How to Prepare for your first IBJJF tournament

For one brief, shining, day, I was a Cub Scout. There are pictures. As it turned out, there were elements about it that I couldn’t abide (conformity) even though, paradoxically, I really liked the uniforms. Yeah, yeah, I’m a paradox.

The one shining lesson from scouting that has always stuck with me from those glorious few hours is simple: be prepared. With the IBJJF’s first trip to North Carolina coming up in a mere 10 days, I know that many Triangle Jiu-Jitsu students are competing with the federation for the first time. Others, presumably, are in the same boat. Hence, a quick post designed to help you not be nervous, not be flustered, not be scared, but to be … well, you know.

Much of this advice applies to any tournament, and I encourage you to check out my Getting Ready For Tournaments 101 post as well. There are particular aspects to IBJJF competition, though, that merit some attention. So even though we’re fewer than two weeks out, let’s start there and proceed.


Make sure you know the rules and scoring system, especially the legal submissions for your belt level. Note: the IBJJF has different rules than US Grappling or NAGA, so while there are overarching similarities, don’t go for that wristlock unless you know it’s legal.

Train hard. Work your cardio. Focus on the moves that you know are your best moves, that you’re most likely to need and use in the tournament. I’m a huge believer in high-rep drilling, so when the time comes, your body legitimately doesn’t know how to do the move any way but the right way. I do a drill called “Perfect Match” where I drill every move on my partner in order, as if the match went perfectly. Then I change my drilling based on circumstances that might occur (I end up on bottom, he gives me his back, etc.). But I drill my best 1-3 moves for each common position. This isn’t the time to learn new tricks, but to sharpen the tools you have.

Eat clean. Drink tons of water. Cut out alcohol, sugar and junk foods, especially if you’re close to weight.

This post isn’t about cutting weight — that could be an entire series — so I will only say two things about that. I don’t recommend cutting much, if any weight. I think you should compete at your natural weight, with you healthy. That means fueling your body with healthy food and lots of water. If you’re close to a particular weight class, though, and want to drop a few pounds, the single most effective method I’ve found is eliminating any beverages from your diet except for water and green tea. Drink a ton of water — I drink 1.5 to 2 gallons a day — until a few days before the tournament. This way you’ll be nice and hydrated, you won’t eat junk calories, and you can shed a few pounds easily without compromising anything.


Keep eating clean. You’re eating for performance. If it’s worth doing, it’s worth taking seriously.


A week out, it’s time to taper down your training. Some schools, including Robert Drysdale’s, have suggested competitors not train the week before the competition — that way, you’re hungry and excited and your body has recovered from the hard work it’s done. I don’t go that far, but I do mostly drilling and only roll light rounds, and then only with people I know and completely trust. This is another lesson I’ve learned the hard way: Don’t roll with that guy who sometimes goes too hard. Don’t roll with the guy you don’t know. You’ve put in time, effort, financial resources — don’t let an ill-advised sparring session jack you up 2 days before.

Personally, I drill light on Thursday, run through my perfect match, and then do nothing on Friday. If I’m close to weight, I’ll do yoga. (Hot yoga will take water out of you fast, but it might also deplete you if you’re not used to it.)

If you’re worried about weight, cut down on salt intake a few days before, and water intake 24 hours before. Note: be careful of ibuprofen. I’ve learned that hard way (after gaining four pounds overnight) that it’ll make you retain water. Otherwise, eat wisely, don’t over-exert yourself, and don’t take unnecessary risks.



* a bag of healthy food (fruit, nuts, protein bars) and water
* your ID
* at least one complete spare gi
* music or a book to get lost in if you like

Get to the tournament as early as you can. This isn’t because you’ll need to be there all day (although you’ll probably want to watch your teammates, too): it’s because you want to be familiar with the environment, acclimate yourself to the surroundings, and just get relaxed and comfortable. There will be many mats going, and it can be overwhelming. Give yourself time to get used to it.

Well before your division is called, if you’re close to the weight limit, go to the bullpen — an area blocked off with yellow barriers — there is a practice scale there. You can check your weight. Be sure to do so in your competition gi, so you can be assured of an accurate reading. This will give you an idea of how much food or water you can consume beforehand. If you’re thirsty, your teammates can get you water after you weigh in. More on that in a second.

The schedule will have a rough estimate of when your division will be called. Plan to be in the area an hour before, just to be sure: schedules change. When your division is called, you’ll go to the bullpen. Bring your ID with you.

When it’s time, the mat coordinator will call your name and check you in. Shortly after that, you’ll go to the line to have your gi checked. A worker will make sure your gi meets the IBJJF legal requirements for length and for patches. This is why you need a spare gi: they might disqualify your gi, or your belt, or make you tear patches off. This probably won’t happen, but it’s best to be prepared.

After they approve your gi, you’ll go to the scale. You only get one chance to weigh in, so be sure you’re on weight before you step on that scale.

Assuming you’re on weight, they’ll take you right to the mat that you’re going to compete on. Your coaches and teammates can join you there — and hand you water if you’re thirsty or get dry mouth.

