SUSPENDED – LEARNING TO BITE MY TONGUE!

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I’ve seen online over the past several months the talk about my competition status and have had many questions posed to me about the same. I feel now is the right time to address these inquiries. Let me start at the beginning.

Over one year ago I competed in the 2015 European Championships. My quarter final match against a Brazilian opponent (pictured above) – someone I knew quite well – ended on points in favor of my adversary. During the match several things happened, including when we rolled out of bounds, but he had a hold of the lapel around my neck.

Because the official deemed that as a ‘legitimate’ submission attempt he was awarded two points, and the lead. I passed the guard and secured the back of my opponent which would have awarded me an additional 7 points and the lead, but I was not awarded the points due to the discretion of the official and time ran out. That, however, is not what upset me.

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As I stepped off the mat and was walking towards the other side of the gymnasium, I saw my opponent walking towards me, grinning and boasting about his win. I looked at him in disgust, still fuming with frustration and said in Portuguese, “Congrats, your Jiu Jitsu is really beautiful…you just have one position.” I specifically said that because the same exact thing happened in the 2012 PanAm Brown Belt Final against him. Feel free to take a look (here).

After I said that, we both said some things in the heat of the moment that were offensive to each other in Portuguese. As a result, he chose to write a report against me and I received an email from the Federation a few weeks later, letting me know that as a result, my athlete status with the IBJJF would be suspended for one full year.

Because I was already registered for the 2015 Pan before I received my suspension, the IBJJF honored that and my year punishment was to begin immediately after.

This past year was one of the most difficult for me both mentally and competitively. Going into the Pans I knew it was going to be my last tournament for a year. I was discouraged to the point where I didn’t even want to train for the Pans as I didn’t know if I would even continue to have a future in Jiu Jitsu. I managed to put together an enjoyable campaign, but the thought of being suspended after that tournament nagged me before during and after the event.

I had 6 matches (absolute included) and became a silver medalist in my category for my fist time at the Black Belt Pans. Aside from that, something truly special happened. During my career there has been very few times that my Professor, Eduardo de Lima has coached or watched me compete live, but he was there for the 2015 Pans and thankfully he was there to coach me in the final.

During the match, there sat my professor, coaching me in his neon vest, screaming words in Portuguese to me and there was a distinct moment that I looked up to Eduardo and had a flash back. I went back to being at the pans together when I was just a new blue belt and on the brink of a whole new life. There we were mat side, watching the Black Belt finals together and there he was with his little pocket camera filming the matches so he could watch when he got back home to Florida. During the match I saw him looking to me saying, “one day this is going to be you and I’ll be there mat side to coach you!”

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Well there I was, competing in the Black Belt Finals at the 2015 IBJJF Pans with Eduardo matside and me apart of history as the first All-American final. I looked to Eduardo during and after my match and I saw that same enthusiastic face I saw as a blue belt. I saw the look of how proud he was, to be there and how proud he was of me. I was not sad because I lost, I was sad because for the first time in my Jiu Jitsu career I was unsure of my future in the sport and where I would go from there.

I decided at that time that I needed to take myself out of the scene and collect my thoughts. So, I went to the watch the NCAA National Wrestling Championships. I was back in the environment where it all started for me. It was a very eye opening weekend being back there and realizing how far I have come, but the pain of not being able to compete the entire year haunted me many times.

During this year I was not able to defend my title at the Black Belt NoGi Worlds, a new NoGI European absolute champion was crowned, my number 1 rank as the NoGi adult male Black Belt for my weight and the absolute that I worked so hard to earn, diminished and my goal to win back to back Brazilian National titles was put on hold. Additionally, I was not able to compete in the Gi World Championships that year which should be the most important tournament in any Jiu Jitsu athletes career.

The momentum that was built in my first year at black belt came to a halt and I found myself facing a massive fork in the road competitively and emotionally. Should I even continue in the sport of Jiu Jitsu?

On top of it all, at every tournament I went to coach friends, the inevitable conversation “what day do you compete?” “are you feeling ready?” “why are you not competing?” found me each time. It pained me even more each time to have to answer because I wanted to compete more than anything. It pained me to the point to want to compete in other tournaments to pass the time.

I love Jiu Jitsu. Although, I don’t agree with the decision of the IBJJF in this incident, they have help paved the way for my life by giving me a platform to succeed in the last 10 years. My emotions got the best of me at the Europeans, but I have since then learned from it.

We all are going to have seasons in our life where things happen either outside of our control, or through a poor decision as a result of our emotions getting the best of us. I have taken this situation and have come to a point now where I am thankful for what I went through.

Fortunately, the Jiu Jitsu calendar is loaded with additional organizations outside the International Brazilian Jiu Jitsu Federation to can keep any Jiu Jitsu practitioner busy. The ADCC, the Abu Dhabi World Pro, Polaris, Copa Podio, etc. I competed in the Abu Dhabi World Pro for the fist time in my career, It also happened to be the year of the ADCC (which I was very excited about) and I had multiple super fights with Polaris that have kept that fire inside me burning during this past year.

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I believe that the moment you are not working to become a World Champion in the Gi, you are no longer a true Brazilian Jiu Jitsu athlete. As I was competing in these events, I remembered why I fell in love with this sport. I remembered what motivated me everyday and that should be the main motivation to any true Brazilian Jiu Jitsu competitor. I compete in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu to be a Black Belt World Champion in the Gi. I am not a hobbyist, a super match fighter, or someone that will ever give up on my dreams.

This week marks the end of my year suspension and I have used this time off to better myself mentally, physically and spiritually. This situation added fuel to my fire. I caused it to happen through letting my emotions get the best of me, but I know I have pulled myself out of it and have become better because of it. It’s not what happens to you in life, it is how you choose to grow from it like responding with mindfulness instead of reacting out of emotion.

When you are faced with a time of life such as this, I look forward to hearing your story or any comments below on how you have dealt with a similar situation.

Above all best regards to my friends, family, and the people that believe in me.

-AJ