Competition Is Not the Only Goal of BJJ
The reasons that a person may walk into a Brazilian Jiu Jitsu Academy and gym can be as varied as the people themselves. There is really no standard reason, although there are a number of common threads. Many people are looking for a way to get in shape. Some are looking to gain confidence and they understand martial arts as a way to achieve this goal. Others might be seeking some self defense skills. Through BJJ a practitioner will achieve all of these goals and more. Each will take time and some will take more focus than others, but all are achieveable.
One of the first big questions that will come up for the average practitioner is whether or not they want to compete, or when they will to compete. Competition can be an amazing outlet to test your skills against fellow practitioners from other academies in a sport environment. As Tom DeBlass is fond to say, competition should be an extension of your love of jiu jitsu and also it is important to see competition as simply another skill that one can work on and get better. Competition will call into question not only your knowledge of BJJ techniques, but also your ability to handle a high degree of stress. It will also force you to be ultra diligent with training and possibly diet leading up to the competition. It is a big commitment, no matter what competition it is and it is not something to be entered into lightly. You must take it serious and work to do the best you possibly can.
If the itch to compete strikes you, by all means, go for it. It can be immensely beneficial for people who competed athletically in the past, perhaps in high school or college. It affords a competitive avenue that you can take advantage for many, many years as there is a growing population of old jiu jiteiros still out there getting after it on the competition mats. And for someone who's never competed before athletically, the feeling of stepping out there on the mats for the first time is both daunting and invigorating. While our goal should always be to be as successful as we can and win the match or matches we compete in, for the first timer, stepping out into that unknown can be a life-changing event in and of itself.
But what if you choose not to compete for whatever reason? Does this make you somehow a lesser BJJ athlete? Absolutely not. The vast majority of people who put on a gi or spats and get on those mats to train are not competitors. Sure they may compete eventually, but for many, they are content to study, learn and practice the art without going out seeking those medals. But because you don't compete, does not mean that you don't have goals and aren't aggressively and diligently working hard to achieve them. Let's take a look at some solid goals that you can be striving for as you go to class. Coming to class with a concrete target will make your classes more meaningful and your progress more measurable.
Get in the best shape you can.
There are very few things as important as taking care of yourself and your health when it comes to BJJ. You will quickly find it to be one of the most, if not the most challenging physical exercise programs you've ever been a part of. If you make no other changes, but adding BJJ to your lifestyle, you will find yourself gaining in strength, stamina and flexiblity. If you take it a notch further and begin to examine your diet, you may find areas where you can improve the overall quality of the fuel you are putting in your body and thereby get more comprehensive results.
Getting healthier and losing weight is one of the most common reasons that anyone starts an exercise program like jiu jitsu. With a little bit of discipline, coupled with your newfound passion for grappling, you will find yourself feeling the best you've ever felt, which might mean you feel younger, lighter, and all around happier.
Choosing not to compete is a personal decision that you will have to work out for yourself, but being the best and healthiest version of you, doesn't have to be. We can all get there with some focus and hard work.
Inspire someone else to start BJJ.
Being positive is infectious. Too often it is easy to be surrounded by and influenced by negative thinkers and negative people. The more you train BJJ, you will be surrounded with people who come from all walks of life, all occupations, all ages, genders and ethnicities who are seeking the same things as you. They're trying to master this complex, but fun, deadly, but profound martial art called Brazilian Jiu Jitsu.
The longer you train, you will find that you're talking about BJJ more and more. Your friends, family members, coworkers, and classmates will hear all of the stories of the fun you are having and the challenges you're undertaking. Best of all, they will be able to see for themselves, a friend or family member who is getting healthier and who is happy. They may ask you what your secret is and you will barely be able to hold back your excitement as you tell them. Or maybe they won't ask. Maybe they're too stuck in their negative mindset to be able to notice anything at all but the floor below them that they are staring at. These folks need us the most. These are the folks that we invite to a class, pushing and prodding until they acquiesce and come try it for themselves.
Not everyone you introduce to BJJ is going to like it, but in my 10 years of training, I would say 8 out of 10 loved it, maybe 5 out of 10 started training themselves and maybe 3 out of 10 stuck with it. Now 30% does not sound like the greatest odds, but if you can introduce and inspire even 1 person to try BJJ and everyone who trains does this, we will have doubled the number of people who train overnight.
Teach a class.
Besides walking in on your first day, teaching a class might be the scariest and most rewarding thing you will ever do on the mats. To be able to step up to the front of the room and share YOUR knowledge of something that you have been practicing for so long and are so passionate about is one of the most humbling and terrifying experiences you can have.
Like anything else in BJJ, teaching a class can start off awkward and you'll be sore after, but over time, you will become more fluid as you gain muscle memory and are able to practice more and more. Find a way to talk to your instructor if this is something that you'd like to do. Many instructors would be glad to have extra assistance during kids classes or during fundamental classes where there may be a higher percentage of brand new students. This is a great way to get your feet wet and help you start honing your skills for that day when you're up front by yourself.
Earn your next belt, or your black belt.
Another fundamental goal or metric of the art of Brazilian Jiu Jitsu is the earning of belts which signify progress and development, along with mastery of the techniques and principles associated with each level. Though every academy, affiliation or organization can have it's own specific nuances to the various stages of one's BJJ journey, the common denominator is that time at each belt is long and arduous. Unlike some martial arts, where a person can achieve "mastery" and black belt status in about 3-4 years, it is not uncommon for the average practitioner to spend at least a decade working towards their black belt. For this reason, the number of people who earn their black belts in comparison to the number of people who start BJJ is extremely small, with most common estimates being less than 5% of people who start actually achieving their black belt.
Earning your next belt whether it's blue, purple, brown or black or beyond, is something that should be on the minds horizon but doesn't have to be the sole motivation of one's training. The time spent at each belt can be 2-3 years or more depending on a variety of reasons, so earning that belt will always be a long term commitment. But with each passing color belt, the overall feeling of achievement continues to grow, until that crucial day when your instructor awards you the coveted black belt and the journey seems to start all over again.
In closing, the choice to compete is ultimately personal and should be discussed with your coaches and instructors. You should compete if you want to and you shouldn't if you don't want to. It's that simple. Competing doesn't define you as a practitioner. There are a wide variety of goals that you can strive for that are equally, if not arguably more valuable than competing and we've discussed a few above. Master Renzo Gracie is famous for saying that fighting is the greatest thing we can have in our soul. I like to think of this more broadly in terms of striving for a goal or dream, whether it is being in the best shape we can be, teaching a class, or stepping on the competition mats. Reaching for and achieving our own potential and fighting to be the best we can be IS truly the greatest thing we can do and it's a fight none of us can afford to avoid.
One of the best overall activities that can also supplement your BJJ is getting to know Catch Wrestling with it's deep roots in grappling in Europe. Take advantage of the mastermind Neil Melanson's "Catch Wrestling Formula" series available here at BJJ Fanatics!