White Belt Chronicles: My First Tournament and Weight Cutting Experience


About six weeks ago I was reading the Four Hour Chef by Tim Ferriss.  I had read Ferriss’ first two books (Four Hour Workweekand the Four Hour Bodyand very much enjoyed them.   The Four Hour Chef was published in 2012 and truthfully, when I first heard about it, I wasn’t that interested in it because,

I didn’t really care about learning how to cook better

What I later discovered (inadvertently as a matter of fact, while flipping through the pages when I was recently at my brother’s house) was that this book was only partially about cooking.  A large portion of the book (the first 100 pages or so) is actually about learning.

I love learning, so I decided to buy it and see what it said.

The book sets out several concepts that Ferriss describes as meta learning principles.  That is, concepts that help people to learn quicker.  As I read through the concepts I found them familiar, and concepts that I had actually picked up, through trial and error, when I was in school. Things like chunking (deconstruction), and also focusing on the top 20% of the most important fundamentals (the Pareto Principle).

Towards the end of the meta learning section Ferriss brought up something else that he suggested was critically important to learning:

If you want to learn quickly, you must have something at stake


I thought about my life and I realized that he was right.  I generally learn, and perform, much better when there is an element of “pressure”, like a looming test or deadline.  I thought beyond schooling to the things that I’ve been immersed in over the years, like building multiple businesses and writing.

Without a doubt, for me, having stakes (like putting my own money at play in my businesses, or having a book contract to satisfy) made me more diligent, and a harder worker.  Ferriss suggests that it is human nature.  I don’t know about all humans, but I do know that it does have a positive effect on me.

So as I was reading I thought to the things, right now in my life, that I am trying to learn, or get better at.  Brazilian Jiu Jitsu came to mind.  So I asked myself a question:  “How could I raise my own stakes”.  The answer was simple:

I needed to compete in a public tournament

So I emailed one of my coaches and teammates who encouraged me to sign up for the Alberta BJJ Provincial Championships, and I did, in the Masters (+30) white belt division, as a middleweight.

As soon as I paid my $70 registration fee online I could tell a shift in my psychology.  I immediately looked at the calendar and booked the days that I could get to class and open roll.

Then my mind turned to my weight.

I’m a pretty thin guy, and I’ve never really had to worry about my weight.  I’m 6’2” and at the time of registration I was walking at 185 lbs.  When I signed up I thought middleweight would be the best option for me because the maximum weight was 181.5 lbs, and losing 3.5 lbs over a month wouldn’t be too hard.   Besides I figured I’d rather be one of the bigger guys in the division, and have to lose weight, than being one of the smallest guys in the next higher division (195 lbs).

So the first couple of days I didn’t really worry about my weight at all, but rather focused my attention on Jiu Jitsu and making myself ready to compete.  Then I re-read the competition rules and realized that 181.5 lbs was WITH my Gi on, not without.

So I weighted myself with my Gi:

190 lbs…..oh crap

But I have to hand it to Ferriss, he is on to something.  I had paid my registration fee, and even more importantly, I had told people at my gym, including my Professor, that I was going to compete, and I didn’t want to let them down. There were stakes now.  As a result, I started a very controlled diet (based on what I could find on the Internet about how UFC fighters go about cutting weight).

I’ve got 13 days left and I’m happy to say that I weighed in on the scale this morning, WITH my Gi on, at 183.6 lbs (178.6 without it on).  So two pounds to go in 13 days.  I can definitely do that.  I think I’ll shoot for three pounds, to give myself a buffer.

A couple of thoughts on my first experience with cutting weight:

  • Vegetables have never tasted more wonderful in my life than when I am starving (if you want to love vegetables just make yourself hungry);
  • I think I may have finally broke my addiction (and yes I think it is an addition) to sugar and bread.  Although I’d really love some nice chewy ciabatta right now.  Actually a plain peanut butter sandwich on white bread sounds incredible;
  • Running on the treadmill with a hoodie and garbage bag sucks, but it really makes you sweat, and it takes weight off.

I’ll make the weight, there are stakes at play.

Now to the other major stake, the actual tournament itself.  Truthfully I am a little nervous. I have been training BJJ for a little over a year now and have been actively rolling for about 8 months. While at times I feel like I am learning and getting better, other times (like every time I roll with higher belts) I feel very inadequate in my skill set.

Funny thing is that often the higher belts will tell me that I am getting a lot better.  But it is just hard to tell from a first person perspective.  I do know several fundamental techniques, both in standup and on the ground that will allow me to be competitive.  I will absolutely give my best effort.  I’ll come in shape and do my best to represent my team.

However, I really don’t know how it is going to play out.

In many regards I feel quite vulnerable.  That is exactly why I am wanting to compete.

I believe that I can get better, quicker, if I make myself vulnerable.  It takes courage to be vulnerable, and I believe that if you aren’t truly vulnerable then you aren’t truly learning, and you aren’t truly brave.

It is easy to be in a situation where you are comfortable and confident, it is hard to be in an unfamiliar situation that is full of uncertainty.  That is how this tournament feels right now, but I’m going forward.

My kids are going to come and watch me.  That makes the situation even more vulnerable for me.  But again, that is a primary reason why I want to compete.

I want my kids to see their dad nervous, and vulnerable, but still move forward anyway.  I feel like that is the best way to teach them courage – by showing it through my own life.  

Here is what I hope will happen:

  • I’d love to win, and I will give my best to do so, but honestly I’m not bringing an ego to this.  I just want to give the best technique I can, and represent my team well.  Perform the best that I know how to;
  • I hope to seal in a love of competing because I can tell already that my seriousness in learning BJJ has increased since I signed up.  I like how I feel.  I like the intensity.  So I hope that the experience is positive and that I will have a desire to compete again;
  • I want to learn.  I want to get better at BJJ by doing this tournament.

I’ll check back in and update on how it goes!

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