I finally scored a victory in a grappling tournament match! And I am not going to feel bad about it! Here’s how it happened…
I had signed up for the Long Island Submission Tournament in Port Jefferson, NY some weeks ago, and had done what I could to train and prepare for it while editing my movie and working for the NY Comic Book Marketplace event. I had been watching instructional videos, drilling moves with the Twin Towers Wrestling Club, and reading up on Musashi’s “Book of 5 Rings. I had also competed in the Renegade Grappling League’s first tournament. I fought well there, but still failed to secure my first victory.
A friend of mine from Twin Towers was supposed to go with me, but when I called him early in the morning to catch the LIRR, he bailed, so I was there on my own. Several people recognized me from other tournaments that I had been at, though, such as NAGA and the NY Submission Shootout.
The event was held in a gymnastics school, and there was a pit filled with foam blocks. I swore that I if won a match, I would do a flip into the foam pit. In fact, I had been envisioning what I would do if I won all week, and this seemed just too outrageously perfect.
I realized once I was there, though, that I had forgotten my protective cup. This tournament did not have any dealrs set up other than the refreshment stand, and the nearest sporting goods store was miles away. There was, however, and Karate/MMA school right across the street, the United Martial Arts Center. Their Shihan, Andrew Stigliano, was kind enough to help me out. They had a small store of martial arts and training supplies, and he gave me a brand new cup.
At this tournament I weighed in at 177.5 lbs, about what I weighed at the last one, and about what I’d expected. Due to the number of competitors and the structure of he tournament I was placed in a division defined as “middleweight, 168 – 177 lbs.” I signed up as a “beginner” (more than a novice, less than intermediate).
My record going in stood at 0-19-2.
There turned out to be four people in this division, and I had the first match. Not surprisingly, my opponent was short and stockier than me. I went into the match with the intention of “treading him down,” like Musashi says. We engaged standing, and I fought to push his head down, looking for a guillotine (something I had worked on). After a few moments of that, all I accomplished was being able to control the rate of descent after he got underhooks, and establish half guard with him on top of me. He passed the half-guard and moved into north-shout, going fo a choke which I blocked with my arm, but he crushed my shoulder into my chest, forcing me to tap.
I lost. My record now stood at 0-20-2
I do believe that is where an injury occurred. As I am typing this there is a pain in my chest that remains after the general soreness of the tournament has gone away. I will look into it later. But at the time my adrenaline was still up, and I was still ready to play.
The way the bracket was set up, they guy who beat me would fight the winner of the next match, and I would fight the loser. The match went on for the full five minutes and into overtime. Of course both competitors were totally gassed, so they held an “exhibition” bout between two teenagers to let them recover. I suggested that I could fight a bye or a gauntlet to match my opponent’s fatigue, but nothing came of it.
So my next match would decide the third-place finisher of the division. I was faced up with a fellow who must have been the smaller person in the bracket, meaning I outweighed him by almost 10 pounds. He was also about a foot shorter than me, but he appeared to have some cauliflowering on his ear and carried himself klike an experienced fighter, so I did not have any reason to expect, going in, that this match would turn out any differently than any other match I had ever been in.
Again I went for pushing down his head, treading him down, and again he achieved the top position in the takedown.
Sadly the guy holding my camera only got the first two seconds of the match, and a lot happened, so I’ll try my best to reconstruct it here.
I found myself on my knees defending the neck from a guillotine choke. I couldn’t feel any slack to get our either side, but he spun around to take my back faster than I could spin with him. I kept a tight hold on at least on of his arms the whole time, and looked to dump him over my shoulder (one of the first tricks I learned, but I recognized that the grip he had on my left arm would put him in a great place for an arm-bar, so I was being very cautious about it. He got leg hooks in. I tried clearing one leg out, and he tried flattening me out. Neither of those things worked. He pulled me back, and was working on the rear naked choke, when the referee called time out.
Apparently there was blood coming out of a cut on my head. While they were getting something to staunch it with, I asked the guys at ringside how it looked, and they said it looked pretty horrendous, so I chanted “ECW! ECW!”
We restarted in the same position. He was able to get his right arm around my neck and was in the process of locking his left arm over my head, when I remembered the defense for that (something they taught at Renzo Gracie’s the month I was there). I pulled his left arm down over my shoulder and attempted to get a submission lock on his elbow.
I didn’t get the lock in, but the distraction gave me a chance to adjust my position in his leg hooks. I forced myself around to face hi, and thought that I would then me in his guard, but he didn’t close his legs around me, allowing me to attack him from something side-mount-ish. I grabbed one arm, his friends warned him to watch out for the arm-bar. I switched to the other side, and as I tried to put knee on belly to take mound, he grabbed my left leg with the intention of an ankle submission.
Something switched on at that moment in my brain. I don’t like leg submissions. They are fast, painful, dangerous, and at my skill level, not used often. From my limited experience with them I knew that I had to get moving, quickly, in order to save my leg, and that’s when I realized, this is a fight. This is not a show, an exhibition, a practice roll, or a cooperative exercise, this person is trying to do things to my that could break me, and the only way to make him stop, is to do it right back to him. Suddenly the time lag between thinking of a move and doing it disappeared, and each move was done with more strength than before.
I extracted my leg and found myself over him as he turtled. I spun to take his back. He semi-blocked me but I was able to get my left arm around his neck. I stuck my right leg into his leg (gaining a hook) and pulled him back. As I fought for the other leg hook, I remembered a training video that showed rear naked choke technique. Rather than grabbing my bicep and swinging my forearm down behind his head (easy to block), I slid my right hand over my left as I snaked it behind his neck until my right bicep reached my left had. That was probably the best rear naked choke I have ever applied.
I realized then that I actually had a chance to with this thing. This was a realization, and a sensation, I had never had before. All I had to do was keep on squeezing tighter…and tighter…and then I felt that gentle tapping on my left shoulder.
I won! My record now stands at 1-20-2! The streak is over!
I jumped up, raised my hands in the air and shouted “First win ever!” I turned to give my opponent a hug, and he had turned away. I felt kind of bad about that, but the ref turned him around and I hugged him and shook his had.
Then, as I promised, I ran to the foam pit and did a Geronimo flip in. High-fives and congratulations all around. I recorded a little piece for my YouTube channel and looked for the guy I defeated so I could shake his had again and tell him how much this victory, first after 22 tries, meant to me. I couldn’t find him. I kind of felt bad about that.
But wait a minute here. Yes, I was a foot taller than him. I outweighed him by almost ten pounds. I’d had a short match and a long rest; he’d had a long match and a short rest. These were all advantages for me.
But I am certain that he trains more often than me, fights more often than me, and has less bodyfat. The order and matching of the bouts was essentially random. Having the endurance to do multiple matches in short order against different sized opponents is part of the game.
So dammit, I am not going to feel bad about winning!
One final thought: Earlier in the day there were kids’ matches, and some of the kids took losing pretty hard. I was speaking with the fellow next to me and he said there is no reason to get upset about losing, because you always learn something from losing, you never learn anything from winning. I told him I’d have to get back to him on that. Well, here’s what I say: I did learn some things from winning. I learned that I knew how to execute a rear naked choke. I learned that I have a fighter’s mentality when I want to. I learned what it felt like to win, and that is what a successful redemption is about. You take everything that you have, that you are, that is inside of you, and you cash it in and find out what you are worth. It feels good to know that you have what it takes to get what you want.
Now I have another tournament next week, the Long Island Grappling Challenge. Let’s see if I can get that second win, and get it on camera this time!