“The greatest glory in living and competing lies not in never falling, but in rising every time we fall…” Nelson Mandela
I found this quote as I perused an old issue of Gracie Magazine that had an article highlighting some inspirational quotes made by the great South African leader. To me this quote not only summarize my competition experience at the Rio Open this year but also the attitude an athlete must have or develop in order to become a champion. It is a cliché often drawn from but is not to be forgotten. How can one measure and experience the true joy of victory without knowing the lonely darkness of defeat?
At our school we always speak about circumstance and the process and persevering through those life situations that allow us to make excuses for not succeeding at the sport we love. I assume that if you are reading this with true intent then you love our sport too and it is not just your hobby, but your lifestyle. I was not able to compete in the world championships this year due to complications with the corporate world, so my competition schedule was supplemented with another trip to Brazil to do battle in the land where the lower belts are often the most difficult divisions.
I approach my preparation for competition like a professional. Aside from holding down two jobs, working 60 plus hours a week and maintaining some remnants of a personal life, I train jiu jitsu and strength and condition at a level rivaling those that do it professionally. Never would I or could I go to the country that birthed our sport with my lineage on my back and have a physical let down. Once again I was physically and mentally prepared to feign disorder and crush my opponents. My game plan was simple this time around and nervousness did not cloud my thought or waiver my physical performance. Submission after submission after submission was all that I could think about as I transversed Central America, the Atlantic Ocean and South America in route to my destination.
The night before competition was more of the same for me. I helped my teammate get his weight under control at the JW Marriot – first biking, then some sauna time and finishing with some pool work. I always like to get some physical activity in the day before competition. We hit the Copacabana Beach strip to find a healthy meal for the night and then we returned to the room. My night was peaceful. I caught up on some chapters in a book I read every time I travel with Roberto (The Mental Edge), downloaded some music to get me hype with help from my teammates and read an inspirational email my brother wrote me. In the email he used several quotes from The Art of War, and crossed referenced them with lessons I have passed down to him as he learns jiu jitsu. These are the same lessons that Malcolm and Julius passed down to me as they molded my game mid-mornings and late nights while I was coming up from white. With his blessing I will share that email one day.
We arrived at the Tijuca Tennis Club early on competition day, checked our weight and then replenished our depleted bodies. I was to fight at noon Brazil time and the tournament was punctual. I stepped on the mat to face my first opponent right at noon. My pupils dilated, my skin glistened and my mind cleared as my competition high set in. I had dreamt of victory and had worked hard for it. I did not believe anyone could defeat me.
As expected my opponent pulled quickly. I worked hard twice passing his guard and missing the bow and arrow in my haste for a fast finish. Up on points I chose to pull on the next scramble and racked up advantages with near sweep attempts. Eventually I went to my opponents back from my closed guard and finished with vicious version of a back mount gi choke.
I scouted my second opponent who had more of an American wrestling style. He shot quickly for the fireman’s carry which I evaded with hip switch escape and came on top in the front headlock position. I was familiar with finishing from this position with a gi choke that Master Lloyd had taught two weeks prior and choked my opponent unconscious quickly.
My third match put me against one of Braulo Estima’s students. He was game to my style and evaded me at the beginning of the match. When I cut off the ring he pulled quickly. I passed roughly, maybe a tad sloppily and the scrambled resulted in the 50/50 position in which he attempted a foot lock. I shook off the submission attempt and went to his back with no hooks. My opponent shook me off and we ended up in my guard. The match ended with me attempting triangles, umaplatas, loop chokes and kimoras from the half and open guards. My opponent stayed solid on top and thwarted my attempts. The match ended with his hand being raised. I was perplexed. I was ahead 5 advantages to 2 and there was nothing else on the scoreboard. The referee explained that somewhere in the scrambles my opponent scored 2 for a sweep and it was simply a scoreboard error. I was crushed. It was a hard pill swallow as I bottled my emotion. The experience resulted in another painful step in the process, a small step back in my quest for the ultimate goal and kerosene for the fire to perform at the Chicago Open.
God promises strength for the day, comfort for the tears and light for the way. I believe. I believe in the process. I believe in the words of Nelson Mandela. I believe in myself and what I do. I will persevere through the heartbreak of the loss and move closer to my ultimate goal.
The rest of the trip was still amazing although I experienced defeat. I was able to see the country side, take a cruise through the bay, explore the tropical islands and eat some exquisite cuisine. One thing I really enjoy about traveling is experiencing the culture, exploring the sociological and anthropological aspects of how others are living and enjoying the company of the locals. If my eyes were to write all that they saw this post would be more of a volume, an extensive narrative detailing the craziness I saw and experienced my four days in Brazil. I look forward to competing there again very soon.