BJJ White Belt: After the Tournament – Part 2

 

img_7825.jpgIf you would’ve told me a year ago that I would be training in Jiu-Jitsu, I would’ve liked the sound of that and more than likely believed you. It was on my radar. As someone who takes an interest in self defense and protecting my family, I knew that I needed to improve my “ground game” (read as: non-existent ground game).

If you would’ve told me a year ago that I would be training and competing in Jiu-Jitsu, I would’ve been highly skeptical. Full contact competition was a far off dream; an aspiration that I had discarded to the “I missed my window” bucket of my life.

On Friday morning, the day before the tournament, I reflected on everything I had gone through and endured in the last two-plus-years to arrive at this point. Participating in this tournament was very meaningful to me. Meaningful as a martial artist. Meaningful as a man pursuing mastery in his life. Meaningful as a father and husband. Meaningful to my life’s journey as a whole.

Getting there Saturday morning, standing in the gym with the noise of the cheering, the coaches yelling to their students from the sideline, the announcements over the PA system, the buzz and vibrant energy…it was an interesting experience, to say the least.

I hope that I remember this tournament for a long time to come. Not only to build off the things I learned, but also to remember it from the white belt viewpoint. I like helping people, so I want to use this experience to help my teammates who are yet to join our ranks as competitors, and also to help you, dear reader, if you should raise your hand and step on to the mat for the first time. Perhaps what I write here and the words of wisdom from my Coach, will help you to be successful in more ways than just medals, when you get to your first tournament. Perhaps you are farther down the line and you have forgotten what it’s like to be a white belt. Hopefully these BJJ White Belt posts are helpful.

The Footage

Looking Back, Being Real

I’ve watched the above footage of my fights handfuls of times. As I watched, I would recall as best as I can what was going through my mind, what my body was feeling. As I watched, I would pay close attention to my performance, listening to the words my coach was shouting from the side of the ring, and above all seeing where I made mistakes. From all of that, I’m making notes of things I think I need to work on; resolving to get back on the mats and do better.

Pause.

I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t disappointed in not securing the win.

Bluntly?

It fucking sucked.

With my coach, my teammates and friends and my wife and children watching – I didn’t come through… twice.

Fucking. Sucked.

You, like I, could have the best attitude in the world. You could understand and accept that you win or learn and be dedicated to learning from your mistakes. You could be a good sportsman, sincerely congratulate your opponent and be mature about your loss. But if you lose, you are going to be disappointed, upset and maybe even a bit pissed off.

I think that it should happen, if you want to get better and improve. You should be disappointed. You should be pissed. That is the part of your ego that pushes you to do better, to become more than you are, to learn from your fuck ups and blast through them next time. The wrong path, of course, is to be so upset, so disturbed, that you are a puddle of melted snowflakes. Don’t be that person. Be the other. The one who brushes himself of, gets up and moves forward.

If you lose and can’t think of a single thing you did wrong, I think that’s hubris trying to cover your feelers from getting hurt.

Embrace the fail, the suck, then move forward.

That’s the step I’m on. Moving forward.

Mind and Body

I mentioned above that I tried to recall how I was thinking and how my body was feeling.

I mentioned in the previous post about my nervousness. The nerves quieted down when I committed and stepped on the mat. The first round was exhausting, it felt more exhausting than the second even though I think I expended more energy in the second round fighting and keeping my opponent in my closed guard. Correction, I know I used more energy. That’s one thing my coach and I went over regarding the second fight.

As far as the mental plane is concerned. I wasn’t afraid. I just got frustrated… a lot. This is an area Coach and I have been working on and will keep working on. I didn’t execute with conviction. What I mean by that is this: there were techniques that I have successfully executed during live rolls in class, techniques that were part of my game plan for the tournament, and I didn’t have enough faith in myself to pull them off. I heard my Coach, I barely saw the openings, but my lack of confidence in executing instead of listening to my coach, drawing on the successes and executing with belief and conviction in them, led to that failure.

Reviewing the footage, it was painfully obvious the openings that were presented to me.

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Back to the physicality of the tournament. I’ve trained, I’ve conditioned and I’ve regularly hit the gym as well as the mats and those two rounds were extremely taxing. In a prior post I spoke about how my body and mind shut down during some rolls with my team. During that first roll, those same physical and mental things began but I was able to push through it and it was easier on me.

