First competition

Recently I competed in my first ever Brazilian Jiu Jitsu tournament.

To be honest I’d never imagined myself competing in BJJ.  I’ve always loved it, but it was more a vehicle for MMA.  Something I had to learn before I got in the cage.

I’ve mentioned before that I had a full 2 ½ years out of MMA/combat sports completely whilst focusing on a career change.

That’s a bit of a cop out to be honest.  Genuinely, the career change actually did keep me away from proper training for about six months, but the rest of the absence was just laziness.

I kept saying ”I’ll go back next week”, then I’d have my gear ready in my bag but I’d tell myself “Ahhh wait ‘til tomorrow”.

But to quote Apollo Creed in Rocky III – “Damn it Stallion, there IS no tomorrow!”

I remember being dead nervous pulling up in the Academy car park, but I needn’t be – as soon as I apprehensively walked through the doors it was “Seddoooooooo!” from Kinny’s foghorn voice.  It was like I’d never been away, such is the family atmosphere in the gym.

So I initially concentrated on jitz when I came back.  My plan was to ease my way back in, rather than getting hit in the head straight away.

The thing is…training solely BJJ, for BJJ’s sake, was like opening a portal mentally.  Suddenly a lot of technique made more sense.

In the past, I’d often be in a good position (like side control) but give it up and put myself in a worse spot (like in their half guard), because I could strike from there.

We’d be getting techniques explained to us by the coaches but my mind would be elsewhere.

I’d never known the difference between a ‘De la Riva’ guard or a ‘Single leg X’ guard (I still don’t – they look the same to me!)

I’d just be thinking that I’d never go for that in MMA, I’d get punched dead hard in the face if I did!

But now there’s no threat of strikes coming at me – I get it.

I was loving training again, felt alive again, and wanted to compete again.

A lot of my teammates had signed up to the Winter Edition of the All Stars BJJ tournament, so I thought ‘why not?!’

I was sat on my phone looking at the divisions, deciding what to register for.

I was 80kg(ish) at the time I signed up.  The categories were 76kg and 82.3kg, so I entered the latter.

I didn’t want to diet over Christmas.  But over Christmas I always overindulge. Always!

Every December my discipline gets a bit out of hand and becomes like a movie.  One of those movies narrated by Morgan Freeman.

I told myself I’d get Xmas/New Year out the way and knuckle down and sort my diet out 2nd of January.

Narrator’s voice: But he did not sort his diet out 2nd of January.  He was still ordering takeaways every night until the 8th of January.

Same with the MMA gym night out.  It was getting late.  People were going home in dribs ‘n drabs.  I looked around the boys, thought I’d say my goodbyes, be fresh enough to do some light training tomorrow and get off handy.

Morgan Freeman: But he did not get off handy.  He was still in the GBar with Bowman at 7am when the lights came on.

I was 85kg by the time I actually got back in the zone again.

So I went from having 3kg to play with, to having to lose 3kg.

I’ll never learn, but you know what, having to crash diet unlocked all the old feelings of fighting and being in a camp again.

From the weight cutting, to the people wishing me good luck in the week of the tournament, and the climbing on and off the scales 25 times per day.

I felt alive again!

But come the morning of the event it also unlocked all the old doubts I used to suffer with again.

Why was I putting myself through this?  Why did I have zero energy when warming up?  Why wasn’t I on the ale?  (It was actually my birthday the day of the event.)

Fortunately, being fairly experienced in other combat sports stood me in good stead.

For my MMA fights, it’d be a Saturday night in the cage.  Bright lights, walk out music, rowdy atmosphere with people back and forth the bar.

This, however, was a Sunday afternoon in a leisure centre.  But luckily it was very similar to some rounds of the ABA championships when I competed in amateur boxing, so I was able deal with it.

It dawned on me that although I could roll at a half-decent level in the gym, I didn’t actually know the rules for BJJ.  I lost count of how many times the referee/judges were warning or moaning at me.

Not only had I never competed, but I’d never even been to an event a spectator.

And it wasn’t just the rules, I didn’t know the etiquette – Jason and Jonesy were coaching from the side lines and they laughed at me when I actually asked “Do I bow to the mat when I step on?” as I was beginning my first match.

