I lost.

Yesterday, I competed in a jiu jitsu tournament. I love to compete, but it also envelops me with fear. What if I lose? What if I lose badly, with people watching? What if all that training reveals that I’m just super mediocre and all those hours are pointless? Wait, why did I register for this tournament anyway? I hope there is a some kind of natural disaster in which no one gets hurt, but results in the cancellation of the tournament.

In order to combat my fear, I give myself a series of animalistic pep talks and visualize my game over and over again. I hype myself up so I simply cannot wait to get on that mat and make some other girl’s life miserable. Let’s face it– I like to fight. A lot. And I want to have a vicious win when I fight. Winning feels awesome, obviously.

My teammate and I arrived at the Wildwood Convention Center around 9:15 AM. The women’s divisions were supposed to start at 10:00 AM, but they didn’t really get going until almost 11:00 AM. As the clock crept past 2:00 PM, my division still hadn’t started. I was told over and over again before the tournament that time would drag out like this, but I was in some sort of denial. I’ve had to wait at tournaments before, but no more than an hour and a half or so. I kept telling myself that time was no factor. I will stay warm. I will play my game. I will fight. I will win. However, around 2:30 PM, serious doubt and discouragement started teasing my fighting spirit. I was hungry. I wanted to go to the beach. I just wanted this thing to be over with. I also did not want to let myself think ANY of those defeatist thoughts.

Shortly before 3:00 PM, I heard the ref call my name. I was supposed to fight in the next few minutes. I mentally scrambled to remind myself I was there to fight and I was there to put some girl in the ground. I was going to do this. I stepped on the mat. I could feel my heart. I could feel that light, floating feeling in my feet and arms and my stomach was on the floor. But I was there to fight. So I told myself my plan again: Get my grip. Get my take down. Side control. Mount. Submission by Americana.

This was my match.

But I didn’t get my grip; she got hers. Then I didn’t get my take down; she got hers. I was on the bottom and had her in half-guard, which is a weak position for me. I don’t have great answers from the half-guard. When she took the mount, all I remember was thinking that this match was not going to end with me on the bottom. As I was trying to get to a better position, she took my back and tried to choke me. I was not going to get choked. I managed to escape and then wound up in her guard. For rest of the match, I fought to pass her. There was a voice inside me yelling, “You can turn this around. Keep going. Keep going.” But time ran out. She had the points. She won. I lost. The ref said I had one more match. I told myself that loss did not define me. I am not that loss. I can turn this day around. Minutes later, the ref called my name. I walked into the ring. I was ready. Then the ref told me that the girl I was supposed to fight broke her finger and had to pull out. She told me I was getting third place. I half-smiled, thanked her, and stepped out of the ring. There went my shot at redemption. So what next?

The first thing I did was text my dad to tell him what happened. My dad competed in judo for years. He won a bunch, but he lost, too. He would understand, He could talk to me without being patronizing and without further crushing my spirit. In an empty corner of the convention center, I sat crouched on the floor with my ear pressed against my cell phone so I could hear what my dad had to say. He told me, “You learn when you lose. You don’t learn shit from winning. ” On one level of my consciousness, I know this and I’ve told myself that before, but it was good to hear that in my dad’s patented no-nonsense growl.  Moments later, the other girl’s coach came up to me and shook my hand. “That was a good match,” he told me. I don’t know why he did that. He certainly didn’t have to. I decided to believe him.

I competed with three of my teammates yesterday, and 3/4 of us did not finish the day with a win. I wanted to respect our anger and disappointment, but I also wanted us to honor our commitment to training and recognize that we all decided to compete despite any fear or doubt we had. My one teammate lost 20 pounds over about two months for this competition, which is mentally taxing and adds another layer of intensity to an already intense experience. So as I sat with my teammates, I didn’t want to be overly-cheery since that is really fucking annoying, but I also refused to be a sore loser. We weren’t losers yesterday. We were fighters who lost our fight, and I’ll be damned if we lose our spirit, too.

After all of our matches were done, we hurried to get to the beach. It was almost six and everyone else was leaving. We ran into the freezing cold ocean, splashed around, teased each other, and attempted water grappling. Then we ate our weight in fried food, and took a stroll up and down the Wildwood boardwalk. My one teammate and I watched a dance troupe of little girls somberly perform on a beach front platform to Gary Jules’ cover of “Mad World”. In the most surreal moment of the dance, one of the little girls popped two black balloons. It was pretty weird, but it made me so happy. As my teammate and I walked away and continued down the boardwalk, I felt giddy and alive.

So I lost yesterday. I’m upset about that. Losing confirmed the weaknesses in my game. My job now is to not get lost in that weakness. My job now is to find an answer to those holes. I also have to give myself a moment to recognize what things I did well, no matter how small. Losing sucks, but quitting is worse. And I’m still here.

Two weary warriors.

Two weary warriors:  Even in defeat, I can’t resist making a Muppet face.  And Joy is amazing for indulging my need to capture our disappointment in a photograph.

  1. August 4, 2013 at 17:23

    You didn’t even get a chance to fight a second time, you came in 3rd and your victor’s coach came over to compliment you. Am I getting this right?

    • August 5, 2013 at 10:22

      I’d feel better about getting a third place medal if I fought the second match, even if I lost. I got that medal because they had no one else to give it to. It wasn’t earned. I lost a match. Someone else forfeited. To me, a forfeit is not a win. So that’s how I feel about coming in third under those circumstances.

      But it was nice that the coach came over to me. I thought that was classy on his part.

  2. August 4, 2013 at 18:25

    I think your title should read “I Won.”

    As your dad said, your battle inspired so much reflection and a ton of growth and insight. Furthermore, you may not have scored enough “points” in a controlled competition, but the bigger game of life has no rules: only survival. You willingly faced battle and can hold your head high with dignity for swallowing your fears and staying in the fight. Sure, its great to get the “W,” but overall, you had an opportunity to assess your own skills and inner spirit leaving you much wiser and more in touch with yourself. You fought well and are better prepared for the next match, whether it be on the mat or in the street. Awesome job.

    • August 5, 2013 at 10:25

      Thank you, Dennis. A lot of what you said is why I now make a conscious effort not be a sore loser. If I get wrapped up in anger and frustration, then I miss my learning opportunity. I want this to stay fun and engaging for me in the midst of the challenges and disappointments. It’s difficult for me to keep a good attitude, but I also know that it will be the key for me to stick with the things I love, which goes beyond grappling.

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