I got my freakin’ blue belt!

It was completely out of the ‘blue’ and almost three months later, I still can’t believe it really.

Around this time last year I hurt my back on a trip to London and wasn’t training – or very sporadically – for most of the season. I finally made a comeback about three weeks before the season ended, and we went into summer break, which was a bummer. But I kept up training at the weekly open mats and vowed to make this current season the one where I knuckled down and showed my coaches what they needed to see to award me my blue. I was actually really excited to make this re-commitment to improving my jiu jitsu. I even bought sports tape on Amazon in the car on our way to the first class of the season, to refresh my white belt stripes. I understood at the end of that class why my boyfriend was oddly, casually discouraging me from buying the tape (“€5? Oh no I’m pretty sure you can buy it cheaper at the pharmacy…”) because, surprise! Blue belt!

Brazilian Jiu Jitsu blue belt grading, couple smiling at the camera.
A very proud me with a very proud boyfriend.

I cried of course. Asked my coach if he was for real.. apparently yes he was!

So after six years of training BJJ, sometimes very committed, sometimes not, here I am. A very nooby blue belt. Stepping onto the mat for my first class as blue was really bloody weird and I was so self conscious. I still am a few months later. Of course as luck would have it, I’m currently injured again, some weird ongoing neck pain.

But I can’t wait to get back on the mat and back to my vow of knuckling down and training hard this season.. not as a white belt but as a freakin’ BLUE.

What’s the best mouthguard for BJJ?

I have had two dentist-made sports mouthguards in the six years I have been training jiu jitsu (on and off), and I rated them pretty highly. Just knowing they were a custom fit, and by someone who knew teeth gave me such peace of mind and confidence when I used them.

Alas, they were a little bulky and not cheap (not covered by my Australian health insurance). I lost the first one.. the second is hiding in my house somewhere probably, or maybe it got lost during my move from London to Strasbourg. Or maybe I left it at my old gym.. who knows! My teeth have moved since I got it done, so it didn’t fit very well anymore anyway.

I moved on to a Sisu mouthguard after seeing another girl rocking one on the mat and being amazed at how easily she was drinking water – and talking – through it. It barely looked like she was even wearing a mouthguard – no bulky mouth going on.

When I received it, I was dubious it would be that great – it looked like just this thin piece of plastic with holes in it! But once I got it moulded successfully (took more than a few tries – even following the YouTube video), I loved it. I had a few accidental mouth knocks with it in while rolling, and didn’t feel like my teeth were more vulnerable than when using a thicker mouthguard.

Once again my teeth moved though, it’s not fitting properly anymore and has disappeared behind the couch somewhere.

I think.

I plan to buy another one sometime.

On Black Friday last year I snagged an Opro mouthguard on sale, so that’s my current one. I had scored a free Opro in an online giveaway a year or so earlier, and liked – then lost – that one!

It’s back to bulky with an Opro compared to the Sisu, there are some holes in it however, so you don’t get so much of the saliva build-up that I had with the dentist-made mouthguards, and drinking through it isn’t so bad.

I do love how snug and cushioned my teeth feel in the Opro. The cradle that it comes with for fitting is a really good idea, and I got the fit right on the first try! I bought the red case separately not realising the Opro mouthguard came with one anyway, doh. But it is super nice to use.

What mouthguard brand do you use, and why do you love it? My Infini Jiu Jitsu teammates, Estelle (a dentist) and Marie put this fab blog post together – how to choose a mouthguard for Brazilian Jiu Jitsu.

 

How do you drag yourself out of the BJJ slump?

“You could just come to training with me tonight you know.”

I know I could. My back hasn’t hurt now for a good month, and other than paying my BJJ club fees which are due, there is technically nothing stopping me from training again.

I’m well and truly in a slump. It’s funny how the longer you’re away from the mat, the harder and more daunting it feels to return.

I’ve been really preoccupied by this work project which has once again taken over my life, despite my declarations that it wouldn’t. Early mornings, late nights… hell, I was working on it late on a SATURDAY night. Who does that?!

