I know it’s been a while but I figure it’s time to get back to this blogging business. I haven’t really been intentionally ignoring it, I just am having trouble thinking of brilliant things to say about training.
When last I left off, I had just registered for the NY Open and decided to start tournament training again. Training for the tournament went ok but not as well as I would have liked. Even though mentally I wanted to train more and get focused, I found that life doesn’t always care about my training. In the past I have been able to train 5-6 days a week (sometimes more) for tournaments and I never felt prepared. So this time when I was lucky to get to training 3 days during the week, I really didn’t feel prepared. There were many times I didn’t think I’d be able to handle it and wanted to pull out from the tournament but I had already committed to it so I decided I was going to do it.
April 11th came and with it the NY Open. I only had one other person in my division (the joys of being a women’s master competitor) and it was someone I know and I knew it would be a challenging match. I wanted to take her down, get on top and stay there. I was able to get the takedown and I did get on top but I failed at staying there. Once she reversed the positions I could not get back on top and she ended up keeping me on bottom the rest of the match. She went for a few submissions which I defended but I just couldn’t escape. I have issues every now and then where when I feel stuck on bottom, I start to feel very panicky. Unfortunately this panic decided to show up during my match. I actually had to fight the urge to tap just because I started to freak out. So my takeaways from this are work on keeping position and stop freaking out. I am not sure how to work on that second one, the idea of asking people to smother me is very unappealing.
After my division was done I fought a brief battle with myself over doing the absolute division. On the one hand I figured it would be more matches and why not do it but on the other I felt I had done poorly in my division, I was still feeling the aftereffects of the match and it felt kind of weird to me to lose and still compete in absolute. In the end I decided I would compete. I had two matches in the absolute division. My goals were the same for these matches as in my previous: get the takedown, get on top, stay on top.
In my first match I was able to succeed at all this. I got the takedown and ended up in half guard. Eventually I passed and I got to side and spent pretty much the entire rest of the match there. I used shoulder pressure and I went for a few subs, mostly ezekiels. When rolling, I like to get to side control and then transition to mount and go for subs (my favorite being an arm triangle) but I was really hesitant to do that in the match. In the end I sort of wished I had gone for more. Oh well…I won this match on points.
My second match was against a friend who trains close to me and who I often train with at open mats. She is very fast and strong and always gives me trouble. She went for a snap down (I think) and I got on top and sprawled out. She ended up getting me in guard and then continually broke my posture down. She has a very active guard and went for armbars a lot. I defended and eventually she got out to my back (I forget how) and she took mount as well. I was on the defense the whole time and ended up losing on points. This was good enough for a bronze (which I split with a teammate) as we had 9 competitors.
After the tournament, I left for a relaxing vacation in Punta Cana (I highly recommend everyone take a vacation after a tournament) and had a lot of time to reflect on it. I always go through a minor slump when I lose at a tournament but it was worse this time. It was very emotional losing for many reasons and I started thinking that maybe it was time to realize jiu-jitsu is done with me.
I wasn’t just reacting to losing but to the ongoing struggle I’ve had getting back into jiu-jitsu after my yearlong fun with a herniated disc. Getting back to where I used to be is not very easy and I feel like I’m stuck here being overweight and out of shape for jits. Switching gyms has been difficult and even though I knew many of the people who train there and the coaches before I started, at times I still feel very much like an outsider. This feeling was intensified after the tournament.
However after a few days of contemplating being done with jits, I came back to sanity and realized that I didn’t want to quit jits. I still very much love it and I still feel like it’s part of who I am but the struggle to get back to where I was before is very hard. I guess it’s only natural to feel the urge to give up when the struggle is hard but I don’t want to leave something I love because it got hard.
So in the end I am pretty happy that I pushed myself to compete. I definitely identified things I need to work on and it has given me new determination to get out of this slump and commit myself to getting to where I want to be. I know that life is not going to get less hectic anytime soon and that I am still going to be lucky to get to the gym 3 times a week but I am ok with making slow and steady progress. It’s better than no progress at all.
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.
I had kind of big moment in my quest to get back to pre-injury me last weekend. My gym held its first in-house no-gi tournament. This was the second time we had an in-house tournament at the gym, the first being a gi tournament in October right after I started training again after initially hurting my knee. I went to the tournament in October and ran a table but inside I was miserable watching my teammates and friends compete, knowing I wasn’t physically able.
I have known this tournament was coming for a while and as soon as it was announced (late December if I recall), I made the decision that come hell or high water, I was going to compete this time. So I’ve been training for a while knowing in the back of my head that I was going to finally compete again after 8 months. Although this was probably not the same thing as going to the Pan Ams or something, we do have some awesome competitors in the Philadelphia area and I knew it would be a challenge for me.
