It was still dark when my teammates and I converged at Caio Terra Academy Madison. There was an air of nervous excitement as we wiped the sleep from our eyes and loaded our gear into vehicles.
The chatter on the journey alternated between normal car trip banter and Jiu Jitsu stories. Some of us would be returning athletes, others competing for the first time, and a few were along to spectate and cheer on the team.
The moments leading up to a competition are akin to climbing a hill on a roller coaster. So much of the ride is in the anticipation, but once you have made the decision to step into that car, you really just need to enjoy it.
Fear is not a reason to avoid competition; it is a reason to embrace it.
Compete BECAUSE it is Scary
The beginning of every tournament starts with weighing in and then waiting… and waiting… and waiting some more.
During that waiting, my mind is active with anticipation. The biggest questions are usually, “Why did I sign up for this?” and “Am I ready?”
When I am waiting to compete, I reminded myself of what it feels like to step onto the mats. I remind myself that once I shake hands and engage, my training and my love of Jiu Jitsu kicks in.
This mental game is just as important as the competition itself. Controlling your mind and overcoming fear can be one of the biggest challenges in this sport. And learning to do so is part of strength training — control over the mind.
Competing to Train
As fun it is to capture submissions and medals, the heart of competition is challenging oneself and finding areas in need of improvement.
When my coach first told me that some people train to compete, but that we compete to train, I didn’t completely understand. Following any competition, you will find social media full of pictures of people on podiums celebrating their gold, silver, and bronze accomplishments. I now understand that these pictures are not an endpoint, but a beginning.
This tournament was no different, but some of my lessons were unique. I managed to capture a few triangles and lose others. The triangle has been my “go to” submission for almost as long as I have been training, but somehow after reviewing my coach’s comments and videos, I also know it is one of my areas most in need of refinement. Catching it is one thing, keeping and finishing it is another.
And sometimes it is the strength in your competitor’s game that helps you find a weakness in your own. For the first time in a competition, I tapped to an Oma Plata. In training, we frequently rep this technique and we have definitely also trained for the escapes. However, when it comes to live rolling, it is a submission that I’ve never felt particularly threatened by. Yes, my instructor catches me in it, but he can catch me in anything.
So, when I realized I was in an Oma Plata, I was unprepared mentally for what followed. First, I sat up, but I did so with poor posture, landing me right back down on the mat. Next, I jumped and tried my best to roll out of it, but I was caught in her snare. My last ditch hope was to rely on the flexibility of my shoulders, but even flexible shoulders are susceptible to submission. In the end, I tapped and shook the hand of my competitor with a smile. She had earned her win, and I had found a new focus for training.
Win or lose, competition is a source of growth, growth as a competitor, a person, and as a team.
One thing that makes Jiu Jitsu unique is the camaraderie between and among teams and competitors. One minute I’m on the mats battling it out with a competitor, and the next I’m on the sidelines with her laughing and cheering on a mutual friend.
The more competitions I go to, the more I expand my Jiu Jitsu network and community. I love walking into a gymnasium and greeting familiar faces. After all, we are all there because we love what we do.
The successes I share with my teammates feel more important than my individual accomplishments. For two of my teammates at this tournament, it was their first time on the mats in a competition. There is nothing that distracts me from my own fear and ego than being able to scream my head off for a teammate who is escaping or catching a submission. What we do and accomplish, we do and accomplish together.
This particular tournament was a great success for Caio Terra Academy Madison. Yes, we took home a gold, 5 silver, and 2 bronze medals. But more importantly, we grew closer as a team.
The highlight of my day was not found on the mats, but in the bond that we bolstered. It was a long day, but we still took time to enjoy its end by sharing a meal at Pig Minds Brewing and enjoying each other’s company.
We sat around the long, rectangular table and passed our appetizers around family style, it was clear that we belonged in that space in time together. We reflected on our day with many smiles and much laughter.
Monday, it would be back to hitting the mats and reviewing our mistakes, but for now, this moment was ours.
Come check us out at: Caio Terra Academy Madison
Read my guest blog about our academy here.