For me, it all started back in 2003. I was walking around the local video store and saw a tape (remember those?) for something called 'The Ultimate Fighting Championship." At the time, the UFC and MMA in general was little known and I was a curious 15-year-old. I went through the tapes the store had, saw one that had a cool cover, and took it home.
The tape, UFC 34, featured a fighter named Matt Hughes taking on the Welterweight champion Carlos Newton. At the time, I had no idea who either of these guys were. I remember Hughes kept taking Newton down to the Matt with some pretty impressive takedowns that look as if they came from the WWF/E. Then in the second round, Newton secured a tight triangle choke on Hughes. Hughes' defense was to pick Newton up and powerbomb Newton as Hughes himself went unconscious. The resulting slam knocked Newton out and won Matt the title. Matt eventually became my favorite fighter and still is to this day. As they say, the rest was history.
From that point on, I was hooked on the UFC and MMA. As I gained more and more knowledge of the sport, I took a strong liking to the ground aspect of the sport. I began paying attention to what these guys were doing while on the mat and tried to do them when horsing around with friends over the years. I must admit, I did attempt a triangle choke on the family yellow lab. Sorry, Rocky! However, it wasn't until college years back in 2007-2009 that I really got into the art of Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu (BJJ).
A classmate of mine, Jared, was a UFC nut like myself. We'd spend time in my apartment's living room screwing around with different submissions that we "learned" from a couple of books I had bought. We knew nothing and it showed. We loved it, though. It fueled my passion for wanting to learn the sport. However, it wasn't until four years later that I would actually pursue that dream.
It was August 5th of 2013 when I finally summoned up the courage to walk through the doors of 10K MMA in Forest Lake, Minnesota. To this day, I have no idea what took me so long to finally do it. In 2010, I suffered a severe dislocation of my right knee. Look at your knee cap. Good. Now imagine that on the OUTSIDE of your leg. Yep. Brutal! So that injury and resulting surgery had something to do with not being able to take up BJJ, right? Well maybe not.
I think a lot of what prevented me from trying BJJ sooner was the fact that I was timid. So naturally, I kept coming up with excuses as to why I couldn't try it out. I didn't have time. The drive was too far. I couldn't afford it. The dog ate my liability/release form (revenge for the triangle, I'm sure). Things like that. Simply, it was because I was afraid of trying something new and knowing I'd probably get my butt kicked. Eventually, I was convinced to give it a try by head 10K instructor, Brandon.
I walked into 10K on that Monday in August for my first class. I was yet to have a gi so clad in a "rental" gi top that was far too big and a pair of Clinch Gear shorts, I got on the 10k mat for the first time. Two minutes later, my illustrious BJJ career was almost ended. During the second drill we did, duck walks, I felt my right knee dislocate. Yep, that lasted long! Luckily, the previous MCL surgery did it's job and the knee went back into place and I could continue the class with no issue.
After the class, I knew I was hooked. I signed up and ordered my first gi, the uniform of BJJ. I also took away that BJJ was going to be A LOT harder than I thought it would be. I didn't think it would be easy but I didn't think it was going to be as hard as long division or watching WNBA basketball. I was in for a challenge and I was fully prepared for it. I realized that even though I played sports from the time I could walk, that meant nothing. Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu is considered one of the hardest martial arts in the world to master and I then knew why.
As time went on and I gained a few more hours on the mat, I knew I found a new hobby and passion. I also started to kick myself for not trying it sooner. I kept wondering where I would have been at this moment in time if I started back in 2003 or even in 2009. On the other hand, I'm happy I got into it in the first place.
It wasn't long into my training before I heard about a grappling competition a lot of my fellow 10k teammates were going to do in October. At the point I heard about it, I probably had 12 hours of mat time in the one and a half months I was training due to a weird work schedule. Because of that lack of training, I didn't even think twice about signing up for the tournament. It wasn't until fellow student and huge influence on my BJJ training, Parker, convinced me to do it over a couple beers. He stated that as a no stripe white belt, I had nothing to lose and a lot of experience to gain.
A couple days later of thinking, I signed up for the tournament. Parker was right. I had nothing to lose. What was the worse thing that could happen? I'd get submitted and have to tap. That was it. I didn't have a black belt. I was a no stripe white belt. A beginner. A rookie. A greenhorn. So I signed up and started training for the tournament. I took in as much of the basics in that I could. I wasn't worried much about winning the tournament but rather surviving and maybe, just maybe winning a match. Small goals but you have to start somewhere.
During training around two weeks before the tournament, our warm-up consisted up rolling (the BJJ version of sparring) with a training partner to get loose for the class. I teamed up, like usual, with my favorite training partner, Seth. We slapped hands and bumped knuckles and started. I don't remember how I got into the position but from side-mount, I went for the one move I felt I knew fairly well, the americana. A couple classes earlier, coach Brandon taught the class the americana and a couple of chain moves to go with it in case the americana didn't work. It turns out, I didn't need the armbar or the choke as Seth eventually tapped to the americana after a good match.
Now, when I started BJJ, I had a few goals. One was just walking into the class. A couple others were surviving a timed rolling session without tapping, earning my first submission during rolling, and getting my first stripe. Needless to say, I checked off my third goal when Seth tapped. That feeling was amazing. I had to refrain from jumping up and down like a four year old who scored his first goal in soccer. It took two months and many hours but it finally happened. I eventually hit the americana a couple more times in the class to the same result. Because of that, I jokingly refereed to myself as the "americana master," a name comes up time to time usually in sarcastic or joking manner at the local tavern.
