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Becoming a Brown Belt World Champion 2016

Jiu Jitsu • Jun 21, 2016
gi win

Just over a week ago one of my dreams became a reality. I became a brown belt World Champion – a task that even a year ago seemed laughable to me. It took a lot of hard work, and that win meant so much to me on a personal level.

Many of you have asked me and wondered why I chose to do rooster weight. I think it’s important for me to write about it as honestly as I can, and describe the weight cut and it’s implications both physically and mentally.

THE WEIGHT CUT

I had toyed around with the idea in my head for a few months. Over the last year I increased my training (2 hard sessions per day) and since I have a very active job as a physio, which makes my energy expenditure rather large. I have been walking around under my light feather fight weight for a year, without much effort. That’s whilst eating pizza couple of times a week and desert pretty much every night. So I thought that with cutting out the extras from my diet, I could lose a few kilos. I also wanted to test out the rooster weight division for when I eventually compete as a black belt. On a personal level, I wanted to prove to myself that I can do it. I wanted to be disciplined in all areas of my preparation for Worlds and I wanted to know just what I’m capable of mentally.

I am not a dietician, so I needed help and guidance from someone who really knew their stuff. I sit at a very low percentage normally, so I wanted to make sure it wouldn’t be detrimental to my health.  I consulted with a GP, I talked about it with Lachie, my parents and my sports psychologist Anthony Klarica. I then started working with Reid Reale from Combat Sports Nutrition (who is a BJJ black belt and an Australian Institute of Sport Dietitian and a PhD Candidate). After some calculations of calorie and nutrient requirements and a DEXA scan from the team at DEXA Melbourne to see exactly how much body fat I could lose, we decided that I could possibly make that weight.

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The cut was complicated by the fact that I competed at Abu Dhabi Pro 6 weeks before the Worlds. The lowest weight division in Abu Dhabi was 55kgs, so I spent a few months trying to bulk up. As soon as the competition was over, my 5.5 week journey to 47kg began.

Reid wrote a very detailed and personally tailored diet plan for me. I was to weigh myself each morning and we planned to adjust the diet as we went, depending on how my body responded. As predicted, I lost the weight and hit every weight goal for about 3 weeks. However, I got to 50kg and then my body would have none of it. I got to a very low body fat percentage and my metabolism slowed, which made the cut extremely difficult.

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Everyone enjoying burgers and I’m crying over a side of jalepenos

Lean and strong at the start of the cut

Lean and strong at the start of the cut

Mentally it felt good to be so committed to something and initially I really enjoyed the process. It made me focused, ready and I loved experimenting with different low calorie recipes. I made some delicious lunches and dinners and I maintained a high volume of food. However, slowly my attention turned to always thinking about my next meal and dreaming of things like toast and butter, which I never normally eat. I started getting a little shorter with people, it was harder to focus at work and it slowly became difficult to get out of 1st gear at training. It also became harder to give attention to others and be social. But I knew that this would happen, so I stayed focused and knew it was only temporary.

THE CAMP

Lachie and I left for New York 2.5 weeks before the Worlds. We met Demi, Margot and Jess in Brooklyn. Myself and the girls trained at Marcelo Garcia’s and Lachie trained at Unity.

The 2 week ‘camp’ was probably the hardest thing I have ever done in my life.

We are not normal

We are not normal

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Always so good to see Jess again!

Thats how Demi rolls... wet gi acting as a jacket. Whatever goes in NYC, right?!

Thats how Demi rolls… wet gi acting as a jacket. Whatever goes in NYC, right?!

Whilst I was training a lot and slowly cutting calories, my weight wouldn’t change. This was very stressful to me, as I sometimes wondered if I would make weight. I was so lucky to have Reid to chat to and reassure me to stick with the plan – as we changed my diet closer to competition, the weight would come off. I just had to trust the science.

Perhaps the hardest thing for me to stomach was how my personality changed and how it affected the people around me. I am usually a little selfish and focused on myself at Worlds camps, but this time, I was not the nicest person to be around to say the least. Lachie was an amazing partner and even though he hated to see me like that, he supported my choice without judgement, and I will be forever grateful for that. I just wish I got to be a better person for my lovely friends who stayed with me in NYC. It was a constant struggle to; a) not eat more whilst in starvation mode and, b) generally not be a horrible human being.

Training gradually got more and more difficult. I had very little energy, but had to keep the rolling up and was determined to never skip a session. My central nervous system was suppressed, so it was extremely hard to roll hard and feel myself. Again, I was aware that this would happen, so I only panicked occasionally, knowing that my Worlds prep does not happen 2 weeks before the fight, but a year out. In reality, I was ready weeks out from Worlds.

