Whilst the world in is a state of panic with Covid-19, last week was the 1st week of official UK lockdown. Luckily for me, I used to work as a Freelancer and am used to working from home. So keeping to a normal schedule and work routine at home is more than fine. However, with gym closures, all the fitness goals I had, is now no longer relevant. Being an avid BJJ fan, the areas I was working on was upper body strength, explosive workouts and just general cardio. Since I no longer have access to equipments, I had to think of what other areas I need to work on.
I’m guilty of not paying enough attention to my flexibility. I have good hip flexibility in general but hamstrings, shoulder mobility, back bending… yeah nope. Plus, sitting down at home, and not really going anywhere is making things worse. So, to help, I’ve been trying to do some short yoga exercises that I can do whilst having a break from work, then after work as a routine. There are 3 areas I want to work on, they are:
This video was the first one I tried. It was… painful. My hamstrings were in agony, they were so stiff that I couldn’t even touch my toes. I have been following this video for about 4 days now and I can say I’m improving bit by bit. This video is short enough to do before lunch, then after, I’m straight back to work.
I would love to do a back bend. Unfortunately, although I can bridge and rest my head on the mat, I cannot for some reason push off my hands into the full pose. After talking with my S&C Coach, she identified the issue may come from mid spine mobility. To tackle this, she wrote a daily mobility programme that includes Upward Dog, Scorpion Kicks and T kicks. So I will see what my progression is like after a few weeks.
3. Plow pose
As a BJJ practitioner, being ‘stacked’ sometimes happens. Imagine being in the position like in the video above, but with someone else putting pressure on top of you. It’s not a nice position to be in (being folded upside down), so you have to learn to be comfortable in it. With the last few weeks of no training, this position have become very hard to do.
There’s a bend on my back here, my hamstrings felt tight and my neck didn’t feel too good either. Again, this is in my daily mobility programme. Hopefully before long, the flexibility will increase gradually.
Adapting to this new way of working out isn’t too bad, although I miss the social interaction and the ability to sweat with a hard workout (how weird :p) But, I am determined to be more flexible by the time this lockdown ends. So no excuses.
Injuries and training… I have made peace with myself that in some form or another, I will always have something wrong with my body. Training most days and sometimes picking up injuries before a big competition is very common. It happens almost every time, 2 weeks out from a competition and I would hurt my hip, or my knee and I would be limping for days. Often the diagnose from X-rays will tell me that I cannot train for 6-8 weeks. Right then Doctor… you’ve got to be joking right? The thing is, I am guilty for not looking after myself properly. That is, stretching before and after class, do strength training for weak parts of my body and mostly… go to see a Sports Therapist regularly to fix those niggles and keep my limbs working properly. I wonder how many of us are guilty of not looking after ourselves properly with the amount of training we do?
Our resident Therapist at Fighting Fit Manchester, Russell Batchelor (or Magician as I’d like to think of him) is fantastic at fixing people up. I may have mentioned this in my previous blog, but, he made me walk again after I limped for 4 days because of a hip flexor injury I picked up in training. He makes short exercise videos which I found really helpful and have started to do now quite regularly. So, let’s address some of the common issues and what exercises you can do to help fix them.
Issue 01: Rounded posture – when your shoulders are rounded forward to the front of your body.
Exercises: Wall angels, face pulls.
Issue 02: Neck injury – let’s face it… those guillotines, numerous amount of being sprawled on, those snap downs… will put tremendous stress on the neck.
Exercises: Assisted neck strengthening/stretch with band.
Issue 03: Hip mobility – a very important asset for grapplers. The exercises below are easy to do and great for warm ups.
Exercises: Hip rotations, 90/90 glute stretch, single leg glute bridge.
I’ve been doing the exercises above since the beginning of the year and they help a lot, especially with my hips. To summarise…
Take time to stretch before and after class or in your own time.
Do small activation warm ups.
Do pay attention to your posture and parts of the body that are weak or giving you problems and work on strengthening them (ask a professional to help you of course).
Do get regular sport massages to get your body in good condition (a personal recommendation).
Over a week has gone by since the British Open in Birmingham. Usually, after this time, I am able to think and analyse the positives and the negatives in my performance without being overly emotional and accept the fact that a lot of the time, I make the wrong decisions. That’s the beauty of competitions I suppose, it pushes you to be able to think under pressure. I have noticed a lot, that at my current belt (purple), a single wrong move or decision… can cost you the match.
