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I want to compete a lot this year, and for my first competition of the year I decided to do the no-gi at Grappling Industries in London. This is the first time that Grappling Industries has come to the UK, so it was quite exciting.

One good thing about Grappling Industries is that they don't use IBJJF weight categories. They have an u105lb category for no-gi, which is a fair bit lighter than what I usually end up competing at. I was excited to get a match close to my weight!

I went down the night before, stayed not far from the venue, and then went to compete. It turned out that the venue was right next to the ruin of Grenfell Tower. It was weird being there and seeing the memorial and the shell of the building. I posted about that on Instagram at the time. I was in London, not far from Kensington, the night of the fire and it brought some memories flooding back.

There's some spoken word poetry posted on the wall of the barriers around the tower, that calls it the Black Tower of London. It's strange walking through Kensington and seeing all the memorials and photos posted in windows and on fences in the area. To the rest of England, Grenfell is just a distant memory, but it's still raw and real to these people. They lost friends and family. They live with that reality every day. Honestly, it made 'being at a BJJ tournament' feel like small stuff.

I was the only person from Origin competing at Grappling Industries, but Wesley from Lone Star had made the journey as well, and had competed in the gi tournament the day before. He stuck around to corner me for the no-gi, and it was a big help.

I had one opponent, and we ended up doing best 2/3. I won both matches with a simple takedown>pass>mount strategy. The first one I won on points. My opponent was stubborn and refused to give anything up. My plan had been to get the back, but she refused to let me and kept fighting all the way through, actually escaping mount and getting some offence of her own in towards the end.

The second match I repeated the same strategy, and tried for a wristlock that Wesley had suggested, but there wasn't quite enough time for me to practice it in the break between matches, so I went for an ezekiel instead, and got the tap. I haven't had a good record in no-gi so it felt nice to get the win!

I'm hoping to do BJJ 24/7 Manchester in February, and potentially one more. Then the Adult National Championships in March. After that I'll probably rest in April, and then get ready for the British Open in May. I've got a lot to work on!

This year, I'm planning to compete as much as I possibly can; finances and health allowing.

So far, my plans are:

January 13 - Grappling Industries in London, No-Gi
February 17 - BJJ 24/7
March 3 - Elite BJJ Events Adult Nationals Gi
March 31 - Southend Open (Sub Only)

If I can make all of those, that will be almost as many tournaments in the first quarter of the year as I managed in the whole of last year, and since they're planned ahead it should hopefully work out!

I'm aiming to do Hereford adult and masters as well, and the Surrey Open, and hopefully one of the All Stars events as well later in the year.

Everything is booked for January now. I'm really looking forward to seeing what Grappling Industries events are like. I've heard nothing but good things about them from people in the USA, and they were very responsive when I contacted them with a scheduling question, so that's promising.

There are four no-gi classes between now and the London tournament. That's not long enough to make any changes to my game, so I'll just be getting a couple of hard sessions in then relaxing for a few days. It will come around fast.

Ingress is an AR/geolocation based game made by Niantic. It was the game before Pokemon Go, and the Pokestop and gym database is actually taken from the Ingress portal database. The games are fairly different in terms of exactly HOW they are played (there are no creatures to catch in Ingress, instead, the game is divided into two sides which compete for control of the portals in the game, and link portals together to create fields, which then 'control' areas). I play both games, but personally I think Ingress is more fun.

I started playing Ingress several years ago, but never really took it seriously because for the longest time I had a Windows Phone, and it's not that easy to play Ingress on a tablet. So, I didn't really level up all that far, and I quit the game before it had badges. I changed over to Android recently and went back to Ingress. A lot has changed!

One of the biggest changes is that to level up past level 8 you need badges as well as experience points. To earn the different levels of badges you need to put in a LOT of of time hacking portals, creating links and fields, recharging resonators and doing other in-game tasks. I started looking at some of the badges that were 'quick wins' so that I could rack up enough gold badges to continue leveling.

Sojourner is an "easy" gold (simply hack a portal every day), so was one of my first ones to aim for:

Another interesting one is the Spec Ops badge, which you get for doing missions. I travel a lot to go to tournaments, so at least once a month I'm in a different town or city. That means I'll have the chance to run a few extra missions in different places.

Missions are fun. They send you around the city going to different waypoints, and you get to read about what each landmark you're visiting is. Sometimes I'm guilty of speed running the missions and not really taking the time to look around, but if I have the time I do let myself get side-tracked and take the time to soak up the atmosphere. I was in York for a training course, and got to see some nice architecture and some historic sights then. I'll be in Edinburgh in December, and London in January, so it's going to be fun exploring!

I've always had mixed feelings about the idea of "martial arts being empowering for women". Maybe it's because I'm really small and most of the arts I train are ones where hard sparring is a part of the curriculum, but for all I do agree that "technique is a force multiplier", there comes a point where the laws of physics apply. There are plenty of day one new guys that could destroy me in a "fight" and I've got over 2,500 hours of time on the mats.  Do I beat those guys when they're playing by "BJJ rules" and wearing a gi, sure. But if the rules go out the window and a big guy wants to hurt me they can. I don't find martial arts empowering. I find them to be a huge eye-opener as to how small and fragile I actually am.

Except for one thing.

Wearing a Gi is Pretty Liberating

I've been self employed for over a decade. Before then I worked in an industry that had a dress code of "well, we'd appreciate it if you'd at least wear pants". Before then, I was at college/uni and I was a metal head so I wore jeans/leather pants and dark t-shirts 90 percent of the time. I've never dressed smart and I only dress girly for other people's weddings.

