How NOT to remove SNS nails

BJJ and pretty nails don’t mix, not for me anyway, since I clip them down every few days to avoid being ‘that’ scratchy-nail person on the mat. And polish? Meh. I only bother for special occasions. But after getting my first SNS manicure for my sister’s wedding, I found a way to clumsily manage a mani and training. Sort of.

That’s Signature Nail Systems by the way- I had to look it up.

The pretty shot

SNS nails

Aren’t they lovely, plastic fantastic-looking amazingness?! Seriously solid. I was drumming my fingernails along everything. Just because.

Obligatory wedding snap (one groomsman to two bridesmaids! We made it work).

Since my ‘enhanced’ French mani was thick and blunt and really not longer than my natural nail length, I got away with training twice in Australia in the week following the wedding; no scratching anyone or feeling like I may inadvertently rip my talons off.

Back to the UK, and although the SNS was starting to grow out, I wanted to be vain and keep that souped-up nail feeling for a little longer. But how to trim them when they’re too thick for clippers to handle?

Cue manic filing! It was tedious, but it worked.

For a good three weeks I successfully kept my nails short for BJJ, and that French manicure – while it looked a little odd with the white part steadily disappearing – continued to hold with no problem. Mind you, it was swiftly looking worse and worse.

SNS french manicure filed down

So this is where laziness just set in really. Who cares what my nails look like! Buy acetone or go to a nail bar to get the stuff removed? Pah! I’ll just let them grow off.

SNS nail pulled off

All the BJJ gripping started prying them loose mid-roll to the surprise of my training partners; Holy shit I just found your nail…oh it’s fake? Phew..

Thankfully I didn’t feel a thing or lose any real nails in the process but, I do now have half a hand of weird-looking pink stuff left on my claws, and my nails are definitely feeling thinner/weaker, hopefully temporarily.

Glue residue on nails
Don’t worry, that’s mostly glue residue, not ragged layers of nail.

Would weak nails be a thing if I had removed the SNS you know, the responsible-manicure-girl way? Maybe, maybe not, the internet seems divided. Either way it’s probably the route I’ll take if I ever get a proper manicure again.

My sister had a great wedding photographer by the way. You can check out more photos here.

Second stripe happened!

It’s been a long time coming, a LONG time going by the “usual” white belt journey depending on how you look at it.. but I’ve finally earned myself a second stripe!!

It’s a big deal – huge – because it’s the first one from my coaches here in London, Marco Canha and Bruno Ferreira, and a whole 2+ years since my last one.

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Bruno’s morning classes at Fightzone have provided me with some much-needed motivation and consistency over the last few months. Work and other competing evening commitments mean night classes are regularly pushed aside, but 7am twice a week? Perfect for this early bird!

In these classes I have found a really wonderful, encouraging crew and an attentive coach who couldn’t be more supportive and positive.

At every grading Marco talks about attitude and how important it is to not compare yourself to others on the mat. And it has taken me a long time to truly find my happy place in this sport, and accept my life and body’s limitations:

  • I can’t train five days a week and that’s ok!
  • Other white belts will start after me and progress faster than me, and that’s ok too!
  • I’m going to have lower back issues every so often, and I need to listen to and rest my body.
  • I’m not super flexible, but it doesn’t mean a move can’t still work for me in SOME way.

2015 has been a turning point year on a few fronts, all of them good. I think this second little stripe turned up at the time it was meant to, and I’m now really excited to work towards the third!

Working at NAGA UK

I got a new perspective on BJJ this weekend – from behind a scoring table at the North American Grappling Association’s (NAGA) UK championship.

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A fellow jits girl recruited me to be a ring coordinator for the day, and the role was exactly the type of jiu jitsu involvement I had been looking for. No competition nerves, just a little anxious about not wanting to mess up the scoring of anyone’s fights!

All the NAGA staff were super welcoming and supportive of us local ring-ins, training us in our roles in the morning before doors opened at Crystal Palace National Sports Centre.

I can happily report that no scoring mess ups occurred (to my knowledge), and my fear of being yelled at by some aggro fighter or parent of a little kid didn’t happen either, phew.

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There was one fight that ended in 7-0, and the friends of the losing grappler started abusing the referee, calling him racist and incompetent among other things. Huge respect for how the ref handled that, and the other mini dramas that cropped up during the course of the day; from crying kids and parents unhappy about the range of experience in their child’s weight division, to a couple of friends who had road tripped to London together from elsewhere in Europe, only to find themselves up against each other in their first fight.

