I’m a four month white belt and I registered for the 2022 Ontario Open International Jiu Jitsu Competition. What was I thinking? Hopefully writing a blog post about it today will help me get to the bottom of why I would do such a thing while being at such a low belt rank.
After chatting with some people from my BJJ gym, it seems that most people who do jiu jitsu don’t compete. I thought that odd but as it turns out that is not that odd. There are two ways to look at jiu jitsu: sport jiu jitsu and self-defence jiu jitsu. I first heard about this difference in an Art of Manliness podcast episode with Rener Gracie called, “Podcast #446: How Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu Will Make You a Better Man”
Sport Jiu Jitsu
Sport jiu jitsu is all about competing in tournaments and competition. There are points rewarded for certain moves and techniques. There are rules, regulations, and policies that must be followed. For example, rules like only certain gi’s can be worn and you have to make weight for your weight class.
Self-defence Jiu Jitsu
Self-defence jiu jitsu is about learning techniques and moves that will help protect you in a street fight or a potential physical altercation with a stranger. There are no rules, regulations, and policies that must be followed. Your main goal above all else it to protect yourself, not score points.
Apparently there is debate in the jiu jitsu community across the world, as to which path of the martial art you should follow: Sport VS Self-defence. That debate was here before I joined and will continue for the foreseeable future. Today I want to dive into why I chose to compete at all in jiu jitsu. Let’s begin shall we?
Where it all began
I was one of the smaller wrestlers when I first hopped onto the mats way back in the day in grade 8. I would have been about fourteen years old. Our history teacher was the wrestling coach and we practiced in the tiny middle school gym. My father had recommend I try out for the wrestling team, he used to coach it at a school he worked at before I was born. With some encouragement from my family and family friends who were also involved in the sport, I gave it a go. Turns out I was decent for someone who had never scrambled before. I was a natural.
Then there was high school. Grade 9 wrestling was so much fun. I got to hangout with older peers that I would have never had the chance to meet as the groups and cliques in high school are notoriously hard to penetrate, especially for a short skinny due like myself. But lucky for me I was good at wrestling, which means I won and pinned my opponents more often than not. But throughout high school, my natural talent only got me so far. As I climbed up the ranks as seen by my first round byes in tournaments because my higher ranking, I would find myself facing off with stronger and stronger opponents. So I joined the local wrestling club at the university in my city. That experience was great for me. Every Tuesday and Thursday evenings I would get a ride to the gym and practice with people from different schools of all ages. One time we even got to meet Canadian Freestyle Wrestler, Daniel Igali, who won an Olympic gold medal in the 2000 Summer Olympic Games in Sydney, Australia. That was so cool.
The local club and high school wrestling was great for me. The hard work paid off more often than not. I won thirteen medals throughout my high school wrestling career. My most proud one being a 1st place finish at a rookie tournament in Sarnia, Ontario. I wrestling in a school cafeteria. My coach said, “D, I’m going to the gym to coach your teammates, I’ll check in on you but you got this, right?” He was half-joking. I drilled and warmed up in a tiny corner of that cafeteria, with my favourite grey wrestling hoodie on. Looking real tough I’m sure. Since it was only me and one other younger teammate in the cafe that day, I really felt like I won that first place medal all by myself. I will always be proud of that.
As high school rolled on by, like many young men, I succumbed to binge drinking and pot smoking. Those bad habits took a toll on my body. And my wrestling took a hit. I would never be as good as the young men who went to the gym and ate clean and stayed out of trouble. By the time I graduated from high school, that was the end of my wrestling career. Other areas of my life became more important to me at the time, like dating and partying. That would continue throughout my 20’s. As I meandered through life, stoned and drunk, I worked in a kitchen at a local pub to make money. My experience with that lifestyle could be a whole book, so now I’ll just say it was a wild ride. Until one day I decided to start to get my act together and go back to college, a third time. Fast forward to 2018 where I graduated from the local college. With a new diploma and eager to earn, I was lucky that I got hired from the same place I did my co-op placement, which was actually at the college I graduated from.
Since then, I’ve had the same job, they call it casual part-time contract work, or in other words Tutoring. I would love for it to be full time but hey that’s life, it’ll all work itself out as long as I keep working hard and take the opportunities that present themselves to me and also be willing to use my networking skills more often (fingers crossed I get this summer job I’m currently after).
Let’s hop a little further down the road to last September 2021, where I got the urge to wrestle again. No idea why but maybe it had to do with being locked in my apartment for two years and wanting to do something different. Still trying to figure out why I’m doing jiu jitsu.
After some emails and messages turns out I couldn’t wrestle at my old club due to c*vid restrictions. Hey you never know maybe I’ll join again in the future. I sure do like wrestling. So I sent some more messages to see if I could join a BJJ gym. A few hundred dollars later I signed up for a year membership to a Gracie Barra gym. Some say that these gyms are the cookie cutter of the BJJ world and some say they produce great jiu jitsu practitioners. Either way it doesn’t matter to me because I like the club I go to because it’s easy going. For example, we dont need to bow before we go on and off the mat. And we don’t call the head instructor “professor” which I think is stupid and will never do that. So far I enjoy it.
Where it’s going
This brings us to now. I have officially registered for the 2022 Ontario Open International Jiu Jitsu Competition in May. I’m currently doing my own training program because I need to cut weight to make my division. The program consists of eating three meals a day of whole foods, smoothie in the morning, some type of lunch usually left overs from dinner, and a dinner that either my fiancee or I make. We made a new cooking schedule that seems to be working out nicely. I’m basically doing a slightly modified Dolce Diet. I’ve lost 5 pounds but have been fluctuating up and down because hey I’m human and have the odd snack or too much food and I’m not used to having to cut weight for a competition, at least not since high school.
I train at the BJJ gym at least four hours a week, some weeks seven hours. The open mat sparring sessions are my favourite. I get beat up but also have the odd small win, like getting an arm bar on someone like a lower belt like me, or have a higher belt say my defence is good, or not getting submitted as fast as I did when I started. My plan for the upcoming tournament is simple: learn a couple takedowns I’m good at like the ankle pick or single leg. Then learn a couple guard passes. Then learn some pinning positions that lead to a submission. Pretty straight forward. A higher belt told me that if my conditioning stays good or gets better, that is what will separate me from my opponents and give me the best chance to win. Although winning isn’t my main goal, that would nice. My main goal is to make weight, then show up, then compete, and have fun. Winning would be a bonus. Getting discouraged in this sport will happen over and over and as a white belt I have to learn how to deal with the negative emotions that will come with doing BJJ.
In the meantime, I will continue having fun in the Fundamentals class, Advanced class, and the open mat sparring sessions. If it all works out then I have a pretty sweet formula for competitions and will get better if I stick with it.
If you made it this far, thanks. I guess to answer the question of this post, “Why Did I Register for a Brazilian Jiu Jitsu Tournament?” I would have to say that my past interest in wrestling and the great feelings I got from competing and all the good things that come with sports, is why I registered for a BJJ tournament. To see if I can do a sport again for fun and also be good at it. At 36 years old, why not?