Wednesday, September 13, 2017

Sweep the Leg


While my first two blogs on jujitsu have been about my experience in trying a new sport, in this blog I hope to show you how stepping out of your comfort zone can be worth the effort. In my blogging history I’ve been quite open about my failures, whether it be in my writing career or firefighting or whatever tickled my ass at that particular moment. This blog is the opposite. This is about a small victory I’ve had in jujitsu and how I hope it can inspire you to step out of your comfort zone and try something you’ve always wanted to try.

As I stepped into Mr. Dale’s gym, I was ready for a new lesson. I’d been at it for a couple of months and was loving every minute of my experience. My friends are sick of hearing me drone on about my latest class which is why I’m now going to bore you. OK, hopefully not bore you.

While I was getting loosened up on the mat, two young ruffians (mid-twenties) entered through the main door. They spoke to Mister Dale for a minute and then took off their shoes and joined the class. I’d like to tell the story like these two newcomers were the villains and Mr. Dale and I were like Mr. Miyagi and Daniel-san but, to the detriment of this story, these two guys were as friendly as they come. With a skeptical glare, I introduced myself. Who were these invaders to our gym? One of the guys, Jeff, was 6’4 and about 230 LBs. The other guy, we’ll call him Frank, was smaller (maybe my height) with a decent build and a strong handshake. They said they were on leave from the military and wanted to learn some jujitsu. Damnit. Military men? Another kink in my good-vs-evil storyline. These guys were coming off as Mother Theresas and I’m starting to look like the real jerk here. I should probably drop this particular narrative.

After warm-ups, Dale paired off with the big guy and told Frank to roll with me for two minutes. I had no idea what I was supposed to do, but figured I’d just try to improve whatever position I found myself in. Frank and I faced each other and he spit on my outstretched hand . . .

Still not buying it? Alright, no spit. So he shook my spitless hand and we began on our knees. He immediately swarmed, aggressive and strong. I tried to draw on my last couple months of training and stay calm. He was stronger than me—I could feel it—as he pulled and pushed. Instead of matching strength, I dropped to my back and let him have the top position. I focused on getting my legs around his hips so he was in my guard.

He yanked at my legs and tried to get around them, but I focused on getting him back into my guard and, amazingly, I was successful each time. I tried a sweep I had previously learned to reverse our positions and end up on top, but he was too strong and not in the right position and fought it off. I stayed calm and pulled him back into my guard. He feverishly tried to pass my legs but by some martial arts magic I was able to reposition and keep him where I wanted. I tried another sweep and that time, somehow, I ended on top of him in the mount (one of the better positions to be in). He immediately bucked his hips and pushed with all of his strength. I calmly held firm and remained in the mount. I used very little strength to rebuff his escape attempt which further emphasized the benefit of technique over brawn.

I leaned my chest close to his face like Mr. Dale had done to me and put my weight onto his chest. I’d say we were about a minute thirty seconds in. While I know about three submissions from this position, and I’m sloppy with all three, I wanted to try something. I isolated his left arm in hopes of securing a shoulder lock. He fought it off well, mostly with strength. Then he whispered, “I need a rest.” I grinned. I knew the feeling from when Mr. Dale had smothered me two months earlier. (Yes, that’s what I’m saying—after two months I’m now as good now as Mr. Dale. Don’t tell him I said that.)

I relaxed for a few seconds. He took a couple of deep breaths and then said he was ready to continue. I spent the last 10 or 20 seconds attempting any submission I could come up with, but I had no luck. Dale called time and we untangled ourselves. We shook hands and thanked each other.

Dale said to switch and Jeff, the behemoth, made his way toward me. “Really?” I said.

Dale nodded.

I was about to be screwed.

Jeff and I shook hands and began. I took the same tactic as with Frank and pulled Jeff into my guard. He seemed to have some knowledge of jujitsu because he knew how to break my guard with his elbows. Plus he was as strong as an ox. . . An evil ox.

Jeff was too big and strong and I was too tired, which caused me to be defensive most of the first minute. I thought I might die. With about a minute to go and since neither of us were getting anywhere, we fell into me showing him a few of the sweeps I’d previously learned.

While Jeff was a beast and I was tired, it was my experience with Frank that I’m drawing on for this blog. Though I didn’t do anything spectacular with Frank, I had more success than I ever could have had merely two months before. It shows me I’m learning a ton. Here was a young guy, stronger and fitter than me, yet with even my limited knowledge and technique I was able to somewhat control him and have success.

And that’s the point of this blog. Not so much as to talk about what could come across as boring jujitsu positioning and technical blah, blah, blah, but more to show you how any ole’ slob could work toward a goal and have some success. It sounds easy but I know it’s not. For a lot of people it’s that first step that’s the killer. It’s the confidence to try something new. I’ve lacked confidence in my life, so I get it. If you’re reading this and there is something you’ve always wanted to try, or maybe you’ve been inactive as of late and aren’t happy with gaining a few pounds, I’m here to tell you to find that something you want and work toward it. Just like I’ve found jujitsu.

Have you always wanted to swim? Go join a YMCA and learn. Take that first step. Or plunge. Don’t worry that you won’t be able to do it, because I’m telling you that you will. Don’t worry about looking foolish or beating Michael Phelps either, because none of that matters. I promise you two months from now you’ll be better than you currently are, and you’ll be glad you tried. You may even enjoy yourself.

