How to Structure Your Corner Men for Your BJJ Tournament

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One of the coolest parts of the UFC events is watching the fighters walk from the locker room to the Octagon with a group of corner men walking behind them in full support.

This past weekend, one of my white belt teammates competed at the Rev Gear Open in Huntington Beach, California. He was scheduled to compete at 6 PM, but his bracket did not actually start until 8 PM. By that point, one of our Black Belt instructors who also competed that day had to leave for a birthday party and one of his Blue Belt training partners stepped into the role of cornering him. During his first match, his opponent was holding my training partner in bottom the half guard position and as my training partner went for a loose knee slide pass, his opponent escaped and a scrambled ensued. His opponent shot in on my training partner as he pulled guard and the referee awarded his opponent with 2 points for the take down. My training partner was unaware he was down 2 points. For whatever reason, he thought he was up 2 points and wasn’t aggressive the rest of the match. His teammate who was cornering him never told him he was down 2 points and he was dumbfounded when he lost his match.

As a competitor it is your responsibility to build a support team for your competitions. When the fighters walk to the Octagon flanked by an entourage at a UFC event, each person serves a role from coaching actually coaching to just holding the water and equipment. Setting up a team of corner men is a very beneficial and often overlooked part of competing. Having a coach in place and teammates to aid your coach, hold your equipment, and record your matches can help provide moral support, help prep for your matches, alleviate stress, and make sure that you have all of the proper supplies during your competition.

It is up to you to tell your coaches the date and start time for your event as soon you get your start time. At times, none of your coaches will be available for to coach you. A good alternative to a coach is an upper belt that knows your game. Also, ask one to two other teammates if they can help out and tell them what you will need from them. These roles include, calling out time and score, holding your gym bag with supplies, and recording your matches. If you are the lone competitor, it would be nice to offer to pay the spectator fee for your coach and friends.

Here is an example of a basic three-person support structure I have been a part of at tournaments.

Coach: During your matches, the coach will provide instruction, make you aware of potential moves your opponent is going for and if necessary lobby the referee for calls since competitors aren’t allowed to speak during matches. In-Between matches, the coach will provide feedback, tips and help you maintain your composure. In a round-robin formatted tournament, I lost my first match to an opponent I would face again in my last match of the day. While I was in the bullpen before my  rematch, my coach told me that my opponent will make a tactical error by trying to grab my lapel with his left hand while leading with his left leg. He told me to parry the left hand immediately and shoot under it for a single leg. In the first match, I was lost while on my feet and couldn’t take my opponent down. Within 5 seconds of the start of our second match, my opponent tried to grab my collar with his left hand just like my coach said he would. So I parried his hand and shot in immediately for a take down. Having good coaching during and in-between matches is a major advantage for a competitor.

Score and Time Caller: While the coach is focused on the match, a second person, who understands the rules and scoring system will flank the coach. He will keep an eye on the scoreboard and call out time at 1 minute intervals and the score whenever a change in score takes place. The coach could do both tasks, but the benefit of having this second person, is that it allows the coach to keep his/her focus on the match since positions can change in a split second when the coach turns their head to look at the scoreboard. Having somebody to call time and score is a very critical role. Garry Tonon didn’t have a corner at ADCC when he submitted to Kron Gracie’s rear naked choke with only 3 seconds left in the match. He has stated that if he was aware of the time left on the clock, he would have fought the choke for the last 3 seconds rather than tap. Also, having somebody call out the score is very beneficial in letting the competitor know when he has secured points off a position such as side control off a guard pass so he can then advance to mount or a submission attempt. I have seen competitors transition too quickly off a guard pass and not get awarded the points since they didn’t maintain the position for 3 seconds.

A few months ago, I served as the score and time caller’ for a teammate. He quickly fell behind 6-0 within the first minute of his match. Then he started to rally. I yelled that he was down 6-2 after a sweep. Then I yelled that he was down 6-5 after a guard pass. I was excited and pumped as he scored 2 more points to go ahead 7-6. After his match, he told me that when I yelled that he was ahead 7-6, he felt his opponent break at that point and he was then able to catch his opponent in a submission.

The Videographer/Water Boy/Bag Boy: Being a videographer is an important job. The key duties are to shoot in landscape rather than portrait, make sure the phone is charged, and that you hit the record button on your phone while recording. At tournaments, recording matches can help overturn bad calls by the referees including disqualifications for illegal slams and close calls to end matches. Also, in some cases, the competitor and coach can review matches in-between matches in order to correct technical errors and make quick game plan adjustments. If you have competed before, it is important to have someone who can help carry your gym bag, give you water, and dig out your wallet for your ID while you are warming up. While we would like to think that BJJ is a sport full of honorable people, having somebody that can carry and watch your gym bag for you while you are warming up and competing provides a strong peace of mind and one less thing to worry about on your big day.

At times the ‘Score and Time Caller’ and the ‘Videographer/Water Boy/Bag Boy’ will be the same person, depending on how many friends and teammates are available. Another point to make is that the coach is the lone voice providing instruction during the match. I have seen situations where an enthusiastic group of teammates start yelling moves and instructions during a match that conflict with the coach’s calls. All of the noise and clutter can confuse the competitor and at times cause mental paralysis or lead the competitor to a tactical error. Additionally, yelling instructions over a coach is very disrespectful to the coach.

In closing, this is just one suggestion of how to structure your corner men and support staff when you are competing. Having a great support team can provide a great morale booster, reduce stress, and allow you to focus on being the best you can be on your big day. One of the great lessons, I have learned in BJJ is that while it is an individual sport, it takes a team to make you better and stronger.

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