The unpredictability and uncertainty of an opponents game, plus the fight or flight physiological responses your body generates, added to going full on against said unknown opponent add up to an entirely different experience when compared against rolls with teammates. Even those taxing and exhausting rolls with your teammates where you feel like collapsing on the floor afterwards. Its just different.

My grip was shot by the end of the second roll. My forearms, especially my right as I favored the cross collar grip on both fights, were pumped out and it took almost ten minutes before I could unscrew the cap for my water bottle. Seriously.

I woke the next morning sore. Primarily my upper back, arms and forearms but I did have some stiffness in my legs and glutes. I only did two rolls, going the full five minutes each time, but it had felt like I had gone through a harder workout. That’s the physiological response, the adrenaline, the amped senses and muscles, etc.

The Team

We’ve spent a great deal of time coming together and fostering the environment for both competitors and non-competitors to come together as a team. We had spent countless hours preparing, drilling, rolling, sweating and nursing our bodies back to health only to do it all again over the last three plus months. We truly wanted the best for each other and looked out for one another as best as we could all the way to the tournament and back. The camaraderie, the support and care for each team member was evident

Coach tried his best to be ringside at every match, but when it came down to multiple team members being on multiple rings at the same time, we all made sure to have at least one team member ringside to help the one in the ring. Coach had instructed us on this prior to the tournament: things to say, things not to say. Our primary objective would be to help the teammate in the ring keep track of time and points if Coach couldn’t be there.

“Okay, you’ve got four minutes left. Take your time.”

“You’re up by 3 points, keep going, you’re doing great!”

“Okay, you are down by 2, don’t worry about that. Let’s look a better position to even the scales. You’ve got three minutes to go, you can do this.”

Things like that.

Now, to preface what I’d like to share next, you need to understand that there were three brackets in which at least two of our teammates were competing together. This means that there could potentially be a fight for 1st and 2nd place at the top against our own teammates. Some gyms are fine with this, but as Coach explained to us before the tournament, we wanted to shut brackets down, not go against one another at the top. We roll against one another all the time at the gym and we didn’t drive two+ hours, spend extra time training, extra money on food, lodging, gas and entrance fees…just to roll against our own teammates. So if it came down to going for first and second place, we agreed that we would not fight, we’d have pre-arranged who took the gold and silver medals.

Hopefully, you see where this is going.

One of my teammates was competing in the same bracket as I. I have to give him massive props for his performance, sportsmanship and being a solid teammate. He lost his first round and won his second. His third round he was bracketed against me, which would’ve been my second round. It wasn’t a fight for first and second. We were in the consolation bracket going for third.

So, he and I were taken back for a second.

We told the judges as they called us up that we were from the same school/team and didn’t want to fight each other. Instead of arranging it differently, they told us “that’s just what happens”. My teammate then replied, “He’s going through, then. We’re not fighting each other.” The judges agreed to the request and they changed the bracket up.

Double elimination. He was out of the tournament.

Read the last two sentences again. Appreciate them.

He gave up his third fight so I could have a solid second fight against a different opponent. It was an honor that I still don’t believe I deserved. So for that reason alone, you could appreciate why I am so disappointed that I couldn’t secure the win on my second fight. I owed it to my teammate to give my best and secure the win.

I owe him one.

So, yeah, the team is solid. Continually getting closer as a unit, a tribe, a family.

We, as a team, did amazingly well in the tournament. 8 competitors, 6 medals including one double gold! A medal in each bracket that we competed in, save for mine. That’s pretty damn impressive! As a new school, going on 1 year old in early October, we were barely a blip on the radar on the day of the tournament. By the end of the day, each of us had multiple conversations from people we either competed against or others we didn’t know coming up to us and asking where we were from, who we were, etc.

We turned heads.

Back to the Garage

“It’s just like building a race car – you run it, see what works and doesn’t, back to the garage to tweak and mod until the next race.” ~Coach Shane

By this Wednesday’s training, as I said, I had reviewed the footage multiple times. I knew what I did wrong. Coach knew what I did wrong. Coach knew that I knew what I did wrong and he confirmed that as we reviewed the film together at class.

