I heard the same thing twice during the week, a sort of half compliment that really baffled me. I still can’t get my head around it, not completely.
Two people complimented me on having competed at the Munster Open a fortnight ago. Not complimented my performance, mind you, just the fact that I’d competed at all as the coach of a gym. The first guy said it, and I had to have him explain why this was significant. Apparently I’m not supposed to compete because I might lose. Apparently losing in front of your students is bad, and losing in front of other people’s students is bad too. Apparently, once you start coaching, you should stop competing locally. When the second guy said it to me I was a little more prepared, and he was more of an experienced competitor than the first guy, so he and I were pretty much of the same mind on this one. But I still felt a bit strange when he complimented me on my willingness to compete.
Competing, we should all agree at this stage, is not the be all and end all of training. Some people will never compete and some would compete every weekend if they could. I’m in the latter camp. I enjoy regular competition and the test of fighting a stranger. If money and family weren’t issues, I’d be in England competing when there were no domestic tournaments to go to. I envy some of the younger BJJ fighters who can hop on a Ryanair flight and go to the British Open, or to Wales or Sweden or even the USA to compete. If only this sport was around when I was 19 I sometimes whine to myself. If only. But it wasn’t, and now I’ a 30 something masters competitor with a young family and a gym to look after, so I take what I can get and by and large what I’m going to get is domestic competition.
So I compete, in front of my students and the crowd and everyone else involved in Irish BJJ. I’m not the only one; coaches from Alliance in Sligo, from BJJ Revolution in Dublin and from Fightsports in Clare also competed at Munster. (That’s off the top of my head; there may have been more player-coaches) And I want to win, I’m fighting to win, but who is or isn’t watching me do it isn’t an issue for me. I’m competitive, I want to do well and put my game to the test, and if I fail the test on this occasion then I will go back to the gym with lessons learned and experiment, check and test all over again and I come out the better for it. That’s the point, but apparently (I’m using apparently a lot) some people want to make it an issue.
When Robert Drysdale came over first to my gym, I was just interested in having him over for a seminar. He was in Europe at ADCC and it was a good chance to catch him. I was looking for a team as we hadn’t had an affiliation for about a year or so and I’d mentioned it to him by email but we hadn’t discussed it. Anyway, we were sitting around on the mats talking and we got around to affiliation in a roundabout way and I wanted to know what the conditions were for joining Drysdale Jiu Jitsu team. There weren’t many but one of them was that you have to be open. You have to open your gym to anyone and everyone who wants to come and train and essentially, don’t discriminate about background or affiliation or anything else when it comes to people wanting to walk into your gym for a roll. I know everyone says this, but the idea is “no politics”.
This was my philosophy to a tee, so we shook hands on an affiliation and that was that. I’ve tried to keep it politics free since, but it’s hard. People just want to pull you into the team vs. team arguments. They want to hear your opinion on whether some guy or other should be a blue or a purple belt or if he got it just because he’s the coach’s mate. They want to pull you in to their petty arguments about just about everything that doesn’t matter. Now I ignore this stuff, but it’s hard. It’s very, very hard, and to be fair, there are some genuinely dishonest people out there who do spread rumour and strife and perhaps have an ulterior motive for that, and it’s natural that people will respond to the type of sensationalist bullshit that comes out. You have to laugh really. I mean it’s a combat sport so you’d expect some degree of toughness and dignity but every walk of life has it’s gossips, and it seems BJJ/MMA is no exception. These things are hard to ignore, and every time I hear one or someone tries to draw me into something, it takes a little bit of fun out of it for me, and I really hate that.
So when I hear that some people think I’m not supposed to compete, that takes a lot of the fun out of it for me. That means there are possibly people not watching my matches to see how well I do, some people in the crowd are waiting to see me lose so they can start on some Nel Mangel-like* gossip spree. I really hope it’s not true, but then it is Ireland where begrudgery is a national pastime.
So I’ll see you guys on the mat at The Irish BJJ Cup on August 27th, I’ll be looking to get myself a gold medal, but I guess that won’t be what everyone is looking for.
*”Nel Mangel?” you say.