Dispatches from the Competition Front
In July and August, after not competing for almost two years, I decided to jump into my first series of competitions at my new rank. It was an intimidating, exhausting, but ultimately productive endeavor that has brought new focus (and angst) to my jiu jitsu practice.
Even though I’ve competed before, this new batch of competitions was definitely a different experience. Overall, it was positive and I have no regrets despite losing the majority of my matches. For one, my coach showed up to coach me, even driving several hours to Philly to do so. I felt incredibly grateful and supported by my teammates who came to support me for the tournament in Virginia, even if they weren’t competing themselves. Finally, I competed solo for the first time at an IBJJF tournament in Austin, without any coaches or teammates on competition day. My coach called in the night before to make sure that I was mentally prepared.
In past competitions, I would feel a need to compete again after a loss. It was not because I was motivated to compete again — rather, it was that I couldn’t accept the reality that I had primarily lost due to a gap in technique. This time, after doing three competitions in close succession, I was able to accept the reality that my technique needed a lot of work, and that I had not lost because I was too nervous, in the wrong weight class, or had no coach. I recognized that instead of competing again, the best chance for improvement would be to take those lessons and seriously work at my weaknesses in training.
As a result of this realization, I’ve been focusing on a sincere effort to improve. That process has been uncomfortable and exhausting, though now I’m starting to see some improvements, which is good.
Trying to improve is uncomfortable because I don’t like admitting that I don’t know everything. So much of my formative years was learning how to do things by myself, and admitting that I didn’t know wasn’t a viable option. Now that I have more resources as an adult, I’m still very much aware of when I try to protect myself by trying to give the impression that I know all the answers. In that sense, working on my weaknesses, with the help of my training partners, is an act of vulnerability.
Trying to improve is exhausting because as much as I try to shortcut and optimize the learning process, I’ve realized that at my current level, it takes a fair bit of note-taking, drilling, and specific sparring to actually ingrain new patterns into my psyche. It takes time. I try to watch instructionals now on the same day as training because it shortens the amount of time I have to daydream that I can actually get the technique right on the first few attempts. There are times that I want to pretend that I’m naturally gifted, or that I can learn things faster because I have a certain foundation, but struggle seems to be the norm of my learning.
As I accept these things about myself, that I was bested in competition through shortcomings of my own, I’m also trying to be compassionate to myself. One trap that I fell into in past times was destroying my confidence in the process of analyzing my faults. However, I see now that critique does not have to be equated with personal failure, even if I felt like that in the past when I had very little confidence to begin with. Berating myself, it turns out, doesn’t really increase my potential of improving my technique. If anything, this “meanie approach” decreases the possibility because I end up with little to no motivation.
As an alternative, I’ve been trying to transform my experience into more of a game, where challenges are seen as welcome opportunities. Every time I encounter a difficult situation in practice (or life) I reward myself Adversity Points for getting through. Then, when I’ve decided that I’ve racked up enough APs, I can give myself a reward.
For instance, looking back at last week’s practice, I would give myself:
🔼 50 points for not losing my cool when I got a bike tire flat and still making alternative arrangements to get to class
🔼 20 points for delaying instant gratification and actually watching instructional footage before open mat instead of playing Zelda
🔼 40 points for trying something new against a new training partner
🔼 100 points for working on how to increase my tempo and energy expenditure when sparring, including asking people for advice and doing soul-searching
I think the biggest change I’ve seen between the old days and now is that I’m using post-comp data as a chance to work on myself, both technically and personally. To accept some hard truths and work to change them, if I wanted to. To show commitment across not just a few days, but consistently over several weeks to make real progress.
There's no failure in sports. You know, there's good days, bad days. Some days you are able to be successful, some days you're not. Some days it’s your turn, some days it’s not your turn. And that's what sports is about. You don't always win; some other team’s gonna win. - Giannis Antetokounmpo