Cuts like a razor – a New York Open recap
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.