Reader Question: “How long should I wait before competing?”

At Jiu Jitsu Times, perhaps the best part of our blog is that we are able to connect directly with the community and provide news and information that may otherwise be unavailable. We also really like taking reader questions!

We recently got a fascinating question that I wanted to touch on:

“How long should I wait before competing?”

This is such a simple question yet the answer can be really complicated!

For starters, you need to know something: you’re probably not going to win your first tournament. In fact, you’re probably not going to win your first 5 tournaments. In fact, you’re probably not going to win any of your first few matches!

The reason I say this so casually is that if you haven’t competed yet, the first time you do you will be so stressed and caught up in your own feelings and thoughts that you will be unable to effectively apply the few techniques you’ve been able to absorb thus far. The more you compete, the less this will be a problem for you.

I’ve watched very tough jiujiteiros crumble under the pressure of competition, and I’ve watched guys who aren’t really very good beat people they normally would be unable to roll successfully against at open mat. The reason for this is that competition is chaotic and emotionally taxing.

I’ll take it a step further: competition isn’t for everyone. I know guys who have attained legitimate rank without ever winning a gold medal. Jiu Jitsu and, more specifically, the quality of your jiu jitsu is not reliant upon competition. However, competition is a possible avenue to challenge yourself and gauge your own progress.

So how long should you wait before competing? Wait until you know how to tap. If you’re still at that new white belt phase where guys are telling you “Hey it’s time for you to tap” you’re probably not ready because when you go out there you don’t want to sustain permanent injury. Once you begin to understand when you’re in trouble, talk to your instructor and ask them if they’re okay with you doing your first competition. And do it. Don’t wimp out.

Personally, I think that a good choice for one’s first few competitions are small local tournaments. Get your feet wet, don’t spend hundreds or thousands of dollars to travel stay somewhere and compete. Once you’ve gotten to the point where you’re no longer crapping your pants as you walk in the door, do a bigger tournament if it’s available to you, and from there work your way up.

I started training seriously as a white belt in 2011, and did my first competition in December of 2011. Including my first competition I did a total of 8 competitions between 2011 and the end of 2014, earning a total of 4 gold medals (2 of which were at a single tournament at the end of 2014.)  I didn’t bring home my first gold medal until May of 2013.  In 2015 I competed in 12 competitions, and brought home 13 gold medals. The point I’m making is that the more you compete the better you do, so if you want to be a competitor start early and compete often.

For those of you out there who compete, what do you think of my assessment? Is there anything you’d add? Any words of wisdom our fellow jiujiteiro?


  1. I competed after 6 months of training and lost both my fights that day. It was a brilliant learning experience and showed me some parts of my game that needed improvement. I say go for it once you have a basic understanding of positions and points. Even if you loose it is an excellent way to learn and improve.

  2. I competed after 8 1/2 months at an IBJJF tournament and took silver and represented well in the gold match. Aim small miss small; my goals were to train and prepare without injury, get through the tournament without injury and advance my skills. I figured if I won I would learn something and if I lost I would still learn an incredible amount about BJJ. I learned so much not just at the tournament, but in the training and physical preparation before. The entire process creates growth and you come out of the other end of the tournament better, not just in BJJ, but in fitness, diet, mental prep and commitment because life is going to happen to you while you prepare. I believe the competitions, though not for everyone, reinforce the warrior mindset and give you confidence in your mental fortitude, win or lose.

  3. I just recently competed for the very first time (at NAGA) after 2 and 1/2 months on mat and I did pretty well in my first round, I didn’t get submitted, and I had good movement, but I got destroyed on points. The second match I got submitted via Arm Bar. I had a great time, kept calm, and didn’t panic on the mat. I am proud of myself for rolling honorably and for remaining completely calm and not spazzing out. Am I great at Jiu Jitsu after only 3 months on the mat? No! I’m not even okay at Jiu Jitsu. will I compete again? You bet. I’ll keep going. I had fun and now I know even more that I need to work on. “Did you win? Good. Now get back on the mat. Did you lose? Even better. Get back on the mat, now you know what you need to work on.”

  4. I’m a white belt with about 8 months of training and competed 3 times within the first 6 months. My advice would be to anyone just jump straight in at the earliest opportunity. Whether or not you win your actual match there is a sense of winning just by stepping up to the mat and participating in something most of the population will only ever be a spectator too. The value that comes from the competition mindset leading up to a competition I think is worth more than an actual win on the day. When you commit to a competition and there is a date on your calendar approaching you know you have to be ready for, it brings a sense of focus, intensity and purpose not just to your training but almost across your whole life. Suddenly you have a reason to put that little bit more into your training on the mat, your fitness regime off the mat, your diet and nutrition, you become more driven in everything you do to improve as an athlete. It is worth competing just to experience that day to day living in the competition mindset in the lead-up to the actual day. The sense of excitement and adrenaline rush on the day is an incredible feeling. I would say the sooner you jump in the better really as the longer you leave it the more you will build up an anxiety around it.


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