Monday, February 8, 2010

Good Action!

After not competing for the first four months of being in Korea I've now competed twice in a month.  It feels good to get back into a competitive environment and let everything fly.
This weekend was the Korean Machado Open. The tournament was mostly the Jiu Jitsu teams affiliated with Team Machado in Korea (there are six) but there was a smattering of guys form other clubs as well.  As a sidebar, the word "Machado" was misspelled on one of the main tournament banners as "Machdo".  I am coming to expect things like this from Korea.   Luckily for me this tournament was in Daegu which meant no late night/early morning weight cutting and no having to pull our coach out of a gentleman's club before the tournament like last time.  It also meant I could get home at a reasonable hour instead of going to bed at 2:30 am after fighting all day and then having to work in the morning.
A little more Konglish.. you can't escape it.
The tournament was held in a large school gym, like most tournaments in North America. One of the big differences is that in Korea they tend not to heat a lot places that we heat at home.  Places like bathrooms, hallways and, you guessed it, school gyms. The tournament was generally well organized but the lack of heat made things tough.  The mats were so hard we might as well have been fighting on the gym floor.  Getting warmed up for a matches was a major challenge.  If you look at the pictures and video you can see that just about everybody is wearing a winter coats in the gym, even the referees and most of the guys warming up.  I'm surprised there weren't more injuries with guys jumping in to action with cold and stiff muscles.
I competed in the gi and no-gi divisions, with this being the first time I ever competed in the gi.   I won my first match by armbar after two quick takedowns for points. That would be the last takedown I scored all day.  It turns out my first opponent had a reputation as being pretty decent in the takedown department.  After my match with him not one single opponent would fight me on the feet.  Every guy "buttflopped' as soon as the ref said "fight"  They just sat right down and tried to pull me into their guard to avoid being taken down and giving up points.  It got so ridiculous at one point that when one of my opponents in no gi sat down I sat down too.  We looked pretty stupid sitting there facing each other.  He stood up, I stood up.  He sat back down, I sat back down.  I was trying to make  a point but I think it got lost in translation.
My first ever Gi Jiu Jitsu match
I won my first two matches in the gi and then lost in the semi final.  The match was very close, but I eventually got caught in a triangle after fending off a half dozen submission attempts.  I wasn't altogether happy with the match as I got caught being a little lazy. I was also rushing things.  Every time I would get an advantage position I was in such a hurry to score that I made careless mistakes and missed my opportunity.  That was the end of my day in the gi.  I was awarded the bronze medal as they simply give bronze medals to the losers of the semi finals.  I would much rather have fought to declare a true bronze medalist.
When the no gi division started I made a conscious effort to try and finish all of my opponents as opposed to try and outwrestle them and hang on for a points victory. I wanted to attack with submissions and really see where I was i that department.  I was at the tournament to test my jiu jitsu after all, not my wrestling.
I won my first no gi match by north-south choke fairly quickly, my second by armbar, and my third by D'arce choke.  I was on a roll.  I was especially happy with my second match.  even thought the score was 0-0 when I submitted him I had threatened with an armbar, triangle and kimura before finishing with an armbar. The video of the match is posted in the top right corner.  You can also see how impressed I was after the guy buttflopped 0.01 seconds into the match.
My third match irked me a little bit. I was winning 5-0 when we got into a scramble.  I ended up on top in half guard.  I set up the D'arce and hit it just the way I wanted to.  I heard the guy say "tap, tap" so I let go and rolled off. When I rolled off of him, the guy tackled me and tried to take me down.  I looked up at the ref with the universal expression for "What the....?". He shrugged his shoulders and gave me the universal look for "What? Keep fighting."  Luckily for me we were right beside the chair judge when the guy verbally submitted.  The chair judge came over and explained to the ref that the other guy definitely submitted. Even though I won I was a little cheezed.  That's dirty pool where I come from, especially at a tournament where all of the teams are loosely affiliated.
Three wins put me in the finals against the same guy who beat me in the gi division.  This time I knew his game a little bit and came with a much better game plan of my own.  I was patient while still pressuring him for most of the match.  When I was able to gain a slight advantage I kept the pressure on without rushing.  I was eventually able to win the match by a score of 6-0 with one solid submission attempt. Sweet redemption.
On the whole I finished the tournament 6-1 with four submissions.  The level of competition wasn't ridiculously high, but I managed to have some good scraps and was pretty happy overall.  Finishing off the day by avenging my loss from earlier was a nice cherry to top it off.
Most of Team Machado Korea (Those who were still around after the awards ceremony).

Tournament notes
It was cool to have some friends come out to watch. I've never been the kind of guy to say "come out and watch me compete" but when people show up it's always nice.

Extra limbs? It's hard not to stereotype physical traits to an ethnic group when every single Korean I've trained with or competed against has a kind of flexibility that boggles my mind.  Sometimes I have an opponent down and think I know exactly what's going on only to have an unaccounted for leg creep around into a dangerous position.  I can clearly remember thinking "where the hell is that leg coming from?"  during a match this weekend.

