Does Winning Tournaments Mean I Have Great Jiu-Jitsu?

The quick answer is not necessarily. A common question I hear from students is a person who tells me about a student who is getting good and winning tournaments. Some are indeed possessing great skill for their level while others win but their technique is sloppy. These individuals are also missing a lot of the fundamental ingredients that make jiu-jitsu a great martial art for smaller people that is the understanding of proper leverage, body mechanics, and effortless execution of techniques with laser precision. When these factors are considered you have a student who moves with beauty and like poetry.

On the flip side, when these key ingredients are missing a gaping hole is evident when accessed by a seasoned legitimate black belt. There is no economy of motion but a serious of techniques based on power, over commitment of movements, and clear lack of understanding of the principles of jiu-jitsu. Yes, this competitor may win tournaments leading them and to the untrained eye to believe that they are great in jiu-jitsu. Many win because they know the rule book (play the system, manage the clock etc.), have great cardio, and power to get by. However, the real litmus test comes when they face an well-rounded highly technical opponent who can match their strength but possess excellent sound technique.

The person who can equal your strength but has superior technique will win. Overtime they will also surpass you as their jiu-jitsu prevents them from incurring unnecessary injuries. Meanwhile, father time passes you by, you are now 40 years old crippled by the reckless rolling you did when you were in your 20s and 30s. Meanwhile, the one with the great technique continues to train on like fine wine that tastes even better with age. Remember speed and stamina start to go quickly after 35. It is the very reason why the majority of star professional athletes begin to think about retiring. When one practices good solid clean jiu-jitsu they can keep performing at a good level with age. The truth can’t be said about the other side.

I remember a big strong 270lbs blue belt many years ago, who complained he should be promoted to purple belt because he tapped out 130lbs purple belts. All he did for years was the same move every class. He never worked new techniques or flowed, all he cared about was tapping people with the same move. One day he said he was going to make a list for the professor of all the people he tapped in class. He did finally get his purple belt, and I decided to invite him down to roll at another club with blue belts his size. The result, he got his ass handed to him. After a couple of rolls, he stopped and sulked in the corner.

His problem was his technique in the end was not strong enough to match or overcome students his size. He spent more years believing in his own hype when he should have been training with people much better than him. Instead, he chose to feed his ego and wasted precious years of training. I’ve lost communication with this individual. From what I heard he is no longer training anymore which is a shame but not surprising.

The moral of the story is no one is as good as they think they are. Humble yourself. Don’t chase belts. Enjoy the journey. There is lots to learn and there is never a day where I don’t pick up something new even 13 years later. My good friend Matt Kwan just gave me a good clinic on heel hooks the last time I trained with. Now I am going to go see him to work on that part of my game, and I can’t wait! Check out his gym On Guard BJJ in Pitt Meadows if you are in his area.

As for the tournament competitors, I’ve seen people who have won IBJJF tournaments get crushed in NAGA tournaments and vice versa. Jiu-jitsu is jiu-jitsu, fighting is fighting, you need to have a well-rounded game. On top of it, most importantly, great jiu-jitsu is how you conduct yourself as a person inside and outside of the dojo. Be a person who exhibits class, humility and dignity. Your skills will deteriorate with time, no one will remember your tournament victories, but these personality traits and how you treat people will be remembered forever.

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