On a Tournament Game

If you want to read actual intelligent posts on tournaments & game plans (instead of my blathering):

This has been bouncing around in my head for the last few weeks. Just babbling for now. Might refine it later. Much better to focus on than unintelligent insurance companies…

In a tournament, the goal is to win. Experience is good, yadda yadda yadda, but the real point and goal and reason for being of a tournament is to win. Can your jiu-jitsu beat someone else’s jiu-jitsu? And since this is jiu-jitsu, by submission is preferred. Points are a necessary evil of timed matches and reflect the hierarchy of positions (assuming this were a fight and you could punch). But by submission is better because then you know that you won, you made someone give up and acknowledge the defeat.

Class time is mostly for practicing all the little parts of jiu-jitsu, for repetition and body mechanics, for learning the inches that make or break the technique, for experimenting and trying to recall techniques. But a tournament game should be the most stripped-down and effective set of techniques that you know. A “signature move” or series, a go-to submission. Doesn’t have to be something itself simple, but rather something that you yourself can do easily and often. For examples, Roger Gracie: pass, mount, choke. Ryan Hall: Inverted where-did-that-come-from triangle. Both those guys know a lot more jiu-jitsu than what they use to win tournaments, but they use only a small, refined subset to win.

(Tangent #1: I’ve seen the forum debate about whether you’d do better with a coach who competes or with one who only used to or never has. Setting aside John Danaher as the ultimate answer for the latter —-

[Tangent #2: I’ve also seen forum debate about New Zealand John. While I have no direct experience with him, Renzo himself calls John one of the best instructors and best black belts. Renzo has no problem calling things as he sees them (smiling the whole time, so you love him anyway, but he does not sugarcoat anything). And he tells stories of how world champions show up at his gym, fresh from Brazil: “Hey, Renzo, can I warm up?” Renzo says, “Of course, my friend. Go roll with John.” World champion gets tapped multiple times and hardly looks like he knows what he’s doing on the mat. World champion comes back to Renzo. “I’m a 3-time world champion. I can do nothing. Who is this guy? Nobody knows.” I trust Renzo. Do you?

Also, Scott got to train one day with him over the summer, and said the guy is just freaky smart.

{Tangent #3: Tim has his own New Zealand John story. After Paul Creighton moved up to New York and started training with Renzo, he called Tim and told him that he absolutely had to come up and train with Renzo, he’s the best. So Tim goes up to stay a while and train there. First day, nogi. Paul tells Tim, “Hey, go roll with John.” At the time, Tim is ~220, late blue/early purple, I think, and a powerlifter and good wrestler. He looks at John and thinks, “Yeah, this isn’t gonna be hard.” They slap hands. John grabs Tim’s wrist. Tim suddenly realizes that that limb was no longer his to control. Moments later, tap. Start again. Tap. Says he’s never experienced anything like that, that John had complete control the entire time.}]

— (resume Tangent #1) a coach who doesn’t compete may have a wider game to show because he’s not focused on what wins tournaments for him. Everything doesn’t revolve around, say, getting to spider guard or finding triangles everywhere. He may not be the best coach if you want to compete at an international level, but he isn’t going to be less of a good coach just because he doesn’t compete. —

[Tangent #4: I think it was Dave Jacobs who started/answered a few threads and said he doesn’t like to compete because, if he loses, the other people generally plaster his name up everywhere and use it as a marketing ploy. “Our guy beat him, so our school is better, blah blah blah.” You can’t just assume that someone doesn’t compete because they’re bad at jiu-jitsu. Another black belt (can’t remember who now) stopped competing due to a major injury. (Probably several in that category.) Tim used to compete a lot, but to get black belt matches, he’d usually have to go to larger tournaments, which is a lot of time to drive, a lot of money to enter, a long time standing in line to weigh-in, a long time sitting around, and then maybe one fight. Especially with his family, that’s time and money he has better use for.]

— (resume Tangent #1) … … though now I forgot where I was going with that. I think what I meant to say was that I don’t think it generally matters if your instructor competes or not. They can know how to without actually doing it. I think it’s more important to have an instructor who really knows his jiu-jitsu and can improve on yours, to find a good and high-ranked instructor when possible. If your instructor is a blue belt, he can help you a lot even, but there’s a limit to his knowledge that’s much lower than a black belt’s. He can only help you improve to his level. Even if he’s a world champion blue belt, there’s a reason he’s still a blue belt. An instructor should bring your technique up to their level and expand your range of techniques with theirs, but they’re not the one who has to get out on the mat and actually compete.

