Competition: The NY Open,The Blue Belt Curse & Anxiety

9:49 AM Moo 3 Comments

This year I decided to compete again, making this my first tournament at Blue belt and my first tournament in America. It was nice being able to understand the referees and announcements!  This competition started with a huge weight cut for me, not really a cut, but a conscious decision to eat much better than I was and to get down to middle or medium for IBJJF. After about 3 months, hours of training, supplements, recovery aids, no cupcakes, limited gluten and a whole lot of scale accountability I was finally down 23 pounds.

I competed in the largest tournament I've ever been involved in: The IBJJF New York Open.This tournament was different in many ways. 1st- I felt so prepared it was ridiculous. I trained more than I ever had before, developed a game plan and felt solid. 2nd- I didn't feel the pressure to impress anyone but myself. For the first time I was truly battling my doubts, my insecurities and anything that told me I was incapable and 3rd- The second I stepped off the mat I felt like I absolutely was meant to be there.

When we arrived at the venue I felt good, I was on weight (in fact 9 pounds under). I paced around the stadium for a while feeling all of the nervous energy. It's truly a unique experience to project all of the emotions the athletes give off. You can actually feel the anxiety, the tension, the hopes, it's truly amazing.

My match was pushed back and finally in the late afternoon I stepped into the bullpen behind Dillon Danis and Paolo Miyao. It's a surreal experience knowing you're about to share a mat with a living legend and it's even more surreal to look up and see all of the eyes on you. I'm no stranger to attention or competition, after many years of rugby you think I'd be used to the pressure. This was a whole new beast.I have had competition anxiety for as long as I can remember, so much so that I actually hired a sports psychologist during my rugby days to deal with the constant hives and panic attacks. He asked me what made me feel most in my element and what comforted me. I told him poetry and he suggested I carry a piece with me to read before each event. That poem was always "Invictus" a piece that both my grandfather and my idol (Nelson Mandela) loved.  It was the poem he used to inspire the Springbok South African rugby team, leading them to victory. A piece so dear to me that I have it forever tattooed on my ribs.

Competing at a higher level taught me there is nothing I cannot deal with. I stepped on the mat and my opponent vanished. All I saw was the self doubt I had been carrying around for the last five years, all I heard was the voice that said "you're getting older, you're not as fast or athletic as you used to be" and I pushed them both out of my mind. I replaced every single insecurity with a reason why I deserved to be there and the reason why I deserved to win. The negative voices were drowned out by the support of my coaches, my boyfriend and team mates.The match was honestly a blur, but when I stood up, tied my belt and my hand was raised I knew I'd conquered much more than a jiu jitsu match. I faced every single doubt that told me I wasn't good enough and won.

The next day I competed in no gi, going up 2 weight classes to Super heavy. I felt the voice creeping in again: "they have the weight advantage," "you don't train no gi," "why did you sign up?" I immediately began repeating:

Out of the night that covers me,
      Black as the pit from pole to pole,
I thank whatever gods may be
      For my unconquerable soul. 
In the fell clutch of circumstance
      I have not winced nor cried aloud.
Under the bludgeonings of chance
      My head is bloody, but unbowed. 
Beyond this place of wrath and tears
      Looms but the Horror of the shade,
And yet the menace of the years
      Finds and shall find me unafraid. 
It matters not how strait the gate,
      How charged with punishments the scroll,
I am the master of my fate,
      I am the captain of my soul. 

I heard one person laugh and say "look she's praying cause she's about to get destroyed." I didn't care. I was in my zone. I won my first match by ankle lock and lost in the finals to a competitor who forced me to work harder than I ever had before. I can't remember ever being prouder than I was on that day and I can't remember a time where I worked harder to prove to myself what I already should have known, what my boyfriend tells me on a constant basis, what my team mates are and encourage me to be: I'm a warrior and if I can beat my toughest opponent (myself) I can do pretty much anything. I cannot wait to step out there and prove it to myself again.