Tuesday, September 11, 2012

8 Things To Do Before You Compete

Preparing for a grappling tournament is stressful.  It's easy to get caught up in training and forget about all the little details that come along with competing.  This is especially true if you're new to the competition scene or competing in a promotion for the first time.

Based on my experience competing and as a referee, I've come up with a list of important things that people often overlook before stepping on the mat.  These tips are probably common sense to seasoned veterans of the grappling circuit, but newer competitors should find some benefits.  Remember that ignorance is not an excuse.

1. Read over the rules

I'm surprised by the number of people I encounter who train every day, cut ten pounds, and drop $100+ on an entry fee for a tournament, yet never bother to look at the rules.  Most tournaments have a rules meeting before the event starts, but that's not a great time to be exposed to the rules for the first time.

To make matters worse, BJJ doesn't have a unified rule set.  Most organizations use rules based on the IBJJF, but usually with some minor differences.  Keeping the differences straight among all the different events is headache.  To keep from getting confused, take the time to briefly read over the rules.

Below are links to the rules for some of the popular grappling organizations:

2. Know the referee's commands (Go, Stop)

This is for anyone who is competing in an IBJJF event for the first time.  Unless you speak Portuguese, familiarize yourself with this video:

You don't want to be the guy who doesn't stop when the referee shouts "Parou!" and then gets disqualified.

3. Know when and how to weigh-in.

Organizations generally use one of two methods for weigh-ins:
  • Weigh the morning of the event in as few clothes as possible
  • Weigh immediately before your first match while wearing your gi
Regional promotions tend to use the former method, while IBJJF uses the latter.

If you have morning weigh-ins, make sure to show up on time.  If you're cutting weight and it's looking close, show up early and bring your sweats in case you miss weight on the first try.

If you are required to weigh in wearing a gi, check your weight on the test scale before your bracket is called.  Leave plenty of time to sweat out any extra weight.  Also, many serious competitors invest in a light-weight gi to wear during the first round and then switch to their normal gi for subsequent rounds.

4. Bring a mouthguard, a legal gi, and a cup (if it's allowed)

Especially in the beginner divisions, competition can be rough.  Some guys approach every match as if it's the finals of the Mundials.  Dental work is expensive.  Always wear a mouthguard.

Before you can compete in an IBJJF tournament you'll have to pass a gi inspection.  Long before you step on the mats, make sure your gi fits correctly, the patches are correctly placed, and the gi is the proper color.  The IBJJF rulebook has the official guidelines, which seem to change frequently.  Unofficial, but easier to understand guidelines can be found here.

Most regional tournaments don't have an official gi inspection.  As long as your gi is not ripped or emitting a foul odor, you should have no trouble competing.

The IBJJF and a few other events do not allow competitors to wear groin protectors (cups).  A cup creates an artificial lever for some submissions and can press painfully into your opponent from certain positions.  Check the rules to prevent an awkward situation.

5. Know which grips and positions are illegal 

Gripping rules are fairly universal for gi grappling.  Basically, don't put your fingers inside of someone's sleeve or pant cuff and you'll be fine.  Gripping inside the cuff is illegal for your own protection.  If your fingers get caught inside of the cuff and your opponent twists wrong, your fingers can break.

Legal grips:

Illegal grips:

While illegal grips are minor penalties, reaping the knee is an instant disqualification.  Knee reaping is almost always illegal in the gi, but it's usually allowed in advanced no-gi divisions.  Be aware that NAGA allows reaping in ALL adult no-gi divisions.  At some point I'll make a post or a video explaining reaping, but for now let me refer you to an explanation by Andrew Smith, the head referee for US Grappling.

6. Know which submissions are illegal at your belt level 

Legal submissions in the gi are fairly consistent across the board.  At white belt the only submission allowed below the waist is a straight foot lock.  Kneebars, toeholds, and bicep/calf slicers become legal at brown belt.  Heel hooks and neck cranks are never legal in a gi.

Wristlocks seem to be the only submission without a consensus.  The IBJJF bans wristlocks at whitebelt, but many organizations allow them for all adult divisions.  Make sure to check with an official before you decide to channel your inner Steven Seagal.

Submission legality varies wildly in no-gi grappling, from the restrictive rules of the IBJJF, all the way to the anything goes world of NAGA.  Even within the same promotion, submissions can vary between the gi and no-gi divisions.  For example, US Grappling allows kneebars in the beginner no-gi divisions, but in the gi they are banned until brown belt.  Make sure you know what you're getting in to, especially when competing in a lesser known tournament.

7. Have a plan for the feet

All tournaments start matches standing, but many BJJ schools start rolling from the knees.  If you want a chance to try out the game you've been training in class, you'll need a plan to get the match to the ground.

The first step is to be honest with yourself.  Have you dedicated the time necessary to be able to take a resisting opponent to the ground?  If you can truthfully answer "Yes", then work the takedowns you've been training.  If you answered "No", you should consider pulling guard.

It pains me to watch the bad Judo matches that result from two people with no takedown skills who are too stubborn to pull guard.  You are competing to test the skills you've been training.  It's better to pull guard and learn something than to sit in a stalemate on your feet.  Here is an instructional on how to pull guard with good technique.

8. Know when to tap

Competition has two main goals: Have fun and don't get hurt.  Sometimes athletes lose perspective and don't tap out as soon as they would in training.  The worst injuries I have seen have all been from beginners who refused to tap when they were clearly caught.

Learn to check your ego.  It's never worth it to willingly get hurt while attempting to win a cheap metal trinket.  An injury means losing training time and ultimately slows your long-term development.

When you're caught in a deep submission, think back to how you got there.  You made a mistake somewhere along the way and your opponent capitalized.  Don't focus on the submission itself, because a submission is always a result of the previous movements.  As Kurt Osiander once said, if you're caught in a bad position:

I hope this advice is helpful and good luck competing!