BJJ White Belt: After the Tournament – Part 2

 

img_7825.jpgIf you would’ve told me a year ago that I would be training in Jiu-Jitsu, I would’ve liked the sound of that and more than likely believed you. It was on my radar. As someone who takes an interest in self defense and protecting my family, I knew that I needed to improve my “ground game” (read as: non-existent ground game).

If you would’ve told me a year ago that I would be training and competing in Jiu-Jitsu, I would’ve been highly skeptical. Full contact competition was a far off dream; an aspiration that I had discarded to the “I missed my window” bucket of my life.

On Friday morning, the day before the tournament, I reflected on everything I had gone through and endured in the last two-plus-years to arrive at this point. Participating in this tournament was very meaningful to me. Meaningful as a martial artist. Meaningful as a man pursuing mastery in his life. Meaningful as a father and husband. Meaningful to my life’s journey as a whole.

Getting there Saturday morning, standing in the gym with the noise of the cheering, the coaches yelling to their students from the sideline, the announcements over the PA system, the buzz and vibrant energy…it was an interesting experience, to say the least.

I hope that I remember this tournament for a long time to come. Not only to build off the things I learned, but also to remember it from the white belt viewpoint. I like helping people, so I want to use this experience to help my teammates who are yet to join our ranks as competitors, and also to help you, dear reader, if you should raise your hand and step on to the mat for the first time. Perhaps what I write here and the words of wisdom from my Coach, will help you to be successful in more ways than just medals, when you get to your first tournament. Perhaps you are farther down the line and you have forgotten what it’s like to be a white belt. Hopefully these BJJ White Belt posts are helpful.

The Footage

Looking Back, Being Real

I’ve watched the above footage of my fights handfuls of times. As I watched, I would recall as best as I can what was going through my mind, what my body was feeling. As I watched, I would pay close attention to my performance, listening to the words my coach was shouting from the side of the ring, and above all seeing where I made mistakes. From all of that, I’m making notes of things I think I need to work on; resolving to get back on the mats and do better.

Pause.

I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t disappointed in not securing the win.

Bluntly?

It fucking sucked.

With my coach, my teammates and friends and my wife and children watching – I didn’t come through… twice.

Fucking. Sucked.

You, like I, could have the best attitude in the world. You could understand and accept that you win or learn and be dedicated to learning from your mistakes. You could be a good sportsman, sincerely congratulate your opponent and be mature about your loss. But if you lose, you are going to be disappointed, upset and maybe even a bit pissed off.

I think that it should happen, if you want to get better and improve. You should be disappointed. You should be pissed. That is the part of your ego that pushes you to do better, to become more than you are, to learn from your fuck ups and blast through them next time. The wrong path, of course, is to be so upset, so disturbed, that you are a puddle of melted snowflakes. Don’t be that person. Be the other. The one who brushes himself of, gets up and moves forward.

If you lose and can’t think of a single thing you did wrong, I think that’s hubris trying to cover your feelers from getting hurt.

Embrace the fail, the suck, then move forward.

That’s the step I’m on. Moving forward.

Mind and Body

I mentioned above that I tried to recall how I was thinking and how my body was feeling.

I mentioned in the previous post about my nervousness. The nerves quieted down when I committed and stepped on the mat. The first round was exhausting, it felt more exhausting than the second even though I think I expended more energy in the second round fighting and keeping my opponent in my closed guard. Correction, I know I used more energy. That’s one thing my coach and I went over regarding the second fight.

As far as the mental plane is concerned. I wasn’t afraid. I just got frustrated… a lot. This is an area Coach and I have been working on and will keep working on. I didn’t execute with conviction. What I mean by that is this: there were techniques that I have successfully executed during live rolls in class, techniques that were part of my game plan for the tournament, and I didn’t have enough faith in myself to pull them off. I heard my Coach, I barely saw the openings, but my lack of confidence in executing instead of listening to my coach, drawing on the successes and executing with belief and conviction in them, led to that failure.