My ref dealt with each issue amazingly, always looking for ways to keep everyone happy and to ensure they got the most out of their tournament. “After all, they’ve paid to be here – I’d like to see everyone with a fair opportunity to get more than one fight.”

I was expecting a late night after friends warned me that NAGA events usually run over by quite a lot. But the final fight was wrapping up by around six-thirty, and we were well done with the pack up by eight. All the mats and merch and medals were loaded on to a big truck to make their way to the next EU competition in Monaco.

Towards the end of the day President Kipp Kollar announced that more than 600 fighters had competed – a pretty sizeable amount to me, but apparently not as big a turnout as at some of their events in America. In saying that Kipp says the UK competition is growing each year.

I had a great time working NAGA (yes I was paid), and have a new level of respect for people who run grappling tournaments. They really do work their butts off to put on a good show.

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Where have you been?!

I swear if one more person asked me that at the gym the other night I may have actually successfully taken them down – I ONLY TOOK ONE WEEK OFF GUYS! But ok, I have had to ditch the two-classes-per-week goal of late thanks to a sore knee and back. One class a week is still better than none, right? It just means that no one really seems to remember you still train. 😀

I am happy to report that while the BJJ training has been lacking, other aspects of London life have been full-on in mostly fantastic ways.. I’m starting a new job soon – just after Easter in fact and I am looking forward to it so, so much.  My new dream career took a bit longer to manifest in this city than I anticipated and while I have had a blast in the random occupations I have found myself in, I am definitely ready to feel back on track and placing my feet firmly on the rungs of what I feel is now the right career ladder for me.

Before the new job kicks in though I will be making a pretty special Easter trip over to Malta. Special not for the time of year, (although I will no doubt be attending multiple church services..) but because my beloved Nanna will be there, having come all the way over from Australia for what is likely to be her last visit to her home country. It has been 18 months since I last saw her so I can’t wait to give her a big hug and soak up all the family time, along with lots of sun. (*Update, apparently I’m deluded thinking there will be sun in Malta over Easter. Sooooo I suppose I pack a weatherproof jacket instead of swimmers. *sigh*)

There has also been a pretty amazing guy in my life over the past few months and I am enjoying that relationship immensely. After spending the majority of my late twenties single and dating prolifically, it’s such a joy to click with someone and be as wrapped up in them as they seem to be in you.

And he trains so, you know – bonus points!

With Nanna and Nannu at my 'leaving for London' party... golly back in 2013, how did THAT happen?!
With Nanna and Nannu at my ‘leaving for London’ party… golly back in 2013, how did THAT happen?!

Oh, hey there

Stuck between tube stops due to a signal failure on the district line… what a perfect opportunity to play catch up on the blog!

Belated Happy New Year – I made a simple BJJ related resolution, and I am proud to say that I have stuck to it so far:

Make it to training at least twice a week.

Two sessions as a base is extremely achievable, and I find I’m beating myself up much less than when I was getting to four classes one week (huzzah!), but then sometimes none the next.

In happily averaging three times per week at the moment, and trying to really focus on retaining more of what I’m learning. Moving off one stripe in 2015 would be kinda nice. I do still have the short term training memory of a fish though, sadly.

What else is occupying my time? Well, I’m job hunting – I mean proactively job hunting as opposed to just wishing a new gig would fall out of the sky. Crossing fingers and toes a shiny opportunity presents itself soon (well spoken EA/Project Manager and media type for hire, just sayin).

Happy 18 months in London to me!

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HOW have I been in the capital this long already? Ashamedly I am yet to see the inside of any museums bar the Hunterian, and have only made it to one musical (Urinetown, odd title but a good show).

While many of my Aussie friends here are now realising they have under a year left on their working holiday visas and are frantically trying to tick off their euro travel bucket lists, I am wondering when I should start compiling mine.

The beauty and danger, of an EU passport.

I’m really keen to make this year count – on and off the mat, in my career and in my personal life. The latter part of 2013 was very much a career holiday. 2014 saw me jump into a bunch of new things including my first Gi competition (I did enter a second Southend Open in November, annnnd let’s just say I didn’t surprise myself but I DID learn a lot).

It’s time to build now. Oh, and I’d also love to find a new flat.

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.

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 (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.