Defining Victory Through Jiu Jitsu: Intro and Part 1

Published on September 19, 2018

In response to Rener Gracie’

A couple weeks ago I watched a video released by Rener Gracie about how his grandfather Helio Gracie practiced Jiu Jitsu every day of his life until he passed away at the age of 95. According to Rener, Helio would teach a seminar or class and have the biggest guy take the mount position and try to submit him for one minute. Helio would defend the whole time without trying to get out of the position. At the end of the minute, the drill would end and he would declare himself the victor, not because he won the match or that he wasn’t submitted but solely by the fact that he was still able to do Jiu Jitsu. He was able to do this by changing the definition of victory for himself on the mats. This video really touched me as I have found myself through my Jiu Jitsu career struggling with my competitive nature and other priorities pulling me in different directions. It really got me thinking about my Jiu Jitsu journey and the positive impacts it had on my life that came from one simple trial class. I wondered how many others like me, were struggling with similar things, or are afraid to start Jiu Jitsu because of the fear of defeat. I decided to write this so I can perhaps connect with those people by telling them my story. Maybe it will encourage others to either start training or continue regardless of other conflicting priorities pulling them away.

In this four-part blog I am going to illustrate my Jiu Jitsu journey so far and how it has helped me in the best and worst of times of life as well as how my definition of victory on the mats has changed significantly since the start.

Victory Defined by Winning and Losing

It all started in November of 2005 when I had just broken up with my high school girlfriend of five years. I had a very close group of five friends and was unable or unwilling to meet new people and form new friendships. I was attending classes at the community college but finding every excuse to skip. I didn’t know what I wanted to do with my life. I just was going through the motions of what I felt society demanded of me to become successful. It felt as if I had no purpose and was just taking a ride on our beautiful planet through the galaxy with no direction. I had started training boxing at a local gym solely because I enjoyed watching boxing and thought it would be interesting and challenging. I quickly learned that if you weren’t exceptional from the start, trainers did not take the time to work with you as I had hoped. They would encourage me to hit the bag, but never attempted to critique or assist with improving my skills. Thankfully, at that particular time, the UFC had started to gain some traction with the release and success of the Ultimate Fighter TV show. My Dad, my brother, and I would have what we called CQC (close quarter combat) matches in the living room every time we watched the UFC fights. We basically mimicked the UFC matches we watched with our focus being on grappling and submissions (this was only because my mom didn’t want us punching each other). I had two years of wrestling under my belt, my brother was an excellent wrestler in high school at the time, and my dad was in the army, so had some combatives training. We would roll around the living room floor feeling invincible but not having any real clue about true technique. I started to notice my brother was getting the upper hand since he was actively training wrestling and I was just learning my moves from watching the show. YouTube learning hadn’t been discovered yet and I didn’t know where to go for lessons. I just knew I needed to do something or I was going to start losing badly to my younger brother, which was unacceptable to me.

One day I went to the boxing gym of which I was a member and noticed that they had started offering a Brazilian Jiu Jitsu class. I attended my first free class that day and was immediately hooked. That first hour of my Jiu Jitsu journey cemented a path in my life. It was invigorating rolling with people I’ve never met before and being able to get into positions I had seen previously on TV. I was in awe of how the instructor was able to twist me up like a pretzel effortlessly and submit me without breaking a sweat. I knew I had found my calling. I asked as many questions and researched everything I could. This opened a whole new world for me and I knew I had become addicted. I knew right then this was the path I wanted to take in my life.

By training consistently, I quickly started dominating the CQC matches a home. To be fair, I had the advantage–I was bigger and had been learning submissions. My brother, on the other hand, was just a strict wrestler looking for a pin. But to me at that point in my life, a win was a win and that was what mattered most to me. Every moment of my day was focused on BJJ. I never missed an opportunity to train. I only wanted to compete and be the best I could be. So after only a month of training three times a week, I decided to take a chance and enter my first tournament. It was a NAGA tournament held in New Jersey. Excited as a kid on Christmas, I convinced my brother and my dad to come with me to watch. We had to weigh-in by 9:00 am and the match was scheduled for 12:00 pm. So, with a three and half hour drive ahead of us. We left the house at 4:30 am. Since I hadn’t received my Gi in the mail yet, I only signed up for no gi matches. This particular match was no gi novice for those students who had been training less than six months. I was feeling super confident, certain I would walk away victorious. I knew takedowns from wrestling, I learned how to do the triangle choke, I was tapping out my brother left and right and was holding my own against the very few training partners I had at the time. I knew in my heart I was going to win.

