The autumn leaves are falling like rain. Although my neighbors are all barbarians and you, you are a thousand miles away, there are always two cups at my table.

T’ang Dynasty poem

Ten thousand flowers in spring, the moon in autumn, a cool breeze in summer, snow in winter. If your mind isn't clouded by unnecessary things, this is the best season of your life.

~ Wu-men ~

Saturday, December 06, 2014

The Mind During Competition

I ran across a post at All Out Effort, describing what a competitor had running through his mind during a BJJ match. I found it very interesting. An excerpt is below. The full post may be read here.

I lose by 22 points and get submitted?

By Sam Yang - Get similar updates here

To boil down everything I talk about into one word, the word would be mindset. Mindset meaning, "The established set of attitudes held by someone."

Whether it's competition in sports, public speaking, or any intense activity, we are told that we need to think like a winner -- to be positive, to own the room. That's nice but we're all human. A lot of thoughts go through our heads very quickly and we can't control all of them. Sometimes you just have to let it go and think what you're going to think and let it pass on its own. I will never be able to remove all doubts, and I have come to accept them as a part of myself, it's something that keeps me sharp and informed.

I'm going to tell you a story about what went through my mind during a match in my last competition but frankly it's what goes through my mind during any intense situation.

Let me start by giving a brief explanation of Brazilian Jiu Jitsu (BJJ), the art that I will be speaking of. It's one of the newer martial arts, born of the streets of Rio de Janeiro. Judo was brought to Brazil, taught to the Gracie family. Through challenge matches (and some street fights), they evolved it from a throwing art, to a ground fighting art. It was and still is the best example of martial arts efficiency and they constantly proved that a smaller person can beat a bigger person through leverage and positioning. Why it became a ground art is because a smaller person needed the ground as a platform to create leverage. Essentially it looks like pajama wrestling. When a person gives up (taps out due to pain or is choked unconscious) or loses enough positions (positions are dictated by the amount of leverage that can be exerted), they lose.

Fast forward to today, we hold tournaments to see -- out of the people who train (which now there are many), after we even out for age, weight, and rank -- who's the best. I've done many different martial arts but this is the art I find the most challenging, frustrating, and rewarding. From this art spawned the UFC and the sport of mixed martial arts -- making famous fighters such as Royce Gracie, BJ Penn, and Georges St-Pierre (GSP). I am no GSP. In fact I may be the opposite; I am an arthritic thirty something who doesn't get paid to train.

I do however have one secret weapon. I train at Cobrinha BJJ, recognized as one of the greatest academies in the world. I hadn't competed in years and as my physical health got worse, I joined the academy thinking I was done competing forever. In fact prior to committing I had told them as much. Competition is usually for teens to early twenty year olds. Someone forgot to tell our guys -- as thirty, forty, fifty, and even sixty year olds are competing. I somehow got the bug to compete, which I still don't get because I don't like competing. That's part of the pull I think, to do the things you don't like and challenging yourself. That's what Jiu Jitsu is about, fighting that bigger guy, challenging yourself, facing all the mental challenges of wanting to give up and beg for mercy, and finding a way to come out better than you were. Every technique you are taught is about gaining victory out of impossible situations, every roll (sparring) is the Hero's Journey. Competing is the Hero's Journey, competing is Jiu Jitsu. You don't love Jiu Jitsu every time you train, sometimes you hate it, that's why you do it.

There were enough of us older grapplers (in BJJ if you're over thirty, you are considered an older grappler) who competed to even form a little group within Cobrinha's called Old Man Jits. We began entering competitions together, encouraging, and even prodding each other to compete. Since I created this group, this added more pressure for me to compete. Did I mention I don't like competing?

(Editor's Note: I actually only have good things to say about Five Grappling. They are the only tournament where I saw staff cleaning the mats between matches and playing music in the warm up area. Their scoreboard was also very easy to read. Right before your match though, those are not the thoughts that runs through your mind.)

Recently many of us in Old Man Jits entered a tournament called Five Grappling. Since we formed this group and began training together whenever we could, and entering more tournaments, we began to accumulate medals. Recently one of the guys Jeff got silver at a major tournament, and earlier in the day Julio won double gold (his division and absolute). You become happy for your teammates but you also feel some added pressure to do well. Especially considering in my last tournament outing, I lost in overtime in a very close match. My fingers still hadn't healed yet from all the grip fighting (grabbing at my opponents uniform in an attempt to control his movements).

I'm waiting in the bullpen. Is it too late to leave? I don't warm up. I know others do, others like to get a good sweat going. My heart is already thudding so fast, any warm up would probably exhaust me. I signed up thinking I was going to enter and just lose. I wait to be called telling myself I am going to lose. I start to relax because I feel like I have nothing at stake. I'm going to lose anyhow.

They call my name and the name of my opponent. Normally I avoid meeting and talking to my opponent, I'd rather not know my enemy so I can beat him mercilessly. That type of thinking though never seems to work for me so I shake his hand and introduce myself. I'm going to lose anyway so might as well be cordial.

I find out my opponent is the guy who took first place at the last tournament I was in. He was the one who convincingly beat the guy who had a war with me. Does that mean he will beat me twice as bad as he beat that guy?

We enter the gym to compete and it's a swamp in there. No AC, hundreds of people, lots of people wrestling on the mats, it's a human sauna. I'm probably breathing in sweat particles.

My memory gets blurry at this point but I remember the score and timekeeper having some technical issues. We wait around for a while as I keep telling myself how I am going to lose. I never tell anyone about what's going through my head, especially my teammates as they would try to convince me otherwise. That I'm going to win! That I'm a badass! But I got a good mantra going, the loser's mantra and I don't want to be derailed from my train of thought. I assume they resolve the issue because they tell us to start the match.

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