Grappling Industries Tournament, Boston, 2017.
It was 12 degrees outside and I couldn’t find any sweatpants. I also couldn’t find a parking place, so I threw on some shorts and took a frozen hike to the Eastern Nazarene College gym. By the time I got there, I couldn’t feel my legs, which sort of set the tone for the day.
I got straight slaughtered in the “masters no gi intermediate” division (translation: old guys in tight shirts instead of their jam jams). The website defined “intermediate” as 1-3 years of experience. My coach did a spit take when I told him that was the division I signed up for, though, so I feel like maybe I should have checked in with him first. Or maybe other guys get real good in 3 years and I’m just remedial at jiu jitsu (super distinct possibility). Also, did I mention they had to combine weight classes and he was bigger than me to boot?
Man, oh man, it was over fast. And then, thanks to the vagaries of the old guy divisions, there was nobody else registered, so I got to face the same dude again. I at least got a feeble attempt at an arm drag off this time before I found myself being mercilessly strangled by a kind Brazilian with weirdly flawless skin.
Tea tree oil? Açai? Necromancy?
When it was all over, this beautiful Brazilian bag of rocks was as cool as a guy can be, giving me tips and pointers and a general philosophical outlook to guide me along my jiu jitsu path. We took some photos and hugged it out and then I was standing there in a stuffy gym, done for the day with my participation medal heavy around my neck and my uneaten bag full of peanut butter and honey sandwiches going soggy.
The plan was to weigh in, eat the sammies, and then sail to victory on a rush of fat, protein and bee juice. As it worked out, I couldn’t find anyplace to put my bag down, let alone anyplace to enjoy a pre-war picnic. I got half a bottle of iced coffee and four big swigs of water in me before my matches, and spent the entire rest of the day needing to pee. The fact I didn’t piss the mat while being choked is by far my most significant victory of the afternoon.
Look, I’ve done maybe 10 classes in the gi total. I told myself going in that I wasn’t emotionally invested in the gi. It was 15 extra bucks, so why not sign up and see what happens? That was the mantra. In the cold aftermath of defeat, though, it turns out I had a little more skin in the game than I thought. That shit stings.
The first guy hit me with some ersatz sacrifice throw, busted through my half guard, and hammerlocked me so tight I had finger-shaped bruises on my wrist for the next two days. Then he embraced me and had me added as a Facebook friend before the next match even started. The second guy used some sort of black magic and/or teleportation to mount me (it happened very fast) and then collar choked me into delicious, tunnel-visioned catatonia. The third guy, I actually matched up well with. I got some stuff off, he got some stuff off, he got the better of the points, and then I was being summoned on the PA to mat 6 NOW NOW NOW whereupon I faced the aforementioned no-gi Ragnarok.
Hey, I tested myself, I learned a lot, I met some amazing people, and when it was all said and done, I had an excuse to pound domestic beers and wonder what the fuck is wrong with me that I can’t just enjoy golf like a normal middle-aged asshole.
[P.S. Let the record show that Grappling Industries puts on a fantastic event. Mata Leão ran the tournament with such efficiency and precision I think it finally confirms where the Germans hid out after WWII. Will definitely do this competition again, though hopefully next time I’ll be, you know, competitive.]