“My First Jiu Jitsu Competition Was Last Weekend”
by Lauren LaCourse (Blogger, WBBJJ.com)
My coach grabbed my shoulders as I turned to face him. “Okay Lauren, this is it. I want you to keep your hips back and your base low. Remember to keep your head up in the clinch, and fight for your underhooks.” His voice faded away as I looked down at my hands. A giant smile spread across my face as I shook out the nerves. “I should start jumping up and down” I thought. I had seen everyone else doing it before their matches. My feet started to move. “Yeah, that feels good” I said to myself.
My coach caught my attention again. He noticed my smile and looked me dead in the eye. “Don’t underestimate these girls Lauren” he said. I shook my head to reassure him, but the smile stayed put.
The months of preparation were over. For the first time ever in a Jiu Jitsu competition I heard my name called. I inhaled deeply and stepped out on to the mat. The ref signaled to shake hands. I looked across at my opponent. She had the Batman logo on her rashguard, and a determined look on her face. I was still grinning uncontrollably. “Please let me stop smiling”, I thought, as the ref called us to start.
I had been warned of the infamous “adrenaline dump”. I had read and reread the replies to our Facebook post about my competing. Everyone was wishing me luck and offering advice for my first competition. “It will feel surreal” they said. “You may not even hear your coach” they cautioned.
During my first match, I was very aware. I remember being very cognizant of my movement and my position. My ears were fine-tuned to my coach’s voice. I remember listening to, and following his directions. I did what I was instructed to do. Next, the referee raised my hand in victory, at the end of my first five minutes of competing BJJ. However I had almost completely forgot everything that had happened.
Here is what I do remember. At the end of the four minute round we were tied, 2-2. An additional minute was then put on the clock. Somehow I ended up in her closed guard long enough to see the score at 4-3 in my opponent’s favor. I saw the seconds tick down as my coach called from the corner, “It’s go time Lauren! Pass! PASS!”
My hands pressed down on her hips and I arched my back. I felt her guard snap open behind me. I closed my eyes. I kept my elbows tucked to my ribs as I picked my knee up, and cut it across her thigh.
When I opened my eyes I was in side control. My weight settled on top of her and the buzzer sounded. I looked to the scoreboard for the results. I had won my first no gi match, my first competition match, by one point. The final score was 5-4. I walked off the mat to stand by my coach, who insisted on making sure I kept moving. “Stay warm,” he warned, “catch your breath.” But I didn’t want to stay warm.
I was pretty sure I didn’t ever want to do this again.
While I settled on the edge of the mat (and took what felt like my first breath in five minutes) I watched the next match. My coach told me to watch because my next opponent could be one of the two girls rolling. But again, I don’t remember any of it. He was right though, I did compete against the winner of that round.
My name was called once more, and I walked out onto the mat. “This is for first and second place”, the ref said as he called me to shake hands with my next opponent. She looked familiar. I had seen her before and wondered if she would be competing that day. She had been at the Mackenzie Dern seminar I attended the month before, but I had seen her prior to then as well; in a cage fight. I knew she was a serious MMA competitor and that she traveled competing in Jiu Jitsu as well. To be frank, I felt pretty helpless. As I reached across to shake her hand I saw the muscle ripple under her shoulders. I looked to my coach briefly, who nodded reassuringly in my direction, and the match started.
“And when I get there, I will arrive violently. I will rip the heart from my enemy, and leave it bleeding on the ground, because he cannot stop me.”
I would love to say that I followed the direction of this encouraging quote (that one of our WBBJJ followers left for me), but if I am to be honest, the only thing violent about that match was my opponent. She ran it on me.
