Competing in BJJ or Grappling: Why?

Many students of Brazilian Jiu Jitsu feel a burning desire go out and prove themselves on the competition mats.  This is all well and good for those guys, but for the rest of the community who see their teammates compete, or who are dimly aware that competition happens, competing might seem like a more risky endeavor than is worth doing.  The nerves that lead up to competition are overwhelming for many; the process of trying to diet or cut weight is daunting enough to discourage many more.

Who am I, and why should you listen to me?  Follow the link to read my bio (I’m at the top of the page).  I don’t send you there to impress you, but rather to let you know that I do have more experience competing than most.

So… why should you compete in BJJ?   The following reasons are going to be personal anecdotes as much as logical arguments in favor of competing.  The benefits I have personally received have been tremendous, but your own experience is going to be different from mine, or anyone else’s, for that matter.  Here are just a few things that competing in BJJ has done for me:

1.  Testing your skill level against people you don’t roll with every day means that you can get a true barometer of where you stand at your belt or skill level.  Sure, you mop the floor with the other white belts at your gym, but can you hang with guys interested in competing from other gyms in your area, or even internationally?  Or maybe it’s the other way around:  you don’t do so well at your gym, but maybe you can do all right when you compete.  It could be that your gym is just really tough!

For me, I realized that I not only enjoy competing, but I’m actually pretty good at it.  I certainly wasn’t always the toughest or best guy at my gym, but for whatever reason, I found that I competed really well for my level.  The opposite is certainly true for many competitors, and overcoming nerves is something I will touch on in a future article.

2.  Competing against people who don’t know your game is crucial to your developmental process.  If you compete well (see #1), this is the biggest difference from daily training at your gym.  So you can catch everyone at your gym with a guillotine choke.  What about the guy with superhuman strength and no neck from across town, or the guy who happens to have a great guillotine defense?

When I first started competing in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu, I was shocked at how well certain techniques I had previously (naively) considered unimportant actually worked.  Why?  Because all of my training partners knew very well the patterns of the fundamental attacks I was trying to use on them.  I had given the techniques a try, then discarded them from my daily rolling routine when my partners defended them.  Fortunately for me, I had still drilled them enough so that they were ingrained in me.  I found out that I was pretty good at the triangle choke, for example, by competing.  Even today, I compete regularly at US Grappling events, and the techniques I use are often things I haven’t used in quite a long time on my training partners or students.

3.  You can learn more in one day at a tournament than you will in a month of training.  This is no exaggeration, although it’s not always going to be true.  Competing isn’t a substitute for learning at the gym, but you can make incredible leaps forward, both conceptually and technically, by getting out there and testing yourself.

I have learned a great deal from all of my matches, but I have almost certainly learned more from the losses than from the wins.  This doesn’t mean beating myself up over losing a match, but it does mean analyzing the mistakes I made, or the way my opponent was able to set me up to score or submit me, and integrating a better defense (or offense) into my game to gradually eliminate that mistake from my game.  Conversely, I remember what I did well in the matches I won, and reinforce what I’ve been working on.

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