Edited to correct some names, among other things.
Just back in Kuching now. Spent the weekend in Seoul, where I competed in the 2nd Korean National Jiu-Jitsu Open.
Started the day with a spot of stress: I woke up at around 6:30 or so, put my gi on and weighed myself in at 70.2 kilos. For a few seconds I almost considered the wisdom of trying to spit out 300 grams' worth of water before dismissing the idea as unnaturally desperate. If my experience at the last 2 competitions was any indication, I would definitely lose that weight in time just from doing nothing.
We got to the venue - the Mapo Arts Centre - by 8:30. It's really easy to find as there are very clear signs (in english, for us poor tourists) pointing you in the right direction (provided you take the correct exit, of course). The mats were already good to go and the organising crew was busy putting the finishing touches on the whole setup.
My wife and I got settled and then I went to say hi to the main organiser, Marc Lee. Really nice fellow - very soft-spoken but an accomplished competitor himself, he's also the owner of M.A.R.C., one of the BJJ studios in Seoul. I checked the seedings and found that there was only one other person in my division. It all came down to a bit of bad timing really: because of scheduling conflicts, there were two (maybe even three) BJJ competitions within a month of each other, so many had opted for other tournaments.
There was a little bit of confusion before everything got started, as a few people (myself included) were unaware that we had to bring already completed waivers with us. Fortunately there were a good number of waivers on standby and that got taken care of with minimal fuss (it was completely in Korean but I was lucky enough to find some gentlemen to help with translation).
I weighed in at approximately 69.8 or 9, I'm not sure because it was a digital scale but kept jumping. Got comfortable and tucked into a sandwich featuring the first piece of glorious processed cheese that I had allowed myself to touch in 2 weeks. I had a chat with some expat english teachers, Michael and Tommy. Both nice guys, easy to talk to. There was a kids' division and a ladies' division, then the white belts got going.
About an hour or two into the whole thing, the blue belts were notified to start warming up. When I got to the matside area, Marc informed us that there was a late addition to our division, so being that there were three people, it would play out like this: first two guys go. Winner goes to finals and loser gets to have a second match, with the third guy, and the person who wins this match goes to finals. Everyone agrees and we're off to the races.
Note: got my opponents' names off BJJ Asia's results page. If there is any mistake please let me know and I'll fix it.
Match 1: Pena Division, v. Cha Minha, from Action Reaction Jiu-Jitsu
The match started with us squaring up briefly. He jumped guard almost right away and tried to set up a triangle. I turned away from the angle he needed so the sub was never tight, but his legs were locked so well that I couldn't free myself.
It was literally like this the whole match: he'd try to unbalance me and lock in the triangle, and I would base out and posture. Eventually I got a bit tired of this and started stacking him. I could hear his breathing becoming progressively ragged as the match wore on, so I thought I'd try a lapel choke. I dragged his collar across and pushed down, but he defended it. I tried again, this time pulling his other lapel up towards me, but that got blocked as well.
I felt his legs really weakening, and he confirms this by abandoning the triangle and trying to armbar me. I blocked it, got my knee over his leg and started to move into halfguard, when time is called. The ref stands us up and raises his hand.
Result: Loss via points. Me: 0 points, 2 advantages. Minha: 0 points, 3 advantages.
A very disappointing result, but honestly the loss was simply my fault, end of story. I wasn't active enough in his triangle and he spent more time trying to submit me. Oh well, live and learn. I still had one more chance though, so that was consolation enough. I was still completely fresh and spent the next few minutes staying warm.
Match 2: Pena Division, v. Baek Doo Hyeon, from John Frankl BJJ
This match started off the same as the first, though he was a bit more aggressive. I remember him trying to unbalance me really vigorously, before jumping guard. Almost immediately he attempts a flower sweep but he doesn't block my arm, so I post with it. He's unable to capitalise immediately and after a little more of me trying unsuccessfully to pop his guard open he attempts a triangle.
I didn't actually see it coming, but dove into it all the same, getting on the angle I needed to defend. He counters right away with an omoplata attempt, but I based out and didn't let him flatten me. I squared up with him and he slaps on another triangle. This attempt is much tighter and even though I didn't really feel threatened, there was a marked increase in pressure. All the same, I'm able to get my arm wrapped around his leg.
