Aftermath of My First BJJ Tournament

Last weekend (Apr 22) was my first BJJ tournament: The Good Fight New York State Championship. I fought as a 155lb white belt in both gi and no-gi. Small weight cut, probably fought at 4-5lb above.

My goal going into it was just to win one match. I ended up winning two! One in gi, one in no-gi. The way the brackets worked out, I actually got to fight three times in each division: a first round, a semi-final, and then a third place match. Despite losing these matches, I was happy that I got more experience in competition.

Overall, the day was super fun! I got to watch all my teammates compete and a bunch of them won medals! The environment was incredible and this competition  just adds to my infatuation with the art and makes me want to train more.


Here are the breakdowns (as much as I can remember) of my matches:

Gi:

Match 1:

In my first match, I faced a one stripe white belt who was about the same size as me. The match was pretty back and forth, I wasn’t keeping track of points or advantages, but I think I finished slightly ahead. We went to overtime where both of us escaped back control, mount, armbar, and then were submitted with triangles. In double overtime, we both escaped back control and mount. Starting in spider web, I was able to pry his grip and secure the submission. To end the match, I escaped from his spiderweb, giving me the victory!

Match 2:

I don’t remember this one too well. I faced a four stripe and it was pretty one-sided. I was still pretty tired from the last match and made a bunch of mistakes (not that I wouldn’t of made mistakes if I was rested) that ended when he submitted me with an ezekiel choke when I went to escape from mount,

Match 3:

For the third place match, I faced a three stripe who was shorter than me and quite strong. It was not as one sided as the last match, but he was definitely much better than me. Eventually I lost to a triangle when I went for an escape from mount.

No-Gi:

Match 1:

For the first no-gi match, I faced a kid who was clearly pretty inexperienced (even more than myself), and decided to go for a takedown. I shot a double leg where my penetrating step was not deep enough or fast enough. He countered with a guillotine that I got out of and then decided to just pull guard. The match consisted of me attacking from closed guard and I eventually finished him with a kimura. He had super flexible shoulders and I really had to crank it back, enough so that I was quite concerned his arm was going to break. Brian said, “My arm broke three time just watching that.”

Match 2:

Second no-gi match was against a super fast black guy. Again, I tried a failed takedown which led immediately to a counter where he ended up passing my guard. All of his transitions between positions were super quick. I would go for one escape, and before I knew it, he was somewhere else. I was barely surviving his onslaught and he eventually caught me with my arms out of position and finished with an Americana from top smash half guard.

Match 3:

My last match, I went against a kid who had a super strong upper body. He immediately went for an ankle pick and got it. Somewhere in the transition to the ground, he caught me in an arm-in guillotine which wasn’t quite in the right spot on my neck. I’m quite confident in my guillotine survival and at that point just wanted to chill for a bit while he wasted energy squeezing. He gave up on it after around 30s-1m after and I tried to sit up into dogfight. I got the underhook, but then he wrapped around that arm with a D’arce, a choke I’ve never been able to escape from, and finished me. We ended up talking after the match and he was super nice. Shoutout to you, Kiel!


Main Takeaways:

  • My stand up game sucks. I tried to go for some takedowns which all put me in a bad spot. Gotta pull guard from now on until I can make it to more Judo and wrestling classes.
  • I need to flow more and not force things. When I was on bottom, I kept trying to get triangles, most of which ended with him stacking me and passing.
  • My defense was really tested and held up pretty well. I got into a lot of bad positions because of how easy my guard is to pass and while I wasn’t, in most cases, able to escape immediately, I was able to hold off their attacks and almost always get the escape eventually.
  • My closed guard passing is really bad. Every time I want to stand up, they just double ankle picked and swept me. Then I would try for the knee behind butt break, but most of the time got my posture broken down too much to finish it.
  • BJJ competitions are super fun!

An Update on my Progress in BJJ

It has been exactly two months since I’ve started training Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu and I’ve managed to attend class on average five times per week (excluding last week which was spring break).

I am so glad that I started and am grateful for those who turned my attention to it: Mike Cernovich, who got the idea into my head that I need to build my body and train martial arts; my friend Dan who recommended I listen to the Jocko Podcast; Jocko and Echo, who convinced me that BJJ was an extraordinary martial art; and Joe Rogan and Sam Harris, whose commentary on it pushed me over the edge to finally go to my first class. I am also incredibly thankful that a BJJ gym is so close to me (10 minutes by bus) and that Brian is such an amazing instructor.

So for anyone thinking about training, go and do it, it is probably one of the best things to happen to me.

Onto the progress update…


Defense

This has been my main focus, I want to build my game upon a rock-solid defense. I’ve started every roll from butterfly except for those where my partner insists on playing guard (looking at you, Anthony).

Survival

If I can get into a good survival posture, I can almost always defend submissions against other white belts. The ones I have the most trouble defending against are the ezekiel choke from mount, bow and arrow choke from back, kimura from north/south. My best defenses seem to be against the guillotine and triangle.

