“Barlow, Chicago?” were the words for about three or four straight nights from Master Julius which started my train of thought to really consider my first competition. I bought my plane ticket a little less than a month in advance, so I had a month to freak out about things like starting matches standing, points and scoring, and all the Gracie schools in Chicago. (Thank you Matt Rihani for the worry, but more so Jon Delbrugge for “handling the situation”)
After I confirmed that I was a yes for Chicago, we began establishing a set game plan for me to follow with the ending goal of submission by triangle, and other options along the way depending on how the match was going. The month flew by and before I knew it, it was down to our last few classes.
About a week before we left, I was asked which weight class I was in, and when I responded with no answer, a minor four pound problem arose: I needed to cut weight. That was a whole world of fun in itself for me, but I started cutting out my favorite foods and was under weight for the competition. At this point I also began to worry that I would only have one last night of practice and then nothing until I was on the mats in Chicago. I thought “Wow, I guess we should practice super hard tonight”, but I was mistaken. Julius informed me that I should go to muay thai because I’ve deemed it my “happy class” and we would do some light jiu jitsu. I was at first confused by this, but then later found it to be like a test. Even if you try to cram loads of information in the night before, it doesn’t mean you will get the great results you are looking for. We have been putting in good effort all along the way, so that last Friday night class didn’t need to be some crazy cram session.
The next day I was at BWI meeting Cathy T-Z, Dave Z, And Tom Shrum; my safe traveling group. (Whom without I would have probably never made it out of the airport) Whenever I travel I don’t really feel like I am going anywhere until I am literally sitting on the airplane ready to take off, and that’s just how it was for this trip. When we got to Chicago, I fell in love within the first five seconds, literally. I didn’t feel like I was there to compete in jiu jitsu, I felt like I was on a weekend vacation. We got the car, dropped Dave, checked in, and went exploring Chicago on foot to obviously continue the weight loss program and it was amazingly awesome. All day we just walked around and had a really relaxing day… Until we had to get in the car and turn it into a sauna. While on this trip, I learned many various ways of rapid weight loss and the car sauna and the real sauna are not some of my favorites.
Even after taking a twenty minute run through the busy streets of Chicago on a Saturday night, I still didn’t feel like I was there to compete. The next day we got up early and headed to the location of the competition, which was about 30 minutes from our hotel. When we walked in I was seriously surprised because it was in a high school gym. I had some alternate reality floating in my brain that it would be gigantic, but it wasn’t that bad. This was the first moment on the trip when I was really like “Wow, I am in Chicago to compete in a jiu jitsu tournament!” I had all day to chill our and relax and get use to the crowd and everything going on due to the fact that I am lucky enough to be a white belt and go nearly last in the day. The Crazy 88 team deemed a spot and I hung out all day and watched every one compete and do great. This really helped calm me down because I was getting use to everything and realized that unless someone from my team was fighting, I really didn’t care to watch. This made me feel better because even though you feel like a gold fish when you’re down on the mats, only your team is really watching and concentrating on you, not every person in the building. As soon as we got there Cathy and I changed into our gis and went to check our weight to see if we could chill and relax, or if we should go and run some more. We were both under and could eat some good food! Yay for granola bars, bananas, and electrolyte chews!
After a morning of watching a Chicago butt kicking via Crazy 88, 2:50pm rolled around and it was time for Shrum, Rihani, and me to go weigh in. I was really glad I had them to stand with because it took my attention away from my nerves and kept me calm for the time being. After weighing in you go straight to the mats and wait until it’s your match. After being at a composed heart rate all day and pretty relaxed, I started freaking out. Because the rest of the team had already competed, they were now allowed to eat real people food again and as I was weighing in, they were all leaving. As I was standing on the side of the mats, I felt a moment of sadness mix into my freaking out because I thought they were all gone and no one would see me roll, but as I was standing there I heard Delbrugge yell “Hey Barlow, we’re all right here ok? Listen for us.” And I looked up and saw everyone and felt immediately relieved.
