Competing In The 2016 IBJJF Master Worlds

Competing In The 2016 IBJJF Master Worlds

Master Worlds 2016

By: Eugene Tsozik, PT, DPT, BJJ Purple Belt

I’ve never really traveled to a tournament. This was never the focal point of a trip or vacation that I have ever been on. Stepping into the Las Vegas Convention center, the crowd, the energy, the atmosphere was unique. The amount of people, the number of mats, the sheer size of the tournament was unlike anything I’d ever seen.

I felt the passion that everyone had for jiu-jitsu. To see someone walking around with a team shirt on, cauliflower ear, or talking jiu-jitsu position/technique was what you saw and expected at every turn. Nerves overcame my body. I felt myself clenching my fists without even noticing I was doing it. Anxiety and tension filled my body in waves.

This was just Thursday, and I was to compete on Saturday morning. The thing that I hated most was to wait…and I was going to have to be immersed in that high intensity environment for two days before I was to even step on the mats.

I took this as a way to allow my body to go through the emotions. I wanted the anxiety to take its course. I wanted to immerse myself in the environment and competition and let myself know that its not only ok to feel the way I did…that it was normal and to be expected.

The things that I focused on were not others, but my self and my own skill set. The piece that put me at ease was knowing that I trained hard, I was backed by a great team, great coaches, and that I was at this competition for a reason and with a plan. I had a strategy that I had practiced from start to finish. Knowing that I had a plan “A,” “B.”, and so on from standing takedown to submission was what put me at ease. I was going in with a battle plan that had been practiced and tweaked to allow me the path to victory that I felt was best.

Watching my coach compete was both nerve racking and exciting. But it was good to see him go out there and do his best. Watching the other black belts like Rafael Lavato Jr., Xande Ribiero, Saulo Ribiero, and Kurt Osiander compete was just an absolute blast. To see the best of the best on the mats, and other greats such as Andre Galvao and Robert Drysdale coaching their teams was absolutely unreal for a jiu-jitsu fan and practitioner.

Where else can you be on the same mats and in the same tournaments as these greats? This is the big time, this is The Masters World Championships, and I was going to be able to step on the same floor and be in the same arena as these legends. To be star struck or in awe was a feeling that came and went. I began to realize this was the norm for these scenarios and situations. But stepping out on the mats when my name would be called would be a totally different feeling and excitement.

It felt like waiting for the day to arrive when I was to compete was going to take forever. The following day was a blur with black belts, brown belts, and blue belts competing and putting it on the line. Watching teammates out there was again a high anxiety scenario. The feelings were felt all around and I would have to walk outside the venue to the hallway to ease my nerves and step out of the high pressure atmosphere.

I’d head back to the hotel and check my weight numerous times, I would drill in the exercise area, I would write notes, write little reminders, and make sure my skills felt sharp and that I felt energetic. The hard work was done back at the gym in Louisville. This was time to maintain and stay sharp.

I awoke on Saturday morning once every hour starting at 3 am until it was time to get up around 7 o’clock. I went to the hotel lobby, grabbed some coffee, and went to the workout area to check my weight. I was significantly under enough that I could eat a healthy breakfast. Keeping the food down was surprisingly easy, but keeping my stress level low was a different story.

Highs and lows, ebbs and flows, peaks and valleys of emotion raced through my body. I would tell myself everything would be fine, I would go out there and do what I came to do. I was here to put it on the line and put my skills on display. The walk from the monorail to the convention center was an energetic one.

Music was flowing through my headphones and my game plan was playing through my mind. Takedown, pass, submission. Over and over. Time and time again. It felt more real every time I ran these images through my head. I felt it was attainable and achievable. Putting myself out there was part of the battle, execution was the rest.The hard work was done. This was the fun part.