The problem is that I can’t always get into a survival posture right out of a transition. This will be one of my main focuses going forward.

Escapes

I still don’t have a reliable side control escape, the standard hip-out-and-insert-knee works sometimes, but I still need to get it down solid. From mount, I can usually get an uppa vs smaller opponents and a knee-elbow vs larger ones. From back control, I seriously don’t have a good escape. I usually have to just try and survive until the round ends.

Playing Guard

In general, my 0pen guard is pretty horrible. It gets passed super easily and I can very rarely recompose it. Grapplearts’ Bottom Game Formula has been super helpful so far, I just need to implement the techniques more often in my rolls. The granby roll-type resets in particular have been hard to implement.

Although, playing spider guard is super fun even though I can’t get the sweep very often. In no-gi, I’m a fan of x and single-leg x to set up the straight ankle lock and guard pass.

From closed guard, I can semi-reliably get a hip-bump sweep and I like using a push-pull with the arm to setup the triangle. I still don’t feel like my armbar from here is tight enough.

Offense

Passing the Guard

Haven’t really focused on this at all, so it’s predictably very underdeveloped.

Control and Transitions

I can hold side control, but have trouble transitioning to mount, especially on smaller opponents where the knee ride isn’t available. As long as I can remember the feet-behind-hips cue, I can hold mount, otherwise, it’s pretty shotty. I haven’t really had enough experience with back mount to have complete control.

Submissions

The submissions I’ve gotten so far are the triangle from closed guard, omaplata from spider guard, and the ezekiel from mount. I’m still searching for that one submission that I really like and will try and master. Right now the triangle is the top contender, but I also really like the guillotine and arm triangle/darce chokes. Will make that decision as I get more experience.

Overall

I still have a long, long, long way to go, obviously. Right now I’m focusing on developing my open guard and getting into survival posture right away when it does get passed. I need to start doing some solo drills, especially related to hip escaping and granby rolls.

I have exactly one month until my first tournament, The Good Fight in Albany. I feel completely unprepared for it, but hopefully can tighten up my game a little before it. My cardio is probably going to be above average and I am going to use that as much as possible. Rounds are eight minutes and if I can make it as tiring for them as possible, I can force a mistake and hopefully get a submission. This means trying to keep it standing if possible and being the aggressor if they pull guard. Endless pressure and constant movement will be the name of the game. I’ll post another update right after the tournament with my results.

On Starting Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu

In the past month, I listened to every episode of The Jocko Podcast, in which Jocko Wilink, an ex-Navy SEAL speaks on military leadership, self-discipline, and Jiu-Jitsu. I can’t quite articulate how much this podcast has helped me and I highly recommend it to anyone.

One of the things that I was most excited to try out was Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu. BJJ is a martial art, combat sport system that focuses on grappling and especially ground fighting and, according to Jocko, is the best first martial art to learn and has benefits far beyond learning how to fight.

So this semester, I found a BJJ gym close to me and tried it out for my first week.


“BJJ promotes the concept that a smaller, weaker person can successfully defend against a bigger, stronger, heavier assailant by using proper technique, leverage, and most notably, taking the fight to the ground, and then applying joint-locks and chokeholds to defeat the opponent.” – Wikipedia

Before trying it, I was still a little bit skeptical about just how much leverage could make up for a weight/size difference.

Boy, was I wrong about that. On the third day, I rolled with a girl who couldn’t have weighed more than 100 lbs. Before slapping hands, she seemed perfectly aloof and content with rolling with someone at least 60% larger than her.

The clock started and I thought I might simply be able to pass her guard with strength alone. I moved her arms to one side and tried to explode to the other to get side control. This completely backfired.

I still don’t exactly know what happened, but the next thing I know, she’s mounted on me and put me into the hardest armbar I’ve ever experienced.

I tap, she lets go, and I look at the clock. 30 seconds have gone by.

I look back at her with what could only have been a stupid look of astonishment and she gives back a wry smile. Touche.

We slap hands and go again. I last a little bit longer this time, but she still eventually manages to get me into a rear naked choke. 50 more seconds have gone by…

And again we go. Less than 20s in, she’s again in a dominant position. I manage to get anchored around one of her legs and keep a frame with my elbows between us. This was surely the only thing that kept me from not being submitted (again) in the 20s that remained.

When we get up, I’m completely exhausted and volunteer to sit out for the next round. I look over to her again and get nothing back. It was like she never even broke a sweat during that.

Unbelievable.

Later that day, I saw an even smaller women (probably 90lb, definitely less than 5′ tall) submit a much, much larger man (probably 250lb, at least 6′ tall).

Lesson learned: leverage is a powerful thing.

Even though I get completely wrecked by more than one girl and many, many guys, training is very fun and I plan on continuing it for as long as I can. Even though my aim is not (really) to learn how to fight, if that is yours, especially if you expect to be at a size disadvantage, I highly recommend finding a BJJ gym and checking it out.