I’ve been so wound up about it, work stuff has invaded my dreams. Naturally not training much for the past five months has affected my weight too. I only have one gi that fits right now, which is a bit depressing.

Yannick ordered me to the gym the other night. Not to BJJ, but a cardio box class.

Boxing gloves in a gym with hand wraps and a water bottle

Just constantly sweating it out and punching bags for an hour was so refreshing. Makes me realise how much I need to get my body moving regularly for my sanity. And it makes me wonder why I’m staying away from jiu jitsu.

I know the hardest part is always getting to the gym itself. What works for you when your training motivation is lacking, or you’re coming back from injury? How have you turned the slump around?

Are you properly protecting your girls?

When Marie casts her eye over my choice of sports bra in the ladies change room after class, I know I’m in trouble.

Or I’m about to get some great advice, like where to buy sports bras with actual underwires in them in France. (She works for a lingerie company, huzzah!)

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Marie has published a super useful guide to sports bras on her blog. Give it a read, and share it with all your newbie classmates when you see them wearing lacy, impractical bras under their gis.

Au revoir 2017!

My blogging and BJJ training remained as inconsistent as ever this year. But as I watch the beautiful final sunset of the year from my kitchen window, and listen to the random pops, cracks and whistles of fireworks going off (a tad early) all over Neudorf, I figure I’ll post the obligatory 2017-in-review.

The year started with some uncertainty because I was on a six-month assignment contract here in France. We were hopeful it would turn into a permanent French contract and télétravail arrangement – and I’m happy to say it did! But it was a stressful few months of ‘unknowns.’ I was consumed by ‘what ifs’ and wanting to make plans for circumstances that we weren’t even in yet. My voice of reason, Yannick, calmed me down countless times. The day that email came through about my successful transfer to my employer’s French company was a huge weight off – I could finally settle in and really call Strasbourg home.

We both became home workers which was unexpected and not entirely practical being in a one-bedroom apartment, but we quickly worked out a solution that is perfect for both of us. We rented a desk at Panorama Coworking. So now we alternate days working from home and ‘the office,’ and I think it suits our different personalities to a tee. I’m very much a people person, and while I enjoy my working days at home in my PJs, I really do love the routine of putting a face on, cycling to work and being in that sociable environment.. which sometimes includes doggehs!

We moved house. It’s something that happened a bit sooner than we planned, because friends were leaving their awesome, two-bedroom apartment closer to the city centre and we had the opportunity to snag it before it hit the market. I was slightly apprehensive – I was really looking forward to apartment inspections and searching for that ‘perfect’ new home and neighbourhood for us. But after another look at this Neudorf pad and comparing it to listings available at the time, I was quickly convinced to go for it. Six months later – no regrets. No lamp shades up yet either but you know, we’re getting there.

I lost a beloved aunt to cancer and it still doesn’t feel very real. Maybe because it happened in Australia and I wasn’t there to say goodbye and feel the impact it had on my family. Maybe because at the time, I was swamped at work and struggling just to stay on top of a big project while packing up to move, so I pushed my grief down a bit. I received a card from her partner at Christmas and it reduced me to tears. She really did influence my life in ways I didn’t appreciate until she was in her final weeks. I’m sad Yannick will never get to meet her.

I faced some fears like skiing down a mountain which I realllllly didn’t think I’d ever do. I had  one ‘meh’ lesson on Mount Buller a few years ago where the instructor told me to head back down on the chair lift, because I wasn’t capable of going down the actual mountain like everyone else. So, I’m really proud of me and keen to do it again sometime this ski season!

I avoided facing other fears like speaking French, and I’m a bit disappointed in myself for that. I continued lessons this year and even got myself a tutor. While my French comprehension is definitely improving, I’m still a baby when it comes to speaking. I just don’t do it much, and when I do it’s a few lame ‘bakery’ sentences. I don’t know what I need to finally jump off the platform and get progressing on the talky front. Maybe more alcohol.

I got spoilt for my birthday and honestly felt so damn loved, it’s not one I’ll forget in a hurry.

