EDITED for some stuff I forgot (like putting in the NAME of the competition, duh). What, I wrote this at 2 in the morning.
I'm just going to treat this post as "COMPETITION JOURNAL 2009:5".
Day 31 (May 1)
Flew from Kuching to KL. You know how some people clap when the plane lands? Well, my guys applauded when the plane took off. They also applauded when the plane landed. And when the stewardess announced, "ladies and gentlemen, welcome to Kuala Lumpur International Airport". Some even clapped when everyone stood up to get their bags. The food was really good though, a veggie omelette.
Flew from KL to Manila after a short transit period. Food was also very impressive, a chicken curry with briyani rice that I wouldn't let myself finish, *SIGH*.
Got to the hotel after a surprisingly long taxi ride. It seems like I got the old bait and switch again by the internet - I could have sworn it was something like 2 kilometers from the airport to the hotel. I get here and ask where SM Mall of Asia (venue for the competition - I deliberately booked it as it was "just down the street") and I am informed that it is a 20-minute walk.
I get in touch with Aziz, and am tempted to cancel my room reservation and go stay where he is if he's closer. He's not. Never mind then, I check in and get sorted, then decide to walk to the mall.
Online, all the buildings are friendly, orange rectangles beside a welcoming street in a matching orange (which looks a very invitingly short length, relative to the nice, happy buildings. It makes it seem that you can just pop back and forth in between the hotel and mall. In reality, I had to navigate a semi-complex system of elevated walkways connected to the public trains (for this being my first time, I was a bit disoriented), and then duck across a couple of main highways, passing through some ghetto-looking area.
The mall itself is very impressive. Loads of stuff to check out, I could spend a day here window shopping. I went to get some dinner, which ended up in the form of a teriyaki chicken salad that was actually really, really good. I also scouted the area where the competition would be held, the Music Hall. I got close to it and heard a loud commotion. I thought, "this doesn't sound like a bunch of guys setting up a BJJ comp?"
It wasn't. There was some fun fair type thing happening, and on the main stage there was some Filipino boy band singing Akon covers. I thought that was funny, and left it at that. I have to say they were actually quite good though.
After picking up the obligatory supplies for the coming day (bananas, Gatorade, water, Mars bars) I cabbed it to Aziz's hotel. When I got there what greeted me but the sight of several hundred soldiers and SWAT teams, armed with automatic rifles and riot gear. Yup. Apparently every year at this time there's a riot in front of the American embassy, which is right next to the hotel. How come Lonely Planet never covers this kind of stuff, huh?
I met Aziz in the lobby and we walked through several battalions on the way to find some place to eat and catch up. I really enjoy hanging out with this guy, it's one of the things that has helped make my three previous competitions that much more fun.
Went to bed at 11pm.
Day 32 (May 2) - COMPETITION DAY - PAN ASIAN BRAZILIAN JIU JITSU INTERNATIONAL
Woke up at 2am. Tried to get back to sleep.
Woke up at 3am. Tried to get back to sleep.
Woke up at 4am. Tried to get back to sleep.
Woke up at 5am. Tried to get back to sleep.
Got up at 5.20am. I have no idea why my sleep was so restless, this has never happened before.
Took a cab to SM Mall of Asia at 7am. I really didn't want to walk all that way again. Besides, I want to get there nice and early, right (they listed their start time at 9am)? Right?
Get to Music Hall at 7.20am or so. There's almost nobody else here. Fine, so I pull out the ipod.
8am comes and goes. People start showing up at 8.30 though, that wasn't too painful. When most of the people are there, we start registering and I find out that while you can check your weight, official weigh-ins are not until right when your division gets together.
If the wait wasn't bad enough, I was also feeling really hungry. I was hoping for a system like they had in the FBT Thailand Open, where you weigh in at the start and you can go do whatever. But the BJJFP is now affiliated with the IBJJF, so we have to use their rules. Ok, so how long do I have to wait? I am told blue belts won't compete until 2pm. Huh?
I spent time chatting with Aziz and also some of the Escobar BJJ guys. It was good to catch up with guys like Eugene and Aaron, who I had not seen in a long while.
At one point, though, I spotted Silvio Braga there! I talked to him for a bit and was surprised to see he still remembers me. Either that or he has at least a passing memory of an Asian guy with a goatee visiting his BJJ class, I guess we're not all that common. I found out he's planning on opening up his own place in central Hong Kong. Like I said, if I ever do go back to Hong Kong (they have competitions too, right?) I'm definitely packing my gi!
That aside (though it was cool), I was starting to feel a bit miserable. I was really hungry, but didn't want to put myself over the limit. I was making do with munching on some biscuits. They were OK but some big, juicy lamb chops would really have hit the spot.
I also met this guy Ben, who is a Brit living in Japan. He's here representing AACC. He's a cool guy. He's the only person I've met in the 6 years of having the tattoo on my right arm, who recognized the reference, which was very impressive.
They started a bit late (closing in on 11am), beginning with divisions for the kids, women and masters, followed by the first white belt divisions. The kids were first, and I don't know why, but they did a guided warmup on the competition mats for what felt like 30 minutes before starting.
