Soooo, anybody need anything from Turkey?
I ask because I’ll be going there in September. All expenses paid. You see, I competed in a submission grappling tournament this last weekend in Las Vegas, the US Grappling World Team Trials sponsored by FILA, and I won my division! So I’ll be representing the United States at a world grappling event in Antalya, Turkey.
Needless to say, I’m pretty freaking stoked. Chrissy had said, and a couple other people thought, that it’s kind of fitting that this is happening, at least in terms of the integrity of a story. I have been blogging about my jiu jitsu journey, and, they say, it makes for great drama that I would progress enough to do well at an event like this. I don’t know if it’s a logical conclusion, but I’m very excited and grateful to everyone who helped me get here.
I’m happy about a couple things: 1) I had a BALL competing. I’m so thrilled that I have gotten to the point where competing is fun for me (Of course, winning doesn’t hurt with that, but even when I lost to Lana Stefanac last weekend—more on that later—it was a fun match); that in itself is a major victory; 2) I did well at the weight that was natural for me. Even though these women were heavier than me (I was at 145 and the cutoff for the division was 158), my conditioning, my strength, and my technique were where I needed them to be, and I believe that’s because I decided to love and be grateful for my body. I was able to counteract the weight discrepancy that did exist; 3) I finally believe, a little, that my grappling is improving (I joke about how it doesn’t stink like dead body anymore, just like spoiled groceries).
Jimmy, Rudy and I arrived in Vegas on Fri night and drove the strip to get to the Riviera, where we were staying. This took a while, because it was a weekend night and the tourists were out in full force. According to Jimmy, the Riviera is at the “poop end” of Vegas, which is to say the seedier side. Fortunately, it is also near the LV convention center, which is where the event was. So, poop end or no, we were close to where we needed to be. We connected with Felicia and Brian, who had come earlier in the day so Felicia could weigh in (her division weighed in on Fri and competed on Sat while mine weighed in on Sat and competed on Sun). We also connected at the restaurant in the hotel with Darren and Denny, who had arrived earlier that day as well. Denny had just weighed in, and had cut about 9 pounds to make weight, so he was in the process of consuming as many calories as he could: fries, avocado, bacon, a cheeseburger with a side of chicken wings. It was an impressive display. We all crammed into one booth and talked about the upcoming event.
My mother asked me what FILA stands for, and I didn’t know. Then I googled it and found, at http://www.fila-wrestling.com/, that it is the French version of the acronym, Fédération Internationale des Luttes Associées. Luttes = wrestling/fighting, I think. The competition is held annually, I believe, and this is the first year that submission grappling has been included. In other years, it has only included freestyle, Greco-Roman, and beach wrestling. And it is the crème de la crème event for those events, very akin to an Olympic qualifier.
The rules for this tournament were slightly different from the rules for the grappling or jiu jitsu tournaments I and most of my friends are used to, so we had to do a little studying. There had been some grumbling during the qualifying events and some concern that wrestlers would be able to take down submission grapplers and just stall by holding them down for the points win, but the referees were real sticklers about making sure the competitors pushed the action.
In some cases, they were a little quick to warn the grapplers about stalling (and yes, I was warned once or twice about stalling when I didn’t think I was, so take my opinion with a grain of salt, or sel, as the French say), and there were some other instances where the points system favored the less active/aggressive/technical grappler, but for the most part, people seemed happy with the rules. Here, as in any submission grappling event, it’s far better to submit your opponent than to leave it up to the judges.
The entire tournament was incredibly well run. On time, organized, with plenty of warm-up room for the competitors, press coverage, accessible officials who seemed to know what was going on, and incredibly efficient medical attention. Ricky Lundell got headbutted in one of his matches, for instance, and within an hour he was stitched up and ready to go again. This is notable because it is in kind of stark contrast to the way many BJJ tournaments are run. Everyone I know who competes in BJJ has at least one story of having to wait 8-10 hours past their stated time to get to compete. Not so at this tournament. It really had the feel of a well-oiled machine, and everyone I talked to really liked it.
