When I first started training, I did almost entirely nogi grappling. Minimal kickboxing, no fancy outfits...I only picked up a cheap blue Fuji and began to grudgingly do one of the gi classes after a few months of being hassled into it. At the time, I vehemently insisted that gi "just wasn't my thing" and was therefore totally unconcerned with the whole concept of ranks and belts. HAH! The innocence of newbies. I don't know exactly when things changed, but somewhere along the way I became all about the gi (yes, Liz was super smug about it) and kicked up my efforts to really focus on the details, improve my technique and actively work towards my blue belt.
It's been quite a journey. One of my favorite things about grappling is that it's not the same for everyone; each person learns in their own time, in their own style. During one class, we were drilling a relatively easy spin around the back and something in my brain short circuited. Instead of doing step 1, 2, 3, I kept doing step 1, and then some bizarre hopping, flying motion that magically landed me at step 3. I mean, it kind of worked, but my inability to do it the usual way was a total mystery. When I asked Christian to observe and showed him my version of the move, he smiled, shrugged, shook his head and said, "What can I say? You travel in your own way."
In the early days, most of my partners were pretty big guys and I didn't get a lot of time to work with Liz or the smaller dudes, so I developed a primarily defensive game. Over the first sixth months, I went from being crushed and submitted every few seconds to being crushed and submitted only once in a while by the same people. Forget tapping anyone out; if I could just frustrate my partners enough by escaping and defending for most of the round, I considered it an epic win.
Once I got to a point where I could actually survive, I started trying to sneak in submissions and get better at transitioning from defensive to offensive positions. Mount became my go-to place and armbars became my focus. Liz is something of an evil armbar god so I'm always trying to learn more from her. I found my preferred guard passes (sexy creepy smash pass FTW) and the sweeps that worked best for me and started to develop my own game. It's an ongoing process that's always changing, but it's slowly coming along. I've also started rolling harder instead of just kicking back for the lazy flow roll that used to define my groundwork, and it's made a real difference not to mention certain training partners very happy. Whenever we have a good, hard roll, Liz gets that maniacal smile on her face and enthusiastically shakes my hand and thanks me afterwards.
The funny thing is, I've been working extra hard since I got my 4th stripe earlier in the year and had this borderline obsessive gotta wreck it, gotta get my blue belt, any day now attitude for a good few months before finally realizing how stupid it was to be focused on that instead of just doing what I needed to do. Literally the week after I stopped thinking that way and decided that I would never get promoted (yes, I admit it, it gets a little dramatic inside my head), I got my new belt. My recent decision to stop waiting for it just made it that much more unexpected and surprising.
I've had long, intense rolls before but I've never done an Iron Man for that long with everyone standing around and watching. It was exhausting and awful but I made it through to the end. At least I didn't get submitted until Liz tackled me from behind and proceeded to gleefully tap me out over and over in rather brutal ways. It was an ass kicking with love, though, as I am now the second female to ever get promoted at our gym, and it felt fantastic. I damn sure plan to keep working my ass off and hope to earn my purple belt someday...at which point Liz will undoubtedly be a brown or black belt and still making me look stupid. I look forward to that day and in the meantime, I'll continue to learn new things, get better at what I already know, and enjoy absolutely every second of it.