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Last weekend I took part in my second Brazilian jiu jitsu tournament. BJJ is basically the most vicious martial art you can do that doesn't involve hitting your opponent. It's a bit like judo, only with more emphasis on chokeholds and armlocks – or to put it another way, it’s the stuff that happens when a UFC fight hits the ground, but without punches. And with a uniform on.
A BJJ tournament is a difficult thing to prepare for, because you have very little idea what's going to happen. You might fight someone who's good at wrestling, which means you need strong legs to avoid takedowns, or someone who's fast and mobile, in which case you need quick reactions and good cardio fitness. If your weight category has a lot of entrants you might have to fight five times in an hour – but you can’t afford to pace yourself, because your first-round opponent is liable to go all-out.
My solution to this was to spend a couple of months getting my all-round strength up by doing full-body workouts three times a week – squats, deadlifts and clean and presses, along with an awful lot of pull-ups. I’ve also worked on my cardio by doing hill runs, wind sprints and bodyweight circuits. My club also helped out by putting me through 'shark tank' drills, which is when one man stays in the middle while a fresh person takes him on every minute for ten minutes. In the last few days before the competition I dropped everything except very light technical movement drills.
Did it pay off? Sort of. In my first fight there was a brief standing tussle, but my opponent dropped to his back quite quickly, obviously thinking he'd be able to fight better from there. He gave me a lot of trouble, but thanks to the gym ball balance drills I've been practising, I managed to stay on top and score enough points to take a comfortable lead and cruise to an energy-saving win.
In my second fight, neither of us wanted to end up on the bottom, so it was a much tougher match. I got the first takedown with a simple wrestling move, but my opponent scrambled back to his feet and nailed me with a textbook double-leg slam. I just about got back up, but left my neck exposed and got guillotine-choked. This was annoying because that's the first move everyone learns and after several years of training I should be ready for it by now. Result: silver.
What did I learn? Well, I wasn't let down by my strength or cardio – I felt fine. The most disappointing thing was my flexibility, which is pretty poor and failed me when I was going for certain submissions. The next challenge is to work on that while maintaining the strength I've built. That said, all the fitness in the world is no substitute for good technique, so my top priority is getting an alarm clock and making sure I get to my club’s early morning lessons.