And oh my God, the work ethic of the wrestlers. From their explosiveness, to their ability to cut weight (imagine me pulling nervously at my collar), to their top physical conditioning, the freestyle, Greco-Roman, and beach wrestlers were incredibly inspiring. A lot of us grapplers were joking about how those wrestling jerks were going to force us into better condition and to have to improve our takedowns rather than just being able to pull guard and drop our weight effectively. Jerks.
The first day, Felicia and Cristina’s division went, as did a couple of the men’s divisions. I ran into Cristina while they were doing pigtail matches, which, to the best of my understanding, are matches that happen when the number of competitors is not even. So say there are 17 competitors rather than 16 (16 would make an even bracket). Then two competitors would be chosen randomly to fight for a spot in the division. The pigtail matches took place on a mat kind of in the back, but then when the “official” divisions started, we were moved to center stage with the rest of the wrestling categories. My division wasn’t till Sunday, so I was able to walk around and be supportive and enjoy the event and the matches. It’s more difficult to do that on the day that I am competing, because I have to spend time warming up, getting in the zone, and putting on my game face.
But look who I ran into on my “day off”!
Ricky Lundell, pre-stitches, who ultimately won his division (congrats, Ricky!) Dang, I look sleepy!
Joeseph Gutierrez, who trains with Javi Vasquez at Showtime and also plays at New Breed sometimes:
Ryan Gregg, a black belt under Rigan Machado and one of the masterminds behind On the Mat (that OTHER jiu jitsu gear store :) waiting for the pigtail matches to start:
There were also some shenanigans going on throughout the weekend. For instance:
Jimmy and Darren horsing around even though Jimmy didn't compete and Darren wasn't scheduled till the next day. The siren song of grappling is strong. (And yes, I jumped in there too.)
Brian, Ryan and Denny talking strategy. Or talking BS. You be the judge.
Me post-weigh-in. The 72 is my weight class (72 kg). Can I interest you in a ticket to the gun show?
I didn’t take any pictures of the famous people; it just seemed intrusive and kind of too much trouble. Sorry! Oh, and I found Christina Marano’s purse in the ladies’ room and turned it in at the officials’ table. I didn’t know who Christina Marano was, but it turns out she’s one of the best female freestyle wrestlers in the country. Two-time national champion, I believe. So the lady who took the purse wrote down my name because she thought Christina would want to know so she could thank me. I jokingly said she could thank me by teaching me some takedown secrets. Christina, that offer is still on the table. I want to learn from you!
First round action was pretty exciting. Felicia and Cris both won their fights, Felicia with a rear naked choke, I think, and Cris with what’s quickly becoming her signature move: a guillotine. Cris and Felicia met in the second round, and Felicia won on points (a lot of them). So then Cris had her work cut out for her to fight back to third. This was a double elimination tournament, which means that if you lost one, you could still win a spot on the national team—which is exactly what Cris ended up doing.
After her first win and her loss to Felicia, she guillotined another opponent within seconds (as she said, “Did I just grapple there?”), scared her 4th one off (she won by disqualification because the opponent didn’t show up), and finally guillotined her 5th opponent to win 3rd place! Congratulations to Cris! My only complaint is that I was supposed to be coaching her, and she did everything just fine and so quickly that I barely had a chance to open my mouth. Kudos to Rob Kahn and Gracie Tampa for producing such a monster. I can say without hyperbole that Cris is part of the future of women’s grappling.
I have to send out a special thanks to Matt Sanchez, who loaned a complete stranger (me) a pair of shorts for the weigh-ins, which happened during a break in the grappling/freestyle/beach action. I didn’t bring anything to weigh in in because I was so under the cutoff. Most people weigh in in very little because they have had to cut weight, so the guys dress in Speedos or just a pair of shorts while the women dress in a sports bra and some kind of shorts. But I could have taken a litter of puppies onto the scale with me and still made weight, so I didn’t think I needed to “dress” for the weigh-ins. So there I was in my camo Capri pants and my Petranek Fitness t-shirt (according to which I do the impossible) and the official said I needed something shorter on the bottom.
Matt Sanchez to the rescue. He loaned me his shorts (not the ones he was wearing to weigh in in), and I dropped trou in the hallway to put them on. Thanks again to him, and congratulations as well, because he fought back from a first-round loss to take third place in his extremely stacked weight division.
