A month ago, I thought it would be a good idea to go simulate murder in a structured environment, so I signed up to compete at the American Grappling Federation (AGF) 2017 Dallas event. At the time I had one and a half months of training, broken down into about 20 hours of class, and 16 hours of open mat time. I have no stripes on my white belt and get tapped daily, but I enjoy it. I gave myself a month to get ready.
A month of preparation
I had a month to prepare. I figured a month was plenty of time to dial in a diet plan, training plan and execute on those flawlessly. Unfortunately, things didn’t exactly work out the way I imagined they would.
Week 1, Dialing In My Diet
The first thing I did was download and start using the MyFitnessPal app on my phone. I was able to setup protein, carbohydrates, and fat intake macros and start eating like I was competing. I mostly dropped salt and sugar from my diet while working within a strict caloric maximum.
I learned the first few days of tracking how off my diet was though from where I wanted it to be. My protein intake was much lower than I expected. I spent a few days of playing around with foods to get the right mix. I ended up adding Phase 8 protein mix into my daily diet. Without a protein supplement, I found meeting my protein goal nearly impossible. My daily meal rotations always included a mix of tuna, sardines, protein mix, eggs and/or cottage cheese. I kept my intake of veggies and fruit the same, I was already eating enough there.
I also increased my water intake to about 6 liters a day. I was weighing around 175 pounds (79.4 kg) when I registered, to make sure I was in the 175 and under weight division, I planned to cut water weight. I got my entire plan from an extreme 10 day cutting regime. I found it easier most days to stay under calories than get my protein goal. Intense exercise like Jiu-Jitsu gives you a decent calorie deficit each day. I also focused more on specific training.
Week 1, Stepping Up My Training
Normally in my regular training, I am not vocal about what I would like to train. I take 100% guidance from the coach, the upper belts, or whoever is there to roll. Immediately after registering, I started asking for tips, what to expect, strategies I could employ. I specifically requested help with takedowns; this is an area where a lot of white belts, like me, lack experience. The reason for the inexperience I think is that white belts lack finesse and technique. Combine that lacking with forceful throwing and someone will probably get hurt quick.
I also played more from harder positions, like starting from the bottom trapped in side control or under mount, or even with my back already taken. Mentally this type of training I think calmed me as I got used to not panicking in bad positions.
Week 2, Surprise Discovery
This week threw me off a little. A few weeks earlier I had done some general medical screenings. Thankfully, the result came back clear of cancer markers or other disease but the tests revealed I had low testosterone. Finding out about having low testosterone was kind of a surprise. I had always been so athletic that I guess I just never thought it could happen to me. So, I began Testosterone Replacement Therapy (TRT) during my training.
Other than starting TRT, week 2 through week three was the same for me, consistent eating, training, lots of rest. Oh, and I gained weight, a side effect of TRT, which caused me to bump about 3 pounds over my weight division with only a week and a half left. I started stressing about that and cut my calories drastically, cut more salt and still was overweight by a couple pounds.
I did so well at keeping my diet in check, and by week four I was completely frustrated with the results. Although my water cutting plan should have seen me dropping water weight, I ultimately was too high in weight.
Week 4, The Countdown
Sunday week 4, I’m on the scale freaking out. I spent the entire day eating scraps, I cut half my calories for the day, resisted water, coffee, and anything else that could make me gain weight and I was over by three pounds still.
After maintaining a caloric deficit for weeks, training harder, and sleeping plenty I still gained weight. On Monday, I contacted AGF and moved up a weight division. I decided to relax a little since I knew I wasn’t making the lower weight, and go back to my normal week 1 eating habits.
Day Zero – Competition Day
I read a lot of other posts about this competition day, it seemed to me that most people get worked up about it. The biggest issue is butterflies in their stomachs and trouble sleeping. They recall much of the day as a blur. Maybe it was because I had to focus on our kids, who were also competing, but I was able to stay calm. I had a bunch of distractions before my own match. I couldn’t let the day be a blur when I had to help three small kids get to their matches, keeping up with them among hundreds of spectators.
I remember all of it actually. We got there about five minutes before the doors opened, parked perfectly in front of the doors and went in. Before competing, we got our competition shirts from pre-registration and then weighed in.
I weighed in at 180 pounds (81.4 kg), I was on the low end of the 190 and under division, not exactly where I wanted to be for my strategy. For the next 4 hours, I got to wait through the kid’s matches, wait for lunch, and then finally line up in the pit for my match. AGF allows you to weigh in without your Gi even if you are competing in a Gi. I was no-gi, so I weighed in using exactly what I would compete in.
So far, everything was pretty nonchalant.
To The Pits
Finally, they called my group, it was time! I rushed to the pits and then I stood there for about 20 minutes. We stood in the pits long enough that many of guys around me started complaining about having to pee. Personally, if I had to pee that bad, I would have gone and done it. There was a bathroom about 100 feet from us, but these guys said they would hold it.
I forgot up until then that I had also been moved to a younger group, I was reminded by the two young guys behind me who of course I started to measure up. The younger guy was about 15 years junior to me and seemed more muscular, his weight was 185 pounds (83.9 kg), so in my opinion, he had a good advantage in weight. The other guy, 11 years younger and 181 pounds (82.1 kg) was training for an MMA career. He started telling me about his prior wrestling experience in college and high school. I couldn’t help thinking, what the hell is this guy doing here? The rules of AGF clearly state if you are experienced in wrestling, Judo, or grappling, then you cannot compete as a novice, period.
I’m not sure how to handle possible sandbagging. This was my first tournament and I was mixed about the issue. On the one hand, I wanted the matches to be fair, to see how I measured up to my peers. On the other hand, I felt like if I had said something, then I would have come off as trying to find an excuse for why I might lose. I didn’t know what the right thing to do was so I did nothing. I still don’t know if I should have done anything. I guess, since the wrestling guy lost both his no-Gi and Gi matches, his previous experience didn’t end up mattering but it could have.
While we waited, I continued to make small talk with the guys. I was thinking we’re about to go choke each other, let’s at least be friendly. After what seemed like about 30 minutes we were led to our ring. I sat down and got comfortable waiting for my turn.
I’ve watched enough videos about first time BJJ matches to know how some of them go. I still expected mine to go down like two ninjas fighting for their lives. It certainly didn’t go down how I would have expected. You can watch it here if you would like.
I can say that the strategies I had practiced for takedowns were not employed. My opponent was very strong and was able to keep me from shooting in for his legs at all. We ended up in an elimination round, where I won by taking his back for points. I really wanted to win my first match by submission, but that just didn’t happen. My opponent in no-Gi went on to also compete with a Gi and won 1st place in his division.
What I learned
Unless you are a professional making money, don’t waste your time trying to cut weight. It could completely backfire on you. Just keep at what you are already doing.
Don’t stress about it, it’s just a competition. Everyone else is probably stressing so come ready to make small talk, walk around, relax, bring food and water. This is where you can find an advantage, in your nerves. Staying calm will give you a critical edge, adrenaline is the minds enemy.
Be prepared too, you need to make a checklist of your gear, and bring everything you might need. I watched numerous people disqualified for items that could have easily been resolved if they had brought everything they could have needed. I’ll add a checklist in later based on the items I witnessed being useful.