10 Tips for your first BJJ competition
Competing against others is a stressful affair which can cause a great deal of anxiety. I came from a football background and have more than 20 years of experience in public speaking. I was recently thinking about this as it has been a while since I last competed. Therefore I thought it would be a good idea to reach out to you with 10 tips for your first BJJ competition, which I hope you may find useful.
A million questions were flying in and out of my mind. The questions ranged from the simple “What are the rules again? What time does my bracket start?”. To the bizarre “What if I have an involuntary bowel movement and the liquid seeps through my fresh white gi pants?”
My own first experience of a BJJ competition
I actually drove 120 miles to Birmingham for my first BJJ competition. It was a local tournament organised by the fantastic guys at All Stars BJJ. This may come as a surprise to many but I had never been to Birmingham before so that brought up even more stress.
For some reason I could not tell anyone about the fact I was competing, and I went alone under the guise of having to work a weekend shift. Ensuring I left early, I managed to find the location with several hours to spare. This allowed me plenty of time to explore the venue, get changed into my kit and warm up several times while keeping an eye on the brackets taking place.
During the tournament I forgot literally everything I had learned in the previous six months of training. It was almost disgusting how quickly I was submitted by both of my opponents and offered absolutely nothing offensively.
Following these defeats I promptly drove home and never mentioned it to anyone in or out of the gym (until now actually!). I kept my head down and trained hard, returning to the same competition six months later to win gold without giving away a single point in three matches.
Without further ado, here are my top 10 tips for your first BJJ competition.
1. Choose the right competition
Your first competition will be a leap into the unknown and most likely create a stressful situation. This could be compounded should your first competition be at the IBJJF Worlds or Euros. There are hundreds, if not thousands of competitors at the venue during these high profile tournaments. They can also run for an entire week too, which makes planning a nightmare especially when they don’t release the schedule until maybe a week in advance.
The easiest introduction to your first BJJ competition could be at an inter club tournament. These are mini competitions arranged by your (or a nearby) gym and are open to a limited number of competitors. These competitions are beginner-friendly and can provide ideal preparation for bigger challenges ahead. They can also be a lot of fun, competing against your teammates for bragging rights in the gym for weeks beyond.
Regional competitions are the next step up, these are usually frequented by a core of competitors from local gyms and the standard can be quite high. The cost can be cheaper if you pay for an ‘early bird’ registration, which is the BJJ equivalent of pre-ordering.
National and international level competitions are organised by the likes of the IBJJF and AD CC. They are very expensive and you should usually expect a very high standard of athlete taking part in these events.
2. Make sure you have all the right gear
Another one of my useful tips for your first BJJ competition is to check the rule set of your chosen competition very carefully. They will set out their expectations when it comes to gi and nogi uniform requirements. Most local competitions follow the IBJJF rules/guidelines, you can find the handbook here.
When purchasing your next gi / nogi uniform, check whether it is described as ‘IBJJF approved’. This will make it easier for yourself and avoid a disqualification at the uniform inspection stage at any competition.
Also make sure you wear a mouthguard. Rolling in competition is at 100% intensity, a chipped or dislodged tooth is a painful and very expensive inconvenience which can be avoided. Check out my review of my favourite mouthguard : Shock Doctor Gel Max mouthguard review.
How much do you weigh? What division will you be entering? How much weight do you have to lose and how much time do you have to get rid of it? These are the kind of questions you should just avoid by entering a division where you do not need the stress of cutting excessive amounts of weight. If you ensure you are consistent with your training and nutrition you should nearly always be at your optimal weight anyway. So put down that pie fatty!
4. You are what you eat
To put it simply, changing your diet on the day of a competition is just asking for trouble in the underwear department. Eat your usual pre-training meals and take some snacks along with you to ensure that your energy levels are topped up in the event that your matches are delayed. Competition day is not the day to be experimenting with food as you can never guess how your body will react.
For example, I have a terrible diet which is heavily reliant on pizza, pasta, rice, meat and potatoes. In my second competition I thought it would be a good idea to take some bananas to keep me ticking over during the wait between gi and nogi. I was so thankful that I took some spare toilet roll in my kit bag, it was such a messy disaster.
The lesson I learned was to be consistent with food intake and timings to ensure that you don’t tap out to your digestive system!
5. Take some headphones
Listening to music can help soothe the mind and drown out the nerves which come with your first BJJ competition. Having a playlist which has been tried and tested in going to war at the gym can be of a huge psychological benefit. This will put you in the right frame of mind ready for the battles ahead, especially if the playlist has been used during the competition class preparation.
I have seen teammates who compete together, take time out of their own preparations to watch/coach from the sidelines. This can be really useful when the competitor is more seasoned but in my opinion new BJJ competitors should be focused on their own goals on the day of the competition.
6. I love it when a plan comes together
Have a game plan. Know what grips you need to set the wheels in motion. Understand that you may not always be able to impose your game onto your opponent. The most successful competitors do not necessarily bring hundreds of techniques to the mats. They have a systematic gameplan for each position and funnels which allow them to set up attacks from their favoured positions.
Work on your game plan in training during the weeks leading up to your competition. Work with your instructor or higher belts and get feedback on any issues which they identify. This will help tighten up your strategy and improve upon the likelihood of success.
7. Failure to prepare is preparing to fail
Plan your competition day to the best of your ability. Do you know what time your bracket starts? Do you know what mat you will need to be at? Is there a way to be kept up to date with this information? For example competitions which utilise Smoothcomp software has a live information board which is updated in real time. This lets competitors check online via mobile device instead of having to rely on keeping an eye and ear out for a desk runner.
Being organised lets you plan your meals and snacks and also allows you to tell your team and instructor where and when your next match will be.
8. Warm up for your first BJJ competition
It is extremely important to warm up properly before each of your matches. Warming up using high intensity exercises will bring up your heart rate to an appropriate level. It will ensure that you don’t burn out your gas tank in the first couple of minutes. Make sure you are going onto those mats for your first match having already worked up a sweat during a warm up.
9. Win or learn. Never lose
Your first competition will almost certainly not go as well as you expected. There is a good chance that you will lose, it happens to everyone. Top black belt competitor Keenan Cornelius did not start winning regularly until he was a purple belt.
Take defeats in exactly the same way as you would take victories. Analyse the match, work with your team to identify what you did well and what you could have done better. Treat each match as an opportunity to learn. Nobody really cares or remembers who wins a match unless it is at professional or black belt level.
10. Have fun in your first BJJ competition
BJJ is fun. You enjoy your training in the gym, why should it be any different in a competition? Of course there are pressures which come with performing, especially in front of a crowd. Don’t let this distract you from the main reason you have entered a competition in the first place. To test whether what you have learned at your academy is more applicable than what your opponent has learned at theirs.