I warmed up in the lobby, I checked in to my mat coordinator, and I stepped on the scale. I was on weight, my gi had passed inspection, and I was ushered to mat 7 standing directly behind my opponent. He looked like any other jiu-jitsu player. Cauliflower ears, a gi with numerous patches on it, his fingers taped up. He looked about my size and with an athletic build.

I didn’t feel scared or intimidated. I felt confident. Watching the match before mine, I was kneeling, looking at my coach across the ring with a smile on my face. I was pumped and ready to go. A spring in my step and my confidence where it needed to be. I felt…good.

We bowed to the referee, each other, and “Combatche.” We clinched up fighting for collar grips. I grabbed, he broke my grips, he gripped, I readjusted my grip. He felt strong but I felt that we had equal control. Suddenly he pulls guard. I find myself in double-under position with my hands underneath my opponent’s thighs. His hands were fishing for my neck. I felt good. I tucked my chin and stayed relaxed. He started to push with his right foot on my left shoulder and I started to sit to my left hip and reach for his left ankle.

My gi was pulled over my head and the referee called time out. He pulled my gi down and as soon as he said “combatche,” my opponent slid his right leg over my left shoulder and closed his legs. He closed the triangle and all I could think of was…”shit.” I tried to posture up but he was pulling down with too much force. I tried to sit back and make space but my opponent grabbed my arm that was between his legs and started to torque it. I was losing oxygen and blood to my brain, my arm was starting to ache, and I decided to tap on his leg to signify that I was defeated.

I was kneeling, because I was disappointed, but also due to being so light-headed. I was almost completely out. Almost unconscious. I always say that you never realize how close you are to being out until the opponent lets go and the blood and oxygen rushes back to your brain. I stood up, my head down, that shitty smirk on my face, and disappointment in my posture.
I had lost…in the first round…in under two minutes. I was disappointed not because I lost, but because I did not have the opportunity to show what I could do. I was unable to show my potential, display my skill, and impose my will.

This high level competition is a game of inches. Any advantage can signify the end of the match or difference between victory and defeat. When the referee had restarted us, I was not as aware as I should have been. I should have instantly fought for position to control grips. I did not fight for my control and I paid for it. I give all of the credit to my opponent. He was an absolute beast who ended up taking third place out of 57 competitors in our division. He was seasoned in these large scale tournaments and deserved the victory. He was better at the tournament game than I was.

I was not angry but disappointed. I learned what the “big time” was all about. I learned what its like to step on the grand scale and to compete. I did something millions of others never have done. I put it on the line and I put myself out there which is difficult to do. You leave yourself exposed, prone to judgement, and take the chance of disappointment.

I will continue to work on my craft and improve myself through jiu-jitsu. I will continue to face adversity and struggle. I will deal with the fight or flight response. For so many years of my life I have followed the flight response. I have fled from uncomfortable situations and confrontations. Being on the side where the fight response comes into play is not pleasant nor is it always enjoyable. But after it’s all said and done, man is it worth it. I tried my best and I will fight another day.

Styles Make Techniques: How Learning Styles Help Develop Your Jiu-Jitsu

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Styles Make Techniques: How Learning Styles Help Develop Your Jiu-Jitsu

By: Eugene Tsozik PT, DPT

Everyone has heard of “styles make fights.” Its a saying that encompasses the idea that a certain blend of techniques or speciality versus another type of technique or speciality make for a unique or interesting combination. Striker vs Grappler or Karate vs. Jiu-Jitsu. I feel that this can be compared to the differences in how jiujitsu players learn, develop, perfect, and use certain techniques.

As a graduate student in Physical Therapy school, I realized that I had a certain way that I learned things. For example, I had a classmate who would read the powerpoint presentation as the professor was showing it on the the screen, and she would have it memorized and committed to memory as soon as they got done reading it. For me, it was not that simple or that easy.

I had to follow along, read it myself, take notes, re-write, re-read it, make flash cards…you get the picture. So in my ever evolving quest to learn jiu-jitsu, I would learn a technique, try to throw it in rolling, and then when push comes to shove, I threw it out and played my “A-Game” or went back to my “go-to techniques.” How would I ever develop new techniques, new branches to my tree if I never took the time to develop and grow them.

