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Is Competition a Necessity for Jiu Jitsu Promotion?
Recently, ADCC and UFC veteran Tom DeBlass took to social media to address the age old question of whether or not jiu jitsu competition is necessary to be promoted and ultimately earn your black belt. There are a wide variety of stances on this topic. With all of the available promotions and rule set variations, it is nearly possible for most average practitioners around the country to compete one or twice a month if they wanted to. The number of competitors seems to be growing, but for most schools, the percentage of competitors is usually around 10-15%. The choice to compete is an intensely personal one and once the decision to compete has been made, this should not be taken lightly according to DeBlass.
Some schools or even affiliations promote a more self-defense based curriculum and believe that BJJ is first and foremost a self-defense and that the notion of competition is not necessary.
While other schools and teams are built on a foundation of sport competition and encourage their members to add competitions to their goals, along with their belts. Both approaches have produced amazing martial artists, with neither being the be all, end all path that should be seen as the standard.
DeBlass happens to be part of a team steeped heavily in competition starting at the top with Master Renzo Gracie who is one of the most prolific competitors in the storied Gracie family and his black belt Ricardo Almeida, who was Tom's instructor.
Competition is an extension of your love of BJJ
For Deblass, competition should simply be an extension of your love of jiu jitsu. It should be something that you desire to do, to test yourself in a new way on the mats under the big lights so to speak. Learning to compete and be successful is a skill that must be perfected with diligent effort above and beyond your study of BJJ. The desire to compete should also not be something that is entertained lightly. For Tom, the student who comes to him with the goal of competing, enters into a new world that they must take very seriously, as there is no 'casual' competing for DeBlass.
Competition, when practiced enough, will eventually become simply another day of training for the practitioner. This idea is not to minimize the importance of the competition, but to show that the competitor has so inoculated him or herself to the stresses associated with competition, that they can focus on the task at hand and execute the goal of perfect jiu jitsu, without any undo stress or panic. The competition, for those who have achieved this mindset, is over once the training camp has been completed and the final test on the mats is merely a foregone conclusion, requiring the execution of the student's game.
The goal of BJJ is the best you possible
The ultimate goal for everyone according to DeBlass should be to be happy and work to become a better version of themselves. If this involves competition, all the better as it is something that DeBlass has found essential to his personal development, having competed since junior high school in sports. But if competition is something you are not comfortable with or don't wish to do for whatever reason, there are plenty of other reasons to train.
With only 10-15% of the average academy competing, that leaves nearly 90% of every school's student base working on other goals. No matter what your personal goal is, by focusing on your own journey and getting better, after enough time has passed and enough effort has been put in, you will become a better version of the you that started.
Don't be afraid to try, but be ready to work
Along the way to your black belt, there's a chance you may get bitten by the competition bug. There's something to be said for trying something to test yourself, to make yourself uncomfortable and to challenge yourself to dig deep inside and see what you're made of.
But know that to do it right, EVERYTHING you do needs to be geared towards that competition. You cannot miss training sessions. There are literally no excuses good enough for a competitor to miss necessary training. You cannot sit out during training rounds and take rounds off. DeBlass is a firm believer in the importance of suffering while training for a competition to ready the mind and body to face what will in all likelihood be an easier day on the day of competition.
You just might find that you love the adrenaline rush and the thrill of solving the new problems that competition throws at you. Competition, with all of it's structure and rules, may be the most realistic scenario you will ever find where you can safely test what you know against an opponent who is seeking to do the same.
In closing, competition can be a supremely rewarding and crucial part of your personal journey as a jiu jitsu practitioner, but at the end of the day, we are all left with our own paths to black belt and beyond and not all of them find practitioners on the competition mats.
The decision to compete or not compete, should not be entertained lightly and if competing becomes something you'd like to add to your resume, you must recognize it as a new skill that can help enrich your jiu jitsu experience and like any skill, must be practiced and perfected over time.
Not competing, does not make you any less of a student and doesn't make the competitor better than you. Each student must give 100% to their particular path and together they can progress side by side to that coveted black belt goal.
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