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D-NET Grappling Tournament 7

D-NET Grappling Tournament 7

The Tournament

Grappling tournaments are the ultimate way to test your abilities in jujitsu, wrestling, and judo. I have not had the pleasure of testing myself in a tournament since college. So signing up for this tournament, I felt, would motivate me to focus on the ground game.

Usually I compete at around my normal weight which is the 65 kilo featherweight class, but lately I have been walking around a bit lighter. Food, I eat plenty. Sleep, I need more.

My sensei, Kenji Osawa, signed me up for the bantamweight class which I thought read 61.5 kilos. For the most part, I watched my diet for the week of the fight and when I woke up on the morning of the match, I was 62 kilos. A morning rest room run, no breakfast, and no water until the weigh-in would surely bring me down to 61.5 kilos.

The event was at the legendary Gold's Gym in Omori and the setup had all the fighters change out in the open. I guess with the whole onsen culture, I did as the Japanese did.

There were many tournaments to be had that day but only two stations for the matches. Back in the states, most big grappling events would have 10 matches happening at once. It would be a long wait if you were at the bottom of the list.

I was pleasantly surprised to not only see many competitors from Hearts but also non-competitors who came to cheer their teammates. Japanese MMA pioneer, Caul Uno, was also present. And the MMA coach at my place of employment, Kensuke Nakamura from Natural 9, was there. Kensuke greeted me with his awesome big smile and wished me good luck. 

Finally, I was in my grappling gear and I was the last guy to check his weight. The scale read 61.5 kilos. Right on the money. I looked at the guy confirming my weight and he gave me a nod of approval.

I head back to finally get a drink of water. Right before I pop the bottle top, there is a gut feeling telling me to wait a few minutes. I decide to ignore that precious feeling and drink. Soon after my friend and mentor Kenji comes to me with news that I did not hit the weight limit. 

The night before

The weight limit was not 61.5 kilos but 61.2 kilos. I must be more exhausted than I thought. The urgency to quickly cut weight became more apparent when Kenji notified me that I was the first match of the event. He immediately had me doing explosive pushups, sprints, burpies, knee to chest jumps, anything to get me to sweat down those last .3 kilos.

After 10 minutes, I go to check my weight again and I am at 61.9 kilos. Quenching my thirst must have thrown me up past 62 kilos. I strip down to my hot pink trunks to find myself at 61.6 kilos. I would have made the weight if I had first weighed-in only wearing my trunks.

Feeling like a needed to kill myself in a very quick intensive workout, I was relieved to hear that my opponent was also overweight. Since both of us were over the limit, I was hoping the officials would postpone our match. However, Kenji soon notified me that my opponent declined to cut his weight. This gave me a pass to the second round and an extension to make the weight before the 28th match.

King of the Mountain

I used to live in Omori.  In fact, I moved to Omori to train at its Gold's Gym. Behind the Gold's Gym, there stands a hill and my apartment was on the other side of it. The neighborhood on that hill is called Sanno. It means mountain king.

Sannō has a steep slope on both ends which is perfect for up hill sprinting. NFL hall of famer, Jerry Rice, used to talk about staying in shape and out performing athletes half his age because he ran a path he called the hill. Sanno was my hill.

The sneakers were laced and the jacket zipped.

I sprinted from the bottom to the top of the hill and then jogged until I reached the other side. Again, I sprinted right back up to the top and jogged to the opposite side. After three back and forth intervals, I convinced myself it was enough. My muscles, lungs, ad psyche were hoping it was enough. As I jogged back to the event, it began to rain and I slowly started to feel calm and relaxed. 


I stepped up to the scale again and I was 61.4 kilos. Before the official can wave me off to cut more weight, I stripped down to my hot pink trunks. The scale read 61.1 kilos.

Let’s get down to business.

The Second Round Match

When you are the only westerner in a tournament, your opponents know who you are but you do not know them.

As I waited for my turn, the feeling of fatigue and anxiety began to eat away at my desire to compete. I just wanted to get this over with so I can go home. Kenji stepped into my corner and advised me to be first on the shot. “Be first”, he kept repeating.

Go for the shot and set the tone of the match. I interpreted his words as aggressively shooting for the takedown so I can get the first points of the match. If you are counting points, this plays a psychological role. His orders were clear but my adrenaline was not responding.

My feet stepped onto the canvas of the ring and I knew I was only going to react to my opponent. As soon as the match began, my opponent came forward and put enough pressure on me to get my back to the ropes. He pushed forward until he got my back to the mat.

Right when I dropped to the ground, the adrenaline switch went off and I immediately moved and fought like my life was on the line. We got into a scramble that went back and forth until I finally managed to sweep him over and land into half guard.

Kenji instructed me to improve my position, but my opponent was able to make space and get us into another scramble. Kensuke’s voice penetrated through the chaos of the moment and though I could not understand his instructions, I was able to feed off of his support. 

My opponent gave me his back but he successfully shrugged me off before I could secure the position. As he transitioned to the top position, I attempted a failed armbar that luckily left him in my guard. The scrambles must have exhausted him and he tried to rest on top of me but my attempted guillotine choke forced him to posture up and get swept into full mount. 

This was the beginning of the end. He was all defense. His every attempt to escape moved me into a scoring position. I moved from full mount to side mount and back to full mount. All the while, I was scoring with submission attempts.

He eventually finds an opening that gets him off his back but not without once again exposing it. Kenji instructs and my body flows right into the back mount. 

The bell rings.

The score was 24-4.

Maybe I was sandbagging…

Photos by Yuki Shimamura

Victory by Default

The next round is not for another hour or so. Spiritually, I am at ease to get my first match out of the way. But physically, I feel depleted.

Some of the other Hearts competitors win their respective tournaments. Team morale is high.

Finally, I am on standby for my name to be called. The last hour was spent mentally preparing myself for the final match. Kenji approaches me and I expect him to try and fire me up for the final match. Surprisingly, he tells me that my opponent has withdrawn. Initially I thought this meant I would be facing someone else. Instead, I was pronounced the tournament winner. 

My opponent was right beside me and apologized for not being able to compete. He was injured from his previous match and had an ice pack taped to his lower back. He congratulated me and wished for us to compete again.

The feeling was very strange. It was a cross between relief, happiness, disappointment, and tension. I was happy to compete but due to the circumstances, I felt I had not earned the tournament victory. 

In the end, all the matches were over and the medals were handed out to the runner ups and winners of each tournament. My coach Kenji Osawa was the official handing out the awards. It was an honor to receive the first place medal from him. 

Gotta do it again.

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