December 6th 2015 marked the first San Antonio Open for the IBJJF. My wife and I had been on the road for almost 6 weeks and Texas was the 13th state we passed through on our way from the East coast to California.
Never before had I trained with so many big names leading up to a tournament. On the surface, training with Vicente Jr, Lucas Lepir, Leo Nogueira, Luiz Palhares and son Pedro Palhares, Bruno Malfacine, Cyborg, Ricardo Rezende, Robson Maura, and Marcos Cequera, not to mention all the amazing practitioners at each of their schools, should have made me unstoppable. My diet and routine were far from consistent, however, which had me worried.
Sleeping in different beds every night and sampling each city’s foods, desserts, and alcohol doesn’t put you in peak physical condition. To minimize the negative impacts while still enjoying the trip to the fullest, the week of the tournament I did 3 key things:
- Increased my sleep to 8 or more hours a night
- Focused training on cardio adding a couple running sessions and skipping weights
- Rolled with smaller opponents which forced me to move more without overloading my muscles
I always want to dictate the terms of the fight. With my cardio being subpar, dictating the pace was imperative to my survival. I was counting on the fact that this was an Open and not the Pans or Worlds, and that my opponents would also be going through the holidays and likely be a little off routine to even the playing field.
One opponent didn’t show so I was left with one fight. Jeff Owen is the 3rd strongest person I’ve ever rolled with falling behind Big Sean McCorkle and Alexander Trans. I wanted to play top game and expected a stand up battle to get there. He caught me off guard when he pulled butterfly guard and got a sweep. I immediately went into deep-half, missed my sweep but got back to my feet and when he pulled again I was much more careful about my passing strategy. I stayed low and used pressure to force my way into half guard and ultimately pass. The remainder of the match I transitioned back and forth from mount and back mount looking for submissions all while deathly afraid of losing position. After fighting off some sneaky straight armbar attacks and maintaining control of the match I was able to win on points for the Gold in the ultra heavyweight category.
The open weight didn’t go my way. Pedro Mello had a very tricky guard and got off first. I attacked several wristlocks which caused him to grimace but not tap. I switched to sweeps and we went back and forth ending the match at 4 to 6. His first sweep was the tie breaker and he went on to take 2nd in the Open.
Ryan Hall is famous for saying that fighting when you aren’t 100% is just giving yourself an excuse to lose. I disagree. Especially when you are not a full time competitor, you will not always have ideal circumstances under which to fight. And in some ways it’s great mental prep for adversity. Are you going to tell that mugger to come back next month so you can go Paleo and put together a training program to feel ready? I think not.
- Your preparation will never be perfect but you have to do the best you can and fight with all your heart.
- Having a strategy is important to help focus your mental energy but as they say in the military, “no battle plan survives contact with the enemy.”
- You are going to have to make adjustments on the fly and the degree to which you do that will determine victory or defeat and what you will learn and work on after the battle.
We should always strive to be in our best shape, especially for big tournaments. But much like life, if you’re always waiting for the timing to be perfect you’ll likely miss your moment and the joy, pain, and lessons that come along with it.
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