It’s Official!

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I signed it!

I signed it!

I am very excited to announce that I just signed a multi-fight contract with Invicta Fighting Championships! Invicta FC is the premier all-women’s MMA promotion, and home to the best female mixed martial artists in the world. I am particularly glad to be joining Invicta FC’s ranks because not only are all of their athletes women, but the company is female-owned and female-run as well– and this sport needs more women in high-up positions!

Having never thought that what was once my hobby would take me this far, I’m amazed at the new paths opening up before me as I enter this next level of competition. I am so grateful for the opportunity to grow while working with this powerhouse promoter and being pitted against the best flyweights from all over the globe.

Thanks for supporting me, friends!

Whoohoo!

[Mandatory bicep shot, so you know I mean business]

Howard v. Corso III and New Management

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Better late than never, right? Let’s get up to speed…

On October 11th I fought a very skilled opponent for a third time, and for a third time I came out on top. Katie Howard and I were the Main Event for Prime Fighting IV— a killer promotion that was stacked with fast-paced professional and amateur MMA fights.

There's nothing in life that feels quite like getting your hand raised...

Highlights: I submitted Katie via RNC at 2:02 min into the 2nd round. (In our two previous fights, I beat her with an armbar and an RNC). We also took Fight of the Night (sponsored by Metro Equipment Exchange) and had the honor of being Prime Fighting’s first ever female Main Event. Additionally, I came away with a ridiculously large title belt and the privilege to call myself Prime Fighting’s Female Flyweight Champion.

I haven’t had a fight in or even close to Portland for over a year, so I was overjoyed to get to have friends, teammates, sponsors, and fans in the audience to cheer me on this time. Trying to beat up a stranger, while locked into an oddly-shaped cage, is even more fulfilling when friends are present to support you.

Sometimes I have to ask myself, how did life get this good?

Putting the RNC on Katie Howard again.

Putting the RNC on Katie Howard again.

I am very grateful to Prime Fighting for setting me up with that match– as well as to my friends, teammates, and sponsors who supported me leading up to and during the fight.

In November, I was thrilled to add another excellent person to my team when I signed Bryson Davis of Meyer Davis PLLC as my manager. He is a fellow Reed College graduate and MMA aficionado who has already helped me dig into some great opportunities.

Speaking of opportunities, stay tuned for a BIG announcement coming VERY SOON!

Want to know why I'm so excited? Just signed a fight contract, guess who with...

In my next post you’ll find out why I’m so excited about this piece of paper…

Updates and Gratitude Practices

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Last week things were going pretty damn good.

Cage Sports 31 Griffith 7.19.14

Going toe to toe with Hadley Griffith.

It started out when I beat “Relentless” Hadley Griffith at CageSport 31 last Saturday. Coach called while I was on vacation in early and talked me into fighting a 5’11” seasoned pro on July 19th– meaning I would jump straight into the hardest part of our fight camp as soon as I got back to Portland.

The time flew by, and before I knew it Coach was wrapping my hands, then I was walking down the ramp at the Emerald Queen Casino in Tacoma, WA to climb into the cage again. That went by quickly too when I secured a win via rear naked choke at 1:52 minutes into the first round.

And my streak continued on Monday when I passed my road test and finally got licensed to drive in the state of Oregon. (More about my experience of learning to drive again is here.) Then I came in to Gracie Barra Portland for jiu jitsu practice the next day and was very surprised when Professor Fabiano Scherner promoted me to purple belt at the end of class. Almost eight years of training brought me to that point on a random Tuesday night.

Cars know to share the road when I'm on my way to practice.

Cars know to share the road now when I’m on my way to practice.

Then the Willamette Week came out with it’s Best of Portland list on Wednesday and I was featured in the “Best Moves” category for Best Beatdown. (You can read it the full text of that here.) On Thursday, I took my first steps towards becoming a Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist by joining the NSCA and purchasing study materials for the CSCS certification exam. I’d hemmed and hawed about getting certified for a long time and I’m thrilled to finally be able to the plunge.

So, on the one hand, it feels like everything has been coming up roses lately. I’m excited to see how long I can make that last.

On the other hand, last week was not particularly different from many others in my life over the last few years. Actually, I’ve been feeling like I’m on a roll for quite some time since I found my bliss.

One of my day-of-competition rituals is to spend some time writing about and meditating on the things in my life that I’m thankful for. I don’t only do this before fights, but it does have particular value for me at that time. It always renews my passion for what I’m doing, puts me in a positive mindset, and makes me feel confident and supported from within. On fight night, it helps me tap into the circumstances of previous successes in such a way that future success feels imminent.