He attempts another omoplata but I block it - this time he's not able to pull me off balance. I'm now in his closed guard and he's blocking one of my arms. I have no idea what the time is but started feeling like I had better do something. I reach forward, get a crossface and attempt an ezequiel.
I manage to catch him unprepared, and lock it in. He's really fighting it, and tries to get his legs over my face to armbar me, but I keep my face down and it's over quite soon afterwards.
Result: Win via Submission (Ezequiel).
I still felt pretty fresh after this match. Little bit drained but nothing I couldn't deal with. I'm in the finals now, against the same guy from my first match. I decided that it would be a bad idea to drastically change the way I play for the finals.
Match 3: Pena Division, Finals v. Cha Minha from Action Reaction Jiu-Jitsu
Note: I'm using video of the match to write this portion of the blog post. If I didn't, I promise it would make for very unsatisfying reading.
Because of the stagnant nature of our last match, I was not that concerned about playing the same guy again, because he wouldn't have had that much of a chance to know about my game, beyond: A) I'm reasonably strong for my weight, B) I'm hard to submit and C) I have good stamina. He looked like he had one awesome pep talk before the match started though, because he walked up bursting with energy and ready to play.
He started the match by really keeping his distance though, and I was following him around the mat. After a few attempts I get him to grab my sleeve and he jumps guard. He's not able to get closed guard, as I immediately drop to combat base and overhook one of his legs. He has his other leg trying to set up a De La Riva guard but I don't let him get on the angle.
He sets up a triangle, but I don't let him close his legs and try to push my knee over his leg to pass his guard. He doesn't let me, and tries to sweep but I don't lose my balance. He then tries to set up something to do with my lapels, I get an arm under his legs and try to pass under, and he changes his angle to maintain his position. I'm now in a position where I could maybe attempt a double under pass, but his body language and posture suggest he's prepared for that, so I sit tight.
He moves to halfguard and I try to flatten him out but he does a great job of keeping his knee on my chest to push me away. Suddenly though, he pulls me forward and when I go to post my arm, he gets the underhook he needs. I was pretty impressed by this, it was so sneaky I should like to appropriate it for my own game :)
I balance out but he's shifting me off him. I get a whizzer but too late, he's on his feet and pulls me off mine, securing a takedown and 2 points. Now he's in side control (but no extra points because there was no guard pass) and I know I have to reset this position. He starts setting up a kneeride. I roll away to show him my back. He goes for it and I block his hooks and get him off me.
We're back to standing, and he's looking a little wary of reengaging. The ref has a word with us, I'm not completely sure but I think it was a warning for stalling. He grips up and pulls me into his open guard. I think he was trying to armbar me. That didn't work and he attempts another triangle. This felt painfully familiar, right down to me trying the same lapel choke.
I went to stack him right away this time and have him pretty well folded. I could feel the triangle wasn't all that tight and he lets go after a little while. I try to push his leg off my head to pass, but he defends that by rolling to upside down guard. I trap his legs before he can create some distance, but he pushes me away, continuing his roll and I'm in his halfguard again.
I keep trying to roll him over but he's defending everything I throw at him and rolling every which way. My break comes when he turtles with me in side-back control. I stick my knee in between his arm and leg. I wasn't intending for this to be bait of any kind, but he changes tack, faces me and tries to shoot for a double leg.
I sprawl with an overhook and underhook. I move my underhook to grab his cross lapel, and as I get my grip he suddenly stands. I get dragged up with him but I don't lose my grip. He sits down, pulling me into halfguard and I attempt a loop choke. My balance is too poor and I can't finish it, but I still have the lapel grip. I'm trying to push his leg down to pass into mount, when I feel him tapping. I let go in shock more than anything else, I honestly didn't think the choke was all that tight.
Result: Win via Submission (some kind of lapel choke).
This match over and my division done, it was now time for the absolute.
