It’s not all that uncommon for a BJJ white belt player to catch the fever. You know, that zombie like state that consumes at least every other thought until you get on the mat to train that day? I quickly caught it!
A couple of months into my BJJ journey, I was already really excited about where it could all end up. If you’ve ever practiced Jiu Jitsu for any length of time, you know how addictive it can become.
It was not long after this early yet jubilant revaluation that I set what I considered to be a lofty goal. Considering my inexperience on the mat at the time, I told myself and my team that I would compete in a real-deal Jiu Jitsu tournament before the end of the year.
In some of the ensuing discussions where competitions came up, some encouraged me to compete in upcoming tournaments, but I knew I wasn’t ready. I knew that mentally I wasn’t where I wanted to be for the first time on a competition mat, and I definitely knew I wasn’t ready from a technique perspective. Besides, I was only attending Basic class to learn fundamentals, I wasn’t really rolling yet.
There is definitely a natural progression if you buy in. It’s different for everyone, but you will progress if you spend the time on the mat. July hit and I was feeling confident enough to commit to my first advanced class. I had been watching for a while, but in mid-July I finally stepped up and stayed for my first advanced class.
I was super excited that day and felt great after Basic. During warm-ups we were doing some drills where one player is standing and avoiding grips from another player on the ground. I went to jump over a grip attempt and when I landed, I rolled my ankle.
I was helped off the mat, and when the initial explosion of pain was tolerable, I realized something was really wrong. I had broken my foot as it turns out, and the next 6 weeks would leave me frustrated, and mostly off the mat.
I had already changed my diet a bit. I had cleaned up my intake and thankfully I was motivated enough to maintain my new-found eating habits during my downtime. I was still going to the school to take my girls in for training during the injury, and often times I would stay for the adult classes to watch. I was also supplementing my zombie-state with a whole bunch of great YouTube training videos.
I got back on the mat for the first time in August, and I took it slow. I was learning technique, and drilling consistently. Coach still had me taking it slow in the Advanced Class in hopes that I would continue healing and not cause further damage, it was the right call for sure.
Then came October. At this point I felt pretty damn good. Normal wear and tear from the mat, but my ankle was solid again. At the end of a Basic Class at the beginning of October, coach called me up to the front, I received my first stripe. My confidence was growing at this point.
The final push for me in terms of moving towards my first competition was when I went up to Torrance at the end of October to support Tony and the team for the GrapplingX State Gi Championships. It was a crazy and intense vibe, and watching my fellow mat rats competing sparked me for sure. Tony took 2nd in a solid division and it motivated me to start researching which competition I would be wetting my beak at.
I found it, this was the one. A full-scale IBJJF sanctioned tournament in December over at the Long Beach Pyramid. Lets do this! The Long Beach Fall International IBJJF Open is a decent sized event and I figured being it was ran by IBJJF, it would be top-notch, so I signed up for it.
The end of October came, and although intentions were to be on the mat more than ever, things changed. I knew I had an upcoming business trip planned but I didn’t let it cloud my goals, at first anyway. We spent almost two weeks on the road to Canada in November, and although we trained a couple of times with Daniel at his school, it wasn’t the same.
I was tired, that trip wiped me out. Although I was beat the day after we got back home from the trip, I trained. Glad I did, because I was a awarded my 2nd stripe! Although I was beyond excited, I was a wreck. I ended up sick which kept me off the mat another week.
To add to stress levels, we were trying to finishing negotiations on our new house. We closed on the house the Friday before Thanksgiving, and got the keys the next Monday. Although this was positive and exciting, it was another distraction from my upcoming competition and training in general. At this point I walked away. I told my team and coach that I was dropping from the Open in December.
There was some encouragement from my coach and teammates pushing me to follow through with the competition. In fact, my entire team gave me hell about it. I think they understood, but they knew something I couldn’t understand yet as someone who hadn’t competed, I may never find a better time than now to compete. I may never be ready, so just go do it!
Tony hounded me more than once driving the point home, what did I have to lose? I kept telling him I wasn’t there mentally and I would be really disappointed if I didn’t do well, especially being my training had been inconsistent the last month. I then get an unsuspected chat message from Joe Herbrandson who trains at Carlson Gracie Temecula, and also works with us at Sucuri. Joe asked me if I was ready for the competition. I explained to him what I had been already telling everyone else, and of course he went on trying to motivate me. Odd how it sounded so similar to the same discussion Tony and I were having already. I wonder why Joe reached out to me, and who influenced him….I just wonder 🙂
A week before the competition, I was on the mat and feeling pretty good, and with the positive motivation, I changed my mind yet again. As I thought through the tourney and such, I figured what did I really have to lose? I am an old man white belt, and in the worse case scenario I come home having discovered weaknesses in my game I could fix. I had all to gain really! I would lose my first competition jitters, and who knows, maybe medal.
We got there early to watch Joe compete and take second in his weight class. He did awesome and his matched were great to watch. We also caught up with Amy Alonso who represented Carlson Gracie Menifee, and Emma Valdez from BJJ Girl who also trains in Temecula.
Then, it was time. They finally called for my division to head to the bull pin to get weighed in. I was stretched out, weighed in, and had my Gi checked. It was time to rock and roll. The odd thing was my demeanor. I was somehow extremely calm, more so then I would have ever expected, and I was completely focused.
Lets get the hard part out-of-the-way, I didn’t win the match. Come time to hit the mat, there were only 4 of us in the division. As long as I made weigh-in’s, I would medal and get IBJJF rank and points. A bit tough to consume, but completely out of our control.
As some have called it, I had the Dre Death Stare going right before I entered the mat. The official called us onto the mat, and as soon as he gave us the go sign, I made grips and tried to pull guard.
I had a simple game plan to pull guard, lasso, invert into a submission attempt or sweep. I was able to do that. Yes, Super Heavyweight (weighed in at 218 with Gi) in the Senior I division, white belt no less, I pulled off lasso guard into an inversion. I missed the submission but got the sweep and points. I was pretty stoked about this if you can’t tell 🙂
Plenty of technical deficiencies to choose from there, but my goal was to pull it off, and I did.
After the sweep, I ended up in my opponents closed guard. I was trying to slip out of it, but again technical breakdown in the heat of battle got the best of me.
What you see in that last sequence is the beginning to the end. About 3 minutes into the match, I submitted to a Gi choke. One of the things I least expected to take me out, and I let him execute. I was up on points, and I felt in control of the match, the better player one that day, and I learned a ton!
I did medal by default, but feeling what it’s like to be on the podium was epic, and I will be there again! I will never forget the experience I gained from this tournament. Not just getting on the mat, but supporting my team, being supported by my team, and interacting with players that had started the week before, or had been competing for 20 years.
An amazing time with my team for sure, and I cannot wait to get back on the mat at my next competition.
The real moral of this super long-winded story is BJJ is already amazing once you start training on a consistent basis, but competition takes your mental game to a different level.
If you have ever thought of competing, do it. Don’t hesitate, and don’t concentrate on the official wins and losses per se. You will find that you will learn most from the amped-up vibe you will feel, the new perspective you will gain, and the overall gamesmanship you will see first hand. The overall competitive experience will elevate your training, and overall game.
For those that told me to compete sooner rather than later, you were right! For those that competed with me at the IBJJF Long Beach Fall Open, congratulations on representing yourself, and the Carlson Gracie Federation. Congratulations on your medals, and I look forward to the next competition we get to support each other at!