BJJ / Grappling tips: Competition nerves and how to deal with them

Last Saturday, I competed in the Sub North BJJ Interclub event which Fighting Fit Manchester has been hosting regularly. I won one match and lost two, which got me a bronze medal in the Absolute Advanced division and I'll post the videos from the matches as soon as they are released by the organizers. As usual, I was there not just to compete but to coach our team of ward working athletes and they did themselves proud winning matches and medals, improving their jiu jitsu and having a great time but something was different this time.

I usually hate competitions, especially BJJ ones. I hate the waiting around the grappling mats, the warming up and cooling down and injury risk and tunnel vision and dieting...etc. Most of all though, I hate competition nerves.

I was never a competitor in my childhood. I never really cared much for the difference between winning and losing. I always did really well in school, but never checked how anyone else did or where I placed in some weird hierarchy. I liked playing the game so much I never cared about the outcome and that's something that has coloured my adulthood too.

The first time I enjoyed a competition was back in 1994. I was chosen along with 3 other kids to represent our highschool at a European Mathematics competition in Brussels, Belgium. The competition had an individual and a team event and we basically sat in a large auditorium watching a screen with real life scenarios and used our skills to resolve these mathematical problems. For a geek like me, it was great fun and the fact that I was there with geek friends on an adventure in a foreign land was crazy fun! In the individual event I came 32nd out of 300 or so kids participating which I thought was kinda cool but more importantly, our team came third! We were called to the stage and all the other children and teachers from all over Europe cheered for us and we got a trophy! It was a kick ass feeling and I loved it.

From then on, I decided that I want to compete in other fields. I've competed in basketball, track & field, Karate Kata and point fighting and of course BJJ and nogi grappling and while I did OK, my biggest joy always came from playing the sports and being with my friends. The trip to and from the event in Sensei's car back in the day was always more enjoyable than the 5 seconds on the podium and all my medals are stashed away in a cardboard box in the cellar while my photos from our post comp pig out at McDonalds are in the study.
After that success, I often struggled with nerves. My parents always had very high expectations of me, as many parents do, and couldn't understand how I was cool with someone beating me in a field, any field. I never saw it that way. I always felt that I will do what I can, and the other person will do that too and some days I will do more and some days they will do more. To me being part of the top 10% was far more important than where in that 10% I was but over the years, their expectations got to me and I started placing that burden on my own shoulders. My parents never attended any competitive event I ever participated in but I always knew they'd be asking me about the result, which was worse because they never came to see the effort I put in. This created a strange cycle of pressure that just kept building and it meant I never learnt to enjoy competition again.

But something was different this time.

It started with a large number of our competitors from The Labs asking me for private BJJ lessons in the weeks leading to the competition. Some wanted to work on stand-up and some wanted to build a solid competition game plan. I made a point of asking each and every one of them this question:

"Why are you competing?"

The answers I got were very enlightening, not just about the athletes, but also about me and my reaction to the answers. Everytime I asked someone this question, I could hear my voice echoing in my own head:

"Why are you competing?"

I had to ask myself this question and I had to answer it for myself. No pretending. No filters. No layers. No ego.

"Why are you competing?"

I would go as far as saying that my answer isn't actually relevant to anyone reading this, because you too have to ask yourself this same question. My own answer isn't valuable to you.

My answer isn't quite valuable even to me anymore.

What is really valuable is the process of stopping to pretend that winning or losing matter to me, to my parents or to anyone.
The process of switching off all the filters I saw the question thru. Filters of hypothetical responsibility. Filters of "shoulda" "woulda" "coulda".
The process of stripping away all the layers and irrelevant prejudice of how I should do and why. Potential means nothing. It's not even a tangible thing. It's empty words.
The process of leaving the ego out of the roll. This time was the first time I really stepped on the competition mat and totally left my ego under full surveillance. I went for grips and started moving with my opponent. If and when I saw any hint of ego shine thru, I smiled and let it slide away.

I still hated the waiting around the grappling mats, the warming up and cooling down and injury risk and tunnel vision and dieting...etc.

But something was different this time.

I enjoyed the actual act of competing.

From a previous BJJ Comp
Who knows, maybe I've struck gold. Maybe I've finally found what it means to enjoy competition.

Ironically, I did it by not being competitive at all.



Liam "The Part Time Grappler" Wandi

Proudly sponsored by Predator Fightwear: Built for the kill and Brutal TShirt: Made By Grapplers For Fighters


Dan Jones said...

Hey Liam

I think I am on your wave length i.e. no ego in my competing / not really competing at all and just going as best i can.

Of course I may have done better in my bronze match if you wernt coaching your man Andrew Davies from the sides ;) lolz.

I wasnt there to compete per se, but to roll with new guys and have fun. And boy I did!

Cant wait for the next Sub North Gi!!! Get Jake to sort it quick!!

see you there!!

Dan J.

Liam H Wandi said...

Haha Jake's a legend so don't you worry Dan. I look forward to seeing you soon.

Nip down for a roll when you can bro. I'm there Mon, Tue, Wed and Friday evenings. You're ALWAYS welcome!