On Being Prepared: The Parable of The Plank

210 lb Weight Class – Blue Belt

One of my favorite stories that I’ve heard in the last couple years is John Danaher’s “parable of the plank” (this video is 5 minutes and worth your time). 

When I started practicing jiu-jitsu a little over 3 years ago I had the goal of being more prepared to defend myself should I ever have to. The idea being that the more you train the more a hectic physical altercation becomes normalized, just like in the parable of the plank. Well, I decided to put my training to the test and entered in my first competition. 

As I ramped up my training in preparation for the competition I had the objective of being able to fight aggressively, yet keep my cool. Much like the man described at the beginning of Rudyard Kipling’s “If”: 

“If you can keep your head when all about you   

Are losing theirs and blaming it on you,   

If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you,

But make allowance for their doubting too…”

I wanted to test myself in a competitive setting to see if I really could keep my cool and defend myself in a physical altercation with a complete stranger. 

Well, as I’ve heard it said, “man plans and God laughs”. After nearly winning my first match but loosing in the last minute by submission, in my second match I almost immediately dislocated my finger on my opponent’s jacket. 

My opponent and I were still standing when it happened. I looked down at my ring finger that was now a quarter inch shorter and in the shape of a small hockey stick. Immediately the game plan had been changed from “take him down” to “retain guard and counter”. My opponent eventually passed my guard (3 points) and had me pinned to the mat (4 points). The clock was ticking away, and I couldn’t use my right hand at all as he slid to the “north-south” position and locked in a choke. I tried once, twice, three times to roll onto my side when it finally worked and I made it off my back and onto my knees.

I got out of the choke and maneuvered my opponent into closed guard.

I knew I was down 7 points with very little time left. With the little energy I had left I swept my opponent to the mat (two points).

The clock was ticking. My opponent scrambled to get up as I took his back (four points) right as the buzzer sounded

A loss, 7-6

He reached out with his right hand to shake mine, and I raised my left hand for a fist bump instead. I walked to the sideline and showed my coach my hand and we agreed to drop out of the competition. 

Although I didn’t get the wins I was hoping for, I fought hard and kept my head. Whatever it is we are training for, the more you can simulate the real thing the cooler your head will be.