Coach Christian and Junny Ocasio recently competed at a bjj and grappling tournament in upstate New York and took home a bunch of medals to our gym in NYC. Junny’s been working super hard, and as we all know, Christian’s been competing a lot this season. Congrats to them both!

I wanted to take this opportunity to focus in on competition and how competing makes us better grapplers.

Every time I’ve trained for competition, it always feels like there’s a huge jump in the level of my game right after I compete. Many other grapplers I’ve talked to have had the same experience. Something about getting ready for a tournament makes a grappler that much better. I’ve heard a whole bunch of explanations as to why there’s this big improvement in Jiu-jitsu skills after a competition, and I want to explore them.

1) It’s psychological. It’s all in your head, either because you’ve always been this good and only have just discovered that you are or because the extra training you’re putting in has allowed you to be more confident in the skills you already have. I can definitely see that this is part of it, as when you are seriously considering competing, you change your mindset. You need to bring yourself to the next level mentally in order to compete, and maybe that does unlock some of your abilities. By focusing on making yourself ready for competition, you’re doing things that you know work, giving you a sense of being able to really impose your will. Part of the difference in psychology is also that extra edge that comes with knowing you’re ready for competition. When you know it in your gut that you can hang with other players at your level, of course you’re going to feel like your game is that much stronger. Furthermore, by ramping up the intensity of your training and focusing on what you’re strongest in, you’re able to gain more confidence and more trust in your skills.

2) It’s because of the intense work you’ve put in. Like I said earlier, when you decide to compete, you end up changing a lot of your mindset. Part of this is approaching practices and classes with a significantly upped intensity. Because you’re training harder and are more focused on getting the parts of your game that are already strong, you will notice your game getting better. The competition mind set forces you to push that much harder. Where sometimes you can play at least somewhat lackadaisically, caring less about direct results rather than having fun or trying out new things, now you’re directly focused on creating an efficient competition A-game.

In the future I will talk more about experimentation and its value to your Jiu-jitsu, but sometimes experimentation does not necessarily make you feel great. Things do fail, and sometimes new elements of your game might not feel as good as tried and tested elements. By ignoring experimentation for awhile, you get to sharpen what you already know is effective. You sharpen what is already strong and you only play where you’re strong, so every improvement that you make is strongly and visibly more obvious.

The final point behind the intensity, you’re getting fitter and BJJ is a sport. By making your workouts intense, maybe putting in that extra jog or that extra weight lifting session, you’re become stronger and faster and more flexible. When you’re stronger, faster and more flexible, techniques become easier to execute, and you generally feel better. Of course you’re going to feel like a better Jiu-jitsu athlete, because you are.

3) Pointed out your holes. By focusing on a competition style game, you need to identify what holes you may have and fill them. We all have weaknesses, but sometimes either because you haven’t been playing your a-game or because your teammates mostly play one specific style, we don’t necessarily notice the holes that we have. When we get ready for competition, we zero in on identifying these problems and do our best to resolve them. This can take the form of finding weaknesses in the gym and then improving, or even from losing in Jiu-jitsu competition and realizing that this one part of your game is weak. By identifying those weaknesses, you’re able to make sure they don’t affect your game. Now you have less weaknesses than you did before, and that’s the very definition of getting better.

I think it’s some combination of all these factors. Obviously, some players will have one factor affect them more than others. If someone is out of shape before they get ready for competition, of course the upped intensity and getting fit is going to be worth that much more. Those who lose will most definitely feel that their game has gotten better when they’ve had a hole pointed out and they’re allowed to fix it. I hope you all compete soon.

I’ll see you on the mats.

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