A couple of years ago I had the chance to witness one of the most influential moments of my life while at a Jiu-Jitsu tournament. To some, the moment may not seem very special, and to others it may even seem trivial. To me, however, it had a lasting impression.
A group of my friends and I were running the college Jiu-Jitsu club at the time, and we had a tournament coming up. We didn’t live in California where there is a tournament every weekend. If we were lucky, we could travel for hours and hours 4-5 times per year in order to compete. Since we had to put so much effort into just showing up, we always trained very hard for our competitions regardless of their perceived size or importance.
For this tournament, we had to drive over three hours to a neighboring state to compete in a round-robin style tournament. There was a time-limit and points were only given as follows:
- If you submit your opponent, you received 3 points
- If there was no submission, you both received 1 point
- If you were submitted, you received 0 points
After you had faced everyone in your bracket, the person with the most points won their division.
One of my friends (we’ll call him David) and I spent a great deal of time getting ready for this particular competition. We would get together outside of class as often as possible to drill our techniques and game-plans.
On competition day, David stepped out onto the mats and had one of the toughest matches of the entire tournament. He ended up working an opened guard for most of the match while his opponent worked passing. David eventually caught him in a straight ankle-lock.
I was sitting on the side of the mats, knowing David’s game better than most, and coaching him along. While he was working on the ankle-lock, I heard the mat-tape ripping lose and was about to inform the ref. So I checked to see where it was coming up, only to realize that it wasn’t.
The sound I was hearing was the ankle of David’s opponent. But his face was solid stone. He didn’t tap.
David looked over at me and mouthed, “What do I do?”
“Turn belly-down,” I said, “and finish it.”
David looked unsure, but began to turn his belly towards the mat. The crackling grew louder. It sounded like an ice cube does just before it shatters between a person’s teeth. David released the ankle-lock.
He scooted away and literally said out loud, “I’m sorry.” His opponent leapt on him and the match continued and ended in a draw.
For their next five matches, David and his first opponent tore through the division, tapping out everyone else they went against which means they ended up tied on points and had to have a rematch.
During that rematch, David once again caught the same ankle as he did in their previous match. However, he once again let it go. David ended up losing this rematch.
On the podium, David’s opponent flexed for the cameras before being helped down
and limping off to his team. What stood out to me was not this man’s ability to take pain and push through it to victory (though by all rights, it is impressive).
What stood out to me was that despite all of the time and effort David had put in to win that tournament, he essentially gave it away. David didn’t train so that he could take second place. He didn’t put in extra mat time so he could wear silver around his neck. He did it to win gold.
However, he showed me that sometimes it’s better to be a good person than to be the best person. That tournament wasn’t worth a broken anything. It was a blue belt division at some middle-of-nowhere competition. David recognized that, and decided to be the better man. It’s something that will always stay with me.