Mar 082010

Reading Dev’s latest post really got me thinking again about competition. I wrote a rather longwinded article on this very subject almost two years ago (holy crap! I’ve been blogging for THAT LONG???). In that article, I gave five reasons that I believe competition is important to one’s BJJ training, even if I hate doing it:

1:  Competing forces me to address my conditioning. I had three matches in February and was more gassed than I have ever been. The pace is higher, and the adrenaline and anxiety cause fatigue. I have to be in shape.

2:  Competing forces me to address my diet. In competition, there are weight classes. While I walk around at 184 lbs and compete at around that same weight, I want to be healthy and have enough energy to get me through. Others drop weight, and there are good and bad ways to do that. Either way, competition forces my hand. I don’t drink as much beer in the weeks leading to a competition. I try to eat less sugar and am just more mindful of my diet.

3:  I learned more about myself in one day on the mats, and in watching my videos from those matches, than I had in the 3 months prior. I saw gaping holes in my game, areas that were exploited. Areas to improve.

4:  I also saw things that I do well. Who knew?

5:  I gained confidence in my training and my ability. BJJ is so hard on the ego. So much of our time is spent on the wrong side of a submission. So many reps before a technique works. So much time being stacked up, passed, choked or hyperextended. Add to this that as we get better, our classmates are also improving. That blue belt who kicks your butt will likely continue to do so. As you improve, he does as well. Granted, we all learn at different rates, but this phenomenon can obscure our own development. In a competition, you roll with people who don’t know your game. The difference is like Night and Day.

Since I posted this list above, I’ve gained a slightly different perspective. I still believe that all of these points are true, and Dev also articulates very well the points in favor of competition. I did, however, immediately react to Dev’s comment that, “… in thinking about this[article], I started by listing the reasons you WOULDN’T do tournaments. And I got nowhere. Aside from the dreaded PRINCIPLE, I can’t think of a really good reason to not give it the old college try, at least once.” Why not, indeed? Like Dev, I mulled over why one might opt not to compete and came up with a short list of reasons. While they’re all simply my opinion, some are legit reasons not to compete at all. Some are reasons why one might choose not to compete regularly.

1:  I’m putting this first because this is what I consider to be the best reason to not compete: it negatively impacts your training in any way. Whether mental or physical, legitimate or not, if you get so worked up at the idea of competing that you begin to actually NOT want to go to class, you shouldn’t compete. I’ve actually seen this happen.

I’ve said many times that I’m in this for the long haul. I’m not concerned with getting good at BJJ quickly. Hell, if I’m being honest, I’d LIKE to get better, but I’m not all that concerned with getting good at BJJ at all. My number one concern is to be training in BJJ when I’m 60 or even 70. THAT’S my number one goal. This isn’t a sprint for me; it’s a marathon.

So, if you are like me, and competition adversely affects the training in some way, I don’t see it as being necessary. Bottom line for me is this: if I had to choose now between being a Mundial champ but have to quit training at 45 or still be a blue belt while training at 65, the choice would be very easy. I’d much rather be a crappy, 65 year old blue belt still training three times each week.

2:  Professional considerations. Simply put, I think the most obvious reason to avoid competing has to do with income. If I get injured and will be forced to miss work, I’m lucky enough to have medical leave. Not everyone can say the same. There are many people who work on an hourly rate and will stand to lose income if they miss work. BJJ being what it is, there is always the possibility of injury. In class, however, this is less likely than in competition. At class, I know my training partners and, if necessary, can avoid rolling with Spazzy McEyeGouge, the 210 lbs wrecking ball.

3:  Insurance. This is related to the second point, but not everyone has medical insurance, at least not here in the States. While I’ve seen many tournaments that went without any serious injury, I’ve also been to some where I’ve seen some pretty serious stuff. I’ve seen a broken forearm occur when someone tried to catch himself on a takedown. I’ve seen dislocated shoulders, blown out knees and all sorts of stuff that just make me cringe. While I presume that grappling tournaments are insured, I honestly don’t know. Until writing this, it hadn’t occurred to me to ask.

4:  Other Medical Considerations: I know that my back can be unpredictable. I feel great for a while and then I can barely walk for a week. While I’m doing everything I can to mitigate this, I can easily foresee a time when I’m going to realize that the increased pace of competition just does more harm than good. I know I’m not alone.

Of course, competition is optional, but I largely agree with Dev. Most people really should try it once. But it’s up to you.

I think it’s critical is that every school have an active competition team. On a more macro level, the competitions help keep things consistent, and if your school participates, you will all know that the belt rankings are roughly on par with those in other regional schools.

