My first competition in over 20 years…

With Covid 19 largely behind us, British Judo has permitted competitions around the country to take place again. My coach sent an email to members about an upcoming competition at the Dartford Judo club, celebrating the NHS (and raising funds for them too). “What the heck” I thought and promptly signed up.

My nerves before the competition were pretty up and down – I wanted to do well but I was more concerned about sustaining an injury. I’m still nursing a sprained foot that doesn’t feel quite right 8 weeks on. Injuries mean no training. No training means I lose a big highlight to my week, we can’t have that..

Leading up to the event

I picked up a book called “The Fighter’s Mind” by Sam Sheridan as I was keen to get my mental game in check before the big day. To those that haven’t read it, it’s a brilliant read. It covers different martial artists but it does spend significant page count on the Brazilian Jiu Jitsu angle so there’s Judo-relevance there. There are lots to take away, and I bought the book so I could dip into it again in future (it’s that good).

Some points Sheridan made which resonated were of how often the fighter will presume that the big day when they fight is tantamount to the END OF THE WORLD or similar. One coach said he often had to remind their fighters that there will be another day after the fight!

Or that some fighters’ gameplan is about forcing their favoured techniques and movements onto the other, whereas others are about responding and countering. There were plenty of gems in there that could last a significant wordcount so I’ll leave it to you to delve further into that book.

In all, it rationalised the whole competition fighting setup in my head. Another thing that really helped was to look at high level senior fights on the British circuit on Youtube. Obviously these guys fight at a higher level than me but seeing player after player slug it out helped me to remember that it really can be seen as “another day in the office”. This is kinda important for me as I’m working on moving out of the Survival Mode mindset to becoming slightly more intelligent with my Judo randori.

The day of competition

It would make sense to have a good night’s sleep the night before, unfortunately my children had other ideas and felt it was more appropriate to interrupt everyone’s sleep patterns around the 4am mark. The result was a very cranky and sleep-deprived daddy in the morning.

I set off on the motorbike and got to Dartford an hour before weigh-in. Little did I realise there would be a long series of standing around and waiting. A LOT of waiting.

The fights!

Finally the fights commenced. My fellow club members I was with handled the competition waiting in different ways:

  • One chap was in his own world; somewhat grumbly and dismissive when spoken to – he went on to win gold.
  • Another chap was Mr Negative – non-stop talking about how he was going to be destroyed by the competion. When I saw the first round of the guys he was up against in his weight category I silently agreed with him 🙂 Yet he exhibited the most impressive speed as well as fighting spirit (by God, his matches went on forever!). He won gold.
  • A young lass (bear in mind these club members are all under 20 years of age) was smiley, friendly, almost jokey. Her fighting style was in complete contrast – she dragged her competitors around like rag dolls and dominated throughout, losing only to one Daria Bilodid look-alike (tall, young, thin but with dark hair) who had the demeanor of someone who did Judo professionally. A silver was won here, nonetheless.
  • I stood very close to the place where the entry for mats was. I deliberately didn’t talk much, I just wanted to contain myself and focus on calm breathing. The waiting was possibly the worst part of the day, so I was making a conscious effort to be neutral throughout.

Fight #1

Finally my name was called and I bowed on. I deliberately avoided looking at my opponent until the very last moment – I didn’t want to create any preconceived notions in my head about how the fight was to go. I wanted to make it as fresh and raw as possible.

My opponent looked like a dad. He had greying hair, a little younger than me, he had the feel of a hobbyist. No offence intended since I’m a hobbyist (and a dad!) but he didn’t have the brashness that I’ve felt at my club and been intimidated by on occasion from more experienced players.

From the get-go I stormed into him trying to secure a good grip while at the same time charging him off the mat. This was partly to:

  • drain some of my accumulated nervous energy
  • see what response he’d give me (good info for future use)
  • give him a penalty/shido if he just allowed himself to get pushed off the competition area.

The referee stopped the match and awarded him a shido. The rest of the match was a lot of push/pull but little throw attempts from his side. Eventually my opponent pushed me into me in a very squat fashion so I rolled in a sumi gaeshi followed by a muni-gatame pin variation.

Fight #2

This one was against a BJJ brown belt (I later discovered). I had plenty of opportunities where I’d loaded the chap on my hip but didn’t get commit to a full throw. Why? Because I didn’t yet have the ‘feel’ and I needed to have it pointed out to me. My coach promptly pointed this out after the match which became very useful to me in a later fight that day – but we’ll get to this later.

I lost to two wazari’s to BJJ brown belt but this wouldn’t be my last fight of the day since it was a round robin format.

Fight #3

A more straightforward fight – my opponent had a smaller stature with a lot more energy. His kumi-kata was a little bit chaotic which threw me off somewhat. He also kept attempting to suplex me but his technique was not polished. On his 3rd suplex attempt I just rammed into him for wazari and pinned him down in a north/south. This was over quickly.

Fight #4

This was my main nemesis of the day. A tall fellow, similar weight who was at least 20 years my junior. He slid between left and right stance which suited me fine since I do similar. His ground game was very weak which led me to many opportunities, most were squandered but the final one had me in a relaxing muni gatame pin which secured the win for me.

This led to an awkward situation where there were 3 of us who had won 3 fights and lost 1. So we had to fight each other again.

Fights #5 and #6

I had BJJ brown belt first – this was one was fairly quick. Armed with the useful information that my hip loading really worked on him from last time (according to my coach) I lifted him in a lazy o-goshi and secured a swift ippon.

My last fight was against tall young chap again. I was exhausted and staggering like an old man. My gripping was attrocious as I ended up just looking to create distance. On the plus side I exhibited some good defence and seemed to always end up on the ground with him turtling. His lack of ground game gave me confidence despite my extreme exhaustion. Eventually we ended up in a situation where he was on top of me but I had him in a bad sangaku as well as a kimura. Because of his lack of stability (and inexperience) I swept him so I was on top, left the sangaku and forced the kimura. He then tapped to the kimura. I won gold!

In the end..

It was a great experience for me. I learned a hell of a lot about what not to do (don’t cross your legs while you’re walking!) as well as things to improve on (kumi kata! turnovers!)

I had video footage of each fight and this was fantastic. Video doesn’t lie and this was great to review again what I typically do without thinking.

It’s great to get this kind of experience though. You can only get so much from training exclusively at your club.

Lastly, I need to highlight the point that damnit, there’s still life in 40-somethings yet!

I hope you enjoyed my judo rant for today. If you did, please consider subscribing to this blog (link at the bottom right of this page) so you can be emailed when I come up with something new.

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