  • I fought too long and hard to keep my opponent in my guard, tweaking and modifying is needed here, back to the garage.
  • My framing for someone getting into side control on me is getting better, but it needs some tweaks, back to the garage.
  • I need to look at setting up multiple attacks instead of working one really hard then switching entirely to something else, back to the garage.
  • My sweeps need improving, back to the garage.
  • I need to put more confidence and faith in my takedown ability, back to the garage.
  • There are things that I am looking to implement in my workouts to continue increasing my strength conditioning as well as my cardio (sprints and steady paced), back to the garage.
  • Props to my opponents for their wins, but I allowed them to dictate the pace of the fight instead of setting the pace myself, being more aggressive and more assertive, back to the garage.

Back to the garage I go. Back to the garage our team goes, pushing each other and working with each other to improve and hone our game. There are a couple tournaments before the end of the year. I’m not sure if we will compete in those. For now, I’m sticking in the garage, but for any of my teammates who want to get out on the track sooner, I’ll be doing my part to help out. I know they’d do the same. I’ll be looking to compete at least twice in 2018, maybe more.

We’ll see what the year brings.

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Moving Forward – It’s Over

“What you’ve gotta understand is that it’s over. Seriously! Nobody cares anymore. That win is only as good as that day. If the day were done over again, a lot of the people who won could’ve lost. It’s like Any Given Sunday that way.

The only thing that matters is how good your Jiu-Jitsu was on that day, and now it’s over. It doesn’t matter anymore.

When the next tournament comes, it doesn’t matter if you medaled three times in the prior tournament. You still start from square one. Your prior wins don’t count at the new tournament.

Those who won might not have taken as much away, learning-wise, compared to those who lost. It’s hard to win gold and then try and dissect that performance, why mess with it?

It’s over.

Everyone, even the gold medalists have room to grow- that’s why we do this, to measure ourselves and then improve.” ~Coach Shane (an amalgam of a handful of recent conversations)

It’s over. Something I needed to hear.

I’m moving forward. Something I needed to do.

I know I am harder on myself than anyone else is. I’m well aware of my flaws, my shortcomings, my failures and mistakes, as a father, husband, friend and even in BJJ. But I move on. No navel gazing. No “woe is me”. No bullshit.

It no longer matters what happened. What will I do today to improve?

Back to the garage.

Pursue Mastery.

**Hey there, thanks for reading this post! If you find value in the writing you find here, the biggest compliment I can receive is for you to share the ever loving shit out of it. Thanks again for reading!**

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BJJ White Belt: Second Stripe

Five months in, well, over five months in at the time of publishing this post.

I received my second stripe on Wednesday, 08/16/17.

Isn’t it funny, how our perception of time works? I can feel both the “speed” at which time has passed since starting jiu-jitsu and I feel the “sluggishness” at which that same time seems to have passed as I chase after my goals.

There have been a lot of reps, rolls, sweat, soreness, bumps, bruises, fun and frustration since I received my first stripe. I know I’m not the only one on my team to invest this way. I know the actions I’ve taken are only a few drops in the bucket of the overall journey that is known as jiu-jitsu; I have a long way to go on this journey. I’m still a beginner and I take a healthy portion of humble pie every time I train. I will say that while I might not be the “best” by any stretch. I am continually bettering myself compared to the last time I trained. Me VS Me, I am always improving.

As I mentioned in the linked post above, Coach looks for certain things in each individual for promotion. Coach is admittedly slower to give out stripes – he jokes that when you get a belt or a stripe from him, that it’s probably late by a month…or six. But his intent is clear and methodology solid in the approach: he wants the student to have no doubt in their mind that the rank they received wasn’t “given” to them. They’ve put the work in, they understand, they apply, they improve – and it shows. In other words: they earned it, 100%.

The last time, he was looking for me to slow down; to be more aware and conscientious of what was going on around me. This time around, one of the things he was looking for was aggressiveness. Back in late June/early July, I’d committed to my Coach and team that I would participate in the tournament in September and I knew I needed to get more aggressive. Since then, I had been making a deliberate effort to do just that. It’s not necessarily a strength thing, but a constant moving, looking for opportunities, being proactive, hunting for openings and going on the attack; having a clear direction in where I wanted to go and if one angle didn’t work, looking for another one and taking calculated risks to try other angles and learn.

