Another Tournament

This weekend (June 28) I’m competing in a tournament in Kansas City. I think it will be my 6th tournament. As I’ve done in the past, I’ve got some goals that I want to achieve. But in some ways, this tournament has made me a bit nervous. There have been several times over the past two weeks that I’ve thought about the tournament, visualized lining up across from my opponent and I felt that “fight-or-flight” feeling. At my last tournament there was a brief break in the middle of my second match as my opponent needed to take off a rashguard. As I stood there, I felt like my heart was going to beat out of my chest. And thinking about this tournament has brought those feelings up. However, I’ve tried to put those times to good use and practice some breathing to calm myself down.

I think one reason I’m nervous is the pressure I’m putting on myself. For one thing, I’ve been a white belt for almost 2 years now, so I feel like I should be near the top, just from experience. It could conceivably be some guy’s first tournament after a few months on Saturday. If I went against the “6 month” version of me, I would destroy that guy, and I feel like I should be near that point. It’s not uncommon for white belts to take 2 years to go to blue, so it’s not as if I’m extremely more experienced than everyone else. But I have been putting some pressure on myself to do as good as I think I should. I’m getting to the point where I realize I need to have a good, consistent performance at a tournament. I have a hard time imagining a “career” where this is as good as it gets. I want to get better, and I haven’t seen that a whole lot in my last couple tournaments.

Another reason that I’m nervous is that I know I can be skeptical, pessimistic or a realist. The last two tournaments, I’ve won my first match both times and lost everything else. I struggle with not defeating myself before the tournament. I enjoy sparring, I have fun rolling. Last week I rolled with someone at open mat for 30 minutes before one of us tapped. It wasn’t a relaxed roll either. It wasn’t tournament level, but it was definitely competitive. I was trying to submit him and he was trying to submit me. As much as I enjoy just rolling with my teammates, I sometimes struggle to make the shift to a tournament mindset.

With all of that said, this is a tournament that I found out on my own and signed up before I knew if anyone else is going. So it’s not as if I’m pressured or going because a lot of my team is. In fact, as far as I know there will only be two of us there. I’m still excited about the tournament, and I’m trying to not apply too much pressure to myself.

I only have 3 goals this tournament:

  1. Don’t get submitted
  2. Win by arm bar
  3. Medal

My last tournament, I went through my division without getting submitted. I lost by submission in the open weight. This weekend will be a little bit harder, as the absolute division is submission only. Which means if I don’t submit him and he doesn’t submit me, we both lose.  So I have a tall order, but I need to be smart about it.

Why I Don’t Cut Weight

For my first tournament, the Sasquatch Open back in March of 2013, I cut weight. I was nervous, and had never cut weight before. I was on a decline from about 200 pounds and was trying to make it to under 185. The day before the tournament, my entire office went out to lunch for someone’s last day. I had a house salad with lemon juice, because I knew that wouldn’t be too many calories. We made the 5+ hour drive that night, stopping for my wife & kids to eat Subway. I had a banana. I was trying to get to the site in time to weigh in that night, but we didn’t. I knew I was close, but I didn’t know how close, so I didn’t eat that night.  I weight in the next morning at 181.4 pounds. Quite possibly the lowest since around my junior year of high school.  I lost all 4 matches I had.

My next tournament, I “cut” but only a pound or two.  I lost more than I won. I haven’t cut weight since. I walk around right now at about 185 pounds. Which puts me squarely in the “medium heavy” division for tournaments that use IBJJ weights. I could do some work and cut down to get to the 181 with my gi on (so really about 177) in order to move down a class but I don’t.

As I was thinking about it today, one main reason I don’t cut weight is because at this point in my tournament “career” it hasn’t mattered. Not one time have I lost a match in my weight class because the guy was just too big for me. Not one time in my weight class have I won a match because I was able to hold a person down because I was bigger. I’ve lost open weight matches, in part, because I went against guys with 30+ pounds on me. But even when I’m on the lighter side of my weight class, weight has yet to make a difference.

