Spoiler alert: I didn't get the gold, silver or bronze medals. But I did make it to the quarter finals!
The 2015 IBJJF European open championships took place late January in Lisbon, Portugal and I was lucky enough to go there with a large group of friends from Fighting Fit Manchester. I personally competed in the brown belt, medium heavy, masters II category which, the IBJJF announced the week of the event, ran on the Saturday. Not knowing when I'd be on, I booked three days off work (Thursday, Friday and Monday) and got to Lisbon on the Thursday already with a return ticket booked for the following Monday. This meant I could check out Lisbon as I'd never been and had heard many good things about it but also watch some of my friends put it on the line. I know a lot of people get excited about watching the big names compete, but for some reason that doesn't really excite me too much. Maybe because I know these big names are all full time athletes. Maybe because I have no major emotional investment in them, as opposed to when my friends compete. Either way, I used my free time to investigate the city, as you can see from my pictures.
The IBJJF Euros was the biggest championship ever, I heard somewhere. Even bigger than the Worlds or the Pan Americans, and as soon as you got to the arena, you could smell it. Speaking to Ida Hansson, IBJJF referee with multiple black belt titles at the IBJJF and ADCC, she agreed that the venue was quickly getting way too small for the number of competitions and matches so who knows, maybe it'll move. Arriving on the Thursday afternoon, most of my friends were at the arena so I ended up spending some great quality time with my Judo Sensei Sophie Cox who was back at the apartment we rented. We went for a walk on the neighbourhood and had some fantastic coffee and pastries, both of which Lisbon excels at. I never get a chance to chat to Sophie like this as we're both always so busy in the week so it was a wonderful luxury.
Once the crew got back and food was in order, we quickly realised it was going to be a very fun trip. People at the apartment were in the mood to go out and enjoy Lisbon's 10 degree (50 Fahrenheit) winter. After tapas outdoors, we ended up listening to a live band at Hard Rock Cafe, chatting to a 4 stripe blue belt bartender named Roland until it was time to head back and get ready for the Friday matches. A nice touch was a couple of our competitors getting recognised and congratulated on their performance on the mat.
Friday saw our coach Martyn arrive (finally! Inside joke) and join the mayhem. Some of our team competed and then we watched a few famous matches. Won some. Lost some. Learned lots. The evening weather was even nicer than the night before and we sat outside (again, did I mention it was winter?) drinking cocktails, Portuguese wine and espresso into the night. Laughed so hard and loved every minute of it. In fact, Martyn even suggested we turn these BJJ road trips into a YouTube channel project. Exciting times ahead.
Saturday was the day I was going to compete. I wasn't nervous at all. No butterflies. No jitters. Nothing. I kept checking my heart rate on my iPhone and I kept getting surprised at how calm it was. Partially, my calmness was due to my friend Martyn competing approximately an hour before me so my whole focus was on him and his preparation. We got to the arena in good time and Martyn got changed and went to weigh himself. This was just a routine thing, as he has weighed 3kg below the margin for a week before the day. However, I still wanted to go into the bullpen and support him but the only way to do that was by changing into my gi so I went to do that. Before I had tied my belt I saw Martyn walking towards me with a distraught face expression. He was over the limit and needed to lose some weight. He was covered in layers of clothes and I got him to jog up and down the corridors for 15 minutes.
Every cell on his body was begging for a drink of water but he persevered and worked very hard. He lost 200g but unfortunately the IBJJF wonky scales said more was needed so they wouldn't let him on. I was very proud of his perseverance. I knew it was a terrible feeling, but I also knew it was something either he, or one of his students, will at some point need to encounter so it was a huge learning experience for him both as an athlete and as coach. Respect to you Captain Big Kahunas.
Soon, it was my time to step up. With my friend by my side to coach and guide me, I loosened up every joint I have and got ready. I'm not big on huge warm ups but I feel without loose and lubricated joints, I run a huge risk of pulling something due to bad coordination. I was excited and felt ready. By the time my bare feet touched the mat, my heart rate had escalated slightly, but nothing major at all. I was, for all intents and purposes, enjoying the experience of competing for the first time ever.
I looked over at my first opponent's white gi. I focused on his left lapel, as that was my first grip. I imagined grabbing it with my right hand and securing the connection. I even put my right hand on my own lapel to feel it and strengthen the image I had created so, when the referee beckoned us onto the mat, I strangely felt like I had already started the match and was ahead of my opponent.
As we slapped hands and started, I went for my grips and pulled guard. My plan was to jump for an armbar on his right arm, but he wouldn't commit so I moved on with my plan to get him into my closed guard and attack the arm from there.
As we got down, I was following my plan to constantly attack his wrists to break his posture. At one point, I even came close to getting his arm across my body to start my climb to his back or alternatively sweep to mount. The problem was I had hurt my ribs badly on the left side from all the oblique crunches (wrist lock attacks) so everything was a huge effort. I looked over at Martyn and while I couldn't hear a word he was saying, I saw him mouth the words "keep attacking! More sweeps!" With my ribs burning a hole into my side, the last thing I wanted to do was "keep attacking! More sweeps!" But I knew I'd hate myself if I lost the match because I didn't work hard enough so I switched my grips and started chaining flower sweeps, triangle attacks and a guard recovery sequence I'd been working on improving ever since Saulo vs Comprido at Metamoris IV. I attacked my opponent so many times, at one point I even started climbing towards his back. Can't stop. Won't stop. 6 minutes flew by and the alarm sounded the end of the match.
As I fixed my gi and approached the referee, I noticed he gripped my sleeve, rather than my wrist. He got a nice secure grip, faced the crowds and raised my hand in victory. My plan had worked. I won the match by referee decision and I felt great. I felt absolutely great. I lifted my other arm and screamed in relief and joy, quickly becoming aware of my ribs again. I shook my opponent's and the referee's hand and walked off the mat to Martyn who was very happy for me. I thanked him for his coaching and for being there for me and explained how my ribs hurt. My next match wasn't for a while so we went and sat down for a while. I quickly checked my heart rate and, again, it was very calm. I was in pain, but I was happy.
The second match went a similar way except for two things:
-my ribs hurt
-my opponent wanted to pass to my right side
|With my friend, coach and captain in every frame|
|Everyone should compete, especially with a friend watching over their shoulder|
The match ended with me losing to an advantage when my opponent moved from my guard to my half guard. We shook hands and the guy who just beat me said: "dude, your guard! I just couldn't do anything against it" and despite my pain and my loss, right there and then, I felt I had achieved what I had come to Lisbon to achieve.
As a part time grappler, I don't expect to get on there on my first European jiujitsu competition at brown belt and rip shit up. I just wanted to know that I was up there standardise and I did. Boom. Happy bunny.
I dedicated the rest of my time in Lisbon to discovering more of the city. A few friends had been to Lisbon for the IBJJF Euros the year before so they shared some great advice. Walking by the waterfront, drinking beer in the sun and listening to live music outdoors was a fantastic feeling. The only detail missing from the picture was someone to share it with as my wife was back in England. The celebration dinner was at a highly rated Portuguese restaurant. Never had grilled cuttlefish this good.
All in all, the trip was an absolute success. I loved every minute of it. On the flight back, Martyn and I, again, laughed so hard our belly ached and, other than the YouTube project I mentioned above, we also discussed having a de-brief session for the team as many great things came out on the mat, the true proving grounds. The idea is to have that session as soon as possible and as soon as that's done, I'll share the developments with you.
Bring on the next competition.
ZHOO ZHITSU IS FOR EVERYONE!
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