BJJ Daughter drops the challenge and dad picks it up and runs with it. Cobrinha, Fabbio and David are there along the way.
"Have fun and do your best" has been the mantra for our family pertaining to BJJ tournaments ever since my daughter, Skylar (Sky), started competing. It was after her 4th or 5th tournament we had a heart to heart about her not living up to the aforementioned mantra, never mind that her placing's were not what she desired. She told me she was scared of being submitted, so she just rolled defensively. I gave her some wisdom I had over heard from black belts, 'if you are playing defense you are losing.'
She looked me in the eyes and said, "Dad, the Pans is coming up, why don't you show me?"
I had to think fast, and to be specific I had to figure out how to not accept what was clearly a challenge, but make it seem like I was open to it. I quickly reminded her that I only roll twice a week, I have never competed and I'm old enough to be the father of the vast majority of the students at Cobrinha's academy. Her expression showed me she wasn't buying it, so I went to my contingency plan and told her that if she medaled at the Pan Kids (2014) tournament I would do it. We shook hands and I felt pretty safe, not because I thought she wouldn't do well, in all honesty I just didn't think she would medal.
Fast-forward to the Pan Kids and there she was on the podium with a silver medal, smile from ear to ear. I had forgotten about our agreement (on purpose), Sky did not! Soon after she left the podium, she looked me in the eyes and said, "Next month is going to be your turn dad." What she didn't know was I had an ace in the hole, a sure-fire way to not have to compete and not take the blame.
I talked to my instructor, David de Souza, with the goal being to get confirmation on my inability to be tournament ready by Pans. Thankfully he agreed with me and before he could tell me why, I adroitly led him to where multi-time world champion and head instructor Rubens 'Cobrinha' Charles was standing by the mat. I asked David to tell him his thoughts on whether I was prepared to do the Pans, he said, "No, you don't have enough mat time, you have to start coming in to drill, just doing Monday and Wed. morning class is not enough time on the mat." I looked at Cobrinha to get verbal or visual agreement and he had a poker player expression, didn't show his thoughts either way. I chose to believe he was on board with what he heard.
After Sky's Friday class, I took her into the office where Cobrinha and his wife, Daniela were sitting, I pointed and said, "Sky, go ahead and ask him about whether I can do the Pans. I want to do it. But I have to get approval. And well... you'll see."
Before she could ask, Cobrinha smiled and told her, "Yes, I think your dad can do Pans. He will get a chance to see how you feel when you compete. It will be great. What do you think?" She looked at me, and then him and with the biggest smile nodded her approval. I quickly rushed her out of the office, did a U-turn back in prepared to confront him and was met with both of them cheerfully telling me, "Have fun Marlon!"
Later that evening I went to the IBJJF site and a couple things stood out, it only went as high as Master 2 for white belts and the weight division for me, at 234lbs, placed me with the heaviest of the heavyweights. I signed up for the 222lb (super heavyweight) division, without giving full thought to the fact that I had not been below 230lbs in over a decade. As a laid in bed it started to sink in, there was approximately 13 days till show time, and the last thing I wanted to do was let my daughter down. Not long after, I'm talking 1:00am, the physical reaction commenced. I woke up ran to the washroom and found myself with stomach trouble for the next hour, no further description needed. Just to get it out of the way, I will say that this 'stomach trouble' was an ongoing theme up until the tournament. I spent the rest of the early morning wide-awake and nervous as hell, what to do? Turned on the computer and researched all of the names in my division, Google, Facebook and YouTube. I had been transformed into a BJJ stalker or something weird like that.
Understand that I had two goals going into this, make weight and win one match and you better believe every minute I spent at the academy I bombarded Cobrinha and every higher belt with questions, some stupid some stupider.
My mind was in overdrive as my thoughts centered on not wanting to embarrass myself and it started with losing weight and fast. First things first I had to take a hard look at what my diet consisted of and figure out what needed to change, pretty easy, everything. So as not to talk extensively about food and put people to sleep I am going to show a sample of what my average eating was before and after.
Eating Habits prior to Challenge Accepted:
Breakfast: Sugar with Coffee: My motto was if the spoon does not stand straight up, then there is not enough sugar, two banana nut muffins, bagel with cream cheese.
Lunch: Coffee (with sugar), Chipotle burrito and chips.
Dinner: Pasta, turkey meatballs.