Team Wayguk.  There are four foreigners (waygukins) who train regularly at Daegu MMA.  All four of us competed.  I think if we would have entered simply as "Team Wayguk" we would have done pretty well in the No Gi division.  We finished with 3 golds and one silver.
There were a couple of other foreigners who came to the tournament from Gwanju.  One of them was a blue belt from the Gracie Orlando school.  I talked to him for a while and was glad to hear him echo my sentiments regarding the quality of competitors in Korea.  He agreed that the standards for advancing in rank here seem very high compared to North America.

Where are the wrestlers?  Jiu Jitsu is a growing sport in Korea.  I wonder when Korean wrestlers are going to start crossing over like they have in North America.  Korean wrestles have a reputation for being as tough as nails, they could do some serious damage in the sport.

Something awesome about Korea:
Sports on TV.  Since I've been here I've watched the World Handball Championships, World Weightlifting (Olympic lifting) Championships, Korean Ssirrum (traditional wrestling) championships, Asian Table Tennis Championships and every major MMA event free on cable TV.  Don't get me wrong, I love watching football and can be convinced to watch playoff hockey, baseball or basketball but the variety of sports that air here is awesome.
Something not awesome about Korea:
My apartment.  Brutally cold, heat and water that breaks in the middle of winter, no air conditioning for the monsoon season and mold on the walls.

Special Shout Out:
To my buddy Jim Alers. Jim and I met when working at Camp Cayuga a few years ago.  Jim is a 4-0 pro fighter and recently won the East Coast Abu Dhabi trials in the purple belt division. Way to go dude, have fun in Dubai.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Karma is real and it will get you where it hurts

This post is completely unrelated to MMA, Korea or anything else that I've written about before, but it is kind of funny in an "oh my god, I can't believe that really happened to somebody" kind of way.
To start off, I am far from a religious person.  Some of the coolest people that I've met are religious, but then again, so are some of the biggest slime balls I've ever met.  I do however believe pretty strongly in the idea of Karma.  Not in a Hippy, sarong wearing, yoga practicing kind of way, but more like a "if you do good things for people you will be a happier person and people will be more inclined to help you if you're ever in need" kind of way.  I don't believe that there is some actual sentient, cosmic being that decides who gets what dished out to them based on what they've done previously, but I do remember the first time that something happened that really made me think that karma will get 'ya if you deserve it.

For those of you who don't know, I used to teach flying trapeze.  Yep.  Flying Trapeze.  Like in the circus.  Don't believe me? Check out the vid at the top right.  That's me, trying to throw a double backflip to my catcher, and good friend, Adam.  As you can see, I missed.
To make a long story short, I used to go to a summer camp where flying trapeze was one of the activities.  I loved the trapeze and caught on pretty quick.  Eventually I ended up working at the camp, teaching trapeze. After my first year of University I got a job as a summer camp counselor in Pennsylvania.  I was hired to teach wrestling and football.  They also had a trapeze at the camp but that wasn't initially on my contract.  When word leaked out hat I had actually worked on a trapeze rig for a few years my job immediately changed to full time trapeze staff.  I worked at the camp for a long time, eventually taking over the trapeze program when my boss moved to Europe.
This is a picture of me catching my friend Jay with no safety lines. As you can imagine, having trust in your catcher is pretty important.

