The importance of competing is something that you can read about on nearly any Jiu Jitsu blog, article, advice column, or YouTube comment section. Black, brown, and purple belts all encourage white belts that they feel are healthy and skillful enough for a beginner competition to compete. This is great and can be extremely encouraging when it’s coming from someone you view as a mentor, or even a friend. You may even hype yourself up for it afterwards. “Fuck yeah, coach thinks I’m ready to compete I’ll smash all of those mother fuckers,” you may tell yourself. The inner bad ass (See: Ego) we all suppress every time we step onto the mat with our teammates finally gets to come out to play. Your friends and family that don’t get to see you train get to see you strangle someone. You get to demonstrate your skills. Awesome. Then just when you’re 100% certain you’re ready, you hear the tales of the other white and early blue belts past competitions, and what it was like getting smashed.
“Ah, yeah man, wasn’t my best day for sure.”
“Yeah well you remember my bum ankle, right? I should have waited.”
“I mean…I did alright. I placed fourth.” “Sick man, how many people were in your bracket?” “Four.”
Then you realize that coach had told all these same people that they were ready to compete and should. Just like you.
Doubt creeps in.
“Maybe I’ll end up like them.”
“Maybe I’ll just give myself a little more time.”
“I haven’t had anyone go 100% on me yet. I’ll start rolling for competition for a few months then I’ll be ready.”
“I don’t want to fucking lose in front of everyone.”
You need to dismiss this mindset. Lock it away. Tell it to fuck off. Choke it out. There are only two outcomes of any competition: You win, or you learn.
Anyone that has the testicular fortitude to step onto the mat against someone that wants to take one of your limbs home with them has already won. Even if you don’t take home a shiny medal afterwards, you can hold your head high knowing that you’ve done what many don’t, and won’t have the courage to.
I signed up for my first competition at the two-month mark in my training. I had trained one bullshit Judo throw for one quarter of one class, and I knew the basic positions, a keylock, triangle, and kimura. That’s it. Oh, and I had never done any work in the Gi. Despite this, I knew I wanted to put it all to the test. I signed up the Orlando NewBreed on March 4th. I placed 2ndin both Gi and No-Gi, against one other guy in each category. They had moved some people around and I ended up going against two tough competitors that had over 6 months of training in. Anyone who’s familiar with Jiu Jitsu time, knows that’s practically dog years. They told me this before I stepped out onto the mat, and I could have either accepted a voucher to compete at the next one or do what I went there to do. Anyone who clicks the link above can see what I chose to do (If you hit control+F and search Nolan, that is).
It was one of the most rewarding experiences of my life.
I knew before going that none of my coaches would be there. I was okay with this, and looking back, I think it only made the experience better. My wife sat at my corner, and even though she has absolutely no Jiu Jitsu experience, I wouldn’t have had it any other way. She cheered me on, even as I tapped to some ridiculous cross face pressure (something I didn’t do again until I rolled with Art) and an arm bar that I couldn’t have seen coming even if he told me what he planned to do before we started. But you know what, I learned from it.
I learned that I could stare adversity in the face and still move forward. I learned that I could lose, and persevere without battering myself afterwards. I learned how respectful the Jiu Jitsu community really is. I learned how far I have to go on this journey. I learned that no matter who you are outside of the mats, how popular you are, how rich you are, how poor you are, it all falls away. We are all on an individual journey together, and that lesson is priceless.
**Author’s Note: I’d like to thank the Locker Room Talk crew for inviting me to write for their blog. Don’t forget to subscribe for new podcasts weekly.