Finding grace in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu

Those who know me know I love dance, sports and really enjoy MMA. I used to box (competed in amateur competitions at my local gym in Manila), took a few wrestling classes, and in the past two years, have taken a keen interest in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu and no-gi grappling.

I never felt the urge to compete at either discipline because I don’t feel I’m technically at that level where I can confidently rely on skills and smarts over strength and stamina to protect myself. Frankly speaking, rolling around and putting people in uncomfortable situations also doesn’t come quite as natural to me as dance, so training is mentally and physically taxing. I often leave the mats with a few bruises, achy muscles, and recently, a sore left ear.

All of this is normal if you’re learning a martial art. There is also a clinic situated near the academy that the professionals go to when they are physically hurt but not in critical condition, and I decided to pay them a visit under the full assumption that things like swollen ears is quite common.

But instead of focusing on my puffy, red ear, the doctor took the liberty to give me a piece of his mind.

“Surely you don’t need to do this self-defense thing in Singapore?” He asked knowingly as Singapore is one of the safest cities in the world and arguably the best place for expats. “Not to be funny, but girls with funny cauliflower ears don’t get ahead in the workplace.”

I was stunned. My ear started to hurt less and I felt my face getting hot.

He continued: “It’s true. They don’t get promoted. Plus you don’t want to be that girl, right? Waste lah! So stop this and just do cardio or something. Your ear will be fine just don’t touch it or sleep on it.”

I sat there expressionless. I couldn’t even feel relieved at the thought that my ear is going to be okay cause I was busy thinking, ‘Was that one biased point of view or an honest reflection of today’s society?’

I’ve read a number of articles and scientific studies that justify his point and say the same thing: beautiful people are more successful, earn more, find better partners, and typically liked more and treated better than the less-attractive bunch (even height plays a role). When it comes to women, there is also a tendency for beauty to backfire and make them less likely to be hired for high-level jobs, and prone to unfair judgements made by their fellow women.

If I knew all this, why was I so concerned and bothered?

I realized I wasn’t upset at the doctor or other women hating on other women (this time at least). I was upset at myself for failing to take care of myself.

When you are sparring, there are a lot of ways to dominate the roll or escape and regain your advantage. To the best of my abilities with my cheeky demeanor, I will always try and fight for a better position or squirm my way out of a bad situation instead of tapping out to avoid the feeling of defeat and appearing weak.

Dangerous and stupid (rookie?) mistake. There is nothing wrong with tapping out when something hurts. Even before you begin to feel any pain, tap. You cannot control your opponent’s speed or strength or let alone trust that they’ll ease up on you cause you’re in the same school, or you’re a girl, or your both girls, but you’re tiny, and you only have a white belt. “It’s not about how hard you can roll, but how you can roll when it’s hard.” And I have a long way to go, a lot to learn, and there’s no rush.

So no, I don’t want to be that banged up girl with a funny cauliflower ear, or broken this and popped that. Not because majority will think it unattractive or professionally limiting; but because I don’t want to look back in regret that I took my body for granted, and willingly abused the healing powers of my youth. It doesn’t mean I’m giving up and quitting the sport. I just have to train smarter, listen to my body and treat it with the respect it deserves so I can continue living the healthy, active life some can only wish for.

-ET

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