But…there’s a happy ending…I won my division in both the ‘gi’ and ‘no gi’.

I was absolutely made up to come home with two gold medals.

Funnily enough, in the ‘no gi’ gold medal match I was up against a guy from MMA Academy Formby.

Mike Wootten and Jay Owen were coaching him from the side lines, and again the nerves came rushing and I was overthinking absolutely everything.

Mike and Jay were the first two foundation level coaches I had when I started MMA/BJJ respectively.

They literally laid the foundations before I moved up into the more advanced classes under Jason and Peter.

I was thinking this will be tough – “Will they know what I’m going to go for?  They’ll easily be able to coach their lad to counter it?” – classic overthinking again.

Haha Mike and Jay aren’t ar$ed what I’d go for!  Yes it was a tough, close match but because the opponent was a very good standard – not because Mike and Jay had blueprints for me.  Honestly, when I compete again I need to deal with this overthinking!

In all the other matches that I won, I only managed one submission finish.

I tapped my opponent in my first match of the day with an Ezekiel choke.  The rest were all points’ victories.

Honestly, the feeling of getting a sub in a competition is up there with getting a knockout victory.  Especially when you’re riddled with nerves and convinced you’re losing the fight.

When you land a knockout blow in the ring or the cage it’s an unbelievable feeling.  Sometimes you don’t even feel like anything heavy has landed, you just hit that sweet spot and your opponent crumbles.  It almost feels like they’re putting it on – like they’re taking a dive and going down on purpose.

Well submitting your opponent is very similar.

It’s hard to explain, but if you’ve done either you’ll know what I mean.

Fighting in itself is a very weird scenario.  I’m the most laid back person you’ll meet.  I hate confrontation.  I hate fighting (on the street).  It’s chaos!

But organised fighting…legal fighting…well then yes please!

There’s just something primitive about it.  Like a caveman instinct awakens inside of you when you win a fight, or even just win a battle within a fight.

These blogs are usually about delivering the message: If you want to just get fit and build confidence then MMA Academy is the place for you.  But conversely, if you want to sharpen your iron with some of the best killers in the country, then the MMA Academy is also for you!

Above all, everyone should learn some form of self-defence.

There’s a quote from the film Fight Club that resonates with me: How much can you know about yourself if you’ve never been in a fight?

It wasn’t all plain sailing, though.  Besides winning my categories at 82.3kg (which is classed as middleweight) I also entered the ‘absolute’ division.

For anyone who’s unfamiliar with BJJ, the ‘absolute’ is where weight categories are removed, so every white belt competes in a tournament, every blue belt, and so on…

I lost in my first match there against someone from the ‘ultra-heavy’ weight category.  I think heavyweight is anything up to 100.5kg and for ultra-heavy there’s no limit.

The match started off well enough until I went for a sloppy takedown and got sprawled on with my neck in a weird position.

I heard an almighty ‘crunch’ and just got mauled after that.

Was it the smartest decision to enter the absolute? No.

But given the chance would I do it all again? Also no.

F**k that!  I’ve only just started being able to twist my neck left and right again.

Anyway, it was a brilliant day overall and I recommend it to anyone.

If you’re the type of guy who just likes to train leisurely in the gym then there’s nothing wrong with that.  But trust me, testing yourself competitively will develop you more than you realise.

As a team, the gym came 2nd overall in both the adults and the kids.

I work a lot of weekends in this new job but I’m looking forward to getting back out there as soon as I can.

Footnote edit*

I started this blog last week and couldn’t upload it until today as it was saved on my z drive in work.

Since writing it, I’ve been promoted to purple belt J

I turned up half asleep for the Monday lunchtime session and by chance, it consisted of a much higher standard of belts than usual.  There was a few black belts, a few brown belts, and then mainly purple and blues.

Myself and Ian Johnno avoided the dreaded ‘iron man’ but still went through a tough ‘shark tank’ before receiving our purple belts from Jason.

Just like when I received my blue belt – I can’t stop smiling.  It just proves to stick with something even when you feel like you’re getting nowhere.

I still don’t know what the most basic BJJ moves are called!