What has made a difference is lack of mental preparation, lack of physical preparation, and not being as good as some of the other competitors. That said, I think the biggest shortcoming of my BJJ game is me. At my last tournament, I had 4 matches. Of those 4 matches, only 1 did I actually attack in the manner I wanted to. The other 3, I was much more passive, and weight doesn’t make a difference if you’re passive.

Additionally, I’ve never focused on my weight. I wasn’t a wrestler in high school (readers of this blog will know that — I put the COUCHpotato in couch jitsu.) I have cut weight a grand total of 1 time in my life, and it sucked. I was constantly worried about where am I at. Am I eating enough, or too much? Is my body going to be worn out from this?  Things that I really don’t want to be worrying about the week of a tournament. Instead, I want to be focused on the task at hand, namely getting ready to compete.

Notice, this is specific to me. I’m telling you why I don’t cut weight. I’m not saying you shouldn’t. I don’t know you or your skills or your history, maybe it makes sense to you. I suppose if I was 4 pounds away from competing at super heavy, I’d probably cut, since there’s no upper limit on that weight class.

To me, it’s a lot like golf. I played golf for fun the last couple years of college, and right after I graduated. Coworkers would talk to me about golf shoes and graphite golf clubs. I told them when my golf game got to the point where golf shoes would make a difference I would buy them. But for the most part, I could shoot an 63 (on 9 holes) one week, and an 80 the next. My game was so inconsistent that golf shoes didn’t matter.

I feel that way about BJJ and weight. I’ve had matches where I’ve done exactly what I wanted to do, followed by matches that I did everything I didn’t want to do. Until I can stabilize that and become consistent, cutting weight just doesn’t seem to add any value to me.

Starting From Scratch

Today, after over a year of thinking about it, I finally took my first Judo class. At Mid-America we have 2 Judo black belts that teach twice a week (Thursday and Saturday.) Due to schedule issues, I’ll probably almost never make it to a Thursday Judo class, but a lot of time I’m just sitting around surfing the web on Saturday morning anyway. I knew I should go take Judo. Quite a few guys in BJJ have told me I should take Judo, and I’ve seen more than one tournament match where Judo played an important part. Especially at the white belt level, if you can do Judo, people are afraid of you.

So I went this morning and the class had quite a dichotomy. In addition to the two teachers, there were two brown belts and 3 white belts, and nothing in between. I was fortunate enough to be able to work in with the brown belts (AC and Jason). It felt glaringly obvious that I didn’t know what I was doing. But that’s one thing that was nice watching Jason and AC practice on each other. I could see things that they were doing. While I knew basically no Judo moves. I know kesa gatame from BJJ and I’ve heard uchi matta and I know it’s some kind of throw, but that was about it. However, it’s a little different than when I started BJJ. When I started that, almost 2 years ago, I didn’t even really know how to move my body or have a concept of space. Now I’m still not great at it, but I have a better understanding.

That said, it still felt some like my first BJJ class. We did, what I believe was called a tao goshei, that involved stepping in to my partner, turning my hips and taking them down.  I felt completely uncoordinated in stepping and turning. We ended up doing 3 different throws. In some ways I was reminded of the first time I did an arm bar from mount. For the life of me, I could not spin around, grab the arm and hit the ground with my butt without falling to my back. I’m sure in a few months, I’ll remember how I could never get my hips in the correct spot on a hip throw.

I really enjoyed Judo. I wish I had started it a year ago when I first thought of it. It was a nice change of pace focusing exclusively on stand-up techniques. It was also quite the workout, my gi was just as soaked when I left as any other time I’ve been to the gym.

My main motivation for learning Judo was that I know what the weakest part of my game is. It’s anything to do with me on my feet. It’s one reason I’m willing to pull-guard at a tournament, because I’m more comfortable on the ground than standing. So if I can mitigate, it will make me better.

