Monday, 1 February 2010

A layman's journey into Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu: Part 3

Submitting My Ego

It’s Tuesday afternoon and I have the day off work, so I am heading to the gym to train at the new daytime class. There is something about training during the day; it makes you feel more committed and hardcore. Like in some way you are living the life of a professional athlete and all the guys that go to the evening classes are a pack of part-timers. It’s a fleeting thought that is soon sobered up by my part-timer cardio and the familiar faces of my fellow white belts upon arrival. We go through the now accustomed structure of the class, warming up, techniques, drilling and then sparring.

Sparring, for many, is the most enjoyable part of the class and that’s basically because you get to fight, and let’s be honest that’s what we are all here to do. However, the beauty of sparring is not mindlessly smashing whoever is in front of you, as appealing as that might sound. The exciting and enriching thing about sparring is that it is like learning to speak lots of different languages. In each opponent you face, you encounter Jiu-Jitsu spoken with a different accent, with its own phrasing and subtle nuances. Some languages are flowing, expressive and colourful. Others are stern, rigid and staccato.

When rolling with an opponent you can do one of two things: You can learn another person’s language, interpret it and then use that knowledge to attempt to submit them. Or you can force your opponent to speak your dialect and overwhelm them with your large vocabulary; basically you give them a thorough beat down. To be honest both styles are useful and there is a time and a place for both approaches on the mat.

In this particular session of sparring I found myself faced with the black belt instructor. We began rolling and I sensed he was giving me an opportunity to express myself, to speak my language. He was beginning to see how vast my vocabulary was and recognise the technicality of my grammar. At one point I think I might be ‘making’ him speak my language. Then out of nowhere he launches a diatribe of what I can only describe as Third Reich German. He stacks my guard, rams his forearm into my throat and presses down with the force of twenty men. I tap, thankful again for life’s little gifts, like breathing. He then hands me ‘A beginner’s guide to speaking Jiu-Jitsu’ phrasebook and sends me on my way.

But school is not out, my next opponent is a guy whose nickname is ‘The Animal’....Come on! This dude is short and stocky and is known to train like a pro-athlete in his spare time (he is always eating energy foods). It was like being handed from Hitler to Stalin. I have two options, I can play it safe, be conservative and survive or I can go at him like a spider monkey. With the spirit of that particular primate on my side, I decide to go for it.

This guy is tough with a ridiculously strong base, but I utilise my athleticism and agility and keep moving my hips. I manage to pull him from my half-guard back into my full guard. To be honest from there it’s all just a blur of scrambles and reactive movements. Some how I found myself on his back with the Black belt who is now watching screaming “GET YOUR HOOKS IN, GET YOUR HOOKS”….oh yea, hooks….wow, I’m getting my hooks in!….I am on the animals back, with my hooks in!… I came within a hair’s breadth of getting a collar choke, but he rode it out and eventually submitted me.

Afterwards I was exhausted, I had given that fight everything I’d got. It was one of the most intense rolls I had had to date and I’d done ok. To my surprise at the end of the class the black belt awarded me with the first stripe for my white belt. He said I had displayed good technique and the ability to apply it in a fight. I felt like the don. I was no longer at the bottom of the heap. I had progressed and it felt good.

The next week at training before the class started we were lining up as is customary in front of the instructor in belt order. I was told to move up the line ahead of my non-stripped white belt contemporaries. The instructor then told the other white belts that they should be trying to smash me, so that was nice. Later in sparring, I was killing it, really pulling off some sweet submissions. I then noticed there was a new guy there, a visitor…an intruder. He was a white belt too, but he obviously had some previous experience. I felt the need to defend the legitimacy of my stripe and honour the name of my gym.

When we eventually met face to face, I was ready for him. Sparring began and I gave up my back quickly and cheaply and we stayed in a fight for grips for 5mins. The clock beeped and I was royally peeved off. How could this happen? I was angry and disappointed with myself. I thought “we must fight again! … I must avenge the shame I have brought upon my dojo!” I regrettably went over to the instructor, fuelled by my damaged and blind ego, and asked if I could roll again with this intruder. He declined and said only if the guy came back the next week. I honestly sounded like a 13 year old boy who had just been beaten in table tennis at youth club and wanted an on the spot re-match.

Granted I am only in the very early stages of my fledgling Jiu-jitsu career, but I am finding out very quickly that jiu-jitsu is all about highs and lows. Sometimes I leave the gym elated and enthused, pleased with my game and its growth. Other times I leave the gym dejected left to mull over and replay my mistakes in the quiet of my own thoughts on the tube ride home. "How did he catch me with that?" or "I am so much better than that dude". These are just some of the thoughts swirling around my head after a particularly challenging session.

I think I have come to realise that my ego is pretty sensitive and susceptible to feeling sorry for it’s self. To be honest, I do not think it has suffered such a severe bashing in recent years. I think as adults we tend to protect our egos from challenge and the risk of damage. I think the modern man (generally speaking) is kind of like Clint Eastwood's character in the movie Gran Torino. He has this sweet vintage sports car and all he does is wash and polish it. He never takes it out for a drive. He is not willing to risk it getting damaged in order to experience and enjoy its speed and power. Maybe he has even become intimidated by it, not sure whether he can now handle its raw horse power.

I think my ego has been hidden away in the garage for too long. I have been polishing it, proud of it, but I have not really been testing it. Now that it's out and being driven it's getting dented all over the place. Big monster trucks in sweaty white gi's keeping bashing into the side of it making the engine sputter to a halt.
I have been exposed; the fighter I am in my head is not the fighter that goes out onto the mat. I am faced with two options: I can go back to the safety of vicariously living through “beat'em up” video games and after watching world class fighters on YouTube get defeated vacuously declare "They had no heart" or "They should have kept it standing". Or I can face up to my shortcomings and mistakes, allow them to educate me, train hard and become a badass. It’s a bit like the guitar hero phenomenon. You can stay in your room and play a game that is vaguely musical or you can go buy a real guitar, learn it, start a band and get some gigs.

Spectating and mimicry are fine, but they are not for me.... I want the real thing.

By K.G McGlade

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