In a previous post, I mentioned that I think everyone who practices jiu jitsu ought to compete in tournaments—not just once, but at least once per belt level. While I am clearly not alone in having this sentiment (see here and here), I nevertheless thought I would say a few words about why I think it’s important.
For starters, competing in a tournament gives grapplers the chance to really push themselves—which is especially important for those who have a hard time pushing themselves in practice. Not only does competing give one the opportunity to trim a few pounds, work on one’s cardio, etc., but it also gives one the chance to put one’s skills and techniques to the test in a more formal (and serious) setting than the practice room.
The second benefit of competing is that in preparing for a tournament, one has to practice take downs, take down defense, guard pulling, etc. Given how rarely grapplers typically work on these skills during practice—especially at the lower belt levels where most live rolling begins from the knees—registering for and then competing in a tournament furnishes one with a reason to work on this shortcoming.
Third, by competing in a tournament, one gets to test oneself against a wider variety of grapplers who are one’s own age and weight and who have roughly the same amount of experience. The smaller one’s gym, the more important this becomes. It is very helpful to roll with people who have different backgrounds, skill sets, training regiments, training partners, and instructors. Tournaments facilitate this in a pretty safe environment.
Fourth, competing helps one gauge one’s progression in the sport. After all, if a grappler is frustrated with how slowly she is being promoted, etc., there are few better ways to impress a coach than to enter a tournament and excel. On the flipside, entering a tournament and doing poorly helps remind one how much she has left to do to make it to the next level—whether this involves going from white belt to blue belt or brown belt to black belt. In this sense, tournaments represent the gold-standard of success. And the bigger the tournament the better!
Fifth, tournaments provide grapplers with the opportunity to watch lots of jiu jitsu (at all levels), which is always instructive. It helps to see how many different people (with different body types) approach the sport. By providing grapplers with the opportunity to more vividly see the difference between each of the belt levels, tournaments provide one with a guidepost of sorts—that is, something both to strive for (advanced techniques) and avoid (rookie mistakes).
Finally, attending and competing in tournaments can be really rewarding—even if one doesn’t do as well as one had hoped. Attending big tournaments is especially fun. For instance, when I was a white belt, I went out to CA to compete in the Pan American Games. And while I lost my first match 0-0 by 1 advantage point—which was admittedly disappointing and a bit frustrating—seeing lots of high level jiu jitsu more than made up for my loss. Plus, at major tournaments, one gets to see one’s heroes in action (up close and personal)!
For these reasons and more, I think that every true student of jiu jitsu should compete in at least at one tournament at each stage of his or her grappling career. I entered a handful of tournaments at both white belt and blue belt—and I never regretted it once, not even when I had a poor showing. Perhaps this is a good reason for me to blog less and train more! My first tournament at purple belt should be just around the corner (assuming I am willing to take my own advice)!
p.s. A few suggestions for those entering their first tournament: (a) know the rules, (b) give yourself plenty of time and work hard to prepare, (c) don’t be too stubborn to tap (as egos heal faster than damaged joints), and, most importantly, (d) remember to have fun (which can sometimes be difficult when people are actively doing their best to render you unconscious)! See here, here, here, and here for some related suggestions for the first time competitors.