On Saturday I was not sure that I would go to the Renegade Grappling League tournament the next day, but then I saw Avatar (read my review of Avatar here), and that inspired me to go, and I am glad it did.
Avatar is about a man who finds something he had lost in learning the skills and lifestyle of an alien tribe. Without going into all the details (that’s for another time) let’s just say that his adventure mirrors my own in the world of submission grappling.
Specifically, the joy the hero, Jake, felt when experiencing the physicality of his alien avatar body felt much like the way I feel when experiencing the physicality of a properly executed grappling move, and I knew that the more I practiced and competed, the more I would get to feel that thrill.
Also the more Jake did with the tribe, the more he was accepted by them, and who doesn’t want to feel that acceptance?
So I trekked up to Johns Boxing Gym in the Bronx for the inaugural tournament of the Renegade Grappling League. It was a modestly-sized affair, with about a dozen or so competitors of various weights. It was set us as a round-robin tournament, with fighters getting multiple matches against other fighters in their weight bracket.
It was run by the good folks from Sadistic Athletics, who definitely allowed a sense of fun to pervade the afternoon. Most everyone there was more experienced, stronger, better conditioned, and shorter than me, which is pretty much par for the course wherever I go, but I was determined that no one would have more fun than me!
We fought in a boxing ring, so of course I had to mount the ropes and make like I was going to dive off before my first match. I was paired up against a short, stocky, quick wrestler guy who had fought one or two hard bouts already. He was not very aggressive in the opening, so I got to establish the clinch, but then he got a headlock on me and took me down into side control with an arm triangle. I pushed out of the triangle, and while I was bringing my leg in front of his face to go for the armbar, he stuck my arm between his legs and put pressure on the elbow, forcing me to tap pretty quickly.
Well, I generally get at least one short match like that in every tournament, so I guess it was just as well to get that out of the way quickly, so I would be fresh for my next bout.
I was paired with a guy about my height and about 10 lbs lighter than me for whom this was only his second competition. This match lasted the distance. In this event each match was three rounds of three minutes. Again I mounted the ropes, and by then I was beginning to win over the crowd. I had been chatting with the Sadistic Athletics people earlier about possible work involving my grappling movie “Redemption,” and a fellow who had been involved in the rehearsals of that movie was also there, and they all were shouting advice to me during the match. I followed the advice as best as I could.
In the match, I was able to control the takedowns so that my opponent wound up in a guillotine hold, though I was unable to complete the choke. I avoided several submission attempts, and escaped a rear-naked choke that almost got locked in. I almost got a toe hold/leg lock locked in, but not enough to make him tap. I escaped from under his half guard once or twice. I may have been “saved by the bell” at one moment (and in between rounds I almost spit water on someone accidentally), but when the last round came I laid it all out. I leaped off the second rope, the crowd was cheering, and rather than a handshake, my opponent and I high-fived.
I almost got the guy in an upside-down leg triangle and kimura, but he grabbed my shorts and pulled his head out. I wound up in his guard but stayed on top of him till the end of the fight. He almost arm-triangled me there, but I held out, then fought out, and was working on a kimura when the match ended.
The judges were not scoring by “points,” during the match, but did make decisions when no submission was scored. They said it was close, and in a split decision, gave the victory to the other guy. I have to agree with them, as it felt like he was on top of me, one way or another, through most of the match.
After the regular matches were concluded and the prizes awarded, there was an open-weight tournament. I was paired against the shortest, lightest guy in the tournament, a 135 lb. guy who can’t have been more that 5’3” tall. But he was a strong, , trained, ninjitsu fighter with great endurance and used to fighting folks bigger than him. I made the joke that it would be like Rey Mysterio fighting Kendall Grove. He fought in gi pants with no shirt, so I took my shirt off as well.
The match was scheduled for three minutes. My feet slipped on the mat at the first clinch, and after a brief struggle, he pulled guard. He attempted an armbar on me, which I stacked him out of. He was able to pull back to guard, and eventually went for another armbar. I had it defended, but he fell over and my elbow got pushed painfully sideways, so I tapped out at about 2:30.
So now my grappling competition record stands at 0-17-2. But I had fun, and I definitely won the crowd over. The Sadistic Athletic boys had, in fact, asked me to continue bringing the entertainment, which I did every time I entered the ring by standing on the ropes like a pro wrestler. I was appreciated for who and what I am, an entertainer who is learning skill as a grappler. I was, in fact, complimented on how well I did and how well I was taking instruction during the match. And that was the payoff I was looking for, and why I am glad I went to see Avatar the night before.