Last week I had cause to dress up slightly. I still only wore "smart casual", but the girly pants I was wearing had a tighter cut than my jeans. The top I wore had cosmetic buttons on it that were sure to rip off if I carried anything bulky and heavy, and they were tight on my biceps (and I assure you, my biceps aren't massive). The bag I had to carry had thin straps and was nowhere near as big or comfortable as my usual backpack. The shoes felt flimsy and weren't good to run in.

I never wear makeup. It feels like dirt / oil on my skin (even the expensive stuff, I've tried). I hate having my hair long because it gets in the way so I get it cut at a barber's shop. Dressed smart, I felt like it was hard to run for the train, it was hard to carry anything heavy. I couldn't just 'climb over that wall as a shortcut', and when I got to the dojo and needed to demonstrate something for someone, I couldn't because I didn't have the same freedom of movement as I normally do dressed like a, well, bum.

I Like My Armour

One of the parents of the kids I teach saw me dressed 'smart' and they said "You look different without your armour on!".  They were joking, but it's true - my rashguard and spats are like a suite of chainmail, and the gi is like plate on top. Since I train every day and I go to the dojo wearing the rashguard and spats, I feel like I'm always ready to do something physical.

If most women (or most men, for that matter, I've heard guys say 'I can't demonstrate a round kick in these smart trousers') wear the clothes I was wearing every single day, then no wonder the feel "empowered" when they stick a baggy gi on and start moving their body more freely.

Modern clothing sucks. To me, it's not that martial arts or other forms of exercise are 'empowering' - it's that the way we're forced to dress to work in the average office is incredibly disempowering.

I like to be able to run, climb, jump and carry things at a moment's notice. I like to wear layers so I'm never too hot or too cold. I feel good like that. I may not turn heads or win any fashion awards, but who cares? My confidence comes from what my body can do, not from whether my top is the right color to go with my shoes.

That's not to detract from people who like fashion. I certainly like how it looks - I just don't like how it feels to wear it, and it's given me a new perspective as to why some people like to train casually and say that it feels so good.

New guys often ask me how often they should be training, and whether it's worth training if you can't come in several times a week. That's one of those tricky questions that doesn't have a set answer - because it really depends on your goals.

I train with one person who averages three sessions a month. They have stuck to that training schedule for the last five years, though. They are still a white belt, and they're plugging away slowly - but they haven't quit. They're still coming in, they're having fun, and they feel like they're learning, which is what really matters.

I train with other people who do 2-3 sessions a week, and some who, like me, train daily. I also train with a guy who just got his black belt. He trained daily from white through to purple, then had "life" happen to him, so he was making it in once or twice a month if that. But, he kept showing up when he could. It didn't help him progress at BJJ, it didn't help him keep his timing much - BUT, it meant that when he was ready to come back, he felt like he'd never left. He didn't show up to a new venue and a room full of people that he barely knew, and have to re-integrate himself into the gym.

How Often Should You Be Trying to Train?

If you're brand new, then it's a good idea to set reasonable targets. If you go "I am going to train as much as I can" then you're going to end up coming 4-5 times a week for a few weeks, burning out and getting injured. Ideally, you should try to train consistently, whatever "consistent" is for you.

  • Once a week will give you slow progress. You will find it hard to remember things from class to class and building muscle memory will be slow going, but it is still worth doing. Pay close attention and make the most of your mat time!
  • Twice a week will let you progress twice as fast as you would if you were attending once a week. You'll retain more information, and you'll build up some muscle memory pretty quickly. Many people maintain a schedule of twice a week long term, and steadily get through the belts.
  • Three times a week seems to be the sweet spot for rapid progress, but still having a life outside BJJ. It lets people heal between sessions, it offers rapid progress, and it is the schedule that a lot of local/casual competitors stick to.
  • Four times a week is a serious commitment, and it's what some of the more serious competitors do. You will progress very quickly, but you will have to start taking nutrition and rehab/prehab seriously. Your significant other/boss/non-training friends might start getting annoyed with you.
  • More than four times a week means that you're in diminishing returns territory. It's worth it if you love it, but think carefully about the sacrifices you're making to train that much. If you're training for a competition then you might want to up your schedule to as much as you can handle for a month or two in the run up to the competition - call it a "training camp", but training like that without goals in mind could lead to burnout.

Multiple Sessions Per Day

The most serious competitors train 2x a day, or more. If you're going to do that, then you need to drink lots of water, sleep lots, and have your nutrition on point - otherwise you will get injured. It's hard to "spar hard" twice in one day, so pick your training partners carefully, and maybe make one session light drilling and the other sparring.

Coping When You Can't Train

The challenge for many people is accepting when they can't train. If you were a 2-a-day, 5x a week person and now your schedule is down to 2-a-week, then you're going to see your peers catch you up or pass you buy. That can be frustrating.

As cliche as it might sound, you should be focusing on your own journey. The fact that Joe got a darker belt doesn't mean that your skills are diminished. Pete's achievements, or lack of them, don't take away from you. Indeed, if they're getting better that just means you have better partners to come back to once you can train more. Focus on your priorities. If BJJ is a priority for you, then find a way to arrange your life so you can train - even if, in the short term, that means making something else a priority for a while.  If BJJ is no longer a priority for you, then why do you (hypothetically) care about someone else's progress enough to get frustrated about it?

A random training pic with - where did these guys all go?In the time I've been training, I've seen so many people start and quit. Indeed, this photo from 2015 features a lot of missing people. I know one guy in the picture went and opened his own gym, one left town to go to University, one went back to his home country, and another is away teaching English as a Second Language abroad, but I don't know if they still train. I have no idea  about the others. Did they get promoted elsewhere? Did they change arts? Who knows. Most people don't make it to blue belt, and the vast majority of people who make it to blue don't make it to purple. All that matters really is that you keep training. Even if it's not as often as you used to, you're still making progress.

Be patient. Train hard, tap early, and have fun.