How to Prepare For Your First Jiu-Jitsu Competition

8 min read
Learn 7 essential tips that will help you get your hand raised in victory come competition day in your next grappling tournament

Arte Suave Cup with two guys training

How to Prepare For Your First Jiu-Jitsu Competition

Learn 7 essential tips that will help you get your hand raised in victory come competition day in your next grappling tournament

Location: Peabody, MA.

Estimated reading time: 9 minutes

Photo by: Duncan Graham

First, take a deep breath because this topic will naturally get you both excited and a bit nervous simultaneously. It’s normal. With that said, let’s address the fact that Jiu-Jitsu competitions exist worldwide, and martial artists compete nearly every day. While it is never required to officially compete to sharpen your skills at many GYMs, an experience such as a Jiu-Jitsu competition will definitely give you some perspective, lets you know exactly how your game stacks up against everyone else, and offers insight into exactly where you need to improve the most… all of us can improve. Win or lose, competing is an accomplishment and brings a certain joy with it in becoming part of a select group of people who choose to compete… Less than 4% of BJJ practitioners compete, according to IBJJF.

This sounds all a bit intimidating, right? But that feeling won’t last long. You can, and you will keep improving… In an interview with grappling Icon, World Champion, and UCF professor Ricardo Liborio, he said: “I was nervous before nearly every match, but once I was on the mats and competing, the nerves went away…. You have to silence that inner person telling you to quit and go for it.” Be brave, and most importantly, have fun.

1. Training Camp

After deciding to compete in a Jiu-Jitsu tournament, then comes the required prep work leading up to competition day. Part of this preparation is called your “training camp.” A training camp can vary vastly depending on the one you go to, but some foundational elements apply. Such as a lot of drilling focusing on your technique/game, conditioning, and your mental state all at once. Even micro adjustments with your grips, specific breathing, and how to keep your emotions in check should be gone over. In short, the training camp is all discipline, hard work, and no fooling around. Let’s remember that you’re training to win! Here is a quick rundown of a training camp with JT Torres:

Now let’s discuss some tips on how you can train to win.

2. Physical Preparation

The body gets put to work on that mat. To get physically ready for a Jiu-Jitsu competition, you will employ a LOT of drilling, competition rolling, and conditioning, such are strength and cardio training. Drilling often includes repping out your go-to high percentage submissions and passes as well as escaping a multitude of compromised positions. You’ll usually begin standing up or in your opponent’s guard, side control, or mount in situational drilling or rolling. Be prepared for it all. 

Rolling is critical for cardio/stamina training and to improve your game at full speed. Many training camps will have you roll for multiple rounds (10 plus) with a new, fully rested guy or girl always as your next rolling partner. The point is to push you to your current limits so you can find new ones and perform at a highly technical level while exhausted.  

Drilling and rolling are your most important assets for physical training, but a proper strength and conditioning routine is paramount to gaining the upper hand on any opponent. Technique should be your foundation, but techniques with strength…. Now you have a winning combo. 

3. Cut weight properly. Or rather, don’t cut weight at all

Cutting weight can be an effective strategy or lose you the match if you’re too exhausted from it. I can point to very specific instances where teammates were beaten before they even slapped hands because they had no energy after brutal weight cuts. When your energy levels are depleted before even rolling, it makes it SO MUCH easier to simply give up… to tap when the submission isn’t there yet, be complacent with passes, or give up being on the offense and pursuing passes or sweeps that were right there for the taking. Even if you’re mentally strong enough to not let these mental mistakes happen, fighting through cramps or muscle pulls due to dehydration are entirely different. So, when possible, eliminate unnecessary worries and do it properly by talking with your coach, possibly changing weight classes, and most easily just staying in shape and in or very close to your weight class all the time.

4. The mental game 

The best way to train your mind for a Jiu-Jitsu competition is like anything else… gain confidence through practice. The more time spent in the gym rolling, the more you will begin to trust that you will win. Winning builds confidence, character in many instances and keeps a martial artist in love with their art. Winning is not everything, though, and quite often, through the losses, you learn the most… you either win, or you learn…. a very common say in Jiu-Jitsu…. Winning will happen eventually, don’t worry.

ONLY think about winning your division…. Dismiss any thought to the contrary

This is where we address the voice telling you that you can’t win or you’re not good enough. This voice is very real and active, but what it’s saying…not so much.

