys in striking class start wandering in near the end of class and they’re always happy to let the ladies beat up on them.  It’s kind of brilliant, actually.

Today’s lesson was headlock defenses from standing and top side control. One of the first things Brandon teaches is that bully headlocks are stupid and he goes over the many reasons why. The list is long and pretty craptastic for the idiot holding the headlock. It wasn’t until I was in the middle of class that I had my epiphany: A person compromises his shoulder when he applies a headlock and, the tighter he holds on, the worse it is for him. Check this out.

We started with standing headlock defense. Dumb drunk dude (portrayed by the always lovely Lindsey McCaghren) grabs you (played by the burly, if not beautiful, Brandon McCaghren) around the neck, hugs you to his hip, and tries to punch you in the face.

Excellent! You’re already close to him. Connect your backward arm to his body and overhook the inside of his elbow. (5-0 grip). Make frames and control his free hand. Step your forward foot between his feet, hump his leg, extend your rear leg as you drop to the floor – just like that side break fall we drilled at the beginning of class. Follow the flow into mount or side control. Knees wide, butt down. Control the position.

After watching the girls play different variations of footsie, I realized that this isn’t a trip. The attacker isn’t travelling. I’m compromising his base and, to that end, it’s like how Josh plays his rubber guard. He hangs his weight off his opponent’s body at an odd angle like some grippy, alien octopus, then turns his belly to the ground, relentlessly driving your nose into the mat – and it’s all angles. He’s off to the side of his opponent’s center. This sweep is exactly the same. You connect to him, then hang off his back side. When his weight passes his heels, go belly down and bring your knees to your face. It’s the easiest thing in the world. I feel like I could take down someone twice my size, if he decided to hold on to the headlock and here’s why…

…He’s given me the angle and the leverage. He’s actually compromised himself at this point.

Side bar: I’m sure there are elite wrestlers who understand the subtleties of the headlock when applied with practice, but it’s not what most folks are going to encounter. Don’t squirrel on me.

Once I connect my weight to him, and it won’t work if I don’t, all I have to do is drop the boombah! Playing footsie is gonna get me hurt. I step to the center and fall – just like we drilled in the beginning of class.

And to a person they nailed it and there was much rejoicing and gladness.

But, hey, dumb drunk dude decided this was his moment to really commit, so he holds on and tries to squeeze your wee little head off. No problem! Widen your knees, drop your @$$, and connect to him by putting your hands at the end of  his jaw. Close your elbows. Connect to the floor through his head, then big posture: eyes up, chest up, shoulders packed. Pop!

Oh, look, an arm bar.

And Li found a path to the crucifix for that guy who just refuses to let go. It was bangin’.

So was the purpose of the whole blog to catalogue my lesson plan? Not at all. I don’t imagine my descriptions are all that illuminating. The point is that my understanding of movement just doubled as a result of teaching that class and I didn’t even know it until I sat down to write this.

I just realized the action of the sweep was the same as the side break fall. I drill the snot out of break falls every single class. I could have saved us a bunch of time. *facepalm*

I just realized that the sweeping action follows a similar principle to something I’ve been drilling.

I just realized that headlock is stupid because the elbow you’ve wrapped around someone’s head is way far from the body, providing a perfect lever for the shoulder.

I just realized that I’m learning twice as fast right now because I’m having to think more about the movements I’m sharing. Bonus! Ladies, thank you for making me better. Here’s hoping I crest the learning curve before next week’s class!

These four women destroyed the mats!

These four women destroyed the mats!

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Post Mortem_Montgomery Open 5.16.15

Competition is the yardstick I use to gauge progress, identify weaknesses, and test skill.  It’s also a lot of fun and it’s always great to hang out with the team.  I competed at the Montgomery Open on Saturday and had my most intense competition roll to date. This woman was strong and skilled and our match went the distance. I lost a 0-0 draw by decision. The ref awarded my opponent the win because he judged her the “more aggressive” competitor.

This is why you just can’t leave it to the zebras.

Keep in mind that, now as always, I compete for the reel and the errors I’ve made in tournament have permanently shaped my game. I grappled against a beast of a competitor from Vector Jiu Jitsu last year and I couldn’t manage her weight distribution effectively. It’s why I started obsessing over how to move my own body with greater ease and creating strategies to move myself when I can’t move my partner. 1000s of granbys and  yards of bear crawls later and I’m still working it constantly. Lauren Murphy took me down with a double a couple weekends later and, the next week, sprawl drills became a weekly thing. I’ve even worked them into my conditioning circuits at the gym. As iron sharpens iron, so have these women have refined my game.

