It was the day of NAGA Chicago.
I had trained for a hard six weeks for this tournament.
I lifted, sprinted, rolled, drilled, and trained every spare moment.
I had dieted down and cut all of the weight.
Weighed in the night before and made the weight.
But I didn’t compete.
Because sometimes in life there are things greater than Jiu Jitsu….
I’ll warn you that this article is a bit long and while worth reading, if you want the best part, I highly suggest reading the last section. – Brendan
I walked into the gym one day and my coach told me we were all going to compete in the next local tournament, which happened to be about 6 weeks away.
Even though I’m a purple belt and feel fairly confident in my abilities, I was admittedly nervous about this because I hadn’t competed in the past 2 years. So I knew I had to be ready.
I contacted my Strength and Conditioning coach, William Wayland of Powering Through, and had him put together an extensive program for me to be in peak shape the day of the tournament. This would mean difficult endurance training and lots of explosive training leading up to the day of the event with a focus on making sure I peaked for the event and didn’t over-train (a chronic problem among BJJ athletes).
I would get up daily at 4am just to make sure that I had enough time to wake up fully and then train before having to leave for work at 7 (okay, 7:30). This meant many nights of a maximum of 5 to 6 hours of sleep as I was training in addition to teaching full time, plus running Ok! Kimonos and GiReviews.Net. More often than not it would be 4-5 hours of sleep which I know isn’t optimal, but that’s how I roll. I don’t like to do anything halfway so that means trying to do it all at once!
Additionally, I spent hours and hours prepping at the academy. Since I can only make it in twice per week, I would set up a lot of weekend drilling and rolling sessions just so that I could get more training in. We worked so hard that it wasn’t uncommon to see the windows to the academy complete fogged over before practice was halfway over.
I was watching my diet and supplements like a hawk in order to get down from 220lbs to 205lbs without losing all of my hard-earned muscle and strength. This meant bugging the heck out of friends and family (especially my 8-month pregnant wife) who always made a face when I refused to eat whatever they were eating.
My gi was patched up and ready to go, my grappling spats and rashguard in tow. This meant that all I had left to do was make weight.
I think that by purple belt, or 7 years in the art, most people have cut a decent amount of weight to compete. While I managed to lose about 12lbs prior to the tournament, that still left me with 8lbs to cut before the tournament. Having cut down from 200 to 190 in the past, I knew that 208 to 199 was going to be a beast.
But there I sat with my five-thousand layers on and the Joe Rogan podcast blaring in my ears riding the Airdyne at the gym.
I think that if you’ve ever cut weight before, a small voice starts to creep up telling you to go check your weight or that you should be done by now. I’ve learned that for me, that voice comes after about 3 or 4 lbs and man is it hard to ignore.
Having not cut any weight in the past 2 years, this cut was awful. Hours of riding the Airdyne isn’t something I’d wish on anybody.
I soldiered through and eventually weighed myself in at 200lbs even. Just to be sure to make weight, I rode to the tournament with the head on and the windows up, still in my gear and would weigh in at 199.6.
I paid my $100 and was ready to go for the next day. As we left I began the complicated process of refueling my body without giving in to gorging myself so that my performance the next day would be on par with my training.
I woke up on the day of the competition feeling fairly refreshed and focused on eating properly and moving around a lot during the morning, but a few hours before I was supposed to leave to coach my teammates, my wife told me that she hadn’t felt the baby move in a few days.
And she wanted to go to the hospital to make sure he was okay.
This meant that I would miss the tournament.
Please understand that I had fought tooth and nail many times during the tournament prep for training time. I had adjusted our entire schedule as a married couple including church, friends, visiting family, eating out, etc. around training times. My wife had easily sacrificed as much, if not more, than I did to get ready for today.
It was funny really.
After all of the time and effort spent preparing for the tournament, I had no hesitance in going with her to the hospital. We spent a few hours there and we left exactly when my division would have been starting. Both she and the baby were in perfect health.
And again, it was funny because I wasn’t upset at all. I felt more clarity in that time period that I’ve felt in a long time.
I could’ve been mad, or bitter, or upset. But I wasn’t.
I guess some things had happened a few days before that really set me up to make this decision…
Things Greater Than Jiu Jitsu
I feel that with one dedicating themselves as wholly as possible to the singular aim of competition victory, it becomes increasingly difficult to see outside of that goal. The deeper that I got into my competition preparation, the less I could see the importance of things around me, including my wife, family, and career.
I mentioned earlier that while I was cutting weight, I was listening to the Joe Rogan Podcast. What I didn’t mention was that I was listening to his interview with Dana White.
In that interview, Dana mentioned that one of the reasons he stopped boxing was because he was in the gym one day and a local boxing great came up to train, but was looking very “punchy.” This meant that he looked a bit disoriented and unmotivated to train because of how beat up he was from years of training.
In addition, as I was riding the Airdyne, my friend told me that a day before, he blew out his knee and would likely never be able to compete again. At least not at the level he wanted.
I hadn’t mentioned to anybody that my knees were both severely injured from chronic use and this tournament prep had destroyed them (this is due to my BJJ training as my strength training actually helped alleviate and fix the problem). I couldn’t put any real weight on either of them and to squat down past parallel caused severe pain.
Dana’s statement really hit home for me because I am such an advocate of training BJJ for life and because I want to be able to train BJJ with my son one day. Not being able to train BJJ with my kids is my nightmare.
And all for what? A medal in a box? Some NAGA belt that they also give out to kids in the 6 year old division?
We can hold beliefs all we want, but what really matter is is how we let those beliefs be shown through our actions.
When the medals are put away in a box, we’ll forget them.
What my wife and son will never forget is that I chose them over Jiu Jitsu.
I can believe in servant leadership for my family.
I can believe in training BJJ for health and vitality.
But I feel that choosing to compete instead of taking care of my wife and son would have been denying precisely what I stand for as a man, husband, and soon-to-be father.
I hope at least part of this essay has been relevant to you.
I hope that maybe you’ll be able to have a look at what’s really important to you.
And most importantly, I hope you’ll realize that while it’s an art that we all love and enjoy…
there are things greater than Jiu Jitsu.