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If you want to prepare for your first BJJ competition and don’t know where to start, you’ve come to the right place.
Brazilian Jiu Jitsu, also known as BJJ, is a method of self-defense combining martial arts, close combat, and ground fighting techniques.
The self-defense techniques of BJJ, when well-executed, give practitioners the opportunity to defeat a larger opponent and for this reason, makes it popular among Jiu Jitsu based tournaments and competitions.
What are some ways of preparing for your first BJJ competition? The first steps in preparing for your first BJJ competition should be learning the rules and basics of BJJ and then executing them through rigorous training. Leading up to the competition, it’s important to get rest and create a routine that will help you defeat your opponent.
You’re not expected to be an expert on Brazilian Jiu Jitsu in order to enter a competition. However, being prepared will contribute to your chances of being successful.
This guide will lead you through the basics of understanding and mastering the technique in preparation for your first BJJ competition.
A Guide to Brazilian Jiu Jitsu
Brazilian Jiu Jitsu is a form of self-defense combining different fundamentals of Japanese Jiu Jitsu and Judo.
The fundamental aspect of BJJ that sets it apart from other defensive combat sports is the object of its strategy.
The core strategy of BJJ surrounds the idea that the smaller of the two opponents can prevail over the other opponent of larger stature. Done by using leverage to hold the opponent down and then applying different chokeholds and controls to defeat them.
This method of defense is derived from earlier forms of combat sports, starting with the creator of Judo, Jigoro Kano.
From there on out, the revolution of its techniques was influenced by and passed onto well-known veterans including Takeo Yano, Mataemon Tanabe, Mitsuyo Maeda, and Carlos Gracie.
Begin your competition training by channeling the energies of these great influencers.
It All Began With Judo
Judo, a modern martial art, involves indirectly using the opponent’s forces and movements to defeat them.
In simpler terms, the object is to use your opponent’s technique to your own advantage instead of directly fighting it.
The founder of the Judo technique, Jigoro Kano, created the first original concepts of Judo out of his desire to defend himself from bullies he dealt with at school.
From that day on, Kano discovered his desire to learn Jiu Jitsu which led him to bonesetter, Fukuda Hachinosuke.
Kano believed that finding a bonesetter or doctor of joint manipulation would allow him a better experience learning Judo as he assumed they knew more and were better teachers.
Through his training and observation of well-experienced teachers, Kano realized that one simply needs to be smarter, not stronger in order to defeat an opponent.
This led him to establish his own style of fighting in 1882, the Kodokan Judo.
“One of the most important innovations in Kano’s Judo was the emphasis placed on ‘randori,’ or non-cooperative free sparring practice.—Randori allows the practitioner to develop the mindset and technical proficiency needed to apply techniques against fully resisting opponents in as realistic a venue as safety allows.”Source: History of Brazilian Jiu Jitsu
Maeda: The Martial Arts Prodigy
Mitsuyo Maeda, a Japanese-born naturalized Brazilian, is also considered a founding member of the evolution of Brazilian Jiu Jitsu.
Before he contributed to the development of BJJ, he was considered one of the best judokas, practitioners of Judo, in history.
He was first discovered by the original founder of Judo, Jigoro Kano, and assigned to train under trusted trainer and friend of Kano, Tsunejiro Tomita.
After mastering the sport and becoming a multi-winner of Judo tournaments, Kano sent Maeda out west in hopes that he could spread the word about Judo across the U.S. During his travels throughout the U.S., Europe, and South America, Maeda won numerous battles and competitions, adding to his decorated career as a notable judoka.
More or less, Maeda put the street combat aspect that is known to BJJ today into effect through his adopted style of fighting in which he would grapple and strike his opponents.
Carlos Gracie: The Patriarch of the Gracie Family and BJJ
Carlos Gracie Sr. is the patriarch of the famous Gracie family and is widely considered to be the primary founder of BJJ.
He established BJJ using knowledge acquired through training with one of his first teachers, Mitsuyo Maeda. Gracie became a student of Maeda after taking lessons at his Jiu Jitsu academy based in Brazil.
After years of training, Gracie opened up his first academy for BJJ and welcomed all interested to come and compete against his other family members.
Through this practice, members of the Gracie family were able to hone and develop their skills by practicing against opponents of all levels and experience.
Brazilian Jiu Jitsu spread to other parts of the world once members of the Gracie family began emigrating and competing in other countries.
Through notable victories of Gracie’s siblings and his son Carlos Gracie Jr., BJJ came to be established as the sport it is known today.
BJJ Competition Preparation
Whether you’ve been practicing BJJ for some time now or just recently became interested, there are important steps to take in preparing for a competition of any sort.
