On the 5th of April I competed in the Southeast Asian Grappling Challenge IV, my first ever BJJ competition. I fought under the women’s gi white belt under 60 kg category. The whole experience of preparing for the comp and competing had me doing some self-reflection, and tested my mental capacity to handle certain stressful situations, at the end of it I think what I valued most was the opportunity to put myself through this test and learning how I reacted to it to come out mentally stronger.
I had to pass a mental hurdle when I decided to compete. I thought this hurdle was mainly about the fear of losing, which at that time seemed more significant probably because I could have been fighting in a knockout system where if you lost your first fight you are immediately eliminated from the competition. I imagined me losing my first fight and came to peace with it, or so I thought. From the time I signed up to the competition to the competition day, I was just focused on training hard so that I can feel prepared. But as the day of the competition drew closer, negative thoughts popped into my mind more frequently. These thoughts came with fleeting moments of fear and anxiety. They made my heart beat a bit faster and my stomach a bit queasy. But when I noticed these thoughts I immediately tried to focus on the present moment by counting my breaths. I thought about how silly I must look to have such fear in this competition and my level. As my brother said once while imitating his own instructor, “you are only white beltch”, and I was competing in a relatively small-scale competition. Don’t sweat the small stuff! Also, I think part of the reason I seemed to be more bothered about this competition is because I was competing in an individual sport, which I can’t remember the last time I did… I’ve always been a team-sport person. It’s easier going into a stressful situation with others, though going up to bat in softball, where it’s just you against the ball, also seems like an individual thing.
Everyone wants to win and there’s is no shame in wanting to win. But why did I have some fear of losing? Maybe these emotions are not mutually exclusive, like yin and yang. They will always come together, but it’s up to me to decide which one will dominate. In one of the JRE episodes, Joe Rogan talked about the mental challenges of fighters in the UFC. There are fighters like Jon Jones, Daniel Cormier and Conor McGregor who really believe that they will kick their opponent’s ass, and that belief is so strong that people can really sense it, and that itself starts to create doubts in their opponents’ minds. It’s like woah, this dude really thinks he can kick my ass, he really believes it, maybe he’s really gonna do it. Conversely, people’s belief-detector can also sense when someone is faking their belief to really kick ass and confidence. That’s something I struggle with sometimes when participating in something mentally challenging, like competitions, public speaking… I talk myself into thinking that I’m ready and that I’m gonna kick ass, but do I really believe it? Maybe the fact that I question that is a sign that I still don’t 100% believe in myself.
Using the Jon Jones vs. Daniel Cormier fight as an example, not only are both these people really really really great fighters, they both fully believed in their ability to whoop ass, plus, there was soooo much emotional investment in the fight because they both hated each other. I can’t even imagine the mental strength you would need to enter the cage! In the end they knew one of them had to lose, and they both were shit talking each other soooo much before the fight. Why would you even do that??? I guess it’s part of the entertainment business as well. Daniel Cormier lost in the end, and what else could any sensible person do in that situation but to accept defeat humbly, and say that he will come back stronger. So having said that, it really puts things into perspective. I am only white beltch. RELAX dooode. Of course I’m not discounting my experience, it was still very enriching and significant for me. But it’s good to have examples to look up to.
Anyway, leading up to the competition, I trained as much as I could at the gym, and sometimes after classes where I noticed something I struggled with when rolling, I researched on Marcelo Garcia online how to solve those problems. My brother and I drilled at the float shop sometimes. He was going to compete as well until he got injured 2 days before the competition. I wrote down a game plan as suggested by someone at my gym. I tried visualising my fight when I floated, but always end up drifting away other thoughts or nothingness. I also tend to visualise things in third person but I think I should actually be visualising in first person.
This is popped into my head.
How to eat on weigh-in day as a high carb vegan!
I was worried about making weight. I had to be under 60.4 kg while wearing the gi on the scale. My weight was around 59 kg but it fluctuates throughout the day depending on what and when I ate. I was gonna weigh-in in the evening, which didn’t seem like the best time when I would be at my lowest weight for the day. Being a high carb vegan, I eat lots of fresh fruits throughout the day with high water content, and on weigh-in day, my goal would be to lose as much water weight as possible just in case. I thought I had to have a plan of attack if I wanted to make weight. I still ate like how I would usually for breakfast but I restricted my direct water intake since I thought that I could stay relatively hydrated from the water content in fruits. As the day progressed, I slowed down my food intake, eating only when I really feel hungry and stopping when that feeling is slightly gone. I usually eat till I’m really satiated. I went for a bike ride in the late afternoon, and after that I tried to stop eating until weigh-in. I think by the time I weighed-in, which was around 9pm, I only had 1600-1700 calories. I made weight easily and rewarded myself with some middle-eastern food and and homemade kimchi fried rice.
On the day of the competition I was excited, nervous, and calm all at the same time. I did some meditation in the morning, stretched for about 45 mins, made and uploaded a competition playlist on my phone. I took the bus to city square mall (the venue) and did more visualisation on the bus. I arrived at 12 pm, but didn’t get to roll until 4 plus, the waiting around wasn’t pleasant, but my prof gave me something to do which was be gopro girl and record the fights of my team members. This was a good distraction, I would have been lost in my own world otherwise.Initially there were a total of 4 girls in this category, but on the actual competition day, there were only 2 of us left. So both of us were gonna be medalists win or lose. That didn’t make it any less of a challenge for me though! The champion would be decided from the best of 3 fights. As I sensed my fight getting closer to start, I listened to my playlist while warming up, it calmed me down, and my mind was mostly empty. Not long after my name and my opponent’s name were called on the speakers. As I stepped onto the mat, I tried to hold on to that calm feeling. I sensed that I could also implode into nervousness if I brought that feeling up, so I reminded myself of Burce Lee’s words, “empty your mind”. We acknowledged the ref, did that bjj handshake thing before a fight, and finally the fight began. I can’t remember much of what I did during the fights without watching the videos of them, was I in the zone? Tiger Woods said that he can’t remember what he did when he made amazing shots at all.
I won my first, lost the second, and won the third fight to take home the gold for this category. I was most intrigued about my lost in the second fight. I didn’t feel too bad about it, and I was still calm but focused going into the 3rd fight. I didn’t think about winning or losing the 3rd fight, just the feeling that I was ready to face whatever challenge I’m given. For me, that made me realise, and I know it took me a lot of thinking in circles to realise something that seems kinda DUH, that it wasn’t about the fear of losing, but the fear of not being able to perform to the best of my abilities at the time.
I couldn’t have achieved what I did both physically and mentally without the help and support of my teachers and team mates from The Gentle Art. I could hear them screaming instructions while I was fighting and it really helped. All their encouragement on the side really gave me strength during the fights. I’m so proud to be part of this gym! Time has gone by really fast since joining TGA. Yay for a being a bum and not having a real full time job, but I’m glad I did something productive with the free time I have, like picking up BJJ 🙂
This is a quote from the Warrior of Light by Pablo Coelho to help me in the future:
The warrior of light knows how to lose. He does not treat defeat as if it were a matter of indifference to him, saying things like ‘Oh, it doesn’t matter’ or ‘To be honest, I didn’t really want it that much’, He accepts defeat as defeat and does not try to make a victory out of it. Painful wounds, the indifference of friends, the loneliness of losing – all leave a bitter taste. But at these times, he says to himself: ‘I fought for something and did not succeed. I lost the first battle.’ These words give him renewed strength. He knows that no one wins all the time and he knows how to distinguish his successes from his failures.