Monday, 1 February 2010

A layman's journey into Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu: Part 4

In the ring, the truth will out.

It's 6am on a Tuesday morning and I am jogging. I hate jogging; it bores the crap out of me. However, what I hate more than jogging is losing a jiu-jitsu fight because I have run out of breath. That feeling of knowing what to do, but not having the energy to do it is infuriating. It’s a terrible reason to lose; it is like you have completely betrayed yourself.

I have my first tournament in five days. This is why I am running, I will not betray myself. The fear of failure will drive a man to great lengths.

As I run I think about my last sparring session. I think about game plans and I hum the Rocky theme tune under my breath. It sometimes helps me to get through a jog by pretending I am acting in the movie of my own life and this is the sports montage. The bit where they show the lead character (in this case me) training for his climatic moment and managing to fit five years of technique and training into a two minute clip set to motivational music. By the end of it he is ready; there is no more that can be passed onto him. Maybe this is just the actor in me coming out, but whatever it takes to get those miles done and get back to that hot shower.

I guess I am taking this quite seriously. I have been drinking green tea obsessively. There is no chance my body has any oxidants left in it, no chance whatsoever. I have taken on my wife’s vegetarian diet; I have made my peace with God… I am ready.
On the morning of the competition I wake up with my stomach flipping. This is nothing new; it's been flipping all week. I ceremonially packed my kit bag the night before as the panic of not being able to find my white belt or gum shield in a state of morning delirium would be too much for my fragile nerves to handle.

My cup of tea went down a treat, but toast, cereal or anything in the ‘solids’ was a chore. I also had the first of many visits to come that day to the porcelain throne. I kissed my sleeping wife goodbye, as she muttered a sleepy good luck and a command to text her after the first fight.

As I rode the early morning tube to meet the rest of the team outside the club I began to mull over my expectations for the day. I concluded as it was my first comp, I just did not want to lose my first fight. I wanted at least one win.
Firstly, because going for ‘the experience ‘is just not enough for me. I know if I lose my first fight it will haunt me for the next couple of weeks as I replay it over and over in my minds eye during a particularly dry period at work. I do not need that kind of mental aggravation.

Secondly, it cost me £25.00 to enter this competition and I want to get my money’s worth. I didn’t pay that kind of money to travel all the way to a comp, roll with some dude for 5mins and get beaten on points. Instead I had loftier vision’s of Daniel Day-Lewis’ character in the movie “The Last of The Mohicans”, where he pinned the scalps of his victims to his native dress as trophies of war. I wanted at least one scalp to pin to my gi (and to text home to tell my wife about).

When we arrived at the leisure centre I immediately got changed as the white belt categories are the first of the day and I would be weighing in soon. I didn’t have to worry too much about my weight in the lead up to the competition or at the weigh-in itself. I have the metabolism of a 10 year-old, my weight rarely fluctuates. Apparently that all changes at thirty, I guess I’ll have to wait and see.
It felt good to get changed; it gave me something to do. I did not like the thought of waiting around and becoming a slave to my over active imagination. I did a bit of light sparring with some of the guys to warm-up and ease my nerves. I would do my suicidal 50-sprawl pre-fight gas-out later.

The toilets at a competition quickly turn into an open sewer as hordes of grown men of various shapes and sizes go to have their alone time and exorcise their pre-fight "nerves dump", sometimes in the vain attempt to make weight. I decided to find a different toilet altogether as my gag reflex could not handle the stench hanging in the air from this communal dumping ground. I found one tucked away at the other side of the leisure centre, it was duck fresh. I took a cubicle and tried to gather my thoughts. I dreamt up a few game plans and told myself "I will not lose my first fight".

The moment arrives; I hear my name and the name of my opponent announced over the P.A. I had been hovering around the scheduling table like a gnat for the last forty minutes, trying to find out when I was up. Well here it is. The anticipated moment had arrived.

I eyed up my opponent as we approached the mat, he had that "I am gonna get my ass kicked" look on his face. I’d seen it a number of times in sparring in the faces of newer white belts at my club and it strangely filled me with confidence. However, I suddenly become all too aware that I was most likely sending out the exact same vibe. So I attempted to cast a menacing look across my face. This probably looked more like I was trying to work out a particularly difficult algebra equation in my head, than the twisted masochistic look I was going for.