The competition itself was held at the NEC Birmingham. The same venue as the Body Power Expo. So, a lot was happening during the 3 day period (10-12th May). Different belts and age groups were fighting at different dates. The ladies fought on Saturday, which was fun because it has been a long time since I competed with people from the gym and go as a team together with my Coach present. The venue was huge, with many stands selling different things from T-shirts to teeth whitener. UK Grapple Scene was there also to record the fights which was great, but you do have to be a member and pay a small fee to access the videos. The warm up area was disappointing. It was small, and there was only one. Considering they stated that there were going to be over 1000 fighters present, I was hoping for a bigger warm up area and changing rooms. But, hey… you work with what you have.
The matches for me, were good. I got to work on some guard pull to sweep, a take down and guard passes. Those were the positives. The negative was… lousy armbar attempts, which… in the last 2 minutes of the final, cost me the match. Also, lack of sleep and food has drained my energy to fight. Clawing your way back out from bad positions required energy which I didn’t have. This I’ve noticed is a re-occurring theme in my competition journey… but still have not done a single thing to fix it (go figure). I think my mind is so anxious that I’m always unable to sleep and eat properly. A note for self-improvement. Overall, it was a fun day out with the team. I almost forgot what it’s like to go out with support and people shouting behind you. It was great. A load of learning for the next competition definitely, but this time, a silver medal will do.
We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act but a habit.
After the Master World Championship in August last year, I hit a really low point in my life and took almost 3 months off Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu. I wanted to be on my own, cut off social media and was just wondering… what am I doing with my life, really? It was a time when I began to develop a lot of negative questions about my ability, self-worth, happiness etc… with a lot of ‘what is the point’ mindset. It was just a shitty time. Earlier this year I came back. Thankfully, not much has changed on my technical ability however, I have lost a significant amount of fitness and strength I’ve developed during the lead up to the Worlds. I started 2019 with goals again and one of them was committing myself to developing strength and conditioning for BJJ.
Enter Kate Whapples. Fighting Fit’s S&C Coach. I told her I want to be stronger, as often I compete in under 53.5kg. My walk around weight is 46-47kg to compete in the under 48.5kg (Rooster) category. It may seem like 5kg is not much of a difference, BUT… it really is. So, even when I’m the lightest, I’d like to at least not be completely be crushed like a pancake. Small goals :p
She started me on a programme for building basic strength for 6 weeks. Doing Squats, Chest Press, Rows, Jumps and Core exercises with only twice a week commitment to the programme. Then, she introduced Olympic Lifts and pull ups. The video below is from early February time, when I could barely do 5 body weight pull ups. This time the exercises have developed more into developing power and explosiveness. I was doing Hang Cleans, Squat Jumps, Split Jerks and Ninja Jumps. At the end there was always a small conditioning exercise too like ropes or rowing.
A month later, she introduced 1 more Olympic lift into the schedule. So far, I have been good I think in doing them but alas, I found my nemesis… the Snatch. For some reason my brain cannot tolerate something heavy swinging in front of me and staying above my head. But I like the challenge. The video below is from late March. Of course, I’m a complete beginner to Olympic lifts… so my techniques need a lot of sharpening up. But, you gotta start somewhere right? Also at this point, body weight pull up count have increased to 8-10 reps.
On to April, the month of the Abu Dhabi World Pro. It was a month of personal best. So far at 47kg body weight, April vs January numbers:
Chest press: 37.5kg 4×6 reps (started with 20kg bar)
RDL: 60kg 4×8 reps (started with 45kg 4x6reps)
I am very happy with how everything is progressing. Every time it’s always an opportunity to improve techniques and to challenge myself with more weights. I’m sure I can get a lot stronger than I am now but at the same time I know it takes time and discipline. Above PBs are from just over 3 months of S&C twice a week alongside BJJ. I can already feel the benefits of it in training, and I know Kate has some high goals on pull ups for me over the next few months. In our sessions she also made me do some injury prevention exercises and some yoga to keep my limbs nice and loose. Really helpful.
