Thursday, July 5, 2007

Learning Curves: the Female Arc

As I mentioned in an earlier post, my time was divided between writing my blog and writing for a grappling publication. The article printed in the summer issue of the E-Journal of Jujutsu, published by Roy Dean. Following is an excerpt:

Yaam locked in the choke and I braced for the involuntary cough that would follow each rep she practiced. As I sputtered and coughed, she giggled the sweet little girl giggle of an eleven year old - one who could figure a fierce triangle with the geometry of spindly limbs and angular grimaces and grins. Until she got bored that is, and dissolved into lax conversation about dance practice and her new best friend. Class was done as far as she was concerned and she moved swiftly on to more important things then tossing around a women three times her age and twice her size.

I remembered my early struggles with that very same triangle and my fears that I would never master a move that seemed to require a Herculean strength and ridiculously long limbs. If nothing else, years later my eleven year old student definitively proved the contrary. Back then though, I was sure that my own little girl limbs couldn't make this move happen no matter what Marcelo Alonso, bless his heart, was trying to tell me. Oh, and by 'little girl' I mean I was thirty-two but short, full of excuses and completely naive to the wisdom of Brazilian Jiu Jitsu.

It would seem only an adolescent girl could learn the precise steps of a take-down, a leg lock or an arm bar without the gripping self doubt that I know I had during each of my early classes. I worried whether I had the strength, the size, the patience or the fearlessness to continue in a sport where few women were available to offer guidance or support. I wanted to stay so badly but whatever it was going to take to advance, I wasn't sure I had. My only measure was against my fellow white belts and it would appear I was being eclipsed.

And that's where women are misled in the early days of training. All white belts, men and women alike, make the mistake that strength is the keystone. But muscling a move will only mask gaps in technique that will haunt a grappler later in training. A woman without the ability to muscle a submission, will see some of her male classmates tap an opponent and assume that her training is lagging when she's unable to finish a move. From the perspective of skill acquisition, both grapplers are in the same place but with different results.