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Rick Baker is a white belt, and we know white belts are people too. In this instalment of ‘White Belt Fever’, Rick tries to establish if he's become 'that' guy on the mat.

So, you may remember some time ago, I wrote an article about being a bit too chilled out while I was training, and perhaps not training as hard as I could have been in terms of physical effort. At the time I was worried that this would have been mistaken for lack of effort and worried it may have appeared I was being lazy.

I therefore upped the effort a bit and I’m afraid I’ve come full circle. Am I now that douchey, super try hard white belt? Let’s look at how I got here.

About a month back I was training for a competition in Glasgow, and, I’ve seen Braveheart. I knew my fellow white-belts were going to come at me with all of the vigour of Mel Gibson on the battlefield, and who could blame them, I’m an Englishman invading their country in search of the spoils of war (in this case, a shiny gold medal). Now, I’ve competed in the past, and rather shamefully gassed out. Due to a mixture of nerves, trying harder than I've ever tried at anything (as your opponents do) and thinking that being fit enough for a few rolls in the gym would equate to being competition fit. This of course is not the case.

Knowing this, I had to make a conceited effort to try harder in the gym. Get extra rounds in, train for longer and train harder. By training harder, I mean when drilling, once I’ve figured out the mechanics of the technique I try to do the movements faster, and, when rolling, I tried to use speed and explosiveness. If in a defensive position (bottom side control for instance) I tried to be there for less than two seconds, often creating scrambles and probably rather panicked movement to get me out of a bad situation. I thought, in a month I won’t learn too much that I’ll be able to use in competition, so focused more on refining current techniques rather than skill acquisition.

This approach worked to a certain extent. When it came to competition time, I won my first match in the Gi thanks to a sweep in the last 30 seconds of the match. Elated, I walked off the mat, then remembered that I potentially had another three matches if I wished to claim that sweet Scottish gold. I sat down, my lungs were burning, and my arms were about as useful as a chocolate fireguard. I’d felt this before, the bile in your stomach and the sheer dread of having to do it all again without a body that functions at 100%, but, as time went on and there were a couple of matches in between my next one, I started to recover. My training was paying off, and, while I certainly wasn’t 100%, I was close. Here we are, round two. My opponent latches on to my arm with a Kimura grip that I fight for a good two minutes, and eventually, realising I either tap or my shoulder needs reconstructing, I concede, and my opponent advances to the next round. I head home without a medal, but glad that some of my training prep has paid off. Immediately I start thinking about which competition to sign up for next, in the car on the way home asking which of my teammates fancy competing soon, still a little amped up on leftover adrenaline.

The problem is, when I returned home and to my gym, I'd forgotten I altered my training style and it stuck with me much longer than required. After assessing some dates and realising what’s best for me, I decided I'll compete again in a couple of months’ time. So right now, while obviously still training hard I should be focusing on skill acquisition and technique, not frantically passing guard any way possible and trying my hardest to get a submission. I fear I’m back to making rookie mistakes, leaving my rolling partners a million holes to capitalise on and probably taking a slight step back in my Jiu-Jitsu progression.

How did I come to this moment of self-realisation? It was something my coach said to me, about my crazy breathing patterns while in compromising positions (bottom side control, when someone else has mount or my back etc). He also said something about me going at him with the fury of a thousand suns, but I’m just going to chalk that up to wanting to impress him with my newfound gusto and thinking he’ll be impressed by the sheer amount of effort. Obviously this was a mistake and he’d probably be much more impressed if I sat back and coolly swept him barely taking a breath, but I digress. Back to the breathing. I felt like kicking myself. After writing about training partners going 2000% and it not being beneficial, and in the past making a conscious effort to focus on my breathing and to really try and take it in my stride not to breathe erratically and use technique over strength. (I’m only 75kg, so there’s no chance I’m stronger than 75% of our gym because it's full of beasts) I couldn’t believe I’d been so stupid. The lesson here? Train appropriately for your goals. Got a comp coming up? Then go for it, you’re going to need that cardio, and let your training partners know, they might have some tips for you, or change the way they roll to accommodate you. Or just avoid you altogether depending on whether or not they want someone rolling with them 10,000mph. Training for fun? Don’t try and pull someone’s arm clean off on a Sunday morning. Chill out a bit and focus on your breathing. I know I will be.
April 21, 2023 — Jiu Jitsu Style