Since I want to get back to competing more, I thought this would be a good way to get my feet wet, thinking it would be less pressure and easier to compete at an in-house. I also wanted to see how the knee handled competition. Even though I have decided I should start competing again, I wouldn’t say that my knee is exactly in agreement so I was nervous about that.
Mostly I was right that this was a good way to re-introduce myself to competing. Although there is an element of pressure when you are competing in your gym, and it seems I have ability to work myself into a state of nervous nausea no matter the environment, it was definitely more laid back than your bigger tournaments.
I ended up being in a 3 person division with someone I was familiar with but did not know personally until last weekend and another person I know very well and very much enjoy training with. We had competed once before and she beat me so I gently nudged her into this tournament, joking that I wanted my chance at revenge.
I first fought the person I didn’t know and managed to take her back and submit her via RNC. In a moment of absurdity on the mat, I was close to getting into a fight with the ref…who also happened to be my coach. As it was our tournament he was reffing a mat and I was fighting on his mat. We had to reset at one point because we got too close to the other mat. We had been in turtle and I managed to get my opponent over and slide into side control. He stopped us and put us back in the middle and told us to get into turtle. I told him I was in side control. He told me no, I was in turtle. I came very close to continuing to fight about it but I realized it wouldn’t be worth it. Many times in these situations it’s your coach fighting with the ref about it and here I was ready to fight with my coach. In the end it didn’t matter but just for the record, I have seen the video my opponent posted of the fight and I was definitely in side control (someday when I am feeling brave I will point that out to my instructor…so probably never). Oh well, no one can claim that he was easy on me!
My second fight was against my friend. We had a very back and forth battle, so much so that when it ended and I saw the score was 2-0 I asked who had the 2 because I wasn’t sure. Apparently it was me so I ended up winning the division and getting this neat medal.
Mostly I am happy with how the tournament went. It felt good to compete after 8 months and although my knee was problematic before and after the fights, I didn’t notice it on the mats (adrenaline and fear are great painkillers). My goals for the tournament were to be aggressive, not pull guard and stay on top and I felt that I executed them well for the most part.
However I still have lots to work on. I spent a lot of time scrambling so I wouldn’t end up on the bottom with my friend and she was very good at defending everything I tried, probably one of the drawbacks of us training together fairly often! She also could have easily taken the win, I think that the 2 points I got came at the beginning when she tried a takedown and missed it and I just fortuitously fell on top of her. She also came close to passing at the end and would have won had she done so. Oh and did I mention we are likely to fight again in two weeks in NY (as we are the only two in our division thus far I would even say highly likely)? So I definitely want to tighten up those holes, gi is much more her game and I know she’s going to give me hell.
I always tell people that I don’t care about winning or losing at a tournament as long as I feel I went out there and did everything I was capable of. So I have to consider this tournament a success. I have a lot to work on but much to build off as well. These were my first wins as a blue belt and I hope to continue the streak!
Sorry for the delay in updating you all about Grappler’s Quest. I promised myself a day of laying around doing nothing yesterday and I was really serious about making that happen. Anyway, on with the tournament breakdown!
I arrived at the arena around 12pm but was not surprised to see that they were running behind after witnessing the inefficiency of weigh-ins the day before. So after a couple of hours of waiting around they called my division and I went to the table to compete.
As I hinted about in my post Saturday, I was feeling very nervous about competing in the advanced division. 18 months is hardly what I’d consider “advanced” in BJJ and I was feeling very worried about who I was facing. After seeing some of the girls compete in gi, I realized that most of them in my division were purple, a couple of browns and even one black belt from another system (not following BJJ belts) who I’ve seen compete professionally in MMA as well. In contrast to most of my other competitions, I did not go first this time and was actually the only person who had a bye in the first round. I tried to watch some of the other matches but was trying not to feel nervous so I was going in and out with attention.
Finally it was my turn to go and I stepped on the mat. The girl jumped guard almost immediately (I suspected she would as I had seen her do it in her pervious match). She had a deep hook behind my head so I went to the ground and was ducking my head to clear it. I honestly can’t tell you what happened next or what I did wrong but the next thing I knew I was on my back and she had an arm bar locked on tight. I tried to turn into her and come up on my knees to escape it but she had it really tight and when I turned I heard (and felt) a pop so I tapped.
Well damn. That really sucked. I stood there at the end of the match holding my very sore elbow as they raised the other girl’s hand and couldn’t believe I had been almost immediately submitted again. I once again felt humiliated that my coach and my teammates and some friends who came to watch all saw me get submitted, probably inside of about 45 seconds this time.
I left the mat and told myself that I couldn’t focus on it because I might have another match (I did not) and I still had gi left. As the hours passed and I had time to reflect on my match, all I could conclude at the time was that I was probably outclassed. Whatever she did to transition to that arm bar was quite smooth (even talking with my coach later he wasn’t quite sure how she got it) and I got caught. My friend took video of it so I am anxious/apprehensive to see it so I can figure out what went wrong.
