Boundaries in tournaments

Lunchtime BJJ in Seattle.

As soon as I saw that the first drill involved jumping guard, I ran over to grab John. At 20lb heavier than me, he was by far the smallest person in there- and I didn’t want some 260-lb guy jumping guard on me! As it was, I let John slither to the floor a few times, but at least I didn’t drop him on his head!

So we jumped guard on each other, then some armbar drills from guard, then we started timed rolls. I got John first. I was trapped in his guard for the entire roll. Then Marc. That one was a litte more dynamic, and I even got mount- but neither of us subbed the other. Then I had to take a break.

Open mat- I asked John for another roll. He kept catching me in triangles, whereupon I would stack him. Twice he transitioned into armbars, just like Julie had done to me last weekend. So he helped me with the triangle defense where you move toward your trapped arm and step over the opponent’s body. That’s the same one Pat had been trying to teach me last week. If only I had absorbed it, it might have gotten me out of that spot in the tournament. It was another case of me not being able to keep straight whether I need to go to the right or to the left. Hope I got it this time- it’s toward the trapped arm. Carlos also walked me through a defense against getting kimura’ed while in guard.


No-gi Friday night at Cindy’s. SK was with me, and I took the opportunity to pick his brain in the car.

I first approached the issue sideways and asked, "Do you think my kung fu needs to be "meaner"?" He answered, "Yes." almost before I had the question fully out of my mouth. Humph. Nothing like those cold-bucket-of-water-in-the-face-style reality checks. I then asked him if he sees a dichotomy between my level of aggression in my kung fu sparring versus my BJJ rolling, and he doesn’t think so. So apparently (according to him) I’m not "mean" enough in either MA- which wasn’t exactly my perception. (Maybe I need to change my screen name… "Retiring Kitsune", perhaps?) Then we had to dissect the definition(s) of "mean" and the definitions(s) of "aggression". He feels that you can’t be "aggressive" in an MA until you have enough of a toolbox to have options for constantly pushing your attack. I then asked if that means he doesn’t consider the Spazzy White Belts "aggressive". He thinks that "drunk lout" type aggression (of which Spazzy White Belts may be considered a subgroup) is very different from skilled technique-based aggression in MA… and the "drunk lout" type aggression is not effective enough to even be considered significant (in his eyes).

I asked him if he would do "mean" things in a tournament, and he says that as long as it’s legal, he’d have no problem doing it. Something illegal that the ref didn’t see= not okay. Would it make any difference if it was a teammate versus someone he’d never met before? No. What if he was in the absolutes and going against someone thirty pounds lighter- is it "mean" to use your weight to help you win? No. You don’t feel like it would be a "better" win if you did it with pure technique as opposed to doing something that wouldn’t have worked if he didn’t have the weight advantage? No. It’s a tournament; here are the rules; if he’s within the rules, all is well.

I envy him; it all seems to be pretty clear-cut in his worldview. I asked him a ton of "If situation A, would you…" type questions, and he didn’t waffle at all on any of his answers….. even if I couldn’t always buy into (or in some cases even follow) the logic.

I do think I hit on something important while we were talking, though. He said that even if he has never worked with the person before, he very quickly gets a sense of how intense that person will/can go, and adjusts his own intensity accordingly. I’m not sure if I have that instinct, or at least have it tuned as well. I almost never have the experience of doing *any* MA with someone that I outmatch- so I have had very little practice of adjusting my level of intensity downward. I’m not sure if I ever really adjust upward, either, now that I think about it- I assume the other person is going to have to adjust downward to accomodate me. But I could feel something about that part of the conversation tickling my "we’re getting close to the REAL issue" sensors. I think it has a lot to do with not knowing where the boundaries are.