…and I owe them huge debts of gratitude.

And so, too, do I owe my opponent yesterday. Our match exposed some great areas of opportunity and I was in the gym today plugging holes. Sean Bollinger was in town and saw the match.

Real talk? How cool is it that I had a 1st degree black belt watch me compete and give me immediate feedback.

I got caught in her closed guard and I could not break it. Argh! Didn’t we do this two years ago? You know – fight to a draw because I couldn’t pop open a guard? Bollox! Sean Beazy to the rescue with a great strategy: the triangle pass. It’s not a new concept, I’ve just avoided it because the triangle is right there…

Hence the name.

He showed me how to avoid the traps and set up the pass. It’s pretty bangin! Repped the snot out of it with my drill partner.  Then my smashtastic boyfriend Josh tweaked a couple things and I repped it some more. Got home. Organized the living room – a task that’s been on the ‘to do’ list for weeks – and got the mats down, then repped it with roommate extraordinaire and purple belt Sam Davis – who tweaked it yet again. I’m gonna put in 1000 reps in the next three weeks. I have no idea what’s gonna happen at the next competition, but I *won’t* be getting caught in anyone’s closed guard again. Because that sucks out loud. Twice.

Sean also pointed out that my opening guard pull has more potential. He described a sweep where I’d carry the person over my head and land in mount. It’s called tomo nage and I put in a boat load of reps on it. Sweeps and subs off the same set up. Lots of options, lots of numbers.

I had a perfect set up for a D’Arce, but didn’t close the deal. Sam addressed that. Reps needed there. Botched the deep half sweep. Reps needed there. Weak near side underhook in lockdown. Reps needed there.  Didn’t try for the Tesla Coil (hip coil from the Electric Chair set up). That was an error. I missed an opportunity to take her back. Gotta pay more attention. This roll exposed great stuff and I’m pretty stoked about it. I know exactly what I’m working on to prep for the next event.

It wasn’t all about what needs work, though. I came in with an agenda and, by and large, I did what I set out to do. I’ve been working guard retention for weeks and she didn’t pass my guard. I’ve been teaching guard pulling and I wanted to show my students that it works live against a skilled opponent. Did that. Been working on sprawling and executed a not altogether unlovely snap down off a weak shot. Bonus. Stood up when it was time to stand up. We drilled that in class. In this respect, it may be my strongest live performance to date.

And now I can drill in my living room.

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Blues for the Happy Heel Hooker: an Etude.

A couple weeks back, one of my teammates, a purple belt, asked how my blue belt was settling. It struck me as odd, that question. I hadn’t considered it. I figured it would be like a birthday: one day you’re 26, the next you’re 27. You celebrate with your friends, then wake up the next morning after one too many mojitos and there’s nothing tangibly different. You seem no wiser, unless swearing to never do that again counts. You’re no smarter and you’re certainly no more athletically skilled. It’s just another day.

And so it should be with a promotion. It was my coach’s public acknowledgment that I execute techniques live with a certain measure of skill (a measure of skill, he’s quick to add, that makes me easier to submit than a first week white belt). Nothing more.  It’s not as though the belt gives me a +2 to escape/+1 to submit with a 10% bonus on reflex saves.  It’s a piece of a uniform I almost never wear…

Then again, it definitely affected how my teammates treat me. Not the ranked players, mind you, but the white belts. I mean, it wasn’t long ago that I was the butt end of all the jokes with them. Now they give way if they’re grappling in my space. It’s endearing and awkward all at the same time. They definitely play harder with me now. More honor points to sub me, I guess. All I know for sure is that I’m playing a lot faster and a good bit harder than I had been and that’s a direct response to how folks are playing with me.

It’s pretty cool, actually.

I find myself taking more chances, fighting longer in submissions, and playing more brazenly. Why? Because I can. I have a better understanding of when I’m truly in danger or when a position just sucks. I think much less of moving my partner and work much more on moving myself. I find similar movement patterns that repeat across techniques and the connections help me learn faster. I’ve developed enough of a basic understanding of the game, that I’m starting to “find” things mid-roll.

Well, that’s new and different and TOTALLY FREAKING AWESOME.

I have more fun rolling now. I talk more smack. I drill more often. I think more on the pathways than their ultimate conclusions. I look back farther to unravel errors.