On the night of my promotion, I’d been working on my aggressiveness for a few weeks at least. The first hour felt great during live rolls. I was managing my top game better than I had. I was transitioning from one position to another, maintaining dominance and hunting for the openings and actually seeing them. I noticed that I was actually comfortable on top, things were just… clicking. We went to bow out. Consciously working to control my breathing, dripping sweat, mind racing from the success of the rolls and examining how things fell in to place and then boom both a teammate and I received our second stripes. Feelings of joy, thankfulness, elation, pride, surprise and even relief flooded through me once again, for me and also for my teammate.


I’ll have you know that my second hour wasn’t as favorable as I enjoyed the bittersweet taste of eating a healthy portion of humble pie.

Regardless, it’s cool to be able to look back and take stock of how far I’ve come in this short time span. I feel good with the progress I’ve made. It definitely feels like I’ve crossed a threshold and I’m grateful to pass this particular “mile marker” along the way.

As of the publishing of this post, our team is 23 days out from the tournament. For the great majority of us, this will be our first time competing and we are pushing each other to be better with every class we attend.

I’m looking forward to seeing how we perform individually and overall as a team.

Until the next post, my friends: Pursue Mastery.

**Hey there, thanks for reading this post! If you find value in the writing you find here, the biggest compliment I can receive is for you to share the ever loving shit out of it. Thanks again for reading!**

BJJ White Belt: Under Pressure

This post is almost two months in the making. All apologies to the faithful readers. Life’s challenges (selling a home, buying a home, promotion at work, etc.) stacked up to a place where I needed to place the blog on a low priority level. I hope you enjoy this installment of the “BJJ White Belt” series on In Pursuit of Mastery.
Learning Jiu-Jitsu has been a worthwhile endeavor for me; a beautiful tri-mixture of challenge, frustration and reward. It is commonly said within the BJJ community that you either win or learn. Believe me, I’ve been doing a whole hell of a lot of learning! The more mistakes I make however, the more I learn, the more kinks I find and work out, the better my game will eventually be.
As a kid I didn’t like getting stuck in small spaces, it was borderline claustrophobia.  I hated even entertaining the idea of being stuck. I cringed everytime I would watch the Grinch inch his way down the chimeny and get stuck in that akward position. I remember exploring a small access tunnel to an apartment complex I lived in one time, back in the day. Instead of reversing course to get out, I tried to turn around and I got stuck. It frightened the shit out of me. Being stuck or pinned down reaches deep into some primal part of us. You aren’t able to move, you can’t escape, you feel helpless, defenseless, vulnerable and I think in some deep primal sense, it reminds us of our own inescapable death. And we will do anything to get out of that situation.
I wasn’t stuck long, and like the Grinch, I was able to unstick myself… but this kid didn’t like it!
I also had a fear of drowning. I remember my Dad and Mom individually bringing me in to the deep end of the pool. The bottom of the pool might as well have been 1000 feet down for all I cared. This seemingly harmless element that I splashed around in was going to drag me down into its depths. I would be unable to breathe, grasping and clawing at the surface to no avail until I passed out and drown. My Dad says that, like the Calvin & Hobbes comic strip, I was scarred from being thrown in by my mother. That may be so, I’m not sure. I don’t recall. Maybe that’s why my eye twitches really bad when I am poolside with my kids and my mom walks by. I guess we’ll never know…
Now, take those two feelings – drowning and claustrophobia – and put yourself in a live roll against someone who understands leverage and how to maneuver and position themselves better than you do. Welcome to Jiu-Jitsu!
That was June as we worked the mount all month long.
Under pressure. Claustrophobic. Near drowning.
I’m laying there, mounted by someone who’s at least six months my senior, who outweighs me by a good 50lbs or so. He’s in a higher mounted position and I’m doing my best to stay small, move and survive. His chest is pressed against me hard, my breathing is labored and the light around me starts to fade – not from being choked out – but from his arms covering and working me into submission. My training partner is patiently working his attack as I use the little knowledge I have to try and survive. It only prolongs the inevitable and shortly the submission is made, I tap and I am pulled back to the surface.
And I go again.
Willingly.
I am enjoying this.
I know I have some deep rooted masochistic tendencies, or at least I have a twisted willingness to endure pain.
The partners I have had the opportunity to train with are great. And in BJJ, I know that all I have to do is tap and it’s over. Regardless of that safety net, it seems there are ample opportunities to confront those primal parts of my genetic makeup, like the fear of drowning and claustrophobia, by being placed in uncomfortable positions and put under pressure. These opportunities, from my view, demand that I find the harmony between clearing my mind, staying calm, thinking and reacting. My beginner’s impression is that as a white belt, one is always trying to find this harmony when rolling and training but even moreso when you are in those dark, uncomfortable positions. If you freak out and lose your cool, you die.
This white belt’s impression from both receiving it and giving the mount, is that proper application of the mount makes it feel like the person applying the technique has doubled in weight.
It’s interesting, this path I’ve begun to walk down over the last couple years, pursuing mastery of self. I mentioned in a previous post how hard training gets me into this reflective mode where all my internal shit gets magnified, clarified and sometimes sorted out. It’s fascinating how hard, rigorous training at the gym or at jiu-jitsu brings out those thoughts, emotions and reflections. I find that some of my most clearest of thoughts, emotions or reflections happen through this physical process. I get to the point where all the masks come off and I find my center, in it’s purest state of being. It’s not perfect, but it’s real.
And it’s the best way to combat any kind of pressure in my life.
In jiu-jitsu, for example, the more I train, the more I push myself to keep going, the more I embrace the process, the easier it is to handle the pressure – both physically and mentally – of being in uncomfortable positions.
Whatever and however you pursue mastery of self in your life, keep at it. Keep pushing forward.
Pursue Mastery.

