Thursday, November 22, 2012

Preparing for Tournaments Pt. 2: Trust Your Training!

You're up in the middle of the night again. Your brain won't shut off. The tournament is only a couple of weeks/days away and a million thoughts are racing through your head. You vacillate between trying to make up a game plan--I'm going to jump guard, then sweep to mount, then americana--and freaking out about what will happen if your game plan fails. The unknown is turning your potential opponents into beasts of mythological proportions. 

Thanks to your overactive imagination, you suddenly don't know BJJ and you are fighting Goro from Mortal Kombat.

But, never fear, there's no need to resort to extreme measures. 

You already have what you need to be successful in your fights. That's right, you: the white belt who still isn't sure which way your knees are supposed to point when you do an omaplata. Don't believe me? I will prove it with science!!! 

Ok. I can't back that up. 

But I can make a fairly convincing case for why you are more prepared than you think you are.  

If you are serious enough about BJJ to compete, there's a very good chance you are training multiple times a week. That means you are enduring all those weird drills your instructor makes you do. You know, the ones where you do them but secretly wonder if your instructor just made them up so he or she could laugh at you while you scoot across the mat like a dog with worms?  

It also means you are putting in hours of technique drilling. You are still practicing that basic armbar over and over again even though you could probably do it with your eyes closed. 

And that, my dears, is exactly the point. 

A few months ago, we did an exercise in the Women's Self-Defense Class. For three weeks, the girls in our class were practicing techniques they could use in the event that someone came up behind them, grabbed them and tried to drag them away.  After I was confident that they had the moves down, I invited some of my good friends from the guy's class to help me out with an exercise. 

We lined the girls up facing the wall. We blindfolded them. We turned the music up. Then Stephanie and I and my guy friends would sneak up behind them , grab them and start dragging them away. It was their job to use the techniques that they had learned the previous weeks in class. 

And thus was born the first Terrifying Tuesday.

After the exercise was over, the girls were amazed. They reported that their bodies just...knew what to do when they were grabbed from behind. They didn't have to think about it. They just reacted. And it worked!!

The same thing can be said of all the techniques you have been drilling. All those hours of practice both in drilling and grappling has been training your muscles to do specific jobs. And your muscles are ready to do them when the situation calls for it. 

But you have to trust your body. 

Many times, I would kill my body's potential to perform by over-thinking. Instead of just grappling, my head was full of worries: Was I grappling ok? Was the other person better than me? What guard pass should I do? Are they trying to set up a swee--OH NO IM ON THE BOTTOM! HAAAAAAALP

All the over-thinking is taking your focus away from what you need to be doing: Just grappling. When it comes time to fight, take a deep breath and remind yourself that you do this all the time in class. Tell yourself that you are prepared and believe it. Step on the mat and have confidence that your body is ready to do what you need it to do. 

And, if at the end of the day you go out there and grapple at your best and you still lose, don't get upset. It just means you have new things to focus on when you get back into class. New things to train your muslces to do. New ways of moving to learn. That's the fun of BJJ!!

But more than likely, if you go in both physically and MENTALLY prepared, you will surprise yourself with what you are capable of. If all goes well, you will be standing on the podium with a big cheesey grin with something shiny hanging around your neck. 

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Preparing for a Tournament Pt. 1: First Tournament

Gearing up for a competition can be nerve-wracking. All you need to do is look back into the earlier days of this blog and you will read about me freaking the crap out over my competitions. You worry about making weight, you worry about whether the other girls are going to be good, you worry about not losing your first fight and about not disappointing your instructor, teammates, friends, family and complete strangers who may be watching you.

Me at my first tournament, trying to look intimidating but
instead looking like a freak. 
So, in an effort to try to shave off a little wasted worry energy, here are some things I've learned in my very short time as a competitor.

1. If you are competing at a NAGA, fight in the weight class you are in. As women, you never know how many competitors you are going to have and if there aren't many, they will combine weight classes. Stephanie, my training partner and best friend, once kicked her own butt trying to drop to lightweight only to get to the NAGA and discover there were no other lightweight girls. She had to fight up a weight class.

This won't happen at IBJJF tournaments where they are very strict about weight classes, but even in those tournaments, consider how much of an advantage dropping weight really is. Will you still be strong? Will worrying about your weight take your focus off your training? I would say, if you are within a few pounds of the low end of your weight class, go for it. Otherwise, I am not sure it is worth it to kill yourself to drop weight classes.

2.  Don't worry about how good the other girls will be. One year I stressed about all the possible girls in my division. I tried to look them all up on facebook and youtube and google search. I creeped their pages for any shred of information that might give me some insight into their bjj prowess.

But then, when I went to California last year, I decided that this wasn't about them. It was about me. It wasn't about how good they are, it is about me putting my skills to the test. Every day I started talking positively to myself about my strengths. I visualized myself doing what I do best and winning my matches. And I forced myself not to focus on whether I would win or lose, but on grappling at my best.

You cannot control how good the other girls will do. But you can control how well you prepare yourself physically and mentally. And if you are grappling at your best and you lose, who cares? All that means is that you still have room to improve--hopefully you knew that already. ;)

3. Me and Steph would always say things like, "I just hope I don't lose my first match."

Why? What if you fight the best girl in the division and lose your first match? Does that make you suck because you lose to that girl in the first round instead of losing to her in the second round? It doesn't change anything.

Instead of focusing on NOT losing or NOT getting submitted or NOT getting swept or whatever negative thing it is that you fear, try to focus on something positive instead, like passing guard or doing a take down or doing a sweep. Visualize yourself doing these things over and over again and drill them like crazy in your classes.

If you worry about things beyond your control--like what the other girl may do to you--then you are wasting energy. Focus your energy on the things you can control--like drilling positions and submissions and visualizing yourself doing those in the tournament. Visualize yourself winning and put in the work to make it a reality!

4. If your coach, team, friends and family shun you because you lose a match then you need to make a social move. Your worth to your team does not rest in how many medals you bring home. And if it does, then forgive me but you are on the wrong team. And certainly your worth to your family and friends isn't tied to how well you perform.

When I competed in Atlanta, some of my family who lives in Georgia was there. They had never seen a BJJ tournament. Before I fought, I gave them a crash course in what to look for: dominant positions and submission attempts and escapes. Their eyes were huge the whole time. They had next to no idea what was going on. But they screamed their heads off when I was fighting and were proud of me even when I got disqualified. Why? Because they love me, not because I grappled well. Your friends and family will be proud of you too no matter what because you are important to them as a person.