The following are some reasons I compete in jiu jitsu and judo. Not all of these may be true for everyone, but hopefully they give a little encouragement to those looking to compete in their first, second, or 100th tournament.
1. Refocus your training
Competition adds an urgency and focus to your training. For example, the knowledge that I will have to pass the guard of several opponents that will be resisting it at 100% while trying their best to sweep me motivates me to drill the crap of my guard passes, and take every detail of the technique seriously. I’ll watch instructionals on guard passing. I’ll watch competition footage on guard passing. I’ll find the guys with the best guard and work my ass off to pass theirs and when I fail, figure out why I failed, and how I can succeed.
That applies not just to guard passing, but to all techniques. The “threat” of competition focuses and motivates me to where I can’t help but get better in how and what I train.
2. Learn to relax and breath
When I watch or train with a top notch jiu jitsu or judo player, I notice that they are exceptionally good at finding positions where to relax and rest. Well, it depends of course. Some are great athletes that can push the pace the whole match, but they are doing so without wasting any energy. So they are relaxed even when they are aggressively attacking.
A big part of staying relaxed is breathing. The harder the training session, the more likely I am to hold my breath during scrambles. Competition matches are often one long scramble and are thus excellent opportunities to practice breathing in the midst of battle.
Good breathing is the key to having fun in jiu jitsu and judo. Without it, even the best athletes run out of gas prematurely, and have to then suffer out the rest of the match. The better I get at breathing the more I am able to train for many sets in a row, sometimes as long as 2 hours straight. I think you can get away with holding your breath in training (and many people do) but you can’t in competition. It’s where you have to honestly confront the counter-intuitive fact of grappling: in order to perform optimally, you have to relax and breath.
3. Bond with fellow grapplers and coaches
Not sure why, but nothing brings people together like kicking each other’s ass 😉 in a friendly and controlled environment. The judo and jiu jitsu mat attracts a community of people that respect the tradition and art of these sports to where many people can appreciate a tough loss as much as a tough win. At the end of the day, everyone’s tired, happy, and complaining about bad referee calls over a bunch of beers. I’ve made many friends over the couple years that I’ve been competing. Some of these are already beginning to develop into lifelong friendships.
4. Learn to not quit
There is a feeling that comes knocking on the door to my brain when I’ve been going hard , I’m out of breath, I’m being smashed by my opponent, I’m behind on points, and there’s still three minutes left in the match. It’s a feeling that says “quit”. That’s a test. It’s a test that comes up in different ways in all aspects of my life. If I quit, no one will yell at me, fire me, or hurt me. And yet, despite all that, I refuse to quit, for no reason other than a kind of proud stubbornness. Overcoming that feeling ripples through the rest of my life to where I can face each day with the confidence that I can take on whatever challenges it has for me.
5. The feeling of victory
I may lose over and over again (and learn a lot from it), but eventually, if I preserver, I will win, and it will feel damn good. Maybe not right away, maybe I’ll be driving back home or just getting an “attaboy” from a coach next day on the mat. I’ll smile and somehow the world will feel lighter on my shoulders. It’s foolish perhaps to attribute much value to winning, but life is fundamentally a foolish endeavor. And yet, there is something beautiful about working hard as hell for something, failing time and time again, but eventually getting it. That’s what life is about. Few places in life provide the chance for clear victory like the competition mat.