This article was written by Nicolas Gregoriades, who is a 4th-degree Jiu-Jitsu Black Belt under Roger Gracie. Nic is an instructor at Subconscious Jiu Jitsu. Header image used on license from Shutterstock.
I remember entering my first Brazilian jiu-jitsu competitions - almost 20 years ago. The fear and anxiety almost completely consumed me. Amazingly, despite horrible performances, I managed to win some of my matches through brute strength and sheer will. What I noticed was that all the training I had done and all the techniques I had learned up until that point went out the window the moment the fights began. My fear, anxiety and anger had come between me and the modest amount of technical knowledge I had acquired.
Over the years, although I have managed to gain some control over my emotions before competitions, and hence I have greater access to my techniques and skills, the fear and anxiety are always there - and they always will be. But my degree of control over them continues as you grow, and they become more manageable. This only comes with experience, however. I always urge the beginners at our academy to enter upcoming competitions. The sense of achievement gained from competition cannot be overestimated. By my estimation, 1 minute of competition is equivalent to approximately 30 to 40 minutes of regular sparring/mat time with regard to the expansion of self-awareness it allows. Below are some tips and insights that I have found to have helped me gain the most from my competition experiences:
You Will Never Be 100% Ready
If you wait until you are 100% ready before competing, then you will never compete. You can always be fitter, more technical or more composed. Feeling follows action - not the other way around. It is never as hard as it is the first time. You will be nervous, you will be scared, and you will doubt yourself before your first competition. But I can promise you that you will grow more than you ever have during regular classes and lessons.
Know and Understand the Rules
The rules of jiu jitsu competitions are actually quite complex and can vary significantly between the various governing bodies and events. It's up to you to make sure you know them. Not only will this ensure that you are not disqualified for things like not making weight or illegal moves, but it will also allow you to use them to your advantage. Check out our full video guide on the rules here.
Make Sure You're Well-Rested
The last week to ten days before a competition should see you tapering down the scale and frequency of your training. Physically, your muscles, tendons, joints and ligaments will appreciate the break and will be fresh for the contest. Your central nervous system will also benefit - too much competitive training in the final days before an event, and you will find that your reactions will be slower than usual, and your game will be stagnant. In athletics, there is a saying - "Do not leave your best performance on the practice track," and the same can be said for grappling.
Don't Make Excuses Beforehand
He who makes an excuse before a fight is going to need it. Don't be one of those guys who tells all his friends and teammates that he hasn't trained properly, is underweight or recovering from an injury. You are just trying to cover your bases should you lose. This is an unsporting and undignified practice. If you don't feel up to the standard of the event you are participating in but choose to compete anyway; then you must face the consequences.
Get to Know the Venue if Possible
Although this is not always possible if you can try to inspect the venue the day before the competition. This will greatly diminish your nervousness on the day because it will be a place you have become familiar with instead of something foreign and intimidating.
Conserve Your Energy
On the day of the event, your should be aiming to expend as little energy as possible. Try to remain off your feet. Most of the time, you should be spent sitting, or even better, lying down. Try to avoid viewing the matches prior to yours unless you are watching your potential opponents and formulating your strategy. Watching your teammates compete and screaming advice to them is almost as draining as competing itself.
Regulate Your Breathing
Whether you notice it or not, the moment you enter the venue (and perhaps even before), your body begins its release of adrenalin. Although adrenalin has many benefits for the fighter, one of the disadvantages is that it causes your breathing to become shallow. This robs your organs and tissues of much-needed oxygen and hence leads to fatigue. By concentrating and ensuring your breathing is deep and rhythmic, you not only negate this effect but also help still your mind and alleviate much of the pre-match anxiety.
Let Go of the Outcome
Do not be focused solely on winning, nor afraid to lose. These are both outcomes. All fighters, even the greats, lose at some point. There is just too much of a random element in grappling / BJJ competition to allow anyone to achieve a 100% win rate. Try, instead, to focus on the process. If you learn something from your competition experience, then win or lose, you have gained. Some of my most important and enjoyable matches have been ones in which I have lost the fight but gained valuable insight.
Be Gracious in Victory and Defeat
Never, I repeat, never make excuses for a loss. I have been guilty of this in the past, and I will never allow it to happen again. When asked about the match, always say, "he beat me fair and square," regardless of whether or not you performed your best or you feel that the referee robbed you etc. By the same token, should you be fortunate enough to win, make sure you acknowledge your opponents' skill and heart. I look forward to hearing your experiences and insights.