I have my “A-Game” as a purple belt, now I am trying to develop wrinkles, folds, new branches to my jiu-jitsu tree. I started drilling more. Watching videos. Writing down key positions or points of emphasis. For me, muscle memory is key. Repetition is necessary, visual instruction is a must, and note taking for details is important.

I would learn a new technique, watch it, drill it, read about it, and then write about it. This is all well and good but I had to practice it. This is where positional drilling is key. My jiu-jitsu instructor started getting really heavy on drilling, building techniques on top of another, stringing techniques together, and putting in the numbers (repetitions). Then putting us in situations where getting passed was not a priority, but defending against the move we were trying to perform was the opponent’s goal.

This opened up opportunity, allowed risk taking, and developed technique. I saw what grips worked, what reactions I would get, and I would make adjustments on the fly. This was followed by “King of the Mat” style rolling. Pass and defend purely. When you performed the sweep we were working you stayed in and a fresh body came in against you. Working technique under physical duress and fatigue was key to staying sharp.

I feel I got such an improvement in a position or technique from one class because I was able to drill it, put it into use, and play with it. I followed this up by taking notes in a notebook immediately after class while it was fresh. I re-read my notes, watched videos if needed, and replayed the position in my head.

Drilling is key. Repetition is important. Muscle memory is the only way to develop a technique without hesitation. This is how I feel I will improve. This is how I will continue to grow. Tony Spencer, a jiu-jitsu black belt at our gym who is very technical and innovative in his game said when he got promoted to black belt, “I don’t chase belts, I chase techniques.” This quote stuck out to me. It spoke to me. It is the essence of bettering yourself, and the only way to do that is to grow your technique and chase it. Get new branches. Make new pathways. Chase techniques.

Fix Bad Shoulders With A Stronger Back

Fix Bad Shoulders With A Stronger Back

Here is a video of some quick and easy postural strengthening exercises to improve shoulder function, posture, and upper back strength that tend to be affected by Jiu-Jitsu training. These exercises may also help with injury prevention.

Video of courtesy of Nick “Chewy” Albin. Check him out on twitter @chewjitsu, his website at www.chewjitsu.net, and his youtube channel, Chewjitsu. He has a ton of great training information and Jiu-Jitsu training tips!

If you have any questions regarding injury prevention, training, and strengthening please don’t hesitate to send me a message on Facebook on my page at Jiu-Jitsu Therapist or on twitter @jiujitsuPT.

Video courtesy of Nick “Chewy” Albin

The Steroid Stereotype

Brock and Reem

Picture Courtesy of mmamania.com

The Steroid Stereotype
By: Eugene Tsozik PT, DPT

With all of the recent MMA news regarding steroids and drug test failures, I felt that some interesting points came of it. Does it matter if someone “pops” out of competition as long as they are not using during the match or fight? If everyone uses steroids or performance enhancing drugs, doesn’t it make it a “level playing field.” What if an older athlete’s body is no longer producing the appropriate amount of testosterone, shouldn’t they be allowed to supplement in order to be on the same level as a younger and “in their prime” athlete? Are there safe levels of performance enhancing drugs? Does it make the fight or competition more exciting? What about dealing with injuries? Are the athletes less likely to get injured? More likely to get injured? What about using HGH (human growth hormone), testosterone, or performance enhancing drugs to deal with recovery from an injury?

For many people who discuss the topic of steroids, it is either right or wrong. Are you cheating by taking steroids or enhancing your natural ability? Does intention make a difference?

Ken Shamrock suggested in an interview that performance enhancing drugs should be both allowed and possibly regulated at “safe levels?” But what is a safe level for competition? Is a safe level the same for every fighter? Different for certain weight classes? Males vs. females?