As I was standing there waiting with the other girls in my weight class, I found my self staring at the girl who my first match would be against. She had an intimidating smile, a calm face, a Gracie shirt on, and four stripes on her belt. This threw me into a little craze because not only was she from a Gracie school, she had four stripes. A few days prior to this trip, I had been denied even one stripe, so that was an extra bonus. I tried not to focus on the girl and put it all out of my head and just pretend like I was going to roll like I would at school. I went over my game plan in my head and waited for my turn. As they called us onto the mats I tried to maintain breathing and focus on the idea that win or lose, I love jiu jitsu and will continue on with my training. Now standing on the mats, the referee went over some simple rules and then said fight, I slapped the girls hand and it was on. The match was kind of a blur to me until I ended up in side control with her arms around my ears so I couldn’t hear anything that anyone from my team was yelling to me. I remember I tried to scoot my head out so I could hear, but it was pointless. My thinking process was delayed and even though I felt calm physically, mentally I was a bit of a mess. I knew what movements I had to do to get out, but my arm was stuck and I just laid there trapped. All of the sudden I found myself out of her mount and standing again. I went right back to my game plan, but was able to get her in spider guard this time and I went straight for my triangle. After only a few seconds she tapped out and I was 100% jaw dropped. I couldn’t believe what had happened. I jumped up and almost started crying, but managed to keep it together. As I walked off the mats I heard my opponents coach yelling at the referee saying that time was over and my submission shouldn’t count. This made me really nervous because I was unsure how discrepancies like this were handled, but he simply responded he timed the match according to what the people at the table told him; my win was safe.
At this point I looked up the bleachers to talk to Cathy and as I stood there she threw me some Gatorade and protein chews of some sort and this made me the happiest person alive. I asked if I scored any points and I was informed that I was down 9-0; I didn’t know what to make of this other than I thought it was funny and typical for myself at this point. I stood for another few minutes and tried not to get overly worked up and excited. I watched another match then fought again. This match was a total blur to me. I don’t really remember anything from it, but I did learn a valuable lesson. I ended this match again with a triangle, but when the girl tapped, I immediately let go and put my hands up like “Woah, she tapped”. The referee asked her if she tapped and she looked really confused, so I quickly responded for her with a yes, then she seemed to slowly nod yes. I learned to never ever let go unless the referee clearly informs you to because she could have responded no and then I would have had a problem. The score keeper told me I had made it to the finals and I would fight again in six minutes.
This match began with the girl bouncing all around and I found this highly annoying. I was able to get grips and get the girl in a triangle, but she slipped out and the rest of the match was pretty equal until I found myself being choked to death. I found myself being unable to breath and I really considered tapping but as I listened to my team yell directions at me (which were just familiar reassuring voices, nothing recognizable) I told myself, “No, you are not tapping out, you are gonna pass out before you lose by tapping out.” I turned my head to the side, took a gasp of air and kept going. Some other stuff happened, and then time ran out. Yet again, I scored no points and lost. I felt overwhelmed at this point and I ran and told Cathy I couldn’t breath; she told me to sip some water and just breathe. After calming down I walked back up to meet my team and found Cathy waiting for me with a chocolate doughnut. After not eating anything enjoyable for the past week, I was level ten excited for this. I sat and enjoyed this until I went to get my medal. (This is where I slipped on water and fell to the ground, hurting my knee- not even because of jiu jitsu- lame) As soon as I got to the competition and saw the area where you stand on the boxes to get medals, I felt empowered. Strangely enough, I was motivated to win by the opportunity to stand on the boxes, so much so that after my second match I remember asking Cathy if I had made it to the boxes yet. After receiving my medal for second place I was finally able to completely chill out and relax and most importantly eat and drink freely.
The next morning on the plane ride home I felt sad that we were leaving, but I was also super excited to go home and show everyone my medal and watch the videos of my matches. I feel that after competing once, I have gotten through the nervousness and will hopefully be able to compete next time with a clearer mind and faster thinking process. I truly surprised myself by taking second in my first competition after less than three months of training, but I account it to hard work and good teachers and know that I still have a long long way to go. I don’t feel angry that I didn’t take first, but rather driven. Losing makes me want to get back to training, fix things up, and get back out there. In my matches I was barely able to hear anything that anyone was yelling to me, but having my team there to support me and coach me in between matches and congratulate me after was just as important. Having everyone there made me feel empowered and energized and I don’t think I could have done it without them. Being apart of this title winning team is an amazing feeling and I am so glad that I can be apart of it.