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How Do You Square Winning and Losing in Games and in Life?

I just competed in grappling for the first time, and boy are my arms tired!
Image courtesy Grappling Industries

On Saturday, I competed in my very first official grappling tournament. It’s been a little while coming: while I used to box before I basically destroyed my wrist, I’ve been training grappling (a mix of wrestling, Judo, and Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu) for a little over a year and a half. With, naturally, a few months off for a re-injury. I’ve wanted to compete ever since starting. I’m just the kind of person who loves to test herself physically and a lifelong athlete, but I waited until, well, I had at least a little bit of experience before signing up.


Submission grappling is a weird sport, and can be a little odd to watch for the first time, but it’s as intense as it gets, a physical challenge that pits two opponents, all of their skills, their grit, and their training, against one another for a set time. There are points, sure, but many matches end in submission—by chokehold, by “tapping” to a joint lock (like an armbar), or, well, by fainting. Your goal is to advance your position on your opponent and make them submit, or get enough points by getting them in bad positions by the end of the time limit.

Like I said in my impressions of UFC 3, I genuinely think grappling is the most fun you can have with your body while clothed. It’s a pure battle of wills—and everything else you bring to the mat with you, including anxieties, skills, natural talents, injuries, and muscles. There’s no special equipment, no teammates (at least, out there with you!), no one else to blame when things go poorly.

Because I’m me, I signed up for two divisions, and I had eight matches. I did terribly on paper—losing seven out of the eight. But I expected that, thanks to training partners who prepared me mentally and physically to do this, noting that the first time would be rough, to go in with absolutely zero expectations and be ready to learn. “It’s going to feel like you’ve been jogging, then you have to sprint,” I was told, and lord, that was the truth.


That 1-7 record isn’t great, but I’m glad I didn’t panic (a common occurrence, I’m told, with first time competitors, thanks to the intense, fight-or-flight response your body has to a match), and hey, I got that one victory, by triangle choke. It wasn’t a wash!

The most interesting part of the whole thing, looking back a couple of days later, is just how intense the tunnel vision aspect is. I was vaguely aware, on some level, of the friends coaching me. It sounds wild, like something out of a fighting game, but the world really did seem to melt away such that only my body and my opponent’s body existed. I was aware of physical sensations, breathing, how tired the other person seemed to be. What positions felt like. My training was there, in my reactions to movements. But my conscious brain felt almost… secondary. It was weird! And kind of cool, especially as I got a better handle on it as the day progressed and I racked up more mat time. Eventually, I was able to listen a little more actively to the coaching, and hopefully made some decent adjustments. But it still felt like those voices were coming from a distant planet, not from six feet away.

I’m no stranger to competing with others, as I played sports as a high-schooler and collegiate athlete (I was even a team captain in college). But racing is a little different. Boxing was even a little different. And I imagine high-level fighting game competitors might feel similarly when they engage in their own sport, that the lights and screams of the crowd melt away almost completely, something akin to background noise, while they do their thing.

I’m making myself rest from the mat for a few days, but I basically can’t wait to get back in the gym and improve on all those weaknesses. Rather than being discouraged, I’m pumped—now I know what I need to do! I seriously can’t wait to compete again, hopefully with some sharpened skills next time. I’d like to get a few more W’s, if possible, on my next outing.

How about you, dear readers? Have you ever been in a competition, virtual or physical, that brought something new out of you? Let me know in the comments!

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