[Tangent #5: One of the reasons you should absolutely never have a white belt as an instructor. There is one in our town (a TKD school looking for extra bucks.) Since the instructor will always be a white belt, the students will always, ultimately, be white belts.]

(end Tangent #1, because I got so far off-track that I forgot what the original point was πŸ˜› )

Anyway, back to my tournament game idea. Not even a move for every position, because that’s still impossible. I think, instead, something far simpler. Use Roger Gracie’s pass-mount-choke as an example. In order to pass, he has to be on top or standing or whatever, but in something of a higher position relative to his opponent. I’m calling that “on top”, just because I can:

  1. Get on top.
    1. Can’t. Invalid. Get on top.
    2. Yes. Continue.
  2. Pass.
    1. Can’t. Invalid. Pass.
    2. Yes. Continue.
  3. Mount.
    1. Can’t. Invalid. Mount.
    2. Yes. Continue.
  4. Choke.
    1. Can’t. Invalid. Choke.
    2. Yes. Continue.
  5. Win.

The actual “how” of accomplishing each step is arbitrary, but the position goals drive the whole thing. If not on top, then get on top, etc. Know where you need to be to effect the finish you want. I’ve done this before with self-defense scenarios — start with the end and work backwards. You can do that with the Roger game plan above by starting at the bottom. Goal: Win. By: Choke. From: Mount. How there? Pass guard. From: Top.

Even what I broke out, I’m sure, is too detailed. (But I’m silly and over analyze everything.) And I’m not saying to throw out reacting or to bypass opportunities, when someone leaves a submission hanging out there just begging to be taken (or her coach tells her to triangle herself). Take those, sure. But to impose a quick-win game on someone, you need a quick and simple plan.

There are also insertion points along the path. Say you’re working for top, wind up in a scramble, and somehow end up in mount. Continue from there.

Not that all simple plans work out so well. I think it’s on Val’s blog somewhere, she tells a story of a student who insisted on only learning leg attacks, against his instructor’s advice. Then in his first tournament, he faced a double-leg amputee! (Also a lesson on not learning leg attacks, and another on listening to your instructor.)

Tournament game is more than just your “A” game, too — it’s the super-elite A game. Your A game is your whole bag of tricks; tournament game, though, is the best of the best of your best.

That’s as far as my brain has gone for now…

*snort* Now everyone’s talking Roger’s gameplan: Combat Base North East Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu Feb 22, Homework.

13 thoughts on “On a Tournament Game

  1. Cool – I look forward to seeing any further refinements, as I’ve also been bringing together thoughts for a future article on competing. Clearly this is something I’m going to be linking to. πŸ˜‰

  2. That was a good read.
    Curious to know more about this TKD school. Is the instructor actually training BJJ from a legit instructor himself…or picking up stuff from youtube,DVDs and books? Which is obviously a case of cashing in on a popular market.
    Or, maybe he is a white belt but does his instructor comes down for seminars and gradings? In which case this is perfectly acceptable in my view.

    We’ve had a few cases of the former in the UK and they were pounced upon by a vocal group of concerned BJJers on our most popular BJJ forum…to some success I would add.

  3. I have followed your post for some time but never commented before, feel free to do whatever with these random thoughts.

    You may want to refine your “tournament goals” a little. I know this is going to sound a lot like the yadda yadda yadda you have probably heard in the past, but when I was a blue belt I also thought the goal of a tournament was to win. Winning is obviously nice and of course winning by submission is always nice. But, my goal when I attend a tournaments these days is to “get better”. I try to accomplish this by finding a hole in my game, rolling with different opponents, pushing myself in preparation for the tournament ect.

    Consider the following when examining your tournament goals:

    Scenario 1) You bring your “A” game and face 1 or 2 other people, both of which you have seen in the past and “smoked” before and you “smoke” them again. What did you learn? Did you get better? Who got the most benefit out of the tournament, you or your opponents?

    Scenario 2) What about the inevitable sandbags that should really be 1 or even two belt levels higher? When you face this person and they beat you does that mean you failed because you did not meet your goal of “winning the tournament”? Who got more out of the match, you or them?