11:30 am rolls around and I start warming up, ready to go to war.
12:00 pm the anticipation is killing me. I can’t wait for them to call my name
12:15 pm I’m sure they will call me soon
12:45 pm I am thinking, man this is taking a while
1:00 pm I ask the director if I missed my match. “Oh no, we are just a little behind. Just listen for your name over the loud speaker.”
2:00 pm Lots of Jiu Jitsu happening, none of it involving me
4:00 pm I am thinking this is crazy
6:00 pm I’m so hungry but I can’t eat. “What if they call me? They are sure to call me soon.”
8:00 pm “What is going on?!?!?! I speak to the director and he says, ‘Your division is up next on this mat.”
9:00 pm I am finally called to the mat for my match.

I step on the mat, shake the referee’s hand, shake my opponent’s hand and get ready for battle. The ref screams “Combatch!” and the match is on. I attack aggressively and shoot a double leg. He sprawls, we scramble, and I end up on my back and he mounts me…that was only the first 10 seconds of a 5 minute match. I’m bridging as hard as I can trying to roll him. He is stuck to me like white on rice. My teammate is yelling “Upa! Upa!” I hadn’t learned how to escape mount yet so I’m just scrambling, looking for space. I know if he goes for an armbar, I can at least move and attempt the escape. So, I throw my hands straight up for him to attempt the armbar. I am literally at the point where I want to tell him to go for my arm! But he doesn’t go for it and holds mount. Maybe he was scared to lose position? Maybe he knew he was ahead on points? Or maybe he didn’t know the armbar. Either way I spent the remainder of the 5 min match on my back mounted, not being able to do anything. The match ended, my opponent’s hand got raised and I walked off the mat in shock, not sure what happened. My family and teammates were there telling me I did a good job and encouraging me to get them next time. I knew in my heart that I had not done a good job. I knew we had a 3 and half hour drive back home after a 19 hour day. Worst thing was that after all of that, I was only given 5 minutes to do Jiu Jitsu.

That loss only fueled my passion and I continued to train. I did more and more research by getting my hands on DVD’s, watching as many matches as I could. This was where I began to see improvement. The gym added more classes and I even took a huge pay cut and switched jobs so I could work at the gym and train more. I set my goals–be a black belt in under 8 years, become a black belt world champion, become the ADCC champion the following year, and to one day own a BJJ school.

With my strong commitment and dedication to training, I received my blue belt in 9 months which was quick and put me on the fast track. My last tournament as a white belt was an in-house tournament where I submitted everyone in my division. I was on cloud nine because it was the first thing I felt I had truly worked to achieve. I always had natural talent in other sports and did just enough to be better than most, but never enough to be exceptional. This was the first time I poured everything I had into something. I continued to compete and stay focused on my goals, always placing at the local tournaments. It was then that I decided to try my foot at the big show.

It was 2007 and I was taking my first trip to California. I was competing in the 2007 IBJJF Gi and No Gi Pan Am games. This is where the best black belts in the world showcased the art of Jiu Jitsu. It felt like I was living a dream being there. It was a four day tournament with the who’s who of the Jiu Jitsu community in attendance, and I was actually being given the opportunity to share the mats with them. Due to my recent victories, I was feeling confident. I was on a streak of winning tournaments. I had beaten 300 pound men in absolute divisions only weighing 135 pounds. I had a feeling I was going do well. I was so impressed with how professional the tournament was organized. I was given a scheduled window to compete and my division was called then. Each mat had its own referee, its own table workers, and its own bracket coordinator in charge of calling out competitors. I was in awe as I waited in the bull pen to hear my name called. Finally a man with a Brazilian accent called me to the mat. I felt like I was in another world. I walk up to the mat and the referee yells “Combatch!” I pull guard, we scramble, I feel alive! He passes, I shrimp, he adjusts, I get put into a choke, and I tap.

