I compete much more than the average jiu-jitsu practitioner, roughly once a month for the past two years, sometimes more. There is one crucial element to my competition routine that I think a lot of people neglect: I make a point whenever possible to attend local competitions.
When I go to these local competitions, I am not there to become a superstar of the sport. I’m not there to face off against the current rising stars (though you never know who will show up.) When I compete at local competitions, it is a fact-finding mission, and it is an opportunity to exercise a part of myself that I don’t get to exercise in the gym.
To many people, myself included, competitions are innately nerve wracking. I have a hard time sleeping the night before. By the time I step on the mat, I have already wasted my energy on being nervous. However, the more I compete, the less the experience affects me.
I think of competing at local tournaments as being a step down from traveling to bigger competitions to compete, but a step up from training at the gym. When you train at the gym, you cannot fully open up your game. I’ve beaten practitioners who could easily submit me in the gym at competitions because I am willing to injure them if necessary at competitions. Also, when I compete, I try to play to my strengths, whereas when I roll at the gym, I am rolling to improve upon my weaknesses.
Competing at a local tournament gives you an opportunity to take the training wheels off of your game on a more regular basis. I see guys travel cross country and lose in the first round of competitions, and I scratch my head wondering why I didn’t see them at the most recent local competition.
If you want to get good at jiu-jitsu, do lots of jiu-jitsu. If you want to get good at competing in jiu-jitsu, do lots of competing in jiu-jitsu. If you’re an adult with a job, a life and things to do outside of jiu-jitsu, the best way to compete a lot is to follow the local circuit.
Far too often I show up at local events that have been reasonably well-advertised and see tiny turnouts. Everyone wants to go to the bigger national or international circuit tournaments to get those fancy, big, shiny gold medals, but they would rather not waste their time and money at the local tournaments. This may be a mistake.
Attending a local tournament gives you a chance to build up your resistance to the nervousness that you will inevitably experience at the bigger tournaments. If you skip the local tournaments, you will be going in fairly unprepared mentally. Yeah, you can do a lot to get ready in the gym. But at the end of the day, the only way to truly prepare yourself mentally for competition is competing.
The next time a local gym or smaller regional promotion puts on an event close enough to you on a day that you can make it, make a point of showing up. If you attend competitions based on the size and fanciness of the medals they give out, you are competing for the wrong reason. Compete for the experience, because the kind of jiu-jitsu and grappling you will see at competitions is very different from the kinds to which you are normally exposed. Compete to learn about how you handle the stress of competition so that you can begin working on that part of yourself and inoculate yourself from that stress.