    Scenario 3) Bad refs, bad calls, bad matchups? There is a lot that goes into winning some of these tournaments and the “best player” does not always win.

    Personally, I get much more out of my tournament preparation than the actual tournament.

  4. I think you’re right about coaches. At the hobby-level of BJJ, I don’t think it matters as much if your coach doesn’t compete. My coach used to compete and still does on rare occasions. But he just isn’t interested in competing anymore. He likes to teach. And he’s good at it. Like you said, his game doesn’t centralize around what only works in tournaments. More often, he’ll teach us things and say, “You can’t do this in a tournament, but in a self defense situation, it might come in handy.”

    Also, I think you’re right about drilling the things that you are SURE of when it comes to tournament prep. Last time I did NAGA, I tried to drill some new things, trying to add a few last minute techniques into my game. HAH! When I got on the mat, all that flew out the window and I fell back on what I was good at. Better to drill those thing and refine your muscle memory, I think!

  5. @Brian: Thanks, but I think I confused even myself πŸ˜›

    @slidey: Awesome! I look forward to your succinct, but very well-thought-out, thoughts. (Unlike my wandering and ramblings.)

    @Seymour: No instructor. He also claims to be the only BJJ around, when there’s a Renzo black belt (my coach) in town and a Pedro Sauer black belt nearby. At least one forum with a large readership in our state has already pounced.

  6. @BJJJudo: (You get your own, cuz this is long πŸ˜› I’m actually trying for non-rambling; we’ll see how that goes.) Well, like I said, I was mostly just rambling, so comments are welcome and I can always reconsider. I think, though, that I was mostly considering the concept of a “tournament game” — or a tournament strategy, perhaps — rather than reasons to enter tournaments in the first place, and was assuming that I would want the most effective game when I compete.

    I understand what you mean about there being more than winning. I wasn’t thinking of just racking up an impressive competition record and a box of medals and swords, or of sandbagging local tournaments to feel good about myself. I suppose I was thinking that I wouldn’t enter a tournament with the goal of not winning.

    (The last tournament I did, in December, I had 7 matches and didn’t win a single one. I wanted to, and I tried to, but I didn’t get upset that I didn’t. I had a lot of fun, and I learned a lot [for one, 50-min matches early will destroy your cardio and endurance for the rest of the day], but I did still and do still have the goal of winning.)

    I think there are better ways to find holes than paying a lot of money, driving some distance, waiting around all day, and getting one or two matches. Save the money and the headache and take a private, perhaps. Or roll hard with the higher belts at home or go to an Open Mat at another school.

    Obviously, if I’m bringing my “A” game to a tournament, and it gets wrecked, then I have a problem there to fix. But I don’t think the middle of a tournament is the time to find out if my guard retention is weak. If I know it’s weak, then in a tournament I’ll avoid it.

    Also, wouldn’t everyone else be bringing their tournament game to a tournament? (I had something brilliant [well, at least I thought so] to go with that questions, and I have completely forgotten it in the time it took to type that out. May not have been so brilliant after all. If anyone remembers what I meant to say, please let me know.)

    How do you define “to get better”? Points scored (or not scored against you)? Lasting longer before they sub you? Getting closer to a sub yourself? Winning is the easy and lazy answer, I know, though it doesn’t have to be the only one.

    Learning something? That makes sense, and I think it’s still compatible with trying to win. I can learn that my “A” game works and maybe that I need to move up a division, or that there are a few loose areas (e.g., it took me way too long to pass or I had to muscle through something [tournaments are, I suppose, one of the few places where I can actually catch myself muscling something and have it actually work]), that I have no clue what to do in X situation still, or that I don’t know a technique as well as I thought I did. There will still be lots of places during a match where I can learn something if I’m paying attention.

    As for scenario 1, if I continually face the same people and smoke them, then it’s probably time to try a different tournament circuit or location or to jump up a competition level. I’ve maxed this one out.

    Scenario 2, well, sure, I’ve failed to win. See my previous comment about my last tournament (none of those girls were sandbagging; they’re just all good). I failed to win, 7 times in fact. That doesn’t mean I’m a failure, though — as you say, I can learn from those losses. Say my plan was “Pass, mount, choke,” and I never passed with my bread-and-butter pass. Obviously it needs more work. Or I never got off the bottom; need to work more escapes.

    Scenario 3, true, it does happen. (One reason for more Submission Only tournaments! πŸ˜‰ ) Learn what I can, and try again next time.