The mental part of fighting is such a fascinating thing. Sun Tzu, who wrote The Art of War’ one of the oldest and most successful books on military strategy in the world said the following “Victorious warriors win first and then go to war, while defeated warriors go to war first and then seek to win”. I think this quote is dealing both with a fighter’s pre-fight mind-set and their practical preparation. Often we get the practical preparation part nailed, we train hard and regularly, we know our stuff. However, when it comes to self-confidence and the mental side of fighting, we struggle. I definitely think you can defeat yourself even before you get onto the mat. I know I have done this a number of times in the past in various sports.
I really admire supremely confident competitors. Chris Moriarty, a black belt under Jacare, is well known for his laid back persona in competitions. Often he jokes with the referee and smiles at his opponents before his fights. I think maybe it’s all just a question of how good an actor you are.

I guess all this is what entering competitions is all about. Getting a real sense of where you are at. "In the ring the truth will out". When you stand across the mat from an unknown opponent, someone you've never seen before, someone you have never sparred against. You have to confront your self-doubt, control your nerves and adrenalin and recollect what you have been drilling and learning over the past months all at once. It feels like pretty high stakes putting your credibility on the line. Pride is definitely the most valuable currency. It is a bittersweet feeling.
So here I am facing my first ever competitive opponent. I actually feel like I have no strength, like I could not grip a tea spoon never mind an opponent’s gi. The fight begins and all my pre-fight philosophies and self-analysing goes out the window. My fighter instinct kicks in, my adrenalin becomes my friend and I just want to smash this guy....in the nicest possible way of course.

There is no real take down, just an awkward fall of sorts. Neither of us scores. He manages to pull me into his guard, his legs slam shut, but I don't mind, it gives me something to focus all my energy on. I set to work and eventually pass to his half guard and score some points. I am completely unaware of this at the time. I am just thinking pass him and tap him. He regains full guard, but I pass to his half guard again. I then pass to side control, I just keep working, never letting up. I think I have secured side control, but he shrimps, slips a leg in and gets half guard again... Frig, usually I lock down side control. I pass him again to side control, what next?

I am eager to finish him. My mind becomes void of submission attempts, so I lock down his gi and try to plan my next attack. My coach shouts "30 seconds, you are way ahead on points"... I am? … I hear my opponents coach shouting “don’t worry; he's got nothing from here"... It grates me; I want the tap even more now.

Then suddenly in a flash it's over. I have won. I then realise my multiple guard passes were racking up the points. That wasn't my game plan, but I had stayed active, been the aggressor and won...and it felt good. As I walked away from the fight, I realised I was shaking. My adrenalin was going through the roof. I didn't look like a winner; I looked like a crack addict in the throws of cold turkey. I have now come to realise that this is my "thing". After every competitive fight I get the post-fight adrenalin shakes. Which I try to fight off like Jack Bauer trying to convince everyone he is “fine”, after he has been exposed to some radioactive canister.
My second fight was against a stocky, bearded, eastern European dude, with a scar on his lip…no joke… He fitted every bad guy, hired muscle stereotype you can think up.
It is surprising what a win will do for your confidence. I was hungry for him, it was me verses the henchman. Justice must get served.

He gripped me up and I felt like a helpless disobedient child being grabbed by the scruff of the neck by their parent for "wandering away". He took me down; I pulled him into my guard. I set straight to work, fighting for grips, going for his collars, shifting my hips and varying my attacks. Then I saw the opportunity. He tried to break my guard by reaching back with his hand to break my feet apart. I threw my hips up and locked in a triangle. I wrapped it up fast, and squeezed my legs like I was giving birth. He held on, for what felt like an eternity, but eventually tapped just as I was about to blow a hernia. This was what I really wanted, a definitive submission victory.

My opponent and I ended up chatting in broken English afterwards. He was actually a very friendly guy; nothing like the pre-fight stereotypical judgements I had lumbered him with... certainly not a drug lord from the eastern European underworld. I proceeded to the semi-final which I eventually lost on points. It was a scrappy low point scoring fight, but the better and more experienced guy won. I was disappointed, but happy at how far I had got in my first competition. Hopefully I will get another crack at him down the line.

On the drive home, I had that feeling of contented exhaustion. I was pleased with my showing, my defeat nagged at me a bit, but I knew there would be other completions. I was going home a proud warrior with two scalps pinned to my gi.

By K.G McGlade

1 comment:

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