First Sparring Class

I started going to the open class full time after Labor Day. At that point i was getting about 5 hours of jiu jitsu a week.  Intro & Open class on Monday & Wednesday and then a class on Saturday morning.  Most Saturday mornings there was a little bit of rolling after class.

As is not uncommon, the first couple times I rolled with anyone, I mentally started to panic. I’m not a claustraphobic person, but when one of our Judo black belts had me in side control, it felt like I was trapped. He had such good weight distribution that it felt like a pallet of bricks was on my chest. That combined with me not really doing a good job of breathing while rolling (I was holding my breath too much) and I felt like I was going to suffocate.

However, most Saturday mornings, it was only 5 or 10 minutes that I’d roll. I’d go against someone and after they tapped me out, I’d sit around for another match to finish and go against someone else until they tapped me. After a couple rounds of this, I’d decide I was too exhausted and pack up for the day (it’s an open ended time, leave when you’re ready.)

I waited until a little bit after I got my first stripe to venture into the sparring class. It wasn’t anything official, I could have shown up with a naked belt, but it was a mindset thing for me. I wanted to focus on getting my stripe before going to sparring class.

The first time I was a bit nervous. It wasn’t that I thought someone was going to break my arm, but the thought of going 50-60 minutes of rolling seemed daunting. Remember, 3 months before this I spent my free time writing code on my computer (I still do, actually, I just have less of it now thanks to BJJ.)  Adding to the amount of time, I knew that we had some really good BJJ players and I didn’t want to waste their time.

I showed up a couple minutes early and found out that AC was leading the sparring class that night, so I told him it was my first sparring class. I think I was hoping he’d take it easy on me.

We started with our normal warm-ups of running and teeter-totter-rocking etc.  After which time, AC says “Get a drink, fix your gi, get your mouth-piece and line up against the wall.”  As I did I figured he’d get a good look and match people up.  But that’s not what happened. He looks at me and says “Ok Nate, who do you want?”  My mind went blank. I didn’t know about 1/2 the class, so I just went with the guy next to me, a newly minted blue belt named Mike.

After everyone was matched up, I find out we’re starting in butterfly guard. At that time, my knowledge of butterfly guard was basically that there was something called butterfly guard.


I think I had a bit more of a blank look on my face than that guy.  To Mike’s credit, however, he spent a minute or so going over what his objective should be, as well as what my goal should be.  We started and I was not able to really do much. I don’t remember much of what Mike did, but I do remember he easily got mount and submitted me a few times.

After the first match we just found someone nearby and went the next round against them. At some point in the night I wound up going against Abe Wagner. To be honest, I was more than a little intimidated. After all, this was the same guy I watched on TV KO Tim Sylvia:

As would be expected, Abe tapped me out 3 times in about 30-45 seconds. Then, like almost everyone else that night, he showed me some things that I should be doing, and he told me what he would be trying to do. It turned more of an instructional than a real grappling section.

By the end of the hour I was dead tired (a common theme for me in BJJ.) But I had achieved the two goals I’d set for myself

  1. Don’t sit out any matches because I’m tired
  2. Tap before going to sleep.

I think I went against 7 or 8 guys, and I probably tapped 20+ times. 

The great thing about the sparring class, though, was how helpful everyone was. We didn’t just sit around and chat, but if they caught me with the same move a couple times in a row, they’d stop and help me understand what I was doing wrong. 

Over and over again a single philosophy has permeated my training at MidAmerica: I’ll help you get better, so you can help me get better.  It didn’t do anyone any good to go in and destroy the new whtie belt. But if they could teach the new white belt, and help him get better, then he’ll force their game to get better.