Wednesday, 31 October 2012

Version 2.0

I have always wanted a tattoo.

Since teenagehood I have been obsessed with ink, piercing, scars, anything that leaves a mark, or a story on the body. I’m probably the only person who has a session of Chinese cupping and feels sad when the bruises fade.

Given my fanaticism, you’d expect me to be head-to-toe covered in permanent art. But the truth of the matter is I’ve always been afraid to make that commitment. I’m a love-it-or-hate-it type of person, and my taste is wildly fickle. Plus, I’m still a bit scared of my mum, and my mum hates tattoos. For 38 years I’ve made do with obscene levels of tattoo groupiedom around friends with ink (sorry to everyone whose arms, legs and chests I’ve creepily pored over) and talk of “the best tattoo in the world I’m going to get at some unspecified point in the future”.

This trip, however, was about a new start - a different way of living and some alternate ways of thinking. Yes, it also featured Brazilian Jiu Jitsu quite heavily, but more than that I was beginning to recognise some patterns in my behaviour that were really counterproductive.

The eternal fearfulness that meant I never really stepped into something unfamiliar in case it worked out badly.

The “martyrdom” that meant I prioritised keeping everyone else on side over making myself happy (undoubtedly the misery that accompanied the martyrdom drove friends, family and partners up the wall).

And the desperate desire to be the best at everything that continued way past school and university, and regularly ran me flat into the ground.

With my 39th birthday hurtling round the corner, I had a real moment of clarity – one that said “You’re about half way through life, and you haven’t really started living yet. How much longer are you planning on waiting?”

It was time for a reboot, a Lisa Version 2.0. Taking the last 38 years as a test run, and using it to build something stronger, braver and more “in the moment”.

I wanted something to mark this commitment to change, something that wasn’t detracted from by “but what ifs?” And so, with roughly three days planning, and five days before we left for the States, I got 2.0 tattooed on my ankle.

Obviously this was a few weeks ago - the new Lisa Version 2.0 might be badass, but she’s still a bit scared of Mum Version 1.0 (we’ve got 2 months to go before the Christmas reunion, so maybe the UN can settle matters before then).

The tattoo itself was done by a very good friend of mine, MMA fighter Pete Irving. He’s currently apprenticing as a tattooist and it was my way of taking my pals with me on my travels.

As it happens, the 2.0 tattoo has come in handy in other ways. When I handed in my notice, got rid of my flat, sold my possessions and moved across the globe, I assumed change would happen automatically. After all, pretty much every element of familiarity was gone.

And the first week was definitely new and exciting, filled with an adrenalin-type rush. Our brains quite regularly couldn’t comprehend the enormity and consequences of chucking so much into the air, and so we flipped into holiday mode, bouncing merrily between beaches and BJJ mats with glee.

Around the middle of week two though, I started noticing a shift, one that was making me a little sad and deflated.

In an environment where everything was chaotic and unfamiliar, we had started building frameworks that made it more like the old life.

We didn’t have jobs to go to, but we had a gym schedule, classes to hit, people who expected us to be there. We had chores to complete, laundry to run, breakfast slots in the motel to wake up for.

Instead of the “letting go and uncovering what I really want to do” mantra I had recited to myself, we were both finding ways to organise, and hurry, and prioritise. Rest was squeezed in between things, a commodity that would enable the other stuff on the “To Do list.”

I’ll be honest here, I don’t think it was accidental that we slipped back into “I’ll get round to it after…” future mode.

Racing on and "achieving", be that belts, jobs or weight loss, is tough. Standing still is sometimes more intimidating. What if you don't like where you're at, see mistakes that you've made, or mourn opportunities you've missed?

But without stopping, it's impossible to really change. After all, you have to take stock to even know where you're starting from.

At times where I notice I'm reverting to old habits, it helps to have a tiny 2.0 on my foot.

It reminds me to keep changing. I don't want it to end up as a faded, meaningless piece of nothing – the proverbial dolphin tattooed on a drunken hen night.

