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Strength in numbers.

December 8, 2013 Leave a comment

Something exciting is happening in the women’s grappling community where I live.  Since this past spring, I’ve seen more and more women from the various jiu jitsu schools reach out to each other to build a network of super women. Jiu jitsu, and my other love, judo, are male-dominated sports. And on one hand, I don’t see anything specifically wrong with that. I love the guys I train with. My guy instructors and training partners serve as my BJJ and judo dads, uncles, watchful big brothers, annoying little brothers, and partners in crime. So I am grateful they are in my world. On the other hand, there are indisputable physical differences between men and women. When I compete, I don’t fight men. I fight women. For me, it’s beneficial to get a women’s perspective on training and get a feel for the physical differences in their approach to the game. In addition to the physical aspects, there is simply some mental comfort that comes from having other girls on your team. When you’re the minority, you can’t help but get a little excited when you meet someone else like you who can understand your experience.

I’m pretty lucky at my club. I’m not the only girl and I never have been. As my club gained more female members, we thought it could be fun and helpful to have a training night for women only. We also thought it would be cool to invite women from other clubs so we could get some variety in our training partners. As my club began to reach out to other female BJJ practitioners, we realized that several other clubs in the area had been offering women’s classes for some time. Soon, all these different clubs carved out women’s open mats, welcome to all girls. It’s felt incredible to show up to a room full of other girls of all ranks and body types, ready to work hard and have fun.

Undoubtedly, jiu jitsu is an individual sport. Sure, you belong to a club where others train, but it’s your responsibility to get to class. You are in charge of your practice. However, when so much self-determination rests on your shoulders, motivating train partners are essential. Since I’ve had the opportunity to train with all these other girls, I’ve experienced a surge of excitement and dedication in my training. I’m learning so much from these fantastically intelligent, disciplined, enthusiastic women. What I appreciate the most from this network we’re building is the spirit of camaraderie that drives us. Although we compete against each other in tournaments, the desire to keep women training and develop a welcoming environment for new girls takes precedent over grudges. We all want to win, but we realize if we are cold and exclusionary, we might not have any girls to compete against at all.

This past week, my club offered our monthly women’s open mat. We had eleven girls and we trained 10 six minute sets. I think we could have done more if we didn’t have pesky adult responsibilities to mind. We even had a female judoka join us, which made me happy because I hope this network of tough girls extends to the judo community.We also had two women from Delaware join us. Neither of them have any other girls at their club, and the one women had a three hour drive each way to train with us. That really floored me. After we wrapped up, I thought about how unique and extraordinary this things is that us girls our doing.  It might not seem revolutionary in comparison to other movements we’ve seen in the world, but I’m still proud to be a part of this little grass roots adventure.

 

Silly girls, friendly girls, tough girls.

Silly girls, friendly girls, tough girls.

 

Some other good reads about women’s training in the Tri-State area:

http://crawlatopmeandmeetyourdoom.wordpress.com/2013/12/03/lots-of-ladies/

http://blog.bjjunderdog.com/2013/12/01/girl-on-girl.aspx

“I honor her struggle.”

January 6, 2012 16 comments

Today is my mom’s 60th birthday. My mom, however, is not here to celebrate. In the spring of 2006, she committed suicide. As I’ve written before, I also lost my brother over a decade ago. For some reason, if the topic of family comes up with someone I just met, I can readily explain that my brother was killed by a drunk driver. However, if someone starts asking about my mom, I describe her death in a vague, abstract way, like “Well, it was kind of sudden, but she was sick for a long time.” Then I jump to a new subject before the person even has a chance to respond.

For the last few months, I’ve been thinking a lot about why I do this. Why can I say point blank, “My brother was killed by a drunk driver” but I can’t say, “My mom committed suicide”? I think that in the case of my brother, it’s easier to explain to someone how my brother died due to the universal sympathy that his death can evoke. He was young. He was the victim. Most people know someone either directly or indirectly who have been killed by a drunk driver. Most people can imagine what it might be like to lose a sibling.

