Inverted Gear Blog
Last year, on Friday March 13, 2015, I had my very first major injury. I originally wanted to write a small Facebook post to acknowledge the milestone and the people who helped me get through it all, but thinking back to that day there were so many more firsts to remember: my first match at black belt, my first submission only tournament, my first tournament representing a new team, my first time being carried off the mat because I couldn’t walk, my first loss due to injury, my first trip to the ER in an ambulance…
Wait—my first trip to the ER!
So this time last year, I still did not know what exactly was wrong with my leg except that it hurt. It didn’t work properly, and I just wanted to cut it off. The only thoughts going through my head were from my super fight only days earlier. I kept replaying the short 30 second time span: I opened with a takedown, creating a scramble that landed me in her closed guard. I immediately posted my hands in her armpits and jumped to my feet to break her guard, a jiu-jitsu 101 move that I can do with confidence on just about anyone.
But even with the basics, shit happens.
As soon as I straightened my legs to open her guard, this horrible cramping sensation hit me, followed by muscle spasms from my lower back all up and down my right leg. The spasms wouldn’t stop. I couldn’t control my leg let alone bear weight on it. But I didn’t want to quit.
Jared (owner and leader at BJJ United) and Nelson were in my corner. It was the first time I was representing BJJ United. The whole team was there, and it was the first match of the sub only event. I didn’t want to let myself down. I didn’t want to let the team down. And I couldn’t move my stupid leg.
My first thought was to be embarrassed: My coaches had seen me do this break to a pass over and over again. They must think I’m hesitating or going crazy. We trained for this, Hillary!
I finally yell back to my corner, at the risk of a verbal DQ, “I can’t move my leg!”
My opponent even respectfully asked, “Are you OK?”
Right there. I probably could have and should have stopped. But all I saw was red. I couldn’t shake the cramp away. “It’s just a cramp. You can do this. You can win this,” I said to myself. So I pushed forward somehow. I passed her guard and took her back. I should have finished the match right then. But no, I couldn’t control the right side of my body from the waist down. Somehow the match went on for six minutes. She mounted me and I had to tap. It was embarrassing. I let everyone down. I wanted to run away and I couldn’t even crawl.
Nelson carried me off the mat. I couldn’t sit, and I couldn’t stand unless I held my leg up. It wouldn’t straighten or bend on its own. I needed his help to support the leg, so he couldn’t drive me to the hospital.
None of the responders could say what the problem was. They could only speculate I pulled my hamstring. There wasn’t much swelling or bruising to be seen yet. When we arrived at the ER, there was no orthopedic on duty so after a few hours that seemed eternal, I left with some scripts for muscle relaxers, anti-inflammatories, a phone number to call on Monday, and no rhyme or reason as to what actually just happened to me.
Can I shake this in a few weeks? Just some RICE, right? Wrong.
After asking around we got the name of a good sports medicine guy. The sports doctor scheduled an ultrasound and MRI. My hamstring was torn. Almost, but not completely off the hip bone. The muscles had retracted about 2 inches, so surgery looked like the only answer. He sent me to an awesome orthopedic doctor who was not eager to slice-and-dice our way back to health, however. Instead, I was referred to an amazing PT, named Meredith, who really cared and worked hard to get me back. She really took the time to understand what I did before the injury and even looked into the weaknesses that could have caused it. She was just as determined as I was to get back to normal and train again.
For instance, Nelson and I had already signed up for the first US BJJ Globetrotters Camp in September and I did not want to miss it. So I set a goal to be back on the mat at least drilling by May and rolling by August so I could be ready for camp.
The biggest part of my healing process at PT was the ART (Active Release Technique) she would use on my leg first thing, every session, two to three times a week. A lot of friends and those whom were familiar with soft tissue injuries asked “why not electrotherapy?”
The hell if I knew, but it made me curious, so I asked Meredith, and she replied that it wasn’t necessary. The movements of the ART really hit the injury at the core. My tear was located right where the hamstring meets the bottom of the hip bone and therefore went really really deep and was hard to feel and find from the outside. The ART treatment renewed my flexibility, strength, and range of motion in accordance with stretching and strengthening exercises.