Jon Jones got caught with an estrogen blocker, which is often used for blocking estrogen from the body when experiencing increased testosterone levels while cycling off of steroids. What about Brock Lesnar? You could say he was “juiced to the gills” and has been using for a while. Just finally got caught? According to Nate Diaz, “Everyone is on steroids.”

This is such a loaded topic with so many complex questions. I myself have never taken anything above protein and creatine. But would I ever consider taking a growth hormone or a steroid to help recover from an injury? Well, if it would get me back on the jiu-jitsu mats sooner, then that could be a possibility. Looking at the affects as far as how it may impact my health negatively is a thing to consider. There is give and take. Plus and minus. You get something but you must give something up, and nothing is without some type of consequence. It is a sliding scale of good and bad, advantage against debilitation.

From a physical therapy and medical stand point, people use steroids all the time. That cortisone injection you got in your knee…well that is reducing the swelling and taking out the pain to get you back to functioning. Oral steroids are also used to fight inflammatory responses in the muscle tissue. Not all steroids are bad if used appropriately. Again getting a steroid injection too many times can destroy the healthy tissue and cause damage. There is a balance to everything. A sweet spot that should have optimal results.

Using steroids in the process of recovering form injury such as Anderson Silva’s broken leg is a no brainer. He would be able to regrow muscle tissue faster, get back to activity faster, and ultimately get back in the octagon faster. Something he would have difficulty doing at 40+ years of age when the body’s muscle production slows as compared to a younger mid 20’s athlete.

I feel that there is a place and time for steroids. If you have a league where everyone is monitored and on the same levels, then as long as it is regulated why not? But if you have one guy on steroids who can punch a hole through a skull, and someone who is not, you can end up with unfair advantages. Reaction time, power, endurance, speed, and overall performance improved in those using “banned substances” according to USADA (United States Anti-Doping Agency).

An athlete with a limited reaction time as compared to an athlete on performance enhancing drugs, an athlete that can punch or kick harder, or even take a punch better are all factors that obviously enhance someones chance to impose their will on the opponent and could allow more damage to be inflicted which in turn could led to serious injury.

Currently, no deaths have been related to performance enhancing drugs but is it just a matter of time? How is the playing field leveled or allowed to be even? Should different rules for out of competition testing be allowed, and then lower levels or no levels at all be found within a certain time surrounding the competition?

I do believe there is a place and time for certain “performance-enhancing drugs.” I believe that athletes at the top of their levels such as MMA fighters in the UFC or even top grapplers should have some level of lee-way for out of competition testing which would allow for the athletes to stay healthier, possibly even prevent injury, and even help recover from injury. The problem is that people always look to “game” the rules and take advantage.

The health field is advancing and so are the athletes. My goal as a Physical Therapist is to have the healthiest athletes performing at their optimal level with the least likelihood of injury while competing. Whatever gets us to that point remains to be seen and the “steroid debate” will continue to “rage” on.

Training Through Adversity-Part 3

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By: Eugene Tsozik PT, DPT

After my last tournament, three matches, three losses, and to top it all off in front of my teammates, at my own gym, I left to go home with my head down. I wanted to forget about the tournament, the matches, the disappointment, but I couldn’t.

I didn’t even want to wear anything with jiu-jitsu on it. No team shirts, shorts, just plain clothes. Silly to think but my rationale was to distance myself from the disappointment that I went through. What followed was that I was unable to sleep, I kept replaying the matches in my head, and an anger and frustration started to build.

I would clench my fists, start breathing heavy, respond to people with short answers. I wanted to be left alone. I just wanted to erase what had happened. I knew that there were two options. Keep training, deal with the sour taste in my mouth, and hope that these feelings would pass. Option two was to get back out there. I have never competed in back to back weekends in two different tournaments. I had a fire inside of me that I could not extinguish. I had to compete. So I signed up for a tournament in Indianapolis.

