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Get out there.

On Sunday, June 15th, I competed in the DC Judo Capital Grapple tournament in Washington, DC.  Capital Grapple is an all women’s judo and jiu jitsu tournament. When my spirit sister, Joy, and I competed at Capital Grapple last year, we had a blast. It was my first judo tournament in over a year and my first BJJ competition ever. Fortunately, the vibe was less “Death or Glory!” and more, “Get out there, fight hard, and make some friends.” I had some great matches that day, and even a couple of wins. Joy and I went to Denny’s with our coach, Lee, afterwards and wore our medals the whole time. So when Joy and I got notice of this year’s Capital Grapple, we were pumped. I couldn’t wait. Since I could compete in both judo and jiu jitsu, I would fight my first tournament as nikyu and as a blue belt in one day. I found some relief in that. Just rip off the bandage and go.

However, I soon found myself wanting the bandage to stay on. As June 15th barreled towards me, I started to freak out. I was stressed out at work, which at times is normal since I’m a social worker. Stress is implied in social work. But this was different. Although I look forward to starting my new position in July, the transition period was overwhelming for me. I internalize stress. I know this. I also know that stress manifests physically for me. I have an autoimmune condition and I’ve been told time and time again to be careful since stress and anxiety trigger my symptoms and will make me very sick. Two weeks before the tournament, I spent most of the day in pain, barely eating, barely sleeping. The Tuesday of tournament week, I could only sit on the side and watch during practice.

I continued to freak out. I felt weak. I felt distracted. My anxiety rose and I pictured myself falling apart on the mat on Sunday, too sick to compete.  I wouldn’t be able to get through my matches. I was angry and frustrated with myself. If I could just calm down, I might feel better. At the same time, I thought I was just kidding myself if I said everything would be fine. Friday before the competition at our Open Mat, I rolled four BJJ sets before my body shut down and gave me the finger. Then on Saturday, Joy and I went to our friends’ promotion day at their club. After 45 minutes, I was done. I was scared. When I got home late Saturday afternoon, I locked myself out of my apartment as I went to the laundromat to wash my gi for the tournament. That was it. That clinched it for me. As I sat on the floor in front of my apartment door, waiting for emergency maintenance, I drowned myself in self-pity: “I shouldn’t fight. I’m stupid for fighting. This is the worst idea. I don’t want to do this.”

And then I told myself to shut up. Shut up and fight. I thought about how tournament day was the same day of Father’s Day. I thought about my own fighting dad. Then I thought about my childhood friends, Dennis and Mike, whose dad died last year on Father’s Day. Their dad was a hardworking, loving, generous, and hilarious man.  I decided to dedicated my matches to my friends and their father. In the spirit of their family, I was going to fight my ass off and have a great time. Just get out there and do it.

Joy, me, Juliann, and Ann, Capital Grapple, June 15, 2104. Washington, DC

Joy, me, Juliann, and Ann, Capital Grapple, June 15, 2104. Washington, DC

So that’s what I did. This year, Joy and I were joined by a BJJ teammate from another club, Ann, and Lee was along to coach again. On the drive down, we had both serious and silly conversation to distract us from the tournament nerves. Ann hadn’t competed since 2000. Stepping back into competition after 14 years is no small thing. I was both anxious and excited for Ann. Even before she fought, I was in awe of her will. It’s so hard to start something once you stop, but she was going to jump right in that day. We actually ended up fighting each other. While fighting against your teammates in tournaments can be pretty horrible, I know we each did our best and out of respect for each other, really tried to win. Of course, Ann trounced me, as she should have since she has miles of skill and experience on me. But I had fun kidding myself that I could actually beat her. One of our judo club’s black belts brought his daughter to compete in judo, and she was such a warrior. At only twelve years old, she fought injured and took first and second in her divisions. At last year’s Capital Grapple, I competed in both judo and jiu jitsu, but I got confused going back and forth between mats. I pulled guard in a judo match and basically threw myself. I competed in both categories again this year, and while I’m not sure that I’m mentally strong enough to fight in both judo and jiu jitsu at the same tournament, I am happy to say that I did not pull guard in a judo match this year. While my losses of the day stung, I realized one good thing I can take away is that my conditioning is solid. I had three judo matches and two jiu jitsu matches and I did not run out of gas. I lost my matches because of mistakes that I made, and I can fix those mistakes. I know I’ll never lose a match because I just gave up.

At the end of the tournament, I was ecstatic. We all won at least one match. We made new buddies. We enjoyed a perfect summer day and went to a waffle house for our post-tournament feast. On the ride back home, we continued our serious and silly conversation, this time relaxed and content. I talked with my fighting father, and he instructed me to pat Joy on the head for doing a good job. I let Dennis and Mike know how the day went. When I got back to my apartment, I slung an ice pack on my shoulder and ate an ice cream sandwich for dinner, knowing that Dennis and Mike’s dad would approve. I couldn’t believe I almost chickened out. I’m glad I got out there. 945041_10151930119107782_1540772273_n


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