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A Woman's Road to Competition: Twists and Turns




Nerves Lead The Way

The competition nerves kicked in before I had even signed up. After I had been training for about six months a group of us went to watch some teammates compete a couple of hours away. It was my friend’s birthday and she was celebrating by competing for the first time. Cool as a cucumber all the way, she put in a very credible performance; winning her first match with a stunning combination of explosivity and calm, and gaining silver overall. I, meanwhile, could feel the adrenaline kicking in from the moment we entered the venue as it dawned on me that I was going to have to compete in the future – that this might be me next time.


In fact the first time I signed up just a couple of months later, my entry fee was refunded due to a

lack of competitors in my weight and age bracket. This is much more likely to happen with older

competitors and women due to small numbers in these divisions. I heaved a sigh of relief at this

point as my feelings about competing in Jiu-Jitsu were pretty mixed: I knew I “had” to do it – like I

would be letting myself down if I didn’t take on the challenge – but I felt I would certainly lose,

probably humiliate myself, and disappoint my teammates and my professor. I wanted to do it. But I

wished I didn’t want to. So I was off the hook! I had tried and not found a match… but of course I

tried again. Again there was no match for me but by now I was ready to get the first comp out of the way no matter what. So I went down into the “adult” age bracket and up into the super heavyweight class.


The First, And The Second

It's safe to say I didn’t have a very well-developed mindset yet. Most unexpectedly my nerves pushed me into a sort of euphoric state. I was literally bouncing around, grinning wildly. My opponent told me afterwards that I was “terrifying” and she thought I was going to eat her alive – also literally. What I actually did was throw myself underneath her, get choked with a fist in the throat, tap in panic with about two minutes still to go, then get up and jump around ecstatically again. As I said, my response felt a bit unpredictable. Although she had been training for a very short time my opponent was skillful and strong and beat me easily. It was a great experience and taught me how Jiu-Jitsu tournaments work, but I was not prepared for how much I would care about this loss. (Okay, so in Jiu-Jitsu you don’t lose: you either win or you learn. But you know… it can sometimes feel a bit like losing.)


I entered the next competition to win. I was fortunate to have a match in my weight class and won on points. It was only the second time I had even rolled with a female in my weight class and close to my age, and it was FUN. I love my Gracie Barra teammates and I’m incredibly lucky to have found so many true friends and helpful teachers among them¸ but rolling with someone physically well-matched felt playful as well as competitive, and I just wanted to keep going.


The Euros

Teammates though: without them, nothing. The IBJJF European Championships is one of the biggest Jiu-Jitsu competitions globally. My mental state that Saturday evening in Paris was a million miles from the first roll only about four months before. It enabled me to win my match, and it was because of the team.


In the morning I had watched my friend make a mistake, and lose his first match because of it. I noticed this didn’t change my opinion of him or his skill level, or make me think he shouldn’t be there. This changed my perspective on my own situation in a really basic way. My amazing epiphany was: you can just lose. It’s fine. No-one cares as much as you do and it doesn’t mean you didn’t deserve to be there in the first place. I realised I was feeling that I didn’t quite belong there, like I had to win to prove that I did. This is nonsense. If you’re in the bracket, you’re in the game. Someone’s going to lose each match. That is what competition means. At first glance this doesn’t seem like the most positive statement. You’ll probably never see “You Can Just Lose” on branded sportswear. But it’s an essential lesson. If you don’t feel free to lose, how can you ever compete, let alone enjoy competing and all the benefits it has to offer?


This time I won, and I was proud of developing my mindset and holding my nerve. But my most valuable takeaway from competing in BJJ is that losing is a necessity. You prove yourself by what you do next...

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