Confession of a Competitor: IBJJF NoGi World Championships 2011 Edition

Nov 16th, 2011 by dane

Staff writer Dane Grace

The Road to Victory or Defeat

Four days before the International Brazilian Jiu Jitsu Federation’s NoGi World Championships, I am in one of the warehouses that comprises Budo Videos’ physical location. I’m dressed in what will be my competition uniform – a pair of black NoGi Industries board shorts and a black and blue (I am a blue belt) NoGi industries long-sleeved rash guard. At the time, I was trying to shoot single-leg tackles on Ryan, my friend and training partner, to limited success. I eventually took him down, but it was not going nearly as smoothly as I’d have liked at that point in my preparation.

I looked to Budo Jake, who was watching from the sidelines and asked, “Well, how do [the takedown attempts] look?”

I was not asking for reassurance. At five feet, eight inches tall, I assumed that everyone in the medium-heavy weight class of the men’s masters’ blue-belt division will be taller than me and Ryan is six feet tall.  Given my stature, I felt and still feel that I’d perform better at middle weight.

After training on October 10, I weighed 191 pounds and I still nursed the pipe-dream that the remaining three pounds burn off in order to make the cutoff of 188.5, but I was not making appreciable progress. I (foolishly) stated before training that I intended slug it out with the heavy weights if necessary. Later that night and over dinner, Jake either advertently or inadvertently delivered a reality check (I never asked, but I suspect that Jake made the heroic effort to save me from myself) regarding my weight.

The topic of conversation drifted to who we would hypothetically face if we pitted ourselves against the prime contenders of our sport. At feather weight, Jake was facing a division populated by Justin Rader, Barret Yoshida, Rafael Mendes and Cobrinha.

“You know, at black belt, you’d be in the same division as Galvão and Romulo (Barral),” Jake told me wide-eyed (at the time, I took it as surprise – I now suspect he was appraising my reaction).

Beyond being a separate (more advanced) Jiu Jitsu species, both of them are larger than me. Emphasis: larger, and I do not simply mean taller, thicker or more muscular. They are larger than me in all three capacities. I tried rationalizing to myself that they are professional athletes and physical specimen, but this was a clear case of the excuse factory working overtime.

So, I started a desperate and ultimately failed attempt to make the middle-weight cutoff. On October 28 (a day before the registration deadline), I weighed in at 181 pounds and I registered at medium-heavy. I could have possibly made middle weight, but I would have surrendered too much strength and explosiveness for the weight loss to pay dividends.

Therefore, I concluded that pushing the pace was my best bet at this weight and securing a takedown would go a long way in nudging me towards a win.

Jake looked to me and paused for a few seconds – long enough for me to realize that he had more hard news to deliver.

“They look good, but you really need to think about pulling guard if you miss the single. It’ll be tough if you can’t get it.”

“Right,” I replied. “I’ll have to pull to half or open guard.”

Ryan replied immediately, “Let’s get to it.”

Ryan blew through my half-guard on my first attempt and laid both of my shoulder blades to the mat in open guard on the second. On my third attempt, I clinched him with a collar tie, changed levels to shoot and pulled to butterfly guard. I swung my weight toward him while maintaining my grip around his neck. My momentum pulled him past me and forced him to shoot a hand to the mat. From there I worked a butterfly guard sweep that got me to two-on-one.

“There you go,” Ryan said. “Go for that if you don’t think you can get the single.”

I had fewer than four days to the tournament while performing in a weight class that I’d concluded was too heavy for me and I was still tinkering with how I was going to take my fight to the ground, which begs the question: why compete?

I could respond that no competitor goes into a tournament at 100% or with the long list of benefits that competing begets, which include the widely held opinion that a single competition counts for as much as six months of training, that competing Jiu Jitsu practitioners have a better grasp on the strengths and weaknesses of their game or that competitors have a more profound understanding of Jiu Jitsu techniques – but none of these really address my motivation.

