When I made it to the academy, I noticed Marcin and a group of teammates standing around presumably waiting on more people. After some phone calls and a few more minutes of waiting we loaded up in different cars and headed out. We drove for about 10 minutes when Marcin phone rang. I couldn’t understand the conversation, but he looked over at me and said that a couple of people were running behind and would meet us where we were. About a minute later two more guys materialized out of nowhere and joined us.
I tried to keep my eyes open, but I have a tendency when I ride in cars to get very sleepy and end up falling asleep. I had just purchased a digital copy of the “Black Belt Blueprint” that was written by Roger Gracies first black belt, Nicolas Gregoriades. I had heard good things about it, so I figured the discount price that I purchased it at from BJJ.HQ was worth it. The first few chapters were incredibly dull (pretty much for beginners) that this added to my normal “car ride narcolepsy”. I think I made it maybe 30 minutes before I was sleeping like a baby.
When we got to the tournament venue, Marcin had asked me if I had medical insurance paperwork with me. Thankfully I had printed of proof of “travel insurance” that my company offers for free (both for work and pleasure travel). He needed me to go up with him to register for the tournament. The tournament director was nice enough to allow me in the competition even after the registration had closed. My understanding was that he was very happy to have an American there to compete.
I showed my ID, weighed in, and signed the various forms that I needed to sign. Marcin asked if I would represent his team in the competition. I told him absolutely. Considering that I was about 7,950 kilometers from home and this was just a regional competition, I didn’t see the harm in representing another team. Besides, these guys and gals had bent over backwards to give me accommodations, entertainment, a place to train, and entrance into the tournament. Also, nobody over here knows who or what “Team Vaghi” is, with the exception of some random Brazilian and the Rickson Gracie teams over here.
The tournament started off looking pretty good, being on time and all. The first couple of matches were brown and black belt super fights. There were one fight each for the two belt divisions. They were pretty interesting fights, with the winners being the larger of the two competitors in both fights. That was pretty expected, technique and ability being equal, size and strength play a major role in the outcome of the fight.
What happened next was a bit annoying to me. After the super fights there was around a 2 hour lull before the actual tournament started. I’m not entirely sure what the holdup was, and it really didn’t matter, I was a captive at this point and wouldn’t be going anywhere until later in the evening. My ear was still bothering me, and my body was otherwise rundown from all the traveling I had been doing.
After a few hours Marcin came running up to me saying that my name had been called. I chuckled a bit, as I had heard them call a “Michelle”, but I figured it was a female. I guess “Michael” looks the same and could technically be pronounced the same way. No worries, I grabbed my gear and headed over to the the entrance area. I tried communicating with the people at the “pit” entrance to the competition mats, they were not entirely sure what I was saying. Thankfully a younger guy heard my frustrated English and came over to interpret for us. He made sure I made it over to my mat, asking along the way what I was doing there and all that. I told him about the trip and the blog and thanked him for helping me out.
My first match was against a guy who was slightly taller than myself, but a bit leaner. This was an oddity for me, as I usually end up fighter shorter and fatter (or stockier for those who have delicate feelings) opponents in the United States. In any case I decided I was going to pull guard on the guy, and I felt that was going to end up being the strategy for both of us. It was going to come down to who pulled first, and that person was going to win the match. The opponent had pretty good base to him, it was hard to off balance him, but I would pretty much break his posture at will. I kept launching submission attempts at him, vary narrowly missing a nice armbar from a setup that I had been working on (Thanks to Remy in Pecs!). The match ended up going to me by refs decision. Not entirely what I was hoping for, but a win is a win.
I don't always play Rubber Guard, but when I do, I do it wrong.
The second match I lost to the eventual winner of the division. I’m going to point out that I do not justify my loss to him because he won, I’m rather just pointing it out for narration. Accepting the lose for what it is was something that black belt Robert Drysdale covered in a seminar earlier this year in January. He took about an hour to cover competition physiology and I’ve been trying to implement that as much as possible.
Back to the fight. The guy was also a bit taller than me, but a bit heavier too, more filled out in the shoulders. I think that I was moved up into the higher weight class, 95+ kilos. The guy immediately pulled guard and started attacking my left leg. I could see him trying to work towards an achilles lock, which never troubles me. It’s a bit painful, but I’ve never had to tap to one of these locks. My defense is to usually just reach out and grab the back of the attackers neck in a wrestling style clinch and bring them towards me. A lot of times this will cause them to stock attacking the leg. I fought the position off for a couple of minutes, but was unable to improve my position overall.
