We recently got an email from one of our readers, Darnell, with a fantastic question about preparing to compete
“Hi, I’ve been doing jiu-jitsu for about 2 years now and cause of work I haven’t been able to focus and train like I want to. My question is, what should I focus on as a white belt to prepare for competitions?”
I will do my best to answer this question based on my experience as a competitor…
For starters, at 2 years as a white belt you’re already somewhat behind the curve but that doesn’t really matter. The sooner you start competing the better. My best advice to a first time competitor is to find a local competition and get out there.
When preparing for competition, the biggest thing is to focus on the moment. Rather than thinking about winning or losing a match, think about winning or losing small battles within the match. Spend time simulating those moments. For example: EVERY match starts standing, so start your rolls standing, and decide where you want to be and put yourself there as quickly as possible. Most white belts who compete don’t know where they want to be and don’t put themselves there and this wastes a ton of energy. Do you want to be on top? Ok good! Work takedowns. Do you want to be in your guard? Ok GOOD! Work guard pulls. Be decisive.
Recognize that you are now going to face off against another human of similar body composition and skill to you, there’s a possibility that you will not be able to implement your preferred game, figure out a secondary game that you can get into. In my case I quickly realized that most people in my area are difficult to take down because we have a lot of wrestlers in the jiu-jitsu community… So I got good at pulling guard quickly.
The objective in competition is to succeed but if your focus is purely on success rather than mitigating inevitable failures your initial foray into competition will be unpleasant. My first few tournaments consisted of me fumbling around and generally failing, but when I started recognizing places that my opponents would allow me to go that presented me options I was able to start finding success.
Using this information, you can start developing gameplans, but the fact is that your chances of success are STILL going to be low. Treat your first few competitions as exercises in trial and error. The most important thing is to not allow yourself to get hurt. Remember in competition, people are more likely to be willing to hurt you, so make sure to roll accordingly. Tap early to joint locks.
As a white belt, focus on developing a good fundamental guard game. If you already have a wrestling or Judo base you can incorporate takedowns and work on safely navigating around the guard. If you feel strongly about the top position but don’t have a base in an art that gives you good takedowns remember you’ll be a white belt at those too, and many of your opponents will not be (afterall wrestlers that come to jiu-jitsu are just white belts…)
The biggest thing to focus on though is remaining calm and trusting your jiu-jitsu. White belts tend of overthink competition. Competition is just grappling without having to worry about the other person’s safety. In the gym you have to take care of your partner, in competition the only person you have to think about protecting is yourself, so in that sense competition is simpler and possibly even easier. Approach competition with this mindset and you should be fine.
These are my thoughts on preparing for your first competition. The biggest thing I’d tell you to do is to take that leap and get out there. And then do it again over and over again until it feels natural and normal.