NAGA (North American Grappling Association) certainly lived up to its billing as the "Worlds Largest Grappling Tournaments" with their first ever World Jiu Jitsu Championships this past weekend in Dallas, Texas. Murmurings in the crowd from various officials was that all told they were expecting close to 2000 competitors for the whole weekend! If so it would be a NAGA record.
This was the first NAGA event I have ever participated in and I signed up for both gi and no gi, masters heavyweight divisions. Weight brackets were basically 225+ for super heavy (hell's no!), and 200- for cruiser (did not want to have to cut drastic weight when traveling so far). So I was quite happy at the heavyweight division and actually came in a bit light with clothes and shoes on I was 216, so probably about 210-211 naked (sorry for that image). There was no healthy way for me to bulk on another 10 pounds. Eating more just makes me feel slower and sluggish. I did not have time to put muscle weight on.
Held at the Nytex Sports complex in Richland Hills Texas, the facilities were pretty nice as we essentially fought on an indoor soccer pitch that had hockey boards and glass enclosing the whole competition floor (this will be important later). Dollamur mats lined the turf where 12 rings were running simultaneously all day. The changing rooms and bathrooms were quite honestly sub par. Basically the complex is a huge ice arena and the changing rooms straddled the ice rink and the indoor soccer pitch, and the rooms did not have showers, bathrooms, nor much fresh air. For me it brought back great memories of hockey as a teen, for others it was quite bothersome. The bathrooms were separate and small with toilets overflowing. Not a very sanitary nor clean environment.
Overall the day was run pretty smoothly. Officials kept the mats rolling and I never saw more than a 5 minute break with any ring. NAGA allows last minute registration which is a pet peeve of mine. IBJJF cancels registration 5 days prior to any tournament so that they can make the brackets and give an rather accurate estimated time that you will grapple. With tournaments that allow walk up registration the brackets are made as the day unfolds, which translates into a lot of hurry-up-and-wait scenarios with the competitors. NAGA offers a general timeline that was generally accurate; I was supposed to fight between 2-4pm and I hit the mat at 4:30. I understand the promoters are trying to get every penny they can, and I certainly do not begrudge them for that. That said, it makes it tough to get warm, stay warm and know when one can take a few hour break to either eat, rest, or stay warm. Not knowing is always the worst.
Officiating was spot on as far as I saw. I heard some competitors bitching and moaning, but from the sound of each complaint it was the competitor blaming officiating for the competitors lack of understanding the rules, or just flat out losing. Every referee and official I spoke with was super polite, answered my questions directly, and if they did not know they got someone who did to answer the question. Simply put the best officials I have seen. Sometimes fighting at IBJJF tournaments gets frustrating as many referees do not speak fluent English, and often come with an air of indifference to ones questions (something I know the IBJJF has been working on). All of my matches were called cleanly and fairly on both sides.
Overall the competitors were some of the nicest, most polite (one guy was apologizing as he was tapping me!), and respectful people I have fought against/with! This can only be due to one thing... southern manners (something the Pac NW could use a huge helping of)! Even during the rules meeting the announcer stated that Texas competitors have the best sportsmanship that NAGA sees anywhere in the world! I made more friends and laughed the hardest I have ever when competing. Even while rolling guys were making sure to apply the chokes and locks gradually, giving plenty of time for the tap. I did see a few knee's get blown, more so due to people trying to fight out of hell hooks and knee bars. NAGA allows all leg locks in their no gi divisions. I am not sure how I feel about this as I am a big leg attack guy, but if people do not have experience with leg attacks injuries can happen, and leg attack injuries are quite severe.
Some Feedback for NAGA:
Here are just a few unsolicited suggestions for NAGA:
- Next time get some air flow going in such a restrictive environment. It was too stifling towards the end of the day.
- Consider pre-registration cut offs for future events this big. It would run much smoother and allow the athletes time to properly prepare.
- I would like to see a NAGA event in the Pacific NW sometime in 2012! After all it is the NORTH AMERICAN Grappling Assoc. and the Pac NW is really one of the only places they do not visit (actually most of the west coast). No other major tournaments exist up here, and with the talent pool from Vancouver and Portland, Seattle would be a perfect place to host a tourney as it is only 3 hours away from both major cities.
By the end of the day I fought 6 times in four different division's covering two weight classes as well as two age groups. To be brutally honest I have mixed feelings on my performance. I always enter a tournament with three goals (different goals each tournament) which are predicated upon what I have been working on in the lab, something I want to accomplish in my personal game etc. etc. I never list a goal as "I want to win" as that is redundant and not a personal goal. For example this tournament I had three goals:
- Impose my will / Dictate the fight
- Flow... I am really trying to not muscle things and be smooth
- Have fun (this is often a goal, because in the end if you are not having fun then competing is misery)
I had one fight, the championship for Masters Heavyweight Blue Belt, where I felt I completely played my game and met all of my goals. The rest of the fights I had fleeting moments, but my timing was off.
