Monday, 1 February 2010
A layman's journey into Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu: Part 7
I entered the gym with the skip of victory in my step. I was still high from a victorious game of 5-a-side football earlier that day. I was ready to execute the same cut throat finishing from guard as I had in front of goal. I had only been back a week and a half since my prolonged summer absence and had eased myself back into training with a couple of tentative daytime sessions.
I felt ready for an intense Monday night of training, a good warm-up, techniques and tough sparring. However, by the end of the warm-up I was beginning to think I may have bitten off a little more than I could chew. My 5-a-side victory was fast becoming a nostalgic distant memory and the often cruel reality of BJJ cardio was rushing into the present to crush my will and put my suspect conditioning into perspective. It was going to be a long, long night.
I survived the warm-up and techniques but in the back of mind I knew that sparring was where I'd get my comeuppance.
My first roll was with a big brute of a man. He was a fairly new beginner, however, that is not always the sign you are going to get an easy roll. Beginner enthusiasm can be very exhausting, all 15 stone of it. I was throwing up unsuccessful arm bar attempts all over the place. My fatigue was quickly translating into my technique. He was as strong as an ox and just laid on me like a fat sheikh on a cheap rug.
I tried to relax and wait for my moment. I needed to get all Royler Gracie on him. Trust in the maxim that 'good technique reigns supreme'. My opportunity came and I swept the Sasquatch cleanly to mount. Running with the momentum of the sweep, I went straight for a collar baseball choke and cranked it on with all my might... he tapped. I was ready to drive the flag of Northern Ireland into his gi to commemorate that I had reached the summit of this man-mountain and conquered it.
My next opponent was a young guy who I have developed an unspoken, yet healthy, competitive rivalry with. He has good jiu-jitsu and is more in my weight range. It was like going from sparring 'The Thing' to Spiderman. We had a great scramble. I must have mounted him and had side control twice, but I was lacking the killer instinct and this guy has got escapes. He managed to get my back and lock on a collar choke. I held on and then conceded defeat and tapped.
What was wrong with me? It was not that I had got tapped, that happens, my ego can handle that and this guy has got skills. I think what was nagging at me is that I was lacking 'gameness' or ‘desire’. My fitness was not great, but I was letting it break me down mentally. It is rare I get the feeling 'I don't want to be here anymore' during training. Perhaps this is one of those rites of passage plateaus in a fighter’s journey? Or maybe I just need to man up and stop being such a poetic Nancy boy?
So by this point I was truly exhausted. It’s that decrepit feeling of weakness, where in that moment it seems feasible that your sister might be able to hold you down. The type of exhaustion that makes you dread who you are going to be drawn to spar with next.
When the instructor picked my partner, I’ll admit, a small part of me died inside. Not because he was huge or anything, but because he was a solid blue belt that is a relentless competitor. Normally the kind of challenge I rise to. However, in this instance I was broke before we even started and I knew he would have no mercy.
He molested me for eight minutes… the longest and most gruelling eight minutess of my short BJJ life. It was the type of roll that has you waking up in a cold sweat in the middle of the night with your wife telling you ‘It was just a bad dream’. He was on fire and I just capitulated. I spent the whole time practising escapes and being held down like an ADHD kid whose dad has decided "it's time for a nap".
When time was up, I apologised profusely to my opponent for being such a 'wasteman' and thanked him for handing me my ass. I then left the mats (where I left my dignity) and slumped on a punch bag come bench at the side.
One of my fellow white belt brethren asked me if I was alright. I must have looked like a kid who'd asked Santa for a Super Nintendo for Christmas and instead got a Commodore 64....gutted. I felt like a quitter. I know it's just jiu-jitsu but try telling someone who loves jiu-jitsu that it's "just jiu-jitsu". It is not going to run. I have lofty competition ambitions and plans for future gold medals. This felt like a real stumbling block. I also knew when I got home my wife would routinely ask me how training went and I'd have to tell her the truth; thus leaving her to quietly question if I was the right choice of "seed" to grant her a son of potency and pancratic brawn.
I know I should draw upon the wisdom of budo spirituality and see this as a battle with myself (my real opponent), as just another twist on the road towards a more complete and attune me. I get that, but I think the only thing that is going help me right now is getting back to the gym and smashing some unassuming opponent....oh how my ego thirsts.
The samurais of a bygone era would be appalled. I am an animal, a wounded animal and it's going to get all Quentin Tararntino next time I spar.