A couple of weekends back I was waiting to fight my first British Open competition, and make my domestic debut at Blue Belt, which I had been training hard for. I had stayed relatively injury free until the week of the competition when I made a schoolboy error when it came to one of the techniques we were drilling on the Tuesday – and I rolled over my head rather than my shoulder (luckily my partner was light so didn’t hurt as much as it could’ve done) but by fight time I was nicely warmed up, had mobility in my neck so it’s not the start of making excuses.
I felt really good, warm, loose, focused and ready to fight when I stepped on the mat. I was confident that I had the right game plan for the opponent’s body shape I was going to fight against. My training had been really good in improving range of techniques I was catching against training partners and I knew what I wanted to attack.
My brother got a video of my Ultra Heavyweight fight with Jake Stirling from Marsden Martial Arts:
Spoilers – commentary: I got a collar grip and pulled to deep half guard. I tried to get underneath him for the sweep. I spent a couple of minutes fighting for the right grips going for a number of options depending on how he placed his hands and weight. Eventually around three minutes in after I’d locked down his leg he eventually passed my guard for three points and achieved mount for four points. I was seven points down. I swept him for two points, and stood up to pass his guard and unfortunately didn’t secure the position well enough to get the three points (as you can see the referee about to award the points when Jake recovers quarter guard and so I received an advantage instead, though I didn’t know it at the time) and then I stood up to knee slide and passed his guard and made sure to secure the points.
So there’s a minute or so left on the clock and I try to mount him. It’s a sloppy attempt, and I knew it at the time, and I’m capable of better. So I got the mount for one second before I’m rolled off and failed to get the points that would win the match. I end up in guard with control of both sleeves. I tried to scissor sweep for the two points, which would’ve tied the match but had me ahead on the advantage, but I couldn’t commit to it well enough because I thought he’d step up and pass and then the clock ran out.
So I lost my first fight, and won the Bronze medal, with a great comeback performance. I could be proud of my performance but as a perfectionist I want to make sure that I don’t make those mistakes again.
But the take homes from the fight:
I can and should win in Ultra Heavy fights. Now I have the belief it should be easier to step on the mat next time.
I know what went wrong with my technique and preparation that I can solve in time for the next competition.
Another match without being submitted and at no point was I in danger but I need to look at my style of fighting so as not to allow points to be scored on me.
This blog will see a collection of firsts: my first adult holiday, first trip to Lisbon, first IBJJF tournament, first European championship, first Gracie Barra competition camp, first competition at Blue Belt and the first month since my promotion at the Annual Gathering 2016.
I started writing this blog on a plane at 35,000 feet on the way to Lisbon, heading to the 2017 IBJJF European Championships, excited for the coming competition and eager to spend time with the team and have a really great first adult holiday.
I flew with one of my team mates who was due to fight first thing on the Tuesday morning. After advice from the Captain, we expect to land just after 5pm in Lisbon when we’ll head to the hotel, check in, get some dinner and then relax for the night so that we’re fresh and ready for the last day of the Gracie Barra camp led by Victor Estima.
We stayed at Hotel Roma, as recommended by senior students who’d completed the trip before, and had dinner at their restaurant downstairs. We both had the chicken with seasonal potatoes and for dessert I found myself trying and falling in love with Pasteis de Nata.
Ultimately, they are a custard tart but they have a crunchy casing which makes them different from British custard tarts. They’re topped with powered sugar and cinnamon (it’s the cinnamon that makes them to die for). I would literally fly back to Lisbon for a week just to eat these again.
Due to my little bit of Portuguese learning I found myself talking more with the taxi drivers on trip as the team tried to get around Lisbon, at least until we started using Uber, and Monday was an interesting conversation / journey as we headed to Gracie Barra Lisbon, Professor Alex Machado’s school. Getting used to the passenger seat on the opposite side, as well as the car being on the opposite side, and the liberal interpretation of the phrase lane discipline made some interesting first few rides until we acclimatized.
Professor Victor taught a guard pass from the Anaconda Guard, and my training partner for the day was a Portuguese White Belt called Diogo from Lisbon. During the sparring section of the camp I sparred with two GB guys and one guest, three different belt levels and all gave me something different as part of the training. The first was a 4-stripe Blue Belt from Costa Mesa in California, a White Belt from Kazakhstan and a Purple Belt.
Then, of course, came the GB Team Photo which every seminar, class or training camp could not be complete with (organised by Victor Estima):
Then came the IBJJF European Championships:
Ten Mats in Odivelas
Referees ready to start the action
Rhys fought two very good fights and in my opinion was screwed out of the second win. I couldn’t understand why the refereeing was so inconsistent (at least to my eye) throughout the whole week, especially when it came to stoppages and medical attention) so whilst I’d heard the stories from other students and online about gringo decisions at IBJJF events and the like I never thought it was this bad.
The worst of the week was the clip that Flo Grappling made go viral of a White Belt being disqualified after illegal knocking his opponent unconscious with a slam from the closed guard. There was also another slam I saw later in the week involving two juvenile Blue Belts and the match was stopped and restarted. I sincerely hope a coach or a parent was involved in the decision making of allowing the athlete to compete after the slam. Ultimately he went on to submit the slammer but that’s not the point, what’s the point in having the rules if they’re only going to be liberally applied when it comes to the biggest competition in Europe?
