Hope Springs Eternal: Famous Last Tournament Words

Last month I had the great pleasure of traveling to Las Vegas to coach at the International Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu Federation (IBJJF) World Master Tournament on behalf of Princeton BJJ. It was the first time I had attended this tournament, and I had a ball. My friends and teammates did very well in competition, and Vegas is always a great place for people watching. It’s also a reminder of what a low roller I am. For instance, I cashed out of a Kitty Glitter machine once I had made back the fiver I put into it (though I did come away with 45 extra cents).

I always run into friends, instructors, and training partners at tournaments, but this one felt like a reunion that had been planned specifically for me, given the number of people I saw and the warmth of the fuzzies I felt. I saw people I hadn’t seen in upwards of a decade, and I cheered displays of excellent technique AND excellent sportsmanship. Of course, these things happen at other tournaments as well, but the experience in Vegas seemed heightened somehow.

Another phenomenon that always happens at tournaments, and at which this tournament was no different, is the best laid plans phenomenon. This refers to those times when you anticipate that one thing will happen only to have something completely different mess you up. Here are some examples:

The plan: “We only have two people competing, so it could be a short day.” Tournaments can feel long, especially if they are multi-day affairs, even for the most dedicated aficionado. Sometimes having a day where you do not have to attend at all or just need to show up for part of the day to coach or cheer can be helpful, especially if you are preparing to compete yourself or have lots of students to wrangle. On days where multiple teammates, students, or friends are competing, you can end up running from mat to mat and screaming yourself hoarse. So if you have a short day or a free day, you can rest up, see to some other tasks, or even take in the local scenery as a way to decompress after a long day or brace yourself before one.

The reality: If there are only two people competing from a given team on a given day, Murphy’s Law practically guarantees that Person A’s division will start at 9am and Person B’s division will start at 2pm. Further, both of their open divisions will start at 5pm, one on one of the mats near the entrance and the other on one of the mats all the way on the other side of the venue, leaving you with the option of going to one mat and hoping that match ends quickly so you can run to the other one or perching up in the bleachers so you can see both mats from a distance and trying to divide your attention equally. If you are a coach, this latter option ensures you will not be able to help either student. So you will be at the tournament all day, with lots of downtime until the time when you really, really need to be in at least two places at once.

The plan: “I will definitely watch your match!” I ran into tons of friends and teammates, both old and new, while I was in Vegas. The conversations went along similar lines. “Are you competing?” “When is your division?” “Awesome, mat 8 at 2:45? I will definitely find you and cheer you on!”

The reality: The entire road to hell could be repaved with just my intentions to watch friends’ matches. Every time I tell a friend I am excited to see him or her compete, I mean it sincerely and fully intend to follow through…and then lines for acai take longer than I expected. I get engrossed in another match. I run into another long lost pal and want to catch up. I plumb forget. When I do remember, it is invariably way too late, frequently even too late for me to show up at the podium for those friends who make it there. After every tournament I resolve to fulfill these promises, and then at the next tournament, I find myself running into the friend after the fact, disappointed that I missed him/her yet again.

The plan: “We have to meet up with X and Y in about 45 minutes. Let me just text them and then I will get back to watching this exciting finals match.” Self-explanatory.

The reality: Gravity-defying flying arm bar in the 10 seconds I was staring at my phone. And no instant replay.

The energy and pace of a tournament is exciting and frenetic. The stimuli come at you fast and furiously, and the FOMO quotient is high. If you’re anything like me, sometimes your best laid plans end up on the cutting room floor. But I still had a wonderful time, and so can you. As a wise man once said, just flow with the go. The experience you have will be the one you were meant to have, and it can be great, even if you don’t plan it down to the second.

Photo Credit: Samuel Rivera