Early in my Jiu Jitsu journey, I decided to compete in a tournament precisely BECAUSE I didn’t want to.
My training partners gave me enough trouble trying to come out ahead during the rolls after class, so why would I decide to raise the stakes? I’ve talked before about being one of the worst grapplers on the mat.
Just thinking about competition gave me anxiety, and I had feelings of being overwhelmed by self doubt.
And THAT is why I chose to compete. I’ve realized, in life I can try to hide from my weaknesses, but when I go through them instead, I actually have a chance to overcome them.
My first tournament I was so nervous, and scattered that I completely missed weight, didn’t even think about having a game plan, and lost miserably.
The next tournament was even worse. At least my first tournament I didn’t know what to expect. Now I knew what to expect and it was daunting.
I was so anxious that my body went into adrenaline dump during the first 10 seconds of the match. After pulling guard, my body wouldn’t respond. My brain was telling my body to grab his leg, and my body just wouldn’t move. I felt helpless and out of body.
I had put so much pressure on myself to WIN that I wasn’t even allowing myself to perform at my level. When I adjusted my goals, to improving my ability to deal with the stress of competing, everything changed.
Over time my results improved. I even won a few matches and a few tournaments, and now help coach other competitors.
This isn’t the right approach for everyone, but it sure was for me.
When should someone compete in a tournament for the first time?
Until you are comfortable in bad positions and have answers to the most common positions you should focus on building your repertoire instead.
Remember, you either win or you learn.
Learning the lesson that “Having an escape from mount is important,” is sort of a waste of a lesson. Much better to have a mount escape that you use in training that fails in a tournament and figure out the point of failure and where to hone it.
Are you able to
- escape back control
- re-guard from bottom side control
- escape mount
- stay safe in guard
- get a fight to the ground
- pass guard, stay on top
- and finish a few submissions that work well?
Use my competition checklist to dot your “I’s” and cross your “T’s.”
Dedicate at least 2 – 3 weeks prior to your competition to focus in on your conditioning (mental and physical) and game plan, especially for your first few tournaments.
Why should YOU compete?
If someone told you they planned on starting Jiu Jitsu, but were ONLY going to do the technique portion of class and never roll, what would you say?
You’d say they were missing out on a HUGE part of BJJ. Without live resistance, all the moves we learn in class are just choreography. Why not go practice chi blasts instead? When you compete in a tournament it is an amped up version of rolling after class.
Hitting a sweep on a guy that’s worried about having to work a 10 hour shift tomorrow, is completely different from sweeping someone in a tournament. At the tournament, that guy’s girlfriend, grandma and coach are watching him. My technique has to be on point or it will NOT work.
Also, under the duress and stress of the moment, I get to quiz myself. Do I REALLY know this technique? Can I perform it without thinking when the stakes are high? Does my body actually know the move, or is only my brain that knows the technique?
I think everyone should compete at least once, and not stop until they’ve achieved their individual goals. What if you’d stopped after having trouble shrimping on your first day?
The only people I typically advise to NOT compete are those who would quit Jiu Jitsu if they lost. To be honest though, if you can’t handle losing, you probably won’t make it very far into BJJ anyways. The number one rule to eventually getting good in Jiu Jitsu is to take your beatings as lessons to improve on and never quit.
Training for self defense?
Make sure you can execute under high intensity circumstances.
Training for self confidence?
There is no better way to expand your self image than pushing yourself to your limits.
Love the art of Jiu Jitsu?
What a great motivation to add new practical movements into a system.
Trying to get in shape?
Stop relying on will power, and start using the grappler that wants to choke you unconscious as your new workout motivations.
Honing Strategic Thinking In The Moment
The strange thing with Brazilian Jiu Jitsu is that I can get into a certain type of rhythm when rolling with the same training partners day in and day out.
I know their game, so I know that from this position they will go to this certain sweep. I allow it to begin to develop and counter with this specific reaction. They prefer a particular pass, so I play a different style of guard to shut that option down.
Tournaments give me the opportunity to work with someone of a similar weight and skill level who doesn’t already know my game. My entire style is a surprise, but so is theirs. I must adapt on the fly.
