Losing but winning – The End of a Chapter

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This will be my last entry of a phenomenal chapter here in Brazil. On Sunday, I competed at the South American Championships in Sao Paulo, which I lost but I can’t help feeling this was a success in every sense and I’ll talk about that more after I’ve bored you with the backdrop of what went into creating the backdrop of that experience.

I’ve been training in two very different environments here. One gym has only men, few white belts (lowest grade) and a ‘white belt is nothing’ mentality – it verbally only recognises winning. The other is the Favela project where there are primarily only white belts training (5 -20yrs) and recognises the value of both winning participation. Both focus on training for competition but in very different ways and I have gained from both.

I do however expect there is a lot more ‘said’ in the ‘unsaid’ in both gyms which unfortunately is beyond my comprehension at the moment. When you talk to people on an individual level; all have experienced losing and the value of this for learning. When you enter a fight; one of you is going to win and one is going to lose so it is part of the sport. Whilst there is a ‘group’ dynamic the individual ethos’ within it are also very contradictory and different, which makes understanding at times a little tricky.

The other class is the favela project, the teacher is very much an educator – he teaches technique but also takes on the role of school teacher, parent and mentor all at once; tirelessly being on call 24/7 to all students. In that class, everybody’s evolution is taken seriously even though these are children and young adults with white belts and all very different abilities. The general essence is everyone matters. One student of my group who I have come to admire so much is a grown 75kg man who has never done sport in his life. He trains because he likes it, but every single training session he is floored, choked and joint locked by kids a fraction of his age and weight. He never gives up, is always happy and helpful, but is also always encouraged in silence. In the other gym he would be demolished, broken and injured. It is wonderful to see the progression of those that probably are never going to get to world champion standard. It is wonderful to see the inclusion of all in sport and further proof that Jiu Jitsu is for everybody and all sports can and should be for everybody.

On further reflection, now I can see the intent behind the disciplining and shouting in the Favela class and it is one of creating belief systems. It isn’t so much the expectation that students need and should become champions, it is just about creating the belief that this is a possibility, because in the process of trying, great things can happen regardless of outcome. The teacher manages to create a system whereby everybody believes in themselves, because he believes in his students; each and every one – and this is a form of encouragement even though it is not always said as words. Here, I revisit the things we can learn in the ‘unsaid’ – I’ve needed to learn this.

I had my own agenda on this trip. My primary goal was just to learn about life and Jiu Jitsu. I therefore designed the trip so as to be challenging. If I wanted only wins and medals I would have stayed in the UK and trained within the vague comfort zone of family and friends – I would not be travelling half way around the world on my own as a white belt with little skill. I love training, I love competing and I don’t train to lose but I have come to a point in my life where curiosity and the desire to to learn is just far greater than my fear of failure. In the end, I think I got bored of my own fear and once I realised the power of choice; choice to to have a different perspective – my world has really opened up.

I chose to have the experience of competing at the South American Champs in Sao Paulo. Probably a crazy one considering I have a handful of months training but to compete at a huge event and watch some of the best athletes could only be a good thing. What an experience this was. I travelled with my teacher from the Favela project who has never flown on a airplane before and sharing another’s first experiences is one of the best things. This was actually such a delight; to see someone so happy to be on a cramped Brazilian airplane and I have to say this was one of the highlight of my trip.

There were of course the usual unforeseeable’s that happen on any competition prep; mine was my weight! Within one and a half days of not training and sweating and girl time! – I’m weighing in 3kg over what I had planned! I’m accustomed to making weight for competitions so the last few weeks had been careful dieting and training, so I was not prepared for that one. Luckily whilst I’m a sponge for water, I can lose it very quickly and easily; and so we began an interesting weight cutting session in the sauna of a hotel in Sao Paulo. This involved a bin liner, sauna and running up and down stairs in a ‘shell suit’ – yup those were the days. I’m not going to advocate this method in any way but it worked for me with relatively little ill effect. In this competition, 2 minutes after weighing in you start fighting so I was slightly nervous about how I was going to feel, but somehow our strategy worked – I felt really strong! Further proof, what doesn’t make sense, often does!

My fight was a success in every way. I was excited, rather than nervous, I fought well and every technique we had trained so hard to do, I executed and it worked. I lost my fight by only a few points, but somehow I have gained so much confidence in the process. Being able to stand amongst great athletes with so much more experience than me and to actually feel I’m doing Jiu Jitsu rather than some frantic dance for survival to me feels like success. I came to Brazil with only strength and no skill; whilst this is still the case, I undoubtably have a little more skill. I also have so much more. I can now speak passable Portuguese and understand it, and I’m learning patience, flexibility and ‘how’ to learn. Patience seems to be that thing which protects your dreams and whilst I’m not even sure of what my dream is yet – I know that I just simply wanted to immerse completely in an experience, learn jiu jitsu, to evolve as a person and to tell a story.

I got to share this experience with another person that understands full well the difficulties of being a white belt and for this there is no need for conversation or explanation but simply being in their presence in silence was such a huge encouragement. When you travel alone you don’t know what you are going to find – sometimes it is not always good; it can be lonely and difficult beyond what you think is imaginable. Back in the ‘fighters’ gym, nobody asked how my fight was; maybe they care or maybe not, but for the first time I also realised I did’t mind and for me, this is a prize more precious than anything else.

I go home now for a few weeks of rest and I hope after the dust has settled of the last few very difficult months,  I will be able to communicate what exactly it is I have learnt! – In this moment, all I can say is I leave Brazil a different person, someone with much more peace of mind, gratitude, ‘quietude’ and contentment. Whilst nothing ever stays the same, I can’t help thinking these qualities are a little more long lasting.

For now, I’m not a champion of any world but I kind of feel like I have won ‘something’. Brazil and Jiu Jitsu no doubt have facilitated my evolution. I’m very much a white belt but this marks the start of my learning in this wonderful sport.

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