Jul. 21st, 2010

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So, I moved to a new apartment last Friday, July 16, across a staggering distance of three blocks. Naturally, I want my DSL service to move with me, and I’m a big fan of TekSavvy. However, dealing with TekSavvy qua third-tier ISP does have the disadvantage of involving one of the big telcos (Telus in BC, Bell in Québec, …). Past experiences have not been pleasant.

In brief, Telus owns the physical lines and switches. TekSavvy are responsible for my internet service, but Telus is responsible for setting up a connection so that my DSL modem can physically communicate with their gateway and DNS servers. Thus, whenever I ask TekSavvy to do anything that involves such low-level services (e.g. turning service off at one address, or turning it on somewhere), they can’t do it themselves—they have to place a work order with Telus.

I contacted TekSavvy fairly close to the move, as a lot was happening pretty quickly, and I was prepared to be cited a date rather late in the month. I was pleasantly surprised when the rep told me that they could probably have it activated as early as the 16th! —This was not to be, of course.

A few days later, they got back to me…and here was my first-ever poor experience with TekSavvy support. The email I received didn’t say what was wrong, but only that there was a problem with my DSL order and I had to call them. I did, and the woman I spoke to was, to put it mildly, not up to the very high standards I am used to with TekSavvy support. She had no idea what was going on, and started off by asking for all my address details (which they already had down correctly), then (after putting me on hold) told me that apparently DSL was not available at my new address. I wanted to know what was going on, and said so, and after many hesitations and stammerings and ultimately being put on hold thrice, it turned out that all that was really wrong was that Telus had moved my activation date to Tuesday, July 20. Oh well: This was to be expected; the 16th always did sound too good to be true. But I should have been told that right away in the email, or at least straightaway on the phone—rather than being on the phone for half an hour, on hold thrice, and on the verge of cancelling my service! (Remember, she told me that it was not available at my new address. I came dangerously close to switching to another ISP.)

Come the 20th, I get home after three hours of jiu-jitsu and sit down to check the status of my internet connection, which turns out to be none at all; I have no access and my modem finds nary a trace of any DSL access. I sigh and call TekSavvy again. There’s a bit of a wait, but when I finally do get to talk to someone it’s more what I’m used to with TekSavvy—a friendly, confident and (yes) tech savvy guy who knows what’s going on and can talk to me with a sense of humour and an attitude as though I, a customer, am smart enough to actually communicate with.

It turns out that Telus has in fact changed the activation date again. This time (heaven knows why) they opted to call me directly rather than have TekSavvy do so. This was unfortunate. The note on my account said that Telus tried to call me, but it seemed as though my phone was off and they were (it seems) unable to leave so much as a voice mail. (My phone was not off. My phone is never turned off.) Having thus tried once and miraculously failed to contact me in any way whatsoever, Telus did the reasonable thing and ignored the situation, thus leaving me unaware that they had rescheduled my activation.

I am of course sort of puzzled that this activation is such a big deal—why is this not a nigh-automatic process? They have all my account details in their systems; a computer should surely be able to do this work for them. I am also somewhat surprised that Telus were unable to contact me. They provide my mobile service. When my phone company are unable to figure out how to reach me by phone, I am mildly troubled.

Here’s hoping that they actually turn the damned thing on tomorrow.

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I’ve been doing regular no-gi for months now, and (I’m sure I’ve said this before) it’s been tremendously good for me. In gi, my worst fault was that I was too slow and passive. In no-gi, with sweat and low friction and no gi to grip and hold on to, the game is much faster and being slow and passive will cause you to lose immediately every time. Having immediate feedback has helped me become much more active, and this helps me just as much in gi as in no-gi—the latter just proved an easier forum to develop this attribute in.

The other week I had several things click. After over two years, I suddenly felt like I understood triangles (I’m not saying I am good at them, but as the world’s slowest learner it seems to have taken over two years before I really understood the basic principles, in particular how to move my body to cut the angle—and with my somewhat short and thick legs I have to get that angle right to close my triangles at all). Underscoring that, minutes after telling someone I’ve never, ever landed a triangle in rolling I tapped someone out with an inverted triangle. I don’t even know how to do an inverted triangle, in theory; I couldn’t demonstrate it. But apparently, the principles have somehow been sufficiently ingrained in me that when the opportunity presented itself (during someone’s failed guard pass), I just went there without thinking about the how. (I also caught someone else in a triangle that I would have finished in another ten seconds, but for the fact that the bell rang. For someone who failed to catch anyone in an effective triangle in two years, two in a week isn’t bad.)

