Okay, so I lost in the first round, but I’m really really happy with how things went. First, I felt like I played my game and lost at least partly because I wasn’t finessing the rules correctly. They were slightly unusual and I didn’t take advantage of them, specifically the no points/points configuration. In the 8-minute preliminary matches, no points were awarded for the first 4 minutes. This means that f I executed a sweep or took the opponent’s back in the first 4 minutes, I wouldn’t get the 2 or 3 points I would normally get. The judges worked it this way because they were trying to encourage fighters to go for submissions rather than playing the points game, which can be more timid and, frankly, boring to watch.
In my match, my opponent, a very game Ricardo Almeida purple belt named Emily Kwok, had come close to passing my half guard during the first 4 minutes. I didn’t let her pass, and then she took the pass in the second 4 minutes. So if I had let her pass earlier, she would not have gotten any points and then would have had to engage more, which would have given me some openings. But since she passed in the second 4 minutes, she got 3 points for the pass. This entire situation flashed through my mind in the 3 seconds before the ref yelled “POINTS!” And then I said, “SHIT.”
But the rest of the match, both before and after that, I felt like I pushed the action. I was mostly on the defensive, but had an answer for everything she tried: she tried to take my back several times but was never close, and she tried to rear naked choke me several times but was never close. I was able to recompose the open guard from the turtle position, which is something I have had difficulty with in the past, and, importantly, I didn’t feel outclassed.
I’m happy to say that both Johnny and Felicia said they were proud of me and that I fought a good fight. And the sole reason I had an answer for everything and didn’t feel outclassed is because I have spent the past two months training with them. They have been so incredibly generous with their time and expertise, and anything I did well out there is completely due to their instruction and encouragement. So now I get to thank them publicly: Johnny and Felicia, thank you so much.
Thank you also to everyone who called, emailed, and texted their support: Joemoplata, Wen, Jimmy, Moike, Woody, Parker, Kuan, Fat Tony, Todd, Noah, Tim and Danielle, Jen*, Natasha, and, of course, Mom, Dad, & Marjorie. And thanks to Jen for coming to watch! And for saying I looked really good even though she didn’t actually know what was going on!
Best of all, some time during that match, I completely lost my fear of competing. I don’t know how it happened, but it was like the fear just drained away. I had tried to pinpoint what made me so afraid—performance anxiety, all the people watching me, judgment, etc—but was never able to. But now it kind of doesn’t matter. I let my fear keep me from competing for about 4 years, but after the 3 competitions I have done since I’ve been in LA, I’m over it. I will probably always be nervous before a competition, but it won’t be the debilitating fear I have felt up until now.
So now I’m planning to compete in a tournament run by On the Mat, which I have mentioned before, on November 18-19, and then either a Las Vegas Grapplers Quest or a competition in Virginia that my friends Chrissy and Andrew will be running with another guy named Mike Moses, who runs his own academy in Maryland and who has offered me crash space there. Mike also said I could referee some of the matches at their tourney. (Have I mentioned lately how cool BJJ people are??) So it will be tough to decide which one to attend; either way, I’ll probably be flying from Chicago to get there. I’m thinking I’ll go where I’m likely to get the most matches.
Oh yeah. You’re probably wondering about the rest of the tournament. Well, it was fantastic. Felicia put on a BJJ clinic, winning her division by submitting two opponents (heel hook and rear naked choke) and dominating the third on points. This means 1) she will represent the US in her weight class (flyweight) at the actual Abu Dhabi tournament in May 2007 and 2) she now has a huge pro-wrestling looking belt that she couldn’t seem to take off for hours after she won it. Congratulations, Felicia! You worked your ass off and have beautiful jiu jitsu, and I’m honored to have been part of your preparation.