In summary, S&C compliments BJJ. Personally for me, it helps to break the BJJ routine and keep things interesting. Also, get a professional to help you. It’s worth it. Get someone you like and get on with as a Coach, who will push you constantly, be creative and write specific training for your goals… Or to just shout encouragements when you’re about to drop the bar. Again, it’s worth it. I mean, if my BJJ don’t get better anytime soon, at least I’m on my way to getting really strong (or as strong as a Rooster weight can be) 😀
Contact Kate Whapples: email@example.com Follow Kate @coachingbykate
“Our greatest weakness lies in giving up. The most certain way to succeed is always to try just one more time.”
Saturday, August 25th 2018. Competition day. Like the night before the Las Vegas Open a couple of days back, I didn’t manage to sleep well either. Another 3 hours at most maybe. On top of that, my nerves were going on overdrive. It’s not a good combination. Luckily, I still had to sew on the team patches on my Gi… So, in an effort to calm myself down, I started to hand stitch everything with a coffee and croissant breakfast by my side.
After that was done, I thought to myself… well that was quick. Now my mind was back to how my performance was going to be on the mat. Packed again, 2 Gis, one short, one rash guard, spares, belt and my flip-flops into a 45L bag, then I made my way to the Championship venue. CFS Black Belt Steve Payne was again my company for the day. The nerves were going on and off, I always wonder why people get nervous before a competition. Is it a performance issue? Is it because you’re scared of losing? Is it because you don’t want to disappoint yourself or your coach? People tell me, nerves are good, it means you care. For some reason… I was ok up to the night before and then… doubt. The ‘What if…’ questions started going around in my head.
Purple belt up to this point has been a very challenging journey in terms of competition. I have lost more than I have won, and most of them were to a submission. But, I dove straight in again and signed up to the bloody Worlds anyway regardless. I trained for weeks and weeks, I did strength and conditioning, made sure I eat properly, take supplements, and went through a horrible hip flexor injury and a few others in the process to be here at this tournament. In fact, the injury was exactly 2 weeks before my first ever sub only match at Battle Grapple 2 (3 weeks before the Worlds). I couldn’t walk for 4 days, and almost pulled out a week before the match, but I didn’t. The result was disappointing on my part, I made a mistake which cost me the match. The nerves however bad on that day was nothing in comparison to this moment at the Worlds.
I started doing research as to why people have this nervous feeling, and perhaps how to deal with it. Found a video of Firas Zahabi, which explained pretty well some of my own thoughts on this video below. At 2:01 he explained about what scares a fighter is not the fight itself, but the camera, lights, and people’s judgment on you. No one is perfect and you will have a bad day, what if that day is the one people remember and count on record? He’s right. That’s one part of it, now how to deal with it, is still a working progress.
I took a long warm-up that day, tried hard to visualise what I wanted to do and thought about what Jimmy Pedro was talking about yesterday on Saulo & Xande Ribeiro seminar (read here). After the weigh-in and gi check, I went into the bullpen and like always… tried to zone everything out, to just focus. I never listen to music before a match, I don’t have a specific routine to do (other than warm up), over the short years of competing, I simply learn to quieten all the noise around me. The more competition I go to, the better I am at this, too bad the nerves are still there though (one day). Until that moment I was worried, I knew I had a very tough opponent ahead, but I also told myself… all the training won’t be for nothing. She’s tough, but so am I, she’s strong but so am I, she may have more experience than me but no matter… I will fight. All the time I was in the pen, I kept repeating that in my head until they called my name. Steve and Yas Wilson (World Champion, Roger Gracie Black Belt) were on the side mat sat down and were ready to coach. I couldn’t be more thankful for the support 🙂
6 minutes. Was all I had. The match started and straight away my opponent pulled guard, but that was ok. I’m quite comfortable with guard passing, or so I thought… I spent more than 3 minutes trying to pass her guard, 1 minute of that, was me trying to fight out of a triangle. It was exhausting. The triangle was tight, but there was still room to breathe so I kept trying until I escaped (or she let go I’m unsure, it’s tiring to keep a tight triangle for a long time though so who knows).
