Or one of them, at least: Injury.
Two weeks ago, I went home for the first time in eight months or perhaps longer then that still. I’m not exactly sure. The last time I distinctly remember being home was when my ankle was still injured from tough Abu Dhabi Pro-Trials training. In any case, this time I went home without injury and had made the conscious decision to train with all my old friends back home.
So I arrive, and look up my two oldest friends still in the business of doing jiu-jitsu. Today some seven years now past since I first started training with these two individuals, they now hail from two separate academies. First on the agenda is going to visit my old instructor.
And visit him I did. He has a new location, a shared space with some CrossFit-types. It’s a far cry from the puzzle mats which NEVER fit together properly and two-students-is-a-good-class days when I first used to train with him. And he had a fair bit of students too, most surprisingly some of the old students I used to train with ~5 years ago.
Now I write to you, my audience, reaching for the words to describe those familiar feelings when you see old friends who’ve progressed so much since you saw them last. With that feeling too comes the knowledge that you yourself have progressed so much since you saw them last; so many things have happened. What? What is that feeling? The immeasurability of time. It just keeps passing, with or without our permission. I don’t know. I don’t know what that feeling is.
So after a lot of back-slapping and how-do-you-dos, my former instructor – now a seasoned brown belt – and I lock horns on the mats. We’re having a fairly competitive match for the first five minutes. It feels a bit strange, as this man first taught me how to do a triangle, how to do an armbar, how to control someone from the back, et cetera, et cetera. It feels strange now being competitive with someone who used to be able to beat me so goddamn handily back in the day. I realized, as we were grappling, that I have tough matches every day on the mats. In the city where I live, the BJJ community is large enough such that there are people who can push me wherever I need to be pushed. My Former Instructor lives in a very small community and does not have access to the same quality of training partners. I also get among the highest technical instruction available in Texas; and it shows NOT in that I think I am the Technique-God’s Gift to Jiu-Jitsu. Rather I would say when I’m rolling with someone, I can ‘feel’ whether or not this person is going to pose a legitimate threat by how they respond to technical problems which arise while rolling.
After about five minutes of back and forth – we were still warming up – the match started getting pretty heated. It’s just one of those things that happens. From mount, I went for an armbar. MFI managed to get on top, and successfully defend the armbar. His posture was immaculate, grips well-placed too, so I decided to open my guard to see if I could manage to open an avenue for attack. Now having placed him in butterfly guard, I reached into the back of his collar to start working on controlling his posture (eventually setting him up for a sweep, let’s say). With my hand in the back of his collar, he rolls my elbow up, and slaps on the fastest reverse-armbar ever seen Across The Seven Seas.
Recognize, however, that he was in MY butterfly guard. Not the other way around.
And somewhere in my old sunnuvabitch brain I knew as he began to apply it: I was not tapping. Not to that. Consequences be damned. If someone’s in your guard, you can ALMOST NEVER be tapped. Position before submission. The days of tapping while in my guard are long since past.1
Then came those too-familiar popping sounds. Tendons and ligaments tear. Bones start to loosen from their cartilage hinge. But, just like the last time I refused to tap to something (has not happened since the days of my white belt career – and that was for very different reasons), there was surprisingly little pain. Warmth. What I felt in my elbow was warmth.
MFI stopped applying the submission and asked if I was okay. “Sure,” I said. I hadn’t made a single sound in pain. “I’m fine. Are you ready to continue?” I said, now warm-elbowed but as still and calm as the morning dew. He looked at me like I was crazy. And of course, I was. [I am.] We slapped hands and continued.
My approach may or may not have been along the same lines as the nightmare scene in The Cable Guy. I was armbarred as he feigns leaving at ~0:53. Then I recapitulate my attack with renewed vigor at ~1:13.
“I just want to consume your immortal soul on the mat. NO BIG DEAL!”
However, as you may be surprised to learn my audience, when tendons, ligaments and such get partially torn, the first thing that happens to that limb is the loss of stability. The second thing usually associated with partially-torn tendons/ligaments is loss of grip strength, or loss of finger articulation. I earned my full-mount, and intended to capitalize as tight and technically as I could. But my left arm was made out of rubber bands now. As I sunk my right grip deep into his lapel for the old Roger Gracie Special and carefully tried to swing the rubber band arm around his head to sink the other half of the choke, he blocked his lapel. Trying to sink the choke with 20-pounds of rubber bands for an arm, I realized, was pointless. Even if I could push my rope-of-an-arm through to where it needed to be, I could not realistically secure a tight enough grip to strangle an infant.
Five more minutes of futility pass, then our match ends. No victor. No points. A draw.
Was it worth it? That’s a hard question to answer. Since I’m injured now – I have something called Golfer’s Elbow – the obvious answer is “No, of course not, you ignorant bastard.” But in another sense, the answer is “Yes. Yes it was.” There, however, is where I must leave it.
After the holidays, tournament season is going to start up again. There’s a big one in February. Golfer’s Elbow takes up to six weeks to heal. It’s been two. Depending on how the rest of the recovery goes, I’m going to participate. Whatever the case, I’ll keep you informed, my audience. Thanks for reading. Happy Wednesday.
1. Whether or not I had enough time to tap is really a separate question. I suspect the answer is ‘no.’ That fact, however, does not change the fact I was NOT going to tap to such a cheap submission.