For me, competitions put Jiu Jitsu in a very literal, objective context. In training, there are no real victories or defeats. Getting submitted during sparring or class is expected and encouraged. We can only progress during training if we’re stepping out of our comfort zones; which entails trying new techniques. This, by nature, involves failure.. However, a competition is a matter of applying the techniques you perform best against a resisting opponent applying the techniques they perform best.

This endeavor is, by nature, rife with so many variables (a number of which cannot be anticipated) that any serious competitor is basically forced to evaluate their performance – win or lose, victory or defeat. This evaluation inevitably reveals weaknesses or mistakes. – win or lose; victory or defeat. This evaluation inevitably reveals weaknesses or mistakes. I personally doubt that any one at any level has genuinely considered their performance flawless.

Therefore, it is more or less inarguable that competition is the most effective and honest feedback mechanism available, and why it is so appealing to me.

The Day Of

I am not one for building suspense, and so I will state outright that I lost my first match by a single advantage to Julien Blanc. He executed a gorgeous hip throw while I tried to take his back on the feet, and he deserves every bit of credit due to him – more so because he was also a perfect sportsman. I look forward to seeing him at competitions in the future.

Also, I enjoyed the experience so much that I was a bit frustrated that I didn’t register for the open weight division, which would have afforded me more opportunities to roll.

As for the event itself, I would first like to state that coordinating nearly any event is an exercise in directing chaos and, for better or worse, the IBJJF does the best job of it (in the contexts of Jiu Jitsu and of what I’ve experienced). I had competed in a few tournaments before the NoGi World Championships, and none were as well-executed and all were much smaller in scope. That stated, my match did run late, which made it difficult for me to plan my warm up effectively.

My division was scheduled to compete at 3:30 p.m., but I didn’t get on the mats until 4 p.m. I warmed up once at 3:00 and again at 3:45. It would have been convenient to fight when I was scheduled, but this was by no means a disaster nor am I complaining. However, I suggest that competitors communicate with the coordinators and determine how the event is progressing. It could easily save someone the hassle of either missing a warm up or getting cold while waiting for their match.

If you’re new to IBJJF events, make sure that you’ve addressed any business that needs addressing before you weigh in because you are escorted to the mats the second you are off the scales. I thought I’d have a minute or two to collect myself, but such was not the case.

After my match and after the adrenaline subsided, my mind immediately began a rush examination of my performance, and I have a laundry list of things I will address in the coming months. This, I think, is typical and can be incredibly constructive.

For those interested in competing but have not done so before, I will leave you with a few suggestions:

1. Make reasonable weight loss goals if you’re not used to dropping large amounts of weight in a relatively short period of time. It affects one more than one might think.

2. Try to recruit someone to record video and take photos before the day of the competition. It is far too difficult to do coordinate this the day of.

3. Again, communicate with the coordinators regarding the schedule. Make sure you find out sooner rather than later if the event is running behind.

4. I am convinced that success at a competition is mostly psychological. Therefore, evaluate what will keep you motivated and in a constructive mindset. In my experience, there is no “one mindset to rule them all” and a competitor’s best psychological state is, as ever, very subjective.

5. This may be a case of stating the obvious, but bring more water than you think you’ll need. One cannot perform well dehydrated.

6. Make sure that your coach and you are on the same page, or (more importantly) that you have a coach in the first place. This may or may not seal the deal, but the psychological boon is palpable.

7. Enjoy it! Each competition is a unique experience and a great opportunity to make new friends and/or rub shoulders with people as enthusiastic about the sport as you. Be sure to soak that in.

8. Be sure to double check the rules of the tournament – which includes uniform regulations. I personally saw at least a half dozen disqualifications due to “reaping” (rotating an opponent’s leg towards the center line) and three people who had to make a last-minute run to the Budo Videos booth to buy IBJJF-approved shorts or rashguards.

  • Julien

    hey it’s Julien, good little article….It was an honor competing against someone so humble about this discipline… I shall meet you again on the mat in middle weight class. I too drop a few pounds fro comfort…until then train hard…

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