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Adrenaline is poison
In the heat of competition, the midst of battle, the universe is inhabited solely by you and your opponent; there is nothing beyond the mat and 6 minutes is both the briefest of moments and an eternity.
Even before the moment the referee drops his open hand removing the invisible wall that separates you from your opponent, the adrenaline is coursing through your veins, making your heart beat faster, tunneling your vision, and draining your stamina. Adrenaline is poison. You must strive to be like a hurricane, devastating everything around you while your center remains calm. The noise of the crowd disappears into a haze pierced intermittently by familiar and unfamiliar voices screaming instructions from the void. It takes forever to think a coherent thought and every fiber of muscle in your body is engaged. You will spend half the time wishing it to be over; the other half wishing you had more time. Before you even realize it, your hand is either in the air reveling in victory, or held down by your side in disappointment. You walk away and find a nice quiet place to collapse, gasp for air as if you had just been saved from drowning, and stretch out your legs of jelly and arms that are bursting with concrete and burning gasoline. If your stomach isn’t in knots, then it’s trying to climb out through your throat. Ten minutes later, you are either on the mat gladly doing it all over again, or wishing you were back on it.
You face more than one opponent every time you step on the mat and more often than not, your mind is the more formidable foe. Rolling for an hour straight doesn’t even come close to the feeling of the complete physical and mental exhaustion I’ve felt after a 6 minute match in a tournament (5 minutes for us old folk). Physically, there were tournaments that I have trained hard for and others where I felt I didn’t train hard enough, but the physical training was never the deciding factor in any of the matches that I have won or lost (as a blue belt). It was my state of mind, my strategy, my confidence, and my attitude that mattered. If you lose the battle with your mind, then you’ve already lost the match, even before you step on the mat. Not to belittle the importance of physical training… fatigue has a really bad effect on your mental focus. Even the smartest and most technical/talented of fighters will not get far through the brackets without excellent physical conditioning. However in a tournament, you should pretty much assume that all the competitors have physically trained just as hard as, if not harder than, you to get there.
I am aware of countless ways of training and preparing one’s body for a competition but I am at a loss when it comes to preparing the mind. Other than competing as often as I am able, I know not of any other way to prepare. Is constant exposure the only way? When I first started to learn how to swim properly for a triathlon, one lap (50m) felt like a mile. Fighting the mind’s fear of drowning was the toughest part. My mind had to realize that I was not going to drown; my mind had to feel comfortable in that environment so that it didn’t send my adrenal glands into a frenzy. Can one prepare one’s mind for competition without competing? Can one learn how to swim without getting into the water?
What about strategy? You can go into a match with one strategy, but what if your opponent does something you didn’t expect? Do you have a plan B? Are you going to remember plan B when the time comes, in the heat of battle, when you are fatigued? What if plan B fails? Paul Schreiner’s advice was “keep it simple”: pass, mount, and choke; that was his strategy. Everything else branched out from that initial strategy. He simply reacted to the opportunities that presented themselves. If he went for the mount and his opponent gives him the back, then he takes the back. If he goes for a choke and his opponent gives give up an arm, then he takes the arm-bar, etc. Drill until techniques and counters are instinctual and you will have to think less, if at all, when the time comes to use them.
Past comments with regards to competition:
“I am one of those people who get nervous and can’t sleep, even way before tournament day!! Sometimes I’m calm, then the next thing you know my hands are sweaty and my mind is running a hundred plans of attack, defense, etc. The one thing that I tried this last time I competed was to tell myself I wanted to win, I was literally yelling to myself. People have different ways of dealing with tournament jitters; do what’s best for you. Just don’t ask me because I’ll be too nervous to talk!!!” Dan the Dad
“Yeah, the best way for me has been, first of all to compete more often. I think that lowers the overall max stress (your ceiling of freaking out if you will). With that ceiling lowered now you just have to manage your new lower level of stress. I choose not to watch or think about actual BJJ before a tournament. I think about all of the other factors that lead to victory. I talk a little bit of trash in my head. I relax myself and say it’s just rolling, nothing else, 2 cats working their craft – mine is just better :-)’ As a moderately senior (mostly cause I am older than you all) blue belt with a few tournaments under my belt it’s safe to say that the general population of BJJ guys do not roll at the level we do. Think about every tournament you have been to watch OW in action. How many of us have been submitted? Not many. Oh wait I got submitted – but that was in the advanced division and he went for my ankle and I kind of gave it to him. I got him back though! Enough with the excuses…” Tom Gaughan
“Basically it seems that everyone has their own way to “psyche” themselves up before a match. You just have to find the one that works for you. You see guys listening to their iPod, others hitting themselves in the chest, arms, legs, and face… whatever. I’m right there with you on the sweaty palms Dan, at the American cup, my feet were sweating so badly that it affected my game because I couldn’t post with them… I would slip down to my knees and I eventually got caught with a foot lock. Dan you did awesome at American Cup. I agree with you Tom, OW guys seldom get submitted in tournaments. Maybe we should focus on foot/ankle defenses. ;)” Meaty
“You have to accept whatever comes and the only important thing is that you meet it with courage and with the best that you have to give.” Discount Coach
“Honestly Meaty – I have more trouble with smaller guys than I do bigger ones. I was having some indecision as to whether I should compete or not. I haven’t been mentally committed the way I have in the past, which I am working on. As we all know this BJJ thing is just as much mental as it is physical. Every tournament I got swept out of was because my mind wasn’t right. I rolled with a few of the competitors last night and they all seemed like they knew they were training hard and they had purpose. The hard part is over boys and girls. Once you step on the tournament mat – you will realize it’s the exact same mat you train on every day – except your opponent isn’t Kyle, Fookie or any other beast that you face off against every day. They don’t outweigh you, they don’t have much more experience than you (if any) and they certainly don’t train harder than you. Last night, for whatever reason, reminded me how cool it is to be part of the BJJ community and more specifically OW. So RELAX, you got this! It’s just rolling!” Tom Gaughan