Today was it, the big semi-annual BJJ testing day. Student from several schools around our area gathered at a dojo in Freehold, NJ for the biggest testing group I have seen to date. Even with about 100 students testing, though, only 6 of us were woman. There were only 6 girls in the kids group as well. Clearly this is sport that only attracts the toughest of chicks. Sad, really, given how much this skills taught, which focuses a lot on how to take care of someone who has you pinned on your back, could benefit women.
This testing was a pretty big deal. Two of the students were testing for their black belts…the first American students our instructor had promoted to black belt. These two guys have been working for more than 8 years to get to this point, and their promotion was pretty cool to witness.
The first phase of the day’s testing involved demonstrating certain skills with a partner. I was lucky enough to partner with a young lady a stripe higher than me but with a background in instruction. She was an excellent and respectful partner, and I felt completely safe working with her. This part of the day went pretty smoothly, and I passed without problem.
The second phase of testing is rolling. Our instructor has the higher ranks line up on the mats, and we lower belts take turns rolling with them. My first round was against a beast of a man,one of the two testing for his black belt. He had every advantage over me: skill level, weight, and strength. Fortunately, part of that package also included enough experience to know that he had me completely outmatched, so he was very gentle with me. I felt like a teeny tiny kitten playing with a gentle-natured Rottweiler. He let me roll with him for a minute or so, mainly working on my defensive moves, before he decided that was enough, pinned me down, and tapped me out slowly and without doing me any injury.
My second round was with a younger woman with a blue belt. Things were going pretty well for a bit, and I was actually feeling confident that I would escape the day without injury, and then she whipped around and cranked my right arm into an arm bar with such speed and force that I was unable to tap before the damage was done. She clearly felt badly afterwards when she saw the look in my eyes as I fought back tears of both angry and pain, and I wound up having to comfort her. I spent the rest of the evening nursing and icing the elbow. Fortunately one of my training partners was familiar with this injury, and he worked on my arm, snapping the tendon back into place with a few painful tweaks. Hopefully his quick intervention will help me heal faster than I did the last time this happened. I don’t want to be nursing this arm for 3 months again.
I have a lot of mixed emotions about this. I am angry. I am furious at myself for letting this happen in the first place. Though I haven’t really had problems with the arm in the last few months, I could have warned the woman I was rolling with that my arm was vulnerable to arm bars and that she should take it slowly in applying the pressure. I hate doing that because telling someone to avoid a perfectly effective move feels like such a cop-out, but I clearly can’t handle getting a strong arm bar on that arm. I am also angry that she cranked it that fast, giving me no time to tap before she hurt me. I don’t know what motivated her, though, and it’s possible she was just as scared of me hurting her as I was of her hurting me. I’m disappointed and disgusted with another higher belt who, despite not seeing it happen, decided to lecture me that I was my fault because I should tap faster, and then told me that I should “pretend to roll” for the rest of the time…terrible advice to give someone with a freshly injured joint. I am also just so damn sad that this happened. I am afraid that injuring this arm again will make it even more vulnerable in the future. And then there’s gratitude in that emotional mix. I’m grateful for my friend’s quick intervention to help the arm. I’m grateful for Advil. I’m grateful for ice packs. I’m grateful for Tiger Balm. And beer. I’m grateful for beer.
At this point, I’m not sure that I’m going to continue with the BJJ. I was afraid of today’s testing for good reason. While I did get my stripe today, each of my three stripes cost me some pretty unpleasant injuries. From what some of the others told me, this is common at testing. So it’s not just me being incapable, it’s the culture in which I’m participating. At this point, I don’t know if it is worth putting the safety of my joints at risk over and over again.
I’m not going to make any decisions on this quickly. I don’t have to. I can keep training with my usual group for the next few months. I trust them completely and know that they will not hurt me. It’s the testing days that worry me. The next testing is several months away, so I have until then to decide if I’m going to keep pursuing these pieces of tape, or just learn the skills in a safer environment and say to hell with the belts.
But for tonight, I’m going to drown my pain in Advil, pizza, and beer.
BJJ testing. This went from 2 pm to 7 pm, but there was a lot of sitting around and waiting between bouts of furious activity.
- Whole wheat everything bagel with smokey sun-dried tomato tofu cream cheese
- Tempeh avocado wrap from Dean’s Natural Market
- Salt and pepper potato chips
- Cold brew New Orleans style coffee with soy milk
- Piece of dark chocolate
- Whole wheat cheese less pizza with Daiya shreds, Fauxmesan, and sriracha
- Boddington’s Ale
- Mini candy to drown my sorrows. I ate the ones I generally don’t even like. The rest are leaving the house ASAP.