“Live the lifestyle instead of paying lip service to the lifesytle. Live with commitment. With emotional content. Live whatever life you choose honestly. Give up this renaissance man, dilettante bullshit of doing a lot of different things (and none of them very well by real standards). Get to the guts of one thing; accept, without casuistry, the responsability of making a choice.”
― Mark Twight
Let me be clear. In no way do I believe everyone needs to compete. People train for many different reasons, all of them deeply personal and occasionally well thought out. This is simply some of my thoughts on my choices.
First off I am not a big competitor, I do it rarely. I’m 44 years old, I have a career a family and a full life. I have no aspirations of making a living from jiu jitsu or going to ADCC. But it is something I do. The picture above is me winning my division for the first time ever. I’ve had to concede matches due to injury, I’v been fucked on points, and I’ve been beaten cleanly by people better than me at that moment several times. I’ve cut weight only to have divisions combined, I’ve lost to kid’s my sons age. I’ve had nerves, adrenaline dumps, and other matches where I calmly had the shit beat out of me. Over and over I have paid good money to sit around all day in some sportsplex waiting for my division to be called. My first match ever as a 30 something year old white belt I got blast doubled by a collegiate wrestler.
In the beginning I kinda thought I had to. I mean I was there learning this art because of getting my shit pushed in at ECQC. Everyone was competing at the gym, it was just what you did. I had this misconceived notion that I had to win against all the white belts before I could get a blue belt. I had something to prove. Competition, and time, beat that out of me.
Sometime perhaps late blue belt I was preparing for a local NAGA. I was in the changing room, exhausted coming out of the shower. One of those training sessions where you struggle to get your clothes on after. Where you may never catch your breathe again. Where I gave my all and left with only doubts about what the fuck I was doing. We had a brown belt visiting with us that I had gotten along with. He asked me about the competition I was going to. I told him, dude you should come, your so fucking good its going to be a great time. No no no he says, I don’t compete. Why I ask him? Then he tells me, he had competed at white belt, he didn’t do well, the nerves got to him, and he just never did it after that. Then what he says to me is this , that now he wishes he hadn’t stopped, because he might like to but its been so many years since hes done it he felt too far removed.
Man, that expression of regret. Even if it wasn’t a huge deal, even if it didn’t impact his love of the art, his skill on the mat, or the respect I had for him. Even that little bit of “I wish I had” touched me. I decided I would compete at least once at every belt level. Not cause I need to win anything, not cause I have anything to prove, not to even feel good if I win. But just so years later I won’t wish I had.
That was and has remained the big mover for me. I went to word masters this year and with my previous neck injury I smacked my head on the mat going for a collar drag and lost feeling in my arms. I conceded the match. I thought maybe I should just not do this anymore. But I also felt robbed of the full experience. So I signed up for the IBJJF Nashville Open pictured above.
Life is for living, I don’t intend to come to the end of it with anything left undone. My jiu jitsu is holistic. With or without the gi on, with or without strikes or weapons, or mats for that matter. I want to experience every part of it. No part left out. In my opinion competing is one facet of the many pieces of the full art. I intend to know them all.
I could write on and on about benefits of competing. We all know those. The camaraderie with my team, learning about yourself under pressure. Its no secret that the competitors get better faster than everyone else. There are countless advantages. Whether you treat it as an audit, a test, or just a challenge there are facets to the preparation, the focus, and the aftermath that are not easily replicated by any other means. But that’s not why I do it, even as rarely as I do. I do it because somehow along the way the guy who just didn’t want to be held down against his will again became a martial artist. And my expression of the art requires completeness.