Brazilian jiu-jitsu is a highly competitive sport, and tournaments play a significant role in its popularity. Even white belts and beginners have frequent opportunities to compete against people of similar skills, so every practitioner has thoughts of entering a competition. But should you do it, and when?
You can participate in your first BJJ tournament as early as 3–4 months into training, but there is no set time you should start competing. Once you are committed to a tournament, you should train hard, know the rules, make weight, and do your best to follow a game plan. Most of all, you should enjoy the experience.
Tournaments can be a daunting but a rewarding experience. The matches themselves are hard enough, so it’s best to have all the preparation on point and not let minor details or missing information ruin your first BJJ tournament.
When Should You Do Your First BJJ Tournament
The time you enter your first tournament will vary greatly depending on many factors and can range from 3–4 months of training to 2–3 years in the gym. For most people, the first competition happens between 6 and 12 months after they start jiu-jitsu.
Competitions are a considerable part of the success of BJJ, both in terms of effectiveness and popularity. Practitioners are encouraged to participate in competitions because it’s an elevating experience as a martial artist and person.
BJJ is so popular among enthusiasts because of the sport’s safe nature. Yes, there are injuries, and the opponent is effectively trying to do a damaging technique on you, but submissions are safe when let go in time.
The injury rate in BJJ is drastically lower than in other martial arts, especially striking ones.
Your instructor should be the main person to determine whether you are ready for competition. Luckily, in-house tournaments and white belt competitions happen often and are perfect for beginners to test themselves.
Once you have the basics of BJJ down and there is an appropriate tournament for your level, my advice is to go for it. The thrill alone, as terrifying as it is, is worth it.
What To Expect At Your First BJJ Tournament
Once it’s time for tournament day, a few things will happen. Only in-house tournaments differ from this schedule, but if you are at an IBJJF or any other organized BJJ tournament, you can expect the day to go like this:
Before you are allowed to compete, you have to pass the scale, which is the first test. Most of the time, the scale takes place in the morning before the matches begin. Make sure you are within the limits of your weight class. Sometimes there is some allowance from the weight limit, other times there isn’t.
After the weigh-ins, it is a good idea to view the brackets if you haven’t already and know who you will be grappling against, when, and if there are multiple mats where you will be called. This is very important to avoid last-minute problems.
You know the importance of a proper warm-up, which may play a significant role in your tournament performance. Find the warm-up area, which is likely crowded, and use the small space the best way you can. Stay moderate with the warm-up and expend less energy. Break a slight sweat and try to get your muscles ready for action and not fatigued.
Keep track of the number of matches and know when you will be expected to come out. Once you hear the call, you will experience the most nerve-wracking moment of the day. Don’t worry; it’s the same for everyone.
When the match starts, follow the game plan you have drawn. More likely than not, you will be overwhelmed and unable to think much since this is your first competition. Expect the adrenaline to take over and make you infinitely tenser than you should be, meaning your energy will deplete quicker than usual.
The other thing that may surprise you is the aggression of your opponents. Regardless of how hard you roll in the gym, people go at 100% in competition, and the feeling is drastically different.
After your first match ends, there are a few possible outcomes, depending on the format and whether you win or lose. If the tournament is a single elimination format and you win, you continue in the bracket and will grapple again.
Depending on how deep the bracket is, the next match may come in 30 minutes or after a few hours. If you lose, you are eliminated, which is it for the day. Enjoy spectating the rest of the matches with your teammates.
Hopefully, you reach the end of the bracket and win a medal or a trophy, which will be an outstanding start to your competition career. But don’t worry if you didn’t. At this stage, the only important thing is the experience.
First BJJ Tournament Preparation Checklist
Having good preparation is a major factor in performing well in a BJJ tournament. Here are the things you should know and do for optimal performance.
Know the Rules
It cannot be overstated how important the rules and regulations are. I can’t count the times I’ve seen a white belt disqualified because he used a move he is forbidden to. It’s essential to familiarize yourself with all the rules.
- The format of the tournament– is it a single elimination or round-robin tournament?
