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.