That evening we had dinner at the Peppermill, which Rudy was REALLY excited about. Rob Kahn, Cris’ instructor (whom you may also remember from previous posts of mine as a hilarious guy who clowned me in front of my parents when I was home for the holidays), bought our drinks because we were hanging out with Cris, but unfortunately, none of us were really drinking, some of us b/c we don’t drink, and some of us (me) b/c we were competing the next day.
Next day, Sunday, was go time. I slept really well, and woke up nervous. We got there around 9 to be there for Darren and Brian, who unfortunately had to fight each other first. Then I started warming up with Rudy and then with Johnny for my match at 11:30. The other women’s division went too, the one I didn’t make weight for. Then I started putting on my game face and thinking about how to beat my first opponent. Cris made me laugh, because apparently my game face is very noticeable, and when I was getting ready to go out for my first match, she took one look at me and said, “Wow, Val, looks like it’s time to choke a bitch.” (That’s what the kids say. Cris keeps me young.)
I’d like to stress here that phrases like “time to choke a bitch” and the other things I say related to competitors that sound denigrating are not intended to be at all. I have nothing but the utmost respect for people who compete, and I like a lot of the people I have competed against. But one of the things I have found is that I need to psyche myself up to compete, to get a little bit pissed off, to get into an aggressive mindset. So that means sometimes saying and thinking things about my opponent as an opponent that I don’t really believe about her as a person. (How’s that for foreshadowing? *cough cough* Mom and Dad! *cough cough*)
My first match was against a really tough competitor. I eventually beat her in double sudden death sumo overtime (seriously, that’s what it was called—first points scored won, or if you were pushed out of bounds, you lost), which we needed because I made a stupid tactical decision. At some point in the regulation part of the match, I swept her, which put me up by two points. I spent some time trying to pass her guard, but then I was warned about stalling (one of the ways I like to pass is to hunker down close to the opponent and use my weight to flatten the leg and get by that way, so sometimes it looks like I’m not doing anything when actually I’m fighting for inches—and that was one of the issues people had with the event; since grappling is a new addition, the referees didn’t necessarily understand exactly what happens with grappling compared to straight wrestling, so a seasoned jiu jitsu ref would have given me a little more time to pass before calling me for stalling). If had I got another warning they would have given her a point. I think I panicked a little, so I decided to push the action by going for the finish.
So I fell back for a straight ankle lock and she kept trying to come up to defend. The upshot is, eventually I gave up on the ankle lock and she got two points for sweeping me back somehow. So then we did overtime, during which I think I swept her toward the very end but didn’t have enough time left to establish control for 3 seconds. So then it went to sumo OT, and eventually I swept her and held the position for the win. She was really tough and it was a pleasure to roll with her!
I mentioned that my conditioning and strength were good, and they were. I made it through the 6-minute regulation period, a 2-minute overtime, and then however long into the 2nd overtime we went. 8-10 minutes may not sound like a lot, but it can be when you are doing that kind of work. But afterward, I felt just fine and ready to go again, while according to my friends, my opponent lay by the mat for 5-10 minutes getting her wind back. I actually don’t know why she was lying there; maybe she was just thinking about the match or something, but I mentioned it to my parents, and my father said, “Good. Maybe she’s dead.”
Now, of course my father didn’t really hope that she was dead. He was just being a loyal dad to me—and I think all this competing has brought out the latent competitor in him too. He played football and lacrosse and rowed for the crew team back in the day, and he was an aggressive SOB, just like I’m becoming an outer bitch (as opposed to my inner bitch, which I’m letting out. Get it?). I’m really glad that my parents are getting into the competition thing. They are planning to come out to California to watch me at a tournament sometime this summer, and if things shake out like they did the last time the ‘rents saw me compete, things will get crazy.
Aside story about the first time my parents saw me do jiu jitsu, let alone compete. It was way back when I was a new blue belt and Shonie Carter was running an event at a sports bar in Chicago called Joe’s on Weed Street. Shonie was looking for a couple women from Carlson Jr’s academy to compete, so my friend Ayano and I said we would do it. Some other guys from our academy competed too.