Most people don’t realize there is no risk in convincing yourself that you’ll win. Because even if you convince yourself that you will get the W and don’t win, you’re, in reality, still exactly where you would have been if you had kept doubting yourself and lost…. It costs nothing to believe in yourself and positions you to have a greater chance of winning every time. When you are more confident, you go for that takedown, your movements are more explosive, and you take chances your opponent is often unprepared for. 

So, whenever those negative thoughts creep in, you need to detect them, interdict them, and modify them to something positive…. (simplified from Mark Divine’s “DIRECT” process described in his book “The Way of the Seal”…. Here is an interview with the ma himself:

So, for example,

Negative voice: “This guy has never lost in his division.”

You: “So he’s never lost, ever?”

Negative voice: “He’s bigger and very explosive.”

You: “Good, he’s still slower than me and will gas out soon.”

Negative voice: “This is your first tournament.”

You: “Good… That will make today’s victory all the better.”

The power and impact of positive self-talk is real, but it’s not lying to yourself which won’t work. It’s about simply reframing the discussion to fit into reality as 99% of what we fear never happens and offering a possible positive outcome as opposed to only a negative one… feed the positive voice, and have confidence… much of the outcome can be self-fulfilling, so give yourself the upper hand every time you step onto the mats.

See your victory

Envisioning you’re winning the match goes hand-in-hand with having a game plan. You should envision the entire match…. from the moment you are called from the bullpen to when the referee raises your hands in victory. Do this in training too, not just on competition days. Mentally walk through the “perfect match” with your training partner, and make that vision reality…. The documentary “In Search of Greatness” is a fantastic video on this subject.

5. Have a game plan

This is one tactic that many wish they had implemented earlier in their competitive BJJ career. It’s almost criminal to compete in a BJJ tournament without a game plan…. Don’t let your victory get stolen from you because of this simple mistake. Of course, anything can and often will happen in a live match. But a lot of the fear can creep in from uncertainty… having a game plan helps to eliminate this and often gives you a split-second head start in your reaction time for the first few moments of the match due to the delay of decision-making being removed. For example, If you’re arguing with yourself as to whether or not to pull guard or go for the double leg, you’ll, by default, allow your opponent to get the jump on you right from the start…. Every time you reset standing, the game plan starts again unless a golden opportunity presents itself.

6. Be early

As an event organizer myself, It is often unreal how many people arrive at the very last minute, despite the multiple “be there 90-minutes before their division starts” emails being sent out. Rushing to put your Gi on, weigh in, and run to your mat with no proper warm-up, hydration, etc., is a recipe for failure with no time to get into the proper mindset to dominate your match. Use this time to drill with the training mats often provided and to rehearse your victory repeatedly in your mind…. Eliminate unnecessary concerns.

7. Pay no attention to your opponents

Many other competitors and I often constantly find ourselves looking around the bullpen, wondering, most importantly, who we will face first round and next after that. But that’s irrelevant. You can’t control what they do in most instances, but you can control precisely what you do as you employ your attack or counter theirs. Don’t let distractions get in the way of you executing your game.

Also, worth noting, you don’t have to fight everyone in your division either. For instance, an 8-person division is a healthy size, but that equates to only 3 fights for gold. To put things in perspective, if you only got to roll three times at an open mat, you’d be super bummed and feel like you barely got any work in…. just another day on the mats. 

Final Thoughts

Once you slap hands, all the nerves, doubt, etc., all disappear, as world champion Ricardo Liborio often says. You’re back in that familiar place on the mats, where your worries disappear, and all you can focus on is the task set before you. By the time you’re done competing, win or lose, you’ll be Googling when the next tournament in your area is so you can sign up and do it all over again. 

This grappling competition preparation list is by no means exhaustive, and we urge you to check out some other great resources on the topic that may add to your knowledge and further help you refine your game day approach.

We at Rolling Times believe competing at a grappling tournament is one of the most effective tools in your toolbelt to help you improve your game. It builds confidence and exposes your exact weaknesses…. Many say one tournament is worth 3+ weeks of regular training…. Jiu Jitsu is an art, and competing is a way to embrace what others among you have learned.  

Competition also offers you a renewed sense of purpose and something specific to strive for in the training room. I’ve certainly been upset at my performance at certain tournaments, but in the end, I’ve never regretted competing. It’s always an experience you’re glad you put all the work in for.

If you’re looking for your next tournament, check out smoothcomp HERE




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