The truth about chicken parmigiana

Not BJJ related … just a little truth bomb that was dropped on me by my Italian flatmate while at the pub the other night. I JUST ASSUMED IT WAS PROPER ITALIAN!? Mind blown..

Learn Italian with Lucrezia

Hello everyone!!

I want to tell you a secret today… (I’ll write in English for the sake of all of you understanding!)

Chicken parmigiana is NOT an Italian meal. I’ve never eaten it, I’ve never seen it in Italy and I’ve never even imagined it!!!

I don’t know where it all started, I mean the legend about chicken parmigiana being Italian, and honestly I don’t even want to know! But the thing which is pretty annoying is that you will find it in every “Italian” restaurant abroad and it makes it even worse because it makes you think that the recipe is Italian. I’m probably stressing it too much, but I just want to let you know that if you go to a restaurant and order a chicken parmigiana thinking that you are eating Italian food, well… you are wrong. The same goes for spaghetti with meatballs, I’ve only seen…

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So, Have You Ever Tried BJJ?

What led you to take your first BJJ class? I stumbled into mine accidentally.

I rocked up to my gym in Melbourne for my usual kickboxing session, but I had read the timetable wrong.

“There’s no kickboxing on tonight, but Brazilian Jiu Jitsu is about to start – go jump in with the guys!”

I remember feeling so awkward, paired with a dude who was telling me to sit on him, grip his arm between my legs, press my chest into his back and try moving around whaaaat? SO many giggle moments for both of us and the poor guy may have copped a stray knee to the groin a few times too, oops.

I knew nothing about BJJ or grappling/wrestling or judo, but something about that class (other than the God-awful BO smell) stuck, and by my second class I had given BJJ a good google, and even bought a gi.

I’m a weird advocate for the sport. I kinda suck, struggle to make class consistently, don’t follow ‘the scene’ obsessively.. but I know how much I get out of training on a physical and mental level and am always keen to spread the love.

BJJ inevitably comes up in conversation when I’m meeting someone new. In this case that someone was a random Aussie girl I had followed for years on Twitter and vice versa.

She was in London, we caught up (met for the first time! Oooher) I mentioned BJJ and two days later she was wearing one of my gis and rashies, and attending Fightzone’s first Women’s Open Mat. Boom!

She had a blast, and seriously I couldn’t think of a better first jiu jitsu experience than with a mat full of friendly, uber supportive women.  I have a feeling I’ll be spying some BJJ tweets in her feed in the future.

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BJJ Globetrotters Fall Camp

Number of days spent in Copenhagen: Seven, longer than my first visit. Sights seen: Well.. a hostel, a gym, Christiania at night (just spectating mum) and Old Carlsberg Brewery at night. Yeah, that’s about it. Holiday rating out of 10: 11! Non-BJJ people think I’m crazy, but the chance to devote an entire week to training was pretty much the perfect holiday for me. After missing out on a spot at the sold out BJJ Globetrotters Summer Camp, I jumped at the chance to sign up for Fall Camp which also sold out pretty darn quickly. It was held at CSA.DK in Copenhagen, and the gym is located in a really impressive complex – they seem to have every sport under the sun at that place…. archery, ten pin bowling, fencing, all kinds of martial arts, so much wow. My days basically went like this:

8:30 AM breakfast, pack my gear, 10 minute walk from the hostel to the gym. 10:00AM BJJ gi class, maybe do the next class as well. Sit out a session or two to rest/roll/chat with people…2:00PM Do another class, and maybe another (I stuck to about 3 or 4 classes a day). More rest/roll/chatting, eat again somewhere in there. 6:30PM Walk back to the hostel. Haggle over laundry tokens, walk to the supermarket/go out for dinner, hang out with other  Globetrotters waiting for the washing to finish.

Got a big butt, may as well own it.
Got a big butt, may as well own it.