I got my ass back to BJJ Globetrotters camp and I’m so happy I did! It was an awesome, awesome week in Leuven, Belgium with a fab bunch of people and super impressive instructors. The summer camp was so fun that I quickly lost interest in blogging about each day as you can see, and decided to just focus on the training and socialising. A few lessons learnt for next time: Do fewer classes and get more sleep if you want to have some good nights out and not be falling asleep into your high-strength Belgian beer by 10pm. Oh, and don’t buy the meal plan, it will leave you feeling chained to the gym from 9am – 6pm to get your money’s worth. And the food wasn’t that good anyway.

I put on 10  kilos of cheese. Ok so maybe it’s not quite 10 kgs but it’s close, and maybe it’s not ALL in cheese but, it’s a lot, and I’m still wondering how best to go about losing it. ‘Eat less move more’ for sure. I’ve been thinking about signing up to The Body Coach’s program because I love his workouts, but surely it’s all just common sense stuff that I don’t need to spend 100 quid to hear?

A few things to ‘blame’ I guess: Lifestyle change – amazing how few steps you can take in a day when you work from home. Inconsistent BJJ training – and right now none, because back injury. I also got the Mirena IUD at the start of the year, and one of the common side effects is weight gain. I do feel like I’m hormonal eating all the sweet things waaaaay more often than I ever have before. Living with a sweet tooth doesn’t help. Anyway, enough with the excuses. We head to Australia mid-April so, there’s my deadline to be back at a more comfortable weight, which for me is 70 kgs.

I had friends and family come to visit which meant a whole damn lot to me, since quite frankly Strasbourg is on no one’s Euro Trip bucket list. First was Pete, a Swinburne radio school bud who works the European tennis circuit each year. He made an overnight stop on his way to Germany, and we had a fun day playing tourist.

Strasbourg, France

A few months after reconnecting at Leuven Summer Camp, the lovely ‘Karla Kimura’ hopped on a bus from Heidelberg and spent a weekend with us.

Tarte flambée at Au Brasseur in Strasbourg, Alsace
The unlimited tarte flambée at Au Brasseur – so good!

 

And my sister and her boyfriend stayed as well! This was thanks to there being a viable way for them to get to Strasbourg from Bristol for a -48 hour visit, and then head on to Malta. I was so so happy to have the chance to show my sister beautiful Alsace.

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#ribeauvillé @ez_phoenix17

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I got to hang with the Fightzone morning crew once again, not in gis this time but all dolled up for one of the guys’ weddings. We had a brilliant weekend in Great Yeldham. The dampener came Monday morning in London when, three minutes into warm up, I messed up my back. So that’s why I’m not training right now.

All in all a pretty great year with more highs than lows. I can’t wait to take Yannick on his first trip to Australia in 2018. I also have some specific goals for the next 12 months and am determined to achieve them, and break some bad habits as I do.

Wish me luck, and Happy New Year!

Leuven summer camp day 1: Control the space

“Where are you from? Australia! Wow you’ve come a long way to camp!”

“Yeah but no actually, I live in France, not quite as far..” I had this conversation on repeat during day 1 of BJJ Globetrotters Summer Camp in Leuven, but I didn’t mind much.

The speed dating part of the welcome session was a great opportunity to try to start putting names to faces, and learn where in the world everyone is from. However with 200+ people at camp, Christian told us not to feel bad about needing to introduce ourselves to the same people multiple times this week!

Germany, Malaysia, UK, Iceland, Belgium, Netherlands, Norway, USA.. the international atmosphere here is awesome.

I was really happy to see a good bunch of people I’d met at the 2014 Copenhagen Fall Camp, including a guy I had given one of my ‘gypsy girl’ patches to – he’d sewn it onto his gi – so cool!

Keeping with tradition, Christian taught the first class of camp – “Bellybutton touching contest + attacking made easy.” I really like Christian’s teaching style and the way he encourages us to look at things simply: fundamentally jiu jitsu is all about defending the space between your chest and your knees. Open up when you have control of the space, and close when you don’t have control.

