18 Tips To Help You In BJJ & Grappling Competition (and Why Competitions Are a Good Idea)
by Jason Scully
Jason Scully (in the green shirt) is a teacher and competitor with more than 12 years of grappling experience. He is a BJJ brown belt and owns The Grapplers Guide Academy in Central New Jersey and also operates The Grapplers Guide.
I try to compete in grappling tournaments as much as I possibly can. Why is that you might ask? Well it’s for many different reasons:
The love of competition - The first reason is that I love to test myself and compete. I love the challenge that competitions present and after a good match win or lose I am glad I stepped on the mat against someone I didn’t even know. Competitions are fun for me and that is what really motivates me.
It’s a true test – Competition is a true test of how all of your grappling skills come together. Under the stress of competition the true nature of your skills come out. There isn’t any lying to yourself or anyone else about your abilities. It is just you, your opponent, and your mind and it’s up to you during that time and in the environment to decide what you’re going to do with it.
- How are you going to handle the crowd?
- How are you going to handle the butterflies in your stomach?
- How are you going to face the person across from you that you don’t even know anything about?
- Are you going to remember your techniques?
- Are you going to freeze up, or are you going to stay calm and do everything you do in the gym and win?
Those are just a few of the tests that you have to face in competition and it is great to see how you would do. Competition helps to let you know where you stand in the larger scheme of things by giving you a realistic look at where you stand against other guys with the same experience level as yourself.
The people I meet – As with your classes and training, competitions are a great place to meet people who love doing what you do. I have been fortunate to meet many great people from going to competitions. I have made friends, been invited to other training facilities, and got to know many great people from going to competitions.
Not many people think of competitions in this manner, but you never know as far as the people you meet and how they might affect your life. I try to not live mine as a hermit and I take advantage of the different people I can meet, because they just might help me become a better person and help me lead a life that I might not have been able to lead if I didn’t meet them.
The experience and learning - While competition is a test of your skill against an opponent you aren’t used to and in an environment you aren’t used to there is no such thing as passing or failing in competition. The one thing that does always happen after competition is growth
I have never participated in a competition and not learned something or gained a greater experience of grappling, whether I was to win or lose. Every time I step off of the competition mat I step off a better grappler, a better person, and someone who wants to work harder.
Now you may not feel exactly the way I feel, but I guarantee you will feel something. You may be angry because you lost, you may feel satisfied because you did better than you thought, or you may be pumped up because you won. Either way you are walking off with a feeling, and with those feelings you will analyze. You’ll analyze what you did right, and what you did wrong. You’ll analyze what you could have done, and what you should have done. You’ll analyze the way you felt, your conditioning, how the crowd made you feel, and so on.
With all of that analyzing you will grow. Sometimes it just isn’t the same as practice. With practice you do learn but you don’t really analyze that much because it is something that you do on a regular basis. You warm-up, you do some drills, learn some techniques, and you roll. You may think about it after, but with not much analyzing. After a competition though you won’t be able to help but to analyze what you did. This will make you so much better then you can imagine.
You will be pumped up for the next training session and to drill the things that you feel you need to work on as a result of your match and you will grow. You will have gained an experience that you just can’t mimic in practice.
You may want to compete even more, or you may not want to compete any more, but you will not be able to walk away from that competition without learning something.
Here are some things that I’ve learned from competition whether I won or I lost:
- I have learned that it’s ok to be nervous and I’m not the only one.
- I have learned how to test myself in uncomfortable situations.
- I have gained confidence.
- I have learned many things that I need to work on and trust me I have worked on those areas.
- I learned what it’s like to step out of my comfort zone and to know its ok.
- I learned that I am better than others.
- I learned that others are better than me.
- I learned that it’s ok to lose.
- I learned that if feels great to win.
- I learned that I will learn more every time I compete.
That’s not even a complete list, but I’m sure you get the point. If you are worried about competing and if you’re not sure if it’s for you, you’ll never know unless you try. The people who become champions and who succeed in life didn’t do so because they thought about trying it’s because they did try.
Here are some tips to help you make your first competition go smoother:
- Try to think of it as an extension of your training. Think about it as if you’re going to class to train during an open mat but you get to roll even harder. This helps me to relax and realize that it isn’t the end of the world. It really is only a grappling competition. In the whole scheme of life the only person who really is worried about if you win or lose is you and not anyone else.
- Try your hardest to win, but if you don’t, keep your head up and make sure you learn something from it because if you don’t and you just let your ego get in the way then you pretty much just wasted $70 to $90. Know that when you leave that building, that one day really didn’t affect your future in anyway and that you will always be able to get better and test yourself again.
