I am horrible at jiu-jitsu. I am getting good at jiu-jitsu. The voice of the ego is relentless and informative, and I am always surprised at how it can weasel its way into my thoughts, despite all of my efforts to tame it. I spent an hour and a bit at an Open Mat at Gracie PEI tonight. I arrived last night after two days of driving with three dogs, my wife and our 7 month old infant. My body aches, my head is all over the map, but if there is one thing I know that will improve my outlook, then it would be attending a class. Sadly, Gracie PEI was on a vacation schedule this week, so there were no regularly scheduled classes. As my wife and I arrived at the gym door to find out there was only Open Mat, we decided to make the best of things: she would go to hot yoga and I would roll for the hour.
I had been to Gracie PEI last summer, and had loved the experience. I was still a little surprised to have the brown belt instructor recognize me and then to have a fellow white belt say hello and ask when I had gotten in. I had only visited three times last summer and was touched that anyone would recognize me. Still, the BJJ community is a thoughtful space, so it makes sense that people would remember a beardo with long hair and tattoos from Toronto.
Rolling in a strange gym with newfound partners is not easy. Walking in cold to an Open Mat is even harder, because you do not even have the chance to warm up to your class partner before the first roll after the techniques were taught. For me, I accept that I will feel awkward, but that I have nothing to prove other than that I am a respectful, appreciative combatant. I am not going in to demonstrate my A game. I do not represent my team by hurting people or tapping everyone I can. Instead, I am just so happy to be welcomed to the mats and commune with fellow practitioners. I represent Toronto No Gi and Team Zenith by being a tough defensive player who understands that he is not going to tap the black and brown belts in a solid academy. I simply want to not embarrass myself or my team, and just maybe have a partner thank me for a good/tough/fun roll.
What did I learn today? Well…rolling in a gi for an hour with people who normally roll in a gi is challenging. They have different techniques, different ways of moving and different weaknesses from my no gi brethren. Much of my A game (guillotine chokes, quarter guard sweeps and sweeps from the bottom of mount) becomes useless because of collars and different transitions used by gi players. Therefore, I played my B game of defence and looking for holes to work on specific, foundational moves. I work escapes, regaining guard and quarter guard clamps to stop my opponent from being able to submit me. Survival is what I work on; it is key for a white belt to put in the hours on this part of the game, so I do.
How did it go? I enjoyed the hour. I had brief moments of survival against the higher level belts before they armbarred me. I defended well against the blue belts. I caught one Americana from half guard with a same level white belt and had a fun flow with a young student about 1/3 of my weight. I enjoyed feeling a few technique concepts the team clearly espouses from top of mount, which I countered, and also how frustratingly few mistakes they make from mount.
I was given the gift of much to think about before my return next week for class. Tonight I was a bit of a nail, but sometimes even a nail can be a little dangerous, so I walked away with a sense of appreciation for everyone I sparred with today, and I also felt positive about where I fit in on the food chain. My journey is my own, and part of the walk is to shrug off the weight of an ego that speaks falsehoods. I shrugged.