Competing at BJJ tournaments is a big part of Jiu Jitsu life. Some might even argue that it is the most fun aspect of BJJ. But are competitions for everyone? When and where should you begin competing and what should your expectations be?
Keep reading to get answers to these questions are more! Everyone has their own approach to BJJ tournaments but what is most important is having realistic expectations!
Who should compete in BJJ tournaments?
A full-time BJJ athlete is seriously dedicated to the sport of BJJ. Everything they do revolves around training, recovery, and diet. But even if you only consider yourself a casual hobbyest you can still enjoy competition and reap its myriad benefits!
Anyone who wants to compete should feel empowered to do so! Just be aware that there are some non-trivial risks involved and the prizes we compete for have no monetary value. If your livelihood depends on you having two functioning shoulders or knees and you can’t afford to take some time off for an injury, you may want to ask yourself if the risks are worth your time.
That said, major injuries are rare, and the experience of competing is a truly unique one that everyone should have at least once.
When should you compete?
There is no single answer to this question, but there are some guidelines. Competitions are powerful tools, capable of showing you exactly what you need to work on in the crucible of single-combat. However, this means that if you have zero grappling experience you do not need to compete yet. If you don’t know anything then a competition will simply tell you that at full volume. Save your time, money, and body and get some experience at the gym before moving on to the competition circuit.
On the other hand, if you’ve just come into BJJ but you have extensive experience in wrestling or judo, you may want to compete to see how your skills transfer over. You’ll quickly see what works and what doesn’t, and be able to return to your gym with a clear idea of what to work on.
If you aren’t sure if you are ready to compete, your coach is your best resource. Tell them you are interested in competition and see what they recommend.
Where should you compete?
There are numerous companies that host competitions. The IBJJF is probably the best known and most prestigious gi competition. However, many smaller companies offer great competitions and depending on where you live your options will vary.
The best answer is you should compete wherever your teammates are competing. Brazilian Jiu Jitsu may be sport where a single competitor battles against another individual, but at the end of the day we are members of a larger team and community. Attending a competition with your teammates will make the entire experience more fun and rewarding.
The benefits of competing with your team range from saving money carpooling, to having someone in your corner offering advice, to having a buddy record your matches!
What’s the point of competing?
Ask people why they started BJJ and you’ll common hear reasons such as losing weight, learning self-defense, or belonging to a community of great people that share the same passion.
While training, and especially rolling, are fun ways of learning, at some point in time, you’ll want to test out what you’ve learned. That is where BJJ tournaments enter the frame. Think of them as tests in school. What is the goal of taking a test? It is not just to see how much you’ve learned, but also to help you expand your knowledge both by preparing for the test, and by revealing those areas that you still need to improve upon.
Sometimes people say that the most important lesson you learn from tournaments is learning to lose. Another common trope is “you either win or you learn.” However, both of these aphorisms miss out on what is truly important about competing: if you want to learn, you must critically evaluate your performance after the competition. The real magic of competition happens after you come back to the gym.
Competition will reveal where you need to improve. If someone takes you down, then you have just been told that you need to work on your takedown defense. If you can’t pass someone’s spider guard, then that tells you you need to learn to pass spider guard! Even if you win you’ll almost certainly be able to see plenty of areas that could be improved on for next time.
Pressure Creates Diamonds
Try competing. It will make you a better performer under pressure. I compare it to chess with a bystander holding a gun to your head and ready to pull the trigger at any moment. All that it takes is for you to make the wrong move. When you go through such a highly stressful situation, everything else seems normal, slow, and irrelevant.
When you first begin training sparring may feel stressful, but as you get to know your teammates it should become more like playing than like war. Competing on the other hand is much more challenging due to the emotions that go into it.
Its difficult to adequately describe the adrenaline rush that comes from competing. Your focus narrows, your mouth goes dry, your heart rate soars, and then a few short minutes of eternity later the match is over. The intensity of those minutes can make even the most stressful parts of the rest of your life seem mundane by comparison.
As a result of this, BJJ tournaments teach you to deal with pressure. You’ll be able to be calm and composed in the tightest of spots, whether that be in sparring, competing, or dealing with day to day stuff outside of the mats.
Competing teaches you important lessons that will make you a stronger version of yourself. And that is what BJJ is all about. Everyone may have a different goal that brought them to the sport, but BJJ has a way of bringing people together that possess the same desire for self-improvement.
Competition is for everyone, from casual to professional. When you’re just starting out, get your coach’s input on when to begin, and follow your team! Most importantly, competition will show you where you need to improve after you leave the competition. A medal may be nice to have, but BJJ is about improving and that will require work after you get back home!