We got to the bar right after I was done with work, and we watched the place fill up—mostly with big, musclebound, tatted up dudes with shaved heads. At first, Mom and Dad were concerned about these people who looked all crazy. And it didn’t help that we were in a sports bar and their daughter was about to step into a boxing ring and roll around on the ground with another chick—who was rumored to be a stripper; at the very least, she had implants (as Ayano said while we were changing near our opponents, “I saw them, and they’re fake.”) But then they started chatting with the people around them and discovered how friendly and cool they are.
Now, my parents can chat up a dead person and have a ball, so it wasn’t long before they started finding common ground with the other grappling fans and having a grand old time. In fact, my mother eventually brought one corner of the bar over to the Val side; while I was up there competing, she started yelling “DOWN IN FRONT!!” to some of the bar patrons who were talking to each other rather than watching me and were also standing in her way.
When they started looking at her like, “Who is this crazy lady?” she yelled, “My daughter’s fighting up there!” And just like that they got all excited and asked her what my name was, and before you know it, an entire corner of the bar was chanting my name and cheering for me. (And for the record, I choked a bitch out with a head and arm triangle.)
Okay, back to the FILA tournament. My second match was the finals match, because there were only 4 women in the division. So I didn’t compete against her until about 7 or 7:30 at night, because they had all the finals at one time.
In the meantime, I cheered on Darren and Brian. Darren had won the match with Brian, and he went on to win the whole thing! And Brian fought back to within a match of 3rd place, so he had a terrific showing too. Congrats to both of them!
And then on to my finals match. It was kind of cool, I daresay. My opponent in the is a mixed martial artist, which means she normally punches and kicks, but she can’t in these kinds of events because they are straight grappling events. We circled and swatted at each other for a few seconds, and then I went in for a clinch.
I pulled off what’s called a foot sweep or a sacrifice throw, where I basically hug her to my chest, step to one side, sit on my ass and throw her over my shoulder. I flip my hips over and land perpendicular to her in what’s called side control. I controlled her for three seconds to get 5 points, 2 for the throw and 3 for landing past her guard (so I wasn’t between her legs). After I got my points, I must have gone back into her half guard because then I found myself trying to pass.
That is, until that fateful moment when I heard Jimmy yelling, “D’Arce! D’Arce!!” Now I think I have mentioned the D’Arce choke, also known variously as the brabo and the Danaher. Whatever you want to call it, as soon as I heard Jimmy yelling, I thought, “Holy crap, there it is.” And I threw it on. She was lying on her right side, hooking my right leg with both of hers. I was above her trying to pass her half guard (free my right leg) toward my left. I slid my right arm under her left arm and under her throat. Then I grabbed my left bicep with my right hand, hooked my left hand over her trapezoid muscle, lay on my left side, and squeezed really hard while walking my feet toward her feet. This move chokes the opponent and can put pressure on the neck too.
I felt her tap kind of under me, on my chest, and I immediately let go, which, while the nice thing to do, isn’t necessarily smart during a competition. You should really let the ref see the tap, because people have been known to tap and then deny it. But Jimmy and Johnny saw it too, and I don’t think she would have denied it anyway. But it’s amazing what you have to think of when you’re competing. And how intense I get about it. Holy crap!
So just like that, I won! And I am grateful to so many people for helping me do this, and since this is my blog, I’m gonna list ‘em: Johnny; Shawn; Carlson Sr.; Carlson Jr,; Felicia; Jimmy; Rudy, Brian, SPF; Vince; Darren; Cris; Natasha; Adamarie; Debbie; and of course my mother, Mom; my father, Dad; and my sister and her family.
And they interviewed me! Here is the article I appear in. Note that I don’t recall being quite as spazzy as I sound in here, but the sentiments are heartfelt. http://www.themat.com/index.php?page=showarticle&ArticleID=16797.
I’m IMing with Felicia even as we speak to speculate about next steps, which may include the entire team training together before we go to Turkey. At any rate, get your list together so I know what to bring you back as a souvenir. Just don’t ask for any hashish. I have seen Midnight Express and I’m not interested in taking that train!
Okay, next installment I promise to write about the No Gi Pan Ams. I figured this event kind of trumped that.