This past weekend I competed in the IBJJF New York Spring Open. The following is an account of everything that happened, the good, the bad, the ugly and the crazy. I broke it down into sections since it’s lengthy and you can feel free to skip to the ones that interest you.
As I am known to do, I had put a lot of pressure on myself to do well at this tournament. I competed last year in both New York Opens and was submitted inside of 2 minutes during my first match each time. If you’ve never spent a few months trying to prepare for a tournament only to have all your hopes, dreams and expectations dashed inside of 120 seconds, I don’t know how to explain to you how that feels. It’s pretty much the worst.
So with all of my unfulfilled expectations of last year, the frustration of being injured the last 8 months, frustration with my training and frustration with life in general , I decided a couple of months ago I was going to compete. This was going to be my Hollywood moment, my big F you to the world in general. I was going to go to NY, clean up, come back with gold medals in hand and show everyone. My knee would magically feel better, my teammates and coaches would applaud my badassery and life in general was going to get better if I could just win.
That’s not too much expectation to put on one tournament right?
When I decided to do the tournament I had to figure out how I could realistically train for it. Last year when I competed, I had been doing tournaments regularly and also doing a lot more cardio as I still had two functioning knees so my walking around weight was significantly lower and I was able to compete at middleweight with a reasonable cut and some increased cardio.
That was not going to happen this year. I was walking around way too heavy and I am very hampered by the knee when it comes to cardio type activities. So I figured I would compete up a class this time, really focus on diet in the coming months and get back to middle for the July tournament (maybe I have already mentally decided to do that one).
Last year, I had some teammates competing at the Open with me and there was also very specific tournament training going on at various affiliated gyms that I attended. None of that happened this year. I was the only person from my gym to compete and there was not so much tournament focus at other gyms so I was a one person tournament training machine. This largely meant that I tried to work stuff with willing teammates during open mat. I also worked a lot of upper body strength since I could do so without hurting my knee.
The morning of
I thought going up a weight class would make cutting easier this time or maybe even (dare I hope) unnecessary if I just ate healthy and behaved for a while. Well that definitely didn’t work out. With my decreased ability to do cardio and my body’s ability to hate me, I had a really hard time losing the weight necessary for this tournament. I don’t know why but my body stalled when I had about 2 pounds left to lose and really did not want to release the weight. So needless to say, I was quite nervous about that the morning of (as a former fat kid, I don’t think anything terrifies me as much as the thought of not being able to compete because I weigh too much).
I immediately checked my weight when I arrived at the arena. At first it said .2 under then .2 over and I was ready to run out of the building crying in fear. Then I realized I still had my t-shirt on over my rash guard. Oh. So I took that off and weighed in at .5 under and then .3 under (why do the scales change every time you step on them!). This was not enough of a cushion for my paranoid mind so I resolved to not eat or drink anything until after I weighed in which was about 2.5 hours away. That was a rough 2.5 hours but I made it through and weighed in a pound under and was ready to go.
My division was only 3 people. It consisted of me, a very good friend and training partner (but unfortunately not teammate) from another Philadelphia area gym and someone I didn’t know but who came from Hawaii. As is typical of my luck, I was slated to fight first against the Hawaiian. I was actually happy with this draw though. If you are unfamiliar with how round robin works in IBJJF three person brackets, the first people fight and the winner is in the finals. The loser than fights the third person and that person also advances to the finals and then there is a third fight. Since I was going first I knew that I would at least get two matches and therefore was already doing better than last year. I was also very happy not to have to see my friend in the first match.
One of my big goals for this tournament was to get a takedown that I have been refining and tweaking for a year now. It’s part half-guard pull, part judo sweep, entirely awesome. I was saving the try for the potential match against my friend though because she trains Judo, she knows I know she trains Judo and I figured she wouldn’t expect it. Also, what could be better for the ego than taking down a Judo person? So I decided with my first match I’d try to get to her back and do a wrestling trip, an old favorite of mine.
The match started with a lot of gripping and me trying to get to her back and she eventually pulled guard. She was very strong and had very good grips and kept breaking my posture down. I kept breaking the grip but then she’d get it again and pull me down. We continued this way for a bit. I tried to do a traditional guard break but I couldn’t work it since she kept getting that grip, I then tried to do a Wilson pass to get to half guard but that didn’t work. Eventually she bumped me and I kind of just went with the sweep (this is a bad habit I sometimes get in when I just do what my partner wants) but at least it was a change from guard. I got into her half guard and tried for a deep sweep but it didn’t work. We did a lot of turtle scrambling after that. She was very aggressive and going for my neck a lot but she didn’t have hooks in yet so I wasn’t overly worried about getting submitted. At one point she did get hooks but I quickly got my back to the mat to avoid the choke. I noticed her ankles were crossed but they were too close to the mat to go for a lock so I just escaped. More scrambling, more turtle and then she took my back again and she crossed her ankles again. Well hello. I went for the ankle lock fast and hard and the tap came almost immediately after.
