EDITOR’S NOTE: Welcome to the athlete journal of Jess Papi. Jess is a blue belt at Scranton MMA and also pursuing her degree in exercise science. Read her entries every week for insights on competing, training, and juggling BJJ and life.
Hello, readers! My name is Jess Papi and I’ve recently been added to the Breaking Muscle team to journal about my jiu jitsu training and competition. I am a blue belt at Scranton MMA, which is a Royce Gracie school in Pennsylvania. In my upcoming journal entries, I will be telling you about my training, balancing jiu jitsu with the rest of my life, competitions, some gender issues, and whatever else my life may throw at me that week. I will be writing entries that I believe both men and women can relate to. So sit back, relax, and please enjoy my first official entry!
As many of us know, jiu jitsu is used for a lot of things. It is an effective self-defense system, a proven method to lose weight, and (my favorite) a super exciting and fun sport! I love that jiu jitsu keeps me safe and healthy, but my favorite part about it is competition. Getting out there and leaving every ounce of technique and strength I have on the mat is an extremely rewarding feeling. I have done roughly fifteen tournaments in my career so I can safely say that I’ve experienced it all: winning, losing, tapping, bleeding, grunting, and crying. Recently, though, I experienced something in a tournament that most ladies above the teen divisions don’t experience: fighting men.
Back in July, I competed in New York at a local tournament called the Goodfight. I arrived early with four of my teammates and waited patiently for my match time, which was one o’clock. I put on my gi around noon and warmed up while repeating going over to check the brackets. The minutes passed and my name was nowhere on the female blue belt brackets. I was just about to talk to the tournament director when I heard my name get called to mat number two. “Weird, all the females are grouped at the other end of the gymnasium,” I thought to myself.
I made my way to mat number two with water, phone, and mouth guard in hand (the essentials). There were a bunch of eager looking blue belt dudes standing around. Again, weird. I leaned over the table workers to look at the bracket and I saw “Jess Papi” on a list with all male names on it. I put my finger next to my name on the paper and I said to the table worker, “That’s me.” He looked at me in surprise and says with a Brazilian accent, “That’s you?!” I said, “Yes,” and he replied, “Why?” And I just shrugged my shoulders. Neither of us had an answer to this conundrum. With the tournament director out of my sight and the bracket about to start, I figured I might as well compete with the guys. The women had already started anyway.
Three matches were scheduled ahead of mine so I took the opportunity to check out the tournament website. I scrolled through and saw I was registered for men’s blue belt middle weight, which is about 180 pounds! After weighing in I ended up in the men’s feather weight division, but shouldn’t they have noticed I wasn’t a man when I weighed in? Anyway, after figuring out the mistake, I told myself that I couldn’t let this affect me. I was actually a little more comfortable, because I fight men every day at the gym.
My name was finally called after an eternity of bouncing around to stay warm. I walked out onto the mat and gave my opponent the dirtiest look I could muster. I wasn’t going to let him think he could trample me because he was a man. The match went downhill after I jumped the sloppiest guard of my life. I lost that match and the consolation match after that. I wanted so badly to beat the men, but I came up short. I was disappointed, but I received compliments from my opponents and many people from the crowd for getting out there and fighting dudes. I fought my hardest and people noticed. It was a good feeling.
Not long after I finished up, I heard a bunch of ladies’ names get called for the blue belt absolute division. I sprinted over and explained what happened and they let me compete in that division. I was tired from my two previous matches, but I ended up taking second! It was a stressful day, but also very rewarding.
Such an eventful day calls for a huge lesson learned: there will always be challenges in life, but facing those challenges with confidence can make you feel amazing, even if it doesn’t turn out the way you want. I always try to put 100% into everything I do. Sometimes I succeed, but sometimes I fall short. Sh*t happens. You have to get over it and continue with life. It may hurt to fail at something you work so hard at, but you have to keep chugging on or else all that hard work was a waste.
I hope you all enjoyed my crazy story. Be sure to give everything in life 100% and always drink your Ovaltine!