North American Grappling Association – First Impressions
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Passing the plentiful horse stables, and breathing in the fresh country air we approached the venue for the first Utah NAGA Grappling Tournament. My muscles began to tense as I thought to myself, “Oh yes, a communal case of Staph… just what the doctor ordered.”
But those fears were soon quelled as we entered the main, dirt filled arena and were promptly re-directed to the two adjacent buildings, with concrete flooring and several Dollamur mats, guarded fiercely by the tournament officials against shoe wearing infants and ignorant parents, like sentries at a US embassy.
The rules meeting was long and hard to hear. In fact, the subtleties of the various rules (gi and no gi, kids and adult divisions), by the tournament organizer’s own admission would have taken about 2 or 3 hours to go over. As with any tournament, prior research and clarification is HIGHLY RECOMMENDED.
What I saw was a lot of on the fly, adjustments. In the kids division, competitors were evaluated within their divisions, during their matches and then brackets were re-shuffled, kids were placed up or down in advanced, intermediate, or beginner divisions based on their performances. This was all done in the spirit of giving the kids the best possible experience in the most level playing fields as possible.
For instance, you might have a kid that officially fits the description for an intermediate competitor. She’s been training at a gym for 2+ years. But once on the mat, in competition, she’s just getting dominated. What I saw was tournament organizers, immediately shifting her down into a beginner division and giving her a second chance to do a little better.
This made things somewhat confusing at times, as there were two different buildings for competitors to switch back and forth to, but in my opinion it was well worth the hassle to see these kids get a second and sometimes a third chance to shine.
I believe there was only one injury (a torn rotator cuff via Kimura), and this was due primarily to the injured competitor’s refusal to tap out in time. The NAGA Officials, with their very liberal rule sets (twisting leg locks, spine locks and neck cranks) did a phenomenal job of keeping the matches safe and respectful. I was very impressed with their knowledge of the rules and discretion in stopping matches for the safety of the competitors.
A Coaches Perspective
It was a challenging day on the mats as a coach. Particularly as I did what I could to help a young 10 year old student of mine. Again, thanks to the referees and officials, he was given 6 matches that day. And for a registration price of $80.00 for one division and $100.00 for two, you want your guys to get as much experience as possible.
But when, your student looses his first 4 matches and says he “thinks he’s just going to loose again.” Your abilities as a coach are truly tested. What do you do? Give the kid a hug, tell him what a good job he did, and let him call it a day? Or do you launch into your Vince Lombari motivational speech, tell the kid to wipe his tears, shake off the past, and get in there for one more go!
I chose the latter, and gave the kid a hug, told him how proud of him I was, how proud his father, who had his arm around him was, how, the worst was behind us, that there was only one possible direction to go from here and that was forward… and hopefully upward.
And so it went, as he marched into two more matches, losing one by points and the next by a 270 choke from Kesa Gatame. So much for my Vince Lombardi trophy.
Did I make the right choice? Did I push him too far and too hard? Only time will tell, and I will second guess myself until I know for sure, if I helped to make that kid stronger, or if I contributed to the ultimate demise of his self confidence.
Every Cloud Has A Silver Lining, Even For A Coach
Thankfully, that was not how the day came to an end, we had 5 more adult competitors and they all did very well in their divisions. Both Kiser and I had opportunities to make, good calls, heads up tough calls, and thankfully, the right calls.
Kiser was able to impart his thorough knowledge of the Arm Triangle to assist our student Chris Huntsaker in achieving a submission victory as he walked him from the lock up to the final shift of the hips that sealed the deal.
You can learn a little bit more about Kiser’s Arm Triangle game from the video below. He shares his whole Arm Triangle Set Up Game in the Members Only Area.
My comeback moment came while I watched a tough match between our student, Jared Fahrner and his opponent. The match was dead even at 0 – 0 until his opponent threw on a triangle attempt with 1 minute left in the match. Both Jared’s arms were in, but one was pushed, precariously out of between his opponent’s legs except for his fist and wrist. This gave his opponent an advantage point and I watched as the time continued to tick away.
With about 30 seconds left, I decided that we had nothing left to loose. We were going to lose the match on 1 point anyway if things continued to progress as they were. It was time for some drastic measures. I told Jared to yank his trapped hand the rest of the way out, effectively giving his opponent the full triangle. What was the difference of losing the match by a point or being tapped out? A loss is a loss in my book. Then I told Jared to punch over with his outside arm and hip down. And with about 15 seconds left he did just that, scrambling to break the triangle and complete a guard pass which would have won him the match on points. He succeeded in breaking the triangle but unfortunately was unable to complete the pass before time ran out and he lost by that 1 point advantage.
But this is the type of thing we live for as coaches. Giving our students, a second chance, a way to win, when they see none. I was thankful to have wrapped up the day with something I knew I did right.
Parting Thoughts – Are Grappling Matches Considered “Fights”?
I have often questioned the legitimacy of people who called grappling matches “fights” or people who only participate in Grappling Style tournaments as “fighters”. To me, something about using the term “fighter” to describe a grappling competitor, just didn’t sit right.
That is, until this tournament. Watching a young boy, face defeat, time and time again, watching him walk out onto the mat alone, to face yet another tough competitor, despite his lingering self doubt and trepidation, showed me what strength of character was possible in such a young soul. If that is not fighting spirit is, than I am incapable of recognizing it when I see it.
The jury is still out for me on whether or not the terms “grappler” and “fighter” are interchangeable, but one thing is for certain. I have left the first Utah NAGA Competition, very willing to consider the possibility.
What are your thoughts on whether or not Grappling Competitors, and Grappling Matches should be considered “Fighters” and “Fights”?