I have to give special thanks to so many amazing training partners. As I was getting lighter and had less strength, most people noticed it and matched the intensity whilst rolling. Jess, as always, was a wonderful and a supportive training buddy. She tore her bicep and was unable to compete at Worlds herself, but gave me her time regardless. Margot – the BJJ technician often flowed rolled with me when I couldn’t do much more. MG’s wonderful black belt in Megan Nevill was great to train with – she could have just smashed me every roll, but chose not to, and I will always treasure that. All the other girls at Marcelo’s – thank you for being so lovely and considerate even when I was at my lowest.

marcelo no gi marcelo gi marcelo and liv

Whilst I still had the energy, we got to do some fun things in NYC too. Lachie took me to see The Book of Mormon, which was the funniest musical I’ve ever seen.

times square book of mormon

I explored Central Park and went on countless walks around hipster Brooklyn listening to bad rap pumping out of the SUVs driving past and watching kids play basketball on the streets. I might have shopped just a little too much – as I couldn’t taste or try different foods and restaurants, I spent the money on coffee, shoes and active wear instead.

coffee brooklyn

All was on track until 1.5 weeks before the comp day, when I tore my lateral collateral ligament of the knee in training. Right there and then I thought my Worlds were over. I still cringe at the sound it made as it happened. I cried like a baby on the mats, but I was lucky to have the support of Jess, Demi and Margot who Ubered me home so Lachie could have a look at the damage. We didn’t think the knee was totally loose, and with enough luck I would recover in time to compete. I found it difficult to walk for about 3 days, so training was out of the question. Of course, I had to keep burning calories, so I bought a gym membership and whilst others did BJJ, I sat on a hand bike, bike and later on treadmill for an hour, 2 to 3 times a day. I have never hated life more than at that time. I had no idea if I would compete, I didn’t know if I would make weight, and on top of that sitting on a hand bike is possibly the most boring exercise known to planet earth.

Did I think of moving up a weight class at that stage? Of course I did. But I am stubborn and I have committed to following the plan through and through, and there was no way I was going to let 5 weeks of dieting go to waste.

5 days after the injury I drilled a little with Lachie to test out the knee. I cried standing up from closed guard, I cried when I just couldn’t make myself shoot a double leg as my knee felt unstable, I cried when I couldn’t triangle and I cried because I felt sorry for myself. Basically I was a big mess.

Drilling at Unity and hiding my sadness

Drilling at Unity and hiding my sadness

But each day, the pain subsided and the knee felt a little more stable and I thought with enough luck I would be ok. I kept drilling and sitting on that damn bike, and then 5 days out of fight day I flow rolled and managed to stay in one piece. There was still hope.

The weight was still not really coming off and I kept getting weaker and more annoying to be around. I remember I cried when I smelled chicken in a chicken shop… because I REALLY, REALLY wanted some fried chicken. I would also sneak into the kitchen to ‘gorge’ on chilies, kimchi and jalepenos. I sometimes felt guilty for having too much chewing gum as all calories counted at that stage. I also missed a train simply because I had no energy to keep up with normal walking pace. It was a sad, sad week.

Weight was not coming off and there was not much left to lose

Weight was not coming off, but I really didn’t have much left to lose

THE COMPETITION

We flew to Los Angeles 4 days before my fight and I was super excited for a change of scenery and also because I knew I only had 4 days until I could eat! Longbeach was a breath of fresh air and it was great to catch up with our Absolute teammates and stay in a super spacious loft. Finally, with 4 days to go, Reid changed my diet and I started to see the weight drop off as planned.

2 days worth of food - thanks Musashi!

2 days worth of food – thanks Musashi!

We trained at open mats hosted by The Jiu Jitsu League (Atos) each night, where I had my first real rolls and my knee help up relatively ok. Again, I was touched by how considerate some people were with me and rolled lightly and allowed me to build my confidence. Special mention goes to one of my idols Luiza Monteiro, who didn’t put any pressure on me where she had every right to, and encouraged me in every way possible.

On Friday, I watched my teammate Demi Butler win her first well deserved World Title in purple belt. Demi had a tough year but she went out there and showed the world just how good she really is. She is a beast in training and I cried happy tears with her as her hand was raised. 5 minutes later, Shantelle Thompson (another Absolute teammate), also won gold. She competed beautifully and it was her second World Title! I was totally inspired by these ladies and couldn’t wait for my own turn.

@ Macofoto

You did it Champ! @ Macofoto

The night before my comp day, I was allowed to eat a taco. And a snickers. And peanut butter. And so with the second mini snickers, my personality started to come back. I smiled. I wanted to fight. I was so ready to go.

After a late night consult with Reid, it was decided that I would do a 45 minute sweat session to dehydrate a little (no more than 1 kg), just so I could afford to eat more in the morning for breakfast. I will never forget the faces of my teammates as I run up and down the stairs and did hip escapes in a sauna suit.

As I went to bed that night, I was so damn proud of myself because I did it. I knew I would make weight. I knew I would compete despite my injury. And I also knew that not many people could get in the way of my dream the next day.

Here are some photos of me the night before the competition. I am extremely lean, but not dehydrated, not pumped and not photoshopped.

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I have prepared myself to possibly feel terrible on the day AND I knew that I might have to sweat some weight off if  woke up overweight. But I also knew that I only had 2 fights and I have trained in way worse conditions. I was ready to perform at my best, but feeling the worst. That’s what I trained to do for all these weeks.

