I am ramped up and nervous. It’s been at least 18 years since I was last in this position, and it hasn’t gotten any easier, especially since my experience in this sport is much less than my last one where I was at least proficient. My age isn’t an advantage at 35 compared to my opponent who looks about 19, but we’re both white belts so theoretically we’re evenly matched. Despite not practicing too much standup as most practices are focused on guard and guard passing, my wrestling background is still buried there somewhere which puts me a leg up on most opponents. My coach didn’t necessarily want me competing after only being at his gym for three months, but this was something I wanted to do. Needed to do, especially since this tournament was put on by my old gym.
Finally, the match begins. We both grab gis in a traditional judo-grip, left hand on the elbow, right hand on lapel, and jockey for position feeling each other out. After a few false steps the ref recenters us on the mat, starting on our feet facing each other once again. Again we grab fabric, except this time once I set his balance where I want to, like I’ve done thousands of times before in what was one of my favorite and most used takedowns, I dropped into an outside legged fireman’s carry for the takedown using my grip on his elbow. I’m on the board. That’s where things start to fall apart. My mind is blank. What do I do now? Oh yeah, work toward some submissions, even though I only know a few. He stops me in half-guard, I pass and end up on his right side (my left) with him on his back and me with knee-on-belly. Wow, I’m actually scoring some points. And what does he do but extend his left arm into me. We just worked a really cool move the previous week in practice in this exact circumstance. So I grab his gi near his left elbow behind his bicep and attempt to step and spin around his head to end up on his left side, arm between my legs in an armbar, transitioning between these two positions (two different situations, ignore the gi colors gu in black on top picture would transition to position the guy in white would be in on the bottom):
But being a white belt who knows nothing about pressure or timing of such things he ends up rolling out of it and he ends up in my half-guard. He passes, somehow ends up in north-south position, with me on the bottom and him smothering me with his sweaty gi. Still not in great physical shape, the gi is like a blanket over my face and I can’t get breathing room. I start to panic. I can barely breathe. I’m bridging trying to get some room but panic overcomes, out of breath and disappointed I tap out.
Every time I’ve stepped on a mat in an official competition I’ve been nervous. It never gets easier despite having gone through this experience between 150-200 times. You’ve done the preparation but there are no teammates to bail you out or pick up your slack when you’re having a rough time. And often, it’s really as much a competition against yourself than against your opponent. Can you stay calm and let your training and energy flow? Or does the excitement of the moment create a roadblock in your mind that prevents you from performing as you’d like? In these types of high-stress moments I’ve been both in the zone and totally crushed opponents who were supposedly better than me, and I’ve completely fallen apart, making bone-head mistakes that I haven’t made in years.
Coming back to the idea of competing against yourself and facing your own challenges head on. I’m nervous once again as I step back on the mat. I’ve been avoiding addressing something I haven’t been happy with for a long time, as I have been, and still am embarrassed about it. It affects my relationship with my wife, even if she doesn’t say so, and it impacts my positive mental state at times. As such, I’ve finally decided to do something about it. I am so grateful for so much in my life, and so much of who I am is good and strong, that those areas where I am weak stick out like a sore thumb. It’s time to look myself in the mirror, and humbly ask for help in figuring this out. I’ve made an appointment with a specialist in this area of weakness since despite my best efforts I can’t solve this issue by myself (I’ve tried). And while I don’t anticipate an overnight fix, I hope to be able to feel confident and happy once again in this corner of my life and knock out one more negative energy thing.
A very good friend of mine is going through something similar, and I think I may have talked about it. He’s got baggage that could fill a 747, and decided that he needed to deal with it without the family distractions, so up and moved out. They are still a family, but you can tell the situation is tense. My stuff isn’t even in the same sport as his let alone ballpark, but both of us are taking a step to stop pretending everything is ok. “It’s only a problem when it’s a problem” they say. Well, you can dress up a problem in so many ways to disguise it, but it will still be there. Even if others don’t believe it is a problem, or something that really needs to be addressed, if you feel it is a problem that detracts from your life in some way, then it is a problem. Maybe I’ll write about it someday instead of being so cryptic, maybe I won’t. I’m just like all of you and struggle with my own insecurities and issues and as they become an energy sink, these things need to stop being the ninja in the corner sabotaging you in some ways and need to be brought to the spotlight and addressed. As Athol Kay notes, if you’re all A’s in most areas of your life, but F in a single one, you better take care of that F.