Reviewing the footage, it was painfully obvious the openings that were presented to me.

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Back to the physicality of the tournament. I’ve trained, I’ve conditioned and I’ve regularly hit the gym as well as the mats and those two rounds were extremely taxing. In a prior post I spoke about how my body and mind shut down during some rolls with my team. During that first roll, those same physical and mental things began but I was able to push through it and it was easier on me.

The unpredictability and uncertainty of an opponents game, plus the fight or flight physiological responses your body generates, added to going full on against said unknown opponent add up to an entirely different experience when compared against rolls with teammates. Even those taxing and exhausting rolls with your teammates where you feel like collapsing on the floor afterwards. Its just different.

My grip was shot by the end of the second roll. My forearms, especially my right as I favored the cross collar grip on both fights, were pumped out and it took almost ten minutes before I could unscrew the cap for my water bottle. Seriously.

I woke the next morning sore. Primarily my upper back, arms and forearms but I did have some stiffness in my legs and glutes. I only did two rolls, going the full five minutes each time, but it had felt like I had gone through a harder workout. That’s the physiological response, the adrenaline, the amped senses and muscles, etc.

The Team

We’ve spent a great deal of time coming together and fostering the environment for both competitors and non-competitors to come together as a team. We had spent countless hours preparing, drilling, rolling, sweating and nursing our bodies back to health only to do it all again over the last three plus months. We truly wanted the best for each other and looked out for one another as best as we could all the way to the tournament and back. The camaraderie, the support and care for each team member was evident

Coach tried his best to be ringside at every match, but when it came down to multiple team members being on multiple rings at the same time, we all made sure to have at least one team member ringside to help the one in the ring. Coach had instructed us on this prior to the tournament: things to say, things not to say. Our primary objective would be to help the teammate in the ring keep track of time and points if Coach couldn’t be there.

“Okay, you’ve got four minutes left. Take your time.”

“You’re up by 3 points, keep going, you’re doing great!”

“Okay, you are down by 2, don’t worry about that. Let’s look a better position to even the scales. You’ve got three minutes to go, you can do this.”

Things like that.

Now, to preface what I’d like to share next, you need to understand that there were three brackets in which at least two of our teammates were competing together. This means that there could potentially be a fight for 1st and 2nd place at the top against our own teammates. Some gyms are fine with this, but as Coach explained to us before the tournament, we wanted to shut brackets down, not go against one another at the top. We roll against one another all the time at the gym and we didn’t drive two+ hours, spend extra time training, extra money on food, lodging, gas and entrance fees…just to roll against our own teammates. So if it came down to going for first and second place, we agreed that we would not fight, we’d have pre-arranged who took the gold and silver medals.

Hopefully, you see where this is going.

One of my teammates was competing in the same bracket as I. I have to give him massive props for his performance, sportsmanship and being a solid teammate. He lost his first round and won his second. His third round he was bracketed against me, which would’ve been my second round. It wasn’t a fight for first and second. We were in the consolation bracket going for third.

So, he and I were taken back for a second.

We told the judges as they called us up that we were from the same school/team and didn’t want to fight each other. Instead of arranging it differently, they told us “that’s just what happens”. My teammate then replied, “He’s going through, then. We’re not fighting each other.” The judges agreed to the request and they changed the bracket up.

Double elimination. He was out of the tournament.

Read the last two sentences again. Appreciate them.

He gave up his third fight so I could have a solid second fight against a different opponent. It was an honor that I still don’t believe I deserved. So for that reason alone, you could appreciate why I am so disappointed that I couldn’t secure the win on my second fight. I owed it to my teammate to give my best and secure the win.

I owe him one.

So, yeah, the team is solid. Continually getting closer as a unit, a tribe, a family.

We, as a team, did amazingly well in the tournament. 8 competitors, 6 medals including one double gold! A medal in each bracket that we competed in, save for mine. That’s pretty damn impressive! As a new school, going on 1 year old in early October, we were barely a blip on the radar on the day of the tournament. By the end of the day, each of us had multiple conversations from people we either competed against or others we didn’t know coming up to us and asking where we were from, who we were, etc.