Johnny and Darren’s division went to Sim Go, a young brown belt under Marc Laimon in Las Vegas. My division went to Kelly Paul, a brown belt under Ralph Gracie in San Francisco. Philadelphia black belt Rick Macauley, whose purple belt girlfriend Anahi is a friend of mine (I really like Rick too, but don’t want to be presumptuous), lost a tough final to Chris Moriarty, an Atlanta-based black belt. Eliot Marshal, who recently got his black belt from Amal Easton in Boulder (and with whom I got to spar when I was out there in the summer—yes, he kicked my ass, but he did it with such finesse and skill that I thoroughly enjoyed myself and asked for more), lost a tough final as well, to a super strong Russian known only to most of us as Misha. I can’t really remember the rest of the divisions, but you can check out http://www.adcctrials.com/
After having dinner with Tim on Thurs night and seeing Jennifer off to work at about 1am, I drove from Brooklyn into Wayne, NJ, to meet up with Felicia and Alicia, or, as I like to call them (and they don’t really like being called), The Eeshas. We were able to get into the room early, so we lay around taking naps and shooting the breeze. There’s always kind of a collegiate atmosphere about competitions, especially when you are staying in a hotel, because you run into people you haven’t seen for a while and hang out in their rooms. So Dave, aka The Rock, aka DAB showed up, as did Johnny and Jeannette (a brown belt who trains with Felicia and Jimmy at Jean Jacques Machado’s). Rudy breezed in later, and then we picked up a stray who came with us on our trek to Whole Foods for some reasonably healthy dinner.
Weigh-ins were from 3-6. Most of the people I was with were fine, but there were one or two people who had to work to make their cutoff. We’re talking those crazy foil-looking sweatpants and hours on the treadmill. Everyone eventually made it, but some just barely. During the rules meeting at 6, Rob Kahn, a Royce Gracie black belt who has an academy in Tampa (I trained there recently when I was visiting my parents, but he was out of town, so I just hung out with his students) kept coming in from the treadmill completely drenched with sweat. He’d dry off and then get weighed behind a towel (he had to strip completely down). There was no peeking, as near as I could tell, and he finally made it. Good show, Rob!
Yesterday morning the Eeshas and I got ready to go and headed over to the venue at William Paterson University around 11:30. There was a mat and places to stretch out, so after we got situated, I sparred some with Crystina, Felicia, and Rudy to warm up and get loose. It was then that I started to lose my fear and get excited. So that’s cool. Crystina introduced me to Dean Lister, her instructor and a well-known jiu jitsu player and mixed martial artist. (I want to get to his academy in San Diego before I leave LA). I saw/met other grappling dignitaries in addition to him and the others I’ve name[droppe]d, and while I didn’t get pictures with any of them (didn’t seem like the time), here’s a list for my future reference: DC Maxwell, female black belt in Philly; Eliot; Rob; Rick; Tim and Sarah Shears (from Gracie Barra in Vancouver—also saw them recently in LA); Mike Moses;
There was some amazing grappling yesterday. It is both inspiring and daunting to see what some of these people can do. I was honored to be a part of it, even though I spent most of the time being nervous. I’m happy to say I won’t be doing that again. Well, I’ll be nervous, but not debilitatingly so.
So after I lost, I was free to watch the talent. It’s really hard to describe why I like grappling and jiu jitsu so much. But when you see a well-executed throw—like when one of the heavyweight women tossed her opponent like a sack of potatoes—or you watch someone gutting out a submission defense that you know they’d just rather tap to, or you almost feel someone coiling up and exploding one last time to reverse the opponent in the final seconds, you just know you’ve witnessed something pretty amazing. And you feel that you want to work harder to get better too. At the risk of sounding elitist or exclusionary, if you know what you’re watching, good Brazilian jiu jitsu or grappling can be as beautiful as dancing. Maybe even moreso, because rather than being your teammate, your “partner” is doing everything s/he can to PREVENT you from executing your move.
I’m so glad I did this. Of course it would be nicer to have emerged with a win, but I got something better: freedom from a fear that’s been hounding me for years, without me even really realizing it. I also got a terrific, fun weekend. Oh, and a pretty bad cold.
I’m lazy and tired, so I’ll post the pics tomorrow. Meantime, hooray for the experience! And now that I’m fearless, next time those middleweight chicks better watch their purses, or wherever it is they keep their game, because I’ll be coming for them! (And if they have gum in those purses, I’ll be coming for it, too!)