The Difference Between a Hobbyist and a Competitor

As I gain “time in” on the mat, I have begun to learn a bit about the pressures we put ourselves under.  There are some really interesting dynamics that happen on the mat, and a big one that I see a lot is the interplay between the non-competitor/hobbyist and the competitor.  I personally don’t define a competitor as merely someone who competes, but rather someone who competes as often as they can and trains with competition in mind.  It’s a subtle but crucial difference.

People can be very hard on themselves when it comes to lower ranked competitors.  Competitors will always roll at a higher level because they are setting definite goals.  Their goal isn’t to “get better at jiu-jitsu” but to defeat all of their opponents at the next IBJJF Open or to make a loud enough statement on the competition scene to be considered for the upcoming Fight to Win Pro event, or some other definite, concrete goal.

There is some inherent responsibility on the competitor’s part to respect the hobbyist.  When I roll with another competitor, I take submissions faster and with a lot more “intent.”  I’m not trying to injure them, but I am trying to sharpen my skills and get to the point where my opponents have no choice but to tap at competition.

On the other hand, when I roll with someone I know is a hobbyist, if I play offense (which I don’t always do) I hold the submissions rather than crank them.  I let my partner decide when to tap rather than deciding for them.  I also do my best to avoid neck cranks and instead focus on applying a perfect choke.  I will even ask the training partner mid choke if I am cranking or choking. If they inform me I am cranking, I will reset or release the submission.

I’d say that a very small fraction of jiu-jitsu practitioners are competitors, and those of us who do compete need to find ways to get something out of rolling with those who do not.  We also need to find a way to ensure that our training partners benefit from rolling with us.  I know that if I go 100% on a non-competitor, there’s a good chance that roll will be to their detriment.  Even if they don’t get hurt, they won’t feel good after the roll.

Another thing to remember and respect is that a solid competitor will often be a better grappler than many practitioners who outrank them.  This again brings about a two-way street of respect and consideration.  If a lower ranked competitor is going against a higher ranked hobbyist, the competitor should remember that the hobbyist may not know what they’re in for.  On the other side of things, when the hobbyist realizes that they are rolling with a better grappler, it is their responsibility to respect the other person’s grappling abilities and not become prideful because of belt colors.

Always be mindful of the grappling level of your training partners.  You can get something out of every roll, and you can give something back in every roll. However, in order to benefit most and to be most beneficial, you must also tailor your training to your training partner.



  1. I have trained and studied martial and fighting arts for 40 plus years. I have more than my share of wins, medals, trophies, and my name in the magazines when I fought and competed. My point is that some of what I learned and some of the skills I was able to refine were developed against lesser opponents. This in turn made me better and more effective against those of similar skill and caliber that I fought or competed against later. That and there is no glory in severely besting or beating a lower or lesser experienced person or one that is there for recreation purposes. Then you are nothing but a bully who knows and trains in martial or fighting arts. Instead you challenge them while helping them to learn and improve and keep it on a learning level for them to improve in their knowledge and skill and for yourself as well.

  2. Makes perfect sense. How about going in the opposite direction: you are a higher ranked belt sparring with lower rank competitor. As a hobbyist training regularly and competing locally, you have to find a fine line where you are putting in enough effort in a roll as you can, but hold off on cranking submissions or “trying new passes/take downs on the fly” which could potentially injure the competitors. On the one hand you don’t want to disappoint the competitors with a less than 100% roll, and on the other you don’t want to do something like cause a over hyper extension or “tweaked joint” keeping them from competition.


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