Christian Graugart put together a jam-packed schedule of classes with a really impressive instructor lineup. Along with multiple gi and no-gi classes each day, we could jump into wrestling, judo, boxing, kickboxing and MMA. This was no hardcore training camp however – some of the 140-odd participants devoted all of their time to training, but many took half (or whole) days off to sightsee or recover from partying.

Eric Bydairk's wrestling classes were a highlight - though I still feel as worried as those dudes in the background look when it comes to takedowns.
Eric Bydairk’s wrestling classes were a highlight – though I still feel as worried as those dudes in the background look when it comes to takedowns.

It was such a thrill just to be surrounded by like-minded people all week, and there were no egos on show – the black belts who were teaching classes were also participating and socialising with us lowly white belts. Higher belts were asking ME for a roll, whaaaat?! I was given lots of advice, which I gladly took on board. 2014-09-25 15.14.33 I made some notes on the techniques that seemed to work well for me. A lot of them came from Christian and Daniel Marquez’s sessions. It was interesting to see all the different ways people were going about documenting what they were learning. Some were glued to their video cameras, others left the mat regularly to take notes or did it straight after the class. I liked David George’s advice which was not to film, but to fully participate in his classes, then film yourself doing the techniques later. 10662035_10152255278391876_6619861301384643377_o (2)Oh yeah, this guy Keenan rocked up one night too and took us through the Worm Guard/variations (of which I could do like, two). He decided to make it a gi-only seminar and devoted a good 45 minutes at the end to taking on all the camp black belts (you’ve probably seen the video) down to a few purples. With all the travelling he was doing, Keenan said working that part into his seminars meant he could at least get his own BJJ training in everyday.

Keenan Cornelius Vs Christian Graugart
Keenan Cornelius Vs Christian Graugart
Contrary to my Instagram declaration.. yes I did wash my rashie.
Contrary to my Instagram declaration.. yes I did wash my rashie.

A couple of Keenan insights from his Q&A: when at home he only trains four days a week, taking off Wednesdays and weekends. And he doesn’t incorporate any vitamins/protein shakes into his diet. He also doesn’t really change much about his training schedule leading up to a competition, finding that it only adds extra pressure if he does. Oh, and (smiling at the time) he called Kit Dale irresponsible for being all anti-drilling. Being you know, Keenan Cornelius, he doesn’t need to drill anymore but says he might do 30 minutes or so of something as a warm up. On Saturday morning we could participate in a friendly in-house competition. I chose to help keep score rather than compete (hell, I was on holiday after all!). Did I wish I’d entered later though? But of course. There were maybe 12-15 women in total at camp. I got to catch up with Marie again which was fab, and experience the (literally) breathtaking pressure of purple belt Kira Ingelsrudøyen from Norway, who I am in total awe of. I also met Jodie Bear and am really looking forward to catching up with her again in the UK. You’ve probably read (and like me maybe related to) this great piece of hers on big girl BJJ problems.

I had this under control, I swear..
I had this under control, I swear..

I flew my tired (slightly hungover) self home at the end of the week with a bunch of new techniques to work on, pretty Globetrotters merch stuffed in my suitcase and lots of invitations to visit places in Europe (and the US!) that I hadn’t even thought about travelling to. I sure as hell am thinking about it now though. What a wonderful BJJ team and community you have created Christian, thank you and see you at the next camp.

"One is the loneliest number.." so us solo country kids had a group shot.
“One is the loneliest number..” so us solo country kids had a group shot.

Hello from Copenhagen!

A quick hej from BJJ Globetrotters Fall Camp – I’m having a blast training with approximately 140 other BJJ fanatics from all over the world.

Csa.dk taking some wonderful photos each day of camp.
Csa.dk taking some wonderful photos each day of camp.

It’s day three and I have taken the morning off to rest my aching muscles and catch up on work emails, but I’ll be back to it in a few hours – wrestling and no-gi class here I come!

Tomorrow will be an exciting day.. Mister Worm Guard himself is paying us a visit! Woohoo.

