Why do you compete? One students perspective here.

Roman Soboliev reflects on his experiences:

I’d like to start this note with three random facts about me: I believe that AC/DC is the greatest rock band of all time. I’m brown belt with four stripes in dad jokes. I don’t enjoy competing all that much.

After reading the above logical question is: “Why only brown belt?” Well, it’s complicated. I’ve been in US for almost 9 years and still catching up on pop culture and humor. The next question you might have is: “If you don’t enjoy competing, how come you did three tournaments in past half a year?”.

This is great question. And pretty loaded too. I’ll try to answer it to the best of my abilities handicapped by poor grammar and Word’s autocorrect, so bear with me. On an unrelated subject I recently found out that “bare with me” is actually an invitation to undress. That explained certain things…

Anyway, back to competition stuff. Before my very first tournament I was told I “need to go out there and have fun”. Well, the whole fun part didn’t happen since I was absolutely terrified. For crying out loud, I’m about to get in front of a dude whose sole purpose for next 5 minutes would be to take my head out. What’s fun about that?

After years of training I was able to build up sufficient level of confidence and trust in my technique to realize not only I can survive out there, but also be a threat. However time spent in a bullpen right before match still sucks. And in poorly organized tournaments you can be stuck there for an hour. The whole event can be lost while waiting for your name to be called even before the first match starts. So again, if these “pre-flight” minutes are so dreadful – why do it at all?

On philosophical level I believe testing technique in “battle” is necessary if practicing martial arts. That’s the only objective way to know if what you do works. And competition provides setting that is as close to real fight as it gets, yet still safe.

On personal level… That’s where it gets a bit dicey. To put it simply I was bullied as kid. To the point I didn’t want to go to school or run choirs  for parents in fear to run into certain kids. It’s important for me to know I can confront my fears. To see things through regardless how uncomfortable they make me. To be in control.

Also there is sense of camaraderie you build with teammates. You live through their fights, you cheer till your voice is hoarse and then some. Honestly, I’m much more nervous when my teammates are competing then when I’m on the mat myself. And when I am – it’s remarkable to hear familiar voices, even if words are muffled by the crowd. I can’t describe how awesome it is to catch wild eyed faces of your teammates when stealing a glance at score board. They are there regardless if they just won or lost. Or if they are about to go and probably should be warming up now. Or if they don’t compete themselves, but took time out of their weekend to come and support people they train with.

And then there is sense of deep relaxation after all said and done. Minutes of complete stillness during which months of preparation leading to the event, aggression during the match, joy of victory or sadness of defeat seem surreal and distant.

On my way home I start thinking what I’m going to work on come Monday. What areas of my game exposed by competition I need to improve. I usually have faint smile on my face thinking about next steps in my jiu jitsu journey, as I do right now. All those months of hard training and diet leading to competition, minutes from hell in bullpen – can’t wait to do it all over again.

I’d like to close by saying thank you to each and every one of you. Coaches, Mike and Nate, for providing not only place to train, but build long lasting relationships and sharing the knowledge it took many years to collect and perfect. Training partners because there is no growing without your help. Either it’s practicing techniques, support during competitions or tolerating my sense of humor.

Pan Ams March 2015

Have a look at some of the photos from our trip to Irvine, CA for the Pan American Games. It was an awesome trip for Arlington who took 4 competitors out: Brandon (Brown Belt), Roman (Purple Belt), Misha (Blue Belt) and Mya (White Belt). We linked our trip up with Port City BJJ who took 4 competitors out as well. Also, we got to watch Tad, Jay and Medina all compete at the black belt level.

Everyone did an an awesome job!

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Build a System First Then Find Your Own Game

System: An aggregate of offensive and defensive techniques from your hands to your feet and applying these techniques starting from a standing position to your first position on the ground.

When I was 12 years old I took guitar lessons. My teacher taught in a very ordered manner. He stressed that you must have discipline to learn the lessons of music theory first (Imagine that!). I just wanted to play like Eddie Van Halen. Show me how to play Eruption! I thought, if I can learn Eruption, I will be a good guitar player. My teacher would have none of that. He knew if he taught me this it would be meaningless and would just satisfy me in the moment.

He always drilled the “caged system” as he would call it, “See, you can play “A” major chord starting here, then here, and here; they are all “A” chords, but they have different shapes. You just need to know how to play the major chord then learn to find the same chord up and down the neck.” He would show me a few and then say, “You find the next one on your own, then find which one you like to play.” I thought many times, “I know my chords let’s move on!” I couldn’t understand or appreciate these lessons until I was older. I eventually realized that I was completely wrong and didn’t recognize the value of what he was trying to teach me by just showing me the depth in one single chord.

You all know what I am getting at here. Sometimes I feel guilty that I do not show the latest fancy techniques, but then I quickly remember why I don’t and what I believe in. I can tell when someone hasn’t developed a system or flow or when they are on their feet they do not know what to do. They get lost, play catch as catch can, or try moves that just don’t make sense. The problem is that too many students never have the patience to learn the system first, especially on their feet. They get to a certain level and then they start copying. How can you learn a system if you are always copying the best moves of the best players?

My job is to teach a system and build confidence in students so they have something to build on, both on their feet as well as on the ground. If you can be disciplined to build this system first, going out of the box and getting creative with your game is going to be so much more effective. Jiu-jitsu is constantly evolving and this is good, but that doesn’t mean you forget what is important.

When you have done this hard work, then it is time for you to find your own game!


Why Do You Do Jiu-Jitsu?

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It’s funny how jiu-jitsu is a metaphor for many other things in life.

Case in point: many years ago, I interviewed for a job reporting to the president of a small college.  It was a newly created role that would work on the strategic projects and act as a liaison to the existing vice presidents.  Everything was going well until I asked about the president’s management style.

The recruiter took a long deep breath.  “She’s brilliant. But she’s been described as…demanding and unpredictable.  To be successful in this role, a person will need to be very diplomatic.”

“I see, “ I said.  “And how do the president’s existing staff feel about this new role coming on?”

“They actually welcome it,” the recruiter said, tugging on her pearls. “They are eager to have a bit of a buffer between them and the president.”

Despite the HR political correctness, the recruiter’s message was clear: this is a turd I cannot shine.  Run.  Run for your life.

And though my rational brain knew this job would be a nightmare, there was a twisted, masochistic part of me that said: Crazy boss? Constant torment? Buckets of stress?  Sign me up!

That’s the same part of me that loves jiu-jitsu.

Here’s my theory: to do jiu-jitsu, you have to love a challenge.  A real challenge.  Not some quick, low-risk contest, like winning Words With Friends or eating 50 buffalo wings in under ten minutes.  You have to love a challenge enough to be willing to suffer for it. (OK, you might suffer a little with the buffalo wings, but it’s not the same.)  Jiu-jitsu is a long-term, high-risk commitment that tests your physical, mental and emotional fortitude.  You’ll find out exactly how much grit you have, and not everyone wants to know that about themselves. Jiu-jitsu players keep coming back because it is hard, and because every class is another chance to get it right.

Think about it: what went through your head when you first learned what jiu-jitsu was all about?  That it would be like playing Twister, but with someone trying to choke you? That you’ll be exhausted and your classmates will drip sweat on you? That the techniques are complicated and you’ll often struggle to do them right? That it will take years of dedicated effort before you get any good?

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Did you say, sign me up?  If you’re reading this, I bet you did.


Contributed by Andrea Sexton, 3 stripe white belt BJJ in Arlington, MA

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