Yesterday at US Grappling's event I won the Adult purple belt Absolute.
I took 2nd in the featherweight/lost on a guard pass.
I have a box full of 2nd and 3rd place medals since I moved up to purple belt. I also have had plenty of days I was "1 and done" and out in the first round.
I might get pissed about not getting a bye or be pissed it's single elimination or whatever but those are all the part of the game.
To quote Hunter S. Thompson, "buy the ticket, take the ride."
I've talked about how many times I've competed since getting my faixa roxa.
It's been 18 months without an external reward/indicator of my training and time on the mats.
It's not about chasing medals. It's about grinding through without reward. It's easy to discount the points scoring or the hierarchy of points or the rules or the whatever to validate why you haven't gotten the results you wanted. Sure, I can go to the gym and have peaks and valleys but showing up on the day and facing other guys training that extra little or a lot bit harder because they are competing is a staunch litmus test.
By the end of blue belt I could win the adult and the 30+ division in the same day with almost the exact same gameplan. Blue belt was also my first exposure to high level tournaments when I did the IBJJF Pans and the Abu Dhabi Pro Trials.
At purple belt it's this manic game of chicken where the first guy who blinks or misses a transition likely loses. Against recreational level competitors at purple belt you can still make some mistakes;
not so against the upper echelon of purple belts.
This post isn't about how awesome I am.
In fact, 18 months probably sounds like forever to not win a division at your belt level. That's the point.
It's a marathon. It's not about how you start but rather how you finish that matters.
It was a long, dark time going to tournament after tournament with poor performances, close matches, getting submitted, not making it past the first round of my weight class and not making it past the first round of the absolute and the long drive home afterward to feel the letdown of expectation(s) after training for months and months up until that point. I had days where I showed up feeling ready to crush everyone and not win a single match. I had days when I was overtrained or under the weather and managed to win some matches and medal.
This post is also about mindset.
Realistically speaking, after a trip to see my brother's graduation out of town, I hadn't trained to top form before this tournament. I had to work until 4am the night before/night of the tournament then drive 3 hours, referee, and compete.
It was less than ideal but something was clearly able to compensate and the only thing I can determine is mindset.
I didn't feel pressure. I just felt this relentless mindset like I was going to just push and grind and not stop until time ran out, regardless of the situation or points of whatever. I remember reading months back Keenan Cornelius talking about how he finally decided he was just going to fight so hard that even if they guy beat him his opponenet would lose his next match from the relentless pace it would take to beat him. He finally let go of the expectation to win and simply fought as hard as he could in each match.
Yesterday, despite in my conscious brain, knowing this above idea/concept and having heard this, something changed where I felt that mindset. In my matches I was almost completely in the moment. I could hear, as though far away the voices of friends, teammates, coaches, guys I know from all the grappling events....but it never took me out of the present moment. I just kept grinding and didn't stop. I don't think I rested more than a moment or two in any of my matches. I just kept working.
When I was tired and folded in half upside down defending a guard pass or would shoot the omoplata and the guy would defend then look to pass I could feel how tired I was but it felt far away, like a quiet voice drowned out by this voice that just kept saying "keep going, push, go, push."
This post is for everyone out there grinding. It's not pretty. The full court press is denigrated in basketball. The reality of hard work is that it's not pretty. It's tedious, long, boring, discouraging, and often doesn't manifest for a very long time.
If you're like me and not a natural, not an athlete, not a whatever-the-*&^%-people-say, it doesn't matter in the long run.
Hard work beats talent when talent refuses to work hard.
It's not pretty but when it pays off the reward is deeply gratifying.
People who don't know me might see my matches and thing I'm strong or fast or have some attribute(s), but anyone who knows me knows that I am by no means a natural athlete. I never have been. I've never actually been naturally good at anything but rather I simply log a lot of hours on the mat and forgo much of what resembles a personal life to pursue this. It's not pretty and it's not glamorous and it has been a long haul to be sure but it's just beginning.
I remember before the start of the Absolute thinking well, if I lose the first round, I will fight for third. I watched the first match and felt confident I could beat the guy who lost.
I caught myself and stopped that line of thinking.
I've heard Donald Cerrone call those "red light thoughts."
Instead I asked/told myself, "Why not? Why can't I win the Absolute? Why not shoot for the moon? I'm here. I train hard. This is my opportunity. It's right here."
I could settle for focusing on just getting a medal in the Absolute (would have been the first time since I became a purple belt) but I admitted to myself that was just fear. Fear of letdown. Me rationalizing something I feared I would try to achieve and fail. So I told myself, "No. Today we are going to go for it."
I remember someone nearby looking at the guy I would face first round, about 40 lbs heavier than me/wrestling background, and saying "I wouldn't want him on top of me."
I said "I believe in my bottom game."
And I did. I've put in the time. I've put in the work having bigger, heavier, better guys try to pass my guard. I've worked it virtually every day I have trained since before purple belt.
I've had bigger and better guys struggle to pass my guard. I knew it would be a grinder of a match unless I caught a mistake by him on top but I also knew I didn't want to concede takedown points and get stalled out so I played on the feet just a bit then pulled guard. When I got into trouble I pulled him into closed guard and worked to break him down and threaten submissions, being careful not to overextend and as every small(er) Jiu-Jitsu guy knows not let a submission attempt turn into a guard pass for my opponent.
I grinded out what felt like forever despite being only 7 minutes and got a referee's decision due to submission attempts and my guard retention nullifying his guard passing attempts.
All I can say is hard work isn't glamorous but staying humble, believing in your process, doing what others aren't willing to do, and simply getting after it eventually pays off.