I just wanted to give a quick introduction on our guest writer, Jem. Having met her several years back when I first got to Bangkok, I never thought she would eventually join us on the mats and mix-it-up. Nowadays, she keeps me in-check with her technical and aggressive game. We're all very proud of what she's already accomplished and her will to go even further. -Luke

My Way of Life with BJJ and Muay Thai

When people ask me how I got into the tough contact sports of BJJ and Muay Thai, I am often tempted to say that it was due to:

1. Needing an outlet to vent my pent up energy, which BJJ and MT allowed me to do;

2. Because I am strong, capable woman that likes to get in a get dirty with the boys!

3. Because I was a huge fan of the sports and wanted to commit myself to the intensive training they offered and to compete professionally to test my new found capabilities.

Unfortunately my side of the story is not as interesting as that nor as profound. But as I journey into these MA worlds I find that all of the above have actually come true for me!

My journey into BJJ began quite innocently. I met my husband, Adam, when he had just got his brown belt. He was (and is) well versed in BJJ and began teaching regularly. I would go along to his classes after work in order to wait for him (not exactly butt kicking material right??!) and it came to the point where I thought, I am here waiting for him, wanting to be with him, every day, why not try the class while I am here?? Well, the idea germinated in my head for a month before I plucked up the courage to step on the mat. I was scared! Most of all I was scared of the warm up. At this point I was not most fit. I did the occasionally exercise which was limited to swimming. Even then, most of the time would consist of me splashing around for a bit then sunbathing after. No, my only form of rigorous exercise was running for the bus to make sure I got to work on time. How could I, ME, get through one of these BJJ warm ups with all these bear crawls and squats and burpees…..they must be mad, I thought.

I finally managed to get on the mat and have never looked back. My first two weeks consisted of me doing (insert – getting through) the warm-ups and practicing technique. I did not roll for the first two weeks. I just watched. Once I started wrestling I was in love with BJJ! I couldn’t get enough. I can look back now and say that I had no idea what I was doing. I was just letting my body go with it. It many respects, once you attain a certain level of confidence, I find you are constantly looking at how to get back to that beginner white belt stage of just letting your body go with it, letting your body roll. Sometimes, now being a blue, I tend to suffer from what Adam calls, “paralysis through analysis” and it is so true! You have to let yourself go to a certain degree and trust in what you have learnt.

In BJJ I train mostly with men. I believe that this has had a huge impact upon my game. Even though I am quite big (walking naturally at 65kg or weighing 62/63 Kg for competitions) I still have to be technical with the bigger guys who do have strength behind them. I am fortunate in that the guys that I regularly train with do not “power out” on me. They push me but they do not crush me! I also believe this is good for the guys as well, to practice without powering out. As a woman though, one is always going to encounter the guy that just flat out refuses to tap to a girl!! Once I was rolling with a pretty large, strong man. He was a white belt at the time and had only being doing BJJ for around a year. I managed to get him in an arm lock. I do not joke when I tell you he began to turn purple in sheer desperation to get out of the hold! He powered out. I let him go. I knew that I had a hold, but was unwilling to risk injury to spite someone’s ego!!

In my first year I was obsessed with BJJ. I trained 6 days a week (plus working full time at that point). I could not get enough. I believe this is typical with fresh beginners! They want to get as much mat time as possible. But if anything, I would offer advice to those starting – don’t try to push yourself to do it 6 days a week!! I would often get sick, I believe from over-exhaustion. If you have the time to solely dedicate your time to BJJ then okay, but if you are working as well, 3-4 times a week is enough!!

My journey into Muay Thai began quite unexpectedly. I was fixated on BJJ. Then, one year I was on a break from work and decided to just train Thai Boxing for two weeks to see if I liked it. Until this point, I always considered myself a grappler. Having done BJJ for roughly 4 years at this point, I believed that I was not meant for stand-up. I could not box! I could not kick!! But I wanted to try it out. When I started, my BJJ background helped in many ways. When I began Thai Boxing I was completely new to the standup game. I had no background in Karate or TKD or anything. I was a fresh slate and I now see how that in itself has helped with my Muay Thai. My conditioning from BJJ helped immensely (yes, those dreaded warm-ups have saved me on more than once occasion!) and my clinch base was strong due to BJJ. Everything else I had to learn from scratch.

I was hopeless for the first few months. I did not know what to do on the bag, had to learn how to kick properly on the pads, and I was totally embarrassed doing shadow boxing! I felt so self conscious. But I have a stubborn nature, and I was determined to get better at this because I was actually enjoying learning another art. As with BJJ, you have to dedicate a lot of time and effort to learn the basics in Muay Thai. The first few months of Thai Boxing is pretty tough. I mean, the whole sport is very tough, but the first few months particularly so. My shins ached every night. My arms ached. My body ached! Many nights were spent nursing swollen limbs! I was fit, but fit for BJJ does not correspond to being fit for Thai Boxing and vice versa. I had to adjust to this new training. On top of this, I was still attending BJJ 3 times a week. I was in Martial Arts heaven!!!

