Sound Off: Fool Me Once


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Author:  Paul Thomas

Title:  Fool Me Once

What’s on their mind:

At the last NAGA “Kip” said during the rules meeting that he reserved the right to pull people out of their divisions if he felt like they were “sandbagging.” The definition of the slang sandbagging is, “To downplay or misrepresent one’s ability in a game or activity in order to deceive (someone), especially in gambling.” I am so tired of hearing this terminology miss used. I am equally tired of people hiding behind the term. Does working hard and being better make you a sandbagger? Why are we trying to dumb down competition? Why are we rewarding a sub par performance? Shouldn’t the guy who put the work in and has his hand raised get the reward? Shouldn’t the guy in second place want to rise to the top on is own?

It started off with one of my 16 year old white-belts, Pedro Migliano. He had signed up to fight in men’s novice division. He started the day off with a loss in nogi. Like so many others he hung around for hours waiting to redeem himself in the gi division. Winning something meant a lot to him because he hadn’t placed in the last tournament. The first fight he pulled guard and won by a triangle. To be honest I forgot how he won his second match. When he went out to fight his third the referee stopped him, called KIP over and told him that he was too good for that division and would have to fight up.

Naturally I was outraged. I think I kept my cool. KIP pretty much said we were liars and that we were sandbagging. (Because that’s what we do at West Side we hide all our really good fighters and make them fight as white-belts.) I tried to be rational, KIP informed me that “he was just trying to make things as fair as possible.”

In fact KIP said that sometimes the opposite was true. He said that he knew of a wrestler that wasn’t that good, so he let him fight in the novice division. Because he was being fair.

I told KIP that we were not cheating and that Pedro had been training every day so that he would do well at this tournament. KIP told me “not everyone can train every day.”  So what are we going to start entering people in divisions based on their work ethic? This kid goes to school, makes good grades, doesn’t party, doesn’t smoke and spends all his free time at the academy because BJJ does not come naturally to him and he has a goal to the best he can be. When something doesn’t come naturally to person we can make it up in hard work and I believe that hard work should be rewarded.

My first reaction was to boycott the tournament. But I know of many schools that decided that they had not been treated fairly at an event and would no longer attend. Those schools whittle down their options until they have no place to compete. Those schools will tell you that they’re really bad-asses but that they’re too good for whatever, tournament is coming up. I didn’t want to be one of “those” schools. While some students might have other obligations, family jobs, etc I believe those who have the opportunity should compete. I believe that Jiu Jitsu competition has improved the quality of my life and I always felt like it could do the same for others. At the core of Brazilian Jiu Jitsu is competition, it keeps things real. If we don’t keep things real, then we’re no better then karate, kung fu, or tae kwon do.

I decided that we weren’t going to boycott NAGA. But I told my fighters that, I wasn’t feeling it, they could go if they wanted.

All of us stayed at home with the exception of one of my 13 year old beginners Andrew Ramirez. See Andrew hadn’t done well at the Fight to Win, his first tournament. There was no one in his weight class so he had to fight up. He lost both his gi and nogi divisions. His father wanted to show his son that his hard work would pay off. That’s what we’re trying to show our kids, right?

On any account, this time there were kids in his division. He had 4 fights, and won every match by submission.  He was excited to have won first place. As they were giving out medals and Andrew was about to get his first place medal, they told him that he had been “moved up”. They explained that, he was “too good” at this division. So they decided that they would move him up, and the silver medalist would get his gold instead.

“Fool me once shame on you. Fool me twice…your not going to fool me again.”- George Bush.

OK I get it. Its KIP’S party and we all have to dance the way he tells us to. There’s nothing we can do about that. But I don’t have to go.

I’m just wondering if anyone else had experienced the same thing. I heard that KIP just goes around and asks the table people “OK which one are we moving up?” How often does this happen at the NAGA? DOESN’T it SET A SHADOW OF DOUBT on those who had won NAGA in the past? Lastly what does this teach our children? It seems to me that it teaches children, that if you work hard, instead of getting rewarded, the powers that be will rob you of your success and reward the defeated.

“America loves winners. And will not tolerate a loser.”- General Douglas MacArthur.

In tae kwon do everyone gets a medal, just like in the Special Olympics. I’ve taught the children of West Side that theconsolation prize is a slap in the face. We don’t need consolation. But we do deserve what we have earned. I teach them that we roll with the punches go back to the drawing board and try again. I teach them that the only time one fails is when one gives up. We accept the fact that we failed but we don’t except failure.

That’s the problem in our country today. Those of us, who work hard, are robbed of their rewards, and forced to support those who refuse to work. If our country has any hope, it’s BJJ and MMA, two sports that are painfully real. BJJ and MMA create “alpha males.” In real life it’s the alpha males (or alpha women) who do well in life. Why then do we want to take away from the alpha and give to the beta? Don’t we want to teach our kids to rise to the occasion rather then except mediocrity?

Paul Thomas
West Side MMA