A Socially Uncomfortable Day

April 20, 2012

I am pretty certain that when someone meets me for the first time the general impression is “what is she doing here?”  Wherever “here” is.  Because I usually find myself doing things I don’t know anything about with people that I don’t know.  It is standard fare for me to impulsively decide on my next “project” with little or no information, often based on a recommendation of a friend of a friend of a friend or, more reliably, on a brief encounter with a complete stranger.
Yesterday tops the list for a seamless succession of socially uncomfortable experiences in a short period of time.
Let’s begin the day at noon, after my self-imposed morning mandate of “stare at blank screen” which inevitably led to “re-upholster ironing board.”  Exiting my apartment building and walking to the bus stop 7 blocks away, I became acutely aware that I was the only person wearing shorts even though it was 80 degrees, and this became a topic of conversation both on the street and then later on the bus.  When I say conversation, however, I mean a series of invitations to explore the nether regions of the Latino capacity for “warmth.”  This is nobody’s fault but my own, as was made clear, but still registers on my radar as mildly to moderately uncomfortable.
The bus dropped me off at the Dojo Club for my fourth class of Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, which incidentally comes with a bonus lesson in managing machismo and my own reactions to it. 
I must note that though my interest in BJJ was sparked by several close friends and a family member, my real commitment began immediately after a 5-minute conversation with a FedEx driver while back in LA for a week.  Returning to Argentina, I told my brother I wanted to try it, and he suggested I come to a class at his gym.  After the first day under his wing, I have been on my own as he now goes at different times.
During the warm-up you are to work in pairs, one person lifting the other person and carrying them a certain distance. I found myself standing in the corner looking on and pretending to have done it already. Nobody wants to do with me for two reasons:  the first is that there is no effort nor ego boost in doing this with a girl, and worse is the implied fact that if they can’t do it with me, they’d be failures.  The second reason for my marginalization as I see it is that when it’s my turn, not a lot of forward progress is made.  It is a miracle if I can lift up my partner at all, let alone run with him across the mat. Nobody likes to be associated with another person’s public humiliation. To my credit, I did have one successful carry in the last class, but apparently it didn’t count because the trainer was checking messages on his cell phone and didn’t see. 
After conditioning, we proceed to the technique part of the class, where a movement is demonstrated several times.  When it is time to find a partner to practice the move, I can’t find one.  Again, there are two reasons that I can see for this.  Firstly, these guys have little use for doing manly things to a girl that they could supposedly brush off with a simple “go fry me a steak” and use a lot less effort.
Here, I must state that is really the beginners that struggle with this attitude, while the more advanced students do their best to treat me like a real live person. Perhaps this is in good part due to the fact that my brother practices there too and thus my lineage is revealed to have human ancestry. I am grateful for it, whatever the reason. 

