As a competitive sport, Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu naturally places an emphasis on competing. However, not everyone who trains chooses to compete. Is competing essential to progress in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu? I don’t think so. I know many amazing, knowledgeable practitioners who never compete. However, competition has many benefits to consider, whether you are a world champion or just an enthusiastic hobbyist.
The competition will teach you a lot about yourself. First and foremost, it will show you what you need to work on. In the gym, it can be easy to make excuses for your failures. Maybe your training partners were stronger, or you were tired after a long day. However, at least for me, if I fall short in a tournament, I know that I need to make changes. The competition will show you where your guard is weak and where you need to improve your passing. It shows you where you need to be tighter. It may even spotlight a need to drill and improve your timing, or to better prepare mentally and have more focus. Whatever your weaknesses, you can be sure the competition will bring them to light.
Competition can springboard your growth. While you will still make progress training regularly in the gym, you can often make big leaps after a tournament. The stakes in a tournament are higher, and the mistakes you make in competition will motivate you to problem-solve and work hard on fixing them right away. This can spark a lot of growth in a short amount of time. I’ve even heard it said that the experience gained from one tournament is equal to three months of training. I don’t know if this is true or not, but it does seem that active competitors improve much more quickly than other practitioners.
Competing gives you the opportunity to test your Jiu-Jitsu against opponents of a similar size, gender, and age. Sometimes rolls in the gym aren’t fair. If you are consistently rolling with larger or stronger teammates, then you are always working against a strength advantage. If you train with people of a higher rank, it can be difficult to implement your Jiu-Jitsu simply because they have more experience and know-how to counter everything you throw at them. Conversely, if you are bigger or more advanced than your training partners, you may be able to get away with being sloppy or giving too much space. The competition will force you to pit yourself against someone on your level and will show you how you measure up. Sometimes, this can even be a confidence booster. As a blue belt girl training with mostly men, I remember loving to compete because my Jiu-Jitsu would actually work against the girls in my divisions. I also ran into challenges against these girls that the larger men did not present, and was able to take these back and work on them.
Not only does competition test you against your opponents, it also tests your skills under pressure. In a competition setting, we generally feel a great deal more pressure than in normal training. We experience spikes in adrenaline, an increased heart rate, butterflies in the stomach, maybe even nausea. In addition to the heightened feeling of stress, we are also facing an opponent who is coming at us with everything they’ve got, trying to kill us. Under these circumstances, it becomes harder to think, and there isn’t much time to strategize. Our Jiu-Jitsu is stripped bare to the techniques that we have repped over and over in the gym, the moves that we can hit without thinking. More so than training in a class, competition spotlights what you are actually able to accomplish under intense stress. Competing will also teach you to remain calm and execute your game under these conditions. The more you compete, the better you will get at handling the stress. The more you put yourself on the competition stage, the easier it will be to think and perform under pressure.
You don’t have to be an avid competitor in order to enjoy Jiu-Jitsu. You can still learn, grow, and have a fulfilling experience, even if you never set foot on a competition mat. However, I would recommend that everyone try competing at least once. You may just learn something about yourself.