“Imagine you’re in a castle and you run out to attack, but run back in when the enemy advances.”

Christian believes that approaching rolls like this allows you to be more creative; you’re worried less about executing particular moves and instead just focus on putting/keeping something in that chest-to-knee space to control it – and it can be anything – an arm, a knee, your head, how about a finger? He encouraged us to experiment and see what worked and what didn’t.

“If your first focus is to take the space, everything else (passing etc) is going to be easier.”

“Just fucking shoot and hope they don’t get past your cannons” – common mistake.

Christian also got us to try rolling while one of us commentated out loud, to show how we should work on that flow chart in our heads.

It certainly took a lot of the usual stress out of the roll for me. Instead of thinking ahead and trying to remember set ups, I kept focused on just getting into that space and staying there – and I found myself naturally turning to moves that made sense for the position I was in.

Leuven here I come!

Selfie from the start of the journey… I'm on my way to Nancy to meet up with a fellow BJJ Globetrotter, to hitch a ride with him to Summer Camp in Leuven, Belgium.

We've never met before but, minor detail. I've done a thorough Facebook-stalk, and am 99% sure he's not an axe murderer.

I'm so excited for camp! It's my first BJJ Globetrotters camp since Copenhagen in 2014. A few people I met at that camp are on the participant list for this one, so I'm looking forward to catching up with them, and throwing myself into a week of training.. maybe a bit of partying too.

BJJ has certainly taken a back seat since I moved to Strasbourg – part life excuses, part lazy me. It's going to be such a treat to spend the next seven days away from my laptop and focused on jiu jitsu. And – little wins – all the instruction will be in English. 😉

32nd birthday of surprises

I hadn’t thought ahead too much to my birthday this year. It’s funny how after the angst of turning 30 passed, my birthday just became a bit uneventful again. Also being in Strasbourg, I didn’t have my gym crew or other friends close by to arrange a pub session like I would have if I was still in London. But I needed to mark 32 somehow, so I arranged a lunch date with girlfriends, another one with the man, and I thought that would be it. Turns out.. it wasn’t!

Birthday day

I met up with some GGI girlfriends on the Friday that was my birthday. We had a nice catch up, ate delicious food at East Canteen, I was wearing a favourite outfit that day, it felt like a pretty nice way to mark my birthday.

I haven’t been making many BJJ sessions of late – let’s face it, it has been a trend since my Strasbourg move. So going to class that night was on the agenda – what’s better than birthday rolls?! I had a few cards and little parcels sent to me by friends and family, so I left them on the coffee table for when we got home. Growing up, my mum always used to tell us that a present gets better, the longer you wait to open it.

Present surprise

The man had added his card to the pile too, and if I’d read it before we left the house I would probably have known what I’d find when he pulled his car out of the garage… but since I didn’t, cue shock and lots of happy/embarrassing crying!

I have wanted a bike for ages, and he got me the exact style/colour that I wanted, complete with a basket.

Black bicycle with basket

Surprise….party!

We’d already planned to head to a vegetarian restaurant on the weekend, and one of the girls I’d had lunch with on the Friday – Chelsea – told me to drop by her house to pick up a gift. Honestly, I had no idea, and no thought that it might be a ploy for something else… even when she suggested we head on in to their garden for a drink before we continued on to the centre of the city to shop! Yes I’m so gullible…

Hiding for the surprise birthday moment

And I was so overwhelmed.

DCIM101GOPROG0080571.Reacting to my surprise party - with tears

More happy tears!

It meant so much that Chelsea and Yannick had gathered all of the people in my life here in Strasbourg – from GGIs to jiu jitsu teammates, co-work office colleagues and French classmates. How lucky I am to have so many incredible friends in this place!

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And I even got homemade lamingtons and fairy bread thanks to fellow Aussie Victoria, and a stunning cake thanks to Chelsea and Marlene’s excellent taste.

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This birthday is going to be tough to top, definitely one to remember.

