Training Diary: Ain’t No Party Like an Ultra Heavy Party (‘Cause an Ultra Heavy Party Only Stops Occasionally to Catch its Breath)

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That is neither me nor Luis. That’s BJJ pro Otavio Nalati, an inspiration to big BJJ players everywhere. (YouTube Screenshot)

Every time I get the chance to train with another big guy — someone who competes at ultra heavyweight and, like me, has a bit of a gut on them — I get a little giddy. It’s just great to work with someone who paints with the same palate as I do. I don’t have to feel self-conscious about my bulk, or my inability to pull of certain moves. (Berimbolo classes are every big jiujiteiros nightmare.)

It’s also nice to see how I stack up against the sort of guy I will be eventually be competing against. Am I too dependant on using my strength and size to smash smaller opponents, or is my technique good enough that I can hold my own against another big guy? If my fellow ultra heavy is a higher belt, so much the better. Sure, they’re going to grind me into a fine powder, but they’re also going to show me a few cool pressure-based big man BJJ tricks along the way.

On Monday night, I had one of these glorious experiences. My partner was a purple belt named Luis, who has a crushing side control and a relentlessly positive attitude.

(For the uninitiated, side control day is pretty much every big BJJ player’s favourite day.)

We had a blast. We cheered each other on, tried to give each other tips through a language barrier, and when it was time to actually test what we’d learned against each other, we really went for it. I didn’t question whether or not I was just using my size rather than my technique. And for sure, Luis got the better of me, but I held my own better than I expected to.

Here’s the emotional honesty bit; I had a concussion a few months ago and have kind of struggled to get back into training. BJJ is hard and it’s supposed to be. It’s a hobby that’s not always going to be fun. Sometimes it’s going to be frustrating. Sometimes it’s going to make you question what you’re doing with your life. It’s always going to push you, physically and emotionally, further than you thought you could go. But then there are days where everything makes sense, where the techniques start to click, and you just feel tremendous joy. Those days are the payoff that make the other, harder days worthwhile. I hadn’t had one of those good days in a long time. In the month-and-change since I’d been back, everything had been hard. Everything had been pushing a rock up a hill. This was compounded by the fact that I was promoted to blue belt while I was out, which means that when I came back, I was coming back to new, harder classes that would have gone over my head even when I was healthy.

I needed a good day to remind me why I do this. So thanks Luis.

The First Cut Is the Deepest OR Three Things I Learned From Coming in Third

 

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That’s me on the end. (Photo courtesy David Holman, who won gold.)

Over the course of this blog, there will be a lot of talk about how bad I am at Brazilian jiu-jitsu. This is for two reasons:

  1. I am not very good at it. I am not naturally athletic. I am strong, but I am fat strong. I have the flexibility of someone twice my age and the speed of a slow loris.
  2. I just got my blue belt. Which means that rather than living in the walled garden of all-white belt classes, I’m now rolling with purple and brown belts. People who really know how to do jiu-jitsu. So I get crushed a lot. Like a lot a lot.

That said, I have had some limited success in this. This is a post about one of those successes.

Back in July, I fought in my first ever tournament. I was terrified to compete. I’m not competitive by nature. It’s one of the many ways in which BJJ is a weird choice of hobby for me. (I’m also claustrophobic. More on that later.)

Much to my surprise, I came in third in my weight class.

Here are three things I learned from coming in third:

BJJ works

One of the core principles of Brazilian jiu-jitsu is that a smaller person can beat a bigger person using technique and leverage. (Hélio Gracie was a tiny, tiny dude.) Being that I’m 225 lbs., I’m almost never the smaller person in a fight. The exception being in tournaments, where I end up being the smallest guy in the heaviest weight class.

That means I wind up having to fight men the size of literal, actual bears. There is no ceiling in the largest weight class. The first man I fought was enormous, well over six feet tall and probably very close to 300 lbs. And I beat him. Using leverage and technique. BJJ really does work. Thanks Hélio.

Adrenaline management is everything

In my fight against the aforementioned bear man, he came at me with, well, bear-like ferocity. He pulled guard hard, squeezed me until I thought I would pop, and tugged at my arm like it had personally affronted him. But unfortunately for him, I managed to escape those armbar attempts, and after the third or fourth one, I watched him realize there was still two-and-a-half minutes of fight left. He looked deflated. I actually saw his expression change. He’d spent all his energy.

I am not good at BJJ. I have two techniques that work for me semi-reliably against people at my own level. I get mounted with an alarming frequency. I’m very susceptible to triangles. But I know myself pretty well. I kept calm under attack, and when he had burned himself out, I was able to capitalize.

Losing is learning

For my second fight, I fought someone from my own gym. Someone who is both a better natural athlete than me, and seems to have a brain that picks up techniques in a way mine doesn’t. Someone who constantly kicks my ass in training.

I would love to say that on tournament day, things went differently. They did not. It went sweep-mount-armbar. Just like it did when we fought at the gym.
But you know what? I didn’t care. I felt great. I got out, I competed, I beat someone, and then I learned I need to work on my mount escapes. I felt like a winner. Even if I came in third.