A defeat, a 5 hour flight, hotel, rental car, training, dedicating my life to Jiu Jitsu, and I lose first round! I chalk it up to a bad break. It was time to bounce back and get prepared for no gi. I get ready, they call my name, I’m on the mat at my scheduled time and ready to go. The ref yells “Combatch!” This time I go for a takedown, he sprawls, I pull guard, he passes, takes my back and body triangles me. It’s time to defend the choke. I cover up to avoid letting him sliding his hand under my chin. He makes me turn belly down and hips in and my spine is on fire. My mind is no longer on the choke but instead I had to figure out how to get him off my back! This created an opening for my opponent. He sunk in the choke and I tapped.

Another first round defeat. The feeling of disappointment is overwhelming. I couldn’t understand how I had lost since I had been training so hard and competing so well at the local scene. My eyes were opened to the fact that there are more levels to Jiu Jitsu than just the color of the belt. That trip was the first of many let downs after what felt like an eternity of highs. Jiu Jitsu in its rawest form is the best metaphor for life. At times you feel as though you are on top of the world. But life will always find a way to test you. At that moment, you have to dig deep and see how tough you are, pick yourself back up and try again. That is where you will see if you have the will to keep pushing forward. I knew I had the will, the determination, and my goals. To me, defeat was unacceptable. At this point in my life, victory was only achieved when the tournament was won and my hand was raised. Depressed but fired up to continue my journey, I went home and spent the next year evaluating my loss. I broadened my horizon and sought out tougher competition. Although I won some matches and lost others, I continued to improve. I set another short term goal to attend the Pan Am games again and I was going to win.

As I got closer to the 2008 Pan Am games, I was doing everything in my power to be the best I could possibly be. I ran every day, was training twice a day, and lifted weights. I was obsessed with the sport. Tournament day came and I was feeling better than ever. I knew I had done everything I could possibly do to be ready. Now it was time to just execute my skills on the mat. First match, I went the distance and I won by points. It was a challenging match– one of my toughest to date. My confidence was high but I stayed focused. I kept reminding myself to approach this tournament one match at a time. My second match was a war! I won by submission in the last 30 seconds. I walked off the mat happy with the victory but concerned I had burned through my gas tank. I am given a fifteen minute break and then it’s go time again. This match was against a friend from an affiliate school. We had never actually trained together or competed against one another before. We had seen each other compete though and knew each other’s styles. I was confident that I had the ability to win if I chose the right strategy. I needed to win this match. A victory in this match would guarantee a medal. I knew that if I lost, I would walk away with nothing. Still completely exhausted, my coach gives me some last minute advice, I step onto the mat and the match begins. I felt as though I was zombie walking toward him due to pure exhaustion. I want to pull guard, but unfortunately he pulls guard first. I spend the rest of the match trying to pass. I am constantly gasping for air and energy, trying to muster up the strength to pass his legs. I had spent most of my training working on my guard. Most of my training partners were 30-50 pounds bigger than me so I was almost always playing guard. As a result, my passing game was my weakest link. Time was up and the match was over. The score was 0-0 with no advantages–all tied up. I had left it all on the mat. Now everything was out of my hands and in the hands of the referee. He could decide if all my effort over the past year was worth the victory. He had no idea how much time I had put in. He didn’t know the struggles I had with the weight cut. He had no idea how badly I wanted the victory. None of that mattered to him. He had a six minute window into my life and that’s all he was given to judge and determine who had won the match. He grabbed our wrists, looked to the table coordinator and raised my opponent’s hand. To say I was devastated was an understatement. I had put everything I had into this match and came up short again. This time, I knew I had to recover mentally and move forward. After some time and some delicious Acai and Brazilian BBQ, I was at peace. I did everything I could do to win and left it all on the mats. I recognized that it just wasn’t my time.

My goals remained the same, and I continued to train every day always keeping Jiu Jitsu as my main priority. Competing was my drug and victory was my high. The years went by and I trained harder and continued to increase my BJJ knowledge. Meeting my friend and professor Vicente Jr expanded my BJJ understanding and education. As a result, I was victorious many times. Winning became my norm and though I didn’t reach my goal of becoming a black belt world champion, I did earn my black belt and was able to compete with the best the sport had to offer. I was even given the opportunity to stand on the podium at the adult black belt level at a couple of different tournaments. Things were going as I had hoped and according to plan…until a nagging back injury sidelined me.

I hope you enjoyed part one of my four part blog defining victory through Jiu Jitsu. Please come back next week for part two “Victory Defined by Being Able to Compete Again

-Written by Kail Bosque

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