At this point I made a big decision. I decided to quit my job and just work part time, a few hours a week. I wanted to make the most out of training and I wanted to fight. After just four months of training I was offered my first Thai Boxing fight. I was excited!! It’s funny looking back on it all now. I did not know what to expect, so my nerves did not kick in until I was about to step into the ring. As I was fighting in Phuket, I spent over an hour on the promo bus which actually caused me to be late! We got back to the stadium just in time to oil me up and get my wraps done and then it was like, boom, get in the ring! I had not time to work myself up! I was fortunate. I am still fortunate. In the all the fights that I have had since, I do not get too stressed pre-fight. I know people that feel sick for a few days before. I feel fine. My nerves kick in about a few hours before the fight and then when I am at the stadiums. But your body has to feel that anxiousness. When I feel shots of adrenaline pumping through my body, I simply tell myself this is my body’s way of preparing itself for the fun time ahead!!! Experiencing fighting is like no other feeling I have ever felt. I love it. Each fight just gets better and better. Fighting is so completely different to training. You cannot fight without training and sparring in particular, but nothing can replicate a fight. That is why with each fight you have you gain such invaluable experience.

I would have to say that BJJ and Thai Boxing are very different. The most basic difference being that one focuses on the ground, whereas the other focuses on standup. But they are both incredibly tough sports. At this point in my life, I would say that I dedicate more time to Thai Boxing. There are many reasons for this right now and one is because I am in Thailand (fortunate to learn from the best!) and another is due to the fact that I have been actively fighting every month (or once every 6 weeks for so). When you are fighting in Thai Boxing, you must dedicate yourself to training twice a day (when possible). I cannot train BJJ when preparing for Thai Boxing matches, or else I risk grappling based injuries!! Not to mention that I am just way too exhausted to train anything else!

As far as conditioning goes, I like to run as often as possible. Running is the best form of endurance based, stamina focused exercise. It is what helps you get through rolling in BJJ and rounds in Thai Boxing! I have been told that you cannot do a Thai Boxing match without running (well, you can, but you feel gassed out!) and it is so true. I feel the same for BJJ, even if I have not been training BJJ (attending all those drill specific warm-ups!) I can handle the pace due to my fitness garnered from running and skipping.

On a final note, what is it like being a woman doing these tough, contact sports? I am often asked why I would like to do them. I have even been asked why I would fight Thai Boxing since it is a “man’s sport” and women should not be in the ring getting hit (yes, I kid you not. Some people do still think this way!). I would like to say the answer is easy. But it is not. I would like to say that it is because I like to challenge myself, but that may be 20% of the reason why. There are so many factors. I love it all. I love the intensity of training, I love being pushed and I love being a show pony. There is certainly part of me that enjoys having my picture taken after fights and people coming up and chatting to you about the fight and training. This may not be for everyone (in fact my husband is the complete opposite) but I love it! But the most important factor is this: Love. I love doing what I am doing and it makes me happy. I love life because I am doing what I want to do. I am not caught up in a job that I don’t want to be at. Sure, it is tough, very tough at times and there have been many tears along the way. But I can say with confidence now that so little bothers me. I know I can get through life’s challenges. My outlook on life has changed dramatically since taking up these arts. I look back on the girl that was afraid to step on the mat and I want to pat her on the back. When I meet girls like me, how I was in the past, and they are contemplating BJJ or Thai Boxing, I want to take them by the hand and tell them that that initial step on the mat, or in the ring, has the potential to change their lives forever.



Anonymous said...

can i ask you something?

dont you bother of the injuries with which you strain your body?

i am in a position where one of my parts of myself says do bjj (for sef confidence reasons ) and another part tells me : are you crazy? dont do it! just search the internet and you will see that it is 100% sure you will get injured in the knee, or ankle, or elbow, or even spine, back, neck... get chronical pains, herniated disks etc... these are real.. not fantasies

so what do you have to say?

Jem said...

I would say that if you thought about all the injuries you could potentially incur, you would not step on the mat or in the ring.
It is a given that you will get injured in some way (be it a bruise to torn ligament) but you train smart to avoid the 'bigger' injuries. First, you gotta be fit - fitness is a key weapon in preventing injuries.
Also, make sure you stretch before and after any session.
Take care of your body with good food and vitamins. These are all things you can do to help lessen the more painful of injuries.

Like I mentioned before, playing any kind of contact sport (be in BJJ, Thai Boxing, Rugby etc) means understanding and acknowledging that injuries are part of the deal. Yes, they are real, they are not fantasies so you just have to take proper precautions.

Other than that, if you still find yourself fretting over potential injuries, you will most likely injury yourself and/or your partner, so it might be safe to say that another sport may be more beneficial for you :)

LUKE said...

In my experience, it's sparring with the inexperienced and intimidated that bring the most injuries. Out of panic, someone makes a spastic and explosive movement that can lead to someone getting hurt. So when I train with newbies, I make sure to keep things calm and controlled. If the other person doesn't get the hint, then I do what I can to protect myself and my partner.

I think it would be irresponsible for an instructor to just throw a newbie into the mix from the beginning. In most schools that I've been to, you may have to wait up to 2 weeks before you're allowed to spar. Taking that time to recognize the basic movements and watching others first so that the initial experience isn't so foreign and scary.