I felt good that I had won the match but it wasn’t the manner I would have wanted to win. It was more a mistake on her part than anything good I did (I mean she was on my back at the time) and I was unhappy that she had won the position war the whole time. I tried to shake this off and prepare for my next match, I was one win from gold!
Next up in our bracket the Hawaiian and my friend fought. I obviously wanted my friend to win because, well, she is my friend. The Hawaiian also pulled guard on my friend and went for grips and breaking of the posture. I could see the frustration my friend was feeling because it was the same as mine in the previous match. The Hawaiian was content to get grips and break posture and was not going for sweeps or submissions from guard which meant that she wasn’t giving openings to escape guard. My friend tried the whole match, came very close to a pass at the end but ran out of time. For some reason I don’t understand, she had been penalized twice for stalling so the Hawaiian won the match which meant that I would fight her again in the final. I had mentally prepared myself to be fighting my friend since the time I registered for the tournament so it was really weird we weren’t going to fight.
So it was time for the final. After my experience with the Hawaiian and watching her second match, I decided that I was not going to let her pull guard this time and grip me up. I was going for my takedown. We started out and I went almost immediately for the takedown. I got my grips, I committed to the throw and I went for it and…it worked! Holy crap I got a takedown! It worked exactly as I had hoped and I ended up in top half guard. She did that lockdown thing to my trapped leg that Eddie Bravo did to Royler for much of Metamoris. I now feel Royler’s pain. I do not have a lot of experience with that defense (or any really) and could not break the hold. All I could think to do was try to straighten my leg but I have been cursed with short, stumpy legs and it was not enough pressure to break the hold. She eventually got up to her side and then went for my back, she got a good bite on my gi and did like a bow and arrow/back lapel choke. I tapped out. Crap.
Afterwards I was pretty angry with myself. I felt like I should have fought better in both fights but I just didn’t have it. I definitely think no food or drink all morning had its effect, I felt very weak and slow the entire time. I also felt like I could have fought that choke better and maybe I gave up too soon. It was very frustrating because I strongly felt that if I had broken that lockdown on my leg I would have passed to side and I would have either finished or maintained control the whole time. I was so close to that gold and I blew it!
Since I knew going into the tournament that I was going to make the podium no matter what happened in my division, I knew that I would have the option to do the open class. I was leaning heavily toward yes because I would get more fights that way and I secretly had visions of double gold in my head. After I went out in my division in a way I was not satisfied with, my “heavily leaning” turned into “sign me up”. I re-hydrated, I ate some food, I watched some friends compete and then I got ready for the open class.
While waiting in the bullpen I was counting the blue belt women in there and realized that 6 of us had signed up. My friend and I were talking in the bullpen and I told her that I hoped I didn’t have to meet her too early on. They were behind at this point so I was stuck in there a while and anxiously waiting to have them call my division.
Finally we were called and with my continued luck at seeding for IBJJF tournaments I was not given a bye, I was fighting first and oh yeah…I was fighting my friend! This really sucked because it meant one of us was going to knock the other out of medal contention.
Since I had been working that takedown specifically for her and since it worked so nicely before, I decided to go for it again. It was not going to be much of a surprise this time though as she had seen it in my previous match but I figured she still didn’t know the nuance of it and probably hadn’t come up with a defense since earlier that afternoon. It kind of worked, she went down but this time I couldn’t roll up on her and I ended up in bottom half guard with an advantage. I eventually went to full guard and then we got reset, she got back to half and then passed. I went to roll and my eye caught something on the mat next to my face so I stopped. I looked up at the referee and asked her “what is that” and my friend then looked as well. The ref stopped the match and picked it up and I could no longer deny what it was, I told her “that’s a razor blade”.
A FREAKING RAZOR BLADE! There it was lying on the mat right next to my face. The ref was confounded and took it to a higher official of some sort. They had a lengthy discussion on what to do with it. Then they called us both over. They checked us for cuts first then thoroughly inspected our gis to see if we had concealed a razor on our person. They told us the only way it could have gotten on the mat is if one of us brought it with us. We told them that we are good friends and know each other and neither of us thought the other would be trying to cut someone. I was seriously worried they were going to dq us both! They finally let us continue so…back to her in side control.