I am frequently posting pics to @GypsyGirlInGi Twitter and Insta, and #BJJGlobetrotters – check it. X

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Going ‘No Poo’ (not what you’re thinking)

“There is no way I could do it” – that was my initial reaction to this article about giving up shampoo. Nice in theory, but when your hair is a matted, sweaty mess a good 2-4 times a week after BJJ class.. not lathering it up = festy mcgee right? WELL, I’ve discovered actually no.. and I’m about to enter my fifth week as a sporty no poo-er!

Unfortunate term yes (American I believe), but nothing to do with bowel movement or lack of, and everything to do with giving up shampoo for chemical-free alternatives. Washing with bicarb soda followed by apple cider vinegar being where most people tend to start.

Why?

I’ll admit for me, it’s less about the no-chemical thing (but, awesome) and more about seeing if I can improve the quality of my hair, which took a massive nosedive when I moved to London.

I have fine hair to begin with, so when it started breaking like crazy and coming out in clumps in the shower I was pretty miffed. I have definitely noticed an improvement in my hair’s strength since getting on some hair vitamins eight months ago, but it was still pov. Damn you, hard water! *shakes fist*

So I bought Lucy Aitken Read’s Happy Hair eBook (total steal), joined a bunch of Facebook groups, read a bunch of blogs, got utterly confused – but kicked off my no poo journey anyway.

I’ve kept it simple so far, trying an egg wash, the bicarb and water followed by the apple cider vinegar and water mix, I’ve also applied coconut oil to the ends and have rinsed my hair with english breakfast tea – WOW the shine!

Spacing the washes a good seven days apart, I have found that after BJJ class where I’d normally shampoo or at least chuck conditioner on my hair to freshen it up, actually just rinsing it well with water (or tea) has been all it’s needed, and no stink!

I’ve also been brushing my hair a lot more than I normally would, gotta distribute those oils.

So far so good..
So far so good..

There’s apparently a ‘transition’ period where your scalp goes a bit nuts on the oil production before returning to its’ natural balance – I either haven’t hit that stage yet, or maybe I’ll have an easier time thanks to not normally having particularly greasy hair.

I have a bit of a challenge coming up with BJJ Globetrotters Fall Camp in Copenhagen. I’ll be attending the entire week and training multiple times a day, so my hair will no doubt get super sweaty and smelly … but I’ve bought a chemical free (apparently) shampoo bar and conditioning spray to pack in my suitcase, we’ll see if it does the job.

The Big Question

Has the quality of my hair improved? Honestly, I’m not sure yet. Particularly after a tea rinse it feels thicker – but I think I need to give it a while longer before I can really say. Going no poo definitely hasn’t made it any worse.

Will I keep this no shampoo thing up long term? No idea! For now though I am enjoying slapping random kitchen ingredients on my head, and the shampoo and conditioner bottles remain tucked away at the back of the cupboard.

– Have you ever tried giving up shampoo? Tell me about the joy (or horror?!) that lies ahead! xx

Time In Malta – Part 2

“See that building there? Behind the red boat. That’s the customs office where your Nanna, Nannu and the family boarded the ship to Australia.”

I was standing at a lookout in Gardjola Gardens with my dad’s cousin Turu, gazing across The Grand Harbour to where at age seven dad had left Malta, his country of birth. He wouldn’t return for a visit until 43 years later. It’s amazing to think of how different his life could have been had the family chosen to stay on the island. Of course, I’m grateful for my sake that they didn’t!

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Staying in the fishing village of Birzebbuga where dad lived and where his extended family still reside today, I timed this trip (my third to Malta) to coincide with Festa San Pietru, aka St Peter’s Feast.

Festas are a big deal in Malta, where Roman Catholicism is the main religion. It’s considered one of the most Catholic countries in the world, and divorce was only actually legalised in Malta in 2011. In April of this year, a law was approved to legalise civil unions and allow same sex couples to adopt.