I had to do it alone. No excuses, no giving myself a reason out. I had to at least go out there, perform, not break mentally, and just play my game. Give it my all and win or lose, and I would be satisfied with the outcome.

My mindset going into jiu-jitsu class the week before my tournament was more serious, more focused, more deliberate. I wanted to drill my moves, my positions, and most of all, continue to fight until the end and not give in. I was more aggressive, more focused, and overall more effective in my techniques and got the sense of preparation. I had nerves, adrenaline spikes, even felt my emotions fluctuate throughout the training sessions.

I knew this was my opportunity to make things right. Even if there would be no one from my gym to witness it, I had to do it for myself. I made the trek to Indianapolis. Kept myself relaxed, played out the matches in my head, all of them ending with my hand raised.

I kept my routine…breathing, dynamic warm ups, light drilling. Keeping myself away from the intensity and high energy of the gymnasium as I knew my adrenaline would spike everytime I was in that environment. So I went and slept in my car. Warmed up outside in the parking lot, and keep myself at ease. I would only go to the gym to check on my status of when I was up to compete.

The first match came on quickly, but I was ready to go. I wanted the win badly and I was determined to get it. I pulled guard and got a sweep off of a choke attempt which landed me in top guard position. The match was a bit of a stalemate and I ended up winning on points.

I did not get much rest as the second match approached. I fought hard worked for position, and played my game. I held position and worked my sweeps but eventually gave up mount and lost by armbar in the closing seconds. I was proud of this performance. I did not give up. I played my game. I stayed relaxed and did my best which is all I had asked for.

I got called to one more mat as I had 1 match remaining in a different division. My opponent had seen my nearly 14 minutes of battle and I’m sure had a sense that I was fatigued. I was the opposite. I was energized, relaxed, felt in the groove. He pulled guard immediately and I was able to get into top half. Heavy pressure helped with making him uncomfortable and he was able to close full guard. After I fought off a few attacks we transitioned and his ankle came into my reach. Instinctively I grabbed it, went for the toe hold, and I felt the tap. I had won!

The feeling of having my hand raised on that day was so important on many levels. Winning means a lot but is not everything. More important was my mental resolve, my ability to fight, and my mental toughness. I gave it my all, I fought myself and my own demons, and I felt that even though I did not win every match, I won the mental game. I was more confident, had a smile that I couldn’t wipe off, and I felt that I completed my tasks. I faced my doubts and fears and feel that I conquered what I set out to do. The feeling of accomplishment makes it easier to show up to the gym and train as well as be around your coaches and training partners.

Jiu-jitsu has an amazing amount of highs and lows. But its a process. Its a journey just like life. Without the lows there wouldn’t be the highs and I thank my coaches, teammates, and family for my success. It felt good to get back out there. It felt good to prove something to myself. It felt good to train through adversity and come out on top.

Training Through Adversity: Part 2

A week after I had a close family member pass, I decided to step up and do the submission only grappling tournament. My outlook was of a “nonchalant/I don’t care what  happens attitude.” I came into the gym, joked around, acted like I didn’t care, spoke to everyone with a smile. I did not feel much pressure…”whatever happens…happens.”

I weighed in, left to run some errands since I knew my matches were not going to start for a few hours. Did some running around since I knew that sitting at the gym and mulling over the different scenarios in my head would just make me more nervous.

Got to the gym a few hours later, the environment was high energy, crowded, hot, intense. The nervous energy definitely filled the cramped gym with many on-lookers and competitors warming up. I changed, got ready with stretching and warm ups, and watched some amazing super fights with two of the best black belts and up and coming brown belts around. Heart, dedication, and desire all were exemplified by these competitors.

When my match was called, I felt good….relaxed, ready, fixed on a plan. I started aggressive, throwing submission after submission at my opponent. Triangle choke in and unable to finsih. Loop choke in…not there, bicep cutter…almost but no.