Before I go on to gi, I have to take a brief detour to complain about why it sometimes (often) stinks to compete as a woman. At first after I finished my match, I couldn’t help but think about the unfairness that I had to compete at advanced with just under two years of experience while the guys had an intermediate division at 18-36 months (I won’t even go into the lack of age divisions for women).
I don’t really want to be whiny and complain about things I can’t change but as I spent the next couple of hours icing my elbow in the hopes that it would be functional for gi, it occurred to me that having women fight as advanced with 18 months of experience was also quite dangerous. As I watched some of the earlier matches and the other competitors were going for foot locks and leg locks it occurred to me that I was in a division where anything was legal and I felt quite unprepared for that as a blue belt. I am not saying my elbow got popped because I don’t know how to defend arm bars as a blue belt, I know that could have happened in any of my past matches. But at 18 months there are a great many people who are still white belts and I just see a lot of potential for injury in having a division with advanced rules for people who have only been training a year and a half.
I understand that women’s divisions are often quite sparse and that is the reasoning behind the current breakdown but considering we had 7 women in my division, maybe they can add another bracket for women in the future. Ok end of rant…thank you for listening!
So after a few hours of icing, watching some of the guys from my team compete and watching one of my coaches have an epic 70+ minute match with Wilson Reis and then win $1000 in the Rough Zen submission only tournament, it was time for gi.
As I was waiting for the match before mine to end I was thinking about how awesome it would be to come back from my poor showing during no-gi and have a Hollywood moment where I triumphed despite my sore arm. You know, me standing in the crane position while her coaches were yelling “SWEEP THE LEG” (in French as it turns out).
However after my rather insignificant showing in no-gi all I could think was “just don’t get submitted this time, whatever happens, just don’t get submitted!”. In retrospect this is probably not the greatest attitude to go into a match with. So I went in just hoping to last the round and that was exactly what happened.
I do not remember all the details of the match (and sadly I don’t think anyone taped this one). I was trying to do the traditional, knee in the middle guard pass and my coach told me to push up on her belt. I could tell because of how loose her belt was that I was just pushing it right into her boobs. I could see the discomfort on her face and I just couldn’t keep doing it. I didn’t tell my coach that at the time but I just didn’t want to pass guard that way! Sorry coach 🙂
Anyway she eventually got to my back. She tried to go for a bow and arrow and I defended it. We spent most of the match with her attacking and me defending. My only moment of offense was when I noticed she had her feet crossed on my back and I went for the leg lock.
So again, not the result I wanted but I was at least happy that I was able to hang in for the round. I think finally being able to last the entire match is some progress and hopefully will move me past my “I can’t compete with blue belts” mental roadblock.
For now the game plan is to take some time off to heal up (at least two days, possibly the entire week depending on the elbow) then get right back at it. My friend suggested some sports psychology books I will read to work on the mental part of my game and I need to really start working standup more. I just have to stay persistent and it will pay off eventually!
I am writing this post from a hotel room in North Jersey (northern New Jersey for those of you outside of the area) where I am getting ready to compete in Grappler’s Quest in a few hours. I am feeling pretty calm and prepared right now but I typically am until right before I step on the mat.
This tournament is a new first for me though. It is the first time I cut weight to make a division. I got down to about 145 for the NY Open and the weight divisions for GQ were 120-139.9 or 140-160. I really had no desire to come in at the bottom of a 20 pound division so I decided to go for the 120-140 division.
After a good meal following the NY Open, I started this week at 148. I restricted all salt and started drinking massive amounts of water on Monday, two gallons a day until Thursday where I cut back to one gallon. I also cut back on food so that I was hardly eating any sugar (I typically try to stick to paleo anyway so this wasn’t too hard but I did miss fruit!) and skipped my post gym shake for the week.
Yesterday I woke up at an even 144. I had some coffee in the morning (as I had to function as a human I could not skip coffee) and then about 6 ounces of water. For the rest of the day I had about 8 walnuts, a spoonful of coconut oil and sips of water when my mouth got so dry I couldn’t stand it.
Around noon I headed to New Jersey wearing sweats (in the midst of quite a heat wave here, my car thermometer was over 100 for most of the drive) and drove the whole way with the windows down so I could get my sweat on. When I got to the hotel and weighed in, I was at 141.2. Close but not there yet.
Luckily I have a training buddy in the area and I headed over to his house where we were going to head to his gym to use the sauna. I decided the time had come to get serious so I put my sweats back on, got in the car and drove to his house (about half an hour) with the windows up and no fan of any kind on in the car.