And I can happily heel hook whomever I please.

I think my new belt is settling nicely.

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Carmen goes blue

Worst. Blogger. Ever.

I keep thinking that I should re-cap everything that’s happened up until now, but that would take forever and I’d get bored. Let me sum up: I bought a house, turned forty, and got my blue belt. The latter is what’s got me thinking, at the moment.

I’ve worked a lot this year. My totally awesome drill partner, Chuck, and I are regularly in the gym every other Friday night and most Sunday afternoons. Yoga and open mat on Saturdays. Class and rounds on either Tuesdays or Thursdays; often both.  I’m the Fitness Director of an amazing facility and lead a team of gifted trainers. My trainer, JT, has been hammering my conditioning. We push until I can’t breathe. I recover and continue. It’s all about moving forward. Finding out how my body needs to move more dynamically and doing the effing work! It sucks, but it’s paying off.

Roll into class on March 17th with my other half and Sean Bollinger about 10 minutes early. Start moving around and stretching a bit; getting the blood pumping. Class starts. Coach puts me and one of my teammates in the middle of the mat and says “Kill her.” He tried. The whole team got a shot at me. Coach let each person play until someone tapped or it was an obvious draw. It went on for an hour.  We call it a shark tank and what a ride it was!

I wasn’t sure what was happening until he called out the second person to grapple with me.  I’d been waiting for the moment, but it caught me completely off guard. I don’t remember most of it; only snippets. I closed my eyes for a lot of it…closed my eyes and prayed to God for the strength to finish. I had no idea how soon I’d get a fresh opponent or how long I’d be in the tank, but class was large, so it was gonna be a minute.

And, to be clear, when I say that “I prayed to God,” I’m not being melodramatic. I’m not speaking colloquially.  I’m describing what happened. I felt so tired. My breathing was all outta whack. It was overwhelming. I closed my eyes and prayed and moved.

I was exhausted and my body was screaming at me. I wanted it to be over. My lungs burned and I could hear my heart beat thumping in my ears. By this time, I’d long since lost my pony tail holder and given up on keeping my hair outta my face. It was taking too long between rounds. The point of the shark tank is that you don’t rest. You keep working. Keep moving forward. It doesn’t matter if you tap. It matters if you quit and those two things are not at all the same

And then something clicked and I was on again. Back on my feet. There was something bone weary locked down deep because it wasn’t important any more. The only thing that mattered was that I finished. I completely lost track of time. I had no idea where on the mats I was. I found a position to rest when I needed. I secured dominant positions and maintained them, but my muscles were fatigued to the point that I couldn’t get them to contract for longer than a second or two. I didn’t have the squeeze when I needed it. I couldn’t finish.


And that’s when I broke. I have no idea when it got twisted, but suddenly my failure to obtain submissions was driving me out of my mind. I quit playing with any kind of technique. My objective was to cause pain; to make my opponent so completely miserable that they move because fighting me is unbearable. I felt like an otter banging a clam shell against a rock to open it.

But not a cute otter.

A mean otter.

An evil otter.

A “meavil” otter with lasers on its frickin’ forehead.

I’m not sure how I feel about that.

I honestly don’t remember the details of my matches and that’s both unusual and irritating. I can’t do a post mortem on what I don’t remember without a video. /grumble  We should start videoing these shindigs.

The snippets I *do* remember are pretty wonderful. I remember Alex walking onto the mat. She sat guard. I remember Chuck being the first to congratulate me as he swept me. I remember Matt looking adorable as he approached me – almost like he was a little sad to have to crush me at that moment. I hugged him, started from my feet, and tried to throw him (he’s a purple belt in Judo). Seems like he single-legged me. He was the first to submit me: Americana. I remember Beowulf saying something that settled me down when I was getting frustrated with not being able to execute coaching. Sam tapped me in 4 seconds. I don’t even remember what it was. Brandon *didn’t* crush me and that was a welcome surprise. Sean flowed around with me and did a bit of acro-yoga mid roll that felt like heaven on my aching back. I remember Josh coaching me through it all. Sometimes Brandon or Sam or Sean chimed in, but Josh was always there: in Jiu Jitsu as in life.

He also put me in Twister side and tied the belt on me as the entire team hollered at me to grapple with him, making the process drag on when my muscles were completely out of oomph. He welcomed me into the ranks by heel hooking me, then helped me on my feet and held me up while I got my legs underneath me.

Holy carp, y’all, I’m a blue belt!

Carmen goes blue

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