    I guess that, even while I want to win and have that as a goal, I’m not investing my self-worth in “winning”. I don’t feel badly about myself afterward, and I don’t think I’m horrible at jiu-jitsu and have thoughts of quitting. (Actually, I’m more annoyed & frustrated if I screwed up a sweep than a submission.) It just means I need to work harder to reach my goal next time.

    I do agree with you, though, that I think I get more out of tournament prep than the actual tournament.

  7. (Geez, that was even longer than I thought it was! Time for another rambling post? :P)

    @Allie: Yes, exactly. (Also, I think my coach comments got the short-end of the brain power. As I re-read them, I see lots of holes, though I don’t yet know how to fill them.)

    If you’re more interested in self-defense, then you need the applications that maybe aren’t legal in tournaments. Whereas, if you’re a serious competitor, you need tournament-legal techniques. And if you want to do MMA, you need to know how to adapt for that. (Our classes include side trips into MMA, since that’s what our coach is interested in.)

    I think, too, if you’re good enough and serious enough about being a top-level competitor and going to Mundials and Abu Dhabi and all the international competitions, that you’re going to be serious enough to find and pay a wrestling coach, a conditioning coach, a top-game coach, a bottom-game coach, and maybe someone else to be your corner — whatever and whomever you need to take your tournament game to that level. But I think the number of players who are really at that level and really serious enough is a small percentage of total BJJ students.

    All the coach ramblings grew out of a thread on Sherdog where beginners were flipping out over choosing coaches based on competition record. Dude, doesn’t matter now. Probably doesn’t matter later, either. The coach is there to find and fix the holes in your jiu-jitsu, tournament game or otherwise. Even if he doesn’t compete, he ought to be able to show you why you’re always losing mount in tournaments, right?

    LOL, re: the new moves, I tried that, too, at my first tournament. We’d learned a guard break the week before that I’d really liked, and I tried it in the finals. Got triangled in a hurry. Doh. It’s one of my bread-and-butter guard breaks now, but at the time it was too new for tournament use.

  8. Since I train 7 days a week, I feel like I get my fill of “trying to get better.” When I compete, my goal is ABSOLUTELY to win. I pay extra money in entry fees and gas/hotel etc. for the opportunity to test my best efforts against the best efforts of others in my division. I’m not planning on testing a hole in my game (though that often happens.) I’m planning on bringing home some tangible evidence that my jits is better than hers.

    However, I do agree that I get a lot out of tournament prep. It distills my hodgepodge into something a little more goal-oriented, less “take what they give me.”

  9. I think there maybe some misunderstanding regarding my post so let me clarify. I too have a conservative tournament game. Tournament time is no time to try something new, you should stick with what you know during tournaments and practice what needs work during practice. I was only trying to make the point that a lot of “stuff” can happen during a tournament so having multiple goals can be helpful. For example, in my last tournament the hole I found in my game was a difficulty in taking my opponent down when he used an overhook from the feet, so I worked on my uke goshi (hip toss). Finding the hole and hopefully closing it is my idea of “getting better”.

    I was not accusing you of being a sandbagger, I was thinking of my own personal experiences against guys who obviously should have been higher divisions. I may have lost to them, but if I did not get tapped maybe I did pretty good. I would love more sub only tournaments!!!!

  10. @Georgette: Yeah, sometimes it’s worth paying to be the one handing out the beatings rather than the one taking them all the time πŸ˜›

    @BJJJudo: No problem. I think tournament goals or reasons for entering tournaments would make a good and whole separate post. And while you can have several others in addition, I still thinking that winning should be up there high somewhere. I was just using that one to drive my thinking toward working out the best tournament game, since the best tournament game, in my opinion, is going to be the one that helps me win.

    And still, like I said before, I’m not using “winning” as the be-all and end-all reason for tournaments (else after getting trounced 7 times in a row on one day, I’d probably have called it quits to competing entirely!). So I guess my reasons for entering a tournament are different from my goals in the tournament — I don’t enter in order to win but rather for the experience, the testing, etc., but I do have the goal of winning once I’m there. If that makes any sense…

  11. SILLY GIRL– your “blathering” was phenomenal and motivated me to commit my own ramblings to “paper”– I hope it didn’t come across as copycat. But in a way it was; imitation is my sincerest form of flattery. πŸ™‚

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