The timing for the submission was perfect. It gave me some confidence going into the tournament. I still knew I was more than likely going to get my butt kicked but I knew I may have a chance as long as I had the vaunted and deadly americana in my arsenal.
Finally, the tournament arrived. I walked into the high school gym is was being held and really wasn't all too nervous. Actually, I was more nervous to see my best friend and another friend I hadn't seen in a long time and the fact that they'd more than likely see me get my butt kicked in short order. Yes, my head was really in the right spot.
As the day progressed, it was a lot of fun watching the other matches. Being a little under two months into my BJJ career, I never saw a real match up close and personal. It was a lot of fun seeing my fellow 10K MMA teammates competing, especially the younger ones. It was awesome seeing some of my teammates like Seth taking home medals in their respective divisions. It was also fun watching the no-gi competition, the other side of the jiu-jitsu world. I also hoped and prayed I wouldn't run into some of those animals in my gi division.
Then I heard it. My division was ready to start. I looked around looking for coach Brandon and Parker. I was excited to have them in my corner and brought a sense of ease over myself knowing that they'd be there to help me out. I looked left. Parker was competing in his matches. I looked right. Brandon had his hands full competing as well. There were about eight people in my division so I figured if I could get one of the last matches in my division, Brandon should be done by then. No such luck.
I heard my name called for the very first match of the division. There went my hopes of getting my toes wet and watching a match or two before it was my turn. The only thing worse would be if my opponent was the biggest guy in the division that probably had about 40 pounds on me. I couldn't be that unlucky, could I? MOTHER*@$#@*!! If you didn't figure it out, he was my opponent. At the same time, I also knew that BJJ is a sport where smaller guys can beat bigger guys. The match started and I channeled my inner Royce Gracie. I felt great, I felt like a ninja! I felt my back hit the mat and the big guy land on top of me. Damnit!
At this point, I never started on my feet during a BJJ match. Sure, we learned a little but of what to do but it was a totally different story during the match. I don't remember exactly how I was taken down but I was. Soon, he had me in side mount as I struggled to get away. Thankfully, coach Timmy of 10K and another teammate of mine, Jason, arrived shortly after the match started to shout some instructions to me. Sadly, I didn't have my bearings in time after the takedown and I was armbared about a minute into the first match.
I really wasn't upset. I wasn't mad. I was kind of thrilled. With less than two months of training, I stepped in there and dove head first. Sure, I got my butt kicked in short order but I was smiling. Right after the match, my opponent came up to me and we shook hands and talked for a little bit. He didn't have a bead of sweat on him. Well, neither did I after our grueling 50 second match. Anyways, we talked about how long we've been training and what-not. Turns out, he had about six months of training compared to my 12 hours. So again, I didn't feel bad for losing quicker than the first time I had s...never mind.
Timmy talked to me for a bit and gave me some instruction. Honestly, at this point I was itching to get back out there. I now knew what I had to do. I was ready for it this time. I heard my name called and stepped onto the mat. I was extremely loose at this point. After a three or four minute delay as they went of some rule discrepancies of the last match, it started. I felt like a different person. I was on the offensive. I nearly got a take down or two but eventually, I lost my balance after a single- leg takedown attempt and ended up on the ground.
This time, the adrenalin was subdued and I could actually think of what I needed to do. After about a minute or so, my opponent full mounted me but I wasn't worried. I was actually smiling at my friends who were watching on the sidelines. I was calm. I remember actually thinking about what to do and the list of pluses and minuses of my pending actions. I felt like I actually knew what I was doing. I actually felt like a Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu practitioner.
Maybe two minutes into the match, my opponent went for a submission. An americana. Naturally, there was zero way I was going to lose to my move. I contemplated biting the opponents ear, maybe a quick eye gouge, you know, something a little less embarrassing than losing to my americana. I decided to not go Mike Tyson on his ear and defended like hell against it. He was wrenching and wrenching on my arm but as the americana master, I knew he didn't have it in the right position. I really didn't feel any pain. I might survive this and he'd be gassed. I'm going to get out of...POP!
I really wasn't going to tap until I felt and heard a pop in my right elbow. I didn't feel any pain from the move as the technique was poor and my adrenaline was flowing. But eventually, something in my elbow disagreed so to avoid more injury, I tapped out. I vividly remember as my opponent was getting off of me 100% expecting to see my arm/elbow bent at some horrifying angle. Thankfully, all was fine. Sure, it hurt like hell and still slightly hurts to this day more than a month later but no serious damage!
All in all, even though I lost my two matches, I had fun. I was ecstatic and proud of myself. It was my first time feeling the rush of competing alone. Prior to this, I only knew how to compete in team sports during my time playing hockey, football, and baseball. When being out there alone on the mat, you don't have teammates to hide your mistakes or hinder your play. You're on your own to sink or swim. I loved it!
Now as I near my first stripe, I'm excited to get back out on the mat. My game should progresses enough where during the next tournament this spring, my goal for the tournament won't be simply to "survive" and try and hold on as long as possible, but instead to win a match or two or even the whole damn division.
Just three months into my BJJ career, I look into the future. There's going to be a lot of learning, a lot of improvement, a lot of friends to be made, and of course, A LOT of tapping. I can live with that. I have to. I'm addicted to Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu.