So I said before that this piece would be about some of the wonderful people I get the opportunity to train with on the regular, and also about the importance of a tight knit group when training in a martial art. Amongst the girls who I train with, the sport that we do is jokingly known as “competitive cuddling”. Yet, if you think about it, we’re not far wrong.
This is a sport in which you do get extremely up close and personal with people. Often at the end of the training session I’ll find myself absolutely covered in sweat, and I’m not entirely sure how much of it is mine and how much is other peoples. It’s fondly known as boy sweat, because girls don’t sweat y’know? Gross, yes, but true. I’ve had other people’s sweat drip on my face, had hair in my mouth, been up close and personal with several people’s armpits. This is not the sport for those who find close physical contact uncomfortable. Due to this, trust is one of the most important factors in this sport. You couldn’t get this physically close to people and not trust them. I think this is common in most martial arts, or maybe it’s just common in sports in general. A team spirit develops, despite the fact that this is an “individual” sport. If any one of my BJJ family was in trouble, I would leap in feet first to help them out. Though, to be fair, if it was any kind of confrontational trouble, I’m fairly sure most of them could take care of themselves!
The team is also crucially important at competition, especially for me. To have my team standing mat side whilst I’m sparring, either shouting encouragement or advice, is crucial for me. Sometimes you can’t necessarily hear exactly what they’re saying (it can all get a bit hectic when in the heat of a match), but just knowing that they’re there is great. Even though it’s just you and your opponent on the mat, knowing that they care that much to come watch you is very encouraging. It’s the same the other way around, whenever any of my team are competing, I’m standing mat side, either chewing my nails down to stubs, or shouting myself hoarse to encourage them. I got told off by a table judge at Manchester for shouting advice at Kasia from mat side. I was told that I had to go to the other side of the barrier if I wanted to coach, so all I did was go to the barrier, lean over it, and shout from there. Watching my team compete is almost worse than doing it myself. I get so unbelievably nervous for them, indignant if their opponent tries something crafty, sad if they happen to lose, and over the moon in victory. Even though this is an individual event, every competition feels like a team effort. I remember when two of our coaches headed of to the European Championships earlier this year, I was glued to my phone, constantly refreshing for the results (Kieran picked up gold in his blue belt division). I feel every victory or defeat of my team more than I do my own, but I am inordinately proud of them whatever the outcome should be, ’cause I know how immensely hard they all work.
One of the best competitions I’ve ever done in terms of team support was down in Hull. About six of us went down to compete, and we were definitely the loudest team there. I ended up picking up a gold at that competition after winning my first match by armbar and my second by rear naked choke. This was mostly achieved by having my corner hollering for me and listening out for advice. I also kept an ear out for what the other girls team were yelling at her, and then doing the exact opposite. Every person from Kaizen who went down that day picked up a medal.
On a day-to-day basis, however, I rely on my team both to train with and as my support system. We’re all training together, aiming to get better at every training session we do. Each of us have our different strengths and everyone is happy to share their ideas. Luke Wilding, for example, is really into hunting for leg and foot attacks. We’ve said if he ever does a pro fight he’d have to come out to Footloose by Kenny Loggins. Just for the troll factor. The other day he taught me a nuance to the footlock which meant that I’ve now been hitting them 95% of the time, rather than 50% that I was doing before. This was done by simply sliding my hand further back along the ankle, so the sharp bit of my wrist bone is in the achilles tendon of my opponent. It’s all in the small details. I’ve been working on my half guard and basing with Ze, my deep half guard counters with Cosima (I’m getting there Cos!!), my guard retention with Natalie, darce defences with Neil, arm bar nuances with Michael, wrestling with Amy (we’re both starting from the beginning!), single leg-x and take downs with Kasia. These are just a few of the people I regularly train with and there are many many others who are all uniquely amazing and bring something different to my training game.
I’m also uniquely lucky in that there is a large handful of girls at Kaizen Academy, and therefore I get to roll with people who are relatively close to my weight on a regular basis. I weighed in at 50.9kg yesterday, so I don’t want to be rolling with a 85kg guy all the time – it doesn’t give me a good practice for my weight class. And anyway, girls definitely have a different rolling style to guys, regardless of their preferred techniques. I think girls are generally more aggressive than guys, in terms of their pressure placement and their cross-facing. I could technically enter the weight class below the one I do. I currently go for <56.5kg in no-gi, but there is an <51.5kg. I don’t think I’d want to drop to that one, however, because my weight does have a tendency to fluctuate a bit, and I’d rather not be worrying about making weight. Equally Kaizen already has a girl who competes at <51.5 (Kasia) and a girl at <61.5 (Cosima), so I think it’s cool if we could continue to field at least one girl in every category.
Anyway, in a very roundabout way, what I’m trying to say is that I consider myself so so lucky to have this wonderful group of people to train with, each who bring something new and unique to the table and to my game. New people come in, join the group and the dynamic shifts slightly to include what they have to offer. Other people leave, but when they come back and visit they’re welcomed back with open arms.
Thanks for being beyond awesome guys and I hope you’re of proud as me as a team member as I am of all of you,