On a personal level, though, competition is really just one aspect of a much larger sport.  Ultimately, if competing diminishes this for you in some way, I completely understand not doing it.

  14 Responses to “Competition revisited”

Comments (14)

    Great read, I can particularly relate to point 1 and pressurizing ones self to a point where you begin to not enjoy it. Fortunately I realized this after competing once or twice and it got to the point where the benefits after the competitions began to weigh out the bad, such as noticing the things you did well :)


    Dude, I think you’re spot-on here. I’m lucky in that I have the medical side covered, and being honest, I kind of glossed over that in my thinking. So I really appreciate you swinging me back around.

    I’ve got to contrast your first point, though – I think, played SAFELY, of course, that competitions can add to your marathon experience by giving you some ups and downs – more of a stock market flow than a steady, routine experience. Is there increased risk? Maybe a little, but I definitely think you gain a perspective of your own abilities, and you’ve tested them (some successfully, others not so much) against someone who doesn’t know your game, and you discover very quickly what works and what doesn’t, so you can expand on that knowledge. Going against the same guys over and over doesn’t give you the same realization, I don’t think. You just have to mix it up sometimes.

    My $.02, for what it’s worth.



      I apologize for the delay here, buddy. My spam filter caught you up. HOpefully you won’t have any trouble in the future.

      Regarding your comments, I agree completely. Honestly, the arguments against were more of a way for me to try and see another side of it. I’m not big on competition, but I see the value for everyone in them. Take care.


    Great post brother! You really knocked it out of the park when you spoke of training into your 60’s and 70’s. That too is my goal. I had the honor of meeting a 70 year old bjj black belt and that longevity and enjoyment of training is my goal. Thanks.


    when you do the bigger tournaments, example Pan Ams, they have staff to help with immediate injuries (cuts, bloody noses) but if it requires you to get a ride in an ambulance to the hospital, you are pretty much on your own. It’s in the registration fine print.

    “I authorize, and agree to hold harmless, whatever medical personnel that may be present at the tournament to take any action necessary, should I become injured.”


      Damn. I didn’t know that, Mike. Thanks.


        When I had my first MMA match in February, I was told that no one could force me to go the the hospital but if I didn’t then it was my ass and they would hold no responsibility. The on site doctors would recommend it if they thought it was needed but it was still up to me completely. Luckily I didn’t need it and didn’t have any injuries.


    Yeah, all good points. I think the injury thing is big. A friend of mine who is a solid blue is a musician so he doesn’t go to tournaments because 1) they are usually on a saturday, and friday and saturday are the two days of the week he’s always working, and 2) if he hurts his fingers, he can’t work.

    If there’s 2 reason’s I compete so infrequently it’s that 1) I know where the holes in my game are and I want to work on fixing them and expanding my skill set rather than just focussing on my go-to moves for competition. and 2) I’m pretty competitive so after the first comp my arm was really jacked up because I was too stubborn to tap. I’d like to think I’m smart enough to tap before I get injured, but history says otherwise.

    The waiting around all day kinda sux too. If there’s positives (for me) about competing it’s the comraderie and that first meal after the tournament is over. After cutting weight there is nothing on earth like that first meal with butter on everything!


      Great comments! I hadn’t thought about reason number 2. I’m just not that competitive. Maybe 20 years ago, but not anymore. But after reading your comment, I can think of several guys I know who might just fit that bill. :)


    Great post Steve. I see all the good points in competing. It forces you to get better quicker. For me, my family depends on my health and that’s why I wouldn’t even consider competition. btw..since I’m new to BJJ, I heard that you have to compete to get a belt. Is this true?


      Jim, that hasn’t been my experience at all. I don’t know your coach, so I can’t say for sure, but I’ve never seen any school that only promotes people who compete. It might speed things up if you compete and dominate every time out, but I feel pretty confident saying that it’s not a requirement at any school I’ve ever heard of.


    I have been training BJJ for about a year now and I must say that I believe there’s nothing better than competing. I’ve competed in BJJ tournaments and MMA and it’s great to get a chance to really see the culmination of so many long hard training sessions and to really showcase what you’ve learned.

    I understand your points against competition as well and some people just can’t risk it but I would have to say that it’s all well worth it if you can.


    I agree with the good and the idea of not competing. Competing keeps you in tune with everything. You relax too much when not competing.
    Now on the adverse side, getting hurt is an issue. If I get hurt, which I have done once, twice or more, I have to live with what mess I created. My shoulder needs to be replaced in a few weeks. I still have to work but that is part of the game. You really have to weight the pros and cons and make an intelligent decision.

Sorry, the comment form is closed at this time.