I want the challenge,
and in my moments of doubt,
I take my chances.
Yesterday, I competed in the IBJJF New York Open. This was the biggest jiu jitsu tournament I’ve competed in so far and my most unique tournament experience to date. It was one of those things where nothing went how I imagined it, even from five or six months ago when I silently committed to competing in this event.
Back in the November, I was in good shape from my summer and fall tournaments. My conditioning routine was very set and my diet was excellent. Since I wasn’t competing anytime soon, I eased up on the diet a little as we slid into the holidays. Then winter rolled around and not even the threat of death could get me out of bed early enough to do my morning workouts in the dark. I was still practicing four to six days a week, so I didn’t notice any significant changes in my body. I knew the New York Open was coming, but I kept telling myself, “I’ll get it together for February and March. That will give me time.” However, when February and March pulled up, I found myself getting sick constantly, and bad enough that I had to miss days of work. During those two months, I probably missed at least three weeks of practice. When I was on the mat, I felt slow and weak. I didn’t want to know what my scale had to say about all this. I tried to picture myself competing and felt like I would be setting myself up to fail. I didn’t want to do that for this tournament. In addition, my job was exploding in chaos and I wondered if I could handle the stress at work and prepare for a tournament at the same time. I wasn’t sure. So after some thought, I emailed my coaches and told them that I was not going to compete. They respected my decision and we left it at that.
Well, they left it at that, but a part of my brain couldn’t let it go. During practice, our drills and technique were geared toward competition. Our coaches talked to us about being good training partners for the people who were competing. I felt left out and jealous. I’m usually one of the people you’re supposed to help get ready for the tournament! One week, I had a few fun practices in a row. I felt like myself again. I wanted to fight. I told myself I should wait til the next one, but what the hell was I waiting for? I’m still a white belt. I’ve been improving over this past year and there is no better time for me to test myself than right now. So two and a half weeks before the tournament after consulting with my training buddies and coaches, I registered. It was done. Sigh of relief.
But no, no sigh of relief. If I know one thing about myself, it’s that I don’t like things to be easy. How did I make registering for a tournament hard? Well, I decided to go down a weight division. When I finally got brave enough and stepped on the scale, I was 131 (I normally hover around 125). This was a relief, since I was certain I was pushing 140 during my lazy/sick period. With my walking around weight, I would be in the light weight division. But feather weight went up to 129. I could get down to 129, no problem. Yet there was a problem because for IBJJF tournaments, you have to weight in with your gi, which could add anywhere from four to eight pounds. My gi added four. So for me to hit 129 with my gi, I’d have to get down to 125. Seven pounds in two and half weeks. In my head, that sounded easy. In my head, as soon as I started doing the extra workouts and went back to my training diet, all that weight that wasn’t supposed to be there would just fall off. Two and a half weeks seemed like plenty of time. The next day, I got on the scale. It said 132.
Despite cutting back my calories and adding my conditioning back in, I was stuck for a whole week at 129. I was so mad at myself. Why did I always have to make things harder? Who was I kidding? I can’t lose that much in two and half weeks. I have the slowest metabolism on the planet. I missed the deadline to switch my weight division. I started have a psychological melt down. I had wanted to test myself. I was feeling so good about where I was skill-wise and it seemed like the right time. The thought of getting disqualified for not making weight turned my stomach. That would be so humiliating–to lose before you even got on the mat. That wasn’t going to be me. I had to go hard. I was going to make weight. That was it.
On the Monday of tournament week, I weighed 127.6. I had to be at least 125, but ideally lighter since I didn’t know what the scale at the tournament would be like. Each day that week, I did kettle bell swings in the morning, trained at night, and did more swings when I got home. I lived off of bullet coffee, greek yogurt, and apples. I was certain this weight cut was going to make me angry, tired, and emotionally unstable. Surprisingly, the opposite happened. I felt clear. I was focused and alert. I was pumped to get up in the morning and start my workout. Each night on the bus after practice, I silently repeated the mantra to myself, “I am lighter.” I imagined myself shooting through outer space in my gi with bad pink and red energy waves bursting out of me. I was losing a pound a day. Yesterday morning, I was 122.8 without my gi and 127.0 in my gi. Two pounds under. I was so relieved. Even if the tournament scale was a little heavy, I’d be fine. I won the first fight. I happily scampered off to go meet my teammates so we could caravan to New York City and fight. I was excited. I was ready.
