NAGA Jacksonville 2017 Tournament Review

TLDR Version

Got up early.

One kid went 1-2 for a first and a second.

Other kid went 2-1 against a single opponent for a first place.

I went 2-1 with a first and a second.

Had a lot of fun. Learned a lot.

Long Version

We headed out for Jacksonville at 5:30 am the morning of the event, stopping by to pick up Coach Frank and The Hurricane along the way. Parking and check in went really smoothly, and man…UNF is a really beautiful campus! I was competing in my very first competition, as were the two oldest girls, and all of us were right on the cusp of a weight class, so we went for a quick urination break and came back to have our weight right on.

All I’d had that morning was a half cup of coffee and a boiled egg, so I was ready to eat. Luckily, I wasn’t competing until the afternoon, so I had plenty of time to get food and water in me.

Bug was first up in no-gi, and the girl she went against was awesome! I was glad we’d entered her into the Novice bracket with no submissions. She’s been exposed to BJJ for 10 months or so, but she really hasn’t shown any kind of spark until the first of this year. I think her opponent’s aggression was a little bit of a wake-up call for her. Bug would escape mount, but end up getting swept every time and was unable to pass the girl’s guard. On one hand, it was tough to watch. On the other, it was awesome to see her continue to fight (and fight and fight) a losing battle.

Her next match was against the same girl, and we were really proud of her for going back out there knowing what was coming. She showed more aggression this time and scored a few points herself, but the result was the same.

Second Place Novice No-Gi

After those first two matches and the podium pic, we found out she still had another match. This one was a different story–the little boy she was grappling with seemed to be much more on her level. She did a great job of listening to Coach Frank throughout the match and executing the moves he was calling out. She ended up winning, and to our surprise was awarded first place in that division (a sword). I’m not sure how NAGA brackets for kids, but we thought maybe her first two matches with the more experienced girl were just to give her opponent some matches in a bracket that was empty…maybe? Dunno, but she was really happy with the experience (and getting to pick the color of her sword), and we were really proud of her for not giving up in the first match and being brave enough to go out for another whoopin’ in the second.

I hope she found a switch inside herself she didn’t know was there before. What a great confidence builder to know you can fight through and survive difficult situations and come back for some more!

First Place Novice No-Gi

There were a couple of other kids competing on our team, and they did great as well. It was awesome to see the kids cheer for, console, and congratulate their teammates. This is the first time any of our kids have ever competed in a sport, and I loved seeing and feeling the nervous energy, excitement, and comradely come out of them. It was palpable.

Pea was up next in the gi division. While we had a good idea going in how Bug was going to respond, Pea was more of a wildcard in my eyes. She is really focused and serious in training, but she hasn’t really felt that feeling of being dominated by an opponent before. How would she respond if she was put in the same situation Bug was in during her first two matches?

She was pretty evenly matched with her opponent, and won the match with a take down, sweep, and mount points. But it was a really good fight and a challenge for her. She ended the match stretched out on the mat and tired. They were the only two girls in their division, and in order for them to get two matches they had a second with each other. Different story this time around–flipped script. They ended up needing a rubber match to decide the winner of the division.

Pea was ahead on points with about a minute left and was controlling her opponent’s posture from guard really well. The other little girl started crying, but she didn’t quit. It was hard to watch, but I was so proud of that little girl for hanging in there and fighting, fighting, fighting to break that guard. I was even cheering for her a little bit when Pea went for a sweep and the girl defended it.

I was proud of Pea for not letting up while the match was going on, but I was even more proud of her when the match ended. She let her empathy for her opponent come out and started crying as well, hugging her and telling her she was sorry and hoped she was okay. They got up on the first place podium together for the awards photo, which I think was appropriate for their three hard fought matches.

First Place Beginner Gi

Plenty of downtime between the kids competition and mine. I’d heard lots about anxiety and nervousness for your first competition, but I didn’t think it would be a huge deal for me. True, I’ve never competed in wrestling, judo, or any sort of combat-type sport, but I have enough experience competing in general that I didn’t expect to be very rattled. I’ve put my body in harm’s way against guys who were out for blood countless times, and it’s not like these guys were going to be punching me in the face or anything.

It’s the gentle art.

The last time I was truly nervous before an event was in 2006 when I was ill-prepared for a triathlon, didn’t believe I could do the distance, and didn’t even want to be there. I’m usually pretty good about believing in the work I’ve put in during training, having a game plan in mind, and feeling comfortable tweaking it midstream if I feel the need.

Honestly, watching the kids was much more nerve wracking that competing myself.

My plan was to get on top and stay on top–passing if I’m in the guard, and taking any submissions that were presented to me without trying to force my way into them. I think I was pretty well prepared for the most part, realistic about my ability in the take down game (average at best), and confident of my ability to maintain a dominant position once I got there.

I was not prepared for the difference in competition and training in the gym. Yes, the intensity is definitely amped up, but I was ready for that; even counting on it. I felt that my conditioning would probably be better than most people in my divisions, and my “calm-before-the-storm” level head would keep me from adrenaline dumping the way others might.