I checked my division when it was posted and found out that my first match would be with JR Santos, whose name sounded familiar. I think I saw him in Thailand. At any rate, he remembered seeing me there. There were 4 guys in my division.
Pretty suddenly though, they made the announcement that the blue belts should start weighing in and warming up! I was surprised, and I knew just by looking around that everyone else was caught off guard too. I rushed to the weigh-in station, clocking in at 68.5 to 69. I'm not exactly sure, it was an analog scale and the needle kept jumping. Anyway.
MATCH 1: MENS' BLUE BELT, PENA DIVISION, v. J R SANTOS, TEAM VPF
As soon as the match started and we got sleeve grips, he jumps guard. He tried to play a very aggressive guard game, but I pretty much knew that's what he was going to try so I flattened him out. He tried to get on an angle to sweep or triangle, but I squared myself up.
I got my arm around the back of his neck and immediately developed "Ezequiel Eyes". Somehow it was the one and only thing that I could see, so it's the only thing I went for. He did open his guard to try and create space to escape a couple of times, but I didn't bother trying to pass. I didn't want to have to deal with his speed (and he did look like a very agile fellow) so I killed his space.
I went for the Ezequiel a couple of times and didn't get it. I heard his coach tell him that's what I wanted, and to counter with a cutting armbar. I thought "OK, I know that counter, I'll be fine. It won't get me".
Then, though, I heard the coach yell out that I wasn't playing a tactical game. At the time I let it roll off my back but the more I think about it, the more I resent it. I feel I played a very tactical game. I knew what this guy wanted to do, and shut him down through a series of very deliberate, sequential actions, with a specific, set goal in mind i.e. the Ezequiel. That's not tactical? But whatever.
In any event, he defended another deep Ezequiel attempt but I finally manage to hit a good one. He fought it as best he could, but I had it locked tight.
Result: Win via submission (Ezequiel choke).
After the match I felt pretty fresh actually. For some strange reason, made stranger by the fact that we were outdoors, I wasn't even sweating much.
MATCH 2: MENS' BLUE BELT, PENA DIVISION, FINAL v. ISAAC CHANG, BJJ TAIWAN
The match started with him playing a very cautious grip game, then as soon as he had a grip he jumped guard. He tried a few hook sweeps but couldn't get them, so he pulled closed guard.
I tried to pop open his legs to pass, but he wasn't having it, keeping my posture broken. At one point he got my left arm across my centreline and tried to take my back, but I walked myself back to face him. He tried a few times to get one of his feet to hook under my leg. I wasn't very comfortable with that but found out I could fix it by straightening the leg and then bringing the knee back in.
After a couple of attempts to pop his guard open he tries to triangle me. I get both arms through between his legs though and I'm safe for the moment.
I hear Aziz yelling at me that I have to do something. I don't remember if he said I was behind on advantages or what have you. Anyway, at that point he tried to sit up and when I flattened him I had my arm around his neck, so what the heck, I went for an Ezequiel.
I get it, and he's also fighting pretty hard. I remember thinking "please don't pull back, just tap, please don't..." and then all the tension in his neck disappears. That's not good. Fortunately I'm now at least slightly useful to have around when someone blacks out. I pulled him up and held his shoulder down in case he forgets where he is (hey, happened to me).
Result: Win via submission (Ezequiel choke).
I spent a bit of time after the match to make sure he was OK and we chatted for a bit. He looks at me, smiles, and says "I should have just opened my guard". Another cool guy, who as things would have it, wouldn't see the end of me just yet.
But in the meantime...
Aziz was going strong in his division, he also had 3 other guys in his division. He won both by points to take gold for the first time as a blue belt! He fully deserves this success, he's worked hard for it and has definitely put the mat time in.
Also, Escobar BJJ took home 2 medals: Eugene won gold in his division and Aaron brought home a bronze. Good work, guys!
MATCH 3: MENS' BLUE BELT, ABSOLUTE v. ISAAC CHANG, BJJ TAIWAN
I was fully expecting to have to go with someone else, as per the printed schedule, but there was some reshuffling and a bunch of guys had their opponents switched.
This was a really interesting match. He had just wrestled me and knew exactly what he didn't want me to do. He gets sleeve grips and immediately goes into a tomoe-nage, which he doesn't finish (and doesn't get takedown points) but he turns it into a helicopter armbar attempt.
Fortunately my arm's at a funny angle for him, so I turn it further to my advantage and pull it out. He spins to face me and gets a butterfly guard, using sleeve grips to trap my arms to the outside of his legs.
It turns out his grips are pretty strong, and it's all I can do to get my arms on the insides of his legs. At one point he isolates one arm and goes for a triangle. Luckily I see it coming and get my other hand in between his legs. He's still going for it though - he has the cutting leg directly across my neck and he's pulling my head down. However, I don't feel any pressure. It's just that I can't posture up.