I had a lot of homework to do on my own too. At least a half an hour morning and evening of specific movements and stretches were necessary to meet our goals. Then Meredith would take measurements and record my progress every few weeks. Homework was equally as important as making every appointment. And although my hamstring may or may not have re-attached itself, all the scar tissue that developed during therapy stayed flexible because I kept it moving every few hours every single day.
Eventually I graduated to dynamic stretching. The first time I tried to jog I nearly fell flat on my face. But eventually I got there. She started applying resistance and weight training and the difference from only a few weeks prior was astounding! My left leg (the healthy leg) was stronger than ever and my right leg could barely curl 5 lbs on a leg curl machine.
Nelson and I had plans to visit San Francisco and Las Vegas during this time, and finding a gym was tough, but Big Panda was very good at reminding me to do my homework as well as creating resistance when we didn’t have weights.
That brings me to another huge and final component to my physical healing process: Having the right attitude. I walked in there day one and told Meredith I’m here to get better. I couldn’t train, so I saw it as my exercise. The endgame was just being able to train again. So on days where I couldn’t go to PT, or I didn’t have gym access, or maybe I did make it to PT and I was just tired, sore, etc, I didn’t make excuses. I did what I could and always tried my best. I still ate right, and made sure to get a good night’s rest because I was still in training. It was a different kind of training, but it was no less important.
As my body was healing, mentally I was still very hesitant. I had so many doubts but my coach Jared really taught me about the mental game. He kept me in the gym and on the mat, constantly reinforcing that I could do it. I could beat the injury if I wanted to. Along with some awesome teammates and jiu-jitsu buddies, I was able to adapt and overcome - the motto at BJJU.
My husband now fondly calls me a “triple threat.” I started to slowly drill last summer and can actually now roll and train jiu-jitsu again with confidence. In January, I learned to snowboard in Austria at the Winter Globetrotters Camp. Then I learned to surf at the inaugural Rollin’ in Costa Rica Camp earlier this month. Nelson, if you would have told me a year ago, injury or not, all this was going to be accomplished, there certainly would have been some reservations. But you believed in me, and I am so thankful we did it together. I am especially thankful for all these firsts and the new found strength and determination that has blossomed from it all.
If you’re out there recovering from an injury: chin-up. You can get through this and come back stronger than before.
Watch Hillary demonstrate the 5 bridges every grappler should practice:
The bridge is one of the most valuable skills in a grappler's toolkit. A well-developed bridge can be used to escape or reverse positions, take down your opponent, or avoid being taken down yourself.
However, not many BJJ players devote much time on developing a powerful bridge. They may do some bridges from side-to-side during their warm-up, maybe a few upa drills and then off to class.
But by taking the time to develop a strong bridge you’ll not only make your hips and legs stronger, you’ll make every aspect of your game much better as well.
For example, bridging mainly develops the muscles of the posterior chain -- the gluteals, hamstrings and spinal erectors -- but they also do a wonderful job of loosening up the anterior chain, mainly tight hip flexors. This is not only important for bridging movements, but your sprawls and hip escapes will get stronger and more efficient as well.
Having great technique is very important. Having great technique in combination with greater strength is an even better asset.
For the purpose of this article, and to add some context, I divide all movements into three broad categories for athletic development:
- General Physical Preparation
- Directed Physical Preparation
- Specific Physical Preparation
Thomas Kurz, author of “The Science of Sports Training” provides these definitions:
1. General exercises are those that develop general fitness that's non-specific to an athlete’s sport. The purpose of these exercises is to harmoniously develop the whole body so it can withstand further specialization.
2. Directed exercises prepare an athlete for sport-specific exercises. Directed exercises combine certain traits of general and sport-specific exercises.They involve the same muscle groups in the given sport and use the same energy system. Also, their dynamic characteristics are similar to the sport-specific exercises but the exact form of movement is different.