After this attempt, I felt both my confidence and my energy diminish drastically. After being so close to victory, I found myself exhausted, on bottom side control, and flat on my back. Since this was a submission only tournament, my opponent focused in on my lapel and collar for a choke. I fought it off once or twice, but the third time, I felt myself let him turn the corner. The light was closing in. I tapped. I lost. I was extremely disappointed. I did what I wanted and got the difficult part of setting up the submission, but I couldn’t complete the easy part of the submission…the finish. Things that you learn as a white belt. Pull the arm across, inch your knees together, turn the corner, close the space, pull the head, finish the submission.

I broke…I fatigued which turned into mental exhaustion and I gave in. I was submitted. I was fortunate enough to go for a third place match. I saw my opponent hobbling onto the mat with an injured ankle. I asked him if he was ok before we touched hands to start. He looked at me, smirked, and said “yeah.”

I thought maybe I will pull guard, maybe I will go fr the take down, I didn’t have a chance to decide. My opponent puled guard, pushed me up with his feet, flipped me over, and caught my arm on the transition. I tapped…I couldn;t believe it. I was finished in under 10 seconds.

EMbarassment, anger, frustration, and disappointment clouded my mind. I did not represent well. I gave up and did not show my gym the hard work that it has put into my preparation. I held my head down and watched the other matches with disappointment all over my face.

The no-gi match ended with me getting mounted and submitted. I left the gym as quickly as possible. I competed with a heavy heart, with my mind on my grandfather, missing my son who I was away from for the day, and not with full focus. Something that means so much to me…jiu-jitsu has been the cause of such grief on this day.

I was at a crossroads…take some time off, get away from the memories of pain and disappointment, and just rest. Sleeping did not go so well as I kept waking up every hour with my mind racing about what happened. I could not escape the disappointment and embarrassment I felt.

My choice after taking the night to think about it would be to get in the gym Monday morning. Have a more focused mind. A more focused attitude. Fight for position. Play my game. I had a desire and fire to improve upon myself and my skills. To mentally not break and not give in. Give it my all every time I step on the mat. Do it for me…I will get back out there and compete. I will try again and I won’t give in. If this is something that means a lot to me, I will not be overwhelmed and beat down. I will give it my all.

Training Through Adversity

By: Eugene Tsozik PT, DPT

I recently lost a close family member. It’s really a dramatic route that your mental and physical being takes on when you deal with significant grief or life-altering situations.
I can’t help but think how this situation can be affected by jiu jitsu.

In years past, when I lost someone or had a traumatic life event, I didn’t want to partake in anything. I would sit at home, watch tv, just wait for the hours to pass by just so I could close my eyes and go to sleep. In my thought pattern, time heals all wounds. My desire to train, exercise, even communicate with others was dramatically reduced. I felt isolated in my mind.

As I’m dealing with this current situation, I am overcome with grief, but I have realized just how valuable this time is. Yes its good to grieve, yes be with family, and yes mourn the great loss. I have realized that jiujitsu is the vehicle to propel me to a better place.

Why would I waste this valuable time that I have on this earth? Why not better myself in some way? This is the approach that I want to take. I want to keep training, keep exercising my body and mind, and help my being overcome the tragedy and not start from the beginning but continue to grow and improve.

There was a jiu-jitsu tournament that was fast approaching. Exactly one week from the day I wrote this. To compete is an internal struggle that I had, Would I be ready? Would I break in the middle of my match? Would I even be at my best.

The answers to these questions are ones that I don’t have an answer to. What I do know is this. Jiu-jitsu makes me feel better. It makes me feel more alive. It makes me feel “normal” (whatever that means).

So I was going to change things up. I was going to try and train through adversity. Try and compete and push myself. The goal would be to improve myself, overcome grief, return to a place where I am happy. What is time and happiness? Memories and competition? Success or failure?

In the end it doesn’t matter. Its about what you do and what you make of it. I chose to make the most of the time that I had. I would not waste precious time to improve myself. I would train through adversity. And I would be better for it.