I made the mistake of sitting down into 50-50 guard, believing that my unorthodox approach to shutting an opponent down from the position would allow me to come out ahead. The next thing I knew I was blinded by pain radiating from my foot and knee. My original thoughts were that I had been hit with an illegal leg lock. I reflexively tapped the mat so hard that I heard it echo through the whole hall. My opponent immediately let go and crouched over me, asking if I was OK and that he had heard some popping from my foot as he applied his submission. Very irritated and confused I told him that I would be fine.
I felt zero strain from the lock on my achilles at all. As I said before it was all foot and knee. I swore up and down the move was illegal, but I don’t know because I couldn’t see how he had the leg/foot wrapped up. However the referee was on the side of the lock and he allowed it, so I had to assume it was legal.
My third match, and what would be my final match due to my foot hurting and swelling, was against a built and very strong opponent. We ended up going to the ground, and I believe he got the points on the takedown. The takedown points could have went either way, I wasn’t mad and I had confidence in my half guard. I tried to reverse my previous luck and attempted an achilles lock on my opponent I couldn’t get the tap, my technique wasn’t as good as my previous opponents. I decided to switch gears and apply my “lockdown” half guard and see if I could leverage it into a sweep or a submission.
Unfortunately for me my opponent was pretty strong and had great base from my lockdown position. I couldn’t move his at all. I tried everything I knew to get him to move into the position that I wanted him to, and it all lead to nothing. But, I kept trying, I wasn’t going to give up. About 3/4 of the way through the match he tried to move at a weird angle, like a “knee slide” pass from the lockdown, and he let out a loud scream/yell of pain. I heard and felt his knee pop. Normally in a competition in the United States, that would have been the end of the match. It would have been a verbal tap on my opponents part. I looked at the referee and he didn’t seem phased by it, so I kept going. The opponent ended up just laying on top of me for the rest of the match. Another loss for me.
I could feel the pain in my foot, it wasn’t going to be a good day. I was walking off the mat with a limp. The limp was makable. I figured I would just have to ice it down and everything would be fine.
What would have been match four, with me fighting for third place (I’m not sure how they did the bracketing for us) I ended up bowing out of. It was about an hour later when they called my opponent and I out to fight. My foot had been progressively getting worse. With two weeks left in my trip, I didn’t want to risk injuring my foot further. I approached my opponent and told him that I was not going to fight him due to the injury. He was immediately relieved and said that he wasn’t looking forward to fighting me. I kind of chuckled and asked him why? He told me that my opponent from my third match was his teammate and the guy said I was entirely too strong and a difficult opponent to manage. I was a little perplexed, because that opponent felt a hell of a lot strong than I. I told the guy exactly that. He thanked me for bowing out and wished me a speedy recovery.
I watched a lot of matches after I was done competing. I noticed a metric shit ton of stalling being allowed to happen with none of it being called out or having penalties/warnings enforced. I had talked to the ref of my third match afterwards and asked why he didn’t call my opponent for stalling. He told me that I was equally as guilty, so it leveled out. It was always my impression that the top person had more options for mobility and thus was required to try to move more, otherwise he/she would be called for stalling. The stalling that I was noticing was coming from all sorts of positions of side control and kesa gatame where the top player would pretty much just pressure and lay over their opponent until the end of the match. It was reminiscent to a Judo fight where a pin can win you a match.
All in all I felt a lot better this tournament. I felt like I was more aggressive both in my own guard and while defending. I do however need to work on my lockdown, as I essentially get stalled out and I am having trouble with getting my sweeps and submission attempts from the position. I’ll probably need to do a couple of drop ins with the local 10th Planet Omaha location when I get back home to work on this. I also noticed I had very little competition anxiety before and during the tournament. The anxiety party of things makes competiting much easier for me. I didn’t feel tired after any of my matches. If I can maintain that while keeping the aggressiveness moving forward and working on my technique I think I will be a forced to be reckoned within about 6-9 months of time. I plan on hitting all the local tournaments that I can from here on out.
The tournament director wanted a picture of me here, so I took one with a potato.
With the Academia Gorila team. Overall they did pretty well, four gold medals if I remember correctly.