Whenever I need a little boost– and often, too, when I’m already feeling upbeat about how things are going– I put some of my gratitude for down in writing. This can take narrative form like a journal entry, or it could be a list or even a diagram if that’s how I want to organize my thoughts on that day. It can be specific or general, narrow or encyclopedic.

You don’t necessarily even need to write your thankfulness down, though studies show this is actually more effective. I find it nice to be able to refer back to later on, too.

Sometimes I write about everything that is going right in just one part of my life, such as my training:

  • how much my lifting is improving
  • how good it feels to be strong
  • how awesome my coaches are
  • how tip-top I feel about the last sparring session or fight
  • how a new technique is finally clicking
  • how helpful my teammates are
  • how easy my cardio plyos feel
  • how glad I am not to be injured

On other days I try surveying all of the areas where I am seeing success and/ or improvement using broad categories like:

  • friendships
  • health
  • physical fitness
  • finances
  • learning
  • “work”
  • opportunities for leisure
  • relationships
  • competition
  • personal development
  • creative projects

Another way to access the bliss of gratitude is to send a thank you note explaining to someone who has been positive in your life what they’ve done for you and how it makes you feel. If snail mail isn’t your jam, saying thank you in person, on the phone, or publicly via social media can have similar cognitive benefits– with the added perk that it can help strengthen your preexisting network of friends.

Thanks, gno thanks

I suppose gnomes write thank you “gnotes”…

However you choose to do it, honing in on the great things you might otherwise take for granted will help you draw on confidence and strength during moments of stress. Moreover, many people find that taking time for this process on a regular basis boosts their overall mood and brings more positivity into their lives even when they’re not consciously focusing on being thankful.

When I reviewed my own gratitude list from last weekend it was immediately obvious to me that I was already on a roll before that awesome week even started.

Take a moment today to write down some of the things you are thankful for. Then let me know: is it possible that you have also been on a roll without noticing it?

photo credit: Ernie Sapiro

photo credit: elycefeliz via photopin cc

Breathe

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Paying attention to your breath: it works in yoga and when you're getting hit in the face!

Paying attention to your breath: it works in yoga and when you’re getting hit in the face!

In combat sports we re-learn how to breathe.

Boxing coaches will teach you to breathe out with each punch. Jiu jitsu instructors will remind you to breathe steadily through the entire match. Short breaths are good for explosive movements like strikes, while deep, relaxed breathing facilitates the sustained movements of grappling.

While advice like “breathe while moving” might seem obvious or redundant, it isn’t. This is because many new combat sports practitioners simply find themselves unconsciously holding their breath. And since new athletes often don’t yet possess good cardiovascular conditioning, their level of perceived exertion skyrockets because they accidentally forget to breathe while under stress.

Usually, respiration is an automatic process regulated by that little knot of grey matter located towards the back of your skull which connects your spine to the rest of your brain. This is called the brainstem. You can think of it as your lizard brain: it controls the extremely basic, unconscious functions (such as your hear rate, breathing, sleep cycle, and ability to maintain consciousness) that all animals have and which will hopefully run on autopilot all of your life.

But respiration also has a voluntary override. This post will address the technique and benefits of learning to toggle this override.

If you’ve ever taken a yoga class you know that yoga is so much more than just stretching. A good yoga instructor will cue you to bring your awareness to your breath and draw it into your chest, abdomen, and nostrils. This is because learning to control your breathing, especially in difficult or strenuous circumstances, helps still the mind and re-focus your efforts.

Breeeeeeeaaaaaaaaaaaaathhhhhe

In between rounds my coach and corner, Nick Gilardi, helps me regain my composure, raising his hands and saying “Breeeeeaaaathe.”

Even in less intense circumstances, bringing awareness to your breathing will teach you to notice the mind’s tendency to leap around from one thing to the next. By beginning to observe this habit in yourself you can learn to shut it off and thereby become more fully present in the moment.

While yogis and practitioners of formal meditation call this “mindfulness” or “Being,” many athletes refer to it as being in “the zone” or in a “flow state.” Though combat might seem to be about as far away as you can get from peaceful meditation, the two are not so different because being in the zone is just a form of moving meditation. With complete presence comes the ability to respond calmly and without hesitation as events occur.

As you learn to control your breath and incorporate this into your training you can begin to let go of the conscious override and let it shift back to being a mostly automatic process. (Which happens to be how many such functions work: they are conscious while you learn them, then they switch over to being unconscious once the skill is acquired.)

An added bonus to this approach is that steady breathing increases oxygen intake, which in turn improves athletic performance. This also helps regulate heart rate, improve recovery time, and bring oxygen into the blood to help muscles function. On the psychological side of things, it’s benefits include decreasing anxiety and shifting attention away from pain. This allows for more efficient allocation of mental resources, especially when learned well enough to be automatic.

It's a nice sentiment, but a strange place to put the reminder....