We turned heads.

Back to the Garage

“It’s just like building a race car – you run it, see what works and doesn’t, back to the garage to tweak and mod until the next race.” ~Coach Shane

By this Wednesday’s training, as I said, I had reviewed the footage multiple times. I knew what I did wrong. Coach knew what I did wrong. Coach knew that I knew what I did wrong and he confirmed that as we reviewed the film together at class.

  • I fought too long and hard to keep my opponent in my guard, tweaking and modifying is needed here, back to the garage.
  • My framing for someone getting into side control on me is getting better, but it needs some tweaks, back to the garage.
  • I need to look at setting up multiple attacks instead of working one really hard then switching entirely to something else, back to the garage.
  • My sweeps need improving, back to the garage.
  • I need to put more confidence and faith in my takedown ability, back to the garage.
  • There are things that I am looking to implement in my workouts to continue increasing my strength conditioning as well as my cardio (sprints and steady paced), back to the garage.
  • Props to my opponents for their wins, but I allowed them to dictate the pace of the fight instead of setting the pace myself, being more aggressive and more assertive, back to the garage.

Back to the garage I go. Back to the garage our team goes, pushing each other and working with each other to improve and hone our game. There are a couple tournaments before the end of the year. I’m not sure if we will compete in those. For now, I’m sticking in the garage, but for any of my teammates who want to get out on the track sooner, I’ll be doing my part to help out. I know they’d do the same. I’ll be looking to compete at least twice in 2018, maybe more.

We’ll see what the year brings.

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Moving Forward – It’s Over

“What you’ve gotta understand is that it’s over. Seriously! Nobody cares anymore. That win is only as good as that day. If the day were done over again, a lot of the people who won could’ve lost. It’s like Any Given Sunday that way.

The only thing that matters is how good your Jiu-Jitsu was on that day, and now it’s over. It doesn’t matter anymore.

When the next tournament comes, it doesn’t matter if you medaled three times in the prior tournament. You still start from square one. Your prior wins don’t count at the new tournament.

Those who won might not have taken as much away, learning-wise, compared to those who lost. It’s hard to win gold and then try and dissect that performance, why mess with it?

It’s over.

Everyone, even the gold medalists have room to grow- that’s why we do this, to measure ourselves and then improve.” ~Coach Shane (an amalgam of a handful of recent conversations)

It’s over. Something I needed to hear.

I’m moving forward. Something I needed to do.

I know I am harder on myself than anyone else is. I’m well aware of my flaws, my shortcomings, my failures and mistakes, as a father, husband, friend and even in BJJ. But I move on. No navel gazing. No “woe is me”. No bullshit.

It no longer matters what happened. What will I do today to improve?

Back to the garage.

Pursue Mastery.

**Hey there, thanks for reading this post! If you find value in the writing you find here, the biggest compliment I can receive is for you to share the ever loving shit out of it. Thanks again for reading!**

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BJJ White Belt: Before The Tournament

Last night I wrapped up my final training session before the tournament.

Since late June my mind has been fixed towards this Saturday, the 23rd and the training that needed to happen. Calendar-wise, I’ve spent the entire summer training for this tournament that takes place the day after Fall begins.

I still had to balance work and family in the mix, so I wasn’t there four nights a week or anything but I’ve made deliberate changes to my training since June to make sure I was giving myself the best shot possible:

  • Increased my training and mat time.
  • Reprogrammed my gym routines to help increase my endurance while maintaining a sufficient level of strength.
  • I added specific routines to strengthen and undo the tightness and discomfort in my shoulders.
  • Maintained a healthy food plan and did a good job curbing my sweet tooth.
  • I’ve taken notes, studied, asked questions and participated in extra classes that coach was offering on the weekends.
  • I’ve had weekly chiropractic & wellness visits during the last month of training to make sure everything was on point.

