As I’m winding down and about to go to bed the night before a tournament, I go to put something on my computer to watch. I have to make a decision. Should I watch something that will put my thoughts on BJJ, or something that will distract me? Throughout my competition career I’ve gone through a number phases on how I direct my racing thoughts and jitters.
Originally I watched BJJ content. I would watch matches of my coach, Rodrigo “Comprido”, and other competitors that would get my heart pumping; like Felipe Costa or Demian Maia. I thought that this stress may better prepare me for the dump of adrenaline I would get the next day. I fell out of this habit because I think it would just keep me up all night, my mind living out everything that may happen the next day.
Later, I got into watching videos that were more about training and not competition. My favorite of this type is the Arte Suave series, which is a Jiu Jitsu “video magazine” that features insight on high level fighter’s training and their inspirational stories. Other titles in this vein include, A Day in the Zen which follows the training camp of Mario Sperry, and Choke with Rickson Gracie.
For a time I moved away from all material about Jiu Jitsu and tried to find something to just put me to sleep. What I find best for pure sleep is watching foreign language films. I wouldn’t watch a good foreign movie like City of God or Pan’s Labynith, but something more on the “B movie” level, possibly something produced by Telemundo. For a while you will try to stay awake, trying to figure out what’s going on, but eventually sleepiness overcomes you and you give up on following the movie.
Nowadays, the night before a tournament, I like to watch an inspirational fictional movie like Lord of the Rings or Star Wars. I like a good movie where the underdog comes out of nowhere and saves the world because, in all honesty, we all see ourselves as the hero going up against the odds. Like Luke Skywalker, I’m the farmboy no one heard of, who brings down the empire. Watching these types of movies gets me in the positive mindset that every good competitor should learn to adopt. I am a lifelong fan of Frodo and Luke, however recently I’ve been gaining inspiration from the third Harry Potter film, “The Prisoner of Azkaban”. The underlying message of this movie, helps me lay out my mental game plan for BJJ competitions.
Harry Potter and the “Prisoner of Azkaban” teaches the prerequisite of fighting and wizardry alike; the management of fear. You may be naturally talented and learn every move the first time you see it. You may be a gym rat that trains ten times per week and gets kicked out of your facility nightly. You may be a cross fit monster that never tires in training. You could be like me and hit everyone with your spider guard sweeps. All those skills you have built are just in the gym. All your training can’t make you any less vulnerable to the crippling effects of fear as your opponent stands in front of you. That is unless your “Defense Against the Dark Arts Professor” taught you the Patronus spell.
In this movie, Rowling introduces a new premise to the series with the creation of the Dementors; hope draining monsters that use fear to control their victims. The first time Harry is confronted with a Dementor he is overwhelmed with fear and he is crippled despite his talent and training.
“They feed on every good feeling, every happy memory until a person is left with nothing but his worst experiences” Professor Lupin explains to Harry.
Before my first tournament everyone told me I was going to win easily. I felt good in the days leading up to the event. The night before I watched “Arte Suave 2” and imagined how I was going to crush like Andre Galvao the next day. I made weight and felt ok but when I got called to the mat something else happened. Across the ring was a heavily tattooed representative of Miletich fighting systems, a camp known for their aggressive fighters. As my heart began to pump I was overcome by visions of all the different ways that my opponent was going to hurt me. I thought my talent and passion would carry me through, but the next thing I can remember after shaking hands is him on top of me, forcing my own shin into my throat with an improvised self-gogoplata, causing a woman in the crowd to scream. There was no chance of initiating my spider guard attack I worked so hard on at the gym. I blacked out for much of the rest of the match as my adrenaline rush shunted blood away from my hippocampus to more vital systems. Needless to say, I lost my first match.
After Harry learns how helpless he is to the dread inducing capabilities of the Dementors, he finds help from a seasoned wizard, Professor Lupin. He teaches that the only way to overcome a Dementor is to utilize the Patronus spell which can only be accomplished by maintaining a certain state of mind. A wizard must block out the interference of the dementor and remember their happiest memory. It is a mindset that decides victory or defeat. Harry eventually learns to control his fear and throughout the rest of the series he stands up to the negative feelings driven by the Dementors.
What allowed me to get closer to my potential in BJJ is when I learned that confidence is like a magic trick. There is no such thing as real confidence, it is all an act we play to convince ourselves that we are not afraid. It is acting as if you are confident when you don’t want to fight, and would rather run. It is a highly subjective mental battle to keep this state of mind in the face of conflicting thoughts. It is a magic trick that you cast upon yourself.
In the “Prisoner of Azkaban” we never learn what memory Harry uses when he drives away the dementors (and save the day at the end of the story). Maybe Rowling didn’t want us to know because the battle against fear is in ourselves and not seen by anybody else. All the world sees is what comes out on the mat, but inside each of us know that we have won, if we controlled our fear.
Before every match I still want to curl up in a ball and cry when I see a scary looking opponent across the mat. I summon my greatest memories of when I was strong, when I was alert, when I was happy and I pretend to be all those things. In the Harry Potter books a successful Patronus spell is indicated by the emergence of an animal form from the wizard’s wand. When my magic spell succeeds, and my confidence takes control of my fear, you may see the emergence of a spider (a totem of my spider guard).
– Jim Barrett