I competed at NY Open this past weekend. I got 1st place after 3 tough matches. First here are some video highlights (with the usual monotone commentary) and then some random notes on the whole experience.
I took Megabus up to NYC, and slept obnoxiously the whole way up, sitting next to a huge dude who kept saying sorry for touching me with his elbow. It made me realize that when two dudes have to be touching on a bus, it’s best not to acknowledge this. Also, “sorry” like “fuck” are words that are good to use in moderation. The more you use them, the more they lose their power to convey a genuine message that they originally carried.
I love the New York subway. It’s a giant grab bag of characters. I took the 1 train uptown to City College of NY and it was stuffed to the gills. And remarkably, a couple of stops into my trip, a group of four musicians got on (with drums, guitar, etc) and started playing a bluesy soulful song. They got a ton of dirty looks for taking up valuable space, but I enjoyed the hell out of the show. Given how crowded it was, it felt like we were all on a sinking Titanic listening to the last band we’ll ever hear. It occurred to me that there are not many cities in the world where I could’ve experienced this. I would’ve given them money but I only had 20 dollar bills. And the show was not quite THAT good.
David Jacobs knows who I am
David Jacobs (see interview) is a well-known and respected long-time black belt competitor. I’ve encountered him only online as basically a voice of reason on the jiu jitsu forums. It so happened that he was the ref for all of my matches. The funny thing is I felt a bit of pressure because of that. I wanted to make sure I don’t stall and that I use clean technical jiu jitsu. If I ever get a stalling call, I’m always disappointed with myself, but especially if the call comes from a competitor I look up to. Anyway, after my matches, he briefly stopped me and said “I just realized that you’re Lex”. More than anything else, that seemed like an acknowledgement that I am slowly becoming one of the “regulars” on the competition scene.
Moving up a weight division
After a full breakfast, two snacks, and nonstop nervous drinking of water at the tournament, I weighed in at a remarkably low 182 lbs with my gi (just a half lbs over my usual weight class of middleweight). But I decided earlier in the week that I will move up a weight class to work on making sure that I will never let myself use “I’m not at my goal competition weight” as an excuse for not competing. My first opponent weighed in at 194. I was proud of myself for taking a step in the direction that I felt was right based on the circumstances. As many people do, I let conventional wisdom influence my thinking too much. Part of competing, is gaining the confidence to explore and figure out what works for you. Luckily I did well, but the biggest challenge is when I fail not to blame it on any one aspect or decision but to continue exploring.
Coaching and competition training
I am lucky enough to train with a lot of top-notch jiu jitsu folks. In the last few months Tim Carpenter, Josh Vogel, and Drew Vogel have been running competition training sessions that helped get everyone mentally prepared for competition. I think these sessions have also helped bring the team together. I’ve competed at many tournaments where none of my friends or teammates were there, but the NY Open was the opposite of that this time. A lot of people I train with were there to cheer each other on. It was great to see Tim watch over my matches. A few times he would gesture what I need to do technique-wise, but mostly he was a reassuring presence which is a huge advantage mentally. Dan Haney and Stefanos were screaming their heads off, all great very technical detailed instructions. Jeremy, Myles, Lollie, Charlie, Barry, Mike, Henry, Alex, and many other buddies of mine were there as well. My judo coach Ray Huxen (and Eric too) were there. Ray is the best human being ever, period.
Enjoying good conversation with good friends
This tournament, like many, allowed me to see some of my favorite people. I’m often too mentally preoccupied (aka nervous about competing) to enjoy myself, but that’s getting better. Ultimately, I want to be the guy who needs zero time to mentally prepare for a match. I want to be able to joke around one second and the next be ready to step on the mat for “battle”. Those are two different worlds, but I don’t see why switching from one to the other should require more than a couple of seconds.
I have an insane month of work with deadline on top of deadline so I’m not committing myself to anything but just enjoying regular hard training, drilling, etc. However, I am distinctly aware of the fact that I enjoy competing more when I compete more. So I hope to get in a couple of tournaments in May (both judo and bjj). I am keeping my eye on Worlds but am likely not going as it is sandwiched between two trips (Chicago and San Fran) for me. But as with a lot of big tournaments, I may just get the stupid urge to sign up one of these nights, and do it on a whim.