With the upcoming tournament this weekend, I thought I'd write a bit on what I've experienced from my first time on the mat to where I am now. Not to say that I've got it all figured out, far from it. What I'd like to make comment on is the process of taking these experiences and how they effect the future. One of the attractive elements of jiu-jitsu for me is that when you're in it, there's nothing else but that moment. At the same time, that moment is an expression of all those hours spent on the mat training. Sometimes it pans out and other times it's a platform for reflection and improvement.
The first time I had competed I was so nervous that I felt my stomach was going to drop to the floor and my hands were shaking. As soon as the ref said go my body tensed up as we fought for grips and both my shoulders and legs locked. Imagine going in for a single-leg with your back and legs completely straight. Basically it was 4 minutes of standing as the other guy was a newbie as well. We were warned several times to take action and if he hadn't of pulled guard, we probably would have stood for the entire match. Anyways I won by passing his guard but attribute it more to his inability to move than my skill at the time. The entire match, I couldn't hear a damn thing. As if all my senses had been shut down and the only that that would register was what was right in front of me, complete tunnel vision. Afterwards, both my hands locked up into a claw and my forearms were way over stressed. My second match that day it was more of the same but this time we spent more time grappling than standing. I had done better to defend but got stuck at open-guard and gave my opponent time to set up his pass. I had lost. I found myself in a position that I didn't understand or wasn't prepared for.
With each following match, would come small victories but just as many mistakes and shortcomings. It's a process that I've learn to accept. The point is to not give up.
Since then, I have competed in roughly 5-6 tournaments which is not a big number but considering the circumstances, I take what I can get. With each match, my nerves get a little better and I can hear more clearly my teammates coaching me from the sidelines. Slowly, I can recall more and more from my matches without too much help from video. I'm more relaxed and am doing a better job of breathing. I wouldn't be able to make this kind of progress without taking what I've learned, applying it to my training and getting back on the mat to compete. For most of us here in SEA, the amount of comp experience can vary but most may have to settle with 1-2 tournaments a year while in other parts of the globe, a comp can be found every month. I heard in Japan there is a monthly tournament just for white-belts. What a great idea.
Outside of learning from your mistakes and improving your technique or fitness it is also about being comfortable in the competition environment. There you are in front of everyone watching, screaming and rooting for you to fail or succeed. For some the anxiety is too much while for others it's a rush. When I think about the environment of competition, it reminds me of my experience as a swimmer. Prior to BJJ, the only sport I had ever dedicated myself to was swimming. I had done it for 10+ years winning state titles, broke some local records and placed nationally. Towards the end of my swimming career, all the anxiety and nervousness was at a level that I could control or be comfortable with. If anything, just being familiar with those feelings and to know it's a part of the experience made it that much easier to just relax and focus on the task at hand. I even had my own little breathing ritual before each race as our names were called to the starting-block.
So now I find myself having to go through the very same process with BJJ, gathering my experiences and finding that comfort zone on the mat. Granted, I am now faced with an opponent that wants to armbar or choke me. A far cry from just me and the water, haha. I know there are a lot of guys that don't have any interest to compete but I do think it's an aspect of BJJ that should be given some attention. At whatever level, I think it's important to put yourself through that stress/pressure of applying what you know against an opponent. And I mean this outside of your regular training in class. So much changes when it's not just a part of your daily class training. In class I can see a guy trying to be Leo Viera with all these flips and acrobatics but come the tournament, their game becomes so conservative, like night and day.
If you haven't yet, I recommend giving it a try at least once. Afterwards you can decide whether it's for you or not but at least challenge yourself and get to know what you're capable of.