From there, you’ll win your first match. You’ll get a break before you have to compete again. After that, if you have a second match, you’ll win that one too. This continues until you win your gold medal match, and decide to compete in Absolute (you have to medal to qualify for Absolute). Then you win Absolute too.

At least, that’s what I hope for you. Now go forth and have fun out there.


What Makes a Good Tournament?

Competition is valuable. The experience you get from standing across from another combat athlete who is going to try assiduously to choke you or bend your joints the wrong way is hard to replicate.

A tournament can either be a winning experience or a learning experience, or ideally both. Apart from the matches themselves, though, whether you have a good time at an event really depends heavily on how the tournament is run.

Since I starting training almost five years ago, I’ve been fortunate to compete at a ton of different events run by different organizations. During this time, I’ve developed some fairly firm thoughts on what makes a tournament a good experience for competitors — and by contrast, what undermines a competitor’s experience.

Yes, you want to win medals. But other things go into making a tournament a good experience!

Yes, you want to win medals. But other things go into making a tournament a good experience!

Follow me through my list, which is organized into “you’ve got to have these things” and “it is nice when tournaments have these things.” Continue reading

Atlanta Open Recap

It was a weekend of firsts in Atlanta. For the first time, I worked a table at an IBJJF tournament (more on that below), and for the first time (spoiler alert), I took gold at an IBJJF event!


Shane, you’ve looked better, homie … but then, so have I.

Working the table was actually a productive and fun experience. For one thing, I got to work with some incredible black belt referees, guys like David “Rock” Jacobs and Marlon Loor Vera. You learn a lot seeing how knowledgable and accomplished black belts approach matches — and it was fun. I also got to work a Lucas Lepri match and get a front-row seat to watch Bruno Malfacine.

The picture above was taken right before the adult blue belt final, and I’m including it because it was represents the weirdest table work story of the weekend. Usually, the matches come bang-bang-bang, one right after the other. But the final was delayed. The match runner came by and said “we’re going to give this one 10 minutes: we’ve got some puking happening.”

“Which guy?”

“… both of them.”

The run through the division had gassed both guys so much that each of them vomited not once, not twice, but roughly two dozen times. When we thought we had the match ready to go, one of the guys had to rush off the mat for one final stomach evacuation. Good times!

This is what happened in the match. (Don’t worry, it’s safe for work and life). This is probably the best way it could have finished.

The other reason I enjoyed working the table is it gave me something to do other than sit around thinking about my matches. A common problem I wind up having is getting stuck in my own head and winding myself before matches. Having something to focus on only helped. (My mental strategy was to think like this: hey, the worst that can happen is I lose a jiu-jitsu match. I’ve lost lots of jiu-jitsu matches! Been there.)

The only unfortunate part: I really enjoy hanging out with my teammates and taking pictures. I didn’t get to do almost any of that. Next time!

A few notable things from the tournament:

* I’ve been a blue belt since June 2012. During that time, I’ve trained so much that the IBJJF declared my belt too worn and frayed for competition. This made me almost as happy as the medal, at least after I was able to borrow a belt from another Team Royce guy (thanks, Braxton). Some people say it’s frayed and worn because I wash it too much. I prefer to think it’s the training, but it’s true that I’m anti-belt-microbes.

* In the gym, I play around with all kind of new, fun and risky techniques. I’ve been known to berimbolo on occasion. But in this (and most) tournaments, I didn’t do anything that isn’t on the Triangle Jiu-Jitsu blue belt basics curriculum. This was exactly how I’d hoped it would go: the fundamentals work and you can never drill them too much.


Good things happen when you put a hand in the collar.

I had two matches in my division and one in absolute. All three were against good guys and accomplished competitors. Unfortunately, I lost my absolute match by advantage in the last 30 seconds — the guy tried to pass and forced me to turtle, giving up the advantage. But that match taught me a lot and gave me some things to work on in the future.

I felt good about both matches in weight, too. I pulled guard in one match and played top in the other after getting an ankle pick takedown, so I got to work both top and bottom game. I’d give you the full play-by-play, but no one really cares about that but me and my mom. And mom’s visiting in three weeks, so I’ll get to tell her in person.

You can also read my awesome teammate Kim’s recap as well. So let’s get straight to the photo and the Charity Challenge update!

First IBJJF gold!

First IBJJF gold!

Quick recap for those who are new to the blog: I’m donating $10 for every match I win this year to the Women’s Debate Institute. But to encourage others to get involved, I asked people to vote on a second charity to benefit as well. I’ve told some folks this, but the winner of that vote was anti-cancer charity the George Pendergrass Foundation, edging out other worthy causes like Reporters Without Borders, RAINN, the Wounded Warrior Project and Carolina Basset Hound Rescue.

A few gracious people offered to match my donations — and, in fact, another person has pledged since my last post — meaning every win this year is worth $35 to charity so far. There are still a ton of cool rewards you can win if you get involved, including a bottle of the rarest and best beer in the world, Westvleteren 12. Check out all the ways you can get involved and help.

And now, let’s tally the results! I won seven matches this time around, adding to the total from before. Here’s where we’re at:

Matches Won This Tournament: 2
Total Won For The Year: 13
Money Raised For Charity: $70
Total Raised So Far: $455

Custom Photoshops: 2
Private Lessons: 1