Tournament 5

Yesterday I competed in my 5th tournament (not counting our in-house tournaments.) It didn’t really go as I wanted, but I wound up getting 3rd.

I had the following goals for this tournament:

  • Medal
  • Not lose by submission
  • Hit the takedown I’ve been working on
  • Win via arm-bar

The only one of those I achieved was medaling.  I made it all the way through my division without submitting, but I lost in the open by submission. I think that ticked me off more than losing in the open.

I didn’t even try the takedown I’d been working on. I guess old habits die hard. I ended up pulling guard in all my matches. I did look for that take down in my first match, but felt like it wasn’t there.

I also didn’t win by arm-bar. I did try a couple arm-bars, but didn’t get very far with any of them.

So based on my list of goals it was a pretty bad tournament.  There are some things I’m happy with and some things that I’m still ticked off at. First, the matches:

In my first match, I was attacking. I got my grips first and when I didn’t feel like I was in range for my takedown, I pulled him into guard. I was able to hit a De la Riva sweep, which was pretty cool. About a year ago we had Leo Pecanha and Wendell Alexander up at our school doing a seminar. I didn’t even really know what De la Riva was until they worked it. Today I hit a sweep. I also was able to pass his guard and I did an omoplata sweep. Throw in a mount, and I won 11-0. But it wasn’t all about points. I tried an arm-bar against him, two guillotines and an omoplata, I just was unable to finish any of them.

The next match wasn’t quite as good. We stood up for what seemed like 1 minute (but my perception of time was off all day.) Then I finally pulled guard. I made the mistake of opening my guard without doing anything and he was able to pass. I got him back into half-guard, and he was able to pass that. The match finished with him on my back and I lost 10-0. So quite a swing, win by 11, lose by 10.

Before the third match, one of my coaches told me to go out and pull guard right away. Apparently, he had some good takedown work. So that’s what I did. We wound up in half-guard, and he tried to smash his way out, while I tried to sweep. Neither were successful, but he gave me space, so I got my full guard back. He tried just about everything he could to pass my guard. He had a fist under my chin for probably 1/3 of the match. I kept shifting my hips to get that off of me. I set up a lapel choke and while I had one hand pretty deep, he was defending the other by keeping his chin tucked. I tried to apply pressure to his mouth to get him to move up, but he never did. Towards the end of the match, I was able to get an overhook on one of his arms, and was going to try an arm-bar from there, but he was able to get it back. I finished the round by trying to do a omoplata type sweep, but it was right as time expired. The final score was 0-0 both with one advantage.  The ref gave the match to him, because he was on top.  I was disappointed with that (obviously) but at the same time, the answer to that is to score at least one point or get a submission.

Finally, a couple hours later I was in the open weight bracket. As seems to always happen to me in open weight, I got one of the bigger guys as my first draw. He was around 40 pounds heavier and about 3 inches taller than me. He kept his legs far away so that I couldn’t start my takedown. I ended up pulling guard (this time I managed to wind up in butterfly.) I couldn’t do much there, so I got my full guard. He had great posture, and it was an effort to break him down. I was only ever able to get one hand in the lapel, even when I broke him down. He started trying to set up an Ezekiel choke from within my guard. I’ve experienced that before and my typical defense is to extend my hips, which pushes the guy away. I tried that, and it didn’t work. He ended up finishing the choke and I tapped. Afterward, one of my coaches & I talked and I found out when there’s that kind of size advantage, I probably need to put my feet on his hips and extend, instead of just trying to extend my hips.  In the end, he won the open weight.

I said there were some things that I thought went well. Mostly want went well was that I got some sweeps and also went for multiple submissions, even if I wasn’t able to finish them. Also, in the match that I lost by referee’s decision, I felt like, even though I was on the bottom, I was in control, or at least, I wasn’t being controlled by him.

Things that went bad, I came out with a lot of force in my first match, but that died down as the matches went on, I’m not happy about that. I’m not happy that I let my second opponent pass my guard with such little resistance. And I’m not happy that I lost.