I have mentioned before that I am less comfortable working with JM than with many people, simply because she is not forthcoming about where her boundaries are. Since I can’t figure out where they are, I feel like I have to tiptoe around to try to avoid crossing them- which is generally confusing, uncomfortable and makes me go a lot lighter than is probably useful for either of us. With JB, I just go ahead and whack her because I know she will tell me if it’s too hard. Over long practice I get a sense of how hard I can go with her, and she has to give me feedback less often.

I don’t know where the boundaries are in a tournament. Yeah, I know what’s against the rules. But there is that wide range of "legal but arguably MEAN" stuff. Particularly with someone I’ve never met before, I don’t know if she is willing to/going to thump all her weight down hard on my ribs, so I am reluctant to do such a thing to her.

Even if I had SK’s sense of being able to quickly gauge her level of intensity- in a tournament, is there even that much time to waste? You’re putting yourself in the position of waiting to see how she’s going to roll so that you can react to it. In the dojo, there’s always the option of saying, "Hey dude, I need you to go a little lighter on my right-side ribs please" or even stopping altogether if anyone squicks your boundaries. In a tournament you can’t do that. There is no negotiation of the (finer) boundaries, and no time/leisure to try to suss them out on your own.

Hell, even if she *did* thump all her weight down hard on my ribs, I think I’d still hesitate to do it back- so maybe all these boundary questions are completely irrelevant due to an unwillingness in me to do certain things in *any* case.

Facing off in the tournament against someone I didn’t know at all…. I don’t recall feeling afraid OF HER…. I do recall feeling afraid. I assumed I was afraid of getting completely humiliated (flying armbar sub at four seconds), and surely I was… but now I think I can identify a large part of my fear as "I don’t know where the boundaries are in this confrontation…. making me confused, unsure, reluctant to assert myself."

This bears a great deal more thinking… and meandering in my blog…. and maybe getting some other people’s thoughts on. But I really feel that this is a very important issue for me as regards tournaments in particular, and my MA in general.

Anyway, back to class: Cindy had a new warmup drill- "This one’s for you, Kitsune!" I had complained that it seems I need more core strength. This drill has you lying on your back and inching yourself to the side by hipping out and then doing a similar motion with the top half of your body. No fair using feet or elbows. It took me a really long time to grasp any semblance of this movement- and when I did, it was very difficult and it hurt muscles that I didn’t know I had. Obviously, I need to do a lot of this. Ouchie.

We did some guillotines from standing, then into guard (I was very relieved to be drilling with SK- I dread going from standup to guard with my neck in a guillotine unless I’m working with somebody I really trust. I break out in a cold sweat whenever we have to do these at Gracie’s. It just seems like a great way to end up a quadriplegic for the rest of your life with one tiny jerk at the wrong angle). Then the opponent defends the choke, so you transition into a triangle. There were a lot of steps in this, and I had a hard time with it. Still having trouble climbing the triangle up the person’s back, trouble closing it, trouble getting my hips up high enough, trouble remembering to grab my shin before I start adjusting the angle so the person doesn’t just stand up and walk away. I’m frustrated to have so much trouble with triangles in general- this is supposed to be the female BJJ’er’s "go-to" move!

Then sparring. Cindy is on the bench with knee issues. I went with SK, then Elliot, then said, "I need a break" and started for the bench, but Cindy was having none of that. "No break for you! Go with Ian!" Argh. So tired. Then SK again. I was trapped in my old familiar residence of bottom half-guard a lot of the time with all three guys. They all kept crossfacing me hard out of deep half guard, which was very annoying. I got mount briefly on each one, but only when they reversed THEMSELVES (they all did that tonight)! I was THIS CLOSE to getting an armbar set up on SK once. I truly thought I had it, and I got really excited. He succeeded in muscling out of it. I’ll tell you, if Satan himself had appeared at that moment in a puff of brimstone and offered me that armbar in exchange for my immortal soul, I might have said yes. I wanted it that bad. But I didn’t get it. Tonight. Someday.

Lamont asked me if I was going to do the Revolution. I said, "We’ll see." Cindy said, "We’re planning on it."


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