- What I like to do to help me from getting tunnel vision and zoning out while I’m grappling is when I first step on the mat. I look around in the bleachers and turn my body 360 degrees and I take in the spectators and the environment. This helps my mind adjust to the open environment and helps me focus on my opponent during the match. This also helps me relax.
- Practice breathing. Practicing my breathing helps me to relax and focus. It helps me keep a clear mind and it also helps me control the adrenaline that is kicking in. By doing this it keeps me from getting gassed out quickly even though I probably had the conditioning. You’d be surprised on what your adrenaline can do to you and if you don’t control it. You’ll gas out fast and feel like you’re hyperventilating. So take the time before your matches to close your eyes, visualize, and breathe. Many times right when I step onto the mat I take in two or three deep breathes in though my nose and out of my mouth. This helps slow my heart rate.
- Remember to breathe when you’re out there, don’t breathe in with your mouth. Please, I repeat PLEASE do not hold your breath when you’re out there. First of all if you have high blood pressure it’s not good for you and second of all you’ll gas out in a second.
- Also breathe in through your nose. Don’t breathe in through your mouth. Breathing in through your mouth takes more energy and also gives the feeling of hyperventilation which in turn leads to you losing your wind and not even being able to move your own arms. Trust me, I know. Breathing is a big part of the game that many people lack. If you get this down it’s going to bring you one step closer to not ever having to worry about gassing out when you roll.
- It’s usually a good idea to watch your opponents who compete before you. The reason is because it gives you a good perspective on what type of game they might play. This will help get you ready for them if you were to meet up in later matches. You may see someone who pulls guard right away, and this may help you go for the takedown quicker because you know they’re going to pull guard anyone. Or you may see someone with a really good guard and you might be able to pull guard on them to stop them from playing their game.
- Either way by watching your opponent’s it usually helps you get a little understanding about what it is that they do.
- Try to have your instructor or someone from your team be there on the sidelines with you to help coach you. This is a great resource because your coach can usually see many things and opportunities that you can’t see yourself. This will give you the ability to open up your game a bit more.
- One important thing however is that you don’t forget that your coach is out there trying to help you when you’re actually competing. Many people get out on the mat and they lose perspective of everything around them. This makes it much harder for someone to coach you because when you are in this situation you probably don’t even know your coach is there anymore. So do your best to stay focused. Anytime you have the chance to listen to your coach or if you have great control and you can even look at him (just pay attention to what you’re doing also) then do so. It will help.
- Do not drink orange juice or any acidic drink the day of your match. You don’t want to be the only person in the gym throwing up on the mat do you?
- Bring water but don’t over drink the water. You’ll be surprised on how dry your mouth will get just because of your nerves. Take in little sips here and there to keep your mouth moist. Also make sure you don’t drink too much water to where you’re full because you’ll definitely feel it.
- Do some sort of yoga or meditation exercises the night before. By doing this it helps you relax the night before and clear your mind. Keeping you from getting nervous the night before and losing sleep. Doing some relaxation yoga or meditation exercise before you go to sleep will help you get a better nights sleep.
- Make sure you bring your mouthpiece. I know a lot of people don’t where mouth guards when they compete even though the competitions say that you have to where one, but the one day you get smashed in your mouth and lose a tooth then you’ll definitely wish you wore a mouth piece. Trust me I know from experience when I chipped one of my teeth from not wearing a mouth piece.
- Bring flip flops or sandals. Please do not be one of those people who walk in those disgusting bathrooms without any shoes or socks on and then steps on the mats. I really don’t understand it and it’s not the most sanitary thing in the world. Do help the grappling community be clean and bring a pair of flip-flops or sandals to where when you walk around the gym. They are easy to take on and off before you compete and it helps prevent the spread of disease.
- Expect a long day. Unfortunately 95% of all grappling tournaments last forever so if you know what to expect right in the beginning it will help you get mentally prepared. So if you read this you now know that there is a big chance you will be waiting around for a while to compete. Make sure you stay focused and tell yourself that you knew it was going to be like this.
- It’s a good idea to bring something to pass the time. You can bring a book to read, a portable DVD player, some cards, an iPod, a portable video game console or something, but whatever you bring it will help the day go by much better without having anything at all.
- Out of all of these the biggest tip I can give you is to have FUN. If you’re not having fun then whatever you went through for the competition really isn’t worth it. You need to have fun even when you’re trying your hardest to win. You should be in there not only to win, but to have a good time and a great learning experience. Activities without fun turn into work. Do you really want to work anymore then you already do? I know I don’t.