Every weekend over the Summer and well into September, you’ll find a village celebrating the feast of its’ patron saint. There are also a number of larger annual events including Notte Bianca in Valetta and the Malta Fireworks Festival.

My first tip on festas came from the cousin who picked me up from the airport – always be in a town a few days before the actual celebration weekend, to really soak in the atmosphere and attend some lead-up events.

Villages hold pre-festa concert nights, there are food trucks and market stalls and street parties. In Birzebbuga a statue of St Peter is taken on a boat ride around the bay. The local marching band clubs alternate in ‘headlining’ the evening’s entertainment, and they have a wicked rivalry going on.

My family’s loyalty is split between the green and red band clubs. These St Peter tees are totes rockin, no?
My family’s loyalty is split between the green and red band clubs. These St Peter tees are totes rockin, no?
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Festa time is (cheeky!) family time

One of the main celebration nights in Birzebbuga featured Nar tal-Art – mechanised ground fireworks set up beside the church.

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They were lit one at a time by a bunch of young guys in white t-shirts, who would jump about like they were at a rave whenever the first sparks started to shower the crowd.


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The following evening I again joined the throng for the main event – to see a big statue of St Peter emerge from the church and be paraded through the streets. Air fireworks were set off on the beach, and what sounded like cannon blasts produced tufts of white smoke over the village.

The social fabric of the Maltese islands is built around each town’s church, band club, football club, National and Labour Party clubs – and while that culture is still prominent today, there’s no doubt it’s changing thanks to everyday modern life.

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St Mary’s Parish Church, Ghaxaq Malta.

I saw few young people taking part in the church procession and marching bands for example, and I’m told that these days musicians from neighbouring towns will often help make up the numbers for village feasts.

I DID do more in Malta than mingle with extended family, eat pastizzi and drink Kinnie and Cisk at the Festa – I also mingled with extended family, ate pastizzi and drank Kinnie and Cisk at some gorgeous swimming spots!

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Jumping off the rocks near the Blue Grotto, Wied Zurrieq Malta.

Each day was above 30 degrees celsius so there was a lot of swimming to be done. Oh, and you MUST bring/buy a snorkel kit. If you happen to scuba dive, it’s heaven.

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St Peter’s Pool, Marsaxlokk Malta. I didn’t want to leave this place – but eventually I had to because, there are no public loos – take note! 😉

I had a fantastic time sightseeing with some cousins from Australia, and one of them commented that he could see me moving from London to live and work in Malta for awhile.

Could I? The apartments are HUGE – that would be a nice change from the shoebox flats of London… EU wages are lower but living is more affordable (30 Euro cent pastizzi!). Two BJJ clubs in the whole country I could probably handle, but Maltese life reminds me a lot of ‘Island time’ for those who have ever been to places like Fiji.

My perception to date is that it’s sooo relaxed – village shops close for a few hours at lunchtime while everyone goes for a nap or hits the beach. I went to the post office at 1pm on a weekday to find they were shutting….for the REST of the day! And Malta’s bus network (its key mode of public transport) is a tad infuriating if you need to route-hop. Never be in a hurry.

Outside my holiday mindset, Malta might not be the right fit, considering how much I (usually) love the hustle and bustle of London.

I felt right at home though standing on the street by a Birzebbuga stop sign at 7am with a phone to my ear, waving like a lunatic at a live web cam atop someone’s balcony. My excited dad watched and chuckled, and waved back from Australia.

Time In Malta (take me back!)

Arriving at Gatwick Airport to see rain bucketing down made me want to get right back on a plane to Malta! I had such an amazing week connecting with family in the village where my dad spent his early childhood.. more on that in another post though.

If you think the BJJ scene is small in your city – try having just two (maybe three) clubs … in your entire country. That’s the reality in Malta.

With the total population coming in at under half a million, it’s not surprising that Brazilian Jiu Jitsu is still very much in its’ infancy.