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A big thank you to Andrea and Kevin for taking all of these great photos. ❤

That time I spent €300 on a cab

I know right? And the stupid thing is, if I’d stopped to consider all my options, I’d have found a much cheaper solution. But when you’re in panic-mode because the car has a flat battery and you need to be on your way to Basel airport which is an hour+ drive away from Strasbourg… 

I honestly didn’t think the cab would need to be called. When we went to take me to the airport for my week-long work trip to Barcelona and found the battery was dead, I thanked my habit of leaving ample time for airport runs. We had a spare 20 minutes for my boyfriend to find a neighbour, get a jump start and then we’d be on our way. 

Except, there was only one neighbour at home – he was kinda busy – but he took his car out for us. There was a stupid plastic case covering the battery because, new cars that need less fiddling by amateur mechanics I guess. Thank god for second neighbour who showed up and knew where the jumper leads went. Cars not close enough. Get them closer. Please please just get those leads on the batteries already.

Not working. Unclip and re-clip the leads. A few sputters but no engine roaring to life. Is it a battery voltage difference? Either way, our car isn’t going anywhere. Panic. Time to call a cab? Am I already late?

“Find the local cab number and call them just in case we need to book” the boyfriend had said earlier. 

“Umm I can’t do that.”

“Why not?” 

“Because French.”

Time for him to call the cab for me. I wait on the street, they keep trying with the car. I check my wallet – no credit card – fuck, it’s still in my other jacket upstairs. Run and get it. Cab isn’t here yet. Is it all too late now anyway? I’m so upset, I just want to cry. Cab shows up. Driver, already harried, asks my boyfriend when I need to be at the airport by. One hour from now. Panic rises on his face, we jump in the car and are away.


“Trois cents euros” he warns me, “d’accord?” “D’accord” i say. What else can I say?

What am I even doing?? We have one hour to get to an airport more than an hour away, I’m going to miss my plane, be €300 down AND stranded in Basel. Boyfriend calls his mum who lives nearby, if I don’t make the plane, she’ll come and get me.

Meantime we’re hurtling along the highway in the cab. The driver is stressed, doesn’t speak English but tells me to relax. “ça va?” Its going to be fine. He tells me he’s going to speed, and he does speed. It’s fucking terrifying and I don’t know if I’m more mortified or grateful. The taxi meter is ticking over furiously, 10 cents per second, keeping pace with the beat of a song on the radio. It’s already at over €50. We haven’t been in the car very long.

The boyfriend is on Skype messenger telling me to breathe. I’m wondering how the fuck this can even be happening.

If we get to the airport when the driver is assuring me that we will, I’ll be at the security line at gate closing time. Now, two years of flying every month for a long distance relationship has taught me that for some airlines “gate closing” isn’t a real thing; they don’t even start boarding until their stated take off time. Other airlines enforce this pretty strictly however, and this being an airline I had flown with only once before, I had no idea what to expect.

15, 20 minutes from the airport. We still have 45 minutes until my plane takes off. I let myself have some hope. The driver is feeling good about the time too, but he’s still stressed. Asks me in french if I smoke, no, can he?? Sorry dude, I’m on the verge of having an asthma attack already!

We settle the bill early so that I can just bolt when we arrive. The meter says €275, I pay €300. I think of the La Femme en Noir dress I’ve been coveting, and how I could have bought the damn thing and a second stunning Micheline Pitt design for this much.

The driver tries to explain to me that he’ll give me a proper receipt when he stops the meter. It takes him five tries before I understand. He wants to run in with me and carry my bag to the gate. Again, has to explain it five times before I understand and tell him that no it’s fine, he doesn’t need to do that.

Fuck I need to work harder on my French. This not understanding thing sucks.

We’re at the airport! I have 30 minutes until take off! Holy shit I think I’m ok. I hug the driver as he takes my bag out of the back “merci beaucoup!” Hopefully I said “thank you very much” and not “thank you nice ass.”

I sprint (as well as I can in boots) to the entrance. The boyfriend said to go through security on the French side (the airport straddles France and Switzerland), it’s usually a shorter line. It is! Only one guy in front of me!