My opponent in the championship round took me down HARD with a 1/2 double leg, 1/2 tackle. The sloppiness of his arm positioning allowed me to immediately entangle his arm. It happened as a reflex which means certain parts of my game are FINALLY sinking in! I started to work my game getting my grip on his collar and locking down his arm, simultaneously bugging his neck and left arm looking for what he will give up. Overall he did a pretty good job defending my attacks and started to bring his butt up and drive his right shoulder into my jaw in an effort to clear the right arm. This is the right thing to do but when you are rolling with Cashcab you are going for a ride! I quickly under hooked his left leg with my right arm and started to work my Pendulum sweep. His balance was good so it took me a few attempts rocking him back and forth and finally got him over, mounting and crushing immediately. I cooked him for a minute or so all the while bugging his neck and arm to ensure I did not get called for stalling. Naturally I started working for the americana, which he defended decently and then started to work me into 1/2 guard. I tried peeling his hands off my leg but he managed the angle so I went with it and quickly moved my left arm across his body into the kimura control Brian was showing two weeks ago.
This is where it all gets blurry... Never ceases to amaze me how adrenaline affects the mind and body. I have yet to watch the fight footage, but from what I can recollect here is what transpired:
I started to work the kimura all the while he was trying to sweep and roll me. I was controlling him well but had to be relaxed and smooth to maintain my balance. I attempted the pry bar where I use my noggin to put a bend in the arm and then finish with a wrist lock. Again he defended well, but started to get lazy with his 1/2 guard where he opened up his legs in an attempt to sweep me, I capitalized and cleared his guard and scooted into mount again. By now he had turned his arm up so I worked the americana and nailed it! I did not even see the time left.
I will not banter on about every match as I had five others. I fought in no gi heavy intermediate; gi heavy masters (gold), gi super heavy masters; gi adult (18-29) heavy. All my opponents were strong and solid competitors. The times I got tapped they were new techniques I have never been tapped with before, so at least it is something new. Towards the last couple of matches I was starting to gas. The combination of no solid food since the AM, and the ungodly amount of stagnant air and heat in the encapsulated arena did not help. People were barfing all over the place and getting hypoxia. No excuses though, I need to better my conditioning so that I can fight 100% even with no food in my stomach over long periods of time. Imagine warriors of the past complaining about such things on the field of battle!
I made several good friends fighting that day. My buddy Rashad whom I fought in the masters super heavy deserves a special shout out. Rashad tapped me with a solid throat crush (all the while apologizing), and while we were laughing and talking about how old he is feeling, I find out he is an Iraq war veteran who was wounded in combat by an IED. Rashad had a plate thrown into his head to keep his brains from sliding all over!!! He even showed me the divot in his head!
I reached out and shook his hand and said, "First of all thank you for your service. Secondly mad fucking respect bro for stepping up and competing in your first tournament!"
Another friend who deserves some recognition is Justin Gonzalez. Justin is an Specialist with the Army Infantry stationed at Ft. Bliss, and fighting with their fight team. Justin is a white belt who wanted a challenge so he stepped up to the blue belt divisions and did really well. Solid cat with a great Jits game. Justin, thank you for your service brother! It was an honor to fight you!
So tell me your excuse for not competing!
As I stated I am still analyzing and going over in my mind what I need to do to improve. I plan on sitting down with Brian in the near future to analyze tape. Overall I am frustrated with my game. I should be doing better after 4 years, 2 1/2 at blue belt! Some things I realize immediately:
- One really needs a team to help support and warm up. Thanks to my bro Big Mike for taking me to the tourney, taping, and helping throughout the weekend! But without a warm up roll it takes a match or two to warm up. Those are precious matches that cannot be lost!
- I felt my offense was solid, but my defense continues to be riddled with holes. My arms float out too much.
- On a positive note I got lots of compliments on my guard from my opponents!
- The Machado family is awesome! Mucho thanks to Brandon Bravo for helping coach me during my no gi matches. He was super nice and really helpful, though I could not hear him much during my matches. Everyone in the Machado family are out to help!
- My Blackhawks gi got mad props throughout the day! That's right haters I wore it and with style! Got all sorts of compliments on it!
- Hillary Williams and Riley Bodycomb were their, the former reffing, while Riley competed. Riley is super nice and approachable, and he nailed a wicked strong and fast heel hook in his first fight!
- I met Baret Yoshida and watched him DOMINATE the pro division without even breaking a sweat! The guy is simply one of the best. Nice guy too!
Well that is a long enough post, and if any of you are still awake and reading I just want to say thanks to those who did show up last week to roll. I really needed the minutes on the mat and for some reason the dojo has been barren lately. Much thanks to my family and Dana. And of course eternal thanks to my teachers Brian Johnson and Tim Cartmell. I do my best to make you proud. I have a lot of work to do.
Back to the mat!