I competed at the 2013 No Gi Pans this past weekend in the adult purple belt medium-heavy division (175 to 188 lbs). The tournament was in NYC at the usual place: City College of New York. I’ve competed at this venue so often that I remember all the little details of the layout: the bathrooms, bullpen, testing scale, locker rooms, water fountains, and even the quiet places you can go to gather thoughts before “battle”.
There’s a moment at a tournament when I first arrive and walk into the hall/gym where the tournament is going on that I feel like I just came back to see a girl that I haven’t seen in a long time, but have loved all along. (Long thoughtful pause as I take a sip of my whiskey and look out the window for a few minutes). I can’t help but smile. That’s how I know I love competing. I might be full of nerves, and thoughts about crap I have to do for work, but the tournament venue feels like home to me.
My division had 15 guys, which is actually pretty light for purple belt adult, but everyone was super tough, and many of the guys could win the division on any given day. That fact was reflected in the matches themselves. It was a low scoring division for the most part. Lots of matches were decided on advantages with no points scored. I lost my second match just in this way, 0-0 with the my 1 advantage to his 3 advantages. Losing is a bitch no matter what happens. There are a lot of lessons to be drawn from that match, but either way a score of 0-0 is a loss for me whether I win or lose.
My first match I won by a few points against a very good guy who won many big tournaments in Europe, and was making his way to America to test out the competition. I usually don’t like talking to my opponents before the match, but he started a conversation with me and his British accent and genuineness as a human being was disarming. Listen, at the end of the day I don’t care about any of the competing crap. I do jiu jitsu because I like the people that do jiu jitsu, and this guy was a good example. I think I can be close friends with a guy before a match and try to kill him during (not literally). I do this all the time in training. I train at 110% with a bunch of good friends every day. Anyway, the more I compete, the less inclined I am to be a cold douchebag before the match. I don’t think it’s a sign of weakness, at least not for me, and not in jiu jitsu.
Here’s the video that first match:
It turns out that his name is Lee Ambler and he is a recent YouTube celebrity of sorts, even making his way onto ESPN2 with the following video:
I think stepping in to control a situation like that is something that the majority of people in this world would not do. For that I give him much respect.
Competition Team Training
I think that competing is one of the best ways to improve your game, as Josh Vogel and I talked about a couple of weeks ago on the Take It Uneasy podcast. Check it out: Episode 5: Competing as a Black Belt, Antifragile Cats, and Megaton. But, obviously, the hardest part is not the actual tournament but the hard training in the weeks and months leading up to it. That’s the stuff that brings people together, competitor or not. I’m not much of a “rah, rah, go team” guy. I’m far too cautious of what that produces in the real world outside the realms of sport in the times of war. But I do believe that a team working hard together to prepare for a competition is a good way to solidify friendships and in so doing help motivate each other to work harder. Funny how kicking each other’s ass brings people closer together. I have made some very close friends in jiu jitsu, and have learned from some incredible mentors, and a lot of that happens during hard training sessions like the following Balance competition training session one week out from the No Gi Pans:
It doesn’t show much except a crowded mat, since I was too focused on training to dedicate much thought to filming it well. But you get the idea. Good coaches, good training partners, good technique.
Losing Occasionally is Good for You, or So I Tell Myself
Overall, as always, it was a good experience, and I got a chance to watch a lot of my friends compete as well. In the last 3 tournaments I did, it so happened that I haven’t lost a match, so losing here was good for me in a way. It made for a long bus ride home and several days of thinking about what I did wrong and how I can fix it. I’m still thinking about it today.
I have several tournaments coming up this month including US Grappling Diamond State Games and the Abu Dhabi World Pro Trials in NYC. There’s a nice mix of gi and no-gi in there, and the level of competition will be incredibly high at the trials. I will not win gold without having to go through a few wars. I’m both dreading it and looking forward to it. The usual.