Confession time: I hate competing in jiu-jitsu tournaments. I hate the anxiety that builds up during the weeks before I fight, I hate the feeling of being disappointed in myself when I don’t do as well as I’d hoped, and I hate looking back and knowing what I should have done differently.
Despite all this, I still sign up for every tournament I can.
Honestly, part of me doesn’t know. Logically speaking, it’s not smart to spend a ton of cash to do something you can’t stand. If someone told you they were going to watch a movie that they already saw and absolutely loathed, you’d call them crazy.
But for those of us who hate competing and do it anyway, it’s standard practice. In fact, I’d even go so far as to recommend it.
If you look past the stress and crippling next-day soreness, it becomes easier to see the benefits that come with competing in jiu-jitsu. The most obvious one is that it allows you to test what you’ve learned in class and see just how well you perform those techniques under pressure. Win or lose, it’s great motivation to keep coming to class knowing what you have to improve on next time you step into your gym. Just as a test in school examines your knowledge, a tournament puts a magnifying glass over the work you’ve put in during your weekly training sessions.
In some academies, competing is actually necessary if you want to belt up. Many instructors see competition as an integral part of their students’ jiu-jitsu educations, and they argue that those who choose to stay on the sidelines at tournaments aren’t participating in a crucial part of the BJJ journey. If your ultimate goal is to become a black belt, competing might not just be beneficial; it might be required.
Personally, these reasons aren’t nearly as important to me as the real reason I compete: I hate it, and therefore I know that I need to do it.
Jiu-jitsu is the art of being uncomfortable, and few things make me more uncomfortable than testing my skills in front of an audience who I worry will see me as a joke by the time the clock runs out. Competing is physically demanding, sure, but the real challenge is getting past the mental blocks that threaten your success not only while you’re fighting, but throughout your whole jiu-jitsu career.
Just like in class when someone is ruining your life with their stellar knee-on-belly, competing makes you ask yourself if your level of discomfort is enough to make you quit. When you were a brand new white belt, you might have tapped a few times to pressure, but with time and experience, you learned how to put mind over matter and fight through it. In a tournament, you’re going to feel that pressure physically, mentally, and emotionally, and once again, you’re going to be faced with the decision to either defeat it or let it defeat you.
You don’t have to compete to be good at jiu-jitsu, but the mental strength that it builds will help you both inside and outside the gym. Even if – no, especially if – you hate going to tournaments because of how much they stress you out, you should do it anyway. Whether or not you make the podium, you’re going to feel so much better knowing that you had the option to take the easy road and instead opted for the harder one that would make you a tougher fighter and person. The “before” and “during” portions of competing might suck, but the “after” is going to make it all worthwhile.
It goes without saying that not everyone is physically able to compete due to money, time, or physical conditions, but if you have the resources, it would be a shame to waste them. The next time a tournament comes around, don’t sit there staring at the registration page on your screen – just sign up. Not only will you get the added motivation and invaluable learning experience that comes with rolling in a tournament, but you’ll also discover that you’re stronger than your fears.