Considering my mom’s death, it’s a lot more jarring to tell someone that my mother committed suicide. I think it can sound so violent and extremely upsetting. Depending on the other person’s beliefs and values, they might think negatively of my mom or start in on me about how they view suicide as inherently wrong. I know that suicide is a taboo in our culture. But am I holding back to protect the other person’s feelings for asking an innocent question, or am I holding back to protect myself from the other person’s reaction? Or, it is the case that I don’t want anyone to judge my mom for decision to take her own life, and therefore I hold back to protect her?

I can only conclude that it’s a combination all three. I don’t want to make someone feel bad for asking normal getting-to-know-you type question. I don’t want to feel bad myself for having to think about my mom when I don’t feel comfortable, and I don’t want to get into an argument about the morality of suicide.

The thing is, I’m not angry with my mom or ashamed of what she did. My mom really did try. She began life with one of the worst childhoods imaginable. That meant she never had much of a family support system. Her father and sister died by the time she was 35. My mom also had a chemical imbalance which greatly affected her functioning. She was severely depressed for about thirty years of her life. This made it very difficult for her to maintain healthy relationships, no matter how much work she put into herself. She went to therapy. She took medication. She volunteered. In her early 50s, she even went back to college. She explored all sorts of different spiritual paths. I think, though, that when brother died, something broke in my mom that she couldn’t repair. Unlike you or me, my mom wasn’t born with a good tool kit for coping, nor was she ever given useful examples from her family. I know she fought hard, but fighting makes you tired. Personally, I can’t justify expecting my mom to continue into her 80s never feeling secure, never feeling loved, and never feeling happy. I think she had every right to give herself a chance to rest.

I’m not going to lie to you: my mom and I had a pretty terrible relationship. However, I know that so much of her behavior was really out of her hands. And I also know that she tried as hard as she could everyday to change. I will never forget the words my cousin, Claire, spoke at my mom’s funeral. As Claire described what my mom and their relationship meant to her, she also spoke of my mom’s constant struggle to find contentment. Claire concluded, “I honor her struggle.”

I will do the same.

Look closely.

December 12, 2011 2 comments

Recently, I’ve been deeply absorbed in my own little battles. I got pretty sick at the end of October and then I didn’t really recover. It’s made work and school pretty difficult, constructing a treasure chest of stress and anxiety for me. While I’d like to think my normal state of being is pragmatic with a dash of optimism, as of late I’ve been mostly cynical with a touch of skepticism. I’ve written and talked so much about how rough things are that I neglect to think about about what I’m getting out of this strange time.

For the past eleven weeks, I’ve been involved in a psycho-educational group for the young women at my internship. As I’ve mentioned in a previous post, this group is designed to help our clients, all of whom have experienced complex trauma and loss, to learn how to use their negative experiences to build a source of strength so they can make plans for their future. Co-facilitating this group has been one of the most beneficial experiences for me, both professionally and personally. I work in a residential setting so everything we do has a family feel to it. Before each group, the staff and I cook for our clients and their children. We all eat dinner together and then the kids go off with staff to do their homework (or just to play for the real little ones) and my co-facilitator and I go off with the moms for group. Tonight was the the last lesson in the unit covering loss, and the moms decided to cook dinner for everyone to make it a special occasion. I thought it was really nice that they wanted to take a turn.

With each group, I keep learning more and more. I interned at a hospital last year and I thought that the constant interaction with so many different patients was showing me so much about people in the way we interact with each other and cope with our experiences. By working with the same clients week after week, I’ve had the pleasure of seeing these young women begin to grow and change. Even if they may goof around sometimes and get off topic, they have these very powerful moments when they  share insight from a painful experience, or respectfully debate a touchy subject. Our group is voluntary, and so is participation. You don’t have to say anything while you’re there. For a lot of people, saying how you feel is terrifying. Yet these young women do it week after week in a room full of people. It’s been very humbling for me. I loved every minute of it.

So while the last month and half has been hard, I know therein lies tremendous value.

Becoming brown.