Snacks: Kettle chips: Salt and Pepper, Club crackers,
Eating Habits After Challenge Accepted:
Breakfast: Two scrambled eggs with black beans, water
Lunch: Salad (tomato, lettuce, almonds, carrots), water
Dinner: Salad with chicken breast, water
Snacks: Strawberries, watermelon, grapes
Yes, this was a drastic change and as the date drew closer, I found myself dreaming about food, everything from In-and-Out Burger, to most all other fast food places, many I have never even been to.
My normal training consisted of the Monday and Wednesday fundamentals class taught by David de Souza from 9:00am-10:30am. I knew that I needed to train more, so I asked Cobrinha and he suggested I come to the night class, I assumed it would be the 6:00pm or 7:00pm class, but he meant the 8:00pm advanced class. I went begrudgingly and with concern about getting injured, not so much physically, I am referring to my ego. I was fortunate that a few of my teammates (James, Roman, Evan and Mike) drilled with me during the week while Sky trained in the afternoons. I also invested in some private sessions with black belt extraordinaire Fabbio Passos, I was leaving nothing to chance.
Outside of the academy, I added something I have rarely if ever done in my lifetime... running. I dressed in layers; put the leash on my loving blue nose pitbull, Samurai, and we hit the sidewalks sprinting, which is jogging to most. One thing Samurai loves is going outside, but as the tournament got closer, he went from jumping up and down when I rattled the leash to running to his bed and refusing to go out. He was not a fan of running and he let it be known by refusing to move soon after we hit the sidewalk, which made for a lot of funny stares from drivers and walkers.
The day of the tournament my kids, Tyler and Skylar came to show support and make sure I got on the mat. They found front row seats in front of the mat where my fate would be determined, as Skylar had her Canon ready to shoot. I was scared to death about making weight, so I dressed in the layers mentioned earlier and I did not eat or drink anything up until I weighed in at 7:00pm at an astounding 215lbs with the Gi on. I had just accomplished one goal, but there was a problem, my energy level was on zero.
I recall walking with my opponent to mat 2 and I wasn't so much walking as I was floating, which may sound strange. The feeling I had when the referee waived us to come onto the mat was surreal, as I have seen that so many times at tournaments and never imagined I would be experiencing it. I wish I could explain with words how it felt shaking the ref's hand and then shaking my opponent's hand before the fight began, it was addictive and exhilarating.
I won my fist match and lost my second, but overall I learned a great deal.
My kids made it down from the stands and as I looked them in the eyes the first thing I did was apologize for not winning the gold. They both hugged me and said they were proud of me. I was overwhelmed with emotions and shed a few tears. I looked at Sky and I could finally grasp what she goes through, what determination and courage she displays every time she goes on the mat. I felt a flicker of her burning desire. I understood how difficult it is to learn from loss and to be humble in victory.
On the long drive home from Orange County, the kids slept as I reflected on my brief two-week stint living the BJJ lifestyle in preparation for my first tournament. Two very distinct thoughts were embedded in my mind. One of the most notable things to me was exactly how all consuming it was. I found it very difficult to do or think about anything else other then attending class, watching my diet and doing drills!
The second thought was a total about face on what my prior thoughts had been in regards to the topic of BJJ tournaments and those who devote so much time and effort to them. They are not shirking life but living a life devoted to an emotionally intense roller coaster and to being the physically best person they can be. These BJJ players I have seen at countless academy's training for hours upon hours, these men and women are ATHLETES. Their work ethic and sheer dedication to their craft is on par with and in some cases exceeds other professional athletes in my opinion. There should be a professional organization that pays these athletes to compete and allows them to make a living, just like other athletes. The ability to get sponsor money and conduct seminars should simply be additional perks to pad their salaries.
Well when I pulled into my parking garage and Sky was the first to wake up, she looked at me with a sly smile and said, "You can make up for not wining all your matches at the next tournament, and I know you will have fun and do your best." She is right, I will and with that there is an intriguing question, can a middle-aged man, manage to earn a living, be a great parent and find the time to train in order to become a BJJ champion?
SIDEBAR A Few Memorable Quotes from teammates and friends: *Be a lion stalking your prey (Stephanie) *Make sure you weigh your Gi with you belt (Monica) *Have fun (Cobrinha and Daniela) *Believe in yourself (Kennedy) *Just that you are doing this is all that will matter to your kids (Nyjah) *You are good you can win the gold (Fabbio) *If you jump guard tuck your chin to your chest (Mikey) *Take Imodium: (THANK YOU KRIS SHAW)