It was a scramble I was constantly in defense of. I would get her in my guard. She would go to pass. I would quickly escape so that she couldn’t score her points for passing. She would end up in my guard again, and again she would attempt to pass. At one point she had me in an armbar. I managed to escape. At another point I made the mistake of trying to pull guard, which she quickly and easily deflected, hulk smashing my legs out of the way. I hung out inverted for a while because it was safe. But as I lingered there I heard my coach yelling toward me. I figured that meant it was time to move so I let my hips swing around into guard, and closed my legs behind her. I knew her next step was going to be to pass (like she had done about a hundred times already) so I let her push down on my hips. I looked to my coach, who was looking at the score. I had 30 seconds and was down 0 to 4. I waited. As the pressure from her arms grew, I slammed one of my hands to her wrist and shot my hips up into what we call “Crooked Guard”. With my other hand, I quickly grabbed my ankle and locked in the best triangle I had ever managed in my life. I could hear my coach screaming from the corner, “Squeeze, Lauren! SQUEEZE!!!” I reached up and laced my fingers behind my opponents head and pulled down with all the strength I could muster. I watched as her face set in a tight and determined grimace.
Then, the buzzer sounded.
I unlocked my triangle and the smile once again spread across my face. I looked to the scoreboard and shook my head. My time was up, and she had won 5-1.
As I walked toward my coach, whose grin matched mine, I knew I had done well. I will never be sure what might have happened if there had been just ten more seconds on the clock, but I do know that in those four minutes my opponent gave me the most satisfying roll I had ever had. Even though I didn’t win gold, I was reminded of why I love this sport, and the people who practice it.
I would like to say that my Gi matches were as exciting, but I was put in against a fresh girl immediately after my ferocious No-Gi battle, and got collar choked like you wouldn’t believe. That was unfortunate. I was dog-tired, sweating and I wondered how anyone competes in both Gi and No-Gi; and does well in both. But as my name was called again I remembered that I had promised myself I would do well in both too. My next match would be for bronze and so I only needed to get through four more minutes to achieve my goal. I could do it. I was so close to doing it.
In my most boring match of the day I managed to stay on top my opponent’s turtle for quite some time. When I did roll her over, she hooked me in half guard, pinning my ankle between her legs while she was on bottom. The next minute was spent trying to keep my base to avoid being swept (the score was still 0-0) while somehow pulling my foot from her half guard. I hadn’t practiced much half guard, which became apparent as I had struggled with it all day. But as my coach came flying in from cornering another match I heard him shouting, “Get your foot out of there! Get your foot out of there!” Assuming that meant it was “go time” again, I cut my forearm across her jaw enough to redirect her focus, and pulled my foot into mount position with 20 seconds to spare, making the score 2-0.
Like the heavens part for the sun on a cloudy day, I saw it. My arm bar. I had her elbow up, and isolated, in high mount. This was it. I reached my arm to hook underneath hers and readied myself for the transition I had practiced thousands of times before. Then I heard him yell, “Stay put, Lauren. Stay put!” I looked to my coach and then to the clock; fifteen more seconds. I locked eyes with my coach again and froze there in mount as the time drew out. I had won.
I got my bronze medal and my silver one and I haven’t taken them off since. I called and told my family. I celebrated with my team. All five of us that competed, medalled in our divisions. We had great stories to bring home and great memories from our first tournament. It was truly one of the most significant days of my life despite it being one of my most challenging. Isn’t that how life always goes though? If you wish to have the sea, you must accept it’s mighty roar. The most important lessons that we learn are the hardest, and I learned much that day.
I learned that my half guard could use some work. I learned that my coach, with all his screaming and yelling, knows that’s the only way to really get me motivated. I learned that I smile like a fool when I’m nervous, excited, anxious or have any feeling that is adrenaline triggered. I learned that determination, dedication, and hard work are the tools that help you most to achieve your goals. I learned that those qualities, combined with a tremendous amount of passion, can help you accomplish anything you set your mind to. Most importantly, I learned that family comes in all shapes and sizes, whether it is the people you share blood with, or the people you would shed blood for. I also learned that sweat and tears are as thick as blood, and as such become a strong glue to bond people together. I realized that the bulk of the BJJ community realizes this as well. That is why even when we compete against each other, we are committed to supporting and encouraging each other. I realized that sense of family is the reason I fell in love with Jiu Jitsu. It is the reason I will always love Jiu Jitsu.
Thank you so much to all those who have supported and encouraged me! Thank you for giving me the opportunity to know you, and to talk with you. Thank you for reading about my crazy BJJ antics. Thank you so, so much! I’ll never be able to put into words how much your support means to me.
As always, good luck and keep on rollin’.
This blog post was written by Lauren LaCourse