All in all, I believe I’ve done what I can to prepare. It will all be over sometime Saturday afternoon and I will have experienced my first competition. Just as important, I will have experienced how I perform in this kind of situation and pressure. That last note is probably the most important of all.

I’ve had some great milestones and successes and I’ve endured my fair share of frustrating nights over the summer wondering, “What the hell happened in there tonight?!”

I’d be kidding myself if I said that I didn’t have a desire to win and go the distance in my bracket and weight class. I’d also be kidding myself if I said I haven’t gotten nervous a time or two. I didn’t really start getting nervous until about two weeks prior to the tournament. I got shook up a bit last week. My mind was all over the damn place, I felt winded during every workout and BJJ session. That Wednesday, the 13th – also my birthday – Coach put up a scoreboard and acted as referee so we could get a feel for how everything goes down in competition. It was a good eye-opener. We’ve rolled many, many five minute rounds but this was a whole different animal. The sense of urgency was up, the points board is going off, etc.

My mind felt scattered, all over the place and in a word: fucked. I struggled to get clarity. I was frustrated and couldn’t get my head into the game most of the night. I was not impressed or pleased with my performance. My main enemy was my own mind and body and I struggled to master them, much less take on my training partners and teammates.

The first match was the most difficult, physiologically my body shut down within the first 30 seconds. I had a hard time getting my breath under control and the inner enemy, the weaker side of me began to cry out “Quit! Just quit!”. I remember clearly fighting the urge to just say “Stop, I’m done!”. 

Both Shane, my Coach and Karina, the assistant Coach/Team Captain, as well as a couple of my team members were trying to help me get out of my own head, find the “reset button” and move on… as they say on the interwebz: the struggle is real.

Objectively, I did OK. Six total matches, I won three, I lost three. Until I wrote it down, I didn’t think I did that many matches. One loss by disqualification, two losses by submission. The win’s were in the same pattern. The two matches I came ahead on were a direct result of calming down as best as I could, relaxing and taking it from there. At the minimum, I was able to get into “hunt mode” enough to get the win.

It took me a few days to get my head back on completely straight after that. Primarily because I was upset and angry at how my body was reacting and how it felt like my mind was betraying my true self by wanting to give up so quickly. But I got it back on and straightened it out.

I am a huge advocate of positive affirmations and creating the proper mindset; creating the proper reference point or frame for a given situation.

No… I didn’t read “The Secret”…

Having the right frame of mind going into a given day or activity is about strengthening and buttressing the mind against negative mindsets, doubts and fears. It’s about dismissing false information that your brain tries to bring up due to past failures and fears and creating the counter arguments (so to speak) based on facts of past successes, wins and skills you know you are good at.

So, I wrote down a few affirmations, put them in my BJJ journal next to my mind-map game strategy and I’ve been meditating on them each day leading up to the tournament. I even took it a step further, as I am currently experimenting with podcast recording, and recorded some affirmations and through that, actually created a few that were more powerful that the original ones I wrote down.

Here’s a very small sample of the frame I’ve created for the competition:

I have put in the training. I have put in the time. I have pushed hard. I have developed my game. This is my time.

I trust my Coach’s instruction and guidance. I trust the training I have received. I trust the skills I can deploy.

This is fun for me. I enjoy this.

I’m not going to share all of them at this point, maybe during the “AAR”, but let me tell you, there is definitely something to writing down the positive things that you believe about yourself in a particular situation, reading those things and even speaking them.

For me, it has been even more powerful listening to my own voice confidently say them with conviction from a recording. This is actually the only time I have ever enjoyed, or been OK with, listening to my own voice, which was an interesting feeling in and of itself.

Try it out, your mileage may vary.

Regardless of if I win or lose, I can and will use the experience of each match to become better at Jiu-jitsu than I was before. I’ll get my feet wet in tournament life, figure out how much I enjoy competing and then continue my BJJ journey from there.

