Old Man Tips To Take Your Jiu Jitsu Competiton Game To The Next Level

         What’s up everybody? I’ve got another installment of helpful hints to help your jits game get to the next level. So listen up!! Just kidding, you don’t really need to take notes, but I do want to touch on a topic that popped in my head recently when I competed at the ADCC west coast trails in Los Angeles last month.  I lost, again, but we don’t need to bring that up…

         I’ve done quite a bit of competing throughout my Martial Arts career, starting with high school wrestling, then armature boxing, up till my jits comps and I’ve had plenty of time to make common mistakes that I notice young competitors make all the time. Walking around the arena last month, I witnessed a lot of these mistakes. Which lead me to take the time to write this and share from my past success and failures so that maybe it would help you younger or less experienced competitors preemptively address them to help you succeed.

           First of all I am a believer in competing for everyone, even if you feel like you never want to. There is something about the thrill of not knowing who the person across from you is and setting everything on the line at a competition that can never be duplicated in your academy. When you compete there is no tapping and starting over, you tap and you lose. The end. LEARNING TO OVERCOME THAT FEAR OF FINALITY WILL MAKE YOU BETTER!!! I understand that competing isn’t for everyone, and some people don’t want to get hurt or run over by an unknown superstar, but most Jits competitions are handicapped by age and rank, so for the most part, the playing field is even. It’s just like any other day at the gym, except this time it matters. I always recommend my students give competing a try at least once.  The thrill alone will be worth it.

          That being said there are a few tidbits of wisdom old wise Uncle Coach Kevin has picked up over the years that that will help you to excel on the competition mats. So, whether you are a weekend warrior, just wanting the thrill of the experience, or you plan on winning your 5th double gold at the Walter Pyramid, pay attention to the next few paragraphs.

          I compete a lot, especially in big tournaments.  I’ve won a few and I’ve lost a few, and the biggest mistake I consistently see competitors make is not staying relaxed while they wait for their match.  Tournaments are an all day affair, and with the exception of extremely well run events, there is no real timeline for knowing when you will be on the mats.  So find a nice comfortable spot and relax. I constantly see competitors drilling hard, running sprints, or performing whatever elaborate warm up routine they prefer sometimes hours before they compete only to sit back down and cool off again.  All that up and down activity burns your energy reserves and zaps your psychological state to a frenzy.  It should only take 10 minutes to warm up before your match.  Do your best to stay informed about when you are going to be on the mats. Be ready to go on short notice, but don’t blow your wad on the warm up mat hours before you get a chance to compete.  Also try your best not to work yourself up too much before stepping on the mat.  This is a tough one to overcome.  I struggled with it as a newbie.  Get ready, get into fight mode, but don’t become a psychopath!! Remember: adrenaline is the body’s natural defense mechanism, normally reserved for short bursts.  The more hyped you get, the more your heart pumps blood to your muscles, which burns through oxygen levels and glucose. That equals fatigue. Don’t hype yourself up into failure.

          Second is eating habits. This one also correlates to understanding that you might be sitting for hours waiting for your matches.  So make sure you have some snacks squirreled away for the day.  And don’t expect the vendors at the event to have you covered, because a chili dog and some chips isn’t really the power meal you need for success.  Keep it light; fruits and power bars, maybe a sports drink to suck down through the day should do it.  Eat a good breakfast, if you can. If you are cutting weight, have a good meal ready and waiting right after you get off the scale, but make sure you stay simple. That goes for eating the night before as well. If your body isn’t accustomed to certain foods, don’t take a chance on that spicy Thai noodle bowl. You might not process it the way you intended to the next day. 

          Next is something you would think is an automatic, but is very often brushed aside and taken for granted.  Know the rules of the event.  Different tournaments have different rules and scoring structures, so learn them and play by them.  Knowing the rules will help you better understand what you need to do to win.  IBJJF, ADCC, Sub Only, not to mention local events all usually have their own individual twist on scoring, and if you pay attention, sometimes that can be the difference maker. Each rule set has their own road to winning. Plan your strategy accordingly. Trust me: that is what makes champions become champions.  So don’t be that guy that complains about the rules not being what you prefer because someone else played the game better than you. That guy won because he did what was necessary to win.  End of discussion.

         When you know the rules for your upcoming event, train accordingly. If you are preparing for a points match, keep a running tab on the score while you are rolling leading up to your next event and keep going for the win. If someone gets finished, start over from zero and keep going. Your training partner doesn’t need to know what you are doing. Keep the tally in your head.  If you’ve already outpointed your partner, don’t stop! Know how much time is left and push yourself to get the pass on that tough blue belt with 30 seconds left.  Always be visualizing real life, potential circumstances of your upcoming event and recreate them in your rolling sessions. Also for the most part during the weeks leading up to an event your focus should not be on perfecting an awkward ompalata or summersault pass you saw on YouTube last week.  You need to be grinding on your go to techniques so they are on full blast when you need them to be soon. 

         Most importantly: push yourself.  Try not to take that round off and roll with any weaker opponents you out rank or obviously over class. If they ask you, be polite, but tell them you are competing soon and need to work hard. They will understand. If I had to pick one aspect of my training that has helped take my competition game to the next level it is actively finding the toughest guys in the room and asking to roll with them as much as possible.  My head instructor and good friend Matt Arroyo has a saying, “Find that opponent that kicks your butt on a daily basis and thank him everyday for being there to make you better.” Push yourself!!!

            Next is an interesting tip I learned from multiple time world champion Berarndo Faria while having lunch with him after a seminar he hosted at my academy.  He told me a story about how he was sick with the flu once for a week before he competed at the worlds.  His entire pre tournament routine was disrupted and he felt horrible going into the event.  But, instead of dwelling on it, he decided to give it his all and do the best he could.  He ended up winning. He then went on to tell me about previous competitions where everything was prefect.  His training was on point and he felt 100% ready for success.  Then he lost.  The moral behind the two stories is “don’t dwell on how you feel the day of the event.” If you are there, you’ve done enough to deserve to be there, and whether you believe in mind or not, your skills will be ready for you if you let them. All you need to do is perform.   Expending emotional energy on overthinking how you feel is a waste and will only take your mind off of the task at hand.  Keep your eye on the prize and get it done.

          There are tons more topics to consider to improve your competition game that I have left out, but I don’t want this to be too long winded. I’m actually impressed if I managed to hold your attention this long. If I have, consider yourself lucky, because this is the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow.  Competitions are not a display of anything special.  Nothing you will perform during them will be anything more extraordinary than any technique you have hit on the practice mats 20 times before. What makes a competition special is the atmosphere they create; the fear of losing, the hard work put into preparing, not knowing your opponent, and knowing that friends and family will be watching.  That’s what makes completing so special.  It’s the thrill that all these unknown variables builds in the pit of your stomach.  So number one, more than anything else, you need to learn to embrace all of it.  Love that feeling, live for that moment, and make it yours.  Always remember, no matter how afraid of those failures you may be, the feeling of conquering them and wining with be worth every moment of anguish. I promise.

Uncle Coach Kevin

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