Defining Victory Part 2: Victory defined by the ability to compete again.

Published on September 26, 2018

Victory defined by the ability to compete again.

There is no doubt that Jiu Jitsu is beneficial to one’s health. I have had students lose excess of 50 pounds as a result of just training BJJ. However, without proper maintenance or care, you can destroy your body. For the majority of my Jiu Jitsu journey, I was no more than 139 pounds. Most of my training partners were 180 pounds or more. It was a rare experience in my first 5 years of jiu jitsu to train with people who were actually my size. I do credit the speed at which I learned technique to training with partners who were bigger than me. It forced me to perfect technique rather than use strength. But it did have some serious drawbacks. My body took a beating, specifically my back. Several times during training, my back would spasm and I would be unable to roll that round. In my younger days, I felt invincible so I would just explain it away with fatigue and sit the round out. I never really addressed the real problem. That changed one day. While I was training, I felt a spasm and sat out that round. After three minutes of sitting, my back locked up and I couldn’t stand up. I didn’t know what was wrong. I had never felt like this before. I was finally able to get to my feet with the help of my teammates but I couldn’t stand up straight. I hobbled to my car, drove home and hoped that it would just fix itself. Unfortunately, this was not the case. I was able to get an MRI immediately and was diagnosed with three herniated disk in my lower back. When I heard those words, I felt as though my world had been shattered. Thoughts of never being able to train again raced through my mind. I was panicking about what I was going to do. I had a school to run and classes to teach! How can I teach classes if I can’t roll? I spoke to the physical therapist and established a plan to help me get back on the mats as soon as possible. The sad truth about a back injury is that you are never able to come back 100%. There are good days, there are great days, there are bad days, and then there are really bad days. All you can do take care of your body the best you know how by stretching, weight lifting, and just listening to it. The hope is that the good days outnumber the bad days. Ever since the initial injury, I had many ups and downs but was mostly able to continue training hard and compete. As a result of being young and stubborn, I didn’t always do the maintenance I was required to do. So as I got older, the bad days started to outnumber the good days until finally every day became a bad day.

 

It was spring of 2017 and I had just gotten back from my first Pan Ams in a while. I had stopped flying out to California to focus on my BJJ School, as well as other priorities. I was motivated and ready to keep the competition streak going. Unfortunately, life had other plans for me. During class and a very easy roll, I tweaked my back again. This time it was different. It was immediate. A sharp pain shot through my body and I couldn’t move. I lay there while my partner kept apologizing profusely, thinking it was his fault I was hurt. I was on the verge of tears, trying to hold back the panic, letting him know it was not his fault. I lay there on the mats for five minutes unable to move with out excruciating pain shooting through my lower back. I lay there just waiting for the spasm to release. Finally, it loosened up enough for me to move. As a result, I spent the next six months carrying my body in some type of unnatural shape that resembled an S. Each passing day that the pain remained the same, my hope of ever even training again lessened. I felt as though I was dying inside a little with each passing moment. I can remember laying in bed at night tossing and turning, whimpering in pain, trying to find any position that was comfortable. That six months was emotionally, physically, and mentally the toughest of my Jiu Jitsu career. I decided to throw in the towel and accept the fact that my BJJ competition journey was over. I came to the realization that I was going to run a school, teaching from the sidelines—nothing more. At times, it was difficult to watch my students, friends, and family train and compete, knowing that I could be out training, as well if only things had gone differently.

 

I felt completely lost.   Jiu Jitsu was such a significant part of my life and I had been stripped of that. I didn’t know who I was. For such a long time, I was Kail, the Jiu Jitsu guy, and now I was Kail, the guy with the bad back. I tried occupying myself with other hobbies but nothing felt like Jiu Jitsu did. I couldn’t get the same rush I got from rolling and testing myself against another person, both physically and mentally. Depression took over, I was irritable at home, and drowned myself in comfort food. Even though I put on a happy front and appeared content with life on the outside, I felt the opposite. I was withering away on the inside.

 

One event did catch my eye though. It was called Fight to win Pro, a professional Jiu Jitsu event where competitors were paid to compete. It was a spectacle! It was like WWE, MMA, and Jiu Jitsu all rolled up into this amazing showcase of the art. I had coached my brother and other students through some of the events in the past. I just knew I had to be a part of this event this time. It was everything I had ever thought a BJJ event could be and more. Tournaments are great but at this venue, all eyes were on one match. A giant mat was elevated off the ground, fans were cheering from the crowds, announcers were commentating the moves, and the event was being streamed online to thousands of BJJ fans. In my eyes, it was the big show. To be honest, my inner child was giddy with excitement to have the chance to act like a WWE superstar for a night.

 

Around this time, it had been a little over six months of none to very little training. I was over weight, out of shape, and feeling out of touch with Jiu Jitsu but my back had started to heal enough that I could actually start doing rehabilitation. It had been years since I had competed locally and most of my students at the time either had never seen me compete or only remember competitions from years ago. Many of my training partners didn’t think it was a good idea to compete and others thought I would lose. Some were concerned about my back, while some were concerned I didn’t have what it takes to win. For me, this event was a chance for me to say that I came back from an injury and competed on that stage. Although I wanted to win, and knew I could win, that didn’t matter. Victory was not my goal anymore. Winning didn’t mean anything. Being able to say that I could do it was all that mattered. I spent the next four months lifting weights, dieting, stretching, and rolling smart and was lucky enough to get invited to compete.

 

The night of the event came and I was the third to last match to compete. I kept saying over and over to myself, “I’m not as good as I once was, but I’m as good once as I ever was.” My teammates were taking the stage before me, putting on exciting shows–some wins, some losses but all entertaining. I knew I had to put on a great show, win or lose. I wanted to show everyone and myself that I still had what it took. That even though six months ago I didn’t see rolling in my future, I was here now getting ready to compete. I had done everything I needed to do that night to prepare. I warmed up for an hour making sure I was as loose as I could be. I went over all of the potential scenarios and how they needed to be handled 1000 times in my head. Again repeating “I’m not as good as I once was, but I’m as good once as I ever was.” They called my name and it was time. I walked out to a roaring crowd and the rush of excitement took over my entire body. The match was relatively quick. After about 90 seconds of my opponent and I, getting a feel for one another’s style of play and walking around in circles, I went for it. I dove in for a guard pull to a sweep. I shot up a submission which he then escaped and tried to throw a submission of his own. I quickly escaped and settled back in. My back didn’t hurt. I felt good and I felt strong. I knew right then that I was back and everything would be okay. I shot up another submission attempt which he then countered. This time I was ready for the counter and I countered with another submission to seal the victory. The crowd roared in excitement, I stood up and ran to the edge of the mat. I gave my brother and kids a hug. I could hear my teammates cheering for the victory. It did it–I was able to come back. While the win felt amazing, it meant nothing in comparison to the feeling of just being able to compete again. Winning isn’t everything but it sure does feel good. I’m glad I walked away with the victory that night but the true victory took place throughout the months leading up to the event. I was able to find myself again. Although I was still injured and knew I had to be careful, it felt amazing knowing I could train again. I could one again, get on the mat, roll with the best of them, and walk off feeling victorious. Because of this, I religiously take care of myself. To this day, I lift weights, stretch, and eat clean. (Well, 80% of the time… I can’t turn down a good brownie).

Hope you enjoyed part two of my four part series. Come back next week as we go over how victory can be defined with the relationships we build and gain through jiu jitsu.

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