After a long day of travel (where we almost missed our connection in Seattle) we arrived safely in Japan. The flight was good, but very tough…sitting around for 16 hours of travel when you can’t eat really sucks. We were a little confused coming off the plane, with no real plan of attack for getting to our hostel. Luckily we fortunate enough to have a really nice lady from another airline appear out of thin air and basically hold our hands to navigating the train. Once we got to the district (Taito) that we are currently staying in, more confusion occurred. Again miraculously a stranger came to our rescue, and walked 10 minutes out of her way to put us on track for the hostel. All in all that has been our experience with the Japanese people, very polite, and very kind.
Big trouble in little Tokyo – Part 2
Due to the time change, we left Wednesday, arrived in Japan Thursday evening, and by the time we got everything in order and crashed it was Friday morning…The day before the tournament. We did some site seeing, and my weight was good, but very close…Walking around Tokyo, seeing all the amazing food, and smelling it was torture. It also didn’t help that my friends Brock and Shawn were all way underweight and eating up a storm. We arrived back at our hostel in the evening, to find the IBJJF schedule and brackets had been released. Wouldn’t you know, both Shawn and Brock were to fight Saturday, and me Sunday…Man was I ever looking forward to all that tasty food Saturday night.
The next day we arrived at the tournament around 10am, as my friend Brock was to fight in the purple belt, light feather division at noon. It was a nice surprise to see some familiar faces from Alliance Bahrain, and a few other guys I know from competition circuit. Brock had a great match, but due to some “unfortunate” officiating lost 2-0, in match I felt he should have won 3-2. Unfortunately in our sport that’s the way it goes, 1 loss and your tournament is over, and a bad call can really hit hard. Up next was my student Shawn Owen in the white belt, middle heavy division. Shawn fought a great first match and completely controlled his opponent. In his second match he fought the guy from Rocky 4…Seriously, I was scared. This guy was a big, strong Russian dude and I’m pretty sure I heard him say “I must break you.” Shawn fought a great match, and at the end the score was tied 0-0. In this case in Jiu Jitsu, the tie is usually broken by advantages (which are like half points), but they were also tied 1-1. So it comes down to a referee’s decision, which didn’t go our way. It was a great match that could have went either way, and it was good enough for a Bronze medal for Shawn in his first International tournament.
Saturday evening came and went, and my mind was firmly focused on Sunday. It was very lucky and crazy coincidence that we found a Subway (restaurant) right by the tournament as we were leaving. Why does that matter you say? And I don’t blame you, but I’ve eaten at Subway the night before every tournament I’ve won, so it’s become somewhat of a prefight ritual for me, and I felt like stumbling upon it accidentally was a good omen. I woke up really light (146lbs) which is really nice. It’s always good to be able to eat and drink the morning of the tournament. I went through my pre fight stuff like always and was feeling great. I was nervous like always, but very relaxed, and enjoyed chilling at the tournament, watching the blue belts fight for a few hours before it was time to head down and start warming up. I like to get a good warm up in before I fight, so I head down about an hour ahead of time to start. 2pm finally rolled around they started calling the brown belts. My first match was against a very technical guy who I fought previously (2011 at the IBJJF World Championships.) It was a great fight and I managed to catch a submission at around the 6 minute mark. My 2nd match was a doozy; I fought an American guy from Guam. Now I have some of the best strength and conditioning coaches around (Seb and Rob at Sheepdogs Crossfit – *shameless plug for my sponsors ;)) and normally I feel like the strongest guy in my division, but this guy was strong. Real strong, he caught me off guard with a quick score on a pass and jumped on my arm, I managed to shake it off, get my head right, and come back to beat him 9-3. When I got back to the bullpen to wait for the 3rd, some guys from Cobrinha’s (my coach) affiliate in Korea came over we talked briefly, took some photos, and had a laugh…The people you meet in Jiu Jitsu are incredible, everyone is just so cool, and it’s nice to stay relaxed in-between fights. So the semi-final came, and I felt great; came out real strong, and submitted my opponent in about 2 minutes. All the buildup of the trip, the long hours on the mat, the running, dieting, weight cutting all leading up to the next match. After I got back to the bullpen, the guy who lost in the semi-finals on the other side of my bracket informed me, I’d be fighting the #1 ranked guy in Japan in the finals. I came a long way to test myself, so it seemed fitting that the 2 of us would square off in the finals. I felt great coming in and really set the tone early. I controlled the fight from beginning to end, and won 9-0 against a very game opponent; 2013 IBJJF Asian Open Champion! It’s a long road to the gold medal, but getting to enjoy my last 4 days in Japan knowing my mission was accomplished is very satisfying.
We’ll leave it here for today, but there’s more to come! I was invited to train with several of the guys I fought, so I’m looking forward to that.
Thanks for reading guys, and a huge thanks to all my sponsors!!!
By Jason Gagnon