Sunday 21st October 2012 was the first time I have competed in BJJ in almost a year and man was I out of touch!
Myself and good friend Jack Lister had a swift trip down to Crystal Palace National Sports Center in South London which was hosting the event in the UK for the first time. By all accounts, the overall turnout was not brilliant, though it still meant 18 competitors in my division (Meio-pesado purple belt) and 34 competitors in Jacks (Meio-pesado blue belt).
Firstly, let’s just get my well know displeasure with the IBJJF out of the way: their tournaments are far too expensive! That’s my main gripe. By the time you throw in entry fee, required approved rash-guard (and shorts as I found out later!), travel etc. it’s easy to be in for around the £120 mark…minimum. This is an obscene and unnecessary barrier to entry for a lot of people. Though I am fortunate enough to be in a position to afford expenses like this, many are not and it does our sport no favours whatsoever. It simply doesn’t represent value in any way, shape or form. I also have a vehement dislike of the ‘reaping the knee’ idiocy in the rule set but that’s a subject for lengthy discussion another time.
Despite my reservations about donating large amounts of money to the IBJJFs coffers, the tournament ran seemingly very well and I really like the official format of escorting fighters one match at a time to their mats. It’s clean and professional though I did hear of a few shockers with this causing accidental DQs and the like from those that attended the London Open (Gi tournament) the day before.
On to the meat of my actual day. Unfortunately Jack didn’t fare well and dropped his opening match on points. It’s a single elimination tournament (again part of the reason I’m repulsed by the entry fees) so once you lose, you’re going home. A tough break for a few folks I saw get flying arm-barred in around ten seconds.
I felt OK for the most part. Most of you know I’ve been cutting weight pretty severely for a long time now and I partially had in my head that the real battle for me was just making the weight class to begin with. Meio-pesado (middle-heavy) in no-gi is around 15lbs lighter than I’ve ever weighed in before. Turns out it was pretty easy and after some water cycling, sodium control and a drought fluid-wise on the Saturday I was about 1.5Kg under the limit on the morning! So I got to eat a bit and take on some fluids but I still had complete paranoia about going over. End result: weighed in at 84.8Kg, about 600g under the 85.5Kg limit.
One thing that nearly always happens at grappling tournaments is standing around. Sometimes as much as seven hours if you turn up with the rest of your team yet are not actually fighting till last at night! I have to say for the most part this tournament seemed to minimise it. Although I got caught out a little as I was warmed up (not as much as I should have been!) and ready to go at 12:00pm for my division yet didn’t fight till nearer 12:45pm.
Both myself and my opponent (Chris Jones from GB Exeter) got disrupted right before our fights however by two very abrupt and unpleasant officials who were checking uniforms. I don’t mind rules and regulations but you should not take pleasure in frustrating fighters and acting like gloating bullies. Chris was told (not asked, told) to change his shorts (colour was slightly off black) and cut his nails. I was told to change my shorts because they had a small velcro mouth-guard pocket at the back. Cue much running around and cursing. I just ran over to Jack and borrowed his shorts whilst Chris had to go and buy a whole new pair there and then.
The actual fight was fun but very disorienting. At no time could I have told you where on the mat I was in relation to the edge, table or referee which is very unusual for me.
I know full well I didn’t perform even remotely close to what I can. I was slow and a step behind everything Chris wanted to do. I let him initiate everything and although I’m fairly certain I wrestle a lot more, I didn’t attack on the feet at all instead letting him pull guard at will with zero punishment. The guy is good for sure but there’s no way I’m that bad…if that makes sense. I did have a couple of solid foot lock attempts which forced him to scramble. I didn’t choose to take the fight there, I was defending his straight leg lock attempts but I’m comfortable in 50/50 guard so I saw no need to run away from it. I genuinely thought I was going to get the tap twice during that exchange but I know I didn’t pinch my elbow back across his toes nearly enough. Cest la vie.
In the end he was very swift in attacking my neck as I got low in half guard and got right under my throat and across my windpipe with a wicked ‘marcelotine’. I thought immediately afterwards that I gave up too early. It normally takes a lot to force me to quit in the gym and for some reason I suspected I’d just mentally quit however the last few days my throat has been in pain when I swallow or talk. He got me good! Credit it to him for being far better than me on the day.
Here’s a photo that made it to the IBJJF Facebook page courtesy of one of their photographers, BJJ blogger and artist: Meerkatsu.
I was, I have to admit, thoroughly pissed off at first. I’m getting sick and tired of training well and hard then never pulling it off when it counts. However that is what this sport is. A lesson in pressure and how you respond to it. Besides, I have so many positives to take away from not just the day itself but everything prior to it from the last 12 weeks…I mean let’s be realistic: I lost one fight against a good, experienced purple belt. That’s nothing compared to the benefit my life has gained by getting to this weight class and being consistently clean with my lifestyle.
Even if I couldn’t overlook the fight itself I just need to remember Renzo’s fine words:
Image borrowed from OneIsTheWarrior
One thing I really do enjoy about competitions is catching up with all the people I don’t get to see that often. There were a fair few on this occasion but notably I ran into the current Cage Warriors Featherweight Champ: Connor McGregor who was competing in the division below me (Middlewight purple belt). Connor will be fighting Jim ‘The Beast’ Alers from alliance Orlando at Cage Warriors 51 on New Years Eve in Dublin…that’ll be one crazy night of fights! Rather coincidentally Jim also fought at a major IBJJF event the same weekend as myself and Connor, grabbing a bronze at the Miami Open.
All in all it was a great experience. I’m going to continue to try and compete a lot more than I have been, especially now I know this is the weight class I can focus on. Honestly though I think I’ll wait till I’m certain I can perform consistently in competition before shelling out the IBJJF entry fees again. The event was well run but it’s still a lot of money and I don’t fancy spending at a potential rate of £20 per minute!
Cage Warriors 49 in Cardiff to look forward to this weekend then on to the English Open in Kent early November, perhaps the British no-gi Open in Birmingham two weeks later and then finally the UMA no-gi event in Leicester start of December where I’ll be refereeing.