This time I did roll up since there was no razor blade to cut my face and went to turtle. I then made the same mistake I did last year in the Spring Open and let her get a hand in my collar without defending. She got me on my side and went for a bread cutter (I guess that’s what it’s called there). Remembering that I thought I had given up too easily last time I tried for quite some time to break her grip and then she got a grip around the back with the other and I was done. I will say that my throat hurt well into today so I at least know I tried my best with that one!
I went through a lot of emotion when this happened. My dreams of glory were gone. I was not coming home with a gold medal. I wasn’t going to medal at all in the open class. My day was done. I got choked twice.
I want to say that I handled the loss with maturity and decorum and wished my friend well for the remainder of her fights with a smile on my face. I really, really want to say that. I, unfortunately, cannot. I tried my best to compose myself so she wouldn’t see I was upset and feel bad and quickly took my leave of the mat. Unfortunately the exit for the mats was right were we had just fought and our collective friends and teammates were all standing there. I didn’t want anyone to see me so upset so I went to the only hiding place I could and snuck under the bleachers and had what can best be described as a self-pity meltdown.
I sat under there for a good 10 minutes trying to compose myself willing my tears to go away. I felt like a complete failure and a complete jerk at the same time. My dreams of glory were gone. I wasn’t going to come back a hero with 2 gold medals, I barely managed a win. At the same time I knew my friend was out there getting ready to fight again and I really wanted to go support her and felt like the worst kind of jerk that I was indulging in my “poor me” tantrum.
Eventually my buddy came and found me (cause that’s what your bjj buddies do) and talked me down. We went back to the mat, I stopped being a baby and I was able to watch my friend’s final two fights and cheer her on to her hard fought silver medal.
I am trying to focus on the good. I won a match, by submission even! I got a really nice takedown that I’ve been working forever. I scrambled more. I didn’t get cut in the face by a razor (incidentally after the brutal choking my friend gave me I now have second thoughts about her part in the razor scandal).
But I can’t move past the bad. I let myself get choked twice. My one victory was from a mistake my opponent made and not anything spectacular I did. I feel like I gave up in my second fight against her and should have gotten out of the choke. I had my friends tape the matches for me and watched them last night in hope that I would move past the tournament funk. When I was trying to fight the choke they can be heard screaming “don’t give up!”. I am going to hear that in my head for a long time.
I feel like I am continuing to be ridiculous. If one of my friends were being this mopey after winning silver in their division I would tell them to stop being so negative and focus on the good things that happened. Hopefully soon I will take my own advice.
Stuff to work on
- Stop getting choked (maybe I should just focus on no-gi from now on).
- Figure out how to break that lockdown in half guard.
- Fix my knee so I can train like I want to.
- Manage weight cut better next time so I can eat and drink before I fight.
- Train tournament style more (this is going to be a tricky one with my previous goal of not getting hurt anymore).
Well that was a complete and exhaustive retelling of all things New York Open related. Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to contact the IBJJF about a possible razor smuggler.
If you have been reading this blog for the last 8 or 9 months then you probably know that I have a knee injury that has managed to permeate every facet of my life, especially training. For a while I was very focused on fixing it and was not training much. After 5 or 6 months though, I got really frustrated and figured if my leg was going to hurt either way, I might as well train. I am still regularly going to see the doctor and trying things to fix the knee, but I am definitely training a lot more than I was.
I am not advocating training while injured but for me I couldn’t handle the mental side-effects of not training any longer. I was feeling depressed and angry. I could not stick to healthy habits without jits as the cornerstone of my healthy lifestyle. I couldn’t exercise much, I was eating crap, gaining weight, etc. It was an endless cycle of blah. So I made the decision to not only go back to training more but because I am a very goal-oriented person, I also made the decision to train for some competitions. I competed in an in-house tournament a few weeks ago but the big focus has been the New York Open, coming up this weekend.
Overall I am happy with the decision to train and compete again. Yes my knee is a constant problem but through some sort of bodily truce, rarely bothers me while I’m training. However, I am always aware that I am training injured. I have been hurt training and competing plenty of times but this injury has made me really focus on the dangers of training, probably because it has lasted so long and has not just affected my training but my off-the-mat life as well.
Something occurred Monday night that has been making me think of jiu-jitsu injuries even more. We were rolling at the end of class and I ended up with another blue belt guy. He is very new to our gym having just recently transferred from another gym because of location. I rolled with him his first night at our gym which, if I recall, was his first night training in a while. I did not care for the level of intensity he brought to the roll considering our obvious size difference (I would say he is at least 8 inches taller than me and probably at least 50 pounds heavier). I felt somewhat apprehensive about rolling with him but he is a very nice guy when you talk to him and I thought maybe he just went too hard that first night because of nerves.
