This is just my opinion on starting competing in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu. Feel free to add or share your thoughts at the bottom if your experience varies.
Stepping on to the competition mat for the first time can be a scary experience. At least it was for me. There’s no timeouts and you can’t pause if you start to cramp or need some water. For that first five minutes you and your opponent have each other’s undivided attention. The reason it can be scary is because white belts, no matter how experienced they are, aren’t yet fluent in the language of Brazilian Jiu Jitsu. Your movements are still blunt and obvious.
The competition waiver you sign doesn’t really protect you so it’s only you who can, and that’s what I find scary, that you can be controlled and dominated in the fight and not be able to stop it. That’s unfortunately the nature of the beast. Being afraid of what can happen can also be a good thing though because it can bring forward your desire to be dominant, and not get hurt, and impose your will on your opponent. Manage your emotions and set realistic expectations for what you want to achieve in the fight.
Most of the white belt fights I have seen usually focus at the start on gaining the right grips and then looking for a take-down or a pull to a guard position, usually full guard. I’ve always pulled guard in competition, bar my first fight when I knew no better and tried a double leg, because I wanted to fight by the maxim “Get on top, stay on top, win on top”.
Once you’ve pulled to the guard you have to attack the sweep or the submission and in that first minute of the fight you’ll be managing nerves, stress over completing your techniques, your breathing and your energy. It’s obvious that your breathing and your energy are the ones you need to manage first but often when you first fight they aren’t high on your priority order. You gas yourself out because you don’t want to be in inferior positions and you’ll do anything to avoid it, even if you don’t know how to escape it. The way to prepare for this is lots of cardio, HIIT training, and rounds at the gym sparring with everyone of all sizes, shapes, belts and games. Everyone in the gym can teach you something about BJJ, learn from them, and make sure you go into the competition in the best shape you can.
Check YouTube for how to get disqualified in BJJ. You’ll see a bunch of clips with white belts getting slammed from the guard, which is illegal, or striking which will also get you disqualified. It’s crazy that some will enter a competition not knowing the rules and arguing the toss after using an illegal technique. Know the rules and how to win. You don’t have to submit everyone (even though everybody wants to) so understand how you can win by controlling your opponent in dominant positions.
But that’s the bad side of the competition mindset for me when you first start competing.
The good side is this:
- You get to use your technique 100%. You shouldn’t really hurt your training partners at the gym, but in competition the onus is on them to protect themselves and if you have a submission locked in you have to finish it until either they or the referee stops you.
- You can use all of the variations your instructor tells you not to use on your team-mates 😉
- Fighting in front of a large crowd of people, especially your team mates, is a great feeling. I’ve loved having coaches direct me in my fights. It’s a great feeling and whether you win or lose – you feel your team has your back.
- Having your hand raised, maybe even having an instructor there to coach you to victory, is a precious feeling. One I have yet to get used to.
- Being called to the podium is another great sensation when you can stand above all other competitors and celebrate your victory is another reason I can’t get enough of competing.
- If you’ve cut weight to compete you can finally have whatever fantastic treat meal you’ve desired is, and that’s a fantastic feeling.
I love going to a competition, with a new Gi, ready to fight and put it all on the line knowing I’m representing my instructor, my team and myself. I prepare the best I can, I fight the best I can, and at the end of the day I know my team will always support me – win or lose.