By the time I got to his house I was drenched and hotter than I’ve ever been in my life. We headed to his gym and I checked my weight there, 139lb and 12oz (it was a very fancy scale). Under 140 but I wanted a little more insurance so I sat in the sauna for a combined 20 minutes or so and sweated out another pound.
We then headed over to the arena where the event is taking place and waited in 3 very long lines. One to get checked off a list and hand stamped (in a completely unfair world the line for those pre-registered was 10x longer than the one for people who were registering there), one for weigh in and, inexplicably, a third to get a receipt that said you registered and weighed in. My official weight was 138.8, woohoo!
I am hoping the knowledge that I am in a lower weight class this time than I’ve ever competed in before will give me a psychological boost when I compete. My coach also suggested warming up more before I compete because I am, as he put it, “a slow starter”. I can’t argue with this, I do tend to ease into rolling like an old lady into a bath. After last week’s pulling guard debacle, I am also determined to stay standing until one of us gets a takedown.
No-gi should be interesting as GQ considers 18 months or more of training to be “advanced” (we’ll get into the unfairness of competing as a woman in another post) so I am curious to see who is in my division. Hopefully if the black belts show up today, they dispatch of me with little damage 🙂 At least gi is blue belt only!
So win or lose today, I just hope I can go out there and leave it all on the mat. A lot of people from my team are competing so it will be a fun day no matter what. Ok, enough typing…time to get ready for war!
I guess I should have put “spoiler alert” in front of the title. Oh well. Now you know how the NY Open went for me. I am not really going to focus on the details of the tournament but for those of you who like such things here is a brief synopsis: I pulled half guard (despite my coach and I agreeing right before I stepped on the mat that I was not going to pull guard no matter what) and then got smashed from the top and finished with a Kimura.
I feel obligated to warn you that my typical cycle after a loss is a day or two of self-loathing and doubt followed by a few days of figuring out what went wrong followed by resolve to keep training. So what you are about to read is written while I am in the throes of my “I am the worst jiu-jitsuer who ever jiu-jitsued” phase. Probably I should apologize for that but I am too bogged down in self-pity to care.
I try not to get upset just because I lost. I don’t so much care about the win or the loss but every time I compete I go out there hoping to be able to do all that I am capable of. Lately I know I have fallen short (really short) of this and that is what tears me up afterwards.
I know that technically I did things wrong or else she wouldn’t have been able to submit me but I also know that my biggest problem right now is between my ears. I try to focus on the tournament leading up to it. I train aggressively, I visualize what I want to do, I tell myself that I am good enough to roll with whoever might show up and give them a hard time. It all works for me as I am preparing to train. And then I step on the mat.
As I am standing there, staring at the mat, looking at my opponent, I feel the nerves take hold of me. They take control of my mind and make me do things like pull guard despite the fact that my coach and I both agreed I didn’t want to. They take hold of my body and weigh me down so I can’t move like I normally can and I lay there like a rock panicking.
It seems that lately my pattern has been to not draw things out and lose with points but to be submitted quickly and early, without having any kind of offense to speak of. Like I said I don’t mind losing (much) but I feel like I do it so spectacularly that I can’t help but feel shame as I step off the mat. I feel shame that my coach drove all the way to NYC and I was on the mat for 90 seconds. I feel shame that my friends and teammates in attendance watched me get dominated. I feel shame every time I have to answer a text from a friend asking how I did.
In my brain I know I shouldn’t feel ashamed. I went out there. I tried. I did more than a lot of other people do. My coach doesn’t care if we win or lose, he just wants us to go try. Many people got submitted at the open, probably even some of them earlier than me, it is highly unlikely that my match was the talk of the tournament. My friends are probably not going to stop hanging out with me and seek the winner of my match because they don’t want to be associated with a loser anymore. But in my heart I can’t help but feel like a failure.
I went to the tournament with a teammate and friend of mine. I have always admired her presence when she competes. She is the nicest person off the mat but you can see a change come over her as she is about to compete. She becomes extremely focused and intense. Saturday was no different. I watched her fight like a beast for 3 tough matches and take silver in her division, only losing on points in the final.
As happy as I was for her, I couldn’t help but wonder why it was so easy for her and so hard for me. Being a former fat kid, I don’t have a history of competing in athletics. Am I just the proverbial old dog trying to learn a new trick? Do I just not have the mentality to compete? Am I too old? As a 33 year old woman I am lucky if the tournament I am fighting even has a masters divisions, let alone anyone registered in said division.
I was thinking all this as I walked off the mat and ran into my teammate and friend who was also there to compete. I told him that I wasn’t sure I could keep competing because I didn’t know if I’d ever have the mentality for it. He told me to remember it is a journey and I am not there yet.
