“What people don’t understand is you have to “learn” how to win! To many people show up to events that are above there level. As nice as it is to compete at the highest level all your doing is learning how to lose. You may have better technique you may be stronger but until you learn how to win it’s all wasted talent. People always over look this fact an keep showing up to events thinking that one day they will get the hang of it but the reality is all their learning is how to lose. I’ve watched for years people throw away matches because they don’t know how to win their not comfortable winning they don’t know how. There are competitions all over the world for people of all skill levels. Compete in your skill level and once you start earning medals consistently move up a level and so on don’t just jump to the top just because it’s allowed. Learn to win so when the time comes you don’t throw away matches.” – Travis Stevens
Most people in the judo and jiu jitsu communities are quick to expose and criticize “sandbagging”: the practice of competing at a level below yours to easily win a gold medal. But people are not so quick to criticize, and instead sometimes even applaud, the opposite practice of competing above your skill level. If you want to succeed at the highest level, you first have to succeed at every level below that. There are exceptions to this, but they are rare, and too often are more myth than reality.
Competing at “above your skill level” can be easier done in judo because the concept of rank is not very strict in judo competitions. For example, white belts are allowed to sign up to the black belt division at nationals. In jiu jitsu, it’s frowned upon to compete above your rank, but you can still compete at “above your skill level” by doing major international competitions without having done many or any local ones. PS: I talk about this in an interview with Sebastian Brosche.
I often see this tendency to try to progress too quickly, especially in beginners. Of course, like most things, it has to do with ego. When you win a local tournament at blue belt, you start thinking that you can win the Worlds at blue belt. It’s good to believe that, to train your ass off for that dream, BUT you have to be realistic about what it takes to win Worlds. As Travis says, it’s very unlikely that you’re going to magically win in a division of 130+ people, many of whom train full time, unless you’ve “practiced” the hell out of winning already. How do you practice winning? You win… a lot. You win NOT by sandbagging but by competing at your level over and over until you can medal CONSISTENTLY. As a blue belt, don’t decide you’re competing at Worlds without first competing 5+ times before that at local or regional tournaments like a Grapplers Quest or one of the IBJJF Open tournaments. Otherwise, most likely, you’re going to get smashed, and more importantly will not learn nearly as much from the experience, nor have nearly as much fun.
It’s good to get the experience of traveling to Worlds, especially if you go with a team of good friends. And you will get a lot from it off the mat, as you would from any road trip with close friends. But if you want to have a chance of winning, you better first get a lot of wins under your belt, and you do that by trying out your game locally.
Once you move up the rank to brown and black belt, competing at only major tournaments is more practical, if you’ve already gotten 100+ wins under your belt at the lower ranks. Winning builds confidence better than anything else. And on the flip side, depending on the strength of your character, too much losing can often have the negative effect of breaking down your confidence.
So, embrace the challenge by competing at Worlds, but embrace it intelligently by building up to Worlds by competing at many local tournaments.