On Saturday, I decided to get my arse into gear and go back down to Newcastle for another of Speedy’s bi-annual grading days. I hadn’t been down in a whole fucking year. Which is pretty shitty on my part but it couldn’t really be helped due to problems with anxiety and health. I say arse into gear, I had to be coaxed into going but hey. This is a big ‘un by the way, sorry about that.
This time last year, I had my arse well and truly punted all over Tyne Met by Hubert and Fahad. Their technique was far superior to mine, and I felt embarrassed by even being there. You’re inevitably going to go to battle with people that are better than you, but that’s the first time I just wasn’t able to put up any fight at all (that I can recall). It was a whitewash, and I’ve felt shitty since.
Fast forward to May and I couldn’t attend the grading for two main reasons – I was having issues with my stomach (AGAIN!), and I really couldn’t face the idea of getting absolutely obliterated in front of my peers again. I’m not what you’d call a competitor. I was never athletically gifted as a child, or even inclined to be (save for riding my bike fucking everywhere, and being shite at football behind the park). It wasn’t until my adult years I actually found something physical that I genuinely fell in love with, in grappling. What I haven’t fallen in love with of course, is the peaks and valleys that go with it. There’s trippy highs, agonising lows and the plateaus in between. That’s some difficult shit right there. When you’re not an athlete, the highs are few and far between, so you’ve got to push through all the bullshit to get there.
Since last year’s grading, I’ve missed quite a bit of training to start the new calendar year, so that I could focus on fixing the physical ailments that governed my abilities (or inabilities, as it were) on the mats. With a bit of help from the doctor, I’m now in the best place physically I’ve been for years (my fitness is still shocking, because I’m still pretty fucking lazy). I don’t worry about pain or discomfort when going to training, and I can actually just focus on the training. So that’s great. Leading up to this grading, I’ve been far more attentive in my training – taking in as many classes and sessions as I can with a busy work schedule.
I’ve been able to teach here and there, and most importantly I’m not focusing entirely on Gi training. I’ve been sparring NoGi and picking up bits and bobs from the people I’m rolling with, and the coaches around the NoGi scene. This approach and mix of training partners has allowed my game to come on from where it was last year. I feel confident on the mats in my own club, and that’s pretty cool because it took a long fucking time to get there.
Where I still don’t feel confident is the competitive scene. I’m well aware that a friendly inter-club shouldn’t be considered competition, but it is. Doing poorly there, reflects poorly on the training and learning I’ve been given over the last year. I’m not only embarrassing myself, but my coaches and training partners. So that’s not a position I like to be in. That’s where my anxiety stems from. Looking foolish in front of my peers, when I believe I can do better.
This year it took me quite a bit of convincing to get back down to Newcastle for this grading day. Strangely enough I feel comfortable as a purple belt now, but when you’re pulling up the ever lengthening measuring stick of where you stack up against other purple belts, I still consider myself wholly shitty at this sport. As a result, going to war with other people my age/weight/level crumbles me. I’m fine until I step on the mats, but it’s then that I just shell up into oblivion. If I’m having a friendly roll, I’m cool. If I think competitively, I shit my pants.
My other half was very instrumental in pushing me towards overcoming this anxiety. I also turned to Speedy, Sloany and Grant who all delivered choice words to help me take the pressure off of the inter-club. I felt suitably relieved and actually happy about going down to Newcastle to support my teammates.
I’d shifted the focus off of my own journey, onto my peers. I want to see them do well, and to do that, I need to be there.
The Dundee and Perth lot did really well. I took the side of the mats, and coached where I could alongside other seasoned Jiu-Jidiots. Adam, Ronnie and Sloany were the standouts of the day, all getting long overdue shiny new belts (blue, blue and purple retrospectively). Something I really appreciated from the Newcastle and Darlington lot was their coaching instruction when the Dundee and Perth guys were facing each other. Naturally at the side lines, you can’t pick a side when you know both parties involved well, so it was great to see other guys taking that on, and helping out.
For my own match, I faced one of Dom’s up and comers ( a 10th Planet Purple belt). As soon as Dom approached me about it, I lost whatever spark I had for my proposed match. I was meant to be facing familiar ground, and now I was facing the great unknown. Scary. I could see him warming up, and I was already defeated mentally. I needed a moment to collect my thoughts and get my shit together. As I was walking over to the other mat to see how Sloany’s match was going, I was called up. This was it. Me vs Mighele right fucking now. I faced him, shook hands, bumped fists etc and he went for the takedown. I just did what I could, where I could to stop his onslaught of attacks. In my mind’s eye there were scrambles, but I don’t know if I’m remembering the fight better than I actually did, because of the positive comments I received afterwards. At one point, he had me in an armbar that I was later told the ref was on the verge of stopping the fight over, but I just waited until I could find my way out (a big thanks to those who were coaching me from the sidelines at this point. I distinctly remember hearing Ant). Once I’d worked my way out of the armbar, I managed to scramble to my feet before getting tripped again.
I attempted a single butterfly sweep, but failed miserably and ended up in a dorsal-fin kimura. This wasn’t good, but I wasn’t tapping. Mighele adjusted and lead me into the reverse triangle. When he pulled my arm across my neck, I was truly fucked. I was done. Life was leaving my lungs and I tapped.
In all that though, I felt calm. I don’t think I lost my cool, became panicked or embarrassed myself like I did last year. Sure, I was bettered in the fight but I actually had fun going against Migele, and would like to do so again one day, regardless of the result. If I’d had a moment to collect my thoughts, I probably would’ve picked more faults in my game, as I often do. Afterwards, I spoke with Migele and Billy (another of Dom’s guys). It was a good reflection on the match that just happened, and also part of what makes this sport, and these inter-clubs so great. There’s no animosity between anyone. It’s not the demon filled hell pit I seem to have in my imagination. I shouldn’t be fearing this like I am, or suffering whatever anxiety I do. I need to move on. I need to move forward.
Next year, I’m going to take a more active approach to competing. It’s something I’ve severely neglected in Jiu-Jitsu and part of what I believe makes me such a shitty purple belt. The first competition I have my sights on is in February, and a lot of guys from the club are already keen to go. I’m going to have to get out there, and start getting my arse kicked by people that people that actually want to kill me, so that when it comes to the inter-club I can better make the distinction between war and fun.
I also had some great rolls with Big Show, Dom and Speedy on the day that deserve a mention. Dom and Speedy toyed with me, like the devious bastards they are. Speedy gave me a few things to work on, so that’s cool.
I’m aware I’ve rambled throughout this piece, but that’s entirely the point of this blog. I have to be able to put down the good, the bad and the ugly. The big difference with this year’s ‘performance’ is that I’m raring to go, and ready to get back on the mats tonight. Which is exactly where I need to be to continue improving. I’ve made progress in that defeat, rather than shying away like I did a year ago.
Off you fuck then.