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Competition

Posted Jun 18 2009 12:11am
On Saturday, Jeff B's promotion is hosting the Revolution tournament. While I am most certainly biased, I believe that these are easily the best run, most organized events in the Seattle area. He does a great job. I won't be competing this go around, but I will be there to help Jeff in any way I can and to support my buddies on the mats.

Up here in rainy Seattle, we don't have as many tournaments as you guys in the East or down South in California. Our tournaments aren't as big, either. Of course, this also means that there aren't as many opportunities to compete. Also, while Jeff guarantees at least two matches for everyone, there isn't the huge pool of competitors. In February, my bracket had 24 participants. Large, I know, but also at least x3 larger than the second biggest bracket.

On the other hand, events like The Revolution are highly anticipated and a lot of people train to compete specifically for these events. Over the last few weeks, the common question is, "Are you competing?" Several guys from my school will be. I'm not. Not this time.

So, the follow up question is, "Why not?" Seems reasonable. I've answered this question in many different ways over the last few days, most often simply by saying, "Dude. I haven't really been training for it. I just got back from DisneyWorld and I've been eating like hell." Not quite the honest truth. Now, I'm not actually lying to my friends, because those are the superficial reasons I'm not competing. There is, however, more to the story. So, I thought I'd spend some time talking about them, and how I see competition and BJJ.

In order to do that, I need to throw out a few premises. First, there are a lot of reasons people train in BJJ (or any martial arts style). Fitness, self defense, fun, competition... you name it.

Second, many styles view competition as being integral to training: Muay Thai, Judo, San Shou/Sanda, Boxing, Kyokushin Karate, etc. Others view competition as being detrimental to training: Budo Taijutsu, Wing Chun, Aikido, traditional Jujutsu and the like. So, how one feels about competition will steer one to or from styles, even though I've met guys who are exceptions on both sides. These things being understood, BJJ is a competitive art.

Finally, many people train in BJJ who never compete. Competing isn't necessary to advance in rank. This is a question that comes up relatively frequently in online forums: "Do I have to compete in order to gain rank?" Lots of people do exactly this. Ed O'Neill, aka Al Bundy, is a BJJ Black Belt, but I'm relatively sure (and correct me if I'm wrong) that he's never competed at the Mundials or the Pan Ams. I have a hard time imagining him at any competition at all, for that matter.

Whew. So, all of that just to get to the point (finally). I don't enjoy competing. I just don't. Some of the guys at the school thrive on the competition. They love it. You can see the sparkle in their eyes when they think about stepping on the mat and testing themselves. That's not me. I get stressed out. I fret. I think too much and hyperventilate. All of these things are true.

But I compete anyway.

I've competed twice so far over the last year and a half. In my first competition, I won a match and lost a match. In my second tournament, I won all three of my matches. Don't get me wrong. I enjoyed myself. I like winning. Heck, who doesn't? I intend to compete in November, if possible, and my goal is to enter at least 2 tournaments each year. So, even though I don't really enjoy it, I do it. Why is that?

Here are a few of the main reasons I feel that competing is critical, even if I hate doing it:
  1. Competing forces me to address my conditioning. I had three matches in February and was more gassed than I have ever been. The pace is higher, and the adrenaline and anxiety cause fatigue. I have to be in shape.
  2. Competing forces me to address my diet. In competition, there are weight classes. While I walk around at 184 lbs and compete at around that same weight, I want to be healthy and have enough energy to get me through. Others drop weight, and there are good and bad ways to do that. Either way, competition forces my hand. I don't drink as much beer in the weeks leading to a competition. I try to eat less sugar and am just more mindful of my diet.
  3. I learned more about myself in one day on the mats, and in watching my videos from those matches, than I had in the 3 months prior. I saw gaping holes in my game, areas that were exploited. Areas to improve.
  4. I also saw things that I do well. Who knew?
  5. I gained confidence in my training and my ability. BJJ is so hard on the ego. So much of our time is spent on the wrong side of a submission. So many reps before a technique works. So much time being stacked up, passed, choked or hyperextended. Add to this that as we get better, our classmates are also improving. That blue belt who kicks your butt will likely continue to do so. As you improve, he does as well. Granted, we all learn at different rates, but this phenomenon can obscure our own development. In a competition, you roll with people who don't know your game. The difference is like Night and Day.

Someone told me one time that it's the events in one's life that creates memories. We don't remember most of our lives. The routine is lost. Cooking dinner, taking showers, going to work... it's all pretty much the same. Eventually, even our training becomes routine and no longer memorable. It's when we take a risk that we create for ourselves a memory, a marker on our timeline. If there were no other reason to compete, this would be enough for me.

I intend to compete in November at the next Revolution and at least twice each year from then on. I will undoubtedly lose more than I win, but that's not the point.
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