I had a similar experience with a weird sweep I pulled off when, for some reason, I decided to stay for the beginners’ class (after my regular intermediate and advanced classes); it was similar to a pendulum sweep but involved my rolling back over my shoulder and landing in reverse kesa gatame. I don’t know if it has a name and I have never done it before or since, but it seems I’ve gained enough experience and perceptiveness that, when I felt my sparring partner off balance, I reacted instinctively to use that to sweep him, however unorthodox (or just unfamiliar) the move itself may have been. Click!

Similarly, working an ankle pick that I can’t recall ever working before, with a beginner, it took me all of one attempt to gain sufficient understanding to explain to him why his first attempts didn’t work. Not talent, but a few years of training has ingrained even in my martially challenged brain some understanding of balance and off-balancing. Click! (The beginner in question then proceeded to get it right and won’t be struggling with those basics for two years…)

I’ve now decided to at least try to make a habit out of going to three classes back-to-back, rather than (as before) two, if I can; certainly at least once a week. There are three reasons for this. One is that more mat time is good; more experience is better. Another is that I could really use some work on my cardio and endurance, and I can think of no better way than to simply do more BJJ.

The third reason is that going specifically to the beginners’ class is helpful to me. As someone with (I still firmly believe) much less than average talent, rolling with my contemporaries can sometimes be a bit dispiriting. There are lots of people who started long after I did who are by now much better than I am. This tends to give me the illusion that I’m making no progress. But that’s not true, of course—I am making progress, just not as much as people who train harder or have more talent than I do. Going back to rolling with beginners gives me a better sense of how I have improved relative to a fixed point (viz., the general skill level of untrained people or people with <N months of experience) rather than a moving target (individuals who are also improving, perhaps faster than me). And I realise that though many of these beginners are probably much more talented than I am and will swiftly overtake and surpass me, right now I can kick their asses. That tells me nothing about them (they will learn, after all), but does tell me that I have learned, because a year ago I could not have kicked the asses of (say) many two-stripe white belts as I now can.

As an addendum, I also think that fighting beginners is good because it allows me a chance to work very weak techniques, like sweeps that I have no chance at all of pulling off on people at my own skill level. My pendulum sweeps are so weak as to be nigh nonexistent; therefore I look for them when I spar beginners. (If I attempt them at people around my own level or better, my attempts will not only fail but also lose my position in a comically inept and disastrous fashion.)

I generally feel that, contrary to the dictum of some, that always fighting the best opponents available is not a great way to proceed. Instead, I want to fight people who are somewhat better than me, or anywhere down from there in skill. Of course I need to fight people who can beat me, to challenge me and force me to develop my defence. Of course I need to fight people at my own level so I can get some properly competitive rolls. But I also feel that I need to spar with people below my level of experience because it gives me a chance to work the techniques I’m particularly bad at, and because it keeps my self-assessment realistic rather than hopelessly pessimistic. (Similarly, in fencing, I like to take the opportunity to fight left-handed when I’m facing a raw beginner.)

This is not to say, of course, that I take some sort of sadistic pleasure in beating up newbies and making their lives miserable. On the contrary, while I do try to score once or twice to avoid getting lazy, I try to give them opportunities to exploit so that they don’t suffer my own problems (getting so used to failure that I tend toward passive defence), and to point out the one or two most glaring problems they have, if any present themselves. (I try to resist the urge to lecture, as it’s rude and I’m poorly qualified; but I figure that it’s OK to say Make sure you pull with your knees or First and foremost, break my posture.)

From the very beginning I’ve described my progress in martial arts, and jiu-jitsu in particular, as perseverance in the face of a daunting lack of talent. I still think it’s an apt description, but I also now think that, slow though that journey may be, the first results are finally becoming visible.


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Petter Häggholm

April 2016

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