When I finally fought at 4:00 PM yesterday, all my excitement and confidence dissipated in an anti-climatic cross-choke. I was told the girl who beat me is an accomplished competitor and took gold in another IBJJF event the weekend before, but that doesn’t change my disappointment. I imagined myself fighting more matches–good matches where I could show my skill–but in less than five minutes, I was tapping out, walking off the mat, and not even trying to hold back my tears. I am still working out what the lessons are from my match, but one thing I am happy about is that I finally have some confidence going out there. I need to hang on to that.
Even though I lost, I have no regrets. I don’t regret the weight cut because it really made me feel like I can do anything. Yesterday was the right day for me to do the New York Open. My team had eight competitors, plus our coach and a new girl at our club who wanted to come and support us. I felt like I was rolling up with an army plus a family. It was also fantastic because some of the Philadelphia-area girls that I train with where there, too, so we got to cheer each other on. This was the first tournament I went to since I was a little kid where I really felt like I was a part of something bigger. Yes, I went there to fight my own battle, but man-to-man combat is easier when you know you have back up. This year was the first year that my club had members of our women’s team compete in the New York Open. There were three of us, and while I had a sucky match, my teammates took home three medals between them. Overall, my team got ten medals for our eight competitors. I was the only one who didn’t medal yesterday, but I think that speaks well of our club. I couldn’t be more proud to be a part of my team, and I know with certainty now from the work and the tears that I really do love jiu jitsu.
I am a feather.
I am a little bobcat.
I am a fighter.
It first happened after breakfast. Then several hours later, it happened again. The gagging. The nausea. My insides felt like they were wrapped in barbed wire and I felt hands on my neck from behind, choking me. I wanted to cry. But at this point, I was waiting for the bus to go to jiu jitsu. This is what I wanted to do. I was away from judo and jiu jitsu for four days while I visited my best friend. Away in the mountains with my childhood friend and her family, I was softly wrapped in hope and contentment. I was excited to get back to my world on the mat. However, I felt scared to go back to rest of my life. My job is in the midst of a big transition. I have decisions to make and I don’t know what path I’m supposed to take. The uncertainty is starting to get to me. During this inopportune moment while I waited for the bus, my anxiety began to corrode my spirit from stomach to throat. As I tried to slow my breathing and blink away the tears, the bus came. I got on and twenty minutes I was at my club. I all but ran into the women’s changing room so I could close the door behind me and hide before class.
After I got into my gi and stepped onto the mat, I still felt shaky. I tried to keep my face blank, but my mind was disjointed. I felt like my skin was on fire. We started our warm-up jog. I breathed. We started to drill. I breathed. I felt calm. Then I felt curious. Soon enough, I was laughing. When we rolled at the end of class, I felt light and free. I was ecstatic as fireworks. As I walked back to the women’s changing room at the end of class, I wanted to cry again, but this time is was from relief and joy.
Tonight was another time where judo and jiu jitsu saved me. When I am on the mat, I am most myself and all parts of myself. I’m the student and the teacher. I am a fighter and a mediator. I am the victor and the defeated. I’m a teammate. I’m a friend. I’m a clown. I am one girl diving head first into my fears just to see if I can make it back to the surface for air.
I am not a great athlete. The world will not remember my name for judo and jiu jitsu. But I don’t care about that. At this point, I can’t separate what I learn from judo and jiu jitsu and the rest of my life. I cherish what these practices have given me, and with time and experience, I hope I can give back to judo and jiu jitsu all they have given to me.
My dad’s the best dad.
Keith Mars is a close second,
but still, no contest.