Image: maltabulb.com
Image: maltabulb.com

As Brown Belt Keith Darmanin told BJJ Eastern Europe – he had to incorporate MMA/striking into his classes originally, just to keep people motivated.

Keith’s academy BJJ Team Malta (established 2010) was the first on the island, and it’s the only club focused solely on BJJ.

There is also a Checkmat team, Fight Legion and Keith tells me the scene consists of just a few other MMA clubs, one of which is doing some gi training.

Naturally in a market of this size students are going to regularly gym-hop to maximize their opportunities to train, which makes it interesting come competition time! Keith says local grappling comps like this one see fighters sort of representing multiple clubs.

He has students travelling to the big tournaments in Europe and coming home with medals, including his first purple belt – a female by the name of Michelle Zarb who was also the first Maltese woman to ever get promoted in BJJ (Keith being the first ever Maltese, under Master Rogerio Olegario).

I could not have received a warmer welcome when I visited. Carry-on luggage restrictions meant I could only fit no gi gear, but the guys on the mat were all very accommodating and put up with me slip-sliding around! Being the middle of Summer it was so muggy, I’m impressed they keep up the gi training at this time of year with just the standard gym fan to get the air moving.

Language-wise, pretty much everyone in Malta speaks english and whether for my benefit or not – Keith taught in english that night so that made things easy.

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Kudos to Keith for pioneering BJJ in Malta – I will see you all again on my next visit soon!

Meet Marie

I came away from my long weekend in Strasbourg with another girl-crush – I have these frequently in BJJ. There are so many awesome women in this sport helping to enrich the experience for the rest of us, regardless of our rank or motivation to train.

In this case, the incredibly warm welcome I received from Marie-Laure Kocher has stayed with me, and made me realise how much of a difference a gesture as simple as a smile can make when directed at a club newcomer – even more so when that newcomer doesn’t speak the local language!

So here’s a little more on the lovely Marie.

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I first discovered BJJ as I studied in La Rochelle, a city on the west coast of France. One day during a judo class, I sparred with a guy who rolled in all directions like a cat (Guillaume Baudoin who is now a BJJ black belt and instructor at Spirit JJB). He just arrived in the city and wanted to open a BJJ academy. I was a bit bored with judo at that time (I practised for around 12 years) so I took benefit of this opportunity to discover a new martial art.

The BJJ scene in Strasbourg is beginning to grow. There is the Gracie Barra academy (around 60 members) which was the first in town. Christian Sardella has done a lot to develop BJJ in the area. Now there are two sister academies in the south of the city. Recently a Brazilian black belt has opened BJJ classes in a kickboxing/MMA gym.

I don’t know that much about the BJJ scene in France. There are academies in the biggest cities, but it’s not as developed as in countries like the UK, Germany or even Switzerland. Actually martial arts are not that popular in France. I would like to discover more academies in France over the next few years, and visit Florence Couzin’s academy (one of the first, if not the first, female BJJ black belt in Europe, she also won the worlds as a black belt).

My biggest challenge in training BJJ was first stepping on the mat being the only woman in the class, then returning and continuing to train. It is sometimes hard to be the only girl on the mat (still the case today). By the way I wrote an article about that on my blog which represents my experience as a beginner.

The best of my travels late last year (which included Australia) was definitely the BJJ people I met along the way. Each of them made the visit unique. I wrote articles about every academy we (my boyfriend and I) trained at. I experienced BJJ in a different way.

If you’re coming to Strasbourg, you must of course explore the city center. It’s really nice to walk around or to bicycle around the middle age streets, buildings and the riverside. Historic places to see: the Cathedral, la Petite France, and the “Neustadt” quarter. There are some interesting museums for people who like history. Also go to the European quarter (with the UE Parliament and the European Court Human Rights) and the Orangerie park.

