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Do I need to compete to be good at Jiu Jitsu?

I’m often asked this question by white belts. This is a personal question. Every person will have a different answer. The question I usually ask back is “Why did you start Brazilian Jiu Jitsu?” Usually the answer is something like getting fit. I wanted to learn how to defend my self. I wanted to lose weight etc. Every now and then I get someone who says “I wanted an outlet as I’ve just given up xyz”. In that case I usually say. “Yep! Go for it”

Jiu Jitsu goals

For everyone else I sit down and ask them about their goals about that first question. “How’s that going?” From here I usually ask them what the major goal is now. Most of the time the answer revolves around getting better. This is the primary reason to compete. Exposing yourself to the fire of competition exposes your flaws. Areas that you need to improve on become visible. If you come back from a competition try to correct those mistakes. You will improve and your jiu jitsu game will grow much faster than you would if you don’t compete. If you are competitive in nature and you want to do well these losses will bother you much more that than the losses at training. In this way competition is a motivation tool. It will transform your game provided you put the work in to fix the areas that exposed by competition.

Thrive under pressure

If you enjoy competition, then by all means then it’s a great outlet to go out and test yourself. For a lot of people, competition is a source of nerves and anxiety. Feeling some discomfort is perfectly normal. Learning to deal with these feelings is all part of learning how to compete. The longer you compete the more you will find that it’s not about the shiny medal. Or standing on the first place spot on the dais. Or the adulation of your friends and fellow competitors. Its about finding that best version of yourself. The one where you, struggle, and hopefully thrive under pressure. Where you go through adversity and survive, and (sometimes) win. Where you learn to find your grit and determination even though you might be in a bad unwinnable position. This is a metaphor for life and never is it more evident than on the competition mats.

CC World pro Oceanic Trials

No losing in Jiu Jitsu

Just because you win doesn’t mean that you are great and perfect. Everyone always has stuff to work on. And even if you lose, it doesn’t mean you’re horrible. There’s a saying in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu that states “there’s no losing in jiu jitsu, you win or you learn”. And while we are on the subject, your team mates and coach don’t care whether you win or lose. Of course they want you win but they are just happy that you have the courage to go out there and put it all on the line. They will congratulate you when you win. Commiserate with you when you lose, then help you to fix these things for next time.

Focus on getting better

When I started competing as a white belt I won my first comp, then came runner up in the second. Playing competitive sport for most of my life I thought “how easy is this?” Well the next comp I lost first round then the one after that, then the one after that. I couldn’t work what was going on. I started getting anxiety thinking about competition. I wanted to win badly but for reason it just wasn’t happening. I felt like avoiding them for a while. So I sat myself down and thought about what was happening. What’s my real goal? Was it the medal? No it wasn’t. I wanted to get better, so what did it matter if I lost? I’d just have a hole to fix. So I decided to enter every comp I could. Too much focus on winning had taken the enjoyment out of competition and learning. When I focused on my goal of getting better, the results started to come back and the anxiety started reducing. This was a major turning point for me and improvements followed. Every competitor is different and the lessons you learn will be for you and you alone. Competition will help you understand your psychology. Optimizing your performance under the duress of competition will result from the experience. Look closely and use a critical mind to evaluate your performance. Keep in mind that the more you compete the more you find out its about getting the best “you” out there on game day.


Usually I recommend all my students compete at least once to feel what it is like. Getting that adrenaline dump and nerves aren’t for everyone, but it’s useful to know what it feels like. Learning to control these emotions is very helpful for managing everyday life. But if you don’t want to that’s OK too, there’s many reasons to do Brazilian jiu jitsu.

Competition doesn’t always give you what you want, but it certainly gives you what you need. If you are willing to listen.