Not everyone who practices jiu-jitsu will eventually want to compete, but many practitioners eventually decide they want to test what they’ve learned outside their own gym. While some competitors-to-be are eager to jump into the fray as soon as possible, others are apprehensive about competing “too soon” in their BJJ careers.
If you’re unsure if you’re ready to enter your first competition, ask yourself these questions:
“Does my coach think I’m ready?” Hopefully, you’re training under an instructor who knows more about jiu-jitsu than you do. If your coach is insisting that you’re ready to compete, their word should carry significant weight. Your instructor has watched you as you’ve progressed on your journey, and they likely have some idea of how you’d fair in whichever competition they’re pushing you to sign up for. Similarly, though, if you’re itching to compete and your coach advises you to wait a while longer, take that advice into consideration as well.
“How am I doing against other practitioners at my level?” If you’re a white belt, your purple belt teammates are probably crushing you in training, and that’s fine. You shouldn’t base your readiness to compete on how you roll against people who are significantly more experienced or heavier than you. But during practice, analyze how you’re doing against your teammates who are close to you in size and rank. Attend a couple of open mats at other academies so you can get a feel for how people who aren’t your teammates roll as well. Even if you’re not super hung up on getting a gold medal at your first competition, you should be making sure you can hold your own against athletes comparable to you in a low-pressure setting before raising the stakes.
“Am I coachable?” Half of being successful in competition involves being a good listener. Check in with your ego before deciding to compete — will you be able to listen to your coach’s advice mid-match, or will you be insistent on following your own game plan regardless of what your instructor thinks? Or, on the opposite end of the spectrum of pride, do you think you’ll panic in the middle of your matches and block out your coach’s instructions? Being nervous or excited before a competition is completely normal, but making sure you’re emotionally in-check is crucial before stepping onto the mats at a tournament.
“How’s my cardio?” If you’re getting gassed out after two consecutive rolls in everyday training, you’re not going to last very long at a tournament. You and your opponent will be going much harder than you do with your teammates, and the adrenaline rush and nerves will leave you exhausted after “just” a five-minute match. Your forearms will hurt, you may feel sick, and you’ll be shocked at how quickly the time passes in between matches. This isn’t to discourage you from competing, and it’s certainly not to say that you need to be in peak physical condition to test yourself at a local tournament — you just may not be physically ready to compete if you’re only training once a week or putting in 50 percent effort in all your rolls. Your body will thank you if you make sure to get in reasonably good shape before pushing yourself to your limit at a tournament.
“What’s holding me back?” Everyone gets super nervous before their first competition. If you’re just a bit anxious about the idea of competing and that’s the only thing stopping you from signing up for a tournament, sign up anyway. You’ll have fun, and you’ll realize that all the time you spent worrying about it was worth it. If you have bigger worries keeping you from signing up, though, give them some serious consideration. Do you have an injury you’re worried about? Do you struggle with very basic techniques? Do you have bad mat habits you want to squash before you compete for the first time? Having a reason to hold off from competing for now is different from making up excuses. Deep down, you know which one applies to your own rationale.
“Do I feel like I’m ready to compete?” Ultimately, if you don’t feel ready to compete yet, don’t. Some people wait until they’re blue belts before they compete for the first time, and many others never compete at all. If your coach is saying you’re ready for a local tournament three months into your jiu-jitsu journey, but you feel like you’d get clobbered or don’t know enough to be safe in a high-pressure competition setting, it’s perfectly ok to put it off for another few months. This is your jiu-jitsu journey, and you’re the one paying your academy dues and tournament fees. The decision to compete should be one that you and your coach can agree on, and if one person in the equation is unsure, you’re better off playing it safe until you’re both on the same page. If both you and your instructor are eager to see if you can make it to the top of the podium, though, go forth and roll. You’ll never know what’ll happen until you try.
Featured image by Trinity SP Photography