The mere obvious step in preparing for a BJJ competition, of course, is practice, practice, practice!
Without the proper training or at least an idea of what BJJ techniques consist of, practicing would be pointless and quite frankly inadequate.
Every notable practitioner of BJJ started out as an amateur trainee and with the right training and dedication to succeed, they became masters of the art and you can too with the right preparation.
Here a great paper on “Physiological and Technical-tactical Analysis in Brazilian Jiu-jitsu Competition”.
Finding an Experienced BJJ Instructor
The first step to learning any form of combat sport is to enlist the help of a certified trainer who has had several years of experience practicing and instructing BJJ lessons.
In BJJ, instructors are usually referred to as “Professors”.
In some cases, the instructor may be older and of more experience and thus preferred to be addressed as “Master” or “Grandmaster,” depending on the level of formality between instructor and student.
Here’s an article “What Is a Jiu Jitsu Teacher Called?” if you’d like more info on that.
If you’re not familiar with any BJJ schools or instructors in your area, try doing a bit of research online to see which are available.
Some schools will also allow prospective students to take a few trial classes before signing up and committing. It’s important to consider whether you wish to train privately or in a class setting.
Training in a class setting may provide you more opportunities to test your skills against different opponents, while training privately allows for a more detailed one-on-one experience.
At the end of the day, it comes down to your preferred learning style, the intended outcome of training, and perhaps, your level of experience overall.
Once you find a BJJ instructor that meets your needs, establish a list of goals you want to work towards before the start of the competition.
Having a game plan will be helpful in establishing what techniques you want to put an emphasis on.
BJJ Instructor, Check! Now What?
Now that you have a trusty instructor at hand, it’s time to purchase all gear necessary for training.
If you haven’t already done so, the first piece of gear you will need for training is a classic Brazilian Jiu Jitsu Gi.
A gi is a traditional uniform used for BJJ training.
Choosing the Right BJJ Gi
Take note that there is such a thing as non-Gi based BJJ in which students aren’t required to wear the traditional uniform.
For more about the difference between gi and no-gi check out this article.
However, wearing a gi is a required formality for competition. One reason for training in a gi is that the technique of using your opponent’s clothing as a form of defense will be covered.
“By spending a solid chunk of your training time focused on Gi Jiu Jitsu, you develop the recognition and ability to properly use someone’s clothing against them. This is one of the best ways to prepare for self-defense or real-world scenarios . . . .”Source: Why It’s Important to Study Gi Based Jiu Jitsu
A traditional gi uniform consists of a topcoat, drawstring pants, and of course, the belt.
Traditionally, bleached white gis are worn by most practitioners of BJJ. However, they do come in an array of colors.
According to the International Brazilian Jiu Jitsu Federation, only gis of solid colors such as white, black, or blue is permitted to be worn for competition.
If you are part of BJJ school, you may be required to wear their specified uniform gi.
If you are choosing your own gi, you have the option of deciding whether you’d prefer a gi of thinner or heavier fabric and its color. Learn more about how much a gi weighs here.
Also, did I mention, it’s super important to keep a clean gi. Nobody enjoys grappling a smelly opponent, so hygiene is key, and your opponents will be thankful in the end!
Hygiene is a key part of Jiu Jitsu etiquette, for more on BJJ etiquette check out this article.
Learning the Rules and Basics of BJJ
The central focus of BJJ is to knock or grapple your opponent to the ground in order to take advantage of their strength using a combination of chokeholds, ground positions, and joint-locks.
It takes much time and dedication to establish a vast knowledge of all the rules and techniques of BJJ, but there are many resources available for learning.
The best method of learning all the rules and basics of BJJ is through a certified trainer of course, but it’s possible ways to learn some of the more amateur aspects of BJJ on your own time as well.
The International Brazilian Jiu Jitsu Federation (IBJJF) also provides an official rulebook free to the public on their website.
It’s also important to note that BJJ in a competition is considered a sport, and therefore the rules and technicalities may differ from those of free-form training or style.
“. . . there are so many organizations out there that use modified rulesets, that it is hard to keep track of them all. For the seasoned grappler, this is nothing that merits extra attention. However, if you’re looking at your first BJJ competition, trying to figure out the basic point system is enough, let alone all possible nuances and variations . . . .” Source: Ognen Dzabirski of BJJ World
The International Brazilian Jiu Jitsu Federation
The International Brazilian Jiu Jitsu Federation is the official global federation that governs the sport of BJJ, much like the NFL to football or the NBA to basketball in the U.S. It was first established by Master Carlos Gracie Jr, the son of Carlos Gracie, one of the original founding members of BJJ.
