The utility of competition

There is no governing body presiding over Brazilian Jiu Jitsu. The art is still young enough that most of the surviving founders all know each other or have reputations that are easily cross checked and referenced with other practitioners. Despite the absence of a regulating body we are able to keep a high belt standard because essentially we all train with each other. While competition is not necessary to advance in rank, we heavily rely on it to maintain the standard of the belt rank. This is helpful in that a blue belt can see where they stand against other blue belts. This tiered system allows us to develop highly skilled players with the game evolving every year. This funnels up to the black belt level where you similarly see advances in skill every year.

Competition is where all the participating academies come together and field their best students from each belt level. The performance of the athletes at each belt help determine how each school is doing at maintaining the standard. While the thought of dominating all of the competitions is a worthy goal, it isn’t necessarily the point. The point is a modern day version of clan style skill acquisition and execution. You hone your craft at your home academy and then every so often some of the students get together to see what everyone else has been working on and how good you’ve gotten at it. Everyone sees the results, we shake hands, then go back to our respective schools to prepare for the next meeting.

Not everyone needs to compete in order for this to work, and not everyone should. The non-competitors are just as important to our growth as those that compete. It is just important to have a mix and for everyone to train well together. That is what has happened at our school over the past five years. As we’ve grown as a school we have also organized the comp team a little more each cycle through. If you look at our brown belts you can see what I mean. They are all as tough as hell, not all of them compete. Our goal is to follow their lead and have that depth of skill at all belts.

The rules determine the contest

As Jiu Jitsu has grown, the number of organizations hosting competitions has grown with it. One organization has established itself at the head of the competition table, the IBJJF. The International Brazilian Jiu Jitsu Federation hosts what most practitioners consider to be the apex of Gi competition - The Mundials.

While people will debate rule sets forever, I think the rule set established by the IBJJF does about as good a job as you can in taking a fight and turning it into a game that accurately reflects the approach Jiu Jitsu uses to protect yourself. Brazilian Jiu Jitsu operates off of a positional hierarchy. You get points based upon obtaining and maintaining positional dominance over your opponent. The person with the most points win. The only exception being making your partner tap gives you the win regardless of who is ahead on the points.

When our local regional tournament, the revolution, was founded their mission was to edify the art and raise the standard of local tournaments. They have done an amazing job of doing this. The revolution not only holds a high standard, they actively seek to elevate it. Their policies and procedures most accurately reflect that of the IBJJF. This is a tremendous benefit to us as a school. By participating in both the Revolution and IBJJF tournaments we get to ensure that our school is maintaining the standard and doing our part to elevate it.

Some may scoff at the idea of counting points and advantages to see who could theoretical beat up who. The problem with those arguments though is that unless you tell me that your method of preparing to defend yourself is by actually fighting all the time, it rapidly becomes bullshit. If you go to a boxing gym you can immediately determine who is the better boxer. Judo, same thing. Wrestling room, same thing. Thai boxing, same thing. Krav Mag….. not so much. American ninja warrior…. not so much. If you want to get better at handling force on force altercations then on some level you need to practice force on force.

Anytime you aren’t fighting for your life you’re just training

What a lot of the self defense types miss out on is that the absence of force on force training not only makes you less prepared for altercations, it makes you afraid of them. Getting punched in the face isn’t actually that bad. Getting thrown isn’t all that bad. Getting rolled up in a tournament, while not the first choice activity for a pleasant Saturday afternoon, prepares your mind for force on force. Once you accept the physicality of it and have exposure to the mental game you are in a better position to prepare for it. Through many cycles of preparation and testing yourself, a familiarity with the whole process is gained. That familiarity brings peace of mind, not paranoia.

Physical disputes require appropriate execution of the correct technique and strategy while under duress. If you can handle those emotions and simultaneously perform complex tasks such as track time, points, and the general flow of the match you will strongly develop that peace of mind. I have seen Jiu Jitsu competition take many students who were quite afraid of physical altercations and give them the tools to competently navigate them as though it weren’t too big a deal. That is one of the goals of our school; to actually help people develop confidence in their abilities and to understand their limitations.

All of that said, don’t let the minutiae of the rule set intimidate or overwhelm you. The rules are important but not the most important thing. How prepared and justifiably confident you are is. Familiarize yourself with the rules and make understanding them completely more of a long term goal that you always work towards. The technique and skill come first, the rules follow.

Lets have a look at the rules. You can access the IBJJF rule book here. Videos explaining the point system is below.