Jiu Jitsu competition is not what most assume it to be. It is not kata where judges sit and watch you put on a good show of beating up the air. In Jiu Jitsu, you do not aim to impress.
In Jiu Jitsu, you battle.
The International Brazilian Jiu Jitsu World Tournament is formal; it is the pinnacle of the sport. It is bigger—louder.
I compete on Friday, May 31st, 2019.
It’s around 13:30. The Walter Pyramid rises up from outside my Uber window. I watch as it approaches—cobalt blue and sturdy, the passing palm trees a blur. I’d put music in my ears, so there were other words in my head besides doubt and worries. I knew I was ready; I didn’t need to be second-guessing myself.
I check-in. They stamp my wrist in red ink, all in capital letters: WORLDS.
My gi bag is a solid weight on my back as I walk in. I breathe in the energy as we enter: the barrage of cheering Portuguese and English, and the bustle of people. This competition is like a roaring wave, and when it sweeps into you… you have to settle into it, or drown in the energy. It’s tiring, being here. I will not be tired.
I raise my chin and walk steadily to the fenced edge so I may look down at the Jiu Jitsu Tournament. The entire arena is a square, with balconies lining two sides, as the other two are opposing sets of seats. Those seats are canary-yellow and—in classic arena design—are plastic and unforgiving. They lead down to a blocked off strip of floor, where Ring Coordinators are posted, monitoring screens that record points, penalties, and victories.
And then, at last, at the very bottom, is where all the magic happens: The mats.
They are golden-yellow and cobalt-blue; and slippery as can be. High above them is the pointed tip of the pyramid ceiling.
This is where I will fight.
I breathe in again. I’m ready, I tell myself again. I can sense it. I’ve trained for this.
Sweat for this. Fought for this, again and again and again. I’m ready.~
They call me early.
I am supposed to fight around 16:20, but the time changes so it’s closer to 16:00.
At 14:45, I don my gi. I imagine that I am wrapping myself in armour. My gi pants are tied tight, my fingers nimble. Then comes my gi top, sturdy and soft and hard all at once. I will
be sturdy like it. I will be unbreakable. Lastly comes my belt, a brace between my thoracic and lumbar back; I know my belt will keep my spine iron strong.
I calm myself with the familiar routine. Yet I am still shaking a little as I walk down the steps to the warmup mat. I can feel my fingertips trembling as I sling my bag over my shoulder.
That’s okay. The adrenaline is a steady hum in my veins now; I focus on controlling it. The trick is nurturing that adrenaline by readying yourself. But the key is to not be too ready, or else your adrenaline crashes, leaving you exhausted.
The warmup mat is crowded. The faces are focused, but everyone is limned with a nervous energy. I claim a spot and begin moving. My body remembers pieces of movement from different places—dynamic stretches from parkour, bits of movement from my S&C training, and maneuvers from the Jiu Jitsu warmup. My teammate, Amreek, lets me be, but also tells me what’s next: the process of weighing-in. Of getting my gi measured, and of waiting in the bullpen.
“You can go when you’re ready,” he says. “They’ve called you.”
I nod. I continue moving. I breathe in. Once.
I grab my backpack, and slip on my sandals. I fidget a bit with my ID—it’s strung around my neck in an IBJJF-issued lanyard.
“I can’t go into the bullpen with you,” Amreek tells me. It’s the Jiu Jitsu way: you walk in alone. You fight alone. It’s just you, and your opponent. Someone always wins; and someone always loses.
I nod once more. “Tell me the process again,” I say. “One more time please.” He does.
I’m ready for the bullpen.
I head towards it. I’m ready.
The waiting is the hardest.
I know who my opponent is. I’ve honed in on her. She’s quite a bit shorter than I am, but stockier. She will be aggressive. Try to be overwhelming.
I’ve handled overwhelming before. I wrestle with that everyday. I wrestle with grown men everyday.
You’ve fought for this, I remind myself, forcing a powerful breath from my mouth. I make sure to keep moving, from one foot to the other. It keeps the restless energy at bay.
Her dad is there with her, on the other side of the fence. He gives her last minute advice.Keep your head up, he is saying, and miming. This proves my prediction: she will go for takedowns.
Our eyes meet once.
She looks away first. ~
The ring coordinator is asking for me.
“Hanna Grace,” she calls. So rarely am I called that, except by those who know me intimately, that it takes me a moment. The music pounding in my ears doesn’t help either. I gather my bag, make a mental checklist. I ate after I weighed in; I’ve had enough water. I’ve trained for this.
The ring coordinator asks for my ID. I hand her my lanyard, concealing the shakiness in my fingers as my opponent hands over hers as well.
The ring coordinator guides us to our mat. Mat 5—I know where we are going. My mom and Amreek are already there, both a little frenetic. After awhile, you get more nervous watching people you know compete rather than competing yourself.
The clock is ticking down on the match before us. 3 minutes. I don’t want to wait that long. I’ve been aching to compete since an hour ago. I’ve been ready since this morning. I bounce a little, adjusting to the noises of the mat. Adjusting to the presence of the silent refs, who are solid shadows in black suits. Hand signals convey the points to those operating the screen.
I am ready. There is no place I would rather be. ~
I turn my music off. Take a sip of water. My opponent’s dad is telling her she’s ready. He’s like a gnat buzzing in the corner of your ear, just to the outside of my peripheral. His voice is naturally loud—a good coach’s voice. He says that she’s trained for this. I have too, I think. It’s a ferocious thought. I’ve trained for this.
I can win. I believe it.
The main referee signals us onto the mat. I bow. Shake his hand. Bow to the other to refs. Shake my opponent’s hand.
