My Pans Experience
Entering the belly of the beast
When I came back from Orlando my training partner insisted that I had gotten a tan and aged at least 10 years, which seemed ridiculous at the time but makes sense because I was in Florida for almost a full week. The internet likes to talk smack about Florida, so I came to the state with very low expectations and high anxiety about what my experience would be.
It’s been a week now since the full event. And it was quite the adventure. Very uncomfortable at times but also very fun, and eye opening with regards to my struggles of competing, performing, and being.
The good parts of the experience was pretty good. I got a nice t-shirt from the experience, which I can wear and flex at local tournaments or in the weight room.
I was also not there alone, since my teammate and coach were also competing. While I’ve been increasingly more comfortable with going at some things solo, there are still many things that are way better as a shared experience. Pans was one of them. The idea of navigating the entire process from beginning to end alone would have been a huge drain on my resources. I was mentally strained but undoubtedly would have had less laughs and company if I had to come alone.
I also did, despite losing in the first round, managed to show up and survive six minutes of a girl trying to kill me without getting submitted. I had no idea how big of a deal the competition was until I kept seeing Jiu Jitsu celebrities (and up and coming ones) just casually milling about. So, being there to feel the enormity of the event was quite surreal and unique; what I would imagine a playoff game would be like for baseball or football. It’s certainly not something I think I can stomach multiple times a year, at least not yet, but getting a taste of it was invaluable.
The bad parts did not involve losing.
It involved mostly being frustrated that the wifi at the hotel was basically non-functional for the entire time I was there, and my phone high speed data was virtually nonexistent. I struggled to get restaurants to accept my meal orders through several different apps, only to get quite sick from eating unfamiliar food. While I don’t think the diet was the only reason for a mediocre performance, I do think it was a huge part of it given that I felt sluggish and bloated for longer periods of time than I would have liked.
I was also bored after the competition. Like, a lot. For some reason I decided I needed an extra day and a half in Orlando after I was done with competing. I was bored OUT OF MY MIND in the hotel room and my plans for training at another school were mostly dashed because I hadn’t emailed any places in advance and was still leery about COVID in Florida. If I could do it again, I would get the heck out of town as soon as I finished competing, or at least take the earliest flight out of a city, unless I had a good reason to stay. Since this was the first tournament that I took a flight for, it makes sense that I wouldn’t have an idea of what I really wanted. Well, now I know.
Lastly, I did not have a good routine in mind to take care of myself up until competition day. The diet point above was one of them, but I could have also played way less Pokémon in the evenings, drank more water, and generally have decided better how to organize my space at my hotel instead of throwing things everywhere. I would have brought different entertainment options like my kindle or a coloring book had I thought through the good deal of downtime that I would have had with just myself. This tournament revealed to me just how much time I spent on my phone on social media instead of having more quiet, and honestly more productive moments to calm my mind and relax as best as I could.
Be laser focused on getting the non-negotiables down.
Proper winding down routine for sleep; come prepared with snacks that fuel me instead of drain me; have proper amounts of protein sources. This is by far something that went downhill the minute I got to Orlando and something I’m going to avoid in the future by being more prepared, even if it means checking luggage that is primarily trail mix and other snacks that my body is used to.
Along those lines, spend a little extra money on hotels because I’m fortunate enough to do so, and find a hotel that is close to resources and has good soundproofing.
Find ways to burn off stress instead of trying to “save myself” in the days before the tournament.
People say that you should taper for a competition and while that might make sense for some, I now have a sneaking suspicion that what tapering looks like for me is way different from others. If I sit in a room for too long, I start to get in my head and get restless.
It would have been better for me to get all that adrenaline in the days before out of my system with a workout, to get a good sweat going and release some of that inward pressure. I might also plan to visit a couple of schools beforehand to keep my skills sharp. What I did do for this time was sit for way too long brooding in my room, and I felt like the resulting buildup of nerves made me unfocused during the competition.
Better research of my opponents.
This is something that I’m playing around with, because while I do pride myself on being able to “roll with the punches” so to speak, it’s common knowledge that the same competitors go to one competition and the next.
Jiu Jitsu is one of those weird arts where you can develop an unconscious rivalry simply by seeing the same person at every competition and at the same rank for many years. It seems strange that I wouldn’t have researched them sooner; now, going forward, I plan to even if it increases my levels of concern. At least they will be informed levels now. 🥴
Arrive at the venue very early.
As a white belt I arrived to the venue the way I would for an international flight — about 3 hours early, with time to spare. Then somewhere along the line, I got the idea it was cool to roll in late, or that waiting at the venue was a torturous exercise that I should keep as short as possible.
The biggest things I realized about myself on competition day was that I was overloaded with the sensory inputs of the venue. I was overwhelmed by the lights in the arena we were in, the shouting of the crowds, the security line and scanners, the lack of knowledge where bathrooms were, and a whole host of random, seemingly trivial details that were magnified tenfold in a competitive context. What I need to do is arrive early, actually get changed, and spend more time working up a good sweat that loosens my muscles and shakes out the initial adrenaline. I need time to organize my stuff and take in the scene — however stressful it is — and get time to let my nervous system adjust.
Granted, this wouldn’t work for early morning matches, but I’ve rarely had those occur, given that most competition organizers like blue belts to go at the middle to back of the schedule. In fact, arriving in the middle of the tournament was often worse than arriving at the start, simply due to the fact that arriving at the start allows you to experience the gradual ramp-up of people shouting, competitors battling, and announcements being made every 32 seconds by a inexplicably simultaneously muffled yet ear-splitting voice.
Looking back at Pans, I can see a lot of the places where I lacked. I did not have the will or energy to win at that moment. I did not have the routines locked in place that would have enabled me to feel as best as I could in the moment. Pans revealed a lot about where my weaknesses and flaws were, which was something that I hadn’t experienced in a while.
I felt very uncomfortable and sad in the days after Pans, in part because I felt disappointed in myself. I was proud of myself too, but deep down, I was also disappointed. I think I could have done more to listen to my instincts and to find myself better in that high pressure space. I could have fought with more heart as a result.
I am still an optimist about how I can perform in the future and about my jiu jitsu journey overall. It’s just that sometimes, it isn’t your day, and it’s important to shake that loss off so you can focus on making that next day better.
Sports books are always about winning because winning is far more pleasurable and exhilarating to read about than losing. Winning is wonderful in every aspect, but the darker music of loss resonates on deeper, richer planes. I think about all the games of that faraway year that played such a part in shaping me, and it is the losses that stand out because they still make their approach with all their capacities to wound intact. Winning makes you think you'll always get the girl, land the job, deposit the million‑dollar check, win the promotion, and you grow accustomed to a life of answered prayers. Winning shapes the soul of bad movies and novels and lives. It is the subject of thousands of insufferably bad books and is often a sworn enemy of art.
Loss is a fiercer, more uncompromising teacher, coldhearted but clear‑eyed in its understanding that life is more dilemma than game, and more trial than free pass. My acquaintance with loss has sustained me during the stormy passages of my life when the pink slips came through the door, when the checks bounced at the bank, when I told my small children I was leaving their mother, when the despair caught up with me, when the dreams of suicide began feeling like love songs of release. It sustained me when my mother lay dying of leukemia, when my sister heard the ruthless voices inside her, and when my brother Tom sailed out into the starry night in Columbia, South Carolina, sailed from a fourteen‑story building and plunged screaming to his death, binding all of his family into his nightmare forever. Though I learned some things from the games we won that year, I learned much, much more from loss. - Pat Conroy, My Losing Season