My Relationship with Jiu Jitsu Tournaments

So this past weekend was the toughest, most grueling and anticipated of all Brazilian Jiu Jitsu (BJJ) tournaments, the IBJJF Worlds. The event unfolded over 5 days, running Thursday through Sunday. Seven people from my gym flew out to Los Angeles CA to compete. I anxiously followed online as my team mates battled it out against competitors from all over the world. The brackets were so deep, a competitor could win several fights and still not place in the top three. Worlds is as much a battle of attrition as it is of technique. Four of the seven grapplers from my gym were male blue belts, who would compete on Thursday, day one of the tournament. I winced and sighed as one by one, they were all eliminated, including my friend JP, a monstrous athlete who I thought would be this year’s dark horse (there’s always next year). Well, surely our brown belt female Daizy would bring home a medal, at rooster-weight she usually has a small bracket and needs to only beat one or two people… oh wait, not at worlds. She was swimming in a stacked bracket just like her male blue belt gym mates; and sadly, like her teammates, she too was eliminated after a couple of grueling matches. We had two people still in the tournament; on Friday, our female blue belt was eliminated, and on Saturday, our last remaining athlete, a female purple belt named Michaela (styled as “Makilla”) made a definitive statement by completely and mercilessly dominating her division and bringing home the gold. Not only did she bring home the gold in the toughest BJJ tournament in the world, but she is now a brown belt for her efforts.

Now, if you have questions about whether or not you should compete, I wrote an article about it here. I have competed in the past, and win or lose, it’s always been an educational experience for me. As of this writing, I have made the decision to take some time away from competition for personal reasons, but all the same the tournaments are still an important part of my Jiu Jitsu journey. How so? Well, the above story I related about IBJJF Worlds is a good example of how tournaments affect our lives even when we don’t compete. Firstly: I still show up to the gym 5-6 days of the week, and I roll with the people who are getting ready to compete. I give of my body and time to help them get ready to compete. I give them resistance, pointers, encouragement, anything they need that I can give, and on the occasions I do compete, they do the same for me. In this sense, Jiu Jitsu is very much a team sport, even though the competition is one on one. This investment of time and energy also makes me emotionally vested in their success; as the tournament ran its course, I was nervous on behalf of each of my teammates, but also confident that they would go out there and give no quarter, only Hell. Lastly, when “Makilla” took gold, she inspired the whole team. We are inspired to train with greater efficacy, and to constantly improve. Sure, I am already self-motivated in those areas, but having a teammate win the largest tournament really amplifies it. Furthermore, I would say that there is a sense of shared validation that we all feel; our training is good, our gym is solid and our coach is THE guy for the job. This isn’t to imply that there were doubts or reservations about our training, gym or coach, but the extra reassurance of having gold medalists in our gym is great for morale (I say plural, because we have had a few IBJJF World champions in previous years as well). So, even though I am not competing, our team’s involvement creates a gym environment that can be characterized as inspiring, motivating and encouraging.

So does all this mean that I am suddenly fired up to go out and compete? Not really, no. I am fired up to push myself to my full technical potential, but as stated earlier in this post, I have personal reasons for taking time off from tournaments (I still train 5-6 days a week though, 2-3 hrs per day). However, because of my love of the sport, my desire to be involved in the community, and the inspiration I get from my gym, coach and teammates, I have made the decision to work at the next upcoming tournament in my area. I am actually pretty excited about working the tournament. I don’t need to work, as I already have a full time job and a few side hustles, but I am excited to do it because it will be an opportunity to experience BJJ tournaments from another perspective other than participant or spectator. It’s also a means of staying involved in the community, learning how the events run behind the scenes, and ultimately I’d like to find a helpful business niche in martial arts, maybe working at the tournament will bring me closer to figuring that out. Or maybe it won’t. But come what may, it’s a way of remaining involved until I am ready to compete again.

On that note, while we are competitive animals by nature, we are also tribal, meaning we support our social groups. So, for my aspiring grapplers and other martial art practitioners, it is okay if you decide to not compete, and it’s also okay if you decide to. Whether or not you compete, I advise you to allow yourself to be inspired and motivated by those who do. I advise you to share in their victories and defeats, to learn with them, to be there for them so they have training partners to help them become better. As I noted earlier, even though Jiu Jitsu competition is one on one, the way we train makes it feel more like a team sport. We are all in this together., so let us bring out the best in each other as martial artists, as athletes, and as human beings. Happy training my friends, and remember to breathe.

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