The more I have sharpened my sequences and gameplan the less adapting I must do. Being reactionary and trying to have better Jiu Jitsu than my opponent will rarely result in victory. Leading the action by having a strongly constructed Gameplan is essential in a competition.
Competing also helps improve my skillset, and encourages growth in my weakest areas. For example, standup is often neglected in schools where starting on the ground to minimize injuries is the norm. In preparation for a competition, takedowns and guard pulls must be added to the competitors skill stack.
The strategy element also helps move beyond merely executing moves. Scoring points and advantages are artificial, but tracking them means I have a strategic focus while executing physical movements. Building this skill gives me resources to adapt my tactics in other non-sport scenarios too.
But The Pressure…
Dealing with the pressure of competition can be a learned skill. Properly preparing, warming up, and being comfortable on foreign mats are improved every time you enter a tournament.
Some of my earlier tournaments, I mentally broke and gave up a submission. In the moment, it’s the easiest thing in the world to do. The aftermath of months of dwelling on giving up on myself motivated me to do better.
Set YOUR goals for a tournament. Here I would take what everyone else says with a grain of salt. The only one that steps on the mat is you.
Most pressure is simply pressure we put on ourselves. It is purely imagined. We get concerned with what our friends, family, training partners and coach will think. These expectations aren’t founded in reality but live only in our imagination. Everyone will still respect you no matter the outcome.
Losing doesn’t reflect on the abilities or inabilities of a coach or a gym. Although you are a member, you aren’t a walking logo or mascot. You are still an individual. If you are defeated, your instructor and gym will be sad, but mostly for the pain we know you are feeling dealing with your loss.
If you lost because you ended up in positions I failed to prepare you for, as a coach, I will feel guilty. But after the tournament, I’ll make sure you know the right answers from there. We will have been made aware of a chink in your armor that will be patched.
I always say
“Losing isn’t fun, and my main goal is to NEVER lose the same way twice.”
I used to think there was some mystical trick to stepping on the mat at a tournament and feeling unstoppable like superman. Wrong! You can’t make yourself feel 100% awesome the day of. (And there is actually a decent body of work to show on days you aren’t feeling your best you have the most potential!)
Hearing people talk about fighters “peaking” for a fight, is unreliable. They may time their camp so that they get in all of the conditioning and technique work they need, but the mind is a fickle beast.
The good news is results aren’t tied to how you feel that day. Go out and put it on the line regardless. Now, I actually like to feel prepared but nervous, much more than prepared and calm. Those nerves give me the sharpness and intensity I need.
But what if I ALWAYS lose?
I strongly believe that “when you are tired of losing, you will start winning.” I don’t just mean that losing sucks, and it isn’t fun. I am talking about when you are so sick of losing you can’t take another time missing your guard pull and getting stalled out in side control. Drill and focus and work hard on this area of your game.
You aren’t invincible now. You can still lose, but you have shored up something that needed your attention to increase your percentages.
Prepare as much as possible, and minimize your weaknesses. Learn from past tournaments, and actually GIVE yourself a chance to win, as opposed to “pretending” like you want to win.
Don’t make noises and faces so everyone knows you are trying hard but just not closing the deal. (I totally did that!) “But I can’t break that grip coach…I’m trying!” Just focus on doing your best and intensely pursuing your goals. Sometimes your best won’t be good enough.
There is nothing wrong with not caring about winning either. There are hobbyists, hobbyist/competitors, and competitors. Depending where you fit on this scale you should have different goals.
If you do all you can, but lose, you still learn lots. I never worry about losing in any particular way, but I also never lose that same way again. I will have to find a new way to be defeated. In this way, over time, I become more and more invincible.
The things I’ve learned through perseverance only have a little to do with Jiu Jitsu. From the day I first decided to compete in a tournament, I’ve learned about myself. I’ve improved how I handle stress, anxiety, planning, goal setting, and so much more.
If I win, I am mindful of the gravity of pass success. I maintain my hunger. I know my opponents are especially motivated now, while I feel content because of successful results. Now my goal is to win faster, win better, tighten gaps I noticed.
What made you compete for the first time?
Or why won’t you compete in a tournament?