Do You REALLY Need to Compete in BJJ?

I have been teaching Brazilian Jiu Jitsu for WELL over a decade and during that time I have had the pleasure of having 12 or so students make it to Black Belt.  All of them have competed at some point in their Jiu JItsu Journey but few kept up to the demands of tournament competition.  Today I’ll discuss if you really have to compete in BJJ, why you might not have to and when you should probably stop competing.



The quick answer is NO, you do not have to compete but it would really be a shame if you didn’t.  I have competed at every belt level including Black and I can definitely say it’s worth it, even the losses (although those still suck).  I used to track how many tournaments I competed at and my win/loss record for many years.  I stopped tracking stats when I got to 100 matches, and that was when I was a Blue belt.  That was a huge part of my development, it showed me so many lessons each of which I could, and likely will, turn into an article, but reading about it will not give you the experience you could get from doing it.

I will add that this is not just a message to white belts.  I have been running BJJ Tournaments like the Mind Body Soul and The Submission Series for years and the White and Blue belts come out in droves… then it drops off pretty sharply.  I will admit it has gotten better in the last couple years.  The pools of Purple and Brown belts are growing and the tournaments are reflecting that somewhat.  But I know the percentage of higher belts in Alberta is not being reflected at the tournaments.

I can understand the desire to just roll for fun in the club with the guys/gals but this is not a substitute for tournaments.  Remember those lessons I mentioned I gained from competing?  I didn’t stop learning them at Blue belt.  I learned lessons at every belt from my competitions and the cool thing was, the more advanced my belt, the better the lesson and the faster I was able to apply it.

Jiu Jitsu might be in your heart but is it in your head?



There are a couple reasons why you might HAVE to compete in BJJ.  When I started doing BJJ in Edmonton there were not many places doing it and not many people training in class.  Going to tournaments was like extra training, that’s why I had gotten to 100 matches so quickly.  So if you are short on training partners, get ready to travel.

It is funny how many parents support my encouragement to have their kids compete, even the ones that might not be ready but when I ask adults if they are competing I get a multitude of excuses.  And I get it… I understand…  They are valid to a point.  I like watching my students compete because I get to see how they will react in a stressful situation.  The most important thing for me to see from my students is that they can protect themselves and I just go out and hire thugs to go “Test” my students now can I.  Tournaments are that test.

Now you might have great rolling ability on the mat in your club with your friends, but can you pull off that stuff when you have someone you don’t know trying to rip your arm off surrounded by a crowd of people yelling?  Ok I’m exaggerating a bit but you get the idea… Tournaments are a great way to test your skills and still do it in a safe way.  It will show you holes in your skills that your training partners might not have been able to capitalize on.


Now I don’t want to go out and discourage people from competing but there are some people that just do not do well in tournaments, and for a while I was one of them.  I went through a long, long, looong phase of being playful.  When I got my Purple belt I started exploring Jiu Jitsu to the furthest points of effortlessness that I could.  And while that was an awesome thing to do and experiment with, I would recommend saving that for non tournament times.

Several times throughout my training I will work my escapes.  Usually this is when I am injured (another great article idea) and covers a 3-6 month span.  I can attest that this mindset of letting people get you in bad positions so you can work your escapes is really good but not when you are competing.  Bad habits start to get formed if you train this too long.  You will get points racked up on you and by the time you realize what you have been doing wrong it’s likely too late.

So if you are in one of these phases either don’t compete or make sure you screw your head on straight leading up to the competition.

The Sweet Taste of Victory


At the end of the day , there are a lot of reasons why you shouldn’t compete and honestly there are a lot less for why you should but what you gain from competing can not be gained any other way.  Club rolling is not tournament rolling no matter how you try to make it.  So get out there and compete, just make sure you are ready to give your best.


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