BJJ: The Value Of A Coach Who Competes

Photo: Gabriel Arges

In my time training I’ve seen a bunch of different types of coaches.  Very often BJJ holds an age old adage “Those who can do can’t teach and those who can teach can’t do.”  I tend to disagree: I think that the very best coach is the one who competes alongside you.  They don’t necessarily need to compete at every single tournament that their students do, but there are several reasons that I value the competitor coach.

For starters, win lose or draw you always know where they stand.  I don’t mean this to say that a good coach is infallible.  I’ve seen my coach enjoy victory and I’ve seen him experience defeat.  Witnessing both gives me a lot of clarity and insight.  When my coach wins, I not only gain confidence in the techniques he is teaching me, but I see what steps he takes to achieve that victory.  When he loses, I get to see part of his process of coping as well as analysis of that loss.  There’s that classic saying “You either win or you learn.”  Anyone worthy of coaching has learned from their losses.

Another valuable aspect of having a coach who competes is the knowledge that what they tell you really works, even if it only works for them.  By this I mean, watching my coach win means that the advice he gives my teammates and me works for him.  If I didn’t have opportunities to watch him win how could I possibly know that?

I am not saying there aren’t amazing coaches who don’t compete, I think of key examples like John Danaher and Henry Akins, but if I had to choose between someone on their level who does compete or someone on their level who does not, I’d pick the competitor because of the intrinsic value of the experience of competition as it pertains to their ability to analyze my game.

A coach who competes needs to put some degree of focus in maintaining and improving their own game.  That means that they need to keep up with the techniques that are trending and learn to address them.  A coach who doesn’t compete doesn’t necessarily have that pressure on him or her, and that can potentially pose a problem.  I’ve trained with people who were there to teach but didn’t really drill or train much and I’ve trained with people who train alongside their students.  I have an inquisitive mind, and when I am being told what to do by someone but I don’t see them doing I always wonder if what I’m doing is actually worthwhile.

Do you have a coach who competes alongside you?  Do you find that it inspires you on a deeper level than a coach who tells you what to do but doesn’t do it with you?  Again I am not downgrading the many amazing coaches out there who don’t compete, but personally I really value the fact that my coach competes at many of the same tournaments at which I am competing.  If you are one of the many people who train under non-competitors, do you wish your coach would compete?  Or are you content with the status quo as it is?


  1. I tend to agree in general. A kind of interesting counter-point, I had a coach at one point quit competing for an extended period (at least a year) because he said he didn’t like feeling like he was focused on his matches when he should be there to coach us. (he subsequently began competing again and went on to qualify for ADCC so definitely no slouch, but I could easily have reached the wrong conclusion if I’d just judged him based on his not competing during that span)

  2. I agree totally. I think there is no better way to learn a move then seeing it play out in a tournament format. I have trained in many gyms and the ones with coaches that are active competitors are by far the better gyms. Another point is that Jiujitsu is an ever changing sport so if you do not stay up with what works, then you will easily fall behind. Plus being able to see what kind of dedication and training it takes to compete at the highest level can be a shock to new students who think they can just come in and just compete without all the hard work.

    Plus it will really call out all those purple and blue belts that open gyms. Compete and show that you know what your doing.


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