And the funniest thing is that after 38 years of "what will I find that looks good enough forever?" type stress, the design itself is secondary - it's the permanence I like the most. It is, and was, a way to mark a snapshot in time. And at least it doesn't say #YOLO.

Wednesday, 24 October 2012

Love Hurts

Because of the mighty moving fiasco, my third week at Atos had more of a conditioning flavour.

After two days battling with the banking system, and then dragging cases and bikes across town, the idea of inviting big, strong, technically vicious, and potentially heavy world champions to sit on my ribcage proved too much. Even masochists have limits.

That’s not to say the conditioning didn’t hurt. Remember The Atos Attitude? It still stands, even when the only person beating you up is yourself.

First up, and for the benefit of every MMA fan and female BJJ obsessive in my social sphere, let’s talk about Cyborg’s Muay Thai conditioning class.

I will admit straight up that having seen Christiane Santos’ training excerpts all over YouTube, my interpretation of her “Come on ladies, let’s get fit” invite was mentally translated into “I’m going to force you to hula hoop with tractor tyres and squatthrust till your nose bleeds”.

In actual fact the class was pleasantly ego-boosting, with a great rate of pad-work interspersed with conditioning situp/punch combinations.

As luck would have it, the first session had an odd number of participants, which meant I had Cyborg herself holding the pads for me. There is something wildly satisfying, albeit completely based in fantasy, about push-kicking a Strikeforce veteran back across the room (as part of the drill, naturally) with zero chance of getting hit back. My fangirl attitude even made me work harder, mainly because I imagine Cyborg knocks these reps out one handed (or footed), whilst simultaneously sorting her inbox/walking the dog/sketching her next tattoo design.

By the time we did the “one, two, three…Atos” at the end of the class, everyone was “glowing” profusely (well, it was a ladies class) and the two Muay Thai newcomers had been converted. I can only really afford one class a week on our training budget, but for the newfound swagger, I consider it money well spent.

From a nice ladies class, to a “nice” ladies class.

Coach Nave has been off for a week, allegedly on honeymoon, but I suspect on some kind of secret camp where they plot how to bring gymgoers to the brink of tears in shorter and shorter intervals.

This meant that Maurizio Tangari, fellow Suples at Atos teacher, was in charge of the classes. Suffice to say he stepped up, over and beyond the metaphorical plate.

By Tuesday, he had somehow found himself a stick (the only reason you can’t see it clearly in the photo is because he is waving it too furiously), and had reinvented the English language to substitute the words “nice” and “love” for the kind of phrases you shouldn’t utter when young people are training in the same class as you.

It’s going to take years of therapy to untangle the terror I now feel when someone threatens to “throw my love right in your face” or “give you more love than you can handle”.

There were plenty of “nice” exercises in the Women’s Conditioning Session on Saturday, which involved 8 rounds (20 seconds on, 10 seconds off) at each station, circulating through rope beating, running against elastic, rope pulling against elastic, shrimping and bridging with a Bulgarian bag, dragging and flipping the bone dummy and then freestyling the Bulgarian bag again.

Despite my idiosyncratic 80s style pose at the end of the running rope, it was fantastically hard, or to give it a Tangari slant, “just so, so, nice”.

Those of you who want to see us in action, and hear Maurizio’s words of encouragement can watch his YouTube vid.

Friends and family, I issue this disclaimer in advance – despite the title of the video being “Motivated Mums in Action” I am not pregnant, any bulging is as a result of our recent Chicken Dinner binge.

Maurizio is of course the man behind Joint Mobility, which I promised to expand upon last week.

Joint Mobility works on the basis that as we fail to use our bodies through the full range of motion, the oily stuff that facilitates those movements sort of dries up and we get gradually stiffer.

Where we (me and Andy, and I suspect a fair few others who have enjoyed the delights of the class) set ourselves up for a fall was by imagining it to be some kind of delicate pilates/yoga/general rolling-your-ankles type affair, accompanied by low lighting and whale music.

Soothing this is not – the way to get those joints up and running again is allegedly by contorting yourself beyond the point where you want to stop, in acutely precise (down to the joint or muscle you are working on) and difficult movements.