When, or rather, if they get over that, there is the secondary issue of my size.  Weighing in at the light end of the slender loris category (see photo), they are afraid to break me, and that is understandable. 
What the few who have been willing to go the distance with me have realized is that I am quite flexible and as such many of the submissions leave me feeling nicely stretched instead of tapping out for clemency.  While on a physical level this is an advantage for me (and the only one I have), it doesn’t do much for my ability to find a willing practice partner since my elasticity makes the whole process of domination fairly anti-climactic. 
Then we get to the rolling part, which is exactly as it sounds.  Mounting, grabbing, twisting, hoisting, sweating, panting.  Samples of names given to laying all over each other strategically are: the 100 kilo position, Spider guard, North-South Choke. Each one of these clearly illuminates the fundamental intimacy involved in this art.
Being the novice, I am meant to seek out the older, wiser students and ask them to roll with me.  And I would take this initiative if they didn’t all plan their next partners ahead of time.  So when the time comes, they all walk to the mat in pairs and I’m then scolded for sitting out.
Perhaps it’s difficult to believe that I see a lot of similarity between BJJ and tango, but in this respect I find them nearly identical. The sensation of being at waiting to be asked to dance at a milonga and is much the same as going to “roll.”  At the milongas, I sit there all night waiting, especially since it is socially unacceptable here for the woman to ask the man.
Likewise, at the dojo, I am banished to the side of the mat to watch successive rounds of eager, encouraged learning while I put my hair in a ponytail for the 59th time.
Unlike tango however, at some point I hear the assistant teacher’s inevitable call to the group, “who is going to roll with Amanda?  Come on, someone.  Someone.”  No one.  “Fine, Amanda, you and me again.”
My 3-move arsenal is instantly rendered ineffective against the purple belt.  As such, I  spend a good amount of the subsequent 5 minutes running across the mat away from my partner.  
The requisite handshake at the end of class only worsens the whole experience, because nobody knows whether they should keep distance like they do with the boys or kiss me on the cheek like a “lady.”  In order to save them the trouble of making sense of this social experiment, I hurry to the locker room pre-handshake and endure the hushed comments that I am anti-social.
Safe in the dressing room, away from the awkwardness, I pour a small amount of water into a plastic cup, and mix in a teaspoon of wretched-tasting powder and drink it down.  I have dutifully performed this ritual every hour and a half for the last three days, in order to prepare for my next and final task of extreme discomfort.
“Hydrotherapy” is a treatment by which the toxins lodged inside the large intestine are hosed out come hell or highwater. The wretched-tasting powder is meant to scrape the inner lining of said crap-trap and free up the hardened poison that’s been sitting there for years, probably causing the stomach cramps that you blame on spicy foods if you are Argentine, instead of your merciless diet of ham, cheese, white bread and fried meat.
In my particular case, I was sent to “cleanse” by the spine magician burdened with alleviating my chronic neck pain.  Upon doing his first adjustments, he shook his head and said, “whoa, you are really toxic.” While normally that kind of straight talk would deserve a punch in the face, or a North-South Choke if I knew how to do one, I meekly agreed and asked if there was a solution.  And that’s how I ended up at Mirko’s place today for my final session of Miga[1]vs. Machine. 
You are laid face up on a metal table, naked from the waste down and hooked up to a water tank that sends your insides into a state of mutiny.   And as your under-appreciated digestive tract expels the water from foreign territories, a few soldiers are lost along the way.  Within an hour, the battlefield is riddled with fatalities, and you cannot believe the army of hidden enemies that had been hibernating in the trenches.  Then the doctor comes in and turbo-blasts the disaster into a transparent pipe that runs along the wall and straight into the sewer.  I’d be lying if I told you that by the last day, it’s impossible not to sneak a peek and silently congratulate yourself for the good work.
It is risky business sharing this with you, and in turn, making you, my reader, uncomfortable.  The typical Argentine “charm” in regards to my shorts, is endearing. And you could handle the jiu-jitsu because it’s me, not you.  But this, no. Because too have intestines too.   
I shall ignore the furrowed brows and puckered faces, and insist! Despite one’s fierce resistance to the unsavory truths of the human body, this is a process in which the results trump the discomfort, social and otherwise.  I can’t say as much for jiu-jitsu yet…

[1] Miga is the pet-name for white bread in Argentina, sandwiches of such considered a staple of “argentine gastronomy.”  For those unfamiliar with the specific characteristics of a Miga Sandwich, take two pieces of white bread and cut off the crusts like you are making a kindergartener’s lunch.  You will be left with an 8 x 14 cm piece of nutritionless, colorless rectangle, 3 mm high.  One side of each piece is gently spread (so as not to force the miga into spontaneous disintegration) with butter or mayonnaise, necessary for the “adherence” of the other ingredients, which typically include ham, vaguely tasteful cheese, and on a special day one slice of tomato.
  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/07098687099175186214 Michele Kadison

    You SLAY me, Amandina… and beyond all the humiliations of the day, you still stand as my permanent Heroine… If I was nearby, I'd say it was high time for a hot absinthe and a goat cheese salad at our bistro of choice…

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