Going to a BJJ tournament is quite scary, especially if you’re a white belt and it’s your first time. To help you, I wrote 23 BJJ competition tips. This list is also a checklist for white belts of things you shouldn’t forget for your first BJJ competition!
1. Get your IBJJF legal gi ready
Bring your IBJJF legal gi. That means, bring a gi that’s white, blue, or black, and isn’t too short at the sleeves of ankles (read the full IBJJF rules here).
If you aren’t sure whether your gi is legal for competitions, just ask your instructor.
If you don’t have an IBJJF legal gi, you can usually borrow one at your gym. But over time you should buy a good gi for yourself (check out the best BJJ gis for this).
2. Get some light training in the days before
As a white belt, you want to keep your techniques sharp so you don’t want to take too many days off from training before your tournament.
Just make sure that you don’t train too hard though. Tell your partners that you have a competition coming up and that you want to do some light sparring, and don’t do too many rounds.
3. Practice the rule set
BJJ competition rules differ depending on the organizer of the tournament. Depending on the organization, different submissions may be allowed at different belt levels, and different points may be awarded for different moves and positions.
Just remember to check the rules of your tournament and then do a few practice rounds under that rule set the week before your tournament. You don’t want to give up an easy two points by pulling guard the wrong way, or to get disqualified by doing an illegal move.
4. Get your weight in check
If your weight is not in the right place, make sure you get your weight down.
If you’re way over your target weight, just register for the weight class above. At the white belt level, the technique discrepancy is so big that weight actually matters less. So it’s never worth it for a white belt to do a real weight cut.
But, if you can use this tournament as an excuse to trim off some fat that you wanted off anyway, take it. Just make sure you start at least a few weeks in advance then.
5. Sleep well before the competition
You need to be well rested the day of the tournament. Make sure you go to bed early enough. If you have trouble sleeping at night, try some breathing exercises. They’ll work wonders.
6. Do some gentle stretching the night before
The night before the tournament, you should do some gentle stretching. You can do the same ones you do before class, or you can do some that are specific for BJJ and grappling.
Stretching helps you to calm down before going to sleep, and also gives you a last chance to visualize what the matches will be like the next day.
7. Get some breakfast
You need to be well fed when you compete in a BJJ tournament. Eat some carbs and sugar to give you the energy you need.
If you can’t eat breakfast because you’re afraid you won’t make weight, you registered for the wrong weight class. At white belt competitions it’s more important to be well fed than to be a few pounds heavier than your opponent.
8. Bring food and drinks
The facilities at a BJJ tournament for white belts are often bad or nonexistent. You can probably buy a Snickers and that’s it. So make sure you have some food and drinks that you like with you.
If you want, you can even bring some supplements for performance, such as pre-workout, caffeine pills, or just coffee.
9. Bring a game plan
Your matches will be much easier if you bring a game plan. It doesn’t need to be complicated. Just decide for yourself which are the first few moves that you want to do, so that you don’t end up doing nothing in the heat of the moment.
For example, a perfectly fine game plan is to say that you want to get a collar and a sleeve grip to pull to de la riva guard, and to try to overhead sweep from there. If you try that and your opponent doesn’t really try anything, you have the initiative.
If you don’t know a game plan for yourself, ask your instructor to help you make one.
10. Know what time you have to be there
Know the time your division starts and get there at least 60 minutes before that. You’ll need that time to check in, get some food in you, warm up, etc.
Also ask around at your gym whether anybody has been to this tournament before, so you can ask what the check in process is like. For some tournaments, you should come 2 hours earlier just to be sure.
11. Do the weigh in as soon as possible
When you arrive at the tournament, check in and do your weigh in as soon as you can. After that, you’ll be able to eat and drink as much as you want, and you won’t have to stress about making weight anymore.
12. Go warm up
After you check in, warm up. Keep it light, there’s no need for you to tire yourself out before the match.
Don’t neglect this like everybody else! I know it’s annoying because you usually don’t know exactly when you’ll be on, but if you don’t warm up you get a big adrenaline dump during your match. Just stay warmed up lightly the whole time and ramp it up shortly before your match.
13. Watch some matches
After you warm up, watch some matches. You can either watch your weight division or go watch other weight divisions. Either way, it’s good to see how the matches flow and understand how to compete.
If you have teammates that are competing as well, make sure you support them!
14. Watch your weight division
When your weight division is called, go watch your division. You want to scout your potential opponents: what are their best techniques? Do they pull guard or go for takedowns?
If you’ve been eliminated, make sure you watch the guy that beat you. You can probably learn a lot by studying how his opponents deal with him.
15. Go to the bathroom one last time
Before you enter the mat, you need to go to the bathroom one last time. If you don’t, you’ll regret it. Trust me, I know.
16. Film your match
When you’re called, make sure you have somebody filming your match. Just give them your phone or ask them to record the match on their own phone. This footage will be invaluable to you for improving later, especially if you lost.
17. Lose graciously
When you lose, lose graciously. Shake the guy’s hand, congratulate him and wish him good luck. If you act like a sore loser, you’re not going to make friends at the tournament. And you’ll probably make enemies.
Also remember that it’s normal to lose. At a knockout tournament, half the people lose their first match, then half of the remaining people lose their second match, etc. So the majority of people will be ‘losers’, so you should expect that for yourself too.
18. Learn from your mistakes
When you lose, don’t get angry or frustrated. Instead, think about what mistakes you’re making and what you could do better next time.
Also ask your profesor what you could improve and study the recording of your match for any mistakes yourself!
19. Have fun
Make sure you have fun out there. If you’re not having fun, there’s almost no point to doing a BJJ tournament as a white belt.
You’re not going to win money, eternal glory or go to the Olympics: you’re doing this for you.
20. Get ready for the open weight division (if you won)
If you medal in your weight division, you can usually register for the open weight division.
The open weight is super fun to do because you compete against the other medal winners.
And because you already won your own division, there’s almost no pressure to it. It’s kind of like when you’re at the casino and you’re playing only with the money that you won so far.
21. Watch some matches and go home
After I’m done competing myself, I love to watch a few more matches. There’s no pressure on me anymore, and I can just enjoy the jiu jitsu that’s on display.
Sometimes I wait for the black belt division (which is often late in the day), but I actually enjoy the lower rank matches more, because they don’t concern themselves with mat tactics as much.
I usually like to watch blue belts and purple belts the most because they just go for it.
22. Treat your injuries and rest well
You’ll probably walk away from your white belt BJJ tournament with a few small injuries. That’s normal because you fought as hard as you could!
Just give these things a few days to recover by not rolling too hard and resting well over the next few days.
23. Get food
After your fights, you’re probably starving. And so are your teammates. So make sure you go out to get some food together. This will be a great bonding experience as you continue to discuss your shared experience over some fries and fast food.