Competition is hard. Struggling to fight with men who are there to prove their abilities on the mats can be an overwhelming, terror-inducing experience that leaves you spinning both before and after your matches. I will never love tournaments, but I feel the power and potential gains to be made by putting oneself into the fight. I can sense my progress at open mat rolling with team members, but those sessions are never as blood thirsty or adrenaline-driven as a first round match against an unknown opponent. I have seen my greatest weaknesses through Jiu-Jitsu competition, and I also see how much much game and focus on specific movements has benefited from putting myself in the den with lions.
This was my third tournament in six months, and I had not really wanted to compete. My team members convinced me that it would be fun and a good chance to work on our games with a specific goal in view. I had never been to the Ascension series, and their medals were so beautiful that I was mesmerized, like Indiana Jones, into signing up for the Seniors/White Belt/Medium Heavy division. I had six weeks to prepare and it would be a great chance to see if I had been able to capitalize on any of the truths I had discovered during my previous two tournaments: my takedowns were ineffective, I had no submissions from the positions I naturally ended up in, and I did not know how to escape from the bottom. I have been working tirelessly on these specific areas while trying to round out my overall game. Tough work, but the team’s upper belts in my gym, Toronto No Gi, have all been really supportive in giving me chances to learn from them. As my last rolling session before the tournament ended, I had been able to tap six different submissions. Just a month earlier, I would have been lucky to catch one and I would never have been able to trick my opponent into thinking that I was aiming for something else. I felt I was ready, but I was still so nervous that I could not stop looping through a million different puzzles and mat problems. Sleep becomes affected, and I am already not getting much sleep these nights.
The final week before the tournament had me all over the map. First, I thought I was moving to the Gi division, as I did not have an opponent, then an opponent signed up, then fifteen minutes before I left he notified me that he had to leave due to the bad snowfall and he had to travel in the rough weather to Guelph. All is fair in war and jiu-jitsu, and while I ended up mentally preparing for a few completely different game plans, I came into the match in a satisfactory headspace. I suppose that I could have waited and taken the default gold medal when my opponent did not show, but let’s face it: a medal gained without fighting is worth nothing more than false pride. In the end, I asked Ascension to move me down to the Masters division, which I had been avoiding specifically because I did not want to fight my one team member in the tournament and I find age to be the factor that I struggle with the most.
My plan? I had four specific goals: 1) lose fewer points than any previous match 2) do not get hurt by my opponent 3) take a chance and go for whatever submission I see become available and 4) move smoothly without fear into the fray. My opponent, who ended up winning gold for the division, was much taller than me, so I decided that my best bet would be to look for his neck opening up as we transitioned from the first to second phases of combat. Fortunately for me, I was able to do just that and I sunk in the tightest guillotine that I have hit to date. As we came to the mat I simply tightened and held on and moved into a closed guard position as he opted to cross-face with full pressure with his shoulder. My opponent was strong, and his technique was solid. Perhaps it became a battle of wills and leverage possibilities for the next three or four minutes, but either way I held on, tighter and tighter to no avail. I chose to drop it stranglehold to the sound of a great gasp of relief, and our roll continued with one minute on the clock. I went to half, then quarter guard, but was on the opposite side, so while the underhook was available I felt my neck was his immediate focus and I was simply too concerned about that to line up my sweep. Four seconds left and he was able to roll into a back take sweep. It was loose and would never have held, but those were his points and he rightfully won.
I am a peace with that outcome.
The adrenaline dump, the lactic acid build up and the heat of the gym just had me needing fresh air, but I stayed on until my team member fought for the final place. I felt positive and relieved. I wanted to stand on the podium with the knowledge that I was there because I had the courage to put myself out there and take a risk. My third tournament was now over and I could take a break from competitions for a while, at least until I decide that I can add more to the palette of my game by chaining together attacks and escapes in the manner that I feel the best blue belts and purple belts at my gym do. I am getting there though, and I can feel myself just on the cusp of further breakthroughs.
I would like to say that I never will compete again. I would like to say that, but I know I would not mean it. I have met some truly great people and learned so much with each successive competition. I learn where my gaping holes are and I get to apply my actual skills without prejudice against an unknown opponent. I learn to appreciate my opponent’s skills and be thankful for what he has taught me in those five minutes of warfare. I become better because of the struggle and the fear. As long as my opponent does not make an error and hurt me badly through zeal and vanity, I am fine with the pressure. Perhaps I fear injury more and more because my little baby is watching on the sidelines, and the last thing I want to happen is to injure myself when she is the most important responsibility I have these days. Still, Daddy needs to be strong and set a positive example of how to live a good life; how to be a good person in the face of all that the world throws at us all each and every day. I felt like I was able to exemplify that for her on Sunday, and that is what matters most.