“Are you warm?”
“Have you got your ID?”
“Well go get it! You’re up!”
Slightly shaking I ran back to my bag, rummaged around. I vaguely remember someone trying to talk to me but I was completely in my own world. I finally fumbled to my wallet, grabbed my drivers license and with sweaty slippery hands hurried back to the bull pen. It was time for my first BJJ tournament.
I eyed by opponent up and down. I knew nothing about him. He was much taller than me, but kind of in a lanky way. He sounded Italian. He looked nervous. He had three stripes on his belt to my zero. I can take him, I thought.
In the weeks running up to the IBJJF London Open I had been telling everyone, including myself, that I didn’t care about winning.
“I’m a massive underdog. I’ve only been training six months so I’m just doing it to get into the tournament habit. Everyone expects me to get submitted”.
But I was lying. I really did care. I was a massive underdog and everyone did expect me to get subbed, but I had convinced myself that even so I was going to win. I had even dreamed about it, about slotting on a perfect triangle immediately after pulling guard. Winning in the first thirty seconds. I had dreamed about it so much that I believed that was how the match was going to go down.
We stepped onto the matt, shook hands and the match started.
I was nervous, but not too nervous. I had my game plan. I would pull guard and then try and sub him from immediately. I would also be ultra aggressive and scramble like mad any time it looked like he would improve his position.
Unfortunately as you can see, it didn’t turn out that way. I lost. 0-0 with him winning by an advantage point.
I stuck to my plan, perhaps too much. I was so hyped up on adrenaline that I could barely think. My mind was blank and I was just trying to force positions. I totally forgot how to pass his guard and spent the final few minutes frantically trying to push his legs out the way and jump round them.
And that’s it. I was knocked out of the tournament. I had had my five minutes of glory.
Despite convincing myself I was going to win, I think that I actually did better than expected. I didn’t get submitted and I didn’t concede any points. In fact, the funny thing is that I thought I was winning for most of the match. When he tried to pass my guard at the beginning I was able to get to my knees and stand up, putting him on his back. I thought that would count as a sweep and award me two points. It was a very close match, but I think on average my opponent was better than me.
My first BJJ tournament came exactly six months and five days after first setting foot on the mat. It has been a while since my last post, so how am I getting on?
Well for starters I have chilled out a lot when it comes to my training regime. Over the first 186 days, I have managed 141 hours. That sounds like a lot, but it’s about half what I did in the same time period during my table tennis in a year challenge.
Initially, I was trying to average over an hour a day but my body just couldn’t handle it. The constant bruises and battering meant I’ve picked up more injuries in the past six months than in the previous 26 years combined. I’ve had a total of 32 days off from injuries, and it could have easily been a lot more.
After recovering from my rib injury, I took the conscious decision to just chill out and enjoy myself. I’m still training a lot and still getting better, but I am no longer forcing myself to train all the time. I currently take most weekends off and if my body is in pain or complaining I’ll just skip the next sessions. For more details of exactly what I have been up to check out my training diary. Since recovering from the rib I have been averaging just over 6 hours a week.
About three months in Ashleigh Grimshaw, one of the coaches, asked me how much weight I had lost since starting. I looked at him funny. I hadn’t lost any weight, in fact I had put on weight. In the last six months I have put on about 8kg, and I think almost all of it is muscle. I am feeling really strong while rolling and some lighter people who could once hold me down I am now able to just bench press off.
I haven’t done any strength training outside of BJJ, so it is literally all from rolling. It’s great and I think I’m at my strongest and fittest point ever. They only problem is that it does make it harder to work out what weight category I should compete in. To begin with I thought I would be either a featherweight (<70kg) or a lightweight (<76kg). Now I am very much a middleweight (<82kg).
While my general physical strength has been improving pretty regularly and smoothly, my BJJ has not. My skill level has gone through some massive peaks and troughs. The first couple of months were great. I was getting loads better. I was taking in as much information as possible and everything was new and exciting.
After that, I had a month where I felt as if I was getting worse. It was a miserable time and for a while I really wasn’t enjoying it. Then I started improving again. I had another month where every session felt better than the one before. The head coach Jude Samuels even commented that I had improved a lot.
But almost as soon as he said that I entered a long two month period of feeling rubbish and not getting anywhere. People who had been unable to submit me started finishing me two or three times in a round. I spent more and more time being suffocated under mount or side control. I started to wonder if I had reached my peak, if I could get any better. Maybe all those people who say ‘it’s all about practice’ are just benefiting from great genes. Everyone else who puts in the practice and is still rubbish just ends up quitting. The top white belts seemed so far away, I couldn’t imagine I’d ever be able to beat them. And they’re still considered beginners by the higher belts.
But then, in the final couple of weeks before the tournament I started improving. Not only did I start improving, I jumped forward. I started to feel comfortable standing up and now I am spending a bit more time in controlling positions.
How am I feeling in general about my BJJ skills? Well, I think I am pretty rubbish for the amount of hours I have put in. But even compared to most BJJ people I am putting in a lot of hours. Compared to most people at the six months mark I think that I am fairly good.
There is still so much I have to learn and perfect before I can class myself as a top white belt (my seven-month target is feeling a bit silly right now). I have an understanding of the fundamentals but need a lot more mat time practicing my techniques and getting tournament experience.
Next up is the English Open in mid-November. Bring it on.