It’s a nice sentiment, but a strange place to put the reminder….

Practicing MMA will teach you to keep breathing when you feel the adrenaline flooding into your body, to keep breathing when you’re taking hard shots the face, to keep breathing when you’re three rounds into a fight and still not sure how you are going to seal the deal before time runs out.

Of course, learning to keep breathing under duress comes in handy in a variety of less dangerous (but no less intense) situations, such as job interviews, presentations, performances, and networking events– to name just a few. Set aside a few minutes to practice each day and you’ll likely find numerous ways to use this skill in your daily life.

photo credit: Nicholas_T via photopin cc

photo credit: Deanna Wardin @ Tattoo Boogaloo via photopin cc

Results From My First TWO Pro Fights

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Just a little over a week ago my Gracie Barra teammate, Anna Symonds, and I fought on the May 16th Intense Championship Fighting (ICF) 13 all-female MMA card.

Squaring off with Lynnell House

Squaring off with Lynnell House. Photo: Ryan Hall.

After driving over 12 hours from Portland, Oregon to Great Falls, Montana on Wednesday of that week, Anna and I weighed-in on Thursday, fought on Friday night, and made the long return trip home on Saturday. It was a whirlwind!

When the ICF originally approached my team, they were trying to put together an all-female MMA card that included a four-woman Pro Flyweight Tournament. Though a number of other excellent match-ups were secured for the card– including potential fights for some of my teammates– there weren’t enough takers on the Flyweight Tournament and I was matched with Lynnell House for a standard pro fight.

Just as we were heading to the rules meeting on Friday night, my coach got a call offering us the possibility to fight a second time that same night if I won my first fight. Of course, we jumped at this rare (and probably soon to be illegal) opportunity.

Walking into the cage with the best people in the biz: Coaches Nick and Tobias and teammate Anna. Photo: Ryan Hall.

Walking into the cage with the best people in the biz: Coaches Nick and Tobias and teammate Anna. Photo: Ryan Hall.

My debut professional fight was against Canadian pro Lynnell House (now 2-2), a heavy-hitting striker who made it three minutes into the first round before being submitted via armbar. We were the first fight on the card, so after that match I had about an hour to game plan for my second opponent.

Giving Ariel Beck a jiu jitsu hug! Photo: Ryan Hall.

Giving Ariel Beck a jiu jitsu hug. Photo: Ryan Hall.

My second fight of the night was against another strong standup fighter, Golden Gloves title holder Ariel Beck (now 0-1). Ariel is very high-caliber boxer from Butte, MT who agreed to turn pro that night on just a few hours notice. The fight quickly went to the ground, and in the second minute of the first round she tapped to a rear naked choke.

ICF 13 Beck v. Corso

Getting the hand raise. Photo: Ryan Hall.

Even though I had two separate matches on the card, I spent the least time in the cage of any fighter (save my opponents). Every other bout went to decision that evening, including my teammate Anna Symonds who lost a close split decision to her more-experienced opponent Heather Wilson. Anna trained and continues to train very hard, I have no doubts that she’ll use this as fuel to leap back into the cage.

Anna attempts to sink in the armbar against the cage. Photo: Ryan Hall.

Anna attempts to sink in the armbar against the cage. Photo: Ryan Hall.

At the end of the day, I was able to participate in a very rare all-female fight card, rack up two wins on my pro debut, meet excellent fighters and WMMA promoters, and work with the best fight team in the business. I’m grateful for the opportunity to train and compete with so many talented people and look forward to the next event!

A Reason to Run

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I went for a run last week. It was the first time in almost two years and one of only a handful of times I have ever tried to undertake this form of exercise. I liked that run so much that only a few hours later I was already looking for an excuse to do it again.

So I did.

That’s not normal for me. Usually, I hate running.

STREET CLOSED: just go home

This about sums it up.

I detested it so much that I was fond of claiming I had learned MMA just so I’d never have a reason to run. Before I started working out in college I literally would not have run a block to catch a bus. Several years in, I would run for the bus, if need be. But that was it.

I went out of my way to avoid running as a form of cardiovascular exercise. I cycled. I rowed. I did sled pulls. I worked the heavy bag. I used an elliptical machine. (Let’s chalk that last one up to youthful indiscretion and try to forget about it, ok?)

I absolutely flat out refused to run because it gave me side splints, made it hard to breath, and made me hyperventilate every single time. I couldn’t sustain a good pace for more than a few blocks without having to stop, red-faced and frustrated, and walk.

I loathed it.

Then running showed up on my training program.

I assured my trainer that it wasn’t going to go well. If I didn’t flat-out say, “I can’t do it,” I certainly thought it.

Just before my run, I was telling a friend (and fellow MMA fighter) about how much I was dreading it. I told him that when I run, I feel like I’m having a panic attack. He got really excited and told me that was going to be great for me.

