3 Dec 2009

Some thoughts on BJJ competitions

Attempting a triangle at Kent BJJ Open

This time last year I decided it was high time I tried to step up my BJJ level. I saw two things I needed to do in order to do this: give up my Trad JJ training, and compete at BJJ tournaments.

It was a tough decision as I really enjoyed running my club, but if I was honest, my heart was always heading towards BJJ. Looking back now, I don't regret my choice. The competitions I have entered have been a thoroughly enjoyable introduction to the sport side of BJJ, and I think I have really benefited from the experience. So much so, that I have decided to enter one of the most prestigious tournaments in the world - the European Championships in Lisbon.

The Europeans
My instructor, Nick, is a multiple gold medal winner at the Europeans. Earlier this year he won gold at brown belt level and he tells me it is well worth attending. A lot of the big star name black belts fly from USA or Brazil to compete in Lisbon. Like all other IBJJF comps, there is no prize money, just the honour, so it must be important if they deem it worthy enough to fly over. For us lower ranked guys, it is probably the biggest event we'll ever do. With over 1,000 competitors, spread over four days, it sure will be overwhelming.

Why compete?
Here is an interesting observation I've made about competition philosophy. Some clubs are incredibly competition focused. They bring huge teams to events and every match is an epic battle. In these clubs, tournament success can influence the speed with which one can progress through the ranks. The downside I would imagine is that if you don't like competing, then you are going to feel a bit left out, or pressured or have your progress slowed.

At our club, Nick always says, if you want to compete, fine if you don't its no problem. And that's pretty much all he has to say on the matter. I've not seen him treat anyone any different whether they are a competitor or not. Once you do sign up however, competition training is taken very seriously - with lots of hard sparring and conditioning. I would like to say I'm looking forward to punishing my body in preparation towards the Euros, but, erm...well moving on...

I think entering competitions is a very personal choice. Before this year I simply did not feel I was competent enough to compete. But something changed and I felt now was the right time.

I enjoy the buzz of the tournament, meeting lots of new and familiar faces, the camaraderie of the team, the joy of winning, the bummer of losing. It's all fun, and I don't take it too seriously. Some people do, but not me. Maybe if I was a 21 year old blue belt desperate to make a name for myself, maybe I would have a different attitude.

Matside coaching
One of the things I've noticed at tournaments are the different approaches to matside coaching - or 'cornering' as some like to say. Some teams have their main instructor screaming until their veins pop out. Some, like our academy, take a more laid back approach. My training buddy Dan once told me, of all the comps he's entered (over a dozen by my count) he received just one piece of coaching from Nick, and it was a non-verbal gesturing of the arms to get Dan to move his butt or soemthing. However, to be fair, Nick was probably reffing another match at the time!

I know which cornering approach I prefer. When I am in the thick of it on the mat, I find the shouty approach really nagging and actually distracting. But calm, constructive and timely instructions from the side, spoken in a reassuring manner is massively helpful. Daniel for example helped me a lot when I competed at Kent. I would not have seen the triangle opportunity (as per pic above) until he mentioned it at the time and Dominique telling me calmy the amount of time I had left helped me calculate whether I should make my next move (I didn't as with only 45 seconds left I stayed in his guard and held my points advantage).

Another benefit to the calm and not too shouty approach of cornering is that most times, you are left to your own devices to figure things out. And at the really big events, like the Europeans for example, your coach is not allowed next to the mat. It is just you and your opponent (and officials). Sure he can yell from the audience, but that may be tens of metres away. So having some experience of competing without being spoonfed directions I think is useful.

Well, we'll see come January I guess!

In the meantime, I would like to wish good luck to the small but plucky band of team mates who will be entering the Hereford BJJ Open this Sunday and the World Pro BJJ Cup trials, the following weekend.

About the Author


Author & Artist

Meerkatsu is the artist name for BJJ black belt Seymour Yang.


David Onuma - Combined Fighting Systems said...

Hey Meerkatsu

Great read as usual and very interesting topic.

The value/topic of competing is always an issue that will attract different views and at different times

A large part of my 'day job' requires me to always look at both sides of the coin in analsing any situation and sometimes it can be so complex, the coin appears to have 3 sides!!

I will start by saying that so far as BJJ is concerned, you do not have to compete to be promoted. Everyone knows this but you cannot ignore the value attached to it especially in ths day and age.

Lets say for example, you rise through the ranks and start to teach whether it be as a blue belt or purple belt coach and your students have some interest in competing themselves. Do you think that you would be able to properly prepare them for competition if you have no 1st hand experience of it yourself?

If you look at the majority of BJJ instructionals out there, they are mostly produced by former or current nationally or internationally recognised competitors. Now I am not so naive as to suggest that only the best fighter can teach, because that is far from the truth, but if you are going into 'battle' surely you would favour the advice of a veteran over a 'rookie'. Again it is not to say that the rookie cannot help you at all, but again you must measure his value.

