Becoming a Jiu Jitsu competitor

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.

img_0302Stepping 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.


My Goals for 2017

RD ProfileThis time last year I was seriously unhappy, massively unhealthy, unbelievably unfit and fat (as you’ll be able to see from the picture on the right with the purple background).  

So taking inspiration from Barney Stinson who says in How I met your mother: “When I am sad, I stop being sad and be awesome instead” so I made a change and just got on with it. 

I set myself the following targets:

  • Get back to Brazilian Jiu Jitsu
  • Stop smoking
  • Lose weight
  • Read 12 books
  • Finish learning to drive


How did I do?

  • I stopped smoking and adjusted my nutrition and alcohol intake which meant I got healthy along with the cardio and HIIT exercises I was doing I reduced my walking weight from 24st 4lbs (kg) by 2st by April.
  • I returned to Brazilian Jiu Jitsu in January and Gracie Barra Birmingham in April. I was awarded a third stripe in May and a fourth stripe in September before winning a Silver Medal in my first No Gi competition. I competed at the Nottingham Open and was awarded a Bronze medal. 
  • I was promoted to Blue Belt at the Gracie Barra Birmingham Annual Gathering on the 17th December by my teacher, Braulio Estima, which wasn’t a goal for 2016 but was certainly a goal I had aspired to achieve since 2007.
  • Rather than learning to drive I saved up and booked my first holiday to Lisbon for the European Championships in January 2017 and started saving for a second holiday to Rio de Janiero in 2017, but I will be learning to drive as soon as I come back from Rio, and I am looking very much forward to flying out and spending time there.
  • I still have a few books to read but instead I learnt to speak and write Brazilian Portuguese, which should come in handy for my trips to Portugal in January and Brazil in May.

What I look like now:

My BJJ goals for the year to come:

  1. Tijuca Tennis ClubMedal at three different competitions, including the British Open 2017.
  2. Medal at the British Open at Blue Belt (May 2017) and compete in the Absolute division.
  3. Compete at the Rio Open 2017, Brazil – May/June 2017, at the Barra de Tijuca Tennis Club.
  4. Compete in one No Gi competition.
  5. Learn to be a Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu Referee.

Graduation to Blue Belt

I was graduated to Blue Belt, Faixa Azul, by my professor, Braulio Estima, today in front of the Annual Gathering at Gracie Barra Birmingham in front of Professor Victor who was teaching and 19 Black Belts.

I am also so honoured, humbled and touched that my instructors and coaches thought highly enough of me to award me the Most Improved White Belt of 2016. I intend to take this training through with me as I explore Jiu-Jitsu at my new rank.

Here is my story so far: I started grappling back in in January 2007 with PFS Stafford under Chris Simpson whilst also learning a bit of Mixed Martial Arts stand up skills with the intention to compete in Amateur MMA. I moved to train under Carcara and his team in July in preparation for my first ever BJJ competition, in Bristol in August, organised by Pedro Bessa.

When the opportunity presented itself I moved specifically to Birmingham for University to continue my training with Gracie Barra. During my first stint with the team I got some stripes, won a Bronze medal at my next Bristol Open and then got injured playing Rugby for my University. When I came back I was re-injured off of a Russian arm-drag drill and this kept me out until after my Union’s elections.

I came back after the summer of 2008 but my training was inconsistent. I remember attending the GB Annual Gathering with Mauricio Gomes, Roger Gracie and Luciano Cristovam teaching but ultimately I fell out of coming to a Jiu-Jitsu regularly.

What ensued was a seven year break during which time my weight ballooned from 13st (pictured above) upto a high of 24st 4lbs (pictured right)! I lost confidence in myself (although you wouldn’t have guessed it!) and I suffered from depression, whether diagnosed or not, whereby my mind wouldn’t allow me to pick myself up and get out of the hole I was in.

I endured a period of intense workplace bullying, allowing too many negative influences to dictate my life, spending countless hours focusing on immaterial internal battles and struggles rather than looking outwards and facing the challenges on the mat with team-mates, friends and opponents improving myself and developing my Jiu-Jitsu.