3. Sport-specific exercises are those that directly contribute to the improvement of an athlete’s sport-specific performance. Most (but not all) sport-specific exercises consist of elements of competitive actions.
Thomas Kurz also has a fourth category called competitive exercises. These are the actual techniques of a given sport. Think armlock or triangle.
Of course, there is always be some degree of overlap regarding these exercises. I would list the following exercises in the video below as directed exercises.
Please take the time to explore these movements. They may seem simple at first but as you progress though each drill the complexity and range of motion increases, creating greater demand.
You should be able to perform these drills anywhere, and as you progress and get more efficient, adding an external weight is always an option.
When I went to college, I was told the connections that I would make there would last me a lifetime. I never really made any connections in college, though. I was commuting the whole time and was always rushing off campus to make it to jiu-jitsu classes on time.
Over the last 9 years I have made an incredible amount of connections through jiu-jitsu—from training partners to instructors, to people I have competed against, even people that refereed those matches. Jiu-jitsu has put me in touch with people I would have never met otherwise and has made my life much richer because of it.
I have met a surprising amount of PhDs in math, Army generals, all kinds of law enforcement, lawyers, Google employees, actors, NFL players. And since we have this huge thing in common it is really easy to relate to them even though we come from very different walks of life. We all know that jiu-jitsu is a great filter. It has a way of weeding out jerks. One of my instructors would always say, “Jerks don’t last in this sport.”
One of the most impactful connections I’ve made because of jiu-jitsu is my friend Kevin.
Over the last 7 years, Kevin has been my BJJ instructor, role model, boss, business advisor, life coach, landlord, and most recently during our Costa Rica camp surf coach. I met Kevin at a local school in New Jersey when I was a fresh blue belt. He was a brown belt and had just taken second at worlds. I walked into a no-gi class and had no idea of any of this. Kevin, like many BJJ guys, doesn’t look very intimidating (sorry, Kevin).
I had just won Grappler’s Quest at blue belt and was feeling pretty cocky. I thought I would show the new guy what’s up. I was quickly humbled, repeatedly. I became friends with Kevin, and when I heard he was opening a school I was waiting on the doorstep for the first class. If memory serves correctly, I was the third student to sign-up.
As I started Inverted Gear and needed help, the jiu-jitsu network—all people like Kevin—was there to help me. Photographer for the gis? One of my students had me covered. Website needs help? One of my blue belts had all the answers. Need help figuring out this accounting thing? One of the new white belts at my academy was an accountant. And since cash was extremely tight back then, I was able to pay them in a combination of cash, gis, and private lessons.
After all the traveling I have done and 8 years of training, I have made friends and connections not only in the US but all over the world. I hope to visit friends in England, Germany, Italy, Korea, and Guam by end of the year. Jiu-jitsu is growing rapidly pretty much everywhere, making it a great way to travel to interesting places and meet interesting people.
Every time I see a student shake hands with someone new, I can’t help but smile. In that moment, the jiu-jitsu network grows by one friendship. Soon they will talk about where they from and what they do. And maybe a few months down the road a jiu-jitsu plumber is stepping into the home of a training partner to help with a leak. It’s pretty cool.
How has the jiu-jitsu network impacted your life? I’d love to hear your stories.
I started Inverted Gear four years ago. Yesterday, our 19th gi shipment landed in the United States. Four years ago, I could never imagine being where we are today. I wasn’t even sure I could sell our first 100 gis, let alone ever have a need for another shipping container full of merchandise.
For that I thank you.
Thank you for choosing Inverted Gear. Thank you for recommending us to your friends. Your kind words in the gym and on social media have been instrumental in our growth. We have done very little advertising yet have succeeded in selling out of every batch we order. And we can’t thank you enough.
