The road to competition


Going into this experiment I decided that I wanted to make preparation as easy as possible for myself.  Over the years I have observed teammates present and past put themselves under tremendous pressure on the run-up to competing.  I didn't want to do that, I wanted to go with the flow, be happy grinding out the rounds in the gym and live the experience.  I worked hard to tune out any negative thought patterns such as cutting weight, the bracket, being upset with myself about in gym performance or injuries, etc.  My goals reflected that vision, here’s a quick recap of them from my earlier article:

  • Enter into and compete at a BJJ comp by April 2021
  • Get my weight to 92kg so I didn’t have to cut
  • Develop a more competitive mindset
  • Accept I would most likely have an injury going into the match
  • Up my cardio levels
  • Focus on recovery and don’t overtrain
  • Have fun and enjoy the journey

The first thing to do was sort out my weight, I was already down to 94kg so I needed to shed another 2kg to hit my goal.  I had been looking at my weight and these brackets for a long time, wondering how I could get my weight down.  As it turns out the answer was simple: begin.  

My fasting habit had become somewhat lax, so the first thing I did was add more discipline there.  Nothing crazy, I switched back to my usual 16:8 fast model seven days a week.  I rarely drink these days so that wasn’t an issue but switching back to black coffee was a ball ache.  One area I badly neglected was my hydration, notionally I wanted to be drinking three liters of water a day but I didn't hit that target.  Something to work on going forward.

Sunday was (and is) my hardest training day, wrestling for an hour then going straight into comp class was grueling.  I wanted to do more though to get my cardio up and set a higher standard for myself, so I started doing hill sprints after the class with a couple of the team.

Comp team after training Jan 2021

The inevitable injury came along in early January I think, I can’t entirely remember as I write this.  Drilling armbars in a 6am class I somehow tweaked my elbow and couldn’t bend my arm properly.  As annoying as it was I accepted that I would have to compete with one good arm, in my mind this was nothing compared to the sciatic pain I used to suffer.  Rolling with one good arm reminded me of the handicaps in the film RedBelt, it was hard work but taught me a couple of things and brought some different subs back into my game.  

Outside of the Sunday sessions I wasn't doing too much differently in other classes.  I focused on staying more present in the rolls (my mind wanders off to another galaxy a lot of the time) and on hunting the finish more.  I was still working on developing other areas of my game and enjoying the process of studying triangle chokes (which is ironic because I lost my first match to a triangle choke).  Again, my approach was to keep everything playful and pressure free for myself.

Mental Shenanigans

A very big part of my shadow did not want me to do this comp.  There were times on the run up where my fears tried to sabotage my best laid plans.  I would find myself thinking about cakes or alcohol, excuses would pop into my head why I didn’t need to compete, my injured arm for example.  I was determined, "you find what you need on the other side of fear".  It was happening.  My shadow didn't like it.

My visualization and mindset development tools evolved too.  In my first article, I mentioned using a musical trigger, that kind of worked but didn’t really gel or connect for me.  I love listening to my heroes talk on podcasts, guys like Vagner Rocha and Craig Jones I can listen to all day long.  I decided to put together a playlist of their soundbites that resonated with me and listen to this instead.  I listened to this playlist whenever I had dead time traveling to and from work.  On the bus, in the car, walking to the office I would switch it onto repeat and focus on my breathing. 

I made sure I listened to it before each class or training session.  This helped me set the groove I wanted to dance to, not anger, not a blistering hundred percent pace but my pace, a smoldering continual grind with the intent to win.  Very different from my usual happy-clappy flow where I zone out.  I had mixed results with this it is hard to change the way you have been rolling for years in a matter of weeks or months.

Then covid struck again in February… fuck you covid19… fuck you… just as I was ready to compete the comp was canceled.  My physical prep was done and I was ticking over but mentally I thought “fuck this shit” and took the pressure off myself.  The comp was rescheduled to April and this time it went ahead.  

An interesting thing about the run-up to the comp (on all three occasions) as I got closer and I was doing my visualization work I would get adrenalin responses when I visualized myself in certain positions or scenarios.  I had experienced this before a long time ago when I used to work as a doorman (another not so bright idea of youth...) so it felt familiar.  This was less intense though, I wasn’t worried about getting bottled, kicked into a coma, or worse backing down and losing face.  This time I was worried about stepping onto a competition mat, there was no striking involved, just grappling.  When I look at it through that lens it makes me question what the fuck I was worried about in the first place?  Again, the quote from Seneca "we suffer more in imagination than in reality" rings true.

Throughout this process, I didn’t really have any doubts.  I gamed my psyche too well, I was going to turn up and compete.  The moment I set foot on those mats, in my mind I had achieved my goal and beaten my irrational fear.  The outcome to me was completely irrelevant.  The opponent was not the man across from me, it was myself.

This was the most interesting part of the journey I think, the pendulum of fear and acceptance swinging back and forth, left to right as the sands of time running up to the event ran out.  The setbacks from the various lockdowns meant that my training peaked, ebbed, peaked and ebbed again.  This was and is where I wanted to be from the very start, in the position where the jump up from normal training to competing is so very small.  Thanks to the awesome team of humans I am surrounded by at Coast Academy it is just that.  I feel that if there was a last minute comp this afternoon I could easily jump on the mat and have a go.  

I think the most rewarding part of the journey has been the evolution the club has gone through, the shared journey of all the guys putting in the work and having fun doing it.  Feeling that small nucleus of a comp team come together, guys of all ages and all grades, grinding out week after week and evolving as one.  The ethos that every one of us gets tired, every one of us gets taken down, taps, learns, shares knowledge and most importantly has fun doing it.  That is the magic for me.

Some of the team waiting in the stands at the comp. 
Photo courtesey of Coast Academy BJJ

To then travel and see the guys jump on the mats and compete, coach each other through matches and come out the other side placing on the podium or learning from loss was an experience I savored and will treasure.  Sure some of us lost, I lost both my matches but who gives a fuck?  I experienced a wicked journey on the way there, achieved what I set out to do with a group of excellent humans and came away with a heap of learnings.  Job done.  

To cap this one off, I had some well established positive habits to support me going into this phase.  For example, I already fasted a few days a week so upping the discipline was an easy tweak.  I already wrestled hard with the team each week so upping the work duration to include a competition class after wrestling whilst definitely not easy training was an easy habit to introduce.  The mental aspects were the fun bit of the experiment and again were tweaks to my daily breath work and meditation habits.  This isn't to say I found preparing for the comp easy, far from it.  There was still fear and doubt there that had to be dealt with, still times where I was retching into a bucket at the side of the mats.  BUT having these good foundations and a clear vision of "why" I was doing it made the "how" and the "execution of the how" not a big deal and a pleasurable experience.

In my next article, I will talk about comp day and the matches.


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