Recently I was set to compete in ADCC’s Open tournament just days before the highly anticipated and prestigious Pro Event for trials winners and returning champions or medalists. ADCC has been colloquially dubbed “the Olympics of Jiu Jitsu” due to the fact it takes place every two years along with the incredible talent of participants, where one might face a two-time, back to back ADCC champion like JT Torres or a seven time IBJJF World champion and two-time ADCC champion first round like my Sensei Xande Ribeiro. Additionally competitors can score an invite by winning the trials or being a returning champion which means that it is nothing short of difficult to make the list of 8 females or 16 males that make each weight category. Needless to say it is a mega event, with this year boasting ticket sales of over 12,000 and the almost sold out arena indicating a demand for an even bigger venue in the year of 2024. For grapplers in the sport, competing at this stage is a dream and since I didn’t participate in the trials I set my eyes on the ADCC Open (a tournament hosted just days before the main event by the same promoters) where I would get to face some of the best fighters who although hadn’t won the trials were more than respectable athletes and competitors themselves. To provide some context in regard to the difficulty of winning the trials, this year had divisions with as many as 250 competitors, all matches being finished that day. As you might imagine, many were able to win four or five matches while still leaving the tournament without a medal. I apologize for the rather seemingly unnecessary information that I thought to divulge but I felt it was worth explaining the overarching scale behind the ADCC Open tournament which I had set my sights on. It was my belief that this would serve as a great test for me, being the second time competing in this ruleset (since being a brown belt in 2017) while providing valuable information and insight in regards to what I might improve to participate in upcoming trials and possibly ADCC in the future etc. After running it by my brother and a couple team members whose opinions I value, they agreed it would not only pose a good challenge for the skills I had been developing but that my style seemed to fit this type of tournament which favors takedowns, reversals and submissions. It is worth knowing that the sport of Jiu Jitsu is unique in the fact that many of the best practitioners can achieve success with little to no skill on their feet due to their proficiency on the ground by reversing their opponent or securing submissions. New spectators are often surprised to see athletes choose the bottom position immediately, by “pulling guard”, guard being how you defend and attack from the bottom position, which nullifies the need for takedown skills unlike the sports of wrestling, judo or sambo where success is almost entirely dependent on it. You might be interested to know that even the sports of Muay Thai and Sanshou incentivize staying on the feet and taking your opponent down from the clinch which results in spectacular shows of takedown ability whereas most Jiu Jitsu tournaments do not penalize opting for bottom position. ADCC however, penalizes pulling guard in order to encourage more action on the feet and provide a more fan friendly viewing opportunity.
Flash forward to Monday, the week of the tournament where I am set to compete that coming Thursday. There remain only a couple training sessions just to help me make weight and feel sharp, as the hard portion of preparation has already been completed. During an exchange with my training partner I got excited and in an attempt to quickly get up and take my training partner’s back I heard a loud pop on the outside (lateral aspect) of my right knee (lateral collateral ligament) followed by a sharp pain. While I attempted to finish the training session I knew that I had likely damaged my LCL which would be more than a reason to pull out of the tournament. While the severity of my injury was not too high and as appealing as the Open was, with the No-Gi Pan Americans and World Championships being just months away, I wouldn’t be able to justify missing the more major events for the Open which would in all likelihood, worsen the knee I had just hurt. It dawned on me in that moment that I was very likely going to have to miss the tournament and swallow the bitter pill of missing out. On top of that, as I felt the inflammation creeping in and my knee stiffening, I also had to prepare for an afternoon of teaching. This is the life of an athlete/business owner, you wear two coats and while donning one, forget about the other. As the day proceeded, my knee continued to get stiffer and tighter but I told myself that I would decide in the morning as that is usually the most revealing time following a trauma injury.
To little surprise, I woke up to a lot of stiffness and pain when I would walk. I had trouble flexing my knee past ninety degrees and took a good amount of effort to be able to walk. While I knew that it would likely improve as the day went by, I also knew that I was out of the 64 man bracket that I had been set to compete in in the next 48 hours. In my momentary lapse in training, I had lost sight of my immediate goal which should have been to sweat and not get injured which resulted in the tournament being snatched away from me and possibly something more serious. What’s done is done but there are always lessons and I make up that mine was one of learning to control my ego and stay on task. While there is no doubt that a competitive spirit is healthy and necessary for life, I had to learn the hard way that the bigger picture is more important than short term satisfaction. The more we can realize this in all aspects of our lives, the better decisions we can make on a regular basis. While there was no reason to push myself two days before a competition, I allowed my ego to take the wheel and although hindsight is twenty twenty, it does make you wonder in what other aspects one might be allowing their ego to lead us towards setbacks that could otherwise be avoidable. The lesson I now took is that there is no reason to feel “big” in training just days before an event and hopefully that will not only serve me but you the reader in the many other endeavors that lie ahead.