This weekend was the British Open, the biggest competition in the country and considered to be the most prestigious to win. My team, the Chris Rees Academy, took a big team of around 30 fighters up to fight and although I was confident that many would have success, I never expected the results we got.
As a team we took an unbelievable TWENTY ONE medals!! Eight of those were gold and one of my students took double gold at purple belt, then got promoted to brown belt on the podium by Braulio Estima. An amazing day for him, congratulations to the man-gorilla Wayne Samways.
The weekend was a long one for me as I was up at 5.45am to drive 3 hours to Birmingham on Saturday and then reffed for the whole day (a couple of short breaks). I started off reffing kids in the morning and the standard of some of their jiu-jitsu was amazing, great to see the future of UK jiu-jitsu being developed. As a referee for kids there is a responsibility to protect them from getting slammed and injured from submissions. This means I have to position myself behind any kid who gets lifted off the ground and make sure that submissions can't be cranked beyond the point they will cause injuries as well as stopping the fight if the submission is fully locked in. I had only reffed kids a little bit before but wow, those responsibilities add so much more stress on to reffing!! It also makes it pretty tiring, having to drop down to knees and then get back up again all the time... my legs were tired by the end of the day. It's also pretty crazy that many coaches didn't seem to realise that the ref will stop a kids fight when a submission gets locked on, I could hear a lot of "he didn't tap" type complaints. Read the rules.
After the kids I then reffed some adult divisions. Yet again I was amazed at the number of competitors and coaches who don't know basic rules/point scoring. People asking why no points were given for a bridge out of mount, why didn't they get points for a takedown where they ended up on the bottom, not knowing what the verbal commands meant (there are only three... now four under new rules) and more. I also heard a lot of competitors didn't make the weight because they didn't realise the weigh in was with the gi on, or thought there was an allowance. Really amazes me every time that people make such basic errors.
So after the whole day reffing I then drove 3 hours home again, hoping to get a good night's sleep before I fought on the Sunday. That didn't happen too well as my son has chickenpox so I ended up being woken up every half hour... grim. At least I wasn't driving up the next day.
So on Sunday I had a lie in until 8am then jumped in the car of a CRA student and headed back to Birmingham. All the travelling was definitely worth it as after falling short with silver last year in the brown belt division, this year I managed to become British Open champion at black belt, beating two tough opponents. My first fight went as well as I could hope; I pulled guard, swept quickly... started passing and he turtled allowing me to land an inverted triangle and then from there finish with a hamstring stretch/kneebar. The final was an ultra tough opponent, 1st degree black belt from Checkmat. I pulled guard and attacked with a collar choke, triangle, a few wrist locks, omoplata, toehold... all defended and none really coming that close. He escaped the omoplata and almost passed but I turtled, he attacked the back but I defended and managed to come up to the top and start passing. I almost got it a few times but he managed to recover guard, and then with the scores at 1-1 on advantages and about 30 seconds left I passed to half guard to put me 2-1 up on advantages. He attacked with some strong sweep attempts which I was able to prevent but then caught me in the halfguard kneebar aka the dogbar. It was tight but there was only 10 seconds left so I rode it out and was happy that no advantage was given for it. Only two fights but I felt like I'd had about ten, so was insanely happy to pick up the gold.
This was my first competition at black belt so to get that result was unbelievable. Having missed the English Open due to knee surgery, I hadn't competed for a year so thought I would suffer with adrenaline but it was actually the most relaxed I'd ever felt in competition. I came off the mat after the first fight feeling totally fine and ready to go again. Not quite so good after the second fight, but I guess that happens if you go the full time against a really tough opponent.
Looking forward, I guess it could be seen that I have put pressure on myself to continue to perform at the same level but my attitude towards competition has always been to just jump in and test myself. I never really train specifically for competitions, never change my diet or anything... I train all the time so I just look at competition as a chance to test my jiu-jitsu against others. I don't think that is going to change for me in the future.
Massive thanks to my instructors since I started jiu-jitsu over 9 years ago, Braulio Estima and Chris Rees. They have given me the skills and perspective on jiu-jitsu to get to this point. Thanks to my awesome sponsors Faixa Rua and Roll Supreme for the continued support. Thanks to all my students who always try to destroy me every time we roll and never let me rest. Finally, and most importantly, thanks to my awesome wife who always supports me in everything I do and convinced me to compete when I was ready to stay home with my son, I love you x