Learning how to compete – the adrenaline dumps, anxiety and doubt – is something every Jiu Jitsu player goes through at some point. It’s more complicated than just dealing with nerves. If you have eight matches at a tournament to take first place, how do you conserve your energy in each bout while maintaining a competitive pace? How do you form a strategy for competitors you know nothing about? Is it better to specialize in a few techniques or be a jack-of-all-trades? Easton BJJ coach Alessandro Tecce competes at every Colorado event, and when possible, travels around the nation for higher profile IBJJF tournaments, where, as he says, “if you look at the top guys competing, they’re at every one of those tournaments.” Over the years he’s developed strategies that help him prepare both mentally and physically for competition. Here he shares his thoughts and tips for those looking to take their Jiu Jitsu to a higher level:
When you’re in a tournament, there’s a sense of urgency, like something bad is going to happen. It’s this excitation; you can harness it as a positive or a negative feeling. Right when I’m shaking hands, I’ve thought, “Oh no. This is it, and I’m not ready.” It’s this anxiety.
But the goal is not to get rid of the anxiety. The anxiety is good. That’s your body acting appropriately to the situation you’re in, the fight or flight response that’s programmed into us. When I’ve been most satisfied with my performance, is when I’m not dreading it; I’m excited about the fight. And for that there are a couple realizations you have to have: Ultimately, the only thing you can do is your best, and you should be satisfied if you do. The outcome of the match is outside of your control. If the guy is better than you, he’s better than you, and he’s going to win if you both are doing your best. Once you realize that, that stops the stupid mistakes you’d make because you no longer doubting yourself. You’re not worried about the outcome of the match, just your performance personally – not in relation to the other guy.
Knowing how to compete is a skill in itself that’s totally independent of your Jiu Jitsu skill. At Worlds I have to fight eight matches to get first place. That’s potentially 56 minutes of grappling. I have to approach that in a way that would be different from a training session or a smaller division. I have to budget my energy.
I didn’t budget well in my first match at Pans. It was 13-0, a total adrenaline dump, head’s bobbing up and down, ruined the guy. But then by match three I’m done. I don’t even want to be in there, which is a huge obstacle.
More than anything I’d want [students] to have a coherent strategy, whether it be, “I’m really comfortable scoring from the guard and I’ll play from there,” or if you’re good at takedowns and maintaining top control. But ultimately your game has to make sense and your moves have to compliment each other the whole time. A guy with good takedowns with excellent guard passes and back attacks – that’s a complimentary strategy.
You can’t just pick techniques you like, you have to keep in mind the broader picture. It’s more specific than preferring top or bottom, but having passes that set up other passes, when you can move from one position to another coherently with the possibility of advancing with each one.
You definitely want to specialize to some degree at least. There’s some disagreement here, there’s this continuum between specializing and having a variety of options, but yes, some specialization is required to succeed. You need your foundation but you need to focus on a subset of techniques that you get really good at. Some people have three moves, black belt world champions win with basically three moves. The rest of what they do is getting you to those three moves.
Treat a specific subset of your training as if it were a competition. When I train with my fellow instructors, or senior students, or get together with some friends and have a private training session, competition is the goal. I don’t BS around, I distance myself from my opponents (which, they’re all my friends, so they understand), I listen to music, I pace around, I don’t get complacent during the match, every single match is “I’m winning.” There’s this empirical testing that happens every day in a Jiu Jitsu class against a resisting opponent, like a science experiment. It’s all about practice.
Written by: Bryan Shatz