Match 4: Absolute Round 1, v. Kim Hyeop, from Action Reaction Jiu-Jitsu
I was aware before the match started that my opponent was actually in the division below mine. Not that this made the match any easier for me. He started by jumping guard, then trying to triangle me. He never got it tightly set, and I was always on the wrong angle for him to finish. He didn't give up on it though, which made me wonder if I was in for another long haul.
This time my immediate response to the triangle was to just base and start stacking. After a little bit, his legs pop open and I lurch forward into halfguard. He tries to unbalance me but I am able to keep steady. After a little work I manage to get a crossface. He knows the ezequiel is coming and gets a palm out to block the choke, but I find some space anyhow and lock it in.
Result: Win via Submission (Ezequiel).
After this match, a few minutes pass before I am told who my next opponent is: at a rough guess I would put him at 85 kilos (low estimate). He's pretty well built, and I know I'm in for a rough time.
Edit: It appears he was registered as a Pesadissimo, but for this competition, anyone above 88.3 kilos went into that division, so he's at least a Pesado.
Match 5: Absolute Round 2, v. Park Jeonggyo, from Jeongsim Jiu-Jitsu
The match started inauspiciously for me: I got pretty well beasted into a takedown, and in the process I jammed my toe into the mat. At the time it didn't bother me beyond the initial discomfort, so I put it out of my mind. I went to pull halfguard and got a lockdown which he was not able to break.
He then went for a head-arm choke, but that didn't work so he tried to kimura me a couple of times. The whole time I'm trying to push his knee down and pull guard, but his leg was fairly massive and I had no success on that front. At some point I'm facing him, in kind of a really loose halfguard: one leg is around him and my other foot is stuck hooking his leg.
What he does next is to grab my lapel and stand up. I grab on, close my guard as he's standing and try to ezequiel him, while he's carrying me. That doesn't work and he posts his hand on my face and pushes me away from him. He pops my legs open and tries to pass but I get my halfguard back and stop his advance.
I spent the remainder of the match getting shut down and smothered. I couldn't get him off, he closed off all angles for my attacks and that was pretty much all she wrote. He did get called for stalling if I remember correctly, but in the end it didn't matter.
Result: Loss via Points. Me: 0 points. Jeong Gyo: 2 points. I'm not sure if he had any advantages, because I don't remember being really threatened by a submission attempt.
After my absolute match, my toe started to bother me a bit more. I went to the first aid booth and they gave me some kind of cooling spray. When I used it, I couldn't feel anything happening, which was a source of some concern to me. But I didn't feel any real pain. I checked out a merchandise stall and picked up some dvds, before heading back inside.
I chatted with a bunch of people, including all the guys I competed against. Everybody was so cool, it really was awesome. I got a bunch of invites to train the next time I come back to Korea, which I completely intend to do: I really like this place!
There was quite a massive haul from sponsored gifts, including a whole bunch of gis. These were all given away as part of a lottery. Doo Hyeon was very kind in coming over to tell me what my number was in Korean and I kept my ears open. I missed out on winning a free gi, but there were more prizes besides, and my number was eventually called!
I went to the front and they gave me a voucher that I could use at the store of the guys outside with the merchandise stall. However, since I was flying off, they let me use it immediately. I picked up a very nice Atama longsleeve rashguard with my voucher.
After everything was done, medals all handed out and photos taken, I made my way off - but not before a whole bunch of people came to wish me well. I was really blown away by how good everyone was. I usually have great experiences thanks to Jiu-Jitsu but this ranks among the best. There was no hint of poor sportsmanship to be seen, and everyone I met was very welcoming.
Thanks to my super awesome and beautiful wife, who came all the way to support me, video my matches and refill my water bottle.
Thanks to Marc Lee, for putting on a great competition and taking awesome care of everyone. Thanks to Doo Hyeon, and the De La Riva team, for your kindness and hospitality. I hope to train with you all again soon.
Thanks to John Newton, for writing the song "Amazing Grace" - by my third match, I was feeling the effects of an adrenaline dump, and this song was pretty much the only thing keeping me in the game mentally.
Thanks to Jesus Christ: my God and my king, my shield and my reward, my strength and my song.