- Know the scoring– how much each position and move is scored. For a first tournament, you will likely compete under the IBJJF rules, so take the time to open the rulebook and be well aware of how different positions are scored.
Knowing and using the rules is crucial for success. Like in any other sport, people find ways to game the system, and not necessarily the best wins, but the one who plays best according to the rules. Don’t be the guy who doesn’t know how the game is played.
- Forbidden techniques– each organization and each belt level have different sets of allowed and banned techniques. Learn what you can and can’t do as early as possible, and never use the banned moves in practice while preparing for the tournament because there is a good chance you will use them again under pressure.
- Clothing rules– Regardless if you compete in a gi or without, there will be strict rules about the attire. The IBJJF has specific requirements for the gi, and you must be sure yours is competitions legal. For no-gi, some specific requirements must be met. You will only be allowed to compete if your attire fits the rules.
Even if you are competing at an in-house competition without strict requirements, ensure your clothing is well-kept, odor free, and presentable.
Know Your Division and Make Weight
BJJ tournaments have a lot of divisions based on age, rank, and weight. Be sure which division you will compete in and, most importantly, at what weight.
If you have months or weeks before the tournament, you will have time to lose some weight if necessary. If you succeed on the scale, you won’t be allowed to compete, and all the preparation will be in vain, so take notice of this element.
Prepare Your Competition Clothing and Equipment
Double and triple-check the evening before the competitions you are bringing everything you will need. Most of all, this includes a legal gi or no-gi uniform and mouthguard. If possible, bring spare ones in case your first choice does not pass the inspection.
Additionally, you will want to bring a fresh set of clothes to wear after the competition is over. If you need headphones, lucky charms, or something you feel will help you perform better, it’s best to prepare them from the previous day.
Bring Water And Snacks
This point is less important than the other ones because it won’t stop you from competing, plus there will likely be water and snacks on sale at the venue, but it’s much better to have what you need in your bag and not worry about it.
Bring at least a couple of bottles of water. You won’t believe how much the mouth dries from the pressure.
Pack a few snacks as well. This can be bananas, nuts, protein bars, and similar stuff that is easy to bring and eat and provides a quick surge of energy.
It’s not uncommon to wait for your match to come for hours, and the extra energy from the snack will be more than welcome.
Go Over Everything With Your Coach
I was unsure if I should place this advice first. Most, if not all, of the information in this article and other resources online will be readily available through your coach.
He has prepared many competitors and has been to countless tournaments, so I am confident he will answer all your questions gladly.
Furthermore, he is more experienced with the local specifics of the tournaments and will provide valuable information not available anywhere else.
Tips For Performing Well In Your First BJJ Tournament
- Don’t set any expectations on yourself. This is your first tournament; it’s unreasonable to expect a certain outcome, let alone win the thing. This doesn’t mean you will not win, but placing high expectations this early can lead to a big disappointment. Just focus on performing honorably and enjoy the experience.
- Have a game plan. It’s unlikely to follow through with it because of the adrenaline, but still, if you have a few small strategies you’ve worked on and a few scenarios most likely to happen in the back of your mind, chances are you will perform much better.
The game plan may include common scenarios like what to do when you are taken down, when you succeed with the takedown, a few escapes from mount and side control, and a few guard passes. Perhaps a couple of setups for submissions you have the most success in sparring.
Know your general strategy- do you like to be on top? Do you prefer working from guard? Do you plan on winning on points or through a submission? Figure out these things early in preparation and train them often during live rolls.
- Sign up as early as possible for the tournament because you will enter a different state of mind when you know you will be competing. You will start training harder and push yourself more because you know the competition is coming, and everything you do will ensure you perform well.
- Always remember your opponents are as nervous as you are. The adrenaline, the blood hammering in your ears, the awful feeling in the gut- the opponent feels precisely the same way, so know you are on equal grounds.
Your instructor is the best person to discuss when you are ready for your first BJJ tournament. Ultimately you decide, but he will help clear uncertainties, and once you are committed to a tournament, he will guide you through the preparation and all you need to know.
In addition, this article covers all the important details going into a begins BJJ tournament and will hopefully serve you well.