I am somewhat of a stubborn person (sorry for those of you who know me and may have choked while laughing, I should have warned you not to take in any liquids before reading that) and I am also a fighter. Sometimes I doubt that but you don’t keep coming back to jiu-jitsu night after night if there isn’t something inside of you that wants to fight and win. These characteristics make it really hard for me to give up. Ultimately I’d rather be a loser than a quitter. I also truly believe that if I keep making myself compete I will figure out how to do it better.
So although I am bummed out to have lost and feeling pretty awful still, I know that I will keep going. I don’t really have any more time to dwell on this loss as I am competing in Grappler’s Quest this weekend. Hopefully I can channel this upset and anger into my fights there and have a better show. As I am fond of saying, the only answer to jiu-jitsu problems is more jiu-jitsu.
Well I am sure you are all waiting for an update on the NY Open. Was it my moment of triumph? Did I go down in defeat? Did I get so nervous that I was in the bathroom puking when they were calling my name and never made it to the mat? Read on to find out!
I drove to a training partner’s house early on Saturday morning and we went to NYC together. We got there early enough to watch a training partner go. He lost his first match by one point and then we had a lot of waiting left to do until our divisions (mine was still about 2 hours away, his was 5) so we settled in to watch the action.
As we were sitting there I was looking around the venue at the other girls who were most likely competing. I was surprised to find that instead of the usual panic and fear I feel when looking at potential opponents, I just felt mild curiosity. I have met so many BJJ people recently, including lots of girls, that I am learning not to feel intimidated by them. BJJ people are awesome, whether you are fighting them or not.
My coach arrived shortly after we settled in and came up to give us pep talks. We talked about game plans and being aggressive and fighting hard. All that good stuff. I was so paranoid about making weight that I kept checking my weight to figure out if I could eat or drink anything. Nothing would have been worse to me than doing all that hard work and then missing weight (I weighed in about 3 pounds under but was still paranoid until the last second).
It came close to time for my division so I headed down to the bullpen area and tried to do some warmups. I talked to my coach again, tried my best to settle in and then continued to try to figure out who was in my bracket. Again, I was surprised that I still didn’t feel the fear that I have become accustomed to at tournaments. I felt nervous and anxious but I wasn’t scared of the other girls (yes this is how I often feel at tournaments).
They started calling girls for my division and I knew I would be the first match because I was seeded first. I didn’t realize that we were going right then but whatever, better to get it over with. I think the nerves definitely ratcheted up a notch when I stepped on the mat. I forgot to shake the ref’s hand, I almost walked in at the wrong spot, I was a total mess. I was so concentrated on attacking her first, that I was antsy and ready to go.
Finally the match started. As soon as we bumped fists I moved and tried to see if I could go for the double. She got grips high right away so I knew it wasn’t there and moved on to my alternate plan of two handed lapel trip/throw thing (it’s hard to explain). I went for it and it sort of worked but not all the way so it ended up being more like a guard pull.
I don’t really remember how but she got to half guard and then passed to side control. Dammit. I hate side control. I hate side control more than any other position in jiu-jitsu. I will happily give someone my back instead just because I hate trying to get out from under side control. I managed to get my outside arm between her body and mine and I was going to hook her arm and shoot out from under her. I like this escape because I find it is easier to move myself than to move my partner off of me.
As I went for the escape she went for mount and I turned to my side and got up into turtle. I love turtle. It’s been my go-to defense for a while now. I am very comfortable there. Unfortunately for me, she seemed to be quite comfortable attacking from there. As I rolled up she followed close and tight, got a grip on my lapel and threw on one hell of a clock choke. I tried briefly to roll and push and get her off me but ultimately I could not and I had to tap.
I tapped. I lost. I spent months training for, dieting for and visualizing this moment. It was supposed to my moment of victory and I blew it. I stood there as they raised her hand, hugged my opponent and congratulated her and then walked off the mat feeling angry and defeated. My coach gave me my stuff and told me we’d talk in a few minutes. By now he knows I typically need some time to pull myself together after I lose a match.
I found an empty set of steps and sat there and sulked. I tried to think of what I had done wrong. I felt like I had probably panicked when she got that clock choke and I should have kept fighting through it. I thought about how my match had probably lasted a minute or less and how maybe this was the final sign I needed to show me that I am just not good enough to compete.
I went to the bathroom and splashed water on my face and headed back to where my teammate was sitting. He told me good job and I told him I wasn’t quite ready to be ok about it. He understood and headed off to take a break (he had nicely sat there with everyone’s stuff while I competed). I sat there with my head hung low thinking about how awful I had did.
My coach came up to talk to me and started with “I know there is nothing I can say to make you feel better yet…” and I immediately started tearing up. I hate this. I am not a crier at all in everyday life but it seems like as soon as something goes wrong in BJJ, I turn into the stereotypical weeping woman. I feel bad that he has to deal with this but I think he is getting used to it by now.