My body recognizes this. It happens fast; it’s sped up. You have no time to stop before the ref says, “Fight!”
He backs away because my opponent and I don’t stop. We fight. ~
She is exactly as I expected.
I wrap a Guillotine choke around her and she drives, taking me down and slamming me to the mat. I can’t breathe and my chest feels drawn and dizzy, because she slammed straight into my solar plexus. In a different time, I would have let go of the choke I had on her; I would have focused on breathing first and foremost. But this is Worlds.
And I am not one to give up that easily.
I heave in laboured breaths as I try to finish the choke, my guard wrapped tight around
her. Amreek is yelling to finish it. I could submit her, right now. I clench tighter on the choke.
I have competed and fought and done this enough to know when the choke is not a for sure tap. I do not let go nor lessen the choke however, because the minute you let up, you lose; blood begins to rush back to your opponent’s brain.
Her head slips out anyway.
She’s fighting to get her posture back. My vision is narrowed enough on the fight that I don’t see the ref award her two points for the takedown, but I know she gets them. And her being up on points means she could win.
When I was younger, this was the moment I would make or break the match. This was the tipping point where I would either believe in myself and fight, or I would give up. Competing is not easy. It is tiring. It hurts. If you think too much, you spiral. You lose.
You have to fight.
You have to fight in life, and in competition. But fighting is always a choice.
She is straining to get her posture back. I have the overhook to control that, but she’s putting pressure on my legs. I know they can tire, and if she breaks open my guard and passes, she will smother me. She wants this; I can feel it in each tremor of her muscles.
This is my tipping point.
I choose to fight.
For myself, for how far I’ve come.
I can sweep her. Or I can submit her again.
It simply is the truth.
I fight for it.
I try a submission. She sees it coming, and defends. I’m quick to move, again and again and again. I fight for a sweep, which she quickly recovers from.
I’m understanding her base—the way she moves. I know this. I’ve done this for half my life. I’ve swept adults when I was twelve.
I know her base. I know how she moves. I use it.
One sweep attempt.
It doesn’t work.
I move again.
I know the grips.
I make a decision, and then my body is moving, and I am not thinking, and there is symmetry and beauty and no resistance because it is perfectly executed, and I have swept her over and sealed on mount atop her.
She immediately bucks—if she gets me off in three seconds, I don’t get points. SEAL, HANNA, Amreek is roaring.
She isn’t getting me off. I won’t let her.
Two points for the sweep. Four for mount control. I have six points. She has two.
I will win.
I could talk about the philosophy of Jiu Jitsu for hours, but to keep it brief, I shall tell you there is nothing more calming than the flow it brings you. Jiu Jitsu is chess, and to win you must be cerebral to understand the sport. It is one move that may be countered by the other; it is the sport where the simple placement of a grip can make or break the technique. But the flow— it comes when you have already thought, when your brain and your body perfectly synchronize. The flow is balance, and it is perfect calm. You can feel that flow when competing, except it is sped up and honed to a knife’s edge.
This flow comes with the understanding of your opponent’s flow. And my opponent’s—well, she has not broken. You can always feel the will to fight in people’s movements, and you can always see it in their faces when they break. Breaking is the saddest thing.
I commend her for never laying down; I commend her for never stopping. She fought until the very end.
I did too.
At one point, she moves just enough that I may attempt a mounted triangle. She sees it coming, and powers her way through; I use the momentum to roll us to a normal triangle from guard.
We’re out of bounds.
The ref stands us up, awarding me two points for my submission attempt.
I have eight points. She is at two.
I’m so tired. My muscles have that weightlessness feeling where they are too tense and shaky. I’m so tired. My body is being pushed.
This is another tipping point. If she takes me down, she could win.No.
I know she’s capable. I know I’m capable.
I just have to fight for it.
When I am on mount, I do not stall. I fight for a submission. She fights to escape.
She shoots for a takedown, and I defend with everything left in me. Again and again she goes.
“Thirty seconds left, Hanna!” Amreek is yelling.
I am pushed out of bounds by her takedown attempts and my defense.
I am so tired. But I can win. We both feel it in our bones—I can tell she is tiring too. We’re both fighting, hungry for that gold medal.
The ref resets us.
“Come on! ” Her dad is yelling her name. “Drive! You can finish that takedown.”
I sprawl, again and again.
She takes me into the TV, driving hard.
“ELEVEN SECONDS!” Amreek is yelling. I can win. “You’re up on points Hanna!”
We’re both exhausted. But both our eyes still burn bright.
We’re in the middle of the mat.
She shoots again. I sprawl hard, stuffing her attempt. She continues to push—we’re out of bounds again.
It is a few wild heartbeats.
And I am crying, I think, except I am not, because it rushes to me; all the energy and exhaustion and the sudden knowledge that I won. I hug her, breathlessly, saying “thank you.” Trying to remember to breathe normally again.
The ref pulls us in line; I am on the right, and she is on the left.
I won. It is elation.
My hand is raised. High up in the air, right towards that pointed ceiling.
This is why, I am thinking. This is why we fight.
The screen sprawls across with the letters:
HANNA GRACE SAULT-HARTWICK – VICTORY!
But I don’t see it. All I see is myself, eight years old, and myself now. And how far I’ve come.
This is why, I think again.
“VIVERE MILITARE EST” To live is to fight
Hanna competed at the largest tournament in the world for Jiu Jitsu (the International Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu Worlds Federation). And she won gold. Congratulations to this amazing girl and we are so proud to have her on the team!
Does this inspire you? Click here to register for our in-house tournament coming up!