October 12, 2011 Leave a comment

It happened on Monday night. It was sweaty, nerve-wracking, and lasted about three minutes. It was my Kata demonstration. And it’s done.

So now I’m a brown belt.

Perhaps for some, getting your brown belt is not a big deal. For me, however, it’s massive. It almost means more to me than one day earning my black belt.

I started practicing judo when I was a tiny six year-old. Then, a brown belt was only something adults could wear. I remember when my dad got his first brown belt. I was so amazed by him. I don’t think I really understood much about judo at that age, but I knew that when my dad put on his brown belt for the first time, that signified that he was in it for real. This was not my dad’s hobby; this was his life.

I still view brown belts with a six year old’s perspective, like I should have to work for another 10 years before I can put on my new belt. I know I’ve been working hard, but it feels so surreal to think that now is my time.  Am I prepared for all the work that lies ahead? I do  feel ready for this. Still, I’m a little terrified. I’m a brown belt. People are going to expect me to know stuff.

Despite the fear, there is a part of my that’s pretty proud as well. Actually, this pride stems mostly from the inspiration I draw from the women I train with. There are not many of us at my club, but I know I’m fortunate because my club certainly has more women than most. I’m even more fortunate that all the women I train with are more advanced than I am and that they make great teachers. I will never, ever discount how much all the guys at my club me to me; a lot of them have been really important in my growth as a judoka and they’re my family. But being a girl who practices judo is not as common as I’d like. When I look at my assistant coach, who is a fourth degree black belt, and my Kata partner, who is a first degree black belt, I’m simply in awe of their skill and tenacity. I feel  lucky to have them in both my judo life and my regular life. Their support has been invaluable to me. As I keep going, I’m honored to think that I have such phenomenal women helping me build my foundation.

I still feel like I’m going puke though.

 

 

Categories: Judo, Life, Promotions, Women

Two types of girls.

September 21, 2011 3 comments

(Please keep in mind that this is merely an observation of mine and that in no way am I hating on my gender.)

With the start of the semester, I have been attending some practices at Penn’s judo club. Penn’s club is working to improve its program recruitment and retention, so most of the students are NEW new, like plucked from the street. Some come in not knowing what judo is at all.

Since Penn’s club has so many new people, I’m considered an “experienced” player although I’m a mere green belt. When it comes time to partner up, I usually grab one of the few girls that have shown up, not just because of the match in size, but because I think it can help them ease into being comfortable on the mat.

In just a few practices, I realized how easy it is to tell whether or not a girl has played sports before. It’s not just from their physical appearance or how coordinated they are; it has to do with their confidence and curiosity. When I work with a girl who has played sports, they’re usually pretty excited to try out the techniques. They seem glad to know that I (mostly) know what I’m doing and can tell the difference in the way the execute a throw and how I do it. They want me to explain how the technique works so they can get the hang of it. They always ask how long I’ve practicing judo, and we end up engaging in other types of friendly chit chat.

Now, the girls who have not had much experience playing sports are sort of repelled by me. When I partner up with them, they look like they’ve been divvied out a punishment. They apologize for not knowing anything yet or if they forget a part of a technique.  I know I like working with more experienced players because they’ll be a safe training partner and I can learn from them. But with these girls, it seems like my experience intimidates them rather than comforts them.

In many ways, judo is an individual practice, but you do train with other people. Your teammates help you improve and motivate you to keep going. I hope that I can figure out how to better relate to the girls at Penn’s club who are less athletically inclined. In the other aspects of their life, these young women are probably capable and confident. I hope they can find further confidence on the mat. If you can handle all the pain and sweat that comes with judo, you’ll probably start to believe that you can handle anything.

Categories: Gender, Judo, Learning, Women

“A long line of girls.”

