I competed in the first real test of my learning process: a club tournament using full pressure and skill in a five minute round format. I lasted a total of 30 seconds between two matches against an upper white belt and a strong blue belt. Few things impress weakness upon a man more than being crushed quickly by another man, and I have to admit that I was more than a little shaken after the experience. After three months of training through twenty classes and I lasted 30 seconds before I was first submitted by a guillotine and then by an arm bar in my second match.
Clearly the question becomes: what could I possibly expect from participation in a tournament that was obviously far beyond my skills set? Why the hell was I even there? Simple: a plant cannot develop, if it does not understand just how far the roots need to seek water or how high to reach for the sun. A person cannot develop if they do not understand just how weak he or she is in specific areas. When Neojits Inc. developer, Carlos E. Rios, stopped by Toronto No Gi to find competitors for a test run of a really exciting statistical software algorithm for jiu-jitsu, I felt compelled to abandon my ego and submit my body to inevitable defeat. Carlos is a superb instructor who made me feel positive about my participation in jiu-jitsu, but more importantly, his work with Neojits is an exciting developmental project that could improve the whole of the sport. What no-stripe-white-belt would not want to be a part of that? I fully understood that I would not score a single point against the other competitors, but I also understood that he needed at least one weak competitor to demonstrate the full spectrum of what the software can do over the long term. I am that weak competitor.
My first round was tough. My opponent is the guy in the gym who you just have to look up to and respect for all of the right reasons. In fact, he kindly offered to flow roll with me before we found out who was fighting whom, which was a BIG deal for me because I had never even flow rolled before. The match was not going to be pretty for me, but such loss is expected. I do not actually remember what happened on the mat. I just felt the pressure of his grips and probably walked right into a well-placed guillotine that near ripped my head off. Tap.
As the first match of the tournament, the upper belts were generous by suggesting that I had almost “walked” out of the submission; if I had just done this versus that. Honestly, I do not even know how my body moved to attempt to escape, but I know I did not succeed. I will probably relive the sentiments of helplessness during many upcoming sleep paralysis nightmares where I feel the night hag slowly choking the life out of me. Lesson learned, and I am certain that I will be able to figure out an escape based on the video footage shot during the tournament.
My second round was a little worse. My opponent may have been a white belt near my age category, but he must have a strong wrestling background as we started on our feet. Despite my attempt at a basic judo throw, I ended up on my back and in an arm bar in seconds. I vocalized my tap versus hoping he would notice because his grip was like a fast-clenching metal vise. Save the arm at the sake of the ego.
My competition was over. My rank would drop from 1400 to 1392, and the rest of my day would be spent watching the tournament and taking photographs from the sidelines. My lead instructor made it quite clear that I had made fundamental mistakes relating to space. I felt pretty much defeated as I clicked the shutter 1134 times over the next hour. Do I regret submitting myself to the emotion of humiliation and the pain of a guillotine and arm bar at full force? No. Yes. No.
I met my personal goal of supporting the team and Carlos. I was able to become a statistic, literally, and build what I think will become a key algorithm in the sport of Brazilian jiu-jitsu. I was able to offer up 20 or so photographs to competitors and the club for their use without any costs. I was able to have two flow rolls and two full force rolls with strong players who I might never be asked to roll with otherwise. I learned that I need to figure out a guillotine escape, and to avoid arm bars altogether through better positioning.
The cost was that I felt really weak and stupid, but more importantly I feel like I had disappointed others by my lack of skill; my poor performance. Fair. Fair enough. I did. However, those feelings can become like a passing cyclone if I can do what is most difficult for the modern man: embrace failure as the road forward and a way of development. After rolling on Sunday, I understand that I have an almost impossible journey ahead of me in the practice of jiu-jitsu. I may quickly just become a bjj fan-boy of types: theniceenoughguywhocantakereallygreatphotosofjiujitsu. I may never even accomplish my initial goal of becoming a blue belt. Perhaps that is not the point at all. Perhaps, for me, the only real competition that I can engage in is with myself to become better with each practice until I am satisfied and satiated with the knowledge I want. Maybe, just maybe, what is most important to me about jiu-jitsu is the actual community of people.
The next step forward for me was to go straight back the next night to class. If I did not do that, then I would undoubtedly become a statistic of another kind: a student who stopped going to jiu-jitsu. I went. I had a solid session learning how to build my leg triangle with a partner who had similarly-sized limbs, but more experience as a white belt. The rest? Well, the rest does not really matter anymore now, does it?