I told him that I was upset because I felt like I had panicked and tapped and I know I can do better than that. He told me that he doesn’t care if we win or lose, he was happy that I executed the game plan (going right in and going for the takedown) and that I didn’t give up but kept trying to fight when I got in a bad position. He told me that I just got caught and that’s something you can’t really train for.
I told him I shouldn’t have panicked in the clock choke and should have kept fighting. He told me it looked pretty tight to him (my teammate backed this up when he returned). I sat there thinking about what he said. I thought about that clock choke. Although I am familiar with them and have drilled them and occasionally go for them myself, they are not something I see a ton of while training. Was my defeat due to something as simple as a lack of experience and not because I had messed up on some epic level?
In the end I have to accept that this is the case but I also know that I need to do some more hardcore training to get ready to compete. I also need to continue with my healthy diet because I think I am still a weight class over where I should be.
I ran into one of the coaches at my gym on Friday night when I was out getting supplies for Saturday at the grocery store. He asked me how I was feeling about the tournament and I told him I was ready. That I had trained harder than I ever had before and I felt I could win. He told me that no matter what happened that was training that would not go to waste. I keep telling myself that as I try to not let myself got bogged down in self-pity and doubt. I learned a lot in the last couple of months of training for this tournament and I have made significant progress since my last tournament in February when I basically panicked and shut down.
It is really hard not to feel awful about losing and I am dreading going in tonight and having to tell everyone about it but I am not ready to give up yet. I feel like there is a breakthrough coming and I just have to work hard and keep training and I’ll get there.
Ironically I ran into a friend of mine later in the evening and she told me I had a good match. I told her that no, I had done pretty awful. She said “hey you went out there, that’s more than most people will do”. I remembered my own words from Friday and smiled at her and said “you’re right”.
Finally it’s tomorrow, the NY Open! As I prepare for battle I have been thinking about competition a lot.
Probably anybody who has competed and lost has had a coach or training partner or friend tell them “it takes a lot of guts just to compete”. I have heard this after losing. I always figured it’s just something nice that people tell you when you’ve lost and they don’t know what else to say.
As I’ve been around competition and training more though I’ve realized that this is more than a consolatory phrase uttered to a defeated athlete who is wondering why they competed in the first place, it is the God’s honest truth. Competing in a jiu-jitsu tournament is about so much more than just fighting. You are going one on one with another person and putting yourself on display for all to see. The wear and tear on your psyche is far worse than what happens to your body (hopefully). Just the thought of doing this is so terrifying to some people that they will never step foot on a competition mat. Just by doing so you’ve won a battle that most people are afraid to fight.
One of the things that takes the most guts is going back to competition after a loss. I have seen more than a few guys at my gym go to their first competition with all the confidence and swagger that athletic people in their early 20s tend to have only to see their opponent’s hand raised at the end of the match. Later when the topic of another tournament comes up at the gym they say something along the lines of “I have to train more to be ready” or even the very honest “I don’t want to lose again”.
I hate to lose. When I do poorly in a tournament, I typically spend the next day moping on the couch, eating junk and thinking about why I keep doing this to myself and how I should just stop competing. Shortly after that I think about what I can learn from it. Then I drag my beaten, defeated body back to the gym and work to fix what went wrong at the tournament. It is always hard, especially that first day back when everyone wants to know how the tournament went, but I do it because I feel it’s the best way to improve.
I have worked everyday since my last tournament on improving my game. I have worked to be more aggressive, I have worked on my attitude and I have worked on my diet. I have spent most of every weekend tournament training, much of the time as the only girl fighting a bunch of big, scary dudes (that’s how I see them anyway).
I am ready to win tomorrow. I also know that it is possible I will not. No matter what if someone tells me afterwards that it takes a lot of guts just to compete I will smile and thank them because I know it’s true.
Before I start let me offer my apologies for the delay between posts. Between tournament training, a client going live last week and me being a procrastinator and waiting until the day before they were due to do my taxes, my life has been quite hectic and the last week.
I am in the final preparations for the NY Open on Saturday and am feeling relatively good. I have trained like a maniac, followed my diet and am doing a lot of visualization to try to work on my mental game. The NY Open has been my focus for so long that I am eager to go and put all my hard work to the test.
But as much as I am looking forward to it and trying to use visualization and doing my best to listen to my coach about negative thoughts, I can’t help having moments of doubt. When they creep up I try to tell them to go away and start focusing on positive things but sometimes they just grab hold.
Yesterday was one of those times. As we sometimes do when people are about to compete, we did matches in my gym yesterday at the end of open mat. My coach first paired me up with a blue belt guy. It went awful. I didn’t want to try takedowns because I thought I had little shot of getting him down so I pulled guard but apparently not that well. He was able to get to a standing half-guard, grab my arm and go for a kimura. With him being much stronger than me and in good position from my crappy guard pull, he got it pretty easily and my “match” was over in about 20 seconds (and I might be adding 10 to make myself sound better). Well that was just the ego crusher I did not need while getting ready to compete.