It’s not all physical either. Do you wish you could write a book? Go write one. If you don’t like how it turns out after the first draft (no one ever does), work on it until it’s something you’re proud of. Read books on writing. Draw on your favorite authors. Do whatever it takes to work toward a goal.

My friend, Tony, just went to Africa and hiked the trails of Mt. Kilimanjaro. That sounds insane to me. I used to say I could never do something that, but at 44 years old I’ve learned that if hiking Mt. Kilimanjaro becomes my passion one day, I could totally pull it off. Maybe not tomorrow but, if I worked toward that goal, it could happen. You could do it too is the point.

I’m an average guy at best. There is nothing spectacular about me. Just ask my wife. If you’ve had a week of jujitsu training, you might still whup my butt on the mat. That doesn’t matter. I’m still going to work at it for the foreseeable future and maybe someday I’ll actually be good at it. Or maybe I’ll decide to play a guitar. If that becomes my next passion, then I’ll give it my all. I imagine after two months of guitar, like with jujitsu and Mr. Dale, I’ll be as good as the teacher.

I’m just kidding, Mr. Dale. Please don’t hurt me in Friday’s class.

Sometimes I talk too much.

Update: It’s been over a month since the military guys stopped in and I haven’t seen them since. Maybe they found another gym or maybe jujitsu wasn’t as fun as they hoped it to be. Regardless, I’d like to believe it was our stellar defense of Mr. Dale’s gym and the villains have moved on to easier targets. Good guys-1, Bad guys-0.

Saturday, September 2, 2017

Swing and a Miss


Writing books can be a bitch.

I recently put the finishing touches on my latest fantasy novel, Death of the Grinderfish. While this manuscript has been a WIP for many years, I finally buckled down and finished my dystopian world. I was ecstatic with the results and couldn’t wait to get it into the hands of my beta readers. I even read through it one more time before sending it out just to be sure and I loved the adventure as much as when I first came up with the concept. This story was a result of years of tireless hard work. My beta readers were going to be blown away. Or so I thought.

With excited anticipation I gave out my heart and soul to the same beta readers I’ve used for each of my novels. Now, it was just a matter of waiting for the adulation to come pouring in. I might note that during the editing phase my aunt’s less-than full-throated enthusiasm should have been my first hint that something wasn’t right, but I ignored any doubts because of how much I loved the story.

My mom was the first beta reader to get back to me. She was engrossed in the story and loving it. So far so good. But at some point she lost interest and set the book aside. When I grilled her on what had happened she wasn’t exactly sure. She said she had just lost interest and would get back into it at some point. She never did. Yikes. That’s not good. But fantasy wasn’t her thing, so let’s wait for some other opinions.

Slowly, each beta reader returned their notes. While none of them confessed to not liking my story, none of them were blown away by it either. Most of their critical notes were either technical in nature or minor stumbles like a chapter that dragged on too long or a conversation felt too stilted. Those types of critiques. But behind all of their minor criticisms was a lack of enthusiasm for the story that I hadn’t received before. I soul searched and read through the manuscript again and again I loved what I had created.

I didn’t and still don’t understand what’s wrong with the story. I have never experienced this. I’ve had bad reviews and good reviews and I understand how stories rub different people in different ways but these are my beta readers. These are the ones who support my writing and generally like what I’ve written which is why I settled on them in the first place. To have received such lukewarm responses told me the future critics and readers would be brutal. My philosophy (stolen from someone much wiser than myself) was if I wrote something I personally liked, then others would like it as well. That has worked well for me to this point, but now I’ve lost a little faith in that approach.

As an optimist I decided to move on to something else and put the Grinderfish on the back burner for now, but I have a new problem. I have lost some confidence and enthusiasm in my own writing. This isn’t me pitying myself, it’s me trying to move on without understanding what went wrong in my last venture. I don’t trust my stories anymore. I usually take between a year and two years to write a book, but now I am finding it difficult to muster the effort when I’m not sure how the final product will be received. For example, when I run into a tough part I’m more apt to close my computer and walk away. Sometimes I go weeks before I return and muscle through my stumbling block.

As much as I’d hate to say it, but the loss of my publisher, combined with the enormous effort and time in my Grinderfish failure has taken something from me. But more than that, I don’t know where I went wrong. If I open my Grinderfish story today and start reading it, I love it. Is this just a case of thinking my children are wonderful when the rest of the world sees them for the heathens they are? If so, how do I trust my judgement in the future? How do I bleed and sweat into an idea if I have no way to determine if the honey is worth the hard work? I’ve written things that I ultimately didn’t care for and relinquished them to the wastecan of my computer, but this one is different.

In saying all of this, I must add that I am confident that I’ll be fine in whatever I do with my writing. I am fortunate to be an optimist. When I get knocked for a loop, I tend to move on and heal to be better than I was before. I’m working on something new now. My newest manuscript has just hit 40,000 words of a planned 80,000. I’d like to say I’m liking the progress, but I don’t trust my opinion at the moment and need to reserve my opinion until I see how it turns out. My new story is tentatively titled The Thin Line and it’s my attempt at a new direction.

Let’s hope it doesn’t suck.

Let’s hope I can tell if it does.

Let’s hope it’s not Grinderfish part deux.

I’ve posted the first chapter of my Grinderfish story on my blog if you’d like to see it. Here’s a link. Ch. 1