The other side of fear - competition


I started writing this article in late October 2020.  The reason I have not posted it, or much else for that matter is because I didn’t want to be a charlatan, one of those writers who talks a good game but doesn’t follow it through.  I wanted to be definite, to be able to say that I have already achieved the goal this article talks about.  Covid lockdowns have cancelled and rescheduled the comp I entered three times since it was originally advertised.  As frustrating as this was for anyone involved, I looked at it as more of a blessing.  It allowed me to keep working on some of my peripheral goals and evolve my thinking and understanding of how I see competition.

The first article in this series shows my approach and mindset going into this.  Over the next couple of articles I plan to write about how that approach changed over time and the last one I will write about the event itself.  Enjoy. 

Deciding to compete

Life changes quickly and mine certainly has for the better.  Since taking the decision to leave the “safety” of a fulltime job last year I have been considering a lot of things.  I keep coming back to the phrase “you find what you need on the other side of fear”  One of the things I have been afraid of doing for a long time is competing at Jiu-jitsu. 

The way I saw it was that I was getting smashed in the gym by guys who were competing and medalling, so I already “knew” the outcome.  The mind can excuse itself in wonderful ways when it is afraid.  The irony is that I would probably have progressed faster if I had competed earlier in my journey but hindsight is not a helpful train of thought to dwell on. 

My fears around competing were (and are) pretty run of the mill, fear of losing, fear of injury, fear of performing in front of an audience.  I overcame these particular fears in the past and competed a handful of times, although I had neither belief in myself nor a specific goal in mind.  The outcome was mediocre at best in my opinion.

I have been thinking about (and worse, talking about) competing for a few years now, the truth be told I was well on track to competing but my back injury (which I now know to be a herniated disc) stopped me in my tracks. 

So, here I am again, talking about competing.  I could hide behind the excuse of longevity, staying on the mats for as long as possible is definitely on my mind.  With my disc problem it would be an easy sell to everyone else.  Everyone else except me that is… talk is cheap, we are defined by our actions.

My New Goal: I will compete in a Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu competition by April 2021.  

Getting my head right

The first thing that springs to mind when I think of Jiu jitsu competition is what am I doing it for?  What is driving me to compete?  The ghosts of my childhood are definitely present in this fear of competing, in the fear of loss and of ridicule for failing.  Although in my rational mind I don’t actually believe that I will be ridiculed if I lose (quite the opposite in fact), this particular fear is irrational, I can see that but a part of my subconscious self cannot.  Perhaps success or failure on the competition mats will assuage that fear?

On another level, I want to see how good I am.  I want to see where I rank amongst other competitors locally and internationally.  I want to clearly understand the weaknesses in my game both physical and mental.  If I am in, I am all in.  Win or lose I want to know and evolve.

In spite of this I find my mental approach somewhat lacking (an understatement).  I need to believe in myself and just fucking do it.  Another great quote from Seneca that relates to this sentiment is:

              "We suffer more in imagination than in reality"

When I came to the realization that my mindset needed work I started looking round for tangible advice from successful competitors.  I did what I usually do, I asked guys at the gym, I searched online for podcasts, blogs and YouTube videos that dealt with the topic of competition mindset.  The results were fairly sparse but I found some good quality advice from Rafael Lovato Junior in an interview he did on Stephen Kesting’s podcast (the full episode can be found here). 

At about the 27 minute mark of the interview Stephen asks for details of Rafael’s mindset and mental preparation for competition.  He shares some really valuable advice which I intend to experiment with.  In a nutshell, Rafael describes how he uses visualization and autosuggestion to build confidence.  He highlights the importance of excluding all negative thoughts from his mind and believing in himself, his preparation, his journey that has made him who he is.  If you have read my other articles you will know that I am a very big fan of visualization and that I use it extensively to learn and improve my Jiu-jitsu.  Looking to a controversial figure in the MMA world, Conor McGregor, there are a few interviews before he was a champion and after where he talks about visualizing his dream and feeling it (here’s the link, this video is extremely powerful in my opinion). 

Looking towards myself, what does my vision of success look like?  Well, I am competing so I must visualize success, a vision of myself standing on a podium, feeling exhausted but exhilarated, smiling and in the background my family and team looking on comes to mind.  With that vision comes a feeling of pride and behind it I can feel my belief forming.  There is no opponent other than myself, whoever I stand in front of, win or learn I will prevail.  Maybe this makes sense only to me but I think it is important to write this article organically to give others perspective on the journey.

I am very keen to experiment with the way Rafael described how he uses auto-suggestion to get into the zone.  He explained that he reads a script on his phone that has a lot of emotional triggers for him before he competes.  I had never thought of using autosuggestion in this way, I use it as part of my daily habits to focus on goals for the day by writing them in my gratitude journal.  Most importantly Rafael talked about the positive feelings and connections this script gives him.  Initially, when I considered competition anger sprang to mind but it has been such a problem for me (another reason I haven’t wanted to compete) that I definitely didn’t want to use that particular negative emotion to drive me – nothing good comes out of it.  So my drive on the run-up to and on the day had to come from a positive place.

Adding some other tools to autosuggestion and visualization I played around with the idea of a musical trigger to get me into that determined, uncompromising headspace I think I need to compete.  This experiment didn’t really work out that well and I switched to a different audio method which I will cover in my next article.

Physical Training

This was actually harder than I thought it was going to be because I wanted advice from people who fit my own parameters i.e. hobbyists in the masters divisions.  The upper echelons of competitive BJJ are filled with professional athletes with an abundance of time to train and recover.  Really I wanted advice from someone who has limited training and recovery time like myself.  Furthermore, I wanted to hear from guys who are in the masters division because recovery time is important when you get past thirty.

My search in this area didn’t really bear fruit so I did it myself.  Recovery was the biggest thing on my mind, each time I ramped up my fitness with competing in mind some part of my body broke.  I decided to try a number of things to get past this obstacle:

  1. Limit my intense training sessions to two or three hours a week
  2. Insist on doing one hot yoga session a week
  3. Consider introducing strength and conditioning training back into my routine
  4. Get my walking round weight down to below 92 kilograms
  5. Accept that I would most likely be carrying an injury into the comp

Thinking about actual Jiu-jitsu training and mat time the key thing for me was to not overtrain.  I think the trap a lot of grapplers fall into on the run up to competing is having a need to train more.  To get more hours in on the mat, to make sure they are ready.  This works for some people but I know that if do more than six hours a week my body will likely break.  Furthermore, experience tells me that for every hour I train on the mats I need to spend two recovering (hot yoga is really helping with recovery though these days). 

On reflection there was nothing new I wanted to add to my game.  I know what my A game is, it doesn’t need any extra techniques.  Sure it is always good to practice it, to improve timing, execution and to feel the flow of it but in the end I felt that there were two areas that would let me down.  The mental aspect and cardio.

The thinking was done, the gameplan set, time to put the work in…


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