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By Roger J Spillere

Pull guard, look for an opportunity to execute the scissor sweep, or, if possible, shrimp out and look for an arm bar or the omoplata … It all sounded so straightforward.  Indeed, it was, when drawing-up and drilling my game plan for the 2015 World Master Championship while sitting in London, a comfortable 5,000 miles from Las Vegas. But as Mike Tyson has famously said, “Everyone has a plan ‘til …”  Well, you know the rest.

So what went wrong?  Where was my gold medal? This is the question I was left pondering after a disastrous first match in the Master 5, Ultra Heavy Weight, Blue Belt Division. As I imagine was the case with all competitors, I enrolled in the tournament confident of a strong showing. Perhaps even a gold medal. I had begun planning my strategy in early summer, working with Professor Paul Hartley at Gracie Barra Knightsbridge to carefully assemble the moves on which we had been working since the beginning of 2015.

Though I took home a bronze medal, I had left London expecting more of myself – if not in terms of medals, at least in terms of performance.  So what did go wrong?  That’s a question I spent a good deal of time contemplating during the remainder of my stay in Vegas and on the long flight home.


My conclusion – the lessons I’ve taken away from the experience – are as follows.  I’m sure each competitor has their own.  These are mine.

Believe You Can Win – This may sound obvious, but I’m not sure I did.  I did in London, but that mindset was transformed somewhere over the Atlantic. Though I had competed, and medalled in Lisbon and London, the magnitude of this event was much bigger, and as I look back on that match all I can recall is my legs feeling like jelly and just wanting the match to be over.  Belief that I could win was gone.

Adrenaline can be a Friend … or a Foe – In my case, a combination of nerves and adrenaline, meant that I gassed as soon as the match began.  Now, I’ll admit that my cardio isn’t as good as it should be, but that wasn’t the issue. Gassing affected my concentration, ability to execute, and conditioning.  As evidence, it was only when reviewing the match on video that I actually heard the referee’s instructions for the first time.  My mind was, well, I’m not sure where it was. That, combined with pre-match adrenaline drain, meant I couldn’t possibly execute my game plan.

BJJ is a Team Sport – For a variety of reasons, those who planned to make the trip to Vegas with me weren’t able to do so.  And though I was given the opportunity to meet up with another team, I didn’t take advantage of that opportunity.  In retrospect, doing so would have helped take my focus off myself, and given me a chance to drill and regain confidence in my game plan.  Not enjoying the same onsite support as my competition was definitely a negative; not doing something about it was a mistake.

Now, as Russell Howard would say, “It’s not all doom and gloom.”  On the positive side, I’m as confident today as I was prior to the tournament that my game plan was the right one, that I have the skills to win, and that my coaches prepared me to do so.  What I need to do now is to focus on overcoming what I’ve learnt is formally known as ‘competition anxiety’.  That may sound daunting but with the help of professionals such as Max Kirsten, a hypnotherapist with whom I’ve worked in the past, books including Mental Combat by Phil Pierce, and websites such as The BJJ Mental Coach, I am confident that I can do so.  I see this as just one more element of my training; one more way in which BJJ can make me a better person beyond the mats.

Well … enough about my challenges. I would be remiss not to mention all that was great about tournament.  Though smaller than I had imagined (a result of there being no White Belt or Adult Divisions), the 2015 World Master Championship was a sight to behold and a real thrill in which to participate.

Don’t let the hair styles or expanding waistlines fool you.  Competition was as fierce as you’ll find anywhere and the post-match camaraderie just as strong.  Brazilian Jiu Jitsu is, if nothing else, inspirational as evidenced by competitors I saw overcoming a number of physical challenges and not being held hostage by them.

That was especially meaningful to me as my nephew, who is sight impaired, trains with Carlos Terrinha at Gracie Barra New England.  Having the chance to meet Carlos was another great take away from the tournament.

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And, finally, let’s not forget Las Vegas. This was the first year the World Master Championship was help there and the city did a great job hosting the event.  I think it’s fair to say that Vegas is a city unlike any other, and the heat of the desert certainly didn’t go wasted on the sore backs, knees, and necks of those who competed.  And, of course, there was the distraction of the casinos, restaurants serving large portions of protein-rich steaks, and shows ranging from Elton John to the Rat Pack.

I think it’s fair to say there was something for everyone and the IBJJF chose wisely.  I still remember the small jackpot I hit on one of the slot machines.  The ringing of the bells and the electronically replicated sounds of gold and silver coins clanging together as my winnings were tallied-up was enough to make me take my mind off my performance the previous day.

Without doubt, I plan to go back next year - and like all the others who will go to compete, the clanging of gold and silver I really hope to hear won’t come from slot machines but from the medals hanging around my neck.  And, in that instance, what will have happened in Vegas won’t stay in Vegas!

OSS !!!

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October 05, 2015 — Jiu Jitsu Style