Comp day

 

The ref called my name.  The adrenalin pumping through my veins, that familiar feeling of floating into the situation with an outside perspective.  I step on the mat, we shake hands, times on, lock up, engage.  Whooomph, he pulls guard straight away.  “Fuck, id rather have had a good wrestle first but lets crack on” His closed guard is super tight, no real room to move.  The rubber guard position he’s working is keeping my posture low.  I carry on breathing through, no point rushing and getting tired, I maintain safety position, isolating his hips, feeling things out.

The adrenalin still pumping, I breathe through, savoring the experience.  “What the fuck was I afraid of all this time?”  My mind returns to the task in hand, I become aware of the muscle memory piloting my defenses still mechanically controlling his hips.  Feeling the connection of the match, not an ordinary match, I need to insist and get my fucking posture back and open this closed guard…

This article is the third article in my series about having a go at competing as an older competitor.  If you haven't read my first two (The other side of fear - competition and The road to competion) it probably makes sense to loop back and have a read.  Anyway, back into it... 

The day of the competition rushed up to meet me, we traveled down to Tauranga on Friday night after a day's work that can only be described as fucking bedlam.  Throughout the week I had been getting small pre-fight adrenalin dumps when I visualized the competition, nothing I couldnt handle.

Before I knew it, I was kissing my family goodbye, jumping in the car with my mate Curt for the trip down to Tauranga.  Four hours later thanks to Auckland traffic we made it to the woo-woo rental shack in Tauranga.  All the lads were nervous, we got our heads down earlyish after some food.  I woke up around 6am and started sorting myself out, the adrenalin drip feeding into my system.  I went out onto the deck, wrote my gratitude journal and meditated for half an hour. 

After faffing about for an hour or so we set off out to find coffee before going to weigh in.  I didn’t bother with food and stuck to coffee and water.  This was the right thing to do for me, I don’t eat breakfast anyway and I didn’t want to be going onto the mats with a full stomach. 

At the venue

I’ve spent a lot of time over the years in crowds at fight events from unlicensed boxing, MMA to grappling comps.  This one was no different, everyone was lined up in the middle of the sports hall waiting to weigh in.  The energy in the room had "that" tension about it, everyone nervously looking round for their opponents, sizing each other up.  I didn’t want that pressure, I was facing myself out there, sizing up my opponent was irrelevant.  So I focused on my breathing and smiling, I probably looked like a deranged monkey.  As one of my heroes Vagner Rocha says 
(about competition) in a WNO podcast episode.

“I’m having fun, that’s my fun day, that’s the time to shine. If you cant be in your own skin on that day, how are you going to do good? How is your mind gonna react? How are you going to perform at your best? How are going to make judgement calls?... We all gotta lose and we all gotta win but if you cant have fun while you’re doing it you aren’t going to be at your best” - Vagner Rocha

That quote and others from the man have guided me through this journey, my competitive dogma if you like.

I was pretty nervous about my weight, I knew I was below the 92.3 limit but because my scales were cheap I wasn’t sure how much.  It turned out I had nothing to worry about, I weighed in at 90.8Kg.  Big grin time, I smashed my weight loss goal without cutting, I wanted to be around 91.5kg so 90.8Kg was a great result. 

The energy in the room was still pretty tense, I had to get out of it, I could feel myself getting amped by it in the wrong way.  I grabbed my headphones and headed outside to a bench and did a simple 4:8 breathing exercise for another twenty minutes.  I went back in to find the guys in the stands and carried on meditating.  My logic was that plenty of guys get amped up, ballooning around waiting for their matches, they end up exhausted when it comes time to jump in and compete.  After that first adrenalin dump, they gas, and the match is hard-fought from then on out.  I didn't want to make that mistake, better to fight calm, the calm mind kills (not sure who said that, maybe I did, probably not).

First Match

I was in the bull pen helping one of the team warm up for his match when they called me mat side early.  Another spike of adrenalin, I went and waited by the mat for my go.  At this point, I wasn’t really thinking about anything, gameplan, strategy, situations, all that shit i'd done weeks ago.  Now wasn’t the time.  “Why am I here? I thought  To see if I can” was the answer.  Even writing this here I feel a measure of adrenalin as my mind relives the event, my body thinks it is getting ready for the match again.  As soon as I stepped on the mat I had achieved my big goal, doing a comp.  In a way I felt like I had already won and the first match hadn’t started yet.  This was probably big mistake number one, I was in my happy clappy headspace, Craig Jones “you compete to the level you train" mantra became a self-fulfilling prophecy. 