The gi landscape has changed a lot since we first opened our doors. Back when we started, there were a limited number of options for gi brands, probably less than twenty serious companies. Now we have over 100, yet you keep choosing us. That never stops amazing me. I love checking our email and social media in the mornings and seeing pictures of Panda Nation grapplers all over the world—from first time buyers, to the hardcore fans with a closet full of gis. It’s still all very surreal, but I love every minute of it.
We are working hard to pay it forward. Our sponsored team continues to grow. We are up from 20 athletes last year to 30 this year. We continue to support the great folks at Tap Cancer Out, sponsoring all of their tournaments this year and releasing another collaboration gi in a few months. We’ve been working to make more original content for our blog, more technique and match footage from our sponsored athletes, and a growing social media community.
All of this has led to a mild r/bjj addiction for me. I can’t get enough of the jiu-jitsu community.
The sport has come a long way in four years, but we think the sport still has a lot of growing to do. To perhaps play a small part in that, we have a huge announcement:
We are sponsoring Polaris 3! We believe that Polaris is doing an amazing job of pushing the sport to the next level. They are giving athletes a platform like we haven’t seen before. As much as we say we have professional grapplers, the prospects for professional grapplers are extremely limited. The success of Polaris, in our minds, is the start of something great.
My childhood leisure time was a montage of Earthbound, Super Mario RPG, Final Fantasy 7, Ultima Online, Halo (16 dudes crammed in a basement playing capture the flag), Pokemon Blue, Pokemon cards, late night Dungeons & Dragons campaigns, and hours upon hours of television, movies and books.
I was happiest grinding my way toward a Golden Chocobo or grabbing the rocket launcher on Blood Gulch. All of the other stuff about being a kid—homework, chores, running from bullies—didn’t much matter to me. My hobbies made more sense to me than the “real” world ever did. I could figure out how these fantasy worlds worked, and with a bit of effort, I could become a real force within them. I just had to be smart, pay attention, and put in the time to level-up. There was a lot of comfort in that for a kid like me.
15 years later, I’m doing my best to be an adult. You know the dance: health insurance, mortgage, car payment, some semblance of a career. I still love my childhood pastimes, but sitting down to play a video game is more and more difficult, and all of the people I used to game with have all gone their own way, each doing their own dance somewhere else in the country.
A few years ago, however, I discovered that my interest in jiu-jitsu had embedded me in a community of super nerds.
I was a blue belt when I first had the realization that jiu-jitsu might be a nerd oasis. Jimmy, one of our resident brown belts, had just thrashed me, and myself and a few other students were joking about how badly he beats all of us.
Then one person said, “Yeah, he’s like Clark Kent by day, blue belt destroyer by night.”
“What do you mean?”
“Jimmy has a PhD in engineering. He does mathematical models of helicopter flights or some s***.”
Since then, I’ve come to realize that many of my training partners were like me. They grew up reading Nintendo Power and comic books. Somewhere along their fascination with Tekken fueled a curiosity in martial arts, bringing them on to the mat to learn jiu-jitsu as adults. From there, the information obsessed nature of jiu-jitsu culture feels like home. Strategy guides are in great supply, so are highlight videos and technical breakdowns. And you even get to level up with a new stripe and eventually a new belt! It’s character customization at its finest inside of an environment that feels structured, with defined rules and defined goals.
These days, it’s not so difficult to unmask the nerds hiding in gis around me. All I have to do is bungle a Star Wars or X-Men reference and wait for the correction to step forward.
Here are some of my jiu-jitsu nerd highlights:
A chef with a collection of Transformerss and Gundam action figures that rival the value of most people’s 401ks.
A professor whose research on lie detectors played in a role in their being removed from admissible court evidence.
A sambo grappler that cosplays and loves Magic the Gathering.
A comic book fan that is perhaps more excited about finally having a place to show off his super hero patches than actually training (he still loves training, but you know, Green Lantern!).
The young woman who reads Dostoyevsky between classes.
And the list goes on.
Every time I discover nerd on the mat, it feels even more like home. I like to think that we are training jiu-jitsu, in part, because we never actually grew out of the things we loved as kids. We’ve just found a new way to express and feed those passions.