Reading Dev’s latest post really got me thinking again about competition. I wrote a rather longwinded article on this very subject almost two years ago (holy crap! I’ve been blogging for THAT LONG??). In that article, I gave five reasons that I believe competition is important to one’s BJJ training, even if I hate doing it:
1: Competing forces me to address my conditioning. I had three matches in February and was more gassed than I have ever been. The pace is higher, and the adrenaline and anxiety cause fatigue. I have to be in shape.
2: Competing forces me to address my diet. In competition, there are weight classes. While I walk around at 184 lbs and compete at around that same weight, I want to be healthy and have enough energy to get me through. Others drop weight, and there are good and bad ways to do that. Either way, competition forces my hand. I don’t drink as much beer in the weeks leading to a competition. I try to eat less sugar and am just more mindful of my diet.
3: I learned more about myself in one day on the mats, and in watching my videos from those matches, than I had in the 3 months prior. I saw gaping holes in my game, areas that were exploited. Areas to improve.
4: I also saw things that I do well. Who knew?
5: I gained confidence in my training and my ability. BJJ is so hard on the ego. So much of our time is spent on the wrong side of a submission. So many reps before a technique works. So much time being stacked up, passed, choked or hyperextended. Add to this that as we get better, our classmates are also improving. That blue belt who kicks your butt will likely continue to do so. As you improve, he does as well. Granted, we all learn at different rates, but this phenomenon can obscure our own development. In a competition, you roll with people who don’t know your game. The difference is like Night and Day.
Since I posted this list above, I’ve gained a slightly different perspective. I still believe that all of these points are true, and Dev also articulates very well the points in favor of competition. I did, however, immediately react to Dev’s comment that, “… in thinking about this[article], I started by listing the reasons you WOULDN’T do tournaments. And I got nowhere. Aside from the dreaded PRINCIPLE, I can’t think of a really good reason to not give it the old college try, at least once.” Why not, indeed? Like Dev, I mulled over why one might opt not to compete and came up with a short list of reasons. While they’re all simply my opinion, some are legit reasons not to compete at all. Some are reasons why one might choose not to compete regularly.
1: I’m putting this first because this is what I consider to be the best reason to not compete: it negatively impacts your training in any way. Whether mental or physical, legitimate or not, if you get so worked up at the idea of competing that you begin to actually NOT want to go to class, you shouldn’t compete. I’ve actually seen this happen.
I’ve said many times that I’m in this for the long haul. I’m not concerned with getting good at BJJ quickly. Hell, if I’m being honest, I’d LIKE to get better, but I’m not all that concerned with getting good at BJJ at all. My number one concern is to be training in BJJ when I’m 60 or even 70. THAT’S my number one goal. This isn’t a sprint for me; it’s a marathon.
So, if you are like me, and competition adversely affects the training in some way, I don’t see it as being necessary. Bottom line for me is this: if I had to choose now between being a Mundial champ but have to quit training at 45 or still be a blue belt while training at 65, the choice would be very easy. I’d much rather be a crappy, 65 year old blue belt still training three times each week.
2: Professional considerations. Simply put, I think the most obvious reason to avoid competing has to do with income. If I get injured and will be forced to miss work, I’m lucky enough to have medical leave. Not everyone can say the same. There are many people who work on an hourly rate and will stand to lose income if they miss work. BJJ being what it is, there is always the possibility of injury. In class, however, this is less likely than in competition. At class, I know my training partners and, if necessary, can avoid rolling with Spazzy McEyeGouge, the 210 lbs wrecking ball.
3: Insurance. This is related to the second point, but not everyone has medical insurance, at least not here in the States. While I’ve seen many tournaments that went without any serious injury, I’ve also been to some where I’ve seen some pretty serious stuff. I’ve seen a broken forearm occur when someone tried to catch himself on a takedown. I’ve seen dislocated shoulders, blown out knees and all sorts of stuff that just make me cringe. While I presume that grappling tournaments are insured, I honestly don’t know. Until writing this, it hadn’t occurred to me to ask.
4: Other Medical Considerations: I know that my back can be unpredictable. I feel great for a while and then I can barely walk for a week. While I’m doing everything I can to mitigate this, I can easily foresee a time when I’m going to realize that the increased pace of competition just does more harm than good. I know I’m not alone.
Of course, competition is optional, but I largely agree with Dev. Most people really should try it once. But it’s up to you.
I think it’s critical is that every school have an active competition team. On a more macro level, the competitions help keep things consistent, and if your school participates, you will all know that the belt rankings are roughly on par with those in other regional schools.
On a personal level, though, competition is really just one aspect of a much larger sport. Ultimately, if competing diminishes this for you in some way, I completely understand not doing it.