Boots off, jacket off, belt off, laptop out, fuck why did I bring an iPad too? Shit, almost forgot my liquids bag. No time for being pulled up for a silly mistake.

Which one is my gate?? 47, ok, this way. Run. Shit! What did I do? Gates 60-90?! No. Back into duty free. THAT exit. Fuck these dizzying shiny floors and perfume stand obstacles.

The gate! They’re boarding! Skid up behind the last people in the short line. I’ve made it!!

I’m a sweaty, puffy mess. I’m clumsily trying to dig out my passport and ticket while at the same time checking that I remembered to grab my laptop and iPad off the security conveyor belt.

On the plane, the overhead lockers are too full to store my suitcase near me and I get a broken seat that won’t stay upright, poor dude behind me. But whatever. I made the plane! I order a gin and tonic. What’s another €10 when I’ve just laid out €300?

Was it worth it though? Calling a cab was a hasty move, the kind I’d make in London if I was running late. I might be out of pocket £60-100 for a similar, last minute panic trip to Stansted or Heathrow.

But €300?! 

Strasbourg isn’t London. Strasbourg-to-Basel isn’t London-to-Stansted or Heathrow.

Later, after I had landed in Barcelona and taken a (much cheaper) cab to my hotel, I looked online. If I hadn’t been so panicked, I’d have done that earlier. 

I could have booked a new flight to Barcelona for midday the next day, for €45. I could have booked a €20 train from Strasbourg and then boarded a €2-4 shuttle bus to get to Basel airport.

Sure, I would have lost a night’s accommodation and missed some of the first work meetings of the week but, it still would have been much cheaper. Work’s not going to reimburse me for this, obviously.

An expensive lesson learned. I’m happy to be in Barcelona right now – and on time! But, I’m not happy about that credit card bill, or the stress I put myself, my boyfriend and the poor cab driver under to make it.

A girlfriend tried to console me over text: “Everyone’s been in those situations.” I guess ‘everyone’ now includes me.

Cracking out the ‘fat gi’

We all have one – the gi that, despite a few hot washes, hasn’t shrunk to be a perfect fit. The sleeves are still a bit long, the pants baggy, the jacket shrugs too easily off your shoulders during warmups and rolls. It’s the gi that usually languishes at the mid-to-bottom-end of your weekly rotation.

For me, this is a white (blargh) Fuji Sekai women’s gi, and right now it’s my go-to. Why? Because life is busy, I’m not training regularly or doing much interval running, so I’m in chunky-girl mode. In reality, I’m only a few kilos heavier than usual, but it’s enough to make my two favourite 93 Brand gis a bit tight: “Sorry, can’t do spider guard tonight, might split my pants/can’t get my legs high enough..”

How do you keep active when life gets busy?

I need to do more than this, but here’s how I’m trying to keep the calorie creep at bay while I’m not training much:

  • I jog to the tram stop really, because I always forget to check when exactly the next tram is arriving, and usually it’s on the approach just as I’m rounding the corner. But there’s nothing like a frantic little jog to get your heart pounding in the morning.
  • I get off a stop early and walk a few extra hundred metres to the office. But not if it’s raining. Because meh to that.
  • I do workout videos in my living room. My favourites at the moment are Sophia Drysdale’s 5 Day Workout Challenge – booty,  abs,  full body cardio .. at 8-9 minutes they’re the perfect length for my attention span when I have a lot on my mind. I usually choose two or three, then cycle through them a few times so I’ve had a solid-feeling workout.

I also went on a bit of a fitness app downloading spree… I haven’t even opened up all of them yet but I have stumbled onto some fun, short-but-tough video routines I keep revisiting.

  • I hula hoop. Sometimes I’ll do a hooping workout and other times I’ll just pick it up and muck around for 5 or 10 minutes in my work day, when I need to get away from the computer and take a break. (Pro tip: move your laptop out of the way lest you accidentally hoop it off a desk..)

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My standard hooping face.

None of these activities are as satisfying to me as a BJJ or cardio boxing class, but they fill the void well enough, and keep me from outgrowing my ‘fat gi.’

How do you stay active when you’re not making it to training?