My next match I was paired up with another blue belt girl. As we were going for position on our feet, she accidentally poked me in the eye. It hurt. I told my coach that I needed a minute and tended to my eye the best I could but they had (thankfully) moved on by the time I returned.
So I sat there watching the rest of the matches and cheering and offering advice when I could. After class I went to gather my stuff and sat on the bench, feeling defeated and beat up, exactly the opposite of how I should be feeling going into a competition.
I left the gym and the second the wind hit my eye it got extremely painful and watered like a fountain. I managed to get myself home, driving with only one good eye and running from the parking lot to my house to minimize the wind exposure in my eye. After I got in and cleaned up, I was sitting on the couch trying to mop up the water running out of my eye and feeling sorry for myself.
A BJJ friend of mine had texted me about something earlier and I answered her back and mentioned that I was having a bad BJJ night (anyone who trains gets this). She asked me what was up and I told her of my awful night and how I was feeling not so great about my BJJ just then.
She basically then did exactly what I needed and told me to snap out of it. She told me how much she likes training with me because of my drive, technique, strength and movement and that it was time I believed in myself because I was too good to have doubts.
I really appreciated the kind words and encouragement right when I needed it. This situation is sort of the epitome of the BJJ experience. I felt defeated and was feeling doubts about my ability to continue fighting and an awesome teammate was there to remind me that I needed to get over it and keep fighting.
Everyone has doubts about their jiu-jitsu whether they compete or not. What matters is how you respond. Do you back down and listen to that voice telling you that you are no good or do you stand up and fight? So as I am once again sitting on my coach dealing with a watery eye (saw the Dr. this morning after a rough night…just a scratch!), I am eagerly awaiting tonight’s class and matches. Today is a new fight and I plan to bring everything I have to the mat tonight.
That is what my coach said to me after my final match at NAGA on Saturday. As you can probably guess, that means things didn’t exactly go my way. I had two matches in no-gi and two matches in gi for a total of 4. I lost every one. Here is my breakdown of the tournament. Apologies in advance, this is gonna be a long post.
I got to the tournament right before 10 which was when the women’s division was supposed to start. Naturally it did not start until 11 so my panicked driving and running from where I parked (like a mile away from the venue) was for naught. As I am a blue belt now I had to fight at the intermediate level in no-gi so I knew I was in for a long wait before my first match. My teammate who was also fighting came early to watch my matches so he helped me warm up which was much appreciated. Another teammate who was not competing came to cheer me on and I was super happy to see her as well. My coach had to teach that morning but he arranged for other guys in our network of schools to coach us. My friend from Massachusetts who is also a blue belt got put into a director’s division (both her and the other woman in the division were thrilled to find someone their size who was also over 40 to fight) and had to go first. I coached her match which basically means I kept her updated on time left, score and yelled things like “settle down and work the pass!”. Hey it’s better than no coach and she won her match!
After much waiting and pacing and worrying, it was finally time for my first match. I had checked out the other women when I got there (naturally) and I recognized one from the last time I had done NAGA in September. We both competed as beginners then but since she had won the division I had a pretty good feeling she was also in the intermediate division as NAGA is pretty strict about that sort of thing. I was right. They called my first match and it was against her. In September when we fought, I had tried to work a takedown and she caught my head and guillotined me. Knowing this I kept telling myself not to let her get my head, to just try to move in and pull guard. That did not work out. She caught my head again and quickly guillotined me…again. Lost by submission.
Since I lost the first match I had to fight the 3rd person in our bracket next. They offered me a round to recover but since my first match probably lasted about a minute, I told them I was good to go. The first two minutes of this match was us going back and forth with wrestling grips and going for takedowns. We kept getting grips and then disengaging and repeating the process again. Every time we clinched up she would slam her forehead into my head as she went for the grip. I have a beauty of a shiner right now to prove it (more black eye fun in a later post, stay tuned!). I eventually got really sick of standing up so I pulled guard. She quickly got to half mount and then shoved her shoulder right over my mouth and nose so I couldn’t breathe. I had an excellent black belt instructor from another school in our network coaching me and I heard him telling me what to do and it made sense but all I could think was that I couldn’t breathe and before I did anything I had to move her shoulder because I was suffocating. Thinking back on it now I should have just worked the escape and my mouth would have freed up but I panicked. I can’t remember much details about this fight other than she was on top of me for all of it on the ground and I was constantly fighting to breathe. She won on points and I had my second loss.
