How Do You Get Ready for Your First Tournament?

By Joshua Rozenboom

So here you are. A few months ago you took a chance and showed up to your first Jiu Jitsu class. Maybe you wrestled in high school or college, maybe you were an athlete when you were younger and wanted to get back into shape, or maybe you were sitting on the couch for the last ten years and finally gave in to that friend who “caught the bug”. And now here are you are: a somewhat new and inexperienced white belt, and you’re going to sign up for your first tournament.

Jiu Jitsu competition is fast-paced and intense, and for someone who has never competed, it is difficult to imagine. Even students with athletic backgrounds don’t know exactly what to expect. For all the training and conditioning and hard work that goes into preparing for a tournament, a lot of it seem to disappear when that timer starts. So what kind of things can you expect when competing in your first tournament?

To start, expect the pace to be different. There is a big difference between 100% in the gym and 100% on the tournament floor, especially in the beginning. This is why you’ll hear coaches say things like “be first” and “you have to commit” when preparing to start a match. You’ll see that as soon as your opponent gets his or her offense mounted, recovering is hard work. Getting in there and making something happen is your best chance to control the pace and work what you know.

Which brings us to point two: stick to what you know. If you plan on competing, communicate with your coach and teammates and get some sort of game plan together. Work on a hierarchy of positions from standing that connect and work for your skill level. Sticking to fundamentals is always a great idea, especially when your opponent wants to go off the script and throw up a flying triangle. And don’t be the guy throwing up a flying triangle in his first tournament.

Next point: all of this assumes you want to learn and grow. If you’re going out for fun and just wanting to burn some competitive energy, then by all means, have fun. If you’re wanting to apply what you’re being taught in a high-intensity environment, and test your skill level at a given point in time, then by all means: have fun. But you might feel better if you focus on your game plan and let the results speak for themselves. Your coaches will be proud of you either way, especially because you are now part of a very small percentage of the population who had the guts to walk onto the tournament floor.

Which brings me to the last point: be prepared to throw all of this out the window. Jiu Jitsu tournaments can feel utterly chaotic. They are loud, they are crowded, and the air is thick with nervous energy. Bring your ID, your water, every ounce of fight you have in you, and forget the rest. The time spent before you get called to the mat is hectic with mat assignments, warm-ups, trying to size up your opponents, and seeing for the first time the intensity of a Jiu Jitsu competition. Then there’s the waiting. And waiting. And just when you think you can’t wait any more, you get waved onto the mat, and it’s go time. Get ready for chaos and enjoy the rush of that first match. The hard work is done, your coaches and team are there with you, and now it’s just time to have fun, do what you’ve been learning to do, and enjoy the moment. You’ll never again get to compete in you first Jiu Jitsu tournament.

If you’re looking to compete for the first time or improve on your last competition performance, make sure to get signed up for the AZBJJF Novice Cup on Saturday, August 10th. You can register at the following link: