On game day (or my first Jiu-Jitsu competition)

D(-5) Day

Exam went well. Early morning and some tough questions, but overall felt prepared and that my studying was effective.

Long day. Exam at 9a. Then lunchtime laptop certification for the four-hour diagnostic Step Test on Thursday. Humanities lecture at 1p. Finally, doctoring until 5p. Went home, floated for a bit to relieve some stress and reset my nervous system.

Fundamentals jiu-jitsu class at 7p. Practice went well. Worked on back mount with some newbies and worked hard to choke them out and avoid any of their attacks. Left the session feeling quite confident in my attacking abilities, my defending techniques, and my athleticism. Good session with which to start competition week.

Slept like a baby.

D(-2) Day

Up at 550a for the diagnostic exam. Questions were tough. Got a lot to work on before I’m Step One ready. Out of the test around 11a. Spent the rest of the afternoon relaxing and soaking up some sun. Snuck in a quick float. Visited a dog park with a friend and enjoyed romping around the beach with a goofy mass of happy dogs.

BJJ advanced class at 6p. Went in with the goal of not getting hurt two days before the competition. Success! Rolled with medium to light intensity and got smashed the whole class by other white belts. They utilized good technique and kept me on the defensive. Did my best to respond with my own small toolbox. A good counter-balance to the ego boost of Monday’s class.

At home, checked my weight while wearing my sweaty competition gi: 168# on the button. Good feeling, my cut is going well. Lots of supported fasting: bulletproof coffee in the mornings to tide me over until about 3p, then a blast of exogenous ketones to keep me spry and full of energy until my evening meal around 8p.

This modest weight cut has been an interesting practice. I’ve never had to bring my weight down in the past, for rowing or crossfit. Usually, I’m trying to eat all the food in sight to maintain or perhaps even gain a bit of mass. Now, I’m eating to satiety, not to maximum discomfort. It’s nice to shift my perspective, to practice ending a meal when I decide I’ve had enough, rather than when the plate is empty and there are no leftovers.

D(-1) Day

Up early again for a mandatory meeting at 8a regarding third year clerkships and the transition to the clinic. Felt quite grumpy and sleep deprived. Sat in the back of the room with sunglasses on and worked on some flashcards. After the meeting, my partner and I bopped back home for a bit, I floated again and felt brand-new afterwards. Looking forward to third year, this float tent in my apartment will be a life-saver regarding night shifts and odd hours to reset my circadian rhythm.

In the afternoon, we participated in an inter-professional activity at a lovely assisted living facility for older folks with third year pharmacy students: a quick group interview with a 91yo resident and some debriefing afterwards, then finally free to enter the competition-zone mindset. Headed home around 4p. Napped with my partner until the sun began to set, then we cooked up some food, packed up our things, cleaned the apartment, and departed for Valdosta, GA.

A few years ago, I met an adorable couple at a music festival in Georgia. I had just taken the MCATs, the entrance exam for medical school, Craig was studying for his board recertification in family medicine, and Jenny allowed me to talk her ear off. We had some great conversations and I have kept in touch with them ever since, sending the email here or there to catch up. I’ve had a few chances to meet up with them in person in the intervening years, especially since moving down south for medical school. They live in Valdosta, about halfway between Tampa and Atlanta, a perfect stopover before competition day.

We arrived late, sneaking in while they slept because Craig had to be up early for a day of golf with his buddies. We quietly admired their decor and adorably furnished home while we practiced some before-bed yoga in their meditation room.

Sleep came easily, though I had fitful dreams of grappling and adventure.

D(0) Day

H(-7) Hour

Woke up to a cloudy Georgia morning. Brewed coffee and introduced my partner to Jenny while I played with their goofy pooch. Practiced some yoga in their padded exercise room and packed up the car before wishing Jenny well and promising that we’d return before moving up to PA in the late spring.

H(-2) Hour

The drive to Atlanta was entirely uneventful. My partner graciously took chauffeur duty and brought us to the convention center near the airport. We parked close and wandered into the exhibition hall filled with gis and the smell of tiger balm.

We completed a lap of the mats, getting a lay of the land and then retreated to a quiet corner of the hallway to burn some time before I began warming up. Weighed myself with our scale and found myself well under and comfortably light. Laid down, covered my face with a bandanna, and then practiced 45min of Wim Hof breathing exercises to work out the nerves and soothe my nervous system. Afterwards, I got up, changed, practiced some yoga, and waited until called.

H(0) Hour

Match One

Didn’t feel too jittery at the start, though the whole process of getting called into the bullpen, weighing in (with three pounds to spare), and walking onto the mats was far more chaotic than I had expected. I took it all in stride, breathing carefully and staying loose.

This was an ideal match for me. My opponent was young and athletic, but did not have a significant technical advantage over me: we were both goofy white belts that wanted to wrassle. In most BJJ academies, grappling starts from the knees for space and safety considerations. In competition, we start from standing. I got my grips on him and took the aggressor role, trying to take him down and score points in the process.

I remember the ref stopping the match, so that my opponent could re-tie his belt. I looked at the clock and saw 2min on the clock. I thought, “Oh, I’m ahead and it’s almost over, great!” After taking my opponent to the ground again, I glanced over to the clock and saw 2:45 and realized that it was counting up, not down.

Near the end of the match, my opponent seemed to get his mojo back and put me on the defensive. He scored some points to even things back up, but neither of us got a good submission attempt on the other. I won via points (6-5) and thanked both the ref and my opponent before stumbling off the mats to desperately catch my breath for the next match.

Match Two

Spent the fifteen minutes between matches breathing heavily. Didn’t realize how gassed I would be after a five-minute competition round. Haven’t felt like this while grappling, only after a rowing sprint race or a crossfit competition.

My opponent had a definite plan going into the match. Significantly taller than me, but skinnier and more technically adept, he immediately pulled guard and attacked me with a cross-collar choke. I fought this off for a few breaths, but he was persistent and strong. I knew what he wanted and I attempted to deny him the grips necessary for the simple blood choke, to no avail. With his long limbs and tight grips, I saw stars and realized that if I didn’t tap, I’d probably go unconscious soon.

I knew that I would probably face an opponent like him, technically advanced and with a strong plan. He would go on to place third in our division of twenty athletes. I congratulated him on my way out for a clean attack.

H(+0.5) Hour

Walked out of the competition area with my partner, kissing her deeply and thanking her for being so supportive throughout all of this. She purchased a scale for me so I could keep track of my weight cut. She drove the seven hours from Tampa to Valdosta to Atlanta so that I could mobilize and stay loose while stuck in a car. She filmed my matches so that I can review them later. I cannot thank her enough, without her this whole experience would be far less enjoyable.

After the match, I found my teammates and wished them well. Walking out of the convention center, my big toe on the right foot let me know that it was quite cranky. With the adrenaline of the competition, I didn’t notice stubbing or hyper-extending my toe during the second match. Not a bad trophy to leave with.

H(+2) Hour

Ate all the victory sushi with my partner. The fellow making our food was friendly and practiced jiu-jitsu himself. Made a new friend and had some fun conversation while we stuffed ourselves silly. Felt great to be full of food again.

Drove through the night to arrive in Jacksonville around 1a. Much like the night before, we crept into a quiet home. I raided my parents’ fridge for food and snacks before passing out with my partner beside me.

D(+1) Day

Woke up in Jacksonville around 10. Big toe on the right side is pretty angry and slightly swollen leading to a slight limp while walking. Not ideal, but not terrible. Will nurse this injury over the coming days and will be back on the mat to hone my techniques within the week.

I know I have much to work on and I look forward to reviewing the competition videos with a coach to address specific deficiencies. I’m not sure when I’ll compete next. Step and its prep will take over the next few months of my life until the move to PA in May. Maybe I’ll compete up there, once I settle into a new academy and adapt to the clinical lifestyle. Probably a smaller one next time.

Overall, I’m glad with my experience: a good first performance on the competition mats. Now, I have some experience cutting weight, managing the madness of event logistics, and addressing the pre-match jitters. In two years, I’ll move up to the Masters division and battle against older folks, rather than spry twenty-somethings.

Much to look forward to, in this long jiu-jitsu journey.

For now, there’s food to eat and facts to learn.

Long Form Sundays

On Death Podcast

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