Sadly I discovered this was not the case. He quickly got past my guard and I turtled up and he managed to flatten me out and then lay on top of me while he tried to work his hands in to get my collar. He tried to roll me to get hooks in and I managed to escape and then he went for an armbar. I started to defend but really wasn’t comfortable with the grip he had on my arm and thought to myself it wasn’t worth getting hurt, especially with the open coming up, so I tapped.
As we reset I felt very uncomfortable. I thought to myself “I just have to get through this roll and then I will avoid this guy in the future, especially this week because I don’t want to get hurt before the open”. Of course since I put the thought of getting hurt before the tournament into the universe, I set myself up to do exactly that. He went to bump sweep me and I posted. There was a brief pause after I posted and then I guess he figured it didn’t work because he didn’t do it hard enough and he put all his force behind another bump. This forced me to roll over every finger of my left hand. I immediately screamed in pain (it hurt!) and rolled over onto my hand and off the mat. To my horror, I even started crying. Not because it hurt but because I feared that all of the hard work I’ve put into getting ready to compete being was going to be wasted because I had just hurt my hand.
I took some time to ice and evaluate the injury. It hurt but I was pretty sure nothing was broken. I have rolled over fingers before so I anticipated that I was going to have a rough few days of swollen fingers and inability to bend them. I was really upset that it was going to affect my ability to train this week as I had a whole list of things I wanted to work on but I was just hoping it would be functional by Saturday.
While I was icing, the coach who was running class came over to check on me. He was very nice and very concerned about my hand. He told me that he had seen it about to happen and that next time I should be really careful to tuck the hand and just go with the sweep. Now that I am out of the heat of the moment, I am willing to admit there is probably something technique-wise I did wrong here. Maybe I posted too close to my body or didn’t have my fingers positioned right, but at the time, this really aggravated me. To my mind, this happened because my partner was going inappropriately hard given our size difference and I was mad at him for doing it and mad at my coach for implying it was my fault for not going with the sweep.
I lined up at the end of class with my teammates in a very sullen mood. My rolling partner apologized several times and obviously felt bad (I am willing to admit that very few people would start a roll thinking “I hope I hurt her hand!”) but I just couldn’t find it in me to be nice to him. I of course said “it’s ok” or something of the sort but I couldn’t bring myself to do anything more to make him feel better. After class ended, I packed up my stuff and quietly headed out.
As the night continued on I went from feeling angry to feeling depressed. I was thinking about the increasing frequency of injuries in the last year and wondering if I was doomed to a life of forever being hurt. I started to wonder if regularly being the only girl on the mat meant that I was just going to have to deal with getting hurt more. I will admit it, I indulged in a full out pity party.
I don’t like my pity parties to last more than a night so the next day I started to think about how I got hurt and what I could do to prevent it in the future. I think that it is a fair statement to say that anyone who is smaller or weaker than almost all of their training partners has to be aware of physical safety much more than their bigger, stronger counterparts. I have already said in this post that I felt uncomfortable while rolling with my partner so why did I continue to do so? I think partly because he is generally a nice guy and I didn’t want to make him feel bad. But largely I think, and this has always been an issue with me, that I don’t want to admit to the guys I train with that I can’t handle rolling with someone. I often feel like an outsider as it is and wonder if I have what it takes to train with the guys. I am always anxious that I am a bad training partner for them, to the point I sometimes feel guilty about messing up training for the person drilling with me. How much worse would it be if I had to admit to them, and to myself, that they are too big and strong for me to roll with?
Logically I know that this is ridiculous. If you feel like you are being physically assaulted during a roll and are afraid you are going to get hurt, you have every right to ask your partner to lower the intensity level or even just stop the roll. I just know that in practice I am going to have a hard time doing this. I will let pride and stubbornness get in the way of good sense (it’s somewhat my thing).
So I tried to think of a plan going forward to avoid more injuries but I don’t know that I was successful. I am going to try to be more selective about rolling partners. I am going to try to stop being an idiot and tell people in the future if I am not comfortable rolling with them. After that, I got nothing.
Of course I know that avoiding injury altogether in jiu-jitsu is not going to happen. It’s a combat sport after all! However I feel that I’ve had a number of injuries that have been caused by or compounded by the fact that I was outsized and outstrengthed and I’d like to cut down on those. They’re not fun.
I am happy to report that my hand is doing very well today. It’s still slightly swollen and bruised but I can close my fingers all the way and I suspect that once that adrenaline starts pumping I won’t even know that it was hurt this week. I was even able to go train last night! So the goal right now is to focus on the tournament and then after that…I don’t know. Body armor?