I had no business competing at the New York Spring Open this past weekend. Coming off injuries sustained at PANS several weeks prior when my leg gave way as my opponent jumped closed guard, I had just started walking relatively normally again. Aside from physical therapy and a couple of limited training sessions the week of the competition, I had little to no preparation for the month leading up to tournament. Heading into the event, I was nervous about the condition of my leg, the rust in my game, and the appalling state of my cardio that was sure to reveal itself at some point.
I had every excuse in the world to back out, and frankly, I probably would have if my ticket wasn’t already booked and non-refundable. Either as a competitor or a spectator, I was going. I decided I would simply pack my gi and make a final decision about competing the day before the event. The truth of the matter is that I had already made the mental commitment. I was just leaving myself an out.
I squeezed in a training session with a friend of mine at Garden State Brazilian Jiu Jitsu on Thursday night. I was tired, but not completely gassed. More importantly, my leg held up to several rounds of live sparring. I knew that I could make it through the two matches I was slated for on Saturday. This was huge for my mindset, and I can’t thank the instructor, Chris Ulbricht, enough for the hospitality and training. He runs a great gym and is a gracious host to non-members, even giving me a roll to help me stay/get sharp. Look him up if you are in New Jersey.
I spent Friday being a tourist. I chose to compete in New York this year because I had not been to the city since I was about ten years old. It’s been on my travel list for a while now, so I jumped at the opportunity to go. I took the ferry into Manhattan from Staten Island, visited the 911 memorial, saw the city from the observation deck of the Empire State Building, walked the Highline (elevated pedestrian path), drank Irish coffee in the pub where O. Henry wrote The Gift of the Magi, rode the subway, saw the birthplace of Teddy Roosevelt … basically did every touristy thing that makes the locals chuckle.
I had to smile several times throughout the day as I recalled the advice my instructor, Gustavo Dantas, always dispenses prior to a competition. That is to stick to your routine and try not to make any radical departures from your diet, exercise protocol, etc. The thought first occurred to me when I was eating fish and chips after walking about five miles through the streets of NYC. I was playing with house money just being there to compete, so I made the conscious decision to place the overall experience before the result.
The competition, as it things turned out, could not have gone better. I managed to win my two matches and claim first place in my bracket. That was simply the icing on the cake. The victory was had just stepping onto the mat in the first place. I knew I wasn’t at my best and had not prepared the way I normally do. I challenged myself not to win, but to test my jiu jitsu in an uncomfortable setting where I was less than one hundred percent. We typically try to stack the deck in our favor by preparing as diligently as possible. It gives you confidence when you know you put in the work. In this case, I wanted to see what I was made of when things were tilted in the other direction.
Would I fold when things got hard, lean on the excuse that I would perform better under different circumstances?
Would I perform better with an absence of pressure, from myself as well as from others, with the built-in excuses?
There is always something to learn about yourself when you compete. Fears to face and overcome. While it may not have been the most prudent decision to compete from a medical standpoint, the potential positives outweighed the potential negatives for me. As it turned out, I came out no worse for the wear with a gold medal around my neck, lessons learned about myself, and a host of new experiences that I wouldn’t have otherwise gained.
Special thanks to OSS Physical Therapy for helping me get back on the mat in time for this event, to everyone at Garden State BJJ for the hospitality, to Andrew and Liz Lenza for being gracious hosts, and to my teammates, Sarah Black and Bobby Green for the support during my matches.
Lastly, thank you to my opponent in both matches, Lewis Gonzales. We can’t measure ourselves alone. Without strong and able opponents, there would be neither reason nor means to improve.
Congratulations to all who competed and see you at the next one.