Like my coach says, when it comes down to it, win or lose, it won’t matter in the grand scheme of things. To really boil it down (with respect to the tournament host who is graciously putting on their first event in our state – they are well established in Utah), this is a tournament in a town of under four thousand.

I’m not going to be carried through the streets in a parade if I win.

I’m not going to be chased out of town if I lose.

There aren’t any contracts, sponsorships or anything else at the end.

This isn’t the Worlds, this isn’t the Pan-Ams and even if it was, the majority of the world doesn’t know or care. Multiple-time world champions walk down the streets of their towns daily and the majority of the people are unaware of or don’t even understand the significance of being a BJJ World Champion. Life will continue regardless of the outcome and most people aren’t going to know or even care that a tournament happened.

Outcome independence – that is the key. To seek a specific outcome or result, but to be detached from it to the degree that missing the desired outcome or failing will not derail you. Win, lose or draw – literally and figuratively – I will learn from this experience, I will use the experience and the knowledge I gain to become better at Jiu-Jitsu and deploying my game. Being outcome independent means you create the meaning for the event. You ultimately must realize that you are creating the degree of attachment to whatever outcome you seek, in any area of life. To the degree you attach yourself, will be the degree that you experience negative emotions if you do not attain that which you seek. And even if you seek it, you may not find the elation you dreamed of exactly because you became so attached to the outcome. The outcome matters, but it doesn’t.

I plan on doing an “After Action Report” regarding things I learned, the experience as a whole, etc. That will probably come out within a week or so after the tournament as I process my thoughts and review any videos I have of my matches. So stay tuned for that.

In closing, to boil all of this down into a few sentences:

  • I am not ashamed of the time I invested in my training.
  • My skills and ability have grown a tremendous amount in the last three months.
  • I know that I have good instruction and coaches.
  • I have a great team – both those on our team who are competing and those that aren’t.
  • I’m looking forward to Saturday.
  • I know that I will be better as a teammate and as a BJJ martial artist because of this experience.
  • Come what may, I am as ready as I can be.

Pursue Mastery

 **Hey there, thanks for reading this post! If you find value in the writing you find here, the biggest compliment I can receive is for you to share the ever loving shit out of it. Thanks again for reading!**

BJJ White Belt: Second Stripe

Five months in, well, over five months in at the time of publishing this post.

I received my second stripe on Wednesday, 08/16/17.

Isn’t it funny, how our perception of time works? I can feel both the “speed” at which time has passed since starting jiu-jitsu and I feel the “sluggishness” at which that same time seems to have passed as I chase after my goals.

There have been a lot of reps, rolls, sweat, soreness, bumps, bruises, fun and frustration since I received my first stripe. I know I’m not the only one on my team to invest this way. I know the actions I’ve taken are only a few drops in the bucket of the overall journey that is known as jiu-jitsu; I have a long way to go on this journey. I’m still a beginner and I take a healthy portion of humble pie every time I train. I will say that while I might not be the “best” by any stretch. I am continually bettering myself compared to the last time I trained. Me VS Me, I am always improving.

As I mentioned in the linked post above, Coach looks for certain things in each individual for promotion. Coach is admittedly slower to give out stripes – he jokes that when you get a belt or a stripe from him, that it’s probably late by a month…or six. But his intent is clear and methodology solid in the approach: he wants the student to have no doubt in their mind that the rank they received wasn’t “given” to them. They’ve put the work in, they understand, they apply, they improve – and it shows. In other words: they earned it, 100%.

The last time, he was looking for me to slow down; to be more aware and conscientious of what was going on around me. This time around, one of the things he was looking for was aggressiveness. Back in late June/early July, I’d committed to my Coach and team that I would participate in the tournament in September and I knew I needed to get more aggressive. Since then, I had been making a deliberate effort to do just that. It’s not necessarily a strength thing, but a constant moving, looking for opportunities, being proactive, hunting for openings and going on the attack; having a clear direction in where I wanted to go and if one angle didn’t work, looking for another one and taking calculated risks to try other angles and learn.

