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Paul Gallagher on BJJ Competition Nerves

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It was obvious from a strong Irish accent and a heavily patched gi, that Paul Gallagher was no stranger to Brazilian Jiu-jitsu (BJJ). A brief introduction told Extreme MMA that their new team member came from an extensive martial arts background. With 8 years of competing experience and a resume spanning across 5 continents, who better to get comp tips from, than this
jet-setting Brown Belt? Paul spared some time with Extreme to uncover his competitive side.

What are your top tips for dealing with competition nerves?

I think the first thing, is to realise that it’s good to have nerves. It means you’re switched on, and that is completely normal. If you’re feeling nervous, it means that you’re wanting to do well and you should go with it. It’s a complete primal instinct and it’s there to keep you safe, alive and give you added energy. Even at the top level, people are apprehensive. Think of it as excitement, rather than something negative. It should be your time to showcase your skills. All your hard work has been done and the enjoyment, or the fun part of it, should be going in there, to perform.


A lot of times, we see guys at competitions with their headphones in, listening to music or getting themselves really amped up. Do you do anything similar before you compete?

Maybe not quite like that. A good friend of mine in Ireland, listens to Adele and really slow stuff. We always make fun of him because he gets too amped up. Heavier music was getting him too sporadic, so he actually has to use the soft music to take himself down. For me, I like too focus on something completely different. I might be on my phone or reading something really far off [jiu-jitsu], like astrology, or watching a documentary about something completely unrelated to jiu-jitsu. I like to allow my body to take over the competition. I think it should be like dancing – the less you think about it, the better it’s going to be. But everyone’s different.


How does the day before your comp normally look like? Do you train? Do you use it to rest?

Most of the places where I’ve trained – they usually say to rest the week before, but I found that left me kind of sluggish, or I would gas out on my first fight. So I like to train. Not to spar crazy, but spar lightly up to the [competition] day. Then the day before, I’d probably just do something unrelated to jiu-jitsu. I wouldn’t be on Youtube trying to learn new techniques. As far as I’m concerned, on that day, the job’s done. All my training’s done and all the benefits of the hard work has been done. So I just try to have a relaxing day, go to the beach, the park, something like that.


What do you eat on the big day?

Comp day…I like to wake up pretty early. Usually I go with oats and lots of water so I’m completely hydrated. Maybe something light and digestive. Or eggs, something like that. Depends on how the weight [bracket] is as well. Maybe some fruit and berries to keep simple sugars in. Nothing that’s going to use energy to digest so I’m going to worry about weighing over [my weight bracket].


As a senior belt, you can sometimes arrive to weigh in at 7am, but then your first match might not be until 3 or 4pm. How do you moderate your energy during the wait?

That can be out of your hands. Theoretically, you weigh in, then you go into the warm up area, then you fight…that’s if the competition’s running great. Competed at Irish nationals last year and I was in the warm up area for about 5 hours and that was demoralising! I couldn’t tell you how many times I warmed up. I was still a bit hungry – I could have had another meal, but you just don’t know when you’re going to be called up. When I went to the  European Championships, I was in there for 20 minutes. So from I weighed in, to when I fought, it was only 20 minutes. That was really good. I hear Australia is pretty organised and that everything runs to schedule.

When you’re coaching on the day, you’re going to be using up a lot of energy to coach as well. You’re watching and you’re emotionally attached to the fighters. You want your fighters to do good, so you can be quite drained. I remember in the London Open, everyone was doing Berimbolos and De La Riva guards. I don’t play that, but next thing, I’m on my back and I started to go for Berimbolos and it was because I was coaching all day. It was the norm and I don’t know why that would influence my game, so it’s about being aware. Some people coach and compete, no problem. Some people will ref all day and compete, no problem. For me I like to do one or the other.


Thoughts on grappling in Australia? Obviously you’re around Coach Brett’s style of training a lot. What’s your take on it versus what you’ve seen elsewhere?

As I was coming to Australia, I was originally going to move to Darwin. I contacted my friend and he said,
“if you’re going to do jiu-jitsu anywhere, do it in Melbourne”. Firstly because the standard is very, very high. Also the competition scene is phenomenal. There’s probably a competition at least every month, so you can constantly hammer them out. The general level that I’ve seen here is phenomenal. I’ve lived in Brazil for two years, trained at a lot of gyms and Australia is right up there with them.

Last thing to remember is that comps aren’t everything for BJJ. Remember to have fun and be thankful to be able to train and compete!


Paul Gallagher is a BJJ student and coach, having trained in New Zealand, Dubai, Europe, South America and the US.
He has recently found himself calling Australia home, and continues his involvement in the BJJ industry as Extreme MMA’s newly appointed Membership Consultant. Aside from sightseeing and discovering Melbourne’s ‘foodie’ culture, he is currently working towards his first competition as a BJJ Brown Belt.

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