How Should I Train for a BJJ Competition?
BJJ competition, in my opinion, is an important part of the BJJ journey. I think it’s rare that you’ll meet a black belt who has NEVER competed AT ALL in BJJ. Personally, I feel like even if you’re not a “competitor,” you should make it a goal early on to try and compete at least once at each belt level. Even if you’re just a hobbyist or otherwise not interested at all in the competition scene, BJJ competition can be a useful tool for developing your skills and enriching your experience.
So, how should one train for BJJ competition?
I feel like your approach to strategically training for a tournament will have a lot to do with how much time you have to commit to this training. If you’re only going to be able to make it to practice once or twice a week, and only for an hour or so at a time, then you can just take a more casual approach to the competition and otherwise just go with the flow of what your instructor has planned for the lessons you attend. I think it’s totally cool to take a casual approach to competition and tournaments, if that’s your style. The more experience you get, the better, and I think you’d be surprised how well you can perform!
However, if you want to consistently do well in competition, you will need to put forth a little more work in preparation for your tougher opponents. Generally speaking, I like to start putting a little more focus into the structure of my training when I’m about six weeks out from a comp. That being said, my training doesn’t really change that much if it’s not a super serious competition (i.e. Pans, Worlds, pro matches etc). I’m on the mats sparring at least 5hrs/wk, so that’s usually enough.
So, let’s take a look at what my general approach would be for peak performance, week-by-week:
Week 6 - I’m usually scouting video on my opponents or potential opponents. I’m specifically paying attention to their style, pace, preferred position (e.g. guard passer vs guard player, takedown artist or guard puller etc.) preferred grips, and generally trying to find holes. I’m on the mats a TON, getting as many sparring rounds as possible, but not rolling at a high intensity. I’m usually just trying to figure out where my strengths and limitations are, so that I can focus on my strengths over the upcoming weeks.
Week 5 - This is very similar to week 6, but now I’m going to be tightening up my diet, regardless of if I need to lose weight or not. Quality calories are important. By this time I’ve narrowed down my approach to my opponents and the competition format. Still doing tons of volume on the mats, still at lower intensity and trying to find the holes in my own game.
Week 4 - This marks the deadline to try and work on my physical (body) goals. It will be tough to get my body to adapt to the type of environment I’m going to be competing in if I don’t seriously work on my physical abilities over the next 2-3 weeks. If I’m anticipating long matches or multiple matches, I really need to get my cardio in check. During this time I will be lifting heavy and eating as healthy as I am able to. I’m also going to cut back just a tad on the volume of my training, while slightly increasing the intensity. I’m still not rolling at competition speed, but I will more likely be using moves/approaches/concepts specific to what I expect to pull off in competition.
Week 3 - This is usually my most intense week; hopefully I’m making gains in my cardio and strength, and I’ll be using my mat time to try and hit those goals, so my rounds are a little more intense, and a little more comp-specific. This week I will still be rolling quite a bit, about the same as last week. I may decide to do some more directed drilling, trying to tie up loose ends in my game.
Week 2 - At this point, I’m going to be at whatever shape I’m going to be in for the competition, so now I decrease the volume of training, while increasing the intensity of my rounds, as well as the skill in my training partners. I don’t typically do many hard sparring rounds with teammates/students who are brand new and therefore won’t give me a good feel for what my opponents are actually going to do in the competition. Long-story-short: still lifting weights, fewer yet more intense sparring rounds, at least 3x/wk.
Week 1 - This is my chillest week, and I personally like to use it to get my head in the right place for my upcoming competition next week. I like to try and spar with challenging opponents, yet it’s best for me (and this is probably just a personal thing) if I roll with folks who I can also beat. In my experience I really need to feel confident going into the competition, in order to get good results, and what better way to do that than to succeed in beating challenging teammates? During this time I am still lifting weights, but probably only about half of what I usually lift. I’m doing light cardio, usually in the form of drilling or flow rolling, and I’m only using moves/concepts I expect to have to deal with during the competition.
I really hope this is helpful! And like I said, this is just what I do, and I’m always developing and tweaking my approaches and strategies as I become more experienced, but I’ve been using this same basic format for the past few years and I have a fairly respectable record in competitions, for an old guy. I think the last bit of advice I could give you is that this 6-week format might look different based on your ability level. Here’s a quick description of some of the modifications you might want to make in order to maximize training potential depending on your rank/ability level:
Beginner - You probably won’t be able to find much information on your opponents, but it doesn’t matter either. At your level you most likely won’t be able to make any meaningful modifications to your “game” anyway. Just make sure you’re doing a good amount of sparring (open mats and comp classes are great) and that you’re at least familiar with the rule set and point system.
Intermediate - Competitions can be such a meaningful tool at this level, so the more you can do, the better! You’ll be able to start to find comp videos of your opponents (especially the good ones) so this is a great time to begin your journey of modifying your approach toward specific opponents/styles. Time to broaden your horizons and think strategically and critically! Do as many comps as you can, in as many various rule sets as you can.
Advanced - Most likely you have your own approach toward competitions, assuming you have had the benefit of competing regularly during your BJJ journey. Hopefully you’ll be able to find some of this useful if anything to give you ideas on how to tweak/organize your own regimen. If you haven’t competed much or at all prior to becoming more advanced at BJJ, you should really not worry about freaking out too much. You’ll notice that most of the competitors you come up against, especially in the smaller, regional tournaments, will be in the same boat as you. I’ve run up against tons of dudes who haven’t competed in years or have only done one or two comps ever. There are some savages out there, of course, but not to worry; those guys are crushing everyone, not just you haha.
So, in conclusion, I think you should try and compete whenever you can. It’s good for you. There’s a tournament out there to fit pretty much everybody’s ability level, trust me. Good luck in the future, and don’t hesitate to ask me follow-up questions on any of these points I’ve made so far!