His reasoning went that, after all, a lot of fighting is mental. So much of the game is about what it does to your head, how you handle the nerves, and how well you can function when your system is dumping adrenaline into your body like there’s no tomorrow. So, by my friend’s logic, I could use running as an opportunity to practice confronting the uniquely frantic headspace of MMA.

It was a great idea. But I didn’t get to actually try it out as intended, because when I laced up my sneakers and hit the pavements I found out that running no longer sucked.

It was straight-up fun.

It turns out that after all that time spent dreading and avoiding it, the simplest exercise possible was also enjoyable. I got home from my run feeling like I had slain a dragon.

This is pretty much how it all went down.

photo credit: Rafael Peñaloza via photopin cc

I had a similar experience with re-learning to drive. I had a license as a teenager, but I let it expire when I moved to Portland eight years ago. I waited almost a decade to try to get licensed again because I was deeply afraid of driving. I had always hated it, even back in my hometown Sitka (a tiny island town with just 19 miles of road, two stop lights, and nowhere you could go over 45 mph), and Portland’s (admittedly moderate) traffic was far more intimidating.

When I finally got behind the wheel again a few months ago, it was scary at first. But a few days’ practice had me driving on major streets, and within a month I was on the highway for the first time in my life. When I found I could pass a semi and merge back into the flow of traffic, I once again had that dragon-slayer feeling.

It was a beautiful night for a run...

Nice night for a run.

I’d been acting like a child that insists she hates broccoli, only to discover when she finally tries it that it’s pretty damn tasty.

These recent experiences not only expanded my potential modes of transit, but they also blew my notions of what’s impossible out of the water.

Now I can’t help but wonder, what other supposed impossibilities might I unknowingly be rearranging my life to avoid? Are there holes in my MMA game that I had assumed were unassailable? Are there other sports I could try, foods I might like, bigger projects to undertake?

Suddenly I wanted to dash out and scour all of the unexamined caverns of my mind. I had found a good reason to run– not away from something that scares me, but towards it.

I want more of that dragon-slayer feeling, so I’ve made peace with running. After all, there are plenty more impossible dragons I want to chase down and dispatch with.

My First Pro Fight

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Let me start with the good news first: This month I signed a contract for my first pro fight!

This is very exciting, as I’ve been trying to find a fight for several months. The Intense Cage Fighting’s (ICF) May 16th card is comprised of all female fighters, with both professional and amateur bouts. I will have at least one match that night (possibly two) as part of a four woman pro flyweight tournament to find the ICF’s first female champion. Of course, I am now in hard training mode to prepare for this stellar opportunity.

But it actually gets even better.

I had to take my 4oz gloves off to hold the pen...

I had to take my 4oz gloves off to hold the pen…

I found out that I’d been offered a spot on this card the day after I quit my day job. (Yes, I did exactly the thing that one, proverbially, should never do.) And I didn’t leave my job with the idea in mind to immerse myself in an intense fight camp– at the time, I had no idea how long it would be until I could fight again. Rather, I quit so that I could invest more of my time in doing the things that bring me the most joy: fighting and writing. I made up my mind to quit and thought, well, here’s to hoping that if I shift my efforts towards the things that really matter the money will follow.

…That part still remains to be seen.

But a number of other great and completely unrelated things happened in quick succession when I quit my job. I was offered a part-time bartending gig out of nowhere. I received another stripe in jiu jtsu. Someone I greatly admire invited me to contribute to their blog. I lost several pounds and hit a new low for body fat percentage. I had the honor to roll with a female jits black belt who is almost exactly my size while she was visiting my gym. I made an Impossible List. There has even been more than a week of sun in Portland-freaking-Oregon!

(Also, lest I seem to be bragging, please take a moment to go back and read my previous post if you have not done so already– it’s practically a laundry list of my failures.)

So this is what I do now. Paleo plantain pancakes for breakfast on my first day of (partial) unemployment? Don't mind if I do!

So this is what I do now. Paleo plantain pancakes for breakfast on my first day of (partial) unemployment? Don’t mind if I do!

I don’t mention any of this to boast, but instead to point out that several of these are undertakings I couldn’t have even entertained if I had not left my primary employment.

Now, I don’t mean to get all hippy-dippy “manifesting positivity” on you. I can’t just manifest submissions in an MMA match, and I didn’t make most of these things happen either. Rather, just like in a fight, I’ve been making an effort to recognize openings and jump on them as they appear.

This is the skill that black belts in jiu jitsu, business, politics, and every field have that sets them apart: the ability to identify and capitalize on a moment of opportunity.

Honing that skill is just one of many things I plan to spend my new-found freedom (and pro fight camp) working on.