This physical and occasionally mental process (believe me, the point where you stop is usually just the starting point for Maurizio to prod, squish or pull you further) involves a fair bit of “discomfort” and concentration.

As such, “Joint Mobility Faces” are common, and I like to think (mainly because I pull a lot of them) are a sign that someone is working hard.

It’s guaranteed that the movements will make you look at best camp and at worst like you chew your own jumper sleeves. Given the studio is right next door to the gym office and men’s changing room, it’s hard on the ego.

But whilst my BJJ training partners crudely attempt to stifle the looks of confusion and laughter, I console myself with the thought that one day I will be able to unscrew my own shoulders and escape that arm bar.

Monday, 22 October 2012

Goodbye Ma Suite

Last Thursday we finally moved out of the California Suites Hotel.

It had been an interesting three weeks, but the idea of a whole night’s sleep and the ability to “eat in” once in a while swung it.

Finding an apartment had been relatively easy. It’s off-peak (in seasonal terms) here in California, so many of the holiday homes are lying empty. Couple that with the prospect of a long-term let, and two 30 something tenants whose training regime sees them tucked up in bed by 9pm, and we were an attractive proposition for landlords.

We had, however, reckoned without the gods of the American banking system.

Going through the rentals site would have landed us with a whopping £60 visa charge (no paltry amount given our budget). Instead Irene, the owner of the apartment, suggested paying by money order. And so the fun began.

Money orders (like cheques, but someone else writes them out for you) can be acquired through banks, post offices, or supermarkets. However, you can scrap that first one off the list if you don’t have a US bank account. The latter will take debit cards, but UK debit cards come up as credit cards when you swipe them through their machines. And credit cards aren’t allowed.

That leaves the option of taking a wodge of cold, hard cash into the supermarket (we’re talking $2,000 here) and swapping it for the money order.

Aside from the security issues of cycling around on a beach cruiser with every pocket stuffed full of bank notes, most ATMs won’t issue you more than $500 on any given day. Long story short, it took two days, six attempted ATM withdrawals, one blocked card, two visits to the post office, three to Walmart, and we were done.

Here’s how Andy looked at that point. The irony of that sign in the background.

Anyway, after a “Last Night In The Suites” celebration that involved a heady trip to the garage and some dabbling with giant Doritos, we were ready to go.

The hotel had ordered us a cab to Turquoise St (between Pacific Beach and La Jolla). It turned out to be a Chevvy.

The luxury was however confined very much to the outside, as we crammed ever last centimetre with suitcases.

Twenty minutes and one coffee later, we were ready to take on the new gaff.

The lounging prowess of the bed got a solid testing, as did the sofa and the “office area”. I did a fair bit of over-enthusiastic squeaking about the size of the oven, and the fact that we are right next door to an Albertson’s supermarket. Andy logged onto the wifi within seconds (the Suites was solidly cabled and we’d been sharing a laptop) and we were settled in.

We celebrated with a couple of sandwiches from the deli across the street, recommended to us by Maurizio at Suples gym up at Atos.

As promised they were mind-blowing, though I suspect I will need around 4 hours of blistering Bulgarian Bag work to whittle the calories off my waist (perhaps this Maurizio’s way of making me commit).

After a tour of the neighbourhood, and the fact that we’d swapped the freeway for a scenic stretch of beach*, it was time to tackle the final hurdle. We’d left our monster beach cruisers up at the hotel (they were too big for the taxi) and now it was time to collect them.

Suffice to say, after four hours of moving and a giant sandwich, the last thing you fancy doing is taking another two hour round bus trip back to the old place. Especially when the 44 frequently resembles ‘One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest’.

Bike moving done, we holed up on the sofa with one of Albertson’s ‘Chicken Dinner Deals’. This is fast becoming our staple diet.

*Should the beach feel a tad too far, we also have two pools and a spa, a fitness room and a sauna at our disposal.

Sometimes Andy is overwhelmed by the beauty of his new surroundings.

I'm keeping a close eye on him, but I think he'll pull through.