I woke up super early because of jetlag, but felt great. I put my tracksuit on and went for a slow jog on the beach followed by an espresso. My body felt loose and my mind was sharp. I was focused and happy. I was scarily light (woke up 47kg and went down to 46.7kg later in the day), but with some carbs in me, I felt unbelievably strong for that size.

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I made weight easily and as soon as I got into the bullpen, it was game on. To wake up my central nervous system, I was slapping my cheeks hard and listening to loud music on my headphones. I was pretty aware of talking to myself, perhaps even out loud, but I couldn’t have cared less if anyone was listening or not. No one will ever know just what it took to get to there and no one could have possibly known how much I wanted that title. I wasn’t really nervous, but I was pumped and just wanted to fight. For the first time, I believed in me and backed myself 100% and it did not matter to me if anyone else did.

My first round started well with a clean guard pull. I played spider guard and looked for a sweep or a triangle. After a minute or so, I shot for a triangle, but couldn’t cut the angle to finish it as my knee hurt, so I switched to an arm-bar from inside the triangle set up and got a quick tap.

@ Luke Burnham

@ Luke Burnham

@ Luke Burnham

@ Luke Burnham

I felt like I had gas for days, so I was ready for my final as soon as I walked off the mats.

Lachie and I eating souls together before the final. Photo @ Luke Burnham.

Lachie and I eating souls together before the final.
Photo @ Luke Burnham.

We shook hands and double guard pulled. I quickly started attacking a foot lock, gaining 2 advantages after a few attempts at submissions. I contemplated coming up for 2 points, but I really wanted to finish. I decided to trust what I know and after a couple of minutes of grip fighting, I eventually adjusted my opponents foot under my armpit and won by a straight ankle lock – my signature ‘dolphin’ move.

final tap

@ Luke Burnham

win back

@Luke Burnham

Liv win final

@Mike Anderson

Liv win

@Macofoto

The feeling of happiness, relief and personal achievement that I felt in that moment is hard to put into words. This World Title was the hardest of them all, due to the preparation, the injury and the mental battle with the weight cut. I celebrated big and wore my heart on my sleeve.

gi win

@Mike Anderson

Hugging Lachie after my win was the best feeling in the world. We are a team and the medal is as much his as it is mine. He has been there every step of the way and sharing the moment with him was priceless.

Livia 4

@Luke Burnham

Livia 6

@Macofoto

podium liv

3 gold medalists from Absolute MMA - a remarkable achievement!

3 gold medalists from Absolute MMA – a remarkable achievement!

THE AFTERMATH

After the medal presentation and letting my family and Reid know that I made weight and won, it was time to eat. We drove to In n Out Burgers, and I ordered pretty much everything. The scariest thing was that nothing tasted like anything but sugar and salt. And it was delicious, yet terrible at the same time.

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After everyone was done competing, we drove to Compton to Hawkins House of Burgers, which was an interesting experience in itself. I should have stopped eating then, but I needed a Ruby’s Diner Reece’s Pieces shake as it’s my tradition after winning Worlds. It’s fair to say I felt ill, bloated and my stomach was in all sorts of pain. But it was so worth it!

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For the next 2 days Lachie and I stayed in Koreatown, hung out, relaxed and ate some amazing food. We felt so gross that we ended up training at Cobrinha’s – it is always such a pleasure to visit the academy and catch up with everyone.IMG_3333IMG_3312 IMG_3323

I was 3 kgs heavier the next day and my face looked less gaunt. Within 2 days of eating, I was back to my normal light feather weight. It took me 3-4 days for my stomach not to ache every time I ate, and it was interesting to see my joints swell up in the first 2 days after the win.

I know I had a lot of people worried about me and my health in the past few weeks, which is fair enough. What I did was very extreme and I would encourage anyone thinking about cutting weight to consult a doctor and a dietician.

To answer some of your questions:

  1. I do not have an eating disorder.
  2. I do not have body dysmorphia.
  3.  I didn’t enjoy the way I looked being so lean.
  4.  I didn’t like not having the energy for life during the cut.
  5. I am back to my normal weight now.
  6. I still love and enjoy food and training.
  7. I didn’t get sick during or after the weight cut.
  8. I am wholeheartedly happy.

Would I do it again?

Probably not, or at least not anytime soon.

Was it worth it?

It was, in every possible way.

I stand by that, even if I didn’t happen to win gold. The cut allowed me to get data on how my body responds to different foods and diet and from there I will be able to extrapolate what’s the best way to do it in the future, should the need arise.

Most importantly, the process has taught me what I’m made of. The amount of discipline and self-belief I needed to get there was huge. I had to get out of my comfort zone and dig very deep both physically and mentally. It has made me care less about the opinions of others and highlighted the importance of a good team around me.

It has taught me that I am a tough woman and a fierce competitor, and that despite various obstacles, I can put myself in the ‘zone’ and do my job. Finally, it allowed me to experience the joy of winning a World Championship, and nothing and no one can ever take that away from me.