It was now time to wait for the gi division. I left my mat to go watch my teammate compete and after his first match, our coach showed up. My friend from MA got nervous that she was going to go first in gi again because they made a master’s division for her and two others this time so she asked me to come back to coach her. By the time she went my coach had come over to our mat after finishing with my teammate so he coached her to two more wins and her second gold medal of the day.
Another long wait and it was time for my gi division. They had called me up to the table at the beginning of the day to tell me they didn’t have a gi match for me. I find that there is often a gap with women in the middle of the weight brackets. They had a bunch or women that were in the lightest division (below 120) a few in the highest (above 160) and nothing in between. The guy reffing the table said he had a student who was a very high level white belt who had agreed to fight up a division and asked if I was ok with that. I said I was fine with it but I did notice on the card that she was 25lbs more than me. Through an error of weights on one of the cards (they had turned 191 into 119 which they didn’t realize until the competitors were on the mat and everyone was staring at them thinking “something is off here”) the brackets got all mixed around anyway so it turned out there were 3 of us in my division.
My first gi match was against the high level white belt. We yanked on each other’s gis a bunch of times, both of us trying for takedowns, she eventually broke down my posture and took me down but I got her immediately in guard. She tried to break it and I tried to lock in a triangle. She was able to escape to the side but I came up on my knees and drove her into turtle. I tried to take her back, got my hooks in but I didn’t have the seatbelt grip locked up and she rolled me. She tried to break my guard again and I almost took her back but failed and she ended up in side mount. I tried to bridge into her to escape and she was able to push me back down and quickly go for an Americana. I couldn’t roll into it so I had to tap.
I went to sit next to my coach knowing I’d be fighting again soon and he told me that I could have won that match if I hadn’t hesitated and just kept going. He said he could see where I would stop a split second before finishing a technique because I thought it wouldn’t work and then of course it didn’t. He told me to let the loss go and focus on the next one and believe in the technique.
It was time for my second match and it was the same girl who I had fought second in no-gi. In a moment of true humility I had noticed her waiting around in her gi and saw she had a yellow belt on. This of course means she is not yet 16 so I asked her how old she was. She told me 14. Wonderful. We again spent a lot of time on our feet and eventually I tried to pull guard again (I think, I am fuzzy on this one too). When she got into guard all I could think about was that I didn’t want her to smother me again with her shoulder (she had an entire gi to use this time!) so I was concentrating all my effort on not letting that happen. Unfortunately it meant I let her get an easy pass to mount and while trying to bridge and roll, she x-choked the hell out of me.
I left the mat really upset, I didn’t talk to my coach, I didn’t talk to my teammates, I quickly left the area to go collect myself. I had lost all my matches. I lost my gi matches to a white belt and to a 14 year-old. I had lost in spectacular fashion. I had lost in spectacular fashion in front of my coach. These were all the thoughts going through my head as I stood off to the side and willed myself not to cry.
I eventually gathered myself and went back to the mat as I knew that I was going to have to be there for the medal ceremony and I didn’t want them to drag me out kicking and screaming. My coach came over to talk to me. That was when he told me I was beating myself mentally before I even competed. I told him I knew he was right. I do know he’s right. I have very little confidence in my ability to beat anyone. I go in there thinking that I will lose and then I do. It was my first tournament as a blue belt so I was intimidated by that. In my first match all I could think about was how she beat me before and I didn’t want it to happen again. In my first gi match I thought about how she was bigger than me and how it would be humiliating to lose in front of everyone to a white belt. In my second gi match I thought I couldn’t win because she had beaten me already.
Instead of coming up with reasons I will win, I come up with reasons I will lose. My coach was really nice as we talked about it, he said he understood where I was coming from and gave me some ideas on ways to improve my mental game. I apologized to him for my performance. He told me never to do that. To let it go and move on and he didn’t care if I won or lost.
So I know I have some things to work on. My standup needs a lot of work. I have to learn to not panic if someone smothers me. I need to go harder when I roll even when I am with the boys. I can do all these. But how do I work on my mental game? I think that my lack of confidence is a combination of lower than average self-esteem (fat kid syndrome, you never really move past it) and lack of success in my own training. I don’t know how to fix these. I don’t know how to give myself more self-esteem. A lot of the lack of success in BJJ is probably more of the same self-fulfilling failure. I don’t think I am capable of “winning” any roll so I don’t. It’s a nasty catch-22 that I don’t know how to get out of.
So I thought about ways I could work on this all through the weekend. My coach suggested some books so I will read some of those. But what else can I do to change my attitude? I considered asking teammates what they think I am doing right but that seems too needy or like I am fishing for compliments. So I am going to focus on things I can do for myself. I am going to go into every roll with the thought “I can get on top and I can win” and I am going to keep on going until I do. After class I will think about the positive things I did rather than focus on the negative. Am I going to be able to do this? Will it help if I do? I really don’t know. But if I want to keep competing I need to change my attitude so I’m going to give it my all.