This past weekend my team in Denmark, CSA.dk, lead by our coach Christian Graugart, headed out to NAGA Europe in Paris. It was actually a very tough choice to go, as Scandinavias biggest tournament, Swedish Open, was happening at the same time. It’s a really well run, and incredibly competitive tournament, and CSA has been a regular there for the last 4 years. This year however, we decided to try something new, and head out to Paris, see a new city and compete against people we don’t know as well (the BJJ scene in Scandinavia isn’t huge, so it tends to be the same guys you meet, especially at higher belts).
We headed out with a team of 14, of which about half was kids. Our kids team has always been incredibly strong and talented (we have in fact won best junior club at the aforementioned Swedish Open in the past), and this crop of youngsters is no different, so that was one of the main excitements in this trip, seeing just how good they were, and how they measured up against the best Europe has to offer.
The day started early, we showed up at 9 AM, so that the kids could weigh in (the adults had done so the day before), unfortunately the day started late, and never recovered. Our kids first match didn’t start until around noon, and they weren’t finished until 3 or 4 PM (many hours behind schedule). Never the less, the kids kicked ass, and basically swept all their divisions, winning 5 championship belts, and only losing a single match the entire day. The adults also did well, and all in all we took home 13 medals (of which 9 were 1st place (6 of those belts)), with 15 competitors.
Before my first match, my nerves started setting in. I didn’t know any of my opponents, but seeing as how this was the expert division, i assumed they were very good. I start thinking “Why am I competing? It’s not that enjoyable.” I start watching the other competitors in my group, they all look huge, and they’re all putting on a furious pace during their matches. Fuck. I can’t keep up with that kind of scrambles, will my cardio even be good enough? I have been training hard, but definitely could have trained harder. Luckily my self doubt is cut short by my name being called.
I step onto the mat, nerves start dissipating, it’s time to go. My opponent steps into the mat, he looks more like my size, so there’s some relief there, I start getting more confident but remind myself i also got more confidence after seeing a young kid with pimples and braces step onto the mat against me a few years ago, moments before he berimbolo’d me and beat me up. I mentally remind myself again of the lessons learned at Marcelo’s gym a few weeks earlier, be first, don’t wait for him to go, establish my position first.
The match starts, and i bull butterfly guard as soon as i make contact. I pull 1-legged x-guard immediately, and work the sweep, switching to a footlock as he falls over before eventually getting the sweep. Guard pass, attempted back take and failed rear naked choke passed before i ended up on bottom again, and went for my favorite move, setting up the toehold from the x-guard and get the tap about a minute and a half into the match. The perfect first match to get rid of the nerves and get the body warm.
I watch the quarter final opposite of me, whoever wins this will meet me in the semi’s. As before, they look huge, and put up a crazy pace, with lots of scrambles and wrestling; the match ends, but there is controversy. The guy who is declared the loser is unhappy, he claims that points halfway through the match were given incorrectly, and protests. His coaches have video and incredibly the referees agree to look at it and revise the decision. This goes back and forth, grinding the entire bracket to a screeching halt for at least 20 minutes, as 2-3 different referees seem to watch the video, and eventually overturn the decision. The guy who thought he won earlier is (understandably) furious. It seems ridiculous that you can change a decision after the fact, he would’ve obviously played a different game if he thought he was behind, and not stalled out the last 30 seconds. What warmth my joints had gotten from the first match are now long lost, but it’s time to go again.
I go for the same gameplan, i immediately pull guard, going for my one-legged xguard, but switch it to a normal x-guard, and again go for my x-guard toe-hold setup and catch it. He doesn’t want to tap, and starts rolling. My IBJJF rule instincts try to take over, and i almost give it up to secure top position and get sweep points, but close submissions give 2 points at NAGA, so I cling on. His ankle pops early, but he keeps going, i feel his knee pop as well, but he keeps escaping, and a few seconds later he eventually taps. As i step away I can see that his knee is twisted in an unnatural way, it looks out of the joint. It’s hard not to feel bad in the situation.
My opponent in the final matchup seemed like a strong wrestler, physically imposing, and had dominated 3 matches on his way to the finals. I had hoped since my matches were less than 2-3 minutes in total that i’d have a cardio advantage, but incredibly he looked as fresh as when he started. I attempted the exact same thing, pulled guard, attempting to get into my x-guard game, but he was having none of it, his hips were heavy, and as i tried to pull his thigh ontop of my shoulder from butterfly halfguard, my knee pops. He works passing my guard, and i’m attempting submissions. I’m incredibly given a point for a rather weak submission attempt, putting me 1-0 ahead, and decide that this could be my road to victory. I felt confident in my guard not getting passed, and if I could keep going for submissions i could rack up some points that way. I dive for a Kimura, diverting to a game i played a lot 5-6 years ago, but had barely touched in years, utilizing the knee-shield and kimura combo. Surprising myself i manage to get the kimura free, i think perhaps my opponent was distracted by the fact that we were out of bounds, but NAGA doesn’t stop matches when a submission is happening, unless they absolutely have to. He rolls out of the kimura, and i quickly counter with an armbar on the same arm, and after some struggle i manage to get it. I let out an embarrassing and awkward scream of joy and pump my fist to the kids watching up in the stand, looking silly in the process.
After the matches were done, I ended up in the medic tent, getting some compression on my knee (it popped as i tried to pull xguard), and met my opponent from the semi’s there, getting his knee looked at as well. We had a nice chat and i found out that both he and the finalist i met, were black belts. After thinking on this a bit, i realized that had i known they were black belts, i doubt i would have performed as well as i did. I’ve competed against black belts before, and i always end up worrying too much about “what if” (as in “I can’t try to butterfly sweep him, he’s too goo,d he’ll just switch his hips and pass easily”), so i wait for them to move, rather than attacking myself. Today i saw no belts, so i had no preconceived notion of how much better than me they were, this combined with the revelation of my lazy habits at Marcelo (and subsequent pledge to be more assertive) lead to my best result in a competition to date. I think the conclusion is inescapable (and i might write a seperate blog post about it in the coming days), the worst thing you can do, when met with a skilled grappler (or any grappler really), is to be hesitant and be reactionary. You need to impose your game, get the match where you feel comfortable, not wait for him to do the same. It worked for me.
P.S. The rashguard i’m wearing is the prototype for our IBJJF legal brown belt rashguard (we’ll of course get it in all belt colors), that should be shipped to us any day now. The final versions will have the logo a bit higher on the chest than the one seen here. If you want to know when it comes out, like our page on facebook to get the latest news (i don’t post often, so don’t worry about spamming your feed).