**Hey there, thanks for reading this post! If you find value in the writing you find here, the biggest compliment I can receive is for you to share the ever loving shit out of it. Thanks again for reading!**

BJJ White Belt: First Stripe

It’s been about two months since I started the path of learning Brazilian Jiu-JitsuGoing forward, I’ll be writing a series of “BJJ White Belt” posts mixed in with what I write here at In Pursuit of Mastery. I figure it would be cool to document the journey from a white belt perspective.

For those farther along the path it might help remind them of the “good ole days” of being a white belt or maybe even rekindle the fire if things have gotten “blah” in their training. For me, I know that I’ll be able to look back on these posts and see where I’ve come from.

 

So yeah, the title of the post? That happened last Monday, 05/08/2017.

For those who don’t have any martial arts background, stripes on a belt basically indicate progression along the way to the next rank or belt. Depending on the system a stripe can mean anything from a quarter, a third or even halfway to the next level. For example, in another life I studied Tae Kwon Do (ITF) for about eleven years. In that system, a stripe was the halfway mark to the next belt. From what I understand in BJJ, a white belt earns four stripes before being close to eligibility for testing the next belt.

Monday night was a great session, ending like we do most nights with some rolling. I was dripping sweat and lining up with my fellow students for dismissal. I noticed our Coach, Shane, had grabbed the tape he uses for stripes on belts. Like most systems I’ve encountered, the white stripes are usually medical tape (some use electrical tape as they come in various colors). I’m thinking to myself, “Cool, somebody might be getting a stripe tonight, wonder who it is?” And then he walks up to me!

It was an awesome feeling: surprise, acknowledgement, accomplishment and a little sprinkling of pride (the good kind) all rolled into one.

From talking with him after it all went down, our Coach looks for certain indicators in our progression before giving that first stripe out. For the sake of intellectual honesty, the thought had crossed my mind within the past week about “when” I’d get that first stripe but, I also figured that I was at least another month from getting there.

So, it definitely came earlier than expected and I am grateful to have earned it. Like my Coach has said, it is really about your own journey in this art. You can look to others as markers and examples, but you can’t necessarily compare yourself to them. In many ways, it is you vs you. Improving daily, weekly, monthly. One step at a time. Am I better than I was yesterday? Last week? Last month?

Me VS ME: that is definitely something I can relate to.

As far as BJJ is concerned. There is improvement, a little bit at a time. Things are beginning to click, a little bit at a time. My defense is getting a little bit better. I’m a little bit more aware of what’s going on around me, even if it is a case of, “Now what the fuck do I do?!?”. I’ve been able to successfully execute a move or two that we’ve practiced earlier in class before getting into some live rolling. For me, the exciting part of that was actually finding the opening, “Ah, there it is!” and getting it done.

