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”.