The difference I wasn’t prepared for was the amount of time white belt matches spend in closed guard. I very seldom use closed guard in training for any extended period of time,mostly because it just isn’t very fun. We play King of the Mat a lot, and I always choose open guard because it’s more dynamic and energetic. If I could change one thing about my training, I’d have drilled the crap out of three or four options from my back and been able to cycle through them on auto-pilot. I had a definite plan for passing closed guard from the top, but should have spent more time thinking about the bottom.

More about this in summary of my last match.

My first match was no-gi against the only other competitor in my division. He carried a lot of his weight in his upper body–shoulders and neck, not gut. More of my weight is in my lower body. Pre-match pep talk from Coach Frank was, “Get in a dominant position and get heavy, squeeze, and start looking for submissions.”

Exactly what I’d been planning. 🙂

I’m not very confident in my take downs, but I attempted a double leg. I wouldn’t call it a “shot”, just a half-assed attempt. My lack of confidence was probably apparent. I was, however, confident in my ability to defend and my cardio. He had his arms near a guillotine, so I thought he may go for it, and as I was thinking that and grabbing his arm to defend it he pulled guard and attempted it. One point for him and encouraging for me–at least I didn’t lose the take down, I’m on top, and am ready to start working a pass to take the point lead.

I got my head out and started to build my posture, getting mentally prepared to work my higher percentage passes.

Credit to my opponent for this–40-49 year old beginner weighing ~190 pounds immediately goes for a gogoplata!!! Dude was game!!!

Luckily for me, The Missus also trains and is super flexible. She loves that gogoplata type stuff, and I’ve had lots of practice with her trying to get it on me. My hand instinctively came up and defended my neck. Another point for him for the submission attempt, but I was able to push his leg away and create a scramble situation, settling in half guard.

I’ve been working on half guard a lot, from the top and the bottom, so I went into auto-pilot mode here–established cross face and the under hook on the open-leg side and put his back to the mat. As I flattened him out and glanced up at the time to see there was ~2:30 left. This is where I wanted to be–on top with lots of time to work. I knew I was down by two points, but also knew all I had to do was pass this half guard and we’d be back to even. Then I’d be a submission attempt away from the win.

I know it’s boring to watch and probably more boring to roll with, but I pretty much just grind. The difference between training and competition is that in training I try to adjust my pressure to the opponent–just enough to make them give up something to work with. In competition, the plan is all the pressure the whole time. I was a little concerned that the matches would only be 4:00 long, but there was plenty of time left in this one, and I liked my chances and told myself to be patient, conservative, and methodical.

He went for the lock down on my trapped leg (exactly what I would have done without the under hook), which was an issue for working my preferred pass. Bells went off, but it wasn’t a ton of pressure on my knee, so I doubled down on the commitment to pressure and started trying to work my leg free. He bailed on lock down and I could feel that I may have an advantage in leg strength, remembering how we sized up before the match. I decided to go for a more conservative pass than my original plan, which would put me into mount instead of side control.

As I started working my leg out I felt some wiggle room there. Maybe I should have exploded through and gotten mount earlier, but I just kept inching until my leg was clearly through and flopped down to the mat. Then I squeezed.

And I heard Coach Frank yelling, “SQUEEZE!!!!”.

I sprawled my legs to the closest I could get to a grapevine and squeezed harder. I was thinking that I’d go for an Ezekiel choke first and get a point, hoping an arm presented itself. I like that option because I wouldn’t have to give up a ton of pressure to go for it, and if he were to try to bump out I could just bail and post–pretty conservative.

I never got to attempt it though. I guess I had a pretty good amount of pressure and squeeze because he tapped. I was a little surprised because I didn’t think I was in a submission position–hard to know what was going on.. Not really the way I’d have chosen to win. I’d much rather have been able to do something more technical, but I guess I’ll take it either way. I have a feeling if I rolled with this guy regularly we’d have a lot of fun.

[EDIT]: Todd left a comment on Facebook that the tap was due to a smother. Ugh. Very unsatisfied with that. That’s one of those that you want your partner to tell you about in training because it’s just inadvertent and brutish. Yeah…it’s a competition, and you’re supposed to be trying to submit however you can, but if I’m going to win with a smother I’d at least want it to be intentional. 🙁

First Place No-Gi Directors Beginner Light-Heavyweight

In the gi division, I was bumped up a weight class, but it was cool–the other two guys only weighed in at ~194, and I was probably close to that after eating and hydrating, so there wasn’t a huge weight discrepancy. They went the full four minutes, and I got the loser. If I win, I get the winner of their match, if I lose, I’m third place.

Pre-match advice was, “Just like the last match–position and control!”

I didn’t get to see their match, so I wasn’t sure what to expect. I set up my “insurance policy” as soon as the match started and we both worked gi grips. I got the sense that his stand up game was about on par with mine, so this would be 50/50. Somehow, I ended up standing belly to back and controlling him. The first thing that popped into my head was, “No suplexes!” I didn’t want to risk being DQ’d, so I sort of drug him to the ground.

Two points for me and a good position.

