Home / Articles / To Compete Or Not To Compete, That Is the Question


by BJA instructor James Kodzis

A common dilemma faced by many martial artists is the decision of whether or not to participate in competitions. Students may ask themselves if involvement in tournaments will enhance their overall progress. Students often ask: “Will competing make me better at Jiu-Jitsu?”

The question is not exclusive to Jiu-jitsu students. Substitute Jiu-jitsu with Karate, Judo, Boxing or any other system and the question remains.

The reason a person becomes involved in jiu-jitsu or any martial art, may shed some light on the answer. For some, knowledge of self defense techniques is the motivating factor. For others, it is physical fitness, camaraderie, or overall well being that draws them to train. A student should consider their personal goals when deciding if the tournament avenue is beneficial for them.

Becoming involved in competition is often a means to express an individual’s personal competitive nature. As the student advances he or she may seek an opportunity to test their skills or prove their prowess in a competitive arena. Some may feel that competing lends credibility or validity to their martial arts abilities.

This is a decision that should not be taken lightly and one of the first variables that should be considered is that of “Risk vs. Reward”.

There are substantial benefits that can be had from competition. These include the ability to push yourself against an opponent whom you do not regularly train with.

Competition also presents an opportunity for personal growth. Putting yourself in the arena for all to see can test both your skill and nerve. It will usually take some repetition to become more confident.Like anything else, the earlier you start and the more you do it, the easier it becomes.

Regular performance under pressure can be extremely beneficial to a student’s ability to apply the techniques learned in a controlled environment to a real confrontation.

Perhaps the greatest benefit from competition can be found in the training involved in preparing for the event. Due to the considerable intense training that should go into preparing for a competition; students will often make significant improvements that, competition aside, will make them better.

These benefits have to be weighed against some of the unfortunate drawbacks that can accompany competition. Most notably is the possibility of injury. Most accomplished individuals in combat related sports will agree that, if you compete long enough, you will get injured. The likelihood of injury is high, due to the intensity of the training involved in preparation.

It is a common belief that; if you are more than eighty percent healthy on game day, you are ahead of the curve. If not done carefully, injuries acquired during competition or while training for one may sideline you and prove counterproductive to your overall progress.

Should you decide that competition would benefit your training there are several things to keep in mind. In most combat sport events, with the exceptions of a “draw” and “no contest”, when all is said and done, there is one person declared the winner and one declared the loser. Therefore, the unfortunate reality is that fifty percent of all the contestants will loose their first match. This can be very disappointing depending on your personality and the amount of training time that preceded the event. If there is a silver lining to a loss, it is that a student truly learns more (much more) from a loss than from a win.
Obviously a positive mind set is an absolute necessity to success in competition. However, it is important to enter the event with the understanding that; it was the hard work that went into preparing for the event that was the real benefit.

An unfortunate reality of competition is the presence of the “sand bagger” or someone who enters a division that they are clearly overqualified for. The goal of this is to collect trophies, the byproduct is an unfair circus which may discourage a student who was “on the fence” about entering an event from ever doing it again. If you have been on the wrong end of this, the good news is that anyone who competes regularly has been too.

If you have “sand bagged” in the past or are a coach or promoter who allows it, I strongly recommend against it. If you do it, you will not test yourself or learn anything. If you allow it, you deter people who desire fair competition from your venue.

The basic rules regarding grappling tournaments vary from venue to venue however there are some guidelines that are somewhat standard. Divisions are typically broken down by Gi or No Gi, gender, skill level, age and weight.

The objective of the match is simple. Submit your opponent utilizing legal holds or score more points in the allotted time. Points are scored by take downs, reversals / sweeps and obtaining superior positions such as back mount, mount and side control. In the event of a tie score, a victor may be declared based on advantages earned by submission attempts. If the match remains even a referee’s decision is used.

Should you decide that competition is not for you at this point on your journey there are other avenues that are available to continue to push your learning.

Seminars, guest instructors, private lessons, in-school or inter-school randori provide excellent opportunities to train with different instructors and students. Loyalty to a coach or school is good but be wary of instructors who claim to be experts in everything or discourage interaction with other clubs or disciplines.

With that being said, choosing the right coach is by far the most important decision you will make in your martial arts career. A coach who has sufficient knowledge and your best interest in mind is a necessity. Some instructors are extremely successful competitors but that is not the most important factor. Although competence in the discipline is crucial; the ability to safely impart the knowledge they have to the student is paramount.

If your goal in training Jiu-Jitsu is becoming proficient in self defense. Keep in mind that “grappling only tournaments” prepare you for only specific aspects of a real altercation. For reasonable competency in a street situation all aspects of self defense must be studied. Be certain that your coach/club is well rounded and affords the opportunity to master all aspects of whatever style of martial art you choose.

In summary, the decision to compete should be a personal decision based on the individual student’s personal goals. This decision should not be arrived at in a haphazard manner but only after considerable self reflection and preparation.

The student and coach should thoroughly discuss both the positive and negative possibilities and base their decision upon the students personal goals and objectives.

No matter what style of martial art you choose and if you choose to compete or not; we at BJA wish you nothing but the best. Good luck and train hard! We hope to see you on the mat.

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One Comment

  1. Jim:

    Great article… one of the best I’ve seen about competition. Well done!