Petite France Photo: Courtesy of the Strasbourg Tourism Office
Petite France
Photo: Courtesy of the Strasbourg Tourism Office

Strasbourg and all Alsace is famous for its cuisine and wine. People should try for example a real Tarte flambée, a choucroute or a Baeckeoffe, munster cheese. To drink: riesling, gewurtzraminner and, of course, a beer with Picon 😉

Strasbourg is really nice in the summer. When it’s sunny, locals like to be outside and have a drink. There are many nice bars around the city center. During the summertime there are also a few growing music festivals in Strasbourg or close to the city.

Photo: Courtesy of the Strasbourg Tourism Office.
Photo: Courtesy of the Strasbourg Tourism Office.

In December, it is all decorated with Christmas lights (and a huge Christmas tree). There is a big Christmas market in the city where you can find local food, warm wine and handcraft.

Christmas Market at the Cathedral Photo: Courtesy of the Strasbourg Tourism Office.
Christmas Market at the Cathedral
Photo: Courtesy of the Strasbourg Tourism Office.

I can’t wait to catch up with Marie again in the future at BJJ Globetrotter events. Be sure to pay her club a visit if you ever find yourself in Strasbourg.

BJJ Girl Problems

I love this post on BJJStyle.com – hair, bruises, period woes YES! But it was point no. 1 I found myself referencing on the tube ride home from a party tonight.

Making small talk with a random guy, conversation turns to interests, I mention BJJ and get the “Ohhh I’d better not mess with you then!” line.

Normally, I kind of laugh it off and keep chatting about whatever. This time, with the BJJ Girl Probs list fresh in my mind I called him on it.. “Why do guys even say that? If I didn’t do Jiu Jitsu would you be messing with me??”

The answer – Um, Ahhh no I mean.. Well, I guess it’s kind of like a pickup line, sort of thing..”

Conversation kind of dried up after that – sorry dude.

Surprising Myself

I did it! It has been a long time coming, but I finally mustered up enough courage to enter my first Gi competition on the weekend and I did much better than I expected.

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I wasn’t exactly prepared – I decided to compete only two weeks prior, and then hurt my back so figured I’d have to pull out. But I felt okay enough the night before, and this comp was what I knew I needed to do to boost my progression and show my coach I actually want to improve.

I was a stressed-out bundle of nerves come the day of the Southend Open – I’d talked myself down so much during the week, I’d gone from ‘I’m aiming for better than bronze’ (there were only three of us in the weight category) to ‘I just want to put up a good fight, not get stuck underneath the whole time, maybe not get subbed in the first five seconds…’

My first fight was the hardest, but I lasted the whole five minutes, and was actually leading at the start before losing on points.

Photo: James Dennis/Southend Open
Photo: James Dennis/Southend Open
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Photo: James Dennis/Southend Open

I was only supposed to fight twice, but after the second fight which I won on points (woohoo!) the organisers asked for girls to enter the Absolute category.

I was already in the heaviest female weight division of the day so why not, right?

Photo: James Dennis/Southend Open
Photo: James Dennis/Southend Open

I won my first two fights (though again no subs) and ended up facing the same woman as before for 1st/2nd place.

To be honest I was dog tired by the final and mustered as much energy as I had left, but she got an americana … pretty quickly, and it was all over.

Photo: James Dennis/Southend Open
Photo: James Dennis/Southend Open

I didn’t mind though, she was a beast – and I was already over the moon with how I’d performed. I didn’t do anything uber spectacular in the fights but I was able to keep my balance and stay on top a lot of the time, and I managed scrambly-but-successful guard passing!

Of course my coach was right – I’ve learnt so much from the experience and now have a platform from which to start being that bit more specific with how I train.

A chat with a teammate later that day is what will really stay with me though.. she said I have to cement this moment in my mind, hold onto the happy, confident feeling and only look forward. Build on it now, don’t go back to that uncertain, self-doubting place I was in before.

I’m going to stay as far away from it as I possibly can.

Photo: James Dennis/Southend Open
Photo: James Dennis/Southend Open