What Can You Learn From Competing In Jiu-Jitsu?

The closed guard is one of the first guards you’ll learn in BJJ.

Very often, I hear people talk about how important competing is and how you can learn a lot in competition.  I tend to agree that the learning process can greatly benefit from adding competitions into the mix, and I think that it’s important to look at what precisely one can learn from competing.

  1. You learn how your body reacts under stress.  There are so many things that happen involuntarily the first time you compete.  For me, I stiffened right up and it took about four competitions to no longer go out there stiff as a board.  It annoyed me as I started getting better because there was almost nothing I could do.  Also I found out that I fatigue much faster in competition.
  2. You learn how your mind reacts under stress.  When I compete, I process information around me completely differently than I normally do.  I sometimes watch match footage and look at information I processed in one way during the match that looks completely different from an outsider’s perspective.  I also find that when I compete I mentally assign attributes to my opponents which are often completely wrong: I think they’re going to be much stronger or weaker than they are; I think they’ll be heavier or lighter than they are; etc.  My mind does crazy stuff when I compete and the more often I compete the more I learn about what it does.
  3. You learn the efficacy (or lack thereof) of the techniques you’re learning.  So often, “purist” gyms scoff at competition; they feel that because you’re not allowed to strike in competition and are able to put yourself in positions in which you would be prone to getting hit, that the jiu-jitsu of competitions is ineffective.  For me, as much as I may scoff at certain tactics, at the end of the day, unless you’re standing on top of the podium with a gold medal, your tactics and techniques didn’t work and you need to improve upon or add to them.
  4. You learn what it feels like to have another person try to hurt you.  Most people have never experienced ill-intent.  They’ve never had another person try to actually hurt them.  There is something cathartic about being in a dog-eat-dog situation and you’ll never get that in a safe gym environment.
  5. You learn where you’re weakest and where you’re strongest.  In the training room you might think you have a good guard but then find out in competition that your guard sucks.  On the other hand you might not land many arm bars in the training room but arm bar your way to a gold medal in competition.  Competition reveals the truth about your grappling skills.  If you want to be exposed to those truths so that you can use that information to improve yourself, competition is really the only place you can find it.

Competition is by all accounts the best way to assess one’s game honestly.  The better you are at competing, the more information you’ll be able to draw from a day on the mat at competition.  If you haven’t already tried competing, try it.  You might learn something!

For those of you out there who have competed, what have you learned from competing?


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here