August 20, 2011 7 comments

My last living grandparent is my grandmom, Eleanor, my father’s mother. Truthfully, she’s not in good shape. My grandmom is in her mid-80s, and in addition to coping with her deteriorating physical health, she also suffers from dementia. She’s forgotten how to do things that you and I take for granted, like operating a phone or a TV remote. Moreover, she doesn’t remember the majority of the people she’s loved throughout her life and have loved her back. While she doesn’t always know who I am, she usually does seem to know that my dad is her son, Paul. But not always. Today, during our visit, she asked my dad, “Now, who is your mother?” Mr. Latimer responded, “You!” She laughed a little at the very idea, “Oh, my.”  Later in the visit, she was surprised when we reminded her that she had 10 nieces and nephews and four grandchildren. In that moment, she had no idea she had so many connections.

Today, both my dad and I noticed how my presence confuses her. She definitely knows that, Lori, her granddaughter, exists. However, the person I am standing in front of her doesn’t match her memory of me. So the connection has to be drawn and redrawn over and over again. For some reason, one thing about my present life that permanently sticks with her is that I’m earning a degree at Penn. Over lunch, she expressed to me how much my pursuit of an advanced degree at an institution like Penn meant to her. Her mother, my great-grandmother was a school teacher, and earned a college degree in Education when such a pursuit was rare for women. My grandmom followed in her mother’s footsteps and became a teacher as well. She even earned her Master’s degree. For my grandmom, I think this was a hugely personal accomplishment. She did not have it easy. My grandfather fought in World War II and returned home incapable of readjusting to civilian life because of all the unimaginable, horrible experiences he had. He left the family, and my grandmom lived in a tiny Southwest Philly row home with her parents while raising my dad and my uncle who were a handful, to put it politely. Despite her personal struggles, my grandmom still worked to build her career and expand her education. I think a remarkable aspect of her character is that in addition to earning degrees during a time when people didn’t think women needed that kind of education, she also traveled. A lot. To other continents even. For a girl from Southwest Philly, where people probably never venture farther than the Jersey Shore in their travels, this is pretty mind-blowing.

As my grandmom talked with me about her and her mother’s education, it was clear to me that she sees education as a source of independence and empowerment for the women. “The boys,” she said to me, “they didn’t want to do much.” She thought for a moment, looking down and looking back up at me and said, “I’m trying to think of how to say what a big thing it is, to get an education like that.” When it was time to leave a little while later, she looked up at me again from her wheelchair and said, “Can I hold your hand, since we’re related?” Then as I hugged her goodbye, she said, “A long line of girls…I’m so proud of you.”

Even if my grandmom can’t always remember my name, I’m glad that she can see the good she’s done reflected back at her through the women in her life. I’m proud to be one of those women.

Categories: conversations, Family, School, Women

“This is when my life destiny was set.”

August 9, 2011 Leave a comment

A friend of mine shared the above clip of Sensei Fukuda, a 98 year-old judo practitioner who serves as a true pioneer for female judoka. (And really, that’s not saying enough.) As the clip describes, Sensei Fukuda was denied the right to advance in rank for 30 years due to sexism within the Kodokan. What hits me hard regarding this phenomenal women is her powerful tenacity and commitment in the face of such adversity. When she was told she could not be promoted and therefore denied acknowledgment of her skills, she could have stopped. However, her passion was so great that she decided to give her life to judo anyway.  To me, that decision is profoundly admirable.

When Sensei Fukuda says that her marriage was judo, I thought about how lonely it can be sometimes to take big risks for the things you believe in. I think her journey affirms for me that there is joy in the struggle. I am also reminded of how strong women are, particularly in their ability to keep fighting even when they know the rest of the world could care less about their battles, whether it’s raising children, climbing the corporate ladder, or earning the title you deserve.

While I look to Sensei Fukuda for my big picture inspiration, I am fortunate to have many strong, resourceful, and passionate women in my personal life. I have had fiercely dedicated supervisors in my career to serve as mentors, and numerous friends, co-workers, and fellow female judoka who forge their own path, making tough sacrifices in pursuit of their goals and in support of their beliefs. Each of these women pop into my mind at various times when I think about who I want to be when I grow up. With such incredible examples set, I can only hope to contribute as much to them and other women as they have so generously given to me.

Categories: Challenges, Judo, Life, passion, Women