Since my neck injuries have me relegated to the sidelines for the foreseeable future, I thought I would make myself feel better by focusing on other ways to stay connected to the art I love. With my home gym having its grand opening this weekend, we will hopefully be making some positive changes in the months ahead--e.g., adding new night classes and day classes, adding a kids program, and developing a competition team. So, I thought I would focus my attention on these developments as a helpful distraction!
For this post, I want to turn my attention to competitions. More specifically, I want to focus on a few common mistakes I have seen made repeatedly at jiu jitsu tournaments over the years--mistakes that were made vivid when I attended the recent NAGA event in Jacksonville as a spectator. Let me start by pointing out that I love tournaments. As someone who spent a lot of his time as a child at wrestling tournaments, there's something special about a room full of people all dedicated and determined to test their mettle against their peers. With several matches going on at any one moment, there is a ton of action. And for every victory there is an attending defeat. While some instructors like to downplay the importance of competing, I think they can play an important role in a person's jiu jitsu journey.
But just because I think that tournaments are important doesn't mean that they aren't beset my problems. For present purposes, I am going to set aside all of the problems with how jiu jitsu tournaments are organized and officiated--which is an important topic that merits its own post. Instead, I just want to highlight some common mistakes I see that are made by the competitors (and their coaches). So, here they are (in no particular order):
Mistake #1: Cutting Weight the Wrong Way
This mistake, like several of the ones I will identify, actually happens before the tournament takes place. As someone who spent his adolescence cutting weight the wrong way over and over again, I am well placed to say what a bad idea this is. If you just sit around and listen to the background noise while at a jiu jitsu tournament, you will overhear a number of people discussing how they dropped 8-12 pounds in the one or two days leading up to the tournament by dehydrating themselves. This is a terrible idea. The old school methods have been replaced by methods that are much safer and more effective. For more on water loading see here. The main problem with cutting weight the wrong way is that it will leave you drained on the day of the competition. So, if you don't manage to finish your matches in the first minute, you are going to be in trouble. You'll feel completely drained, you'll feel "whited out," and you won't have the energy reserves to push it towards the end of your matches. In short, you're betting off not cutting any weight than cutting weight the wrong way. There is too much information floating around the interwebs these days to go about things the wrong way. But taking advantage of this information requires some planning and preparation on your part. If you wait until two days before a tournament to decide to compete--which is a bad idea in itself--then you'll feel pressured to cut weight the wrong way. Resist the urge! Just enter at your natural weight if need be. You'll have more energy and hence a better chance at being successful (plus, you will spare yourself the misery of cutting weight the wrong way).
Mistake #2: Not Enough Cardio
This mistake is related to the first in that both involve a lack of proper preparedness. The pace in tournaments is frantic. Many competitors--especially those with less experience--are going to roll at full speed. If you're in good shape and you've been training at "competition speed," this is no problem. But if you're ill-prepared and you haven't been training at a fast pace (for the dedicated amount of time for your specific age and belt level--four minutes, six minutes, ten minutes, etc.), and someone else is prepared to push the pace, you will gas out and likely lose. When it comes to tournaments, preparedness is one of the key determining factors for success. If you cut weight properly and make sure your cardio is up to the task, you put yourself in a position to succeed. Of course, that doesn't mean you will succeed--but it does increase your chances. Conversely, if you come in under-prepared, you have effectively shot yourself in the proverbial foot before your first match has even begun. Tournaments can be serious business and they needed to be treated as such. While *winning* is not the only goal, you should nevertheless want to put your best foot forward so you can see where your skill-set stacks up against people your size and age and with your experience level. You won't be able to test yourself appropriately if you come in out of shape. As with cutting weight properly, being prepared when it comes to cardio also requires some planning in your part. Give yourselves a few months to get ready for a tournament. Avoid registering at the last minute if at all possible. You will have better results and feel better about them--however you happen to do. The goal is to compete as the best you possible--which takes time, dedication, and planning.
Mistake #3: Not Enough Time Spent on the Feet
If you just spend a few minutes watching tournament matches, it becomes clear that the overwhelming majority of white, blue, and purple belts (and even some brown and black belts) have not spent enough time training take downs. While I don't agree with Josh Barnett that starting from the knees when training jiu jitsu is a "waste of time," I do think that not nearly enough time and energy is spent helping students learn how to get someone to the ground (and how to prevent being taken to the ground). As someone who grew up wrestling, it pains me to see how many bad shots are taken in tournaments--shots that involve horrible form, improper or no set ups at all, etc. Indeed, the bad double leg to guillotine choke may be one of the most common sequences from the feet with lower belts! This state of affairs also leads to a succession of "deer caught in the headlights" moments for many competitors. They are accustomed to starting on the knees, where getting someone into their guard is fairly straightforward. Yet, now, all of sudden, the entire state of affairs has been stood on its head. For if you're competing against someone who has spent sufficient time working on her wrestling and/or judo, then it is likely you will get taken down (with relative ease) and it's also likely that you will end up in bottom side control right from the start. There is simply no excuse for this. If you are going to compete, you need to spend time working on your take downs (just as you need to spend time on your cardio and planning a proper weight cut). Otherwise, you are just setting yourself up to fail before you've even stepped on the mats! Here again, preparedness is key.
Mistake #4: Inactivity from Bottom and Top Guard
This mistake is especially prone to happen when someone doesn't know many take downs so they pull guard instead. The problem isn't pulling guard per se, it's that often once guard has been pulled, it sets up a stale mate that sometimes lasts the entire match. If you have someone in your closed guard, you need to be very active--always looking for sweeps or submissions. Don't just settle for having someone in your guard--that is, don't be a passive guard player. Conversely, if you're in someone's guard, it is your job to advance your position to half guard, side control, etc. Don't just hang out in your opponent's guard to the point of stalling. You're in a disadvantaged position and it's your job to do something about it. You know how to open the guard and pass, so focus on those techniques. Don't rely on techniques you never cover or drill--e.g., stacking someone up and grabbing their collar up around their neck. This, too, is something I see over and over again at tournaments. It's bad form, it's pointless, and it sets you up for getting arm barred. On the flip side, if you have someone in your closed guard, don't allow them to stack you and muscle you around the neck. Use your leverage and positional dominance to clear your opponent's arms and threaten them with submissions.
Mistake #5: Ignoring your Coaches
Tournament matches can be very intense and exhausting. As such, it's easy to get tunnel vision in the heat of the moment. That's fine as far as it goes, but one problem with getting completely caught up in the moment is that you forget to listen to your coaches. A coach has several important rolls to play during your match. First, she should keep you updated when it comes to the clock and the score. Second, she should remind you to relax and focus on your own game. Third, she should alert you to mistakes you're making that are keeping you from playing your own game. Fourth, she should offer encouragement throughout while trying to keep you moving in the right direction. All of these roles can benefit the competitor, but only if the competitor is listening, paying attention, and doing what the coach suggests. While you need not be constantly looking over at your coach, you need to be listening for advice and guidance. Indeed, assuming your coach is keeping you posted when it comes to the time and the score, it is always more intelligent to look over at your coach than it is to look at the clock and score board. So, try to relax and listen to your coach--however difficult that might be sometimes--and do what she suggests. For instance, if you have someone in your guard and you're being stacked while your opponent is gripping your lapel around your neck (see mistake #4), your coach will be reminding you to clear those arms, use your positional dominance, etc. But if you're not listening, you will just remain pointlessly stacked up!
OK, that's it for now. I will post in the future about some additional tournament mistakes. I will also float some suggestions concerning how tournaments might be improved. If you have any comments or observations for now, please leave them in the discussion thread! Thanks, as always, for reading!