Secret Diary of a Black Belt Competitor: 2016 Worlds

Published on by Samantha Faulhaber

Photo courtesy of Mike Calimbas (

Once a month I'll be posting a personal account of my training and mindset about my relationship with Jiu Jitsu. For the first diary entry I've chosen to share my experience at my first black belt World Championship. Hope you enjoy!

Diary 6/3, the day before World's

Well, World's for me. It's been going on for three days already. This is my first black belt time out there. The division is stacked, and I fight on Saturday. Blue belt me would be proud. White belt me wouldn't have any idea what was happening.

I just stopped by the [Cal State Uni Long Beach gymnasium] Pyramid for the first time after having really excited thoughts about competing tomorrow. My knees didn't start getting shaky until I was at the venue. The two hour drive from San Diego probably didn't help, but it was definitely my first touch with nerves. I saw, hugged and/or high-fived almost everybody that will be in my division tomorrow - Tammi Musumeci, Mackenzie Dern, Karen Antunes Borges. Just missed Yaz Wilson and Michelle Nicolini. Nicolini, who I saw coaching people enthusiastically from the sidelines, is the only person I've never fought in the division.  I saw both her and Mackenzie yelling and rooting for their students. It was nice to see so much action when they all have big days tomorrow. For my part, I don't have anybody to coach here and could sit back and enjoy the shows taking place all over the twelve World Championship mats. My weight is good, over 1.5 lbs under with the gi, after eating breakfast and being fairly hydrated. Maybe someday I will put myself through the ringer trying to cut more weight again, but the truth is the divisions aren't easy no matter where you go and I have too busy of a life now to make myself that cranky haha.

I hope everybody has a good time. I'm very excited. I want to go in there and have fun trying to fight the best people in the world in as many matches as I can. I signed up for the open class. For me, the point of this year's Worlds is to have fun tearing into as many girls as I can, and if God forbid I lose the first round of my division at least I'll have a minimum of one fight in the open.

My knees were still a little wobbly as I walked around the venue and I mused how funny it would be if I fell and broke something on the steps before I ever got to the mats. Food and rest and reading other things that don't have to specifically do with Jiu Jitsu are on the agenda tonight. It's 4:00pm PT now. I go on at11:30am for the Open and 5:50 for featherweight black belt women. Tomorrow is going to be a good day.

I love watching people smile after they've been through several minutes of hell together on the mats. I love seeing people putting their best out there and genuinely congratulating others even if they beat them. I saw someone there at the venue that I know can be stressed sometimes. My advice sounds stupid, "Don't care!" But if we could all be that way a little bit we'd have freer minds to do what we really trained ourselves to do here.

Quotes I think about: "I don't think anybody trains for second place." - Mackenzie Dern

A couple of years ago I saw a clip of Angelica Galvao after she lost to someone. She was smiling. When asked about her smile, she responded something like, "how can you not be happy when you put it all out there and did your best doing what you love." I'm sure it wasn't exactly that, but I liked it a lot and still do. It works forever, for everything. I hope I show up with everything I have tomorrow. I will show up with everything I have tomorrow. I can scarcely avoid it, though we'll have to see how much that means on that day.

Took a bath. Read a couple of pieces from a couple of books. Haven't thought too much about tomorrow except these and similar thoughts from Flow, by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi - "...a person has to learn to provide rewards to herself. She has to develop the ability to find enjoyment and purpose regardless of external circumstances." ..."achieving control over experience requires a drastic change in attitude about what is important and what is not."

Saturday, 6/4 7:58pm
It's amazing how much there is to learn no matter how long you've been doing this. I learned today that only two people from each team can compete in the Open Class. Bia Mesquita and Mackenzie have more than earned their places as the Gracie Humaita representatives, so I did not get to do the open class like I'd hoped.

5:30 is the latest I've ever started a division. It was a long wait! I took a nap, watched a lot of Jiu Jitsu, felt good, felt bad, felt good again, went to get food, locked my keys in the car (thanks AAA), got back, discovered I'd lost my pants, borrowed some from a guy friend, and fought. I lost. Got choked. I don't feel bad now, just unrequited urges to train. I had a good time, actually.

I spent a stretch of years getting to the finals of every tournament I competed in. More recently, I've learned what it feels like to lose first round. At the same time, my reasons for competing have evolved a lot. I'm less driven in a "must-win!" kind of way and more interested in challenging and testing myself. I'm having more fun even though I'm losing more. I cried once, after losing a World's final at purple belt. I've lost sleep after losing. I've had nightmares.

Now I'm happy no matter what. Happy as a person, not with my performance necessarily. Instead of having to pick up shattered pieces of my identity I'm excited to move forward and do what feels right to improve. I immediately registered for the upcoming IBJJF New York summer open, and I don't even like that venue. I have things to test, people to fight, and stuff to learn.

Caring so much about winning used to make me go through physical and emotional extremes. Though I'll have a pizza now and then, right now I'm excited to keep being healthy and work out to make myself a better person, not just to lose weight or even just to be better at Jiu Jitsu. I feel like I'm growing up. If growing up means wanting to beat people up really badly but have fun doing it. Competition is wanting people to bring their best to meet my best and see how I do. I'm thankful for every chance to do that.