Members of the Gracie family still run the IBJJF establishment and are behind one of the largest BJJ clubs in the world, Gracie Barra.
The rules established by the IBJJF are not required to exclusively be used in all competitions, but most competitions require practitioners and referees to adhere to them. Rules used by the IBJJF are safer than those used by higher rank belts, as they are more restrictive and better suited for beginners in competition.
More information about the IBJJF can be found here.
BJJ Competition Rules According to the IBJJF
The rules provided by the IBJJF are the official competition rules adhered to by referees and practitioners.
In competition, some rules and regulations pertaining to the following:
- Gi uniform
- Point system
- Match structure
Furthermore, point scoring is based on the specific positions used against your opponent during competition and range from 2 to 4 points per position.
BJJ competitions consist of matches among groups of two competing against each other. The length of each match depends on the belt rank and age of the competitors involved.
The belt levels range from black to white, with black being the highest rank and white as the beginner-level rank.
The nature of the match structure of BJJ competitions will be discussed further down in this article, so first let’s cover the Gi regulations as they go hand-in-hand with match structure.
Gi’s and Uniforms Regulations (General)
Competitors are required to wear gis made of cotton or cotton-like material and should not be of a thick texture that would prevent movements required in competition.
Beginner competitors are mandated to wear gis made of woven or pearl woven fabric (much like linen). Gis should only be of solid colors such as royal blue, white, or black.
Shirts are not permitted to be worn under gis, except by females, who are required to wear undergarments that rest close to the skin.
Gis are also required to be free from tears, tarnished, or odors, this is where having a clean gi pays off!
The federation has also established certain measurements that all gis must meet.
Before participating in any matches, you will be required to have your gi inspected and measured by an official using a special measurement tool.
Gi pants should rest no more than 5 cm above the ankle and all tops should come down to the top of the thigh and sleeves should rest no higher than 5cm above the wrist.
More information on gis and uniform regulations can be found in Article 8 of the official IBJJF rule book.
Like mentioned before match length coincides with belt rank and age, but since this article focuses on preparing for your first BJJ competition, we will focus on the match structure of a beginner competitor.
Generally, for all levels, black belts get the most time for matches, while white belts get the least amount of time for their match, typically about 5 minutes.
Beginner BJJ students are considered white belts and don’t get as much time as higher ranked belts because they don’t have as many skills to showcase to judges.
While match length is determined by belt rank, the specific division you will be competing in will depend on a number of factors including your age, sex, and weight.
The 5-minute time limit for white belts only pertains to juveniles, ages 16 & 17, and adult competitors, 18 and older. Anyone under those ages will have less than 5 minutes.
Matches consist of two parts:
- Winning by submission only—this means that the match can only be won by using a number of submissions such as chokeholds or joint-locks for example. None of the submissions used to count for points or advantages, it simply comes down whichever submission used by either opponent ends up being more dominant.
- Winning by points only—this means that points have now been applied to the combination of submissions, ground positions, and attacks used.
There are about 26 different submissions outlined by the IBJJF ranging from techniques in which a spinal lock is used against an opponent to more severe ones like bending an opponent’s fingers backward.
Don’t be deterred by this, you won’t be subjected to this type of submission as a beginner competitor!
As a white belt, there are only a handful of submission techniques you are allowed to use against an opponent:
- Spreading the opponent’s legs apart—this technique is performed by restraining upper body movements of the opponent and spreading their legs apart to prevent any lower body movements.
- Choking with a spinal lock—this is a technique in which you restrain any movements of the spine from your opponent while applying pressure to the front of the neck either by force or chokehold.
- Straight foot lock—this technique is performed by restraining your opponent’s upper body with either your legs or feet and then securely grabbing ahold of any area between the knee and foot. Once the leg of your opponent is secured, bring your shoulder down to the mat and lock the foot into position by your inner elbow. Lastly, fold your arms towards your chest.
- Ezequiel choke—named after the famous Brazilian judoka, Ezequiel Paraguassú, the Ezequiel choke is a technique in which you create a scissor-like motion by bringing your left or right forearm up to your chest and holding your opponent in a chokehold by securing the other forearm against the trachea.
- Frontal guillotine choke—often referred to as a “front naked choke,” the technique of a frontal guillotine choke is performed by restraining the opponent in a frontal chokehold. In this position, the chokehold is applied while the opponent is facing towards you.
- General & arm triangle—generally, the triangle technique involves holding the opponent in a chokehold by wrapping your legs around their neck while restraining one of their arms inside your leg and the other outside of your leg. A general arm triangle technique is performed when you are laying on top of your opponent, face to face, and restrain them in a frontal chokehold by extending and wrapping your arm around their neck.
