What to Expect When You’re Expecting to Compete

What To Expect When You’re Expecting to Compete

By: Joe Hannan

Competition is a an experience every grappler should have. It crystallizes the form and function of BJJ as a martial art more than any number of rolls or lessons ever could. Perhaps just as important, if not more so, is preparation for competition.

I write this from the perspective of a BJJ novice who has competed once, but is preparing seriously for a tournament for the first time. Having experienced the pre-competition jitters before, I understand some of what to expect on the competition mats. My fight camp, however, feels like a journey through a foreign country where I don’t speak the language.

Perhaps the most jarring aspect of competition prep is the hunger. As someone who typically fasts for 11-16 hours daily, I’m used to hunger that lingers and gnaws at your guts, but is ultimately satiated. Weight-cutting hunger is a different, all-consuming demon. I’ve gone from a fit 173 to a skeletal 164. My bones are hungry. My skin is hungry. I count the minutes between meals.

What to Expect When You're Expecting to Compete

I also crave change. Competition, to me, is about proving a certain amount of worthiness as a grappler. Yes, you do win or learn. But loss is a pill made more bitter by a long, grueling fight camp. In any ways, this competition — and winning it — is about proving myself worthy to wear the belt in the eyes of my coaches and my team.

All of the training has forced me to recalibrate that definition of worthiness. I must show up to train to win. That means treating every roll like I’m down two points and there are 30 seconds on the clock. Some days, however, I just don’t have that kind of energy. My job or physical exhaustion have devoured my reserves. Training becomes a chore. The joy of BJJ becomes even more elusive. Most significantly, because I’m not giving it what I know is my all, that feeling of worthiness inches further out of reach.

Joy gets dimmer off the mats, too. I’ve neglected important people and tasks (link to alienating people). I’ve had to carve out time to be happy: whether that’s a hike, a long walk, or a drive with no destination. These are the things that have kept me on the path.

Through all of this, I’ve returned to BJJ’s ultimate existential question: Why am I doing this? I’m no philosopher or expert on metaphysics (though we have a few of those at PBJJ), but I suspect my why has something to do with one of my core beliefs: If we are alone in the universe, then it may be up to us to determine our own meaning. If that’s the case, then there’s meaning in every drop of sweat I’ve left on the mat. For those of you out there preparing for competition season, I hope you can do the same.


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