I still feel like a fish out of water most times, but I feel like I’m flopping closer to the water than I was before.

I’m still loving it.

I enjoy the balance that our Coach places between getting many reps in on a move we’ll work that night and on stress testing it with live rolling. This helps me see how important it is to find the harmony between the two so I get the mechanics of the move down and also understand how it can or can’t work in a roll, especially when your partner knows what you are trying to do.

I’m enjoying through both personal experience and witnessing in real time, how there is a place for strength, but also a place for technique. I can see now from just a little “inside view” why BJJ blew up the UFC and changed the game completely. So much goes into this, body mechanics, positioning, leverage, etc.

I’ve noticed how strategy can and is a big factor. Many…many times I’ve been sidetracked by my coaches or a senior student with what I thought was the “attack” only to be baited or flanked into the real trap. Humbling, eye-opening and fucking brilliant. Again, keep in mind, this is just a new white belt speaking. I know I’ve got a way to go.

Going forward, I’m currently rethinking/retooling my weight training and conditioning programs. I think I am on the right track but I still feel something is missing so I’ll have to play with it a bit and do some fine tuning. I also either need to find a way to put a hard drive in my brain to playback what I’ve learned, or start taking notes. I think the notebook would be easiest…

I’ll get there.

Pursue Mastery. One step at a time.

**Hey there, thanks for reading this post! If you find value in the writing you find here, the biggest compliment I can receive is for you to share the ever loving shit out of it. Thanks again for reading!**

BJJ White Belt: Starting from the Bottom

Keeping in line with pursuing my goals for 2017, I recently opened a new chapter in my life and began learning Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu.

Day 1, Intro Class.

For the first time in years I joined a martial arts school, put on a uniform (Gi) and donned a white belt. It is a newer school in the area led by both an experienced brown belt and a purple belt. The rest of us are white belts of varying degrees and as of this writing, I only have five sessions under my belt. The other white belts are light years ahead of me.

And I don’t mind it at all.

In fact, I’m loving it.

I’ve had the opportunity to be a “white belt” in many areas over the last few years. Weightlifting for one; learning the proper form for the big lifts and slowly progressing upwards until I hit my goals.

Taking an amazing Pistol Course last year is another.

Although the feeling of being a fish out of water or not knowing your ass from a hole in the ground or being shown just how much of a “white belt” you really are can be frustrating, to say the least, it is one that I enjoy in a twisted sort of way. There is always room to grow and become better.

Ego and Hubris (the way I view them), don’t get along.

Ego is a positive force in your life as it drives you to do better, to want to become more and strive to go to the next level. Hubris is the part that has to be checked.

Hubris will tell you, “You’re good enough, just the way you are.”

Ego says, “You can do better. You can improve.”

Hubris says, “Just practice on your own. You got this.”

Ego will reply, “You should practice on your own, but you also need to seek training. You need to get around people who are better than you so you can be challenged, stretched and step your game up.”

And I’ve had plenty of opportunities to either let my ego push me towards growth or let hubris pull me towards stagnation.

Humility is a necessity to furthering your training.

Like I mention in the above linked article about humility, I like to approach training with an “empty cup” mentality. It helps me to keep hubris in check, even in “familiar” territory, so I can learn and absorb as much as possible in order to grow and become better. It can be hard at times, but I’ve found that taking the empty cup approach usually yields the most return on investment for me.

So now I’m learning BJJ, starting from the bottom in so many ways. I’m still green. I’m in unfamiliar territory. Flopping around on the mat, trying to learn how to roll my body. I am dripping wet with sweat after each session. I’m learning that while what I’ve accomplished in the gym regarding strength and endurance is good, it’s not everything against a younger, lighter training partner who is even a month or two ahead of you in practice. There are different breeds and degrees of strength and endurance needed for this new chapter. To top it all off, I’m nursing a weakened/strained shoulder due to over-training at the gym.

There are ample servings of humble pie for me to digest during this new season of my life.

My cup is so damn empty.

And I’m fucking loving it!

Another day of training, another opportunity to improve.

Use your Ego for good. Check hubris at the door. Become better.

Pursue Mastery.