Adventures Competing in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu
Lindsay trains under Jason Bircher of Kansas City Brazilian Jiu Jitsu and the Renato Tavares Association. When she's not grappling, she trains Muay Thai and mixed martial arts. Lindsay trains in MMA at American Top Team KC under the tutelage of Jason High.
A self-proclaimed MMA nerd, Lindsay fell in love with the sport after her husband forced her to watch UFC 1-12, bouts from Pride Fighting Championships, and The Ultimate Fighter.
Lindsay runs the KC Women's Fighter Alliance, a group dedicated to connecting female martial artists in Kansas City and its surrounding area.
You can follow Lindsay on Instagram at LBeatMMA.
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February 12, 2017, I found myself walking into a gymnasium in St. Joseph, Missouri for my first Brazilian Jiu Jitsu competition. Walking into the competition area, I thought, "This is crazy. Why am I doing this?" and the question I would ask myself many times that day, “What the hell is going on?”
Putting yourself intentionally in a situation where the risk of breaking a limb, getting choked unconscious, and other potential physical harm, is generally not something one would do voluntarily.
But, next thing I knew, I was standing on the mat, hair in cornrows, my opponent standing in front of me. I could tell she was bigger than me, but I wasn't sure by how much. While size isn't always the most important factor in jiu jitsu, in my white belt experience, size can make a difference when you’re working with a limited skill set.
In my experience at smaller competitions, weight divisions for women are essentially non-existent. If memory serves me correctly, there were two weight divisions for women white belts at this tournament: 135 and below and 135 and above. If you are a woman considering competing and it’s a small competition, be aware that you may not compete against others who are your weight. The fact of the matter is, there’s not enough women training and competing in jiu jitsu to make comprehensive weight classes at many tournaments. So, if you want appropriately sized competitors, start encouraging other women to do jiu jitsu!
Without too much time for analysis, the referee tells us to start. And I think.... "Okay, now what?"
There's someone yelling so loudly at my opponent that I can't hear what my coach is telling me to do. She rushes to my side, picks me up and takes me down. As I feel my legs go out from under me, I feel my body being lifted in the air. All 150lbs of me is being hoisted by my lady-gorilla opponent.
The next moments are a blur. I manage to briefly get to turtle (a defensive position) before she takes my back. From there she quickly establishes a collar choke which I attempt to defend, but her grips are strong and I’m unable to break them. I feel the collar of my gi tighten and my instinct tells me to get the hell out of Dodge. I tap and the match is over.
I lost, and I lost quickly. From start to finish, my first jiu jitsu match in a tournament was less than two minutes long.
I’m a white belt, and a fairly small person, but not weak by any definition. I have many training partners who are bigger and/or better than me, so I’m used to getting my ass kicked on regular basis. However, losing my first match wasn’t the same feeling as losing during practice. It was very scary because unlike my training partners, that woman wanted to kill me.
After the match ended and my opponent got her hand raised, I left the gymnasium as quickly as possible. Walking out, I passed random, crying people, who also presumably lost (you’ll see that a lot in jiu jitsu and judo tournaments). My husband, seeing my defeated expression, told me not to cry. I’m glad he did. Had I let myself cry, I’m not sure I could have mentally recovered. As much as jiu jitsu is a physically demanding sport, it’s an emotional one, too.
Through the encouragement of my coach Steven Graham and my husband Kyle, I managed to get my shit together and compete four more times that day. I lost a total of 3 matches and won 2 that day. And, while it was difficult, after I lost my first match (and for the record I lost both of my gi matches back to back) I said, “Fuck it, I’m already here. May as well. I have nothing to lose.”
Win or lose, you learn that neither one defines you. It’s how you choose to carry yourself afterwards that matters most. Do you cower in the shadows? Or, do you put it out all out there and see what you’re made of?
Competing is terrifying because again, unlike your training partners, your opponents will go for the kill. They won’t ease into submissions, and you only get one opportunity to win - there’s no restarting during the round like you’ll often do during practice. Once it’s done, it’s done.
The benefit to competing is that it gives a way to evaluate your game compared to people similar in your size and level, and a more realistic approach to jiu jitsu than you generally experience at your school. It’s by no means a ‘must-do’ endeavor for jiu jitsu, but can be a very enlightening one.
Seven matches and three tournaments later, I've improved to a record of 8 wins, 6 losses.
Jiu jitsu is a sport that requires consistency and above all things, patience. I've seen countless people quit after a class or after a handful of months - the reasons, I’m sure, various - but one, primarily, I think being out of frustration. Those that stick with it are not necessarily the most athletic or naturally talented, but rather the ones that simply refused to give up, even when it was hard.
After my most recent competition at the Sunflower State Games, I walked away with 4 wins and 0 losses. It was my third competition and in many ways the hardest and the easiest. It was also the most emotional, as it was the culmination of two years of hard work, sacrifice and grit.
Not every match was perfect, but it was an important milestone for someone like myself who never had any initial interest in competing at all.
Stepping onto the mats day in and day out is a grind, and competition is a way to test yourself against others trying to do the same. Jiu jitsu forces you to come to face to face with your greatest strengths and weaknesses, with a tough love that only determination for progress can resolve.