Scott Calver from Kreation BJJ was there to compete in his Purple belt division and started yelling for me to get my knee to his hips. I do and it helps me escape. I make the mistake of looking at the scoreboard and see that Isaac has an advantage. I stand up to try and pass through his legs, but he grabs my ankle for the sweep and 2 points.
I pull guard, but he stands up, grabs my lapel, straightens his arm and bases out. He's there for the remainder of the match while I try in vain to get something.
Result: Loss via points, ME: 0 points, ISAAC: 2 points, 1 advantage.
It was actually a really fun roll, he's very strong and technical, with a great open guard game (which does make me wonder why he wanted to play closed guard in our division).
After it was all said and done, we got to chill out and watch some great matches. The BJJ Taiwan team put on a terrific show, with guys like Demitri and Vladimir who were really fun to watch. It also helped that their whole team was very cool.
The purple belts also were great to watch, with Mr. Sebastian Desvignes putting on a stellar bunch of performances, even winning the "Match of the Day" award! When I wrestled him in Bangkok he weighed around 85 kilos with gi. Today he weighed in at 79 kilos, and was every bit as strong. His secret? Train 6 days a week and do super cardio. Note to self.
There was also a purple belt from Guam here who was just as impressive as Sebastian, winning the absolute. I think his name is Javier, but I'm not sure. Young, very strong, very skilled, very fast. A total beast.
I went to get changed and got a drink at the nearby Coffee Bean with Aziz, then went back to the seating area and had a good chat with Aaron that lasted maybe 20 minutes. Then we all just kind of sat up and went "hey, where's our medals?" It took them a fair while more to get everything ready for the medal ceremony. Maybe they were still figuring out who won which award for best team, I don't know.
However. When they did announce the medal ceremony was going to start...they made everyone put their gis back on. Yes. That's right. The same disgustingly rank, filthy, sweaty and in some cases blood-encrusted gis that most guys had already changed out of. And if you didn't at least put the top on they made you go back and get dressed. I'm not going to say anymore about this but dude. Seriously.
The night ended with a good dinner at a Mediterranean restaurant in the mall, some lively banter and a spot of shopping. In the morning I'll be heading back to the mall to catch some no-gi action before flying off home (I wanted to enter no-gi but due to the fact there's only one MAS flight a day out of Manila, it turns out I can't both do that and be in Kuching on Monday).
1. I improved upon my performance in Bangkok. There I got 2 wins (1 by submission, 1 by points) and a loss by 5 points. Here I got 2 wins (both by submission) and a loss by 2 points.
2. All the competitors got a free can of Pocari Sweat.
3. I'm still hard to submit and nobody's gassed me out in the middle of a match before.
4. It's beautifully easy to get a taxi in Manila who won't try and cheat you (especially when compared to Bangkok or even Kuala Lumpur).
5. Malaysia is finally starting to get more BJJ competitors. This time out, there were maybe 6 Malaysians competing, bringing home 2 golds (myself and Eugene) and a bronze (Aaron). I hope this will push them all to do better in the future and get something really cool going.
6. Meeting so many cool guys there. It's always one of the highlights of the tournaments I've been to.
1. I still can't get more than 3 matches in a day. I would love to get to 4 but it will be a month until I can try again.
2. If I lose a match it is always because of points. If it weren't completely unfeasible, I would wish that all matches could only end with a submission.
3. In some places they tell you that the lines on the road are just suggestions. Never has that been truer for me than in Manila. I do not know where these people learn to drive, I really don't, but for all the drama you see when just driving around, they could charge admission for joyrides.
4. The medals we got look pretty nice, but maybe I've been spoiled by the Bangkok guys, there's really no comparison between the two. If the Pan Asian medal is the Iron Man movie, then Bangkok BJJ's medal is The Dark Knight (Iron Man was pretty nice, but nonetheless overwhelmed by the sheer, unadulterated awesomeness of Batman).
5. I was there at just after 7am. I thought, cool! I'll show up early because it's bound to be really happening, right? Thanks to a few delays, the competition wrapped up at 8pm. I'm so utterly glad I decided to go so early.
6. The warmup area was tiny (and a lot of people still decided to walk on it with their shoes - oh, a bunch of people also weighed in wearing shoes).
No official comment:
1. The thing about putting your sweaty gi back on to collect your medal. At least one guy was refused his spot on the podium until he went back to collect his gi.
2. General socioeconomic issues that I have.
1. The purple belt divisions are scary beyond words.
2. If you want to do weigh-ins before the division starts, make sure that everyone is extremely well taken care of. The blues and purples were just sitting there letting our stomachs dissolve themselves. Anyway, I think for the big IBJJF competitions, the white belts go on a seperate day.
3. The guys from BJJ Taiwan won first and second in the blue belt absolute and decided to close it out by flipping a coin rather than wrestle each other. This is a practise that I do support. They train with each other almost every other day or something, why do they need to fly all the way to Manila to tell everyone what they both already know? They proved their point and deserve the rest.
4. Note to self, don't ever try and look at the scores again in the middle of a match. Just don't.
I thank God for the opportunity to have come here and taken part in this competition, and for all He has done for me. It was definitely an experience I won't soon forget.