As you know, I recently posted a thread on the EFN forum and on my blog regarding 'How many Black belts have you trained with'. When I look back through my list, every single one has competed. That obviously says something!

When BJJ first began to feature in the UK maybe 12 or so years ago, it was noticeable that all those who got involved in it were already training some kind of martial arts already but now, there is a whole new generation of BJJ players who have never done anything else before.

The significance of this development is that competitions now have more youngsters competing which is just the way it should be. Having said that, the 'old' crew (of which I am very much part of ) don't tend to compete so much unless of course you happen to be Nick Brooks :)

I guess where I am leading to is this. I have fought at every belt (except white as I was already a Blue before the first UK tourney). Like most BJJ players I would like to get to Black Belt level but to be honest if I had never competed and got my Black Belt, I just wouldn't feel right about it. Never to have tested myself in competiton and wear that belt...nooooo. I just couldn't do it. When I get my Black - I wil fight too, whatever happens. Look at the Example that people like Rick Young and Jude Samuel have set - Outstanding!

Plainly, there will always be a legitimate reason why you cannot compete, maybe through injury or soemthing else, but for the most part I think that to get to higher belts particularly Brown and Black and you have never competed, you will be talked about whether you like it or not and whether you care or not.

Winning is great, but you are certainly a loser if you have never fought.

Meerkatsu said...

Exceptional words of wisdom from David, many thanks for sharing them with me. I agree totally with what you say.

Two Seperate Gorillas said...

Even as a non-BJJer I'd agree with David's comments. You don't have to focus on competition and you don't have to be a winner, but if you don't do any kind of randori you're missing something crucial. And ultimately competition is a special case of randori - with more pressure and a complete stranger to fight.

Given that I'm mostly interested in the self-defence side of martial arts, what interests me is the debate about the relative merits for self-defence of 'modern' sparring-based training and 'traditional' paired kata-type training. I put those words in inverted commas because plenty of traditional martial artists spar and any combat sport instructor will spend a certain amount of time drilling techniques in a compliant way so that you can learn them.

When the combat sport guys say 'you can't fight if you don't spar' it's pretty hard to argue against that. However the counter-argument that a real self-defence situation has no rules (and anyway doesn't necessarily take the form of a toe-to-toe street-fight) is equally compelling.

It seems to me that there's no way to practice real fighting - as soon as you slow it down or introduce rules (even as minimal as 'the fight is one-on-one, and starts and finishes when the ref says so') it's not 'real'; if you have no rules at all it's not practice.

Because the big difference is 'you could get killed or maimed' - it would be perverse in the extreme to expose yourself to that kind of risk in the name of self-protection.

So you have to compartmentalise - practice full-resistance, practice against multiple attackers, practice full contact strikes and practice vicious street-oriented counter-attacks, but don't practice them all at the same time.

To put it more succinctly, why does it have to be 'either/ or'? Why can't it be 'both/ and'?

Obviously the ratio of live-to-kata training is going to vary from art to art and club to club, but if you have a reasonable balance between the two you can have the best of both worlds.

That's why I've made an effort lately to compete more in both Trad JJ and Eskrima - even though it's a bit scary and I'm not the fittest or the youngest guy on the block, it teaches me something about adrenaline and about my ability to put the 712 techniques in my repetoire into practice when I don't know what's coming and the other guy isn't standing around waiting for me.

I realise I've gone off on a tangent here but that's what this post made me think about.

Best of luck for Lisbon. Your occasional visits to the alma mater are always a pleasure.

TFP said...

Best of luck Seymour and make sure you Blog all the preparation and thoughts like I did for the Scandinavian Open..........

I was up for doing this comp, but I have other travel plans lined up later in the Spring, so concentrating on that for the time being, will let you know nearer the time.............

Matt said...

I have something to say about matside coaching!
I am a big, big proponent of it, as long as the person coaching doesn't directly interfere or try to influence the referee in any way.
I can't tell you the amount of times when, lost in the deepest, darkest parts of a match, body burning, mind flip flopping with doubt, muscles tiring, I heard the raspy voice of my instructor yelling out where to put my hand or how to escape. It not only helps you in the fight, it also strengthens the bond between you and your instructor.

That's not to say it's the only way to bond; I'm sure you guys are a tight as anything with Nick. I'm only talking about my own personal experience.

I recently took a friend to compete at the British Open, and it was his first ever grappling comp, after only a couple of months training.

I yelled my lungs out all through the match, and he listened and followed. The credit all goes to him, but I definitely helped him out of a couple of sticky situations, and that felt great.

Good luck in the Europeans! I hope to come next year.

Julia Johansen said...

Thanks for posting this!

I personally decided to start going to tournaments because I want more women represented at tournaments. Call it the idealist in me. Even if I'm going and getting gold medals for attendance, it means one more woman at the tournaments. I also decided to go to support my team.

I'm hoping that after class sometime I can see if someone will do matside coaching with me and see if it will help. I haven't done it yet, but it seems very cool.


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