On the night of my promotion, I’d been working on my aggressiveness for a few weeks at least. The first hour felt great during live rolls. I was managing my top game better than I had. I was transitioning from one position to another, maintaining dominance and hunting for the openings and actually seeing them. I noticed that I was actually comfortable on top, things were just… clicking. We went to bow out. Consciously working to control my breathing, dripping sweat, mind racing from the success of the rolls and examining how things fell in to place and then boom both a teammate and I received our second stripes. Feelings of joy, thankfulness, elation, pride, surprise and even relief flooded through me once again, for me and also for my teammate.


I’ll have you know that my second hour wasn’t as favorable as I enjoyed the bittersweet taste of eating a healthy portion of humble pie.

Regardless, it’s cool to be able to look back and take stock of how far I’ve come in this short time span. I feel good with the progress I’ve made. It definitely feels like I’ve crossed a threshold and I’m grateful to pass this particular “mile marker” along the way.

As of the publishing of this post, our team is 23 days out from the tournament. For the great majority of us, this will be our first time competing and we are pushing each other to be better with every class we attend.

I’m looking forward to seeing how we perform individually and overall as a team.

Until the next post, my friends: Pursue Mastery.

**Hey there, thanks for reading this post! If you find value in the writing you find here, the biggest compliment I can receive is for you to share the ever loving shit out of it. Thanks again for reading!**

BJJ White Belt: Starting from the Bottom

Keeping in line with pursuing my goals for 2017, I recently opened a new chapter in my life and began learning Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu.

Day 1, Intro Class.

For the first time in years I joined a martial arts school, put on a uniform (Gi) and donned a white belt. It is a newer school in the area led by both an experienced brown belt and a purple belt. The rest of us are white belts of varying degrees and as of this writing, I only have five sessions under my belt. The other white belts are light years ahead of me.

And I don’t mind it at all.

In fact, I’m loving it.

I’ve had the opportunity to be a “white belt” in many areas over the last few years. Weightlifting for one; learning the proper form for the big lifts and slowly progressing upwards until I hit my goals.

Taking an amazing Pistol Course last year is another.

Although the feeling of being a fish out of water or not knowing your ass from a hole in the ground or being shown just how much of a “white belt” you really are can be frustrating, to say the least, it is one that I enjoy in a twisted sort of way. There is always room to grow and become better.

Ego and Hubris (the way I view them), don’t get along.

Ego is a positive force in your life as it drives you to do better, to want to become more and strive to go to the next level. Hubris is the part that has to be checked.

Hubris will tell you, “You’re good enough, just the way you are.”

Ego says, “You can do better. You can improve.”

Hubris says, “Just practice on your own. You got this.”

Ego will reply, “You should practice on your own, but you also need to seek training. You need to get around people who are better than you so you can be challenged, stretched and step your game up.”

And I’ve had plenty of opportunities to either let my ego push me towards growth or let hubris pull me towards stagnation.

Humility is a necessity to furthering your training.

Like I mention in the above linked article about humility, I like to approach training with an “empty cup” mentality. It helps me to keep hubris in check, even in “familiar” territory, so I can learn and absorb as much as possible in order to grow and become better. It can be hard at times, but I’ve found that taking the empty cup approach usually yields the most return on investment for me.

So now I’m learning BJJ, starting from the bottom in so many ways. I’m still green. I’m in unfamiliar territory. Flopping around on the mat, trying to learn how to roll my body. I am dripping wet with sweat after each session. I’m learning that while what I’ve accomplished in the gym regarding strength and endurance is good, it’s not everything against a younger, lighter training partner who is even a month or two ahead of you in practice. There are different breeds and degrees of strength and endurance needed for this new chapter. To top it all off, I’m nursing a weakened/strained shoulder due to over-training at the gym.

There are ample servings of humble pie for me to digest during this new season of my life.

My cup is so damn empty.

And I’m fucking loving it!

Another day of training, another opportunity to improve.

Use your Ego for good. Check hubris at the door. Become better.

Pursue Mastery.