The submissions listed above are the only LEGAL submissions that white belts can use in competition.
While it is not necessary to learn every single one before the competition, it’s important to have mastered at least one before competing.
All other submissions performed outside of those listed are considered ILLEGAL for white belts and will result in a foul or disqualification if performed.
Several of these submissions can also be performed or executed in more than one way depending on the ground position you are in or which way you find helpful to your advantage.
More information on legal and illegal submissions can be found on the IBJJF website or here.
The point structured covered here follows the standards set by the IBJJF. Points are rewarded based on whoever gains dominance and uses advantages during the match.
“Advantage points are also rewarded for “almost” earning points or getting a submission. Advantages are only used as tie-breakers. The idea behind the points is to reward the person who is gaining the more dominant positions and seeking to submit their opponent.”Source: BJJ Point System
The point system used in BJJ competitions is broken down into several positions:
- Takedown/Throw (2 points)—points are rewarded if you successfully get your opponent to the ground on their back or side, either by takedown or throw, and hold them there.
- Sweep (2 points)—points are rewarded if you get your opponent from a top position, either lying or sitting on top of you, to a lower position beneath you and restraining them. The sweep must begin from a full or half guard, which will be discussed later on in this article.
- Knee-on-belly (2 points)—points are rewarded if you fully place both your knee and shin on across your opponent’s stomach while grabbing ahold of their gi top and bottom for 3 whole seconds.
- Passing the guard (3 points)—points are rewarded if you are able to gain dominance over your opponent’s torso from the top position and fully restrain any further movements. This position must be held for 3 whole seconds.
- Full mount (4 points)—points are rewarded if you are able to sit directly on top of your opponent with both of your legs and feet on either side of the torso, gaining full control of all movements.
- Rear mount (4 points)—points are rewarded if you are able to achieve this position by holding your opponent in an upper chokehold by wrapping your arms around their neck and restraining their lower torso by wrapping your legs around their waist. Both heels must be in between the opponent’s thighs in order for points to be awarded.
Performing any illegal moves during the points section of a match can result in you receiving penalties and negative points.
Some actions that can result in negative points are stalling, slamming your opponent, and bending your opponent’s leg to name a few.
Additional Positions and Guards Used in BJJ Competition
If you haven’t noticed by now, most submissions performed in BJJ require both competitors to be on the ground.
This aspect makes it a very ground fighting or grappling oriented sport and thus one of the central aspects of BJJ adopted from its close ancestor, Judo.
We previously covered some ground positions used in BJJ in the submissions section of this article.
Along with a full and half guard, there is also the open guard position.
The open guard is any position held in which your back is towards the ground and you are attempting to gain control of them by using your open legs.
Variations of the open guard position:
- Spider guard—performed by placing your feet on your opponent’s biceps.
- De La Riva guard—performed much like that of a spider guard except one of your legs must be wrapped around your opponent’s legs in order to hook the opponent’s balance.
- Butterfly guard—this guard is performed by placing your feet between the opponent’s legs and is considered one of the most powerful guard positions in BJJ.
Things to Remember in Preparing for BJJ Competition
Once you’ve got all the moves down and you feel prepared enough to test your skills against more experienced opponents, it’s time to start thinking about competition.
Leading up to the few weeks before the competition, make it a priority to follow a few of these simple tips and tricks for making your first competition a success.
- Practice, practice, practice!—make it a priority to train at least 2 to 3 times a week to fully gain an understanding of all concepts in both BJJ and competition.
- Be patient with your progress and abilities—success certainly doesn’t happen overnight so have patience with yourself if you’re finding that certain positions aren’t coming to you as easily as you would like.
- Ask lots of questions—if you find something that you don’t understand, don’t hesitate to ask your instructor or a more experienced classmate. A truly great instructor will be more than happy to answer any of your questions and concerns.
- Get rest and more rest—there’s no benefit in trying to grapple an opponent to the mat with one eye open. Make sure to get plenty of rest before the competition to ensure you are fully energized.
- Tap out if necessary—tapping out before you are hurt will spare your body parts and a trip to the hospital. There’s no need in forcing pain upon yourself and no one will judge you for doing so. Just make sure you tap out before the submission is called.
- Eat healthily and exercise regularly—these are both keys to making sure your body receives the right nutrients and is strong enough for competing.
- Establish a game plan—plan what submissions and guards you will for different suspected scenarios you may encounter during competition. Try choosing at least two of your best-performed submissions that you will remember to use against your opponent.
- Have fun!—this is the most important tip. Sure, it’s a competition, but it’s your first one! Make the experience worthwhile by having a little bit of fun here and there.