Last week, Facebook bombarded me with daily reminders of New York Open posts from years gone by. My yearly calendar from white belt through blackbelt seemed to revolve around trips to Harlem for either the New York Open or Nogi Pans.
I remember when the first Nogi Pans and New York Open events were announced. This was back when the IBJJF calendar listed only the Pans, Worlds, and Nogi Worlds in the US. This was a huge deal for all of us grinding a way on the east coast competition circuit. We could finally compete in an IBJJF tournament without paying for a flight to the west coast.
Winning the New York Open immediately became one of my goals, and I chased that goal from blue belt all the way to black belt before I decided to retire from competition.
The New York Open and Nogi Pans continue be held the Nat Holman Gym in City College of New York. I got to compete in the Pyramid at Cal State and still have a dream to compete in Tijuca one day, where the original Mundials were held in Brazil. But those mats surrounded by the purple bleachers hold a special place on my heart. Nevermind the long lines and having through go to a medal detector to make it in, these were some of my most memorable tournaments. My first IBJJF match, my first IBJJF metal, my first match at black belt, and my first win at black belt all too place here. I first competed there as blue belt, taking a bronze at Nogi Pans, and my last BJJ tournament was at black belt, taking Silver.
There were 6 years between those two tournaments, and those were great times. My jiu-jitsu improved tremendously. I was awarded my black belt in just about six and a half years.
However, my life was all out of balance. My relationships suffered, and I was chronically single until I met Hillary—no one wanted to put up with my training schedule and drained financials. My business was thriving despite of me. I was more worried about the next tournament than what was next for Inverted Gear. My idea of traveling was going to California to eat spinach and grilled chicken breast so I could make weight and not walk around too much sightseeing the day before so I could be fresh for the tournament. Finally, I was overtraining and not taking care of my body. The injuries started piling up.
I enjoyed my time competing, but honestly the main reason I did it was because I wanted to get better at jiu-jitsu. It was never completely about chasing medals. Nothing reveals holes in your game like going out there and competing. I remember looking back at my competition footage from blue belt and realizing all the matches I lost were the ones where I could not get a takedown, and my guard was not good enough to sweep or submit. I spent the following three years, all of my time at purple belt, pulling guard, and working on my guard until I had something I was proud of.
I remember writing down a goal that I wanted to have “beautiful jiujitsu,” whatever that meant. It did not follow the SMART rules for goalsetting, that’s for sure. I remember coming off the mat after one of my matches at the New York Open and someone telling me my re-guarding was beautiful. I was inverting a lot which was not very common yet, so I was getting there!
Winning the New York Open at purple belt was a turning point for me. I wore one of the samples from the factory, and people kept asking why I had pandas embroidered on my gi. I would tell them I was starting a gi company and that the first shipment was coming in a few weeks. I was my own sponsored athlete.
This was big part of Inverted Gear’s early success. How active I was in the competition circuit helped many people meet me and helped spread the brand at tournaments. Until my goals to compete and train as much as possible started to slow down our growth, I saw competition as a permanent part of my life.
Double sessions and strength and conditioning didn’t leave much time for anything else. Training and customer service emails and dealing with the factory didn’t leave much time for anything else. This picture was taken at the Nogi Pans:
I am wearing Cliff Keen shorts because we had not make shorts yet. I tried to get them made before this tournament, but I missed a deadline because I was busy, you know... training.
I decided to take a year off after that tournament and take a hard look at my goals. I have not competed since (besides Reilly goading me into jumping into small sambo tournaments). My body feels better, I feel my BJJ keeps improving, and I have been able to develop new parts of my game since I am not drilling my core game constantly to keep my A game competition-ready.
I’ve traveled all over the world, and enjoyed myself, maybe a little too much as far as my fighting weight is concerned! BJJ camps and seminars have brought me to 25 countries since I stopped competing. And I honestly think winning a tournament, or 5, would not have a worthwhile impact on my life. I don’t think they would make me happier or grow my business in any meaningful way. I know what it takes to compete at the highest level. I have been around enough high-level competitors to know, and frankly at 31 with a kid on the way I am not willing to pay that price.
If you love competing, I am by no means looking to discourage you. If you are willing to embrace the grind and put the rest of your life on hold to accomplish your BJJ goals, go for it. It is just not my path anymore. But if you have a full-time job, a family you cherish, and other things in your life that you invest your time in, stop comparing yourself to full-time competitors.
I have no idea if I will ever compete again. I know I will never compete as much again. I was averaging over 10 tournaments a year during those 6 years. I may jump in a master’s division one day or maybe I will compete under the lights of Fight to Win Pro one day. But in the meantime, I am content with few classes a week, hitting the occasional camp, and just being a hobbyist. I am content, and I hope that non-competitors reading this can find a way to be content with their jiu-jitsu journey as well.