After my first tournament, I wrote a post saying I felt like I had let my team down because of my performance, I knew that they weren’t disappointed in me, but that’s how I felt. After my next tournament, I was happy that I beat a couple guys and got a medal (3rd place.)  After the tournament before this one, I was frustrated, because I went 1-5, winning my first match and losing everything else for the day. I felt as if I wasn’t prepared, or wasn’t focused.  After this tournament, it’s a different feeling. I’m actually mad that I didn’t win.

I’m not mad at the referees or anything like that. I don’t think I’m mad in a way that is bad sportsmanship. I trained & prepared for this tournament. I was focused. I even executed some things. I just didn’t do enough to win. I don’t feel like any of the guys I faced were on another level that I’m not at. I say that to say that I think I could have won ay of my matches, but I didn’t, and that’s on me.

Pre-Tournament Nerves

I’m leaving for the tournament in about 20 minutes, I’m not sure if I’ll post this or not. I’m actually feeling pretty nervous this morning. In some ways, this was like my first tournament. A year ago, I kept thinking about the tournament and could feel my heart rate increase. Some of that was the unknown. This one is a bit different. Although for the past 2 weeks, every time I thought about the tournament, I could feel my heart rate increase, it wasn’t so much the fear of the unknown. This time I had a picture in my head. I’ve competed here before. I’ve seen the venue, I know what the mats look like, I can hear my coaches talking to me.  Instead, this one is more from self-induced pressure.

My last tournament (apart from the in-house) didn’t go very well. I won my first match, and lost the rest (gi finals, gi absolute, no-gi, no-gi absolute.) I don’t want a repeat of that.  Thankfully, I do have the in-house tournament to think back on. I did pretty good there, 3-1, and felt really good about my 3 wins.

Another part of the pressure I know I’m putting on myself is that I know I’ve improved. I can see it, I’ve had teammates tell me as much. But I also know that I only had one direction to go. When I started I was horrible. In fact, I might be the worst whitebelt to start at Mid-America in the past 18 months. I’m not saying that as a false sense of humility. I’m not fishing for complements. I was out of shape, unagressive, wimpy. I wasn’t tough. I wouldn’t endure pain hoping to escape a position.  This is Nebraska, where just about everyone has wrestling experience. Not me. Before I started BJJ, my 7 year old son had more grappling experience than I did. It wasn’t just a lack of experience. I was/am uncoordinated. I didn’t see moves and how they flow into the next one. I didn’t have that fierce intensity in me to go after the kill. I can’t think of another whitebelt that I’ve rolled with that was the same way.

A lot of that has changed in the past 18 months. I look for escapes, and go after my sparring partners. I still might not be that good but I know I’m better. Because of that, I want to see how much better, and that’s part of what is making me nervous.

Finally, I’ve had to come to terms over the last few years that I’m just a generally anxious person. I don’t allow myself to read WebMD because I was tired of seeing that I was either having a heart attack, or stage 4 cancer. I still get “syllabus shock” at work at the start of a new project. Wondering “Is this too much? How am I going to be able to accomplish all of this?”  It’s part of my nature, part of who I am. It doesn’t have to stay that way, but to get past that will take more work than someone who is more naturally relaxed.  So it spills over into BJJ as well. It’s more of a head-game than anything. I complete my projects at work, doing good job. I have yet to have a heart attack, stroke or any stage of cancer.

Basically my nervousness is self-induced (as I guess all nervousness is really.) Mine is based on pressure I put on myself for a good showing, and expectations I have. As I told a teammate this week, I have one match, that’s it. Whatever match is next, that’s the only match I have. I’m trying my best to live by that today.

Another Tournament

This Saturday I’m going to another tournament. It will be my first tournament of 2014. It’s happening a little bit later in the year than I would have liked, but sometimes life gets in the way of BJJ.

As always, I have my own set of goals that I’m working on, in addition to wanting/trying to win the gold.  This tournament has some fairly common ones:

  • Medal
  • Not lose by submission

Ideally, I’d like to not lose at all (and that’s always a goal) but I also want to be one tough dude to submit.

