I had been reluctant about writing on the topic of jiu-jitsu because I just didn’t feel like I was ready to give any insight into the sport. A sport my feet are barely wet in. As I write this now I am a two stripe white belt. I am two cents on my way to a dollar. I guess you could say things are getting pretty serious…
My most recent tournament was one of highs and lows. I was eliminated within five minutes of my first GI match starting, subsequently choked out via collar cross choke from inside my opponents guard; an easily avoided mistake. My no-Gi division looked bleak but win or lose I just wanted to fight. I was anxious, nervous, and tense but first and foremost hungry. Temptation filled the air as it lofted in from outside-- the catering truck beckoning me to just quit, I fought choirs of voices taunting me, telling me I wasn’t going to win anyway, telling me I cannot compete with these guys, and I would be best served giving up and going to eat, reward myself for a job not well done. It was torturous. My exterior provides a facade of a calm in shape athletic 25 year old but on the inside is a severally malnourished fat kid. Thankfully I fought the good fight against gluttony.
As my No-Gi match started some time later I instantly felt stronger, faster, better, like I was thinking a step ahead of my opponent. I spent most of the match in a dominant position keeping my opponent turtled in a very defensive position. After two stoppages due to excessive bleeding of my opponent I ultimately secured a win via a rear naked choke after 13 minutes spent on the mat. I gained some of my confidence back, I felt great. I wanted to fight right away, I didn’t need or want a break I wanted to start my next match before I even caught my breath. The next fight in the division was that of my ABD teammate Jason Fife who stuffed every submission attempt of his opponent for 15 minutes. Both being eliminated due to a lack of submission in the allotted time of the match I had no one to fight thus giving me a by round. Due to that and a series of other events I was thrust into fighting for third/fourth place in my next fight. Next thing I know I was no longer fighting for third but now fighting for second/first place. The thought never crossed my mind I was actually fighting for first. I had gone into my last matches with the mind set of; if I lose im taking third, or taking second respectably. I won first place via an arm bar submission in my “second place match”. The fact that I never said to myself “I am fighting for first place” has bothered me since. I don’t feel as if I really won. It’s not that I thought I was going to lose, I had my suspicions but I never thought I was going to outright lose despite the ball-busting words of pseudo-confidence my teammates instilled in me. I had merely just thought I would not take first place, that I would just settle for third, or settle for second.
To this day I am convinced ‘Jiu-jitsu’ is Brazilian (read; Japanese) for “sport where you will always lose and there will always be someone better than you to choke you out-- always”. I love that. Sometimes I hate it, but mostly I love it. I don’t mind losing; I spend a great deal of my time losing and I stand to learn the most from it, on and off the mat. The utter feeling of defeat is a terrible feeling and there is nothing worse. I take my victories in fractions. If I defend a submission for a second longer than last time I am thrilled. That type of victory is the kind I crave. When you are out on the mat this is not a team sport you only have yourself to blame in defeat. Learning how to pick yourself up and dust yourself off again is a skill most people are not readily taught. I am grateful for the humility I was forced to learn and work with. There is always something to improve on, especially as a white belt. This is even more apparent watching blue, purple and brown belts fight. The guy that can pass my guard like its not even there is haunted by someone better than he is. In this I find comfort. I think as long as you are training jiu-jitsu that is a feeling you will always have, unless of course your name is Helio and/or ends with Gracie. The lessons learned on the mat in that fraction of a second where you panic and tap, admitting defeat while grateful you’re still breathing to see another day are lessons if applied outside the gym in all aspects of your life will ultimately make you a force to be reckoned with. The mundane things that previously bothered me prior to starting this ‘karate thing’ I don’t even notice anymore. I now have a solid theory about bad days-- It could always be worse; I could have diarrhea or I could be getting choked out right now this is not such a bad day after all.
Like I said previously even after coming home with a 1st place medal I do not feel as if I won. I am more anxious now than ever to get back on the mats and train. Defeat to a better opponent will not be in vein as long as the feelings of self-sabotage and defeat are not accompanied and present. From this day forward regardless of what the task ahead, regardless of what unsurpassable measure is required I will constantly heckle myself reminding the legion of voices shouting their disapproval at me that today is the day I fight for first place, there is no second place. I will not merely just settle for second place. To just settle is to be defeated from within.. My desire to forge ahead an unstoppable force, my stubbornness to prevail over myself is an immovable object. I will go down swinging, fighting tooth and nail before I just settle for mediocre. The voice I listen to will not be a voice of defeat but of defiance to the very idea. What exactly first place will consist of will vary every day. Every day there will be a different victory to be had, but come hell or high water every day I am fighting for first. I will only settle if its to settle for first.