Back on the Competition Mats


On March 13th, I found myself stepping back on the competition mats at the Grappling Industries Submission Only Gi/No Gi Tournament.

After my last competition more than 2 years ago, I decided that the next time I competed, I wanted to be at my absolute best and had done every single thing I could to prep for it.

Then for some insane reason, on the very last day of the registration with only 30 minutes left to register, I stared at the registration form and held a debate with myself. I was at the worst fitness level that I’ve ever been in for the past 5-6 years, I’ve only been going for class once a week for the last 2 years, my mindset is “oh man, that looks too hard, too lazy”. Perfect competing conditions, Not! But then, I hit the Register button anyway. Worst, I didn’t want that additional stress of not making weight so I entered in a weight class above!

Of course, as soon as I entered, I regretted it. What had I done?? Why did I do that to myself?? Stress!!!!

But I also started feeling a little excited and some of that long-lost fighting spirit came back to me.

I knew going in, this wasn’t a physical battle for me, it was going to be purely mental.

I think there are 3 major things in play when competing: Fitness, Skills and Mindset.

Fitness and skills are somewhat linear. If I work on my fitness, I will get fitter. If I work on my skills, they will get better. In a sense, these 2 aspects of competing are easy to achieve. Yes, they require time and commitment and discipline (all of which I’ve been falling short on) but I know without a doubt that if I put the work in, they will happen.

Mindset isn’t quite so straightforward, it ebbs and changes and I  haven’t quite honed the skill to have the right, positive and strong mindset on hand when I need it.

Battle of the Brain

So from the time of signing up to compete until the second I hit the competition mats, my entire focus was getting myself into the right mindset.

I dug deep to figure out why I wanted to compete and what I wanted to get out of it. And I came out with these goals:

  • I want to prove to myself that I can face my fears
  • I want to prove to myself that I won’t let my ego and pride stand in my way
  • I want to prove to myself that I won’t give up

From the start, the odds were stacked against me winning. Higher weight class, most likely much younger competitors, competitors who most likely trained a lot more and competed a lot more than I had been doing. At the start, my mindset was “Yeah if I don’t win, that’s why!” which was wrong because I was using these odds as excuses.

I could recognise myself making excuses so I had to get myself out of that. I focused on the things that I knew of myself. I know that when I actively ignore the need to ‘win’, I roll better, my mind is clearer and I can see more opportunities. I know that when I actively think “don’t give up”, it doesn’t matter how exhausted I am or how squished or uncomfortable I am, or how impossible the situation might feel, unless a limb is about to break, I’ll keep fighting against getting subbed. I know that in the right mindset, even if I’m getting absolutely annihilated, I will be doing my very best and I will come out feeling good.

So that’s what I wanted out of competing, I wanted to get my head in the right place and come out with no regrets because whatever the result, I would know that I did every single thing I could physically do and I would give it my very best.

The ‘bad’ thoughts surfaced every now and then while I was prepping my brain. What if I lose and people think I’m so crap? What if everyone in my team medals but I don’t? What if, what if, what if? It was a challenge to push them away but I think writing down my goals and focusing on them helped. As selfish as it is, I wasn’t competing for my team/academy or anyone else,  I was competing to get my headspace back in the right place.

Competition Day

I had 2 fights in my division. In the first, we went the full 5 minutes and I lost by referee decision. At the start, I managed to get around to her back during stand up but I hesitated and she capitalised by hip throwing me. Then as she was in a dominant position, I had to fight to survive for most of the round.

There were a fair few hairy moments when I thought “man this is really tough, I could just end it by tapping cos I don’t think I can escape” but I told myself, no she doesn’t have this submission yet, I can’t just give up. And that gave me boosts of energy to escape. Step by step, I fought my way back to reverse the position and got myself into half-guard top and almost completely passed but unfortunately the time ran out.



In my second, I noticed my opponent started with a very low position so I went for a head snap to sprawl on top of her. Mistakenly, I did not capitalise on catching her head so she was able to catch at my feet and put me on my back. After a few failed half guard attempts, I made a mistake and my opponent seized on it to put on a very swift arm-bar.


This being my second fight, it was no longer about having to think “Don’t give up”, I was just focused on doing what I needed to do.This fight was pretty interesting to me because there were quite a few moments when I was about to do something in order to escape, when I suddenly pulled myself back. I started seeing that if I did what I wanted to do, that would open me up to another attack so I ended up not doing it.

It was an eye-opener because turns out I do think while I roll. Often during a roll, everything I do is purely reactive. But now, I realised that I do think slightly ahead. So I’ve progressed from “OMG, she wants my arm, need to roll to the left!!” to “OMG, she wants my arm, need to roll to the left, but then she can get my back, oh no, better just stay!” Now that I’m beginning to think about how my opponent might react, the next progression will be to plan how to use that reaction to my advantage. If I don’t move onto that part quickly, I’m going to start being very still and inactive during my rolls!


So in the end, I lost my 2 fights and got a bronze medal. I’m a little sad that I couldn’t bring home a win for my team. But I’m also really happy because I accomplished the goals that I set out for myself:

  • I was scared to compete but by competing anyway, I faced my fears
  • My first loss didn’t affect my second fight mentally (I’m pretty sure it did physically!), and I didn’t feel really crap about  myself for not winning because I didn’t let my ego and pride get in my way
  • I soldiered on and made myself keep going when the going got really tough, so I didn’t give up

Another good thing I got out of competing was being able to look back at the fights and see what I needed to work on. My weakest points were starting the fight, using my recoveries and defence to my advantage instead of just keeping myself ‘safe’ and my fitness. So back to the drawing board (or mat?) to work on those things!

Definitely pumped to step back onto the competition mats again soon!


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