Anyways: so halfway through his fight, he’s down on points, Rhys’ opponent signalled he was unable to continue because his ribs or his shoulder were injured. For me: this was a verbal tap. I don’t see provision in the rules for time outs because you’re hurt. He was then allowed to be treated by the medical team (not sure if they were doctors, paramedics, first aiders) and then the referee called them to the centre of the mat and restarted the fight. This changed the pace and rhythm of the fight not in the advantage of the fighter who was up on points and controlling the fight.
Black Belt, Mackenzie Dern
Black Belt, Tayane Porfirio
I also had the opportunity to meet and get pictures with Mackenzie Dern (Gracie Humaita) and Tayane Porfirio (Alliance). These girls put on a great semi-final in the Absolute class and I watched Tayane’s game intently against Mackenzie to get tips, and see the kind of game I play, performed by a much more proficient practitioner who is successful on the competition circuit.
Thursday – Fight Day!
So I arrived at the venue as early as I could because Melissa was fighting first in the day (with me, Zin and Laura to fight later in that sequence). I was full of nerves, and had been the past couple of days in the venue, but I knew that I was going to fight this day so I just focused on getting my head right. Being there early meant I was able to warm up properly well before my opponent arrived so I could just zone out and think about the fight and the game plan. Luckily I was called to fight around 40 minutes early so before I knew it I was handing over my ID card and getting my Gi checked before stepping on Mat 9.
I had been able to find some footage on my opponent before flying out so I was able to see what he liked to use in competition, as a white belt in 2016. I could see he favoured attacks from side control like the Americana and Kimura, managed to judo trip his opponents and had one strong judo throw so knowing I was going to give up size and mass to him I didn’t want to give him the opportunity to get a dominant position that I couldn’t recover from. You can see my match on Flo Grappling.com or read my play-by-play analysis below:
I discussed it with my team and then I made my mind up to guard pull. I hadn’t judged his proportions well enough so when I pulled for full guard I actually ended up in half guard (which wasn’t a disaster as I like to play from there).
I went for the deep half guard, swimming my arm under his legs, to try and come underneath him for the sweep. He focuses on one side, and retrospectively I don’t think my legs were active enough to prevent the pass) so he gets past and into side control. He waits for the three points, which are awarded. I know I’m down points and I have to escape to come to the top if I want to win the match. I swim my arm underneath his body down to his hip and try to bridge up to create the space to come to the top or re-guard. It doesn’t work but he’s giving me a lot of pressure over my chest, face and shoulders. I’ve been here so many times before. This is a recipe for my go-to sweep from side control. I start it and see some moderate success but he’s heavy and I haven’t got the explositivity to finish it on a natural Ultra Heavyweight.
I position my legs to prevent an easy mount attack because coming back from 3 points down with three minutes left is possible but 7 points down would be unlikely against such a big and strong opponent. He continues to move around, and I follow him, making sure to stay tight and close to his body leaving no opportunities for him to attack the knee on belly or armbar. By this point he’s already been awarded an advantage (perhaps for an attempted submission I’ve defended) and a penalty for failing to advance his position (according to the hierarchy of positions). I attempt my elbow roll sweep again but again I haven’t got the power to lift him up sufficiently to roll him. He starts attacking a basic choke with his forearm over my throat but I’m not tapping to that. I know how to relieve the pressure with movement of my body.
There’s two minutes left now and I’m still down on points. I press my knee on his butt and try to push him above my head to clear the space so I can mount and escape or re-guard. It doesn’t work but I’m still pushing for the escapes, preventing choke attacks, and trying to find a way to get on top. He starts to roll me up for a kimura, looks at taking the back, but decides against it and goes back for the safe side control position where he’s controlled the last 3 plus minutes of the fight. I eventually regain a half guard but my arms aren’t in the right place and my legs need to adjust. For him, it’s easy to pass so I need to get myself sorted quickly. He attacks a choke and I use the opportunity to come to the top but here’s there first and I end up in the turtle guard.
Little over a minute before the fight is done and I’m hoping he goes to take my back so I can go for my back escapes and come on top, or at least enter into anaconda or X-Guard and attack a footlock. I see blood on the mat and I know there’s time left still to run. I don’t want to be disqualified from my first IBJJF competition because I couldn’t shave properly before the tournament. I hide my face so the referee doesn’t see the blood. (Afterwards, it wasn’t hardly anything but in that moment I saw more blood on the mat than I should have done). I end up in deep half guard again, more through luck than judgement, and I’ve got thirty seconds left to get a sweep and a pass to win the fight.
It doesn’t happen. He watches the clock run down as I try to get grips to help me sweep him. I lose the match by 3 points (from the guard pass), 2 advantages and he received 1 penalty. My first match at Blue Belt, and my last at Ultra Heavyweight, is done.
So, reflecting on the fight – I got my win conditions that I wanted to achieve. I knew I was unlikely to win Gold this time round but I wanted to achieve some things from the competition: I left the tournament uninjured (apart from a pre-existing issue that most competitors will carry in), I didn’t get submitted and I fought well keeping it a close fight where I was attacking the sweep and trying to fight to come to the top so I know I’m not out of my depth at one of the biggest stages out there for Blue Belts.
I want to thank my team and my coach, Bradley, for their support on the day. It meant a lot to me. Now it’s time for me to cut down and go and batter some heavyweights in the adult category. 😉