Don’t let the person you are get in the way of the person you might become: Returning to Brazilian Jiu Jitsu

That’s a paraphrase of quote from Carl Jung I believe.

Anyways yesterday I competed in my first brazilian jiu jitsu competition. I took second place, which is impressive until you realize there was exactly one other competitor in my division. We matched three times I lost 2 and won 1. My overall loss was in part due to a lack of understanding of the rules, though my competitor was quite strong.


Before I get into what I experienced and learned. I want to address the most interesting question for me and perhaps the most important moral to the story I can share. The question is why I have never competed before; I actually started training 20 years ago! But after 6 months of training my first go around I did not feel ready to compete, and then my school shut down. Then in 2006 and 2007 I trained BJJ again, but did not end up competing then either. In large part these decisions to not compete were due to circumstances – I was heavily focused on parkour during my second period of training, and my school shut down the first time. Still I think there was something else holding me back as well: the possibility of failing my own potential, of not confirming my identity.

I was told I was very talented at BJJ and performed very well in sparring; to compete would be to enter an arena where the identity I had formed for myself could prove to be untrue. Some part of me was not ready to compete because I was not ready to let go of the idea of who I might be as competitor to discover who I actually would be.

To realize your potential, to fulfill what you can be, you have to be willing to sacrifice what you think you are. The path to strength and mastery lies in the willingness to reveal to yourself how weak and helpless you truly are.

The path of becoming is the path of willingly stepping into the arena where your most cherished illusions can be stripped away.

I left Jiu Jitsu in part because I cared too much about winning in training, which was causing me to injure myself and keeping my game stagnant. I failed to progress by abusing my size and strength to allow me to stay in the positions I was comfortable with and failed to progress across the whole spectrum of the game. I returned to BJJ training in November because I believed I was ready to release the need to win in training so I could win in the actual path to mastery.

The mental approach I brought from years of parkour and roughhousing work had major impacts on my speed of progress since I have come back to BJJ. There are levels to these things though and what you learn, how you perform in a training context is not always the same as what is revealed in competition, which is not necessarily what would be revealed in self defense, or combat.

Still my game is very uneven going into the competition I knew my top game was strong enough that I was regularly submitting higher belts in training, but my bottom game was significantly weaker and my take down game was in between. I have great balance and agility, but my take down game is rudimentary and better no gi then gi.

Most of my training partners are smaller than me, so I was also not sure how my game would translate against someone in my weight class. I was hopeful my movement background would give me a significant athleticism advantage, but I was particularly worried that I might face someone with strong wrestling background who could dictate the position game.

As it turned out the only other competitor was quite athletic and strong, though probably less agile then I am. He made up for that by understanding the take down game better than I did. We matched three times.

The first match: I was unable to establish the postural control I wanted or to disrupt his balance to the point I felt comfortable committing fully to any takedowns. He was more aggressive with takedowns but I was able to stuff his attempts. Eventually he pulled guard. I was able to pass to half guard, but he was able to sweep and ended up in my guard. I was able to escape and stand up where we stalemated once more. I was not well versed in the point system, so did not realize that only his sweep had counted for points and did not notice my coach calling for me to be aggressive for take-downs.

I did get footage of this match, here is the second half were all the action is.

Second match: This played out very similar to the first; stalemate on the feet, until he pulled guard. This time he set his grips very powerfully, giving him an advantage in the guard that I struggled to overcome. I tried to stand to pass but he was able to grab both feet and extend his hips to sweep me. I was able to hold him off with open guard work for a while but eventually he passed to side control. His coach was calling for knee on belly, I was waiting for his attempt and going to try and hip escape but we ran out of time. He scored for the sweep and the guard pass.

Third match: Again a stalemate on the feet until he pulled guard. This time I was able to break his guard and avoid his sweeps and make it all the way to his quarter guard. I knew I only needed to get my foot out to get mount and win on points so I locked his shoulders down and worked on slowly freeing my foot and completing the pass. The pressure caused him to turn to his side, leaving his arm closest to me vulnerable. I pulled on my foot to get him focusing on the foot then shifted and went for the arm bar. I missed my initial attempt to pass my leg over his face but was able to get it on the second effort, but the arm bar was loose enough that he was able to roll. I was able to preposition though and land the arm bar from the top.

Despite losing the overall match count I am quite happy with my performance and how I learned from my mistakes and was able to get the only submission of our matches.

My question for you today then, is where are you letting the illusion of who you could be, hold you back from stepping into the arena and actual becoming? Or where are you making the choice to step forward and expose yourself to rocks of reality that you might rise like the phoenix, the illusions burned off the metal of the self transformed into something more?

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