The other goals I have for this tournament:

  • Hit the takedown I’ve been working on
  • Win via arm-bar

Even more than that, my main goal is getting mat time in a tournament. I recently have read (and re-read) this great blog post about guys that win when it matters. So as much as I have my goals for this tournament, one larger goal is simply getting better at competing. Learning how to manage the change in adrenaline, learning how to push myself, learning to fight during the match, and not take it just like another sparring session.

So those are my goals for this weekend. I’m on weight (I’m actually quite a bit under) and have prepared as much as I can. It comes down to execution on Saturday.

Arm-bars Against Cancer

At the end of April, the gym I attend (Mid-America Martial Arts) will be doing a train-a-thon.  It’s for a local Omaha girl, Lexxus Shyann Crooks. She’s four years old and has battled cancer her whole life.

What we’ll be doing is taking our normal 5:30 classes and having the students train in an attempt to raise money. The Muay Thai folks are going to see how many kicks they can get in an hour.  Over on the BJJ (good) side of the gym, we’re going to see how many arm-bars we can do.

So, if you’re reading this and you don’t attend MAMA (or you can’t be there that night) and would like to help out. Let me know You can email me from that link, or just post a comment on here if you’d like to pledge money for every arm-bar that I do that night.



Best One To Date

Today was our in-house tournament at Mid-America.  It is the 3rd in-house tournament I’ve been to. My record is something like 0-7 at in houses so far.  There were something like 16-20 white belts, so we ended up doing brackets of 4-5 guys each, round robin, with the winner of each bracket competing.  We were grouped closely in size, probably with in about 25 pounds of each other.

I wanted to be aggressive at this tournament, and the first match was just that. I went out grabbed ahold of his lapel and we started moving trying to take each other down. I’ve been thinking about my game, and I want to be like the Oregon Ducks of BJJ, a lot of attacking, controlling the pace of the game. That’s something I’ve been horrible at, I’ve been much more reactionary.  Anyway, I saw my chance for a single leg, so I drop to a knee to grab it and I get it, but I drop my head. In my mind I’m thinking “I finally got a single leg!” That thought was quickly erased by “He’s got you in a guillotine.”  He took me down and blocked my hips from escaping. As I grab his arm to try and pull my head out, someone thought I tapped so they stopped the match. The referee asked me if I did and I said “No, I was reaching for his arm.”  But I wasn’t going to fight the decision, he told us to get back into the position and start from there. I did, and when you start in a guillotine it’s hard to escape, so I ended up tapping.

I was disappointed with myself for losing, but more so for how quickly I lost. One thing I struggle with is aggression & control. Like throwing a baseball, do you want me to throw it hard or do you want me to throw it to you? I’m likely not going to do both.  And to some degree that’s what happened here, I was aggressive, but dropped my head and lost control.  My opponent did a great job of capitalizing on that and got the win. He ended up winning the bracket and taking 2nd overall, so not too shabby.

My next match was about 10-15 minutes later which was enough time for me to rest. I tried to snap my opponent down, that didn’t work, but I wound up in full guard. I tried for an omaplata, but he as able to escape and I wound up turtled. He didn’t get his hooks in, so I was able to buck him off and wound up in side control, and then mount. I was able to spin around and win by armbar. I was pretty glad, because I’ve been working armbars for a few months now, it was nice to be able to hit one in competition.

My next match seemed like we were standing up forever. I’d try to make him step, he’d try to arm drag me. I’m not sure if we were good at countering each other or sloppy in our attacks, but it took a while before I wound up in half-guard bottom. I was able to get a sweep from there, and  a minute later pass his half-guard. I was trying for a kimura and then a straight arm bar from cross-side, but was unable to finish it, and won on points.

