by Jeff Meszaros, photo copyright James Sizemore
For people who want to win at grappling tournaments, there’s a ton of material available regarding what to do once a match has begun. But what should someone do on tournament day before their fights begin? What do the top BJJ players do to help themselves to perform at their very best?
Here are a few ideas to consider…
Have a “Competition Only” Kimono
If you grapple regularly in a kimono, it will wear our and eventually tear. So, when you get a kimono that is your favourite for competition, don’t wear it out at class. Use other kimonos that you don’t plan to use in competition.
As insane as it sounds, kimono companies will make tiny changes to their products, year after year. So, if you get a uniform that is perfect for you, savour it. And only use it at competitions. You may never find another like it.
Warm Up Before Your First Match
Do we even need to talk about this? Before your first fight of the day, warm up!
Do some jumping jacks and squats in the bullpen, or do a little grip-fighting with a friend. Even have a friendly match and spar for a few minutes with a training partner to get over tournament jitters you may be having.
Don’t exhaust yourself, but make sure you are sweating before you step on the mat.
Relax Before and Between Matches
If you watch top-level competitors, you’ll see that they are as calm as a cucumber before their matches. You won’t see them getting worked up and totally burning themselves out. Some listen to music. Some sleep. A few relax in a quiet area of the tournament, away from crowds. Some even interact with fans as if they don’t have a care in the world.
Then they step on the mat to unleash their deadly secrets on an opponent who may have just exhausted themselves in their last fight, or in the time since.
Don’t “Mad Dog” Your Adversary
It’s interesting how the “vibe” can be different between BJJ and mixed martial arts. Perhaps, it’s because MMA fighters know they only have one fight that day, so there is no need to conserve energy. You can go 100% at your adversary physically and, for some, emotionally as well.
But you don’t see that as much in BJJ. Top players just relax and go about their work with calm control.
Much of the time, grapplers who stare down their opponents in a BJJ tournament lose in the very first round. Often, it’s by DQ for slamming, or losing their cool in general.
Have Your I.D. In a Convenient Pouch
Your kimono should not have a pocket. Neither should any shorts or shirts you wear to a no-gi tournament. If they do, you shouldn’t be using them as they may lend to fingers and/or toes being caught in them and broken. So, if you need to bring a form of I.D. to the mat, where should you keep it?
For those of you just tuning in, yes, big tournaments require you to bring some I.D., so they know who you are. Often, it’s a card they make for you. This is the case with the IBJJF.
So, free of pockets, do you just hold it in your hand? Or clutch it between your teeth? Sure, if you don’t mind fidgeting or looking odd.
Many top-level players, however, keep their ID in a card-holder and laniard they wear around their neck. It’s fashionable and practical, like wearing a police badge or cool FBI I.D. you can flash at people. It’s also like wearing a medal around your neck, just to get used to the feeling of your destiny.
Bring Your Headphones
Before your first fight, you should be as “in the zone” as possible. For many successful competitors, that means wearing headphones and listening to music right until they step into the mat to compete.
What kind of music do they listen to? I’m guessing it isn’t Paul Simon, but whatever it is, it’s better than listening to the screaming and shouting of the crowd, which can be draining after you’ve been hearing it for a while, or several hours.
Have Appropriate Footwear
Going to a tournament is like going anywhere else, like the shopping mall or school. You’re supposed to wear shoes.
No, you can’t wear shoes on the mat when you’re fighting but you should wear them everywhere else; especially when you’re in the bathroom. Nobody wants to grapple someone who has just been standing in the bathroom barefoot. At least, I know I don’t.
So bring a pair of shoes. What kind? A pair that are easy to take off, because you don’t want to be fumbling with laces and buckles right before your fight, but also a pair that fit well enough to warm up in.
Bring A Healthy Meal and Snacks
If you’ve been to enough tournaments, you’ve eaten at enough tournament cafeterias to know; sometimes the food served at competitions isn’t super-nutritious. The choice is often pizza, pizza or pizza.
There may not be any great selection of healthy snacks to choose from as you’re taking a break between your weight division and the absolute, or gi and no-gi.
So, bring your own. End of problem.
How hard is it to toss a banana, orange or an apple in your bag before you go? Not very. I’ve seen people eating home-made salads during down-time. I have also seen people throw up during matches after a slice of room-temperature pizza from the tournament cafeteria. Choose wisely.
Get there Early But Not Too Early.
What’s the earliest you’ve ever gotten to a tournament? 8am? 9am? Sure, if you are fighting first-thing, get to the venue early.
But don’t be there for hours and hours ahead of your fight. With all the shouting and craziness going on, it’s a draining environment.
I once saw a guy put on his kimono and begin to warm up at 9am and he didn’t fight until 9pm that night. Do you know how long his fight was? 9 seconds. He didn’t win. That can’t be a coincidence.
It’s exhausting just to be at tournaments for that long, even as a fan. So, if you know when you’ll be fighting, show up a little beforehand, but don’t stand around all day waiting. If you don’t know when you will be fighting, even approximately, perhaps you’ve chosen the wrong tournament to compete in.
Come to think of it, choosing the right tournaments to compete in might be the most important habit of successful competitors.
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