In my first year I worked, with 6 other staff, under a great trapeze director and an assistant trapeze director who was not so great.  The assistant director had some experience, but was careless and sloppy.  When you are launching kids off of a 32 foot platform attached to a few safety lines carelessness is not a good quality.  When campers "fly" on the trapeze, they are always hooked into safety lines.  Staff and instructors use the safety lines to practice new tricks and only take them off when they can consistently "catch" the trick.  The person running the safety lines is extremely important.  They can control part of the swing and prevent nasty falls.  The tricky part is keeping the lines tight enough to prevent whiplash, but not too tight that it slows the swing.  The assistant director had a nasty habit of letting the lines run with too much slack.  This can be dangerous if the flyer suddenly falls.  When the flyer catches up to the slack in the lines there is a huge whiplash effect.  The assistant director had been told plenty of times to keep the lines tighter.  He knew what he had to do, but he was a slack-ass and was only paying half attention, half of the time.
On one particular camp day I was working with the assistant director to fly some kids.  The assistant director was on the safety lines and I was the "catcher"; the guy who hangs from his knees and catches the flyer by the wrists after they've done their trick and before they fall to their doom in the pit of alligators, rusty nails and used needles that lay underneath.  Ok, it was a safety net, but I've still seen some nasty injuries from falling into it incorrectly. Regardless, I was catching and he was puling lines.  As one kid swung towards me I felt one of the lines slap me in the face.  That should never happen and meant that the lines were way too loose.  I let him know that the lines were too loose.  He didn't seem to pay much attention.
The next kid flew towards me on the first swing. Normally this swing is used to gauge whether the timing is good or bad and the catcher can adjust their swing accordingly.  The catcher and flyer then swing away from each other before the final swing back towards each other for the "catch".  You can look at the video to get an idea of what I'm talking about.  On this particular occasion though, when the kid swung towards me the safety lines were so loose that they looped around my back.  Then we swung away from each other.  Fast.  The nylon and polyester safety rope (think climbing rope) ripped across my back so hard and so fast that some of the rope melted.  Melted right into my back, in fact.
I didn't know it yet, but I had a burn on my back that went from my left hip diagonally up to my right shoulder and was an inch and a half wide.  All I knew was that I was as much pain as I could ever remember being in.  My brain was trying to sort out the furious rage and excruciating pain that I was feeling at the same time and figure out which was more important.  I dropped down to the net and rolled to the ground with full intentions of administering a savage beating to the guy who was responsible.  As I stormed towards him I could feel the eyes of all of the kids on me.  They knew something was up and wanted to see what I was going to do.  I caved.  When I was five steps from the guy, I turned around and headed straight for the infirmary, which was luckily very close to where the trapeze was.
I couldn't see it yet, but I knew the burn was bad when the nurse took less than half of a second to declare that I had to go to the hospital immediately.  I spent the next two hours on my stomach on a hospital bed while a doctor used a scalpel to remove melted pieces of nylon from my back.  Most of my back had been  frozen, which was good, but made walking afterwards tricky.  With a huge burn on my back the next weeks weren't much fun.  You move and twist your back when you do just about anything, so having a huge scar across your entire back makes things difficult.  Sleeping was the worst.  I couldn't sleep on my back.  Sleeping on my stomach was fine until I budged one inch and the scar cracked and split, waking me up.  I didn't sleep much for a while.
The worst part of all of the whole thing was that it was caused by someones gross incompetence and that he had been told over and over to fix the mistake he was making.  The guy tried to apologize to me once. I made it abundantly clear that his best option was to stay as far away from me as possible, for as long as possible.  I wasn't a fighter yet but had wrestled all my life and this guy liked to wear tights more than I did.  I was pretty sure I could smash him into a new universe if I had to.

Part II:
While I was relegated to office work and other non-physical tasks around camp the assistant trapeze director, let's call him Nathan, because that's his name, continued to fumble his way around the trapeze rig.  For a little while.
The main structure of a trapeze rig is 8 aluminum uprights that are about 32 feet high.  Lots of gear is rigged to the top of these.  When something needs to be fixed you have to climb up to the top to do it.  When you're finished you simply slide down to the ground, like the fireman you always wished you were.  Sometimes the uprights have to be adjusted a couple of inches to make everything line up properly.  To move the uprights you insert a small metal crossbar through two holes near the bottom.  You can then grab either side of the crossbar and use it to lift the upright and move it.  The rule is that you must always take the crossbar out after moving the upright.  Always.
If you've always wanted to be a detective instead of a fireman you might be able to see where this is going.
On one particular day, less than a week after I got back from the hospital, Nathan had been adjusting the uprights and climbing to the top to fix some rigging issues.  On his way down, Nathan forgot that he had not removed the metal crossbar from the upright... as every other half brained staff member could tell you.  Nathan liked to show off a little.  He liked to slide to the bottom as fast as he could...
I'd like to say he remembered about the crossbar in time, but he didn't,  and it would be a lie anyways.  He hit that sucker at full speed.  As luck or fate would have it I had just swung by the trapeze to see what was going on.  When he hit the ground he popped up and immediately pulled out the waistband on his shorts to check the damage.  I've got to hand it to the guy, he was pretty calm.  He just said, "I have to go see the nurse."  Like mine, Nathan's stop at the infirmary was brief before being whisked to the hospital.
Nathan had split himself in one of the most sensitive areas you could imagine.  At the hospital he needed to have one of the marbles put back in the marble sack before being stitched up.  Seven stitches in the burlap is not my idea of a good time, but I didn't feel particularly bad.  His carelessness and incompetence had caused me a great deal of pain, and eventually did the same thing to him.  I'm not a hateful person, but that's called poetic justice as far as I'm concerned.  Nate didn't do a whole lot of work on the trapeze rig for the rest of the summer and it became a safer place to be around.
I guess if this was an Aesop's fable the moral of story would be "Don't be an arrogant show off or you'll get stitches in your jewel case."  Or something like that.

Special Shout Outs:  To all members of the Sault Wrestling Club who will be traveling to the provincial Championships soon.  I hate the term good luck; real athletes want to win because of their skill and preparation, not luck.  Instead I will say 'wrestle hard".  Fight for every inch of mat space and every position. Fight to the whistle each and every time and make the ref peel you off of your opponent. Take the breaks off and go for it.