After that, something happened which I didn’t realise at that time is a major fault when competing. Frustration. I was frustrated that I couldn’t pass her guard, this… clouded my thinking. Rather than calmy think, ok what now try this, feel where the blocks are, what are her legs and arms doing, I began to get… annoyed. Why.. why… why. A terrible mindset. It was a high paced match, both of us were very active, and I was getting more and more tired. Writing this now with a clear mind made me see a lot and this is something I have to make sure will not happen again. Experience is a great teacher, if I didn’t go and compete, I would not be able to see things that can help me improve.
My opponent won the match, at one point I was able to pull off a sweep but she was athletic and had a perfectly timed counter to the sweep. It was very good, but hey, when you’re fighting the Master World Champion, you expect a tough fight and that’s what I had. So I’m grateful even though I lost. After the fight, I ran off the mat and cried. Like… big time cried. It was such an emotional hit. I mean, regular competition when I lose, I immediately will just think ok, so what now. But this was something else. Everyone who came to the World Championship will have trained hard, or even harder than me. They’ll have put in the hours, work through injuries, the emotional ups and downs, the funds and everything into this so… it’s understandable why there were a lot of tears today. Both the silver medalist and the World Champ cried straight after their match as well, for different reasons I’m sure but still… tears. It is an emotional journey, and everyone wants to win.
So the lessons from this were:
Sleep and rest well (in my case perhaps I need to take some sort of aid like Reishi mushroom or something to help with sleep, or some herbal remedy)
An extended warm-up is a good thing to work off the nerves
Work on mental toughness
Never ever get frustrated
My Coach Martyn Cahill (1st-degree black belt) has prepped me well for this competition, I was physically in the best shape and I felt strong. My cardio was also surprisingly good considering lack of sleep and jetlag. For this, I am forever thankful. He commented on techniques that I need to work on and improve, so now I just need to regroup and train hard again for the next one!
“Every success story is a tale of constant adaption, revision and change.”
Thursday, August 23rd, 2018. It was the day of the IBJJF Las Vegas Open. The first competition on the trip and a 3-hour sleep was all I had. Woop. I’m always a nervous wreck before a competition and often, I don’t eat until it’s done because it would make me feel sick. But the more competitions I go to, the more accepting I am to this condition and I make sure to always eat and drink, whether I want to or not. The body needs it. There is a coffee shop on the ground floor at Westgate serving food and drinks 24/7. I ordered the croissant with egg, bacon and cheese with a bowl of fruit salad and a Cappuccino. I think that all came to just under $20.
CFS BJJ Black Belt Steve Payne came down to coach me that day, as we walked through the hotel, he taught me some breathing techniques to help calm my nerves. When we got to the venue, I quickly got changed, as my division started first thing at 9:30am. My weight was also spot on at 47.5kg with my uniform on. All was going well, now, on to the warm-up area.
I always start with a good stretch. Hips, shoulders, and neck before going on to the actual warm up. Sprawls, bridges, sit-throughs, star jumps, shoots etc. A lot of people were on the mat though, so movement was quite restricted. But, you’ve got to work with what you have… right?
The matches for Adult Purple belt is 7 minutes. My first match went all the way with me winning on points. The girl was tough, she fought very hard and didn’t give up until the end. I had a couple of sub attempts but couldn’t finish them. Like this guillotine attempt below (jeez).
Something to work on for sure. The second match, unfortunately, didn’t go my way. Most of the time I was trying to get out of a close guard and ended up in a triangle with an armbar 😦 I felt good overall though, sure I was fatigued but my performance was ok, and to finish the competition with a Silver Medal is a definite bonus.
After receiving the medal at the podium, I thought it was a good idea to treat myself to something sweet and cold. I’ve been looking at this Acai stand and was impressed by the size and also the price. I choose the Berry Bowl, which was $12 and you get granola, acai, blueberries, raspberries, mulberries, goji berries and banana. I have to say, it was pricey but worth it.
As well as the Las Vegas Open, the 2nd day of the World Master was in full swing. Today, the free seminar was with the multiple world champion Romulo Barral. I was really excited about this. We had to line up really early because the line was long and they had limited spaces. It was a bit surreal looking at people you watch on all these social channels in front of you. So many famous BJJ individuals in one place.
The Professor showed us Spider Guard techniques that day, with some drills using double sleeve also collar and sleeve grip to retain guard. He taught how to control the spider guard with possible situations and options from the Spider Guard also a combination with the Lasso Guard. It was a full mat, and it was a great opportunity to be there and learn from one of the best.