He was in a loose turtle so I attempted to jump on him without getting too high and get my hooks in for the back take. He threw his legs up to defend the hooks and sort of rolled to his right side. I landed on my right side with my left leg over this shoulders and neck and both hands on his right arm. I had an arm and could control his posture!

I started looking for a way to an arm bar.

Coach Frank was giving me directions, but I didn’t do a good job listening here. Not exactly sure what he was even telling me to do, but I solved the riddle by sliding my right knee behind his elbow and using both hands to keep his wrist in place as I pressed my knee in for the tap. I kind of wish this one could have lasted longer because this guy was bigger than me and we never got a chance for any sort of back and forth.

Next up was the championship gi match. I learned a lot in these four minutes.

I expected this opponent to be technically better than the guy I’d just faced since he seemed a little smaller, but had earned the victory. When we locked up, he immediately went for a throw, which I defended. That should have been a cue for me to pull guard–that his take down game was going to be better than mine. If I’d pulled guard I could have locked up closed guard without losing any points and gotten an advantage point at least for attempting submissions. Again, I’m confident enough in my strength and cardio to think I could hold a closed guard against most people at my skill level for four minutes without much of a problem, but I haven’t practiced this as a competition tactic.

As I type this, I’m thinking about one of the biggest lessons I learned in competing–the SPORT of jiu jitsu and the ART of jiu jitsu are entirely different things. I have another post swirling in my head about this matter, but here’s the spoiler: I much prefer the art.

Long story short, he went for another throw and got it, and passed to side control for a total of five points. I didn’t have a lot of trouble working my way from side control to half guard. That was the good news–I’m pretty comfortable in working my way to the top from half guard, and I work on it a lot. The bad news was that I had half guard on my stupid side. I established the under hook and tried to work my way up using my favorite move to the top from half guard. He was able to fight that off, but I moved on to plan B. This move is even weaker on my stupid side, and he was able to base out and stop it pretty easily.

This should have set off another alarm in my brain–this guy had a solid base and was not going to be easy to sweep.

From there we got into an under hook pummeling contest, which I thought he’d be happy to do for the rest of the match since he was ahead. I felt like I could keep him from smashing me no matter what, so I started setting up a baseball bat choke we’ve worked on from half guard. There’s some risk here, because I’d have to let him pass to get it. Maybe I didn’t commit to it as a should have because of this risk. I actually heard his coach yelling, “Watch the baseball bat choke he’s setting up!”

It didn’t work, but I was able to re-establish my guard before giving up any points. Is the reason it didn’t work because I didn’t fully commit to it…worried about points? I’m not sure, but I don’t get it a lot in training either. Nevertheless, I gave it a shot. My thought from here was to get to closed guard (still plenty of time left), sweep to mount for six points, and grind like I’d done in my no-gi match.

But, duh, this guy wouldn’t be easily swept.

Once I’d made the decision, I got to closed guard pretty easily. I felt like he was being conservative and was happy to take that position knowing he didn’t have to pass, just hang on. I’m sure if he’d been down on points it would have been tougher to get. Replaying the match in my head, this guys definitely made good decisions.

There was some grip fighting, and I almost caught his arm once, but he got it pulled back. We were pretty even on the posture fight as I remember it, but we were playing two different games because of the points. I was finally able to get my knee in to attempt a scissor sweep. At this point I had “sweep and mount” on the brain, and that’s what Coach Frank was yelling for too. My first attempt at the scissor sweep was not very good technically, but it ended up being as close as I was going to get. I could hear Coach Frank yelling for me to focus on the knee with the sweep, and I thought I did a better job with that on my next two attempts. But he based out even harder and I know after talking to Coach and The Missus after that I was missing a key detail–something to work on this week!!!

Time was ticking down, and all he had to do was keep a solid base and hang on for the win. Coach Frank was yelling out the time left, and I knew I was going to have change tactics. I was able to get into position for a triangle attempt with 20 seconds or so left. My best shot at it was in the first few seconds, but I wasn’t able to get a full figure four with my legs, and I couldn’t move his arm across. Something else to work on. I heard his coach yell, “TEN SECONDS….YOU ARE NOT GOING TO TAP TO THAT!!!”

Haha…that didn’t mentally defeat me, and I kept trying my hardest, but it crossed my mind that if I heard my coach yell that at me, I’d get choked out before I tapped, and it takes about 6 seconds to get choked out when it’s in tight.

This one wasn’t in tight.

Time ran out and I stood up with a huge grin on my face. Even though I lost, that was, by far, the most fun match of the day, and I’d love to have the opportunity to train with this guy day in and day out. Tough guy who played hard, played smart, and was friendly both before and after the match. He could definitely help me get better, and seemed like the kind of guy who’d be happy to do so.

2nd Place Directors Gi Cruiser Weight

A pretty good haul for our family at our first competition–three first places and two second places. Having been involved in running MUCH smaller rugby tournaments, I think the organization of the competition seemed to go pretty smoothly, especially when you consider the dynamic situations with that many divisions being run.

We all had a great time and learned a lot, but it was a long day for a whole family to compete.

 

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