How I Learned to Tie My Belt
It was the British Open 2016. I had to travel to the comp from London, so I arrived at my hotel the night before the big day. I was a White belt and with the experience of two competitions in my arsenal, it’s fair to say I was a competitor. I was also cutting weight.
I had 4kg to lose in 1 week. I was inexperienced with weight cuts then, so I decided to do a small water load, drinking 5-6 litres of water a day for 3 days and having a low carb, high protein diet.
The weight was dropping off and as I arrived in my hotel room, I pulled out my comp essential travel scales to check my weight. I was nearly there but not quite, which meant a salt bath, plain chicken salad, more water and going to sleep with the heating and lots of clothing on, were my evening plans. Or so I thought.
My hotel was like something stuck in the past. It had a trouser press, but no internet. It had a TV, but with only channels 1-5. It had lamps, with no light switches. A bath, with no plug….Now, I don’t want to say anything bad about Coventry…
The British Open is a big competition and a lot of people travel to take part in. My hotel was filled with competitors and coaches. I was nervous when I saw them arriving at the same time as me. They were decked out in their team apparel. They were traveling in packs. The women had coloured and perfectly plaited hair. The men had cauliflower ears and an air of arrogance. As for me, I had my lime green suitcase packed with Epsom salt, chicken and a Gi, coupled with my own company. To say I was filled with nervous energy was an understatement, I couldn’t sit still.
The British Open falls on the same day as another big event, Eurovision. The evening loomed and I had my dinner but my plan of a salt bath had been ruined by the lack of a plug. The nerves were building and I had too much energy to sit down. I decided to put on Eurovision loudly to drown out the fear and to watch Jiu Jitsu Vids on my phone, to soak in technique and help cement my win. It didn’t take me long to notice what many winners had in common; their belt was tied so neatly, into a smart knot, that did not come undone, no matter how hard they fought. Until that point, my belt was tied like a shoelace without loops, but in that moment I knew what I had to do to win and occupy my mind.
I found a tutorial on Youtube ‘How to tie your Belt for BJJ’.
I stood in front of my rooms mirror and began to practice my knotting skills. It took me a good while to realise that tying your belt while looking in the mirror is harder than not looking in a mirror (try it). Minutes turned to an hour because it’s hard to take things in when you are on minus calories but then I got it. It looked good. It looked secure but there was one final check I had to do before I could rest for the night; tying the belt with my Gi on.
As Eurovision blared from my TV, I put on my Gi and I tied my belt. As I did, I heard a lot of commotion in the hallway of the hotel. 1..2…3…4…, it carried on and it was getting louder and more breathless. I was a bit concerned, so I opened my door to see what was going on. Lining the corridor, were about 25 of the BJJ competitors I saw arriving earlier, manically doing triangle drills in unison. With no internet or music TV channels in our hotel, they had their doors open and were using Eurovision as their backing track. It was an odd sight.
I stood there in my Gi and their coach and I locked eyes across the corridor, over the heads of the others, as the only two people standing. I could tell from his expression that he realised I was more prepared than his fighters because I was already dressed; I realised I wasn’t the only one cutting and that the plug absence was hotel wide.
The morning of the comp arrived and when I got to the arena, I left a good 30 minutes to change and tie my belt. As I walked out of the warm-up area for my first fight I knew two things; my belt looked good and so I was going to win.
The Coventry Skydome has a pizza place out the back and spectators often buy a pizza and a drink to watch the fights. My turn to fight came around and as I walked onto the mat I became very aware of the fact I felt faint, my eyes were dappling and the noise of the arena sounded hollow. I had made weight but I had to skip any food that morning. It was 3pm and I was bloody hungry. I pulled guard and my opponent went straight into a knee slice, securing side control.
What happened next was one of two things. To the outside eye, it looked like I didn’t know how to frame properly and I left my arm out for the Americana. To me, I saw a man with a Pizza and I was reaching out for it like a mirage in the dessert, that’s when she rudely grabbed my arm and pinned it to the mat, stopping me from reaching my dream. Either way, I tapped.
As the ref stood us up, to raise my opponent’s hand, he turned to her, gesturing his two hands downwards in a cross, telling her to tie her belt. Then he turned to me. In my memory I am sure he gave me a knowing look as he saw my undisturbed knotted belt and a smile tinged with disappointment flashed across his face, which whispered, ‘you should have won’.
As he lifted her hand, I looked down at my belt and I had to agree, there was only one winner here.