I had hoped for a bit of stand up before going to the ground, to get past that first minute.  My opponent pulled guard as soon as we clinched.  I was pretty pleased that I didn’t get tunnel vision, my mind didn’t go too blank and most important of all, I didn’t get finished in the first minute and look like a lemon.  I really enjoyed the match, my opponent was better than me and finished me with a strong triangle choke about four minutes in. 

Stuck in rubber guard

I learned a lot from that first match.  The obvious things that need work are my late triangle choke defense and regaining posture when stuck in rubber guard.  I gained a lot of insight and understanding into my psychological response and my adrenal response to match pressure.  My performance served as feedback to the mental preparation I had been doing on the run up.  The experiment was a success in my eyes and there are a number of things I am working into my preparation for future matches.  All in all, I was fairly happy.

Second Match

There was a bit of a break, the usual fucking about that goes on at these events.  I stuck to the plan, focused on my breathing, kept my mind in a calm, happy place which brought my heart rate down nicely.  Then we were called for our second match.  Having lost the first one I thought I needed to step it up a bit more.  Perhaps my opponent thought the same thing as he didn’t pull guard this time.  Of the two matches, this was my favorite one, I got to work my wrestling stand-up and found a rhythm.  I managed to get a snap down to front headlock and work on top for a bit.  In the end, my opponent won by toe hold.  Again, the loss meant fuck all to me, I had fun and gave the crowd more of a show than in my first performance and lasted longer.  Job done.

Dubious front headlock position

There are a few technical things I need to work on coming out of this match.  The interesting observation I made from both matches was how the adrenalin affected my perception of my positioning.  For example, during the second match I thought my front headlock positioning was good but watching the match back I see that I wasn’t covering his head enough and for some reason, I was on my knees (which is shite), get off your fucking knees. 

Aftermath

The pressure was off now, job done.  I had achieved what I set out to do, smashed a big list of goals, and learned from the experience.  I got slightly pissy with the comp staff when they tried to get me to take a podium shot.  Not happening.  Celebrating a silver medal in a two-man bracket is hubris.  I did keep the medal as a memento for my sons though – dad found what he needed on the other side of fear. 

I got to watch more of the team compete in their matches as the afternoon wore on.  Helping coach a few of them was fun and gratifying to see the guys respond to that and succeed.  My mates Barry and Curt did particularly well.  Barry went up a weight class and beat a tough heavyweight to take gold.  Curt competing for the first time took gold in his bracket and ran a clinic on his opponent, racking up twenty-five points to four and then finishing a mounted triangle in the last thirty seconds of the match. 

I thought I would include another quote from Vagner Rocha that guided me through the whole experience of preparing to compete and competing. 

“You tap, you lose, go home, so what, life moves on… for you to love what you do, you have to take the ups and downs, be grateful for people and grateful for things that come in your path” – Vagner Rocha

I spent a long time reflecting on my attitude to the competition, that is what most of these articles have focused on.  It wasn’t until relatively late in the process that I stumbled on the interview where Vagner articulates his competition ethos which I turned into my competition dogma.  To me this is the pinnacle of attitude, once upon a time I would have been so angry that I lost (if I actually made it to the comp).  Sure, I had a couple of moments afterwards where negativity crept in but I snapped myself out of that bullshit very quickly.  The outcome and my attitude towards it are on me and me alone.  It would be an easy thing to drop below the line, to play the blame game or excuse my performance.  I am not, I do not and I will not moan or make excuses.  My opponent won twice, fair and square that’s it, on to the next one.

Picture of the end of one of my matches

I am looking forward to getting back into the gym and training with the team again.  Having a laugh, a good grind and overcoming the weaknesses the experience has uncovered.  Competition is not for everyone.  It seems to me, that only ever a small percentage of club members compete.  If you are reading this perhaps you are thinking about competing or compete already.  I feel certain that competing holds the same terrors for a lot of people it did (and still does to an extent) for me, I encourage you to have a go.  It's not that bad.  I’ll leave you with this last quote.

"Far better is it to dare mighty things, to win glorious triumphs, even though checkered by failure... than to rank with those poor spirits who neither enjoy nor suffer much, because they live in a gray twilight that knows not victory nor defeat." - Theodore Roosevelt

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