Your first Brazilian Jiu Jitsu competition can be a nerve racking experience filled with stressful thoughts. Whether you’re a beginner or a black belt, Brazilian Jiu Jitsu tournaments still make most people nervous. There are many things that can be overlooked because of the stress of the situation so I’m here to help make sure you’re completely prepared for your first BJJ tournament. I wrestled in high school so tournament style competitions were already familiar to me. However when I think back to my first wrestling tournaments there was always those pre-match jitters.
What are the specific rules?
What happens if I get caught in a submission?
What if I embarrass myself?
These are all common questions people ask themselves before entering a BJJ tournament. The important thing is that it’s okay to be nervous, many people are nervous when it comes to competitions, even people who have been doing it their entire life. Nerves are good because they wake up your body and help you prepare, however it’s beneficial to be mentally ready for everything that’s involved in BJJ competition.
Visualization is Half the Battle
The great thing about competition is that it’s a true test of your Jiu Jitsu skills. Under the stress and nervousness of competition comes to true nature of your skills and hard work. There isn’t any lying on the mat when it’s just you and your opponent. Not only is it a physical test, but also a mental one.
How are you going to handle the crowd?
How are you going to handle rolling against a complete stranger?
How are you going to handle the butterflies in your stomach?
These are all questions you should ask yourself well before stepping foot on the mat. Visualizing victory is a big confidence booster and every competitor should train their mental this way.
It’s fun competing because you can compare yourself to your competition and give yourself a realistic look on how you stand when compared to other guys with the same experience level as yourself. Visualization is the first step to success, and something that should be done on the “off” time from the mat. If you’re able to inspect the venue the day before competing it will greatly diminish your nervousness.
The Weigh In
Another benefit to have been a wrestler is that I am used to cutting weight and all the horrible consequences to that as well. My best advice I can give you is that you shouldn’t feel the need to cut weight, especially for your first BJJ tournament. There is enough stress in competing without worrying about making weight. Whatever you normally weigh is what I would suggest you compete in. However, Once you become a tournament veteran then you can worry about cutting weight.
I personally walk around at 160 pounds, however I can cut down to 145 pounds for competing. This may seem drastic to some of you, however when you compare it to MMA fighters this is absolutely nothing. As you prepare for your first BJJ tournament you should think about your diet in the weeks before the tournament so that you can properly fuel your training. Eating correctly will provide the right amount of energy in order to keep in top physical shape. This will also make it much easier to lose weight if you intend on cutting.
Nutrition is also very important the day of the tournament. You want to drink plenty of water while avoiding drinks with high levels of sugar (juices, sodas, etc). You will want to keep your energy up while waiting for your matches, but you don’t want to eat food that will make you feel slow or sluggish and will affect your performance. Granola bars, energy bars and bananas are excellent for you, while high sugar snacks should be avoided to prevent any energy crashes in your body. I always eat one or two bananas before BJJ practice and I do the same when it comes to tournament time.
Have a Strategy
It’s always important to have a strategy in mind before you go out and compete. However, one strategy won’t always be enough so it’s important to have a back-up plan and even a back-up plan for your back-up plan (if that makes sense). Having a solid move will get you a lot of victories while live-rolling during practice, however it’s not always guaranteed to work in a tournament setting when there is much more on the line.
The best route is to form a great strategy that has many back-up plans and even exit plans. Give yourself a path to victory while also giving yourself options that you can win on points depending on the rule set. For example: If your opponent is being aggressive be prepared to sprawl, however if your opponent is not willing to engage be prepared to take them down. If “option A” fails then move to “option B” and so on.
You need at least 2 moves for every possible situation, this means two moves to get off your back, two moves to pass, two submissions in each position, etc. Develop your options in advance before the BJJ tournament so that you’re fully prepared when it’s competition time. This will give you the proper time to fully focus, both physically and mentally.
Hopefully there are people at your academy that are also competing, so you can talk strategy together with them and your coach. If not, some of the online BJJ training websites have courses geared specifically toward tournament strategy and mindset.
Know the Rules and Regulations
This is a HUGE one, if I had a dollar for every time someone hurt their chances of winning because they didn’t know a certain rule-set I would be loaded. The rules of Brazilian Jiu Jitsu competitions are actually quite complex and vary greatly between the various governing bodies and events (learn more about the major BJJ organizations and tournaments). It’s up to you and only you to make sure you know them to your best ability. Not only will this ensure that you’re not disqualified for certain things like not making weight or illegal moves, but it will also allow you to use them to your advantage!
This also goes for the certain rash guards or gi’s that are acceptable to wear. The IBJJF have many rules and regulations when it comes to the gear you wear. I would also bring a mouthguard and something to warm up in such as a sweatshirt and sweatpants so that you can develop a good sweat before stepping on the mat.
The Warm Up
I personally enjoy listening to my headphones to help me get “in the zone”, this has been super helpful for my performance. I think putting together your own playlist that helps you get in your own zone will be beneficial. Listening to music you love will help put you in the right frame of mind to compete. This isn’t for everyone however, some people like to listen to the sound of the crowd.
About 30 minutes before you step out on the mat I recommend jump roping and stretching. Not only will this get you warm but it will also get you loose. Being loose and ready to compete is very important so don’t take this step lightly.
Remember to Relax
Relaxation is very important not only the day of the tournament but also the weeks leading up to competition day. The day before the tournament it’s best to avoid any Jiu Jitsu. Do something fun and relaxing to keep your mind off of the tournament. You’ve done your training and now the focus should be on relaxing and weight cutting (if needed). There is no need to get agitated and lose sleep over things that are out of your control.My best advice would be to watch a movie, play with your children/friends, read a book, or really do anything to keep you calm and relaxed. During the tournament try to avoid spending too much time watching other matches, this will lead to you counting down the minutes until you’re next. Find a quiet place to stretch out and relax before you warm up. The more relaxed you are before your matches, the better you will do during your matches.
Go Out and Perform!
It’s showtime baby, all there’s left to do is go out and have fun! Although it may seem serious, competing should be a fun time to test your skills against opponents who are just as nervous as you are. There are many benefits to competing in Jiu Jitsu so even if you don’t win any matches you will still learn many great things that you can use for your next competition. There is no losing in Jiu Jitsu, you either win or learn.