BJJ performance and self worth: Catching the ego mid-play.

I recently participated in a nogi submission wrestling interclub competition at The Labs. I was in the "Advanced Category" - open weight division and was promised* at least 2 grappling matches and 2 matches I got. I lost one and won one, both on points. In my first match, my opponent used an armdrag set-up to take me down with a single leg. It's a very nice technique combination. Check out this breakdown of a similar** flow by BJJ black belt Christian Graugart. As I hit the mat I pulled half guard and tried to get something going from there but my opponent's control was very good so by the end of the 5 minutes I lost on points.

Heading into my second match, my opponent seemed HUGE and very powerful. I decided I wasn't going to risk the takedown points again so I pulled half guard, got my grips nice and early, moved him around to feel his base then swept him to his back for the points. He managed somehow to secure closed guard and I started working for the Sao Paulo pass which I almost got before the damn 5 minutes ran out again.

Here is a beautiful demo of the Sao Paulo pass by Roger Gracie black belt Mr Oliver Geddes:

This is all fun and games, but none of it is really that exciting or worth writing home (or a blog post) about. I'm not a BJJ black belt nor a major grappling competitor and whatever I did on that day can be found done a lot better by the experienced BJJ champs out there.

What really made the whole experience rich and interesting for me was my thought process during the first match and how it changed.

Look at the two photos below:

In the first photo, you see me pummelling for my favourite half guard grappling / BJJ position (the deep underhook). It's a place I have been in many times and I feel at home pummelling for the grips and once there, I may or may not get the first or second sweep attempt, but I usually feel comfortable attacking from there.

Now look at the second photo. What you can't see is the thoughts I was having.

"Hmm. It's gonna be really difficult to get my grips" - doubt
"He seems very stable" - comparison
"He's just about to pull that foot out and pass" - pessimism
"If he does pass, what will my friends watching think of me?" - WHAT?

That last one caught me by surprise. At that particular moment in time I, on some level, equated performance with love / friendship / respect...or what have you.

That totally blew me out of the water. During awareness meditation, one of the instructions is to observe the stream of ones thoughts without getting entangled in them. You are supposed to watch from a distance, so to speak, and if you ever catch yourself getting drawn in by a thought or an idea, you are instructed to smile at your silliness and resume observing. Thanks to those meditation sessions (and a dose of luck), that's what I did.

I smiled at how silly I am, relaxed a little and carried on rolling.

After the match, I was happy. Very happy, in fact. I had caught myself mid-thought and managed to disengage from these thoughts and judgements.

Winning and losing at BJJ competitions are not important to me because they have no consequences on my life. I do not become richer nor poorer. The people who love / hate / don't care about me will not change their mind based on how I do. No aspect of my*** life will be enhanced by the outcome of a BJJ or grappling match****.

Will this happen again? Probably*****.

Will I remember to catch myself mid-thought? Most likely.

If you are approaching BJJ (or any martial art) as a vehicle to improve the quality of your life, I urge you to keep an eye out on how you relate to your performance. There is more to these hours of toiling and sweating on the mat than just simple exercise.

*I was also promised that all my opponents would be wearing a rash guard as I fecking hate having another man's sweaty body all over my face but I guess you don't always get what you wished for.
**Christian's version involves him going to the ground and then rising with the single. It's a very nice combo.
***Obviously, this is different for other people (pro athletes...etc.) but this blog is not about them. It's about Part Time Grapplers
****The process of training BJJ is another thing. I honestly feel I become a better person (spirit, husband, brother, son, teacher, mathematician, friend...etc.) every time I step onto the mat but that's something different.
*****I'm not perfect. Haha far from it in fact. I actually wrote about this topic a year and a half ago here but this event marks a development worth celebrating.

Special thanks to Carol Fan for the awesome photos and the crew at the Labs for putting together the event and to Monkey Nutrition for sponsoring it.


Liam "The Part Time Grappler" Wandi

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