Monday, October 21, 2013

Reflections on losing and learning

Abu Dhabi Jiu-Jitsu Pro Trials - New York - Flushing, NY 

Abu Dhabi Jiu-Jitsu Pro Trials - New York

This weekend I went to the Abu Dhabi pro trials in NY, a tournament where I had some unfinished business. For those of you unfamiliar, the prince of Abu Dhabi has a very healthy obsession with jiu jitsu to the extent that it is mandatory PE for both boys and girls in public schools in his country. He also sponsors a professional world jiu jitsu championship every year. There is a series of qualifying tournaments around the world and if you win one, you get a cash prize as well as an all expense paid trip to compete in the pro jiu jistu championship in Abu Dhabi.

This past February, I had tried to qualify for the 2013 Abu Dhabi championships, but ended up falling short. I was bummed about this, not only because of losing, but because I felt that I hadn’t performed as well as I could have. I got back down to business and, since then, I have had an awesome 6 months of jiu jitsu. Really, I could not be happier with how I have been competing or more excited about the martial art as a whole. And so I decided to give Abu Dhabi another shot.

This year, there are two qualifiers in the US – one in CA and one in NY. These tournaments are not huge in terms of numbers, but because of the prizes, they attract a high level of competition. The main reason I wanted to qualify for the 2014 Abu Dhabi tournament was because, when all is said and done, I wanted to be able to say that I had accomplished all that I had set out to do as a blue belt. And winning a blue belt ticket to the world pro tournament was one goal that I had yet to realize.

And I am bummed to say that I fell short again. I won my weight class, but in the semifinals of the absolute division I got caught by a very fast armbar, ending my chances of winning the trip. And as with last year, it was not the loss that was so hard to swallow, but the feeling that I had not brought my best self to that match. The match had been over before I could blink, let alone use my jiu jtisu.

The tournament had not been the most organized event and it dragged on behind schedule and into a very long day. It was hot and stuffy in the gymnasium and I had spent the moments before the absolute division feeling that my gi top was too tight and that there was not quite enough air in the room. This waiting dragged out for over an hour. So once I had lost and my matches were over, I left the competition area and took off my gi to cool off. Then came the post tournament adrenaline dump. After keeping me buzzed for most of the day, my adrenaline finally crashed. It was after 9 PM and my mom and I were weary and hungry, but good sportsmanship dictated that I stick around for podium pictures and to collect my medal. It was hard to wait. I was so disappointed in myself that I had to put my phone away because all the messages of consolation from my teammates were making me teary.

It was then that I heard my name over the loudspeaker. This was my last chance to report to the bull pen. Huh? I had already been eliminated. What did they need me for? It turned out that unlike the IBJJF, which awards bronze medals to both semifinalists, this tournament required an actual bronze medal match to determine who would get the medal.

I had no time to listen to Lil’ Wayne as I normally do to get pumped up for a match. In fact, I had never been less pumped to compete. I was disappointed and depressed and was all out of adrenaline. Part of me wanted to drop out and yield bronze to my opponent, but I never seriously considered it. I grabbed my sweaty gi and dragged myself back to the competition area.

I don’t think she meant to do it, but my mom shot me a sad face as I stepped onto the mat. It was as if she was already preparing for me to lose again and was expressing her sympathies.

But you know what? Somehow when the prize was no longer a factor and my motivation was gone, I managed to have my best match of the tournament. My opponent and I were not fighting for a cash prize or a free trip, but for pride and a bronze medal. It probably was not the prize that either of us would have wanted, but we were still fighting for it.

In the end, I walked away with a gold, a bronze, and more unfinished business with this tournament. I am trying to figure out why I had 3 great IBJJF tournaments this year, sandwiched on both sides by disappointing Abu Dhabi trials. The pressure of a big all-or-nothing prize probably has something to do with it. But I think the other part is that I am just stronger when I am with my team. For the IBJJF tournaments, I was part of a larger group - training, dieting, and competing together. The Abu Dhabi trials were solo ventures. While I still had the support of my coaches and teammates, I would be the only one actually travelling to and competing in the tournament. Competing well solo is something that I need to practice and get better at.

Making Abu Dhabi is still on my jiu jitsu bucket list, but it might be a few years before I try again. Right now, I am looking forward to taking a few months off of competing. For a while, it will be nice to just enjoy training and learning for its own sake rather than to win a tournament.

I'm not really sure how this shiner happened...I didn't feel it until after my last match was over

Sunday, October 6, 2013

2013 No Gi Pan Ams

Last weekend was the 2013 No Gi Pan Ams. I don't have a whole lot to report, except that my team kicked a lot of butt and brought home some major bling. My coach Seth Shamp and I got double golds, and my teammates Roy Marsh, Jeff Shaw, Sean McLaughlin, Jason Mask, Amanda Lee, and Hameed Saunders won medals as well. Overall, Team Royce Gracie placed 2nd in the masters and seniors division...not bad for a small group of about a dozen competitors!

After the results were tallied, the IBJJF no gi  rankings were recalculated as well. I'm psyched to be ranked #1 among adult blue belt women, both in the medium heavy weight class and in the overall division as well. Cool!

This is an honor and I am very thankful to my coaches and training partners for pushing me everyday and getting me to this point. But the more I think about it, the less stock I take in these rankings. Indeed, I have a couple of gripes with the IBJJF ranking system:

- The system can reward quantity over quality. These rankings really are no indication of "who can take whom." The more IBJJF tournaments you go to, the more points you will earn, plain and simple. Even if it is a smallish tournament and you win an automatic medal, you still earn points.The more you can afford to travel and attend multiple IBJJF tournaments, the more points you will earn and the higher your ranking will be. Someone who can afford less travel, even if they consistently win gold, might earn fewer points and will not be ranked as high as someone who can afford to attend more tournaments.

- In the upper belts and higher age groups, brackets are not full and it can be hard to find matches. Folks in these divisions are often forced to choose between dropping down to younger age groups to get more matches, or staying at their actual age to accumulate points for their ranking. Personally, I admire folks who drop down age groups in order to get more matches. However, these folks are penalized in their true rankings, which isn't really fair. They are forced to choose - compete in divisions that would give them the best competition or compete at their true weight and age and risk not getting any matches.

It's a flawed system, but it's still cool to be #1 (at least until no gi worlds next month when other folks will have their turn to rack up points!)