The last match of the day for me was probably the hardest. It’s been over an hour and I feel like I’m still breathing heavy from it.  Again there was a fair amount of dancing for a minute or two before he pulled guard.  I came down with a knee up and tried to pass but was unsuccessful. At one point he swept me to mount, but I was able to reverse it. (The way scoring worked that mount didn’t count.)  We spent the next 2.5 minutes of our match in his guard, me trying to pass, him trying to sweep. I even tried the Lucas Lepri pass I’ve been watching, but just couldn’t quite pull it off.  With about 30 seconds left the ref tells us “It’s 0-0, I’ll have to make a decision.” That was bad news for me. I had been in this guy’s guard the entire time, and even though he didn’t get mount points, he had mount so I knew I’d lose a decision. I reached my right arm back on to his knee to start breaking his guard open, he attacked my left arm for an arm bar, I pulled it out, and was able to smash his legs down and pass. I seriously camped out there for a couple seconds because I was breathing hard — real hard. I then start moving towards his head and wound up mounting him and tried to attack an arm as time expired. I won that one, rolled off of him flat on my back for a few seconds.

I don’t remember consciously thinking about Robert Drysdale in that match, but his principle was there. He told us at a seminar that if you’re losing a match, you need to work so hard that the guy that beats you has nothing left to compete. There is NO point in saving energy, you take it to him and you take it too him hard.  That’s exactly what I was trying to do. I was losing that match, and I needed a guard pass to win. It was my only choice.

So I finished the day 3-1, it’s actually my first win at an in-house tournament. It’s my first winning record at a tournament, and it’s the first time I’ve won 3 matches in a row.  In addition to the wins, I’m happy with how I did. I felt like I was much more aggressive that I normally am. I applied some techniques that I’ve been learning this past couple weeks (including a half-guard sweep.)

It was a hard tournament, but it was a good tournament. There were some really good matches, and I didn’t get to see too many because I was focused on my mat. But the finals matches for the white and the blue/purple division were great.

Rolling with a hurt shoulder

On Friday, at open mat, I got Americana’d. About the same time I was getting ready to tap, my shoulder popped, I heard it and the guy doing the move heard it. He backed up right away. It didn’t really hurt, I wouldn’t say I was in pain, it felt more like hitting my funny bone on it.  I did a couple laps around the mat (the BJJ equivalent of “rubbing some dirt on it.”) and sparred a couple more times.

It’s still a bit sore, but only if I move it in a certain position. Otherwise, I have full use of my arm. In fact, this morning I was doing push-ups, curls, bench press, butterfly and even a lap of bear crawling. The weights weren’t that heavy, but none of those movements irritated my shoulder.

However, last night as I rolled, I wasn’t sure how it would do so I figured I’d try rolling, if I couldn’t handle it, I’d just bow out and rest up.  I went the entire class, and afterwards I noticed something. I had some really good matches. Not in a “I tapped everyone I faced” way, but just there was good movement and defending on my part. Once or twice I tapped because an attack was starting to get locked in on that shoulder.  As I thought about this after class, and even this morning I realized that keeping your elbows in is super effective.

I think the 2 rules of BJJ that I’ve heard are: 1. Protect your neck and 2. Elbows in.  And I know that and I try to be conscious of that when I roll, but last night I was kind of forced to do that, because I didn’t want to flare my shoulder out and have someone take it.

So to all my coaches out there, you were right all along, if I keep my elbows in, I’ll have a better roll.


A Reminder on My Progress

As I wrote last night, I took basically a week off of all training due to a head cold that came on. Tonight I went back to technique class. As we were doing the drills I could tell staying for sparring would be a bad idea. So I showed some maturity and left before sparring class. Better that, than sticking around just because I wanted to spar, and wind up sick again tomorrow.

But that’s not the progress I noticed. Instead, it was my general health. Looking back on my memories of my first day, it was all I could do to get through the warm-up and class. However, today, after a few days with a cold, and junk in my chest, I was able to get through class with minimal effort.  I definitely felt it in my chest, and I know I was breathing harder than normal, but no where near as hard as I was breathing during my first class.