Writing about competing is something that I’ve wanted to do for a while. It's something I feel passionate about.
My coach lent me a booked called ‘The Fighters Mind” by Sam Sheridan. I was hoping that it would shed some light on why we fight and take part in competition. It did a little, but since reading it 3 years ago, I’ve been making my own observations from what has come from my own experience of fighting in competition, and watching others.
They say that around 5% of the Jiu Jitsu gym will take part in competing regularly and the other 95% are fine with the regular training, and using it for fitness and socialising. I’m one of the 5%.
I started competing in kickboxing, but once I was introduced to Jiu Jitsu, I shy’d away from it as I was totally hooked on this truly complicated sport.
One lesson per week, soon turned in to two, then 3, then I was training at other gyms to get a little bit more of a fix. I had no idea what to do in sparring, but just rolled with it, made tonnes of mistakes and learned from them…. Eventually!
Eight years on, I’m still competing regularly and still love putting myself through the intense pressure of nerves that never seem to go away, distractions, weight loss, organising travel, accommodation, adventures of foreign lands and of course the intense training that is a huge part of it.
Thankfully I’ve never had huge gaps in my training (I’m touching wood that I haven’t jinxed myself), and only had a week or two off here and there, either to rest, or personal things going on.
Personal things come up all the time for us. It’s rare when a gym has full time athletes that can dedicate 100% of their time to training. So pretty much all of us have a job and a life outside of Jiu Jitsu.
Getting a good balance for work, life and Jiu Jitsu is key to having happiness. A friend of mine has two children and works full time, then travels 2 hours round trip to training, so she can’t always make the classes so books 1-2-1 sessions with her coach. When he’s not available, she can’t train. Then life sucks!
My first competition was about 6 months after I started training in Jiu Jitsu. I did one class per week for a couple of months, wasn’t really getting anywhere, so ditched Muay Thai and then added in some private session with my friend and our coach. I had no idea of the scoring system, I wasn’t overly sure about what I was even meant to do in the match, I just wanted to fight. I know that I sparred in every class, but it wasn’t enough.
What did I expect from this competition? Nothing. I’m a curious person and just want to go and see what it was all about. I probably should have watched first, but in 2011, there weren’t as many competitions around then as there are now. So I wasn’t sure when I’d be able to try again.
The competition was the English Open. I lost. I got stuck in the girls guard for 5 minutes and I didn’t know a way out. She won by decision.
I went in to the repercharge and lost again. I got stuck in half guard and didn’t know how to get out. I wasn’t bothered as I went there for the experience. But something happened in training the following week. I felt better, but I wasn’t sure what had happened or why.
The following February I went to Brazil. It had been a life long dream of mine to visit Fos du Iguaçu. I managed to get a little training in while I was in Rio, and once I returned, I took part in a No Gi competition called ‘Go to the Ground’. I won my first match by points, but lost the final by points. I was buzzing and couldn’t wait to compete again.
Seven years on, my competitions seem to be further afield than London, Suffolk or Kent. I have to take the time to travel, make weight (as I walk around on the cusp of featherweight) and try and stay as injury free as possible.
By no means am I a natural competitor. What I mean by this is that I’m one of those people who has to work extra hard. I don’t mind, I enjoy the challenge.
I set myself goals and I work my arse off to achieve them. One thing I do struggle with is my mind. Focus, mind set and belief in my skills and training often let me down. I have written about this is the past, so I often work on this with a mind coach. I couldn’t recommend this enough if you’re anything like me.
There are plenty of people out there who are natural competitors and can always find that fire in their belly, or even a little aggression, belief and determination to win.
I have a friend who used to train with us, but she moved to Wales. We started Jiu Jitsu about the same time, but there was something different about her. She has the want to win. As a Mixed Martial Artist who had an undefeated amateur record of 6-0, she stepped up to pro and started off strong again winning, but then took a loss. I don’t think I’ve ever known someone to analyse a fight so much and come back so strong afterwards and win her next 2 fights. My friend is a natural competitor. She has the natural determination, skill and ability to put all of her effort in to training hard and getting the win. I guess some people just don’t like losing.
There have been plenty of Jiu Jitsu matches that I have lost, and most have boiled down to me not being, in my opinion, a natural competitor. Being in the right frame of mind, believing in myself and my ability to get the job done are all key to winning a match. There have been matches that I have won, but I know that I could do more to become better. Perhaps I didn’t take more chances because I was afraid of giving up a dominant position? Maybe I stuck to a winning formula that was simple and I knew that I could excecute it well and get the finish? Aren’t we meant to go out there and perform? No, you’re meant to go out there and win.
When you start competing, you may be lucky enough to have a competition class, but if not, sparring is your only way of preparing yourself.
You may be lucky enough to have a coach at the mat side for you, but as you go up the ranks, travel around, it’s more than likely that you wont have anyone to coach you. You do make a lot of friends when you travel and compete, so there is often someone there at the side of the mat to shout encouragement, or how much time you have left.
I would personally recommend trying a competition at least once on your jiu jitsu journey. It’s a great indication of how the art works. Competing against someone who you’ve never met or trained with before, is a huge test. Regular training partners have the same game that changes every so often. When you spar with them, you know what to expect, so the roll becomes the same with every roll. Until one of you learns something new and takes a little risk.
Why do I compete? It's an absolute buzz when you get it right, but sucks when you don't. Even when you don't get it right, or are just simply out classed, you learn.
Competing is not for everyone though. I’ve learned this in my observations over the years and anxiety is a huge burden for some, and can stop anyone from even thinking about a competition. I previously wrote about training with anxiety, and it sucks.
I came from a team that was very well set in the competition way of training, and when I joined my current team, I remember my coach telling me to calm the training down a bit. I thought that we had to train hard in each class, but he taught be that it was about technique. Slowing the pace down will increase your chances of absorbing the details.
Sparring was different, but thankfully we don’t have any douchebags in our gym who go crazy and want to kill us with their supersonic strength and speed.
One thing I do know, is that when you sign up for a competition, you must make sure you have these;
Plenty of training and sparring. At least 3-4 hours per week of sparring. How can you expect to win a match if you don’t spar?
Knowledge of the scoring system. Ideally book yourself on to a referee course, the UKBJJA run these all over the country a few times per year. It’s the perfect way to understand the rules. Failing that, simply read the RULE BOOK!
A healthy body. Eat well and you’ll train well. Eat crap and you’ll train crap.
A positive mind. Going in to a competition saying to yourself that your opponent is better than you or you’re going to lose, well guess what? You’ll do just that! Believe in yourself that you’ve got this!
Good Sports(wo)manship. Be humble in victory and gracious in defeat.
Embrace the grind.Work hard in training and put everything you’ve got in to it. You may have to forfeit Friday nights down the pub for a while
Be 100%.Going in to a competition half hearted is not going to get you the win. You have to want it and put 100% in. Give it your all. So all of the above.
Enjoy it.It’s fun. But remember, don’t compete for anyone else, do it for you. This is your goal, your achievement, but it’s your team who help you get there.
Why do I compete? Apart from the buzz, I feel the healthiest in my body, mind and soul. I skip late night parties for training in a sweaty gym, so that I can maintain my fight weight and enhance my skill level.
I compete because I'm a goal setter and an achiever. It feels great when I reach it.