Coming back to BJJ in 2016 I started off slow and steady, with Fighting Fit in Stafford who were offering a month’s free classes. I couldn’t fit in my gear at the time so I took a few free classes for a month or so to reorient myself with Jiu-Jitsu and the mats. I started losing weight so I could fit back into my gear to train properly again. Their apolitical BJJ group were really friendly and helpful to me coming back to Jiu-Jitsu for the long term. I knew I had to get back to GB Birmingham and I was always clear that my GB Birmingham was my home. 

Fighting Fit under Chris Paines at Stafford Fight Factory (2016)

Before I paused my training in 2009 I had spent a number of hours suffering with Rob Stevens, who was a Purple belt at the time, whose favourite guard at the time kept giving me difficulties and so when I came back my initial training looked at how to play half guard. I played it with everyone and being less mobile meant my guard was passed a lot because I didn’t have the core muscles to be active with it. I was successful with top positions and enjoyed some moderate wins in training with the Americana and Kimura’s from side control. 

In April I had lost enough weight and had sorted out my gear so I was able to return to Gracie Barra Birmingham. This is a picture of my first class back. You can see how badly my Gi and belt fits:

Class taken by Professor Braulio Estima with guest Garry Tonon, fresh off his Polaris 3 performance against Rousimar ‘Tanquinho’ Palhares.

In the training between April and September I stayed consistent (probably the most consistent I’ve been at GB since I started training with them, at 8 full months) which led to being awarded a couple of stripes and being able to attend regular competition classes, which I feel has really brought my game on. Having a mix of white and upper belts to play competition Jiu-Jitsu with regularly identifies my weaknesses and my strengths – especially after the weeks of compliments about my top pressure in side control and pressure passing. I went through a plateau, was graduated from the fundamentals programme to advanced, and then in September I went to Liverpool to compete and entered my first ever No Gi competition and my third competition for the Gi.

Ultimately this competition was the first one I’d entered since 2008, a gap of over 8 years, and the competition was run by BJJ 24/7 with a base of the International Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu Federation (IBJJF) rules with an EBI overtime twist to make sure that fights got finished by submission.

I was pleased for the results of my team mates, all five of us, who all won matches and brought back medals (especially those in new belt divisions for the first time) as Gracie Barra won the team competition, as shown on the right with Coach Bradley Hill celebrating with the team trophy.

I was pleased with my first performances back and I finished second in my division in the No Gi competition and came back with a Silver Medal after finishing my first opponent by Rear Naked Choke in Overtime. I also tried Acai for the first time and really enjoyed it! My Gi matches taught me some valuable lessons and I enjoyed competing against two team-mates from the same team (shout out to GB Trafford Quays). I brought heart to my matches because I wanted to escape bad positions, resist getting submitted, and attack the submission if I could.

Earlier in the year I’d picked out the Nottingham Open, as a competition of Professor Victor Estima, as the place I’d return to compete for the first time (but I’d got antsy in September and jumped in, in Liverpool). At the competition in November I only got one fight which I lost on points, 7-0 due to a mount and a guard pass spending the majority of the fight trying to sweep from half guard, and I came away with a Bronze Medal.

In conclusion; I can’t thank everyone I’ve ever trained with individually by name because the list would be too long, but I want you to know (if you’re reading this) that having had the opportunity to train with you as helped me achieve this milestone so I want to thank you for helping me to improve my Jiu-Jitsu, however I would like to single out a few people who’ve really supported me in my journey thus far:

  • Professors Braulio Estima and Victor Estima. Anyone who’s ever trained with them or been taught by them know how good they are and I appreciate having such world class people, on my doorstep and, as my teachers.
  • Professors Dave Iverson, Nathan Roberts, Stuart Gwilt, Bradley Hill, Rob Stevens, Rafael Pinheiro and Arari Carvalho for their regular teaching, coaching, and one to one tuition with me over the years.
  • Matt Higginson: I think this promotion is due as much to your support, advice and coaching in training as it is my effort. Thanks for all your help! 
  • Sophie Newnes: Thanks for all your advice and technical expertise on takedowns. I’ve really enjoyed our rolls this year and I hope we continue to push each other through the ranks. 
  • Martin Jones: Trained with him since day one at PFS Stafford and I’m glad to see he got his Brown Belt today. Our training together really helps me see the path Jiu-Jitsu has for me to still discover.

See you all on the mats soon. OSS!