The Tip of the Iceberg – BJJ Fanatics

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Anyone who has rolled a few times as an inexperienced white belt has probably seen a podium picture from a competition and felt two contradicting emotions: desire and trepidation.

A medal from even the most modest of competitions seems both unattainable and incredibly desirable.  Never mind that the medal probably only costs $5. The whole podium thing bears such a striking resemblance to the Olympic medal ceremonies that we forget that those medals aren’t real gold, silver, or bronze.  We don’t think about how they may turn green in a few months; they’re shiny and pretty today, and we want one!

The problem is that getting one seems almost impossible.  When you can’t pass someone’s guard in an open mat, the prospect of a full-on fight against a stranger sounds insane—certainly something far beyond what any sane person would try.

But all of that confusion and those mixed emotions are the result of not seeing the entire picture.  Most competitors don’t just walk into a tournament without preparing for it.

In truth, the tournament itself is the tip of the iceberg.  It’s the last step in a months-long process of preparation and training.

First off, there are registration deadlines that end well before the competition.  Most of the time, there are no walk-ons. Competitors must give a tournament some amount of forethought.

Then there are divisions: belt, sex, weight, and age.  We can’t do anything to change our place in most of those divisions, but we can do something about our weight.  And most competitors try to drop some weight before a tournament. Some use the tournament as a motivation to drop weight permanently.  Others prefer to cut weight temporarily for the competition. Regardless, this process takes some forethought, too.

And, finally, there’s training.  Four or five minutes of intense rolling doesn’t sound like a big deal.  But it is. Especially when that roll is preceded by a few hours of jittery anticipation and too much adrenaline.

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Training isn’t something a wise competitor will ignore.  Any decent BJJ coach will help you train—especially for that first match.  This means weeks or months of amped up rolling in class. Your coach may start throwing in added cardio in your classes.  You may find yourself in the center of the dojo, facing one fresh competitor after another as your energy drops with every minute of rolling.  In such circumstances, you have to rely on your technique because your brute strength has abandoned you long ago.

It’s not for the faint of heart.  Your training is intended to develop your endurance and prepare you mentally for the stresses you’ll face in competition.

And it’ll happen in every class.  Every. Class. For. Weeks.

Think about how exhausted you were after your very first Jiu Jitsu class.  That’s how you’ll feel again. But, this time, your coach won’t let you get accustomed to the new intensity level.  Instead, coach will keep nudging the level up.

The training and dieting and planning are the parts that no one sees.  People see a few minutes of aggressive rolling and that prized picture on the podium.  But what happens at the tournament is only the tip of the iceberg. The rest of the iceberg is what happens before competition day.  That’s the part of the iceberg that provides the buoyancy to push the tip of the ice above the surface. People wouldn’t see the podium pics without the training and dieting and planning.

Knowing the whole story is important.  Fantasizing won’t get you anywhere. I’m not sure if knowing the whole story will increase your desire or increase your trepidation.  For some, it may show them that competition is a possibility. For others, it may steer them away from competition.

Either choice is fine.  There’s nothing wrong with using competition as a spur to drive your Jiu Jitsu journey.  And there’s nothing wrong with training when you have no plans on competing.

What’s important is that you make the right, informed choice for yourself.

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