So, you’ve decided that you’re ready to compete at your first ever tournament. You’ve been training for a while now, you’ve got a stripe or two, you’re ready to go. You’re going to destroy everyone in the competition. Although that is a great attitude, it will likely lead to a brutal reality check in a competitive environment. When you’re a white belt who is looking to compete for the first time, the smart approach is to take it easy.
People stay at white belt for an average of a year and a half to two years. During that time a few stages take place. The first couple of months are life-changing, mind-moulding, ego-removing torture that everyone goes through. Afterwards, as you ease into BJJ it’s time to find a way to survive. After a couple more months of pure survival, your own game will start to develop slowly. So, in those terms, make sure you’re at least at this third stage or above before you consider conquering your weight division at white belt.
Realistic Expectations For A White Belt
First and foremost, before considering anything else, you must make sure you’re ready to compete. If you’re in your second month of BJJ, without any martial arts background, but are feeling strong and confident, talk to your instructor. You’ll more likely than not, be advised to give it a few more months. Primarily, this is for your own benefit. Remember the first few training sessions? Well, multiply that by a 100. Nothing is going to kill your confidence and desire to train faster than a premature tournament. So, stay patient for a little more while. When you start achieving some success in training through proper technique, you can start thinking about competing.
In terms of expectations, try to stay as real as you can. Even if you’re having moderate success in training, a tournament experience, especially a first one, is a whole different thing. There’s no need to put unnecessary pressure on yourself by setting a goal to beat everyone by submission. Make sure you set a realistic and achievable goal, like winning technically, or at least pulling off a move you’ve been working on. The BJJ journey is a long one and your victories will come.
Also, don’t make the Europeans or Worlds your first tournament. No matter how hard you trained, you won’t be ready for the white belt division there. Go to a few local tournaments first to get the feel of it all. Start small and, as you gain experience, look for bigger tournaments with tougher competition.
So, you got two stripes on your belt, almost a year of experience and you’ve rarely missed a class. Your instructor agrees that you’re ready for your first tournament. Now what? do you just keep doing what you’re doing and just jump in hoping for the best? Well, you could do this, but there is a better way to go about tournament preparation.
To start with, leave yourself enough time. Choose a tournament that is at least 6 weeks away, preferably 8, so that you have sufficient time to prepare. During this time you need to stay focused only on what you need for the tournament.
From a technical standpoint, drilling and situational sparring are crucial. Remember that you are still a white belt, which means that sticking to the basics is your best choice. Even then, go for a few chosen moves that your instructor agrees are your best. Make sure you have at least one takedown, one pass, one sweep and submission or two in your arsenal. Look for those moves in rolling and keep drilling them every class.
At white belt, there is no real use of an elaborate conditioning plan. However, you need to be in decent shape in order to avoid gassing out. You won’t get much stronger in a short time, so conditioning is a better fit. Keeping in mind that it is your first tournament, rest and recovery should be your main focus. If you’re too tired in BJJ class you should dial your conditioning down. Stick to basics like bodyweight exercises and aerobic work and you’ll do just fine.
Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu is a weight class sport. You have to take this into account when you’re looking to compete. Usually, people try to be as big as possible, meaning they cut a certain amount of weight. Although people can’t get much bigger due to same day weigh-ins, you should look to choose the correct weight class.
Traditionally, there are 9 weight divisions, from Rooster Weight to Ultra Heavy Weight, plus the Absolute Division. That allows for plenty of options without risking your health. It is not advisable for anyone to cut more than a few pounds before a competition. At white belt level, this is even more important. Try to cut the least amount of weight possible, if any, before your first tournament.
This does not mean that you should be overweight and get into a division too big for you. A division up usually means both taller and heavier opponents, so try and stay within a range that suits your body type.
Rules And Regulations
On a different note, get acquainted with the tournament format. Make sure you’re aware of all the rules since different organizations tend to have different rules. As a white belt, you are going to be severely limited in a technical aspect. There are plenty of techniques that are illegal at white belt across most of the organizations out there. Another important factor is to know if it is a Gi or No-Gi tournament. Some organizations, like the IBJJF, do not allow white belts to compete in No-Gi. Get to know the Gi requirements as well, since you can get DQed if your Gi does not fulfill certain standards.
Age is also an important factor. In BJJ, people usually go from kids and juvenile categories, through the adult category towards the masters’ categories. A juvenile white belt will have even more restrictive rules, due to safety concerns, than an adult one. A 35-year-old white belt is better suited for the Masters’ categories than the adult ones.
Despite the usual practice being same day weigh-ins, there are exceptions. Make sure you know when the weigh-ins are because it does make a huge difference.
The White Belt Mindset
As a white belt, just focus on having a positive experience from your first tournament, regardless of the outcome. Get into it knowing that only one thing is certain – you’re going to have at least one match. Think about getting through it and skip focusing on medals. The more technical you are, the sooner medals are going to start coming your way.
Likewise, do not be scared by the brackets. Better, yet, skip looking at them all together. It doesn’t matter who your opponent is, what matters is what you can do in the match. At white belt, sound technique and a calm mind are going to beat brute force 99 % of the time. Stay calm, try to relax and remember to keep breathing. Go through this checklist before registering and don’t forget to enjoy your first competitive experience!