What I Learned From My First Jiu Jitsu Competition

People of all backgrounds walk through my doors, send me emails, or ask for training advice. The secret is that the actively competitive athlete is the easy one to advise: their needs are largely defined by the sport they play. It's harder when you're either done with your life revolving around competitive athletics or you never lived that life to begin with. My best advice to this person is to always find something to train for: a marathon, 5K, rec soccer league, or competing in martial arts. 

You find out a lot about yourself through competition. Here's another secret: it's not the competition itself that brings the joy. Though winning is great, the real ecstasy-like high comes from the preparatory period: those days of training hard and watching your progress, the impeccable sleep and the energy you gain from it, the insight you get on your own personal and physical limits (or lack thereof), overcoming plateaus and the relationships you make with your teammates, classmates and coaches. It's a rich experience. 

I live what I do. I live on the advice I give to my athletes and you all: the things I write about daily and take photos of on Instagram, podcast about on Functional Meatheads, and elsewhere. I love a challenge, but like many, easily can fall into the monotony of doing whatever is required of us in life. The key is not doing this for too long, and I like to think I'm good at sensing imbalance in my life. That's why I decided to compete in the IBJJF NY Summer No-Gi. Open

The idea that I would consider my hobby of Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu a good means for competition and the experiences that accompany it entered my brain pretty early in my beginnings in the sport a year and a half ago. I knew as a fumbling and clumsy white belt that I'd be on the competition mats before long, even if it meant getting triangled in the first round. 

Conceiving the idea and executing it are something entirely different however: a feeling many are familiar with. Little speed bumps happen that deter you from pulling the trigger:

"Oh, I have a trip coming up."

"Oh, I have a work thing the week before."

Anything pops up and becomes a reason not to do it.

I had my own version of this: I got promoted.

Around February of 2015, I was just starting to get comfortable with my fellow white belts and was chomping at the bits to get into the NY Spring Open that upcoming April at white belt.

One evening that month, I heard my name called at the promotion ceremony and before I knew it, was having a blue belt tied around my waist by Marcelo Garcia. 

photo: Ric Ricard

photo: Ric Ricard

Shit. I was happy, but more so, I was scared. I felt undeserving and many emotions of uneasiness.  Feelings I usually help athletes get through in my sessions with them. It's different when it's you though. 

Almost immediately after that night, I felt insecure. I was getting to roll with higher caliber players at the academy and getting walloped. It was the same story while rolling with now-fellow blue belts. It was around this time I talked myself out of the Spring Open.

I can honestly tell you, one day removed from yesterday (my first competition), that it was the decision I regret most since starting jiu-jitsu.

Yes I would have likely lost like I did yesterday, and probably much worse.

But you know what? It doesn't matter. 

I got so much pleasure these past 5 weeks while training (often twice per day), programming my workouts for a sport I love, sleeping 8-9 hours a night, saying no to bullshit food that ends up making you feel worse about yourself, reveling happily in my rest periods, the close relationships I made with my fellow competitors, the support and encouragement I received from family and friends, and yes, even the weight cut. 

I could have experienced this all sooner, but I didn't, because I let some weird voice talk me out of it.

It was the most concentrated dose of positivity rolled into a five week period that I ever experienced. This is coming from a guy who played traveling competitive hockey from age 11. There wasn't one bit of negativity or true life stress in those 5 weeks.

I wouldn't trade it for a thing.  

I wouldn't trade it for the result either: I got triangled in the first round.

I wouldn't trade it because you have to earn the wins. They come from preparation like I described above, but also something more:  the intangibles that you only get through experience. 

Experience I'm working on and it started yesterday. 

I'd like to thank all who supported me and helped in any way along the road. Your words of encouragement are little tiny doses positivity that deeply sink into the brain and put the body at ease, giving a deep sense of feeling like you can do anything.  Words are powerful and change your reality.  There's never anything wrong with being positive, kids!

I thank you for reading a little bit about my experiences and if you have your own story, please do share below in the comments or email me, I'd love to hear it.