Maximise your chances for success in your first BJJ competitions with these tips.
Competing as a white belt is a rewarding but challenging experience, especially if it’s your first BJJ competition.
Here’s a checklist of items to bring and things to do before your competition, plus some high percentage takedowns and submissions to consider, and finally some myths about competition that we’ve debunked.
Table of contents
- Tournament checklist
- Best competitions for white belts
- High percentage techniques for white belt competitors
- Debunking common BJJ competitions myths
White belt tournament checklist
1. Wear a good condition IBJJF legal gi and belt
This won’t matter as much if your first competition is an inhouse competition, but you should still make sure your gi is generally in good shape for competition. This means it should be odor-free, have the correct fit for your sleeves and pants, and be free of rips or tears.
An IBJJF legal gi is:
- Made from cotton or cotton-like material
- Has patches only in the correct places
- White, black or royal blue
- Sleeves no more than 5cm (1.97 inches) from the wrist
- Pants no more than 5cm (1.97 inches) above the ankle bone
- Gi collar no more than 1.3 cm (0.5 inches) thick and 5cm (1.97 inches) wide
- Gi sleeve opening at full extension is no more than 7 cm (2.76 inches)
- The belt must be 4-5cm wide (1.57-1.97 inches) with a black bar (or white or red for black belts)
You can find the full list of uniform rules in the IBJJF rule book.
2. Bring a spare gi and extra no gi clothing
Your gi and no gi clothing will be inspected before hopping into the marshalling area, so make sure you pack spares just in case you fail the inspection. This avoids you having to make a mad dash to find a gi or basketball shorts from someone else at the competition to compete in.
According to IBJJF rules you can have up to three uniform inspections.
3. Bring a water bottle
Make sure you bring at least one water bottle (preferably more) to your competition. Competition matches are intense and your bracket may be large, so make sure you have enough to keep you going. Don’t rely on the competition organizers to sell drinks.
4. Pack small snacks
You may have large gaps between your matches, especially between gi and no gi or weight and open weight brackets. Make sure you pack some small snacks to keep your energy up throughout. You may not want to bring large meals, but consider snacks like:
- Carrot or celery slices
- Trail mix
- Whole grain crackers or rice cakes
- Honey or jam sandwiches
5. Pack your mouthguard
Remember to bring your mouthguard on competition day to protect your teeth. Your matches will be at a higher intensity than regular rolls, so you don’t want to damage your teeth by forgetting to bring your mouthguard.
6. Bring a change of clothes
Once your matches are done you’ll want a fresh set of clothes to change into.
7. Bring some headphones
Many competitors listen to their favourite music before competition to help them block out the sounds of competition around them, relax a little and get into a more comfortable state.
Consider putting together a playlist of songs that makes you feel competitive, or alternatively pick a playlist that calms you down or helps you to focus.
8. Warm up effectively
A well designed warm up can have many positive impacts on your performance, in addition to possibly lowering your injury risk. Studies have shown that a well designed warm up can:
- Improve muscle strength and power
- Improve reaction times
- Increase blood flow to working muscles
- Help muscles to contract faster
The RAMP framework is one useful way to organise your warmups and was developed by Ian Jeffreys. RAMP stands for:
- Raise. In the initial stage you raise your heart and breathing rates, your temperature and your blood flow to working muscles. This is done through low intensity activities like:
- Slow jogging
- Heel kicks
- Activate and Mobilise. In the second and third stages you start to activate your required muscle groups and mobilise the joints you’ll be using. In this section you perform key dynamic movements which use the muscles involved in BJJ. Some examples from Grappling Insider include:
- Potentiate. Finally you start to increase the intensity of your warm up to match that of a competition. In this section you do BJJ specific movements at an intensity high enough to prepare you for your match. Some examples according to the Grappling Insider article above include:
You can see an example of a RAMP warmup for a football team below:
9. Have a gameplan
While you don’t need to have an answer for every technique and guard there is, you should have a clear plan for several common scenarios including:
- You taking an opponent down
- You being taken down
- Guard passes for the most common guards and your favourite submissions
- Guard sweeps from your favourite and most common guards, plus subsequent techniques to submit your opponent
- Escapes from all major disadvantageous positions e.g bottom mount, back mount and side control
You don’t need to know techniques from every position, but you should know how to perform techniques from every major position.
10. Eat correctly before competing
The NSW Institute of Sport has a number of different tips for eating before a competition:
- Increase your hydration by regularly sipping water or other fluids before the competition
- Do not eat anything you wouldn’t normally eat in the run up to competition
- Start an energy loading phase 24 hours before competition where you choose foods higher in carbohydrates, with some protein and low amounts of fat. Eat every 2-3 hours and spread out the carb snacks at each meal
- Have a good breakfast the day of competition
- Eat your last big meal 2-4 hours before competition, with a snack 1-2 hours before
11. Know the rules
Look up the rulebook for the competition well ahead of time and get familiar with what techniques are allowed and not allowed at white belt.
You should also know the main points values for each position, as well as fouls and disqualifications.
In most BJJ competitions the points values are:
- Takedowns – 2 points
- Knee-on-belly – 2 points
- Sweep – 2 points
- Guard pass – 3 points
- Mount – 4 points
- Back control / back mount – 4 points
At the white belt level in the IBJJF ruleset the following techniques are not allowed:
- Wrist locks
- Locks inside the guard using the legs to compress the kidneys or ribs
- Single leg takedowns with the attacker’s head on the outside of the opponent’s body
- Bicep slicers
- Calf slicers
- Knee bars
- Toe holds
- Heel hooks
- Knee reaping
- Scissor takedowns
- Bending an opponent’s fingers backwards
There are also other general fouls which may be obvious but are not allowed in most competitions such as:
- Grabbing your opponent’s sleeve or pant legs with one or more fingers inside the sleeve or pant leg
- Disrespectful behavior, bad language or obscene gestures towards opponents or officials
- Intentionally removing your own belt and causing the match to be stopped
- Kneeling, sitting or pulling guard without a grip on the opponent
12. Know your weight class and make weight
BJJ tournaments have a weight class system in addition to belt and age groups, so you should know ahead of time which weight you’ll enter in.
If the competition is a few weeks or months away, make sure you weigh yourself occasionally in the lead up to the competition so you make your weight.
Each organization’s weight classes might differ slightly by a few pounds or kilograms, but generally they’ll be similar to those set by the IBJJF. Below are the adult weight classes for gi, but you can find a full list of weight classes for all organizations in our guide.
|Rooster||127 lbs (57.5 kg)||107lbs (48.5kg)|
|Light Feather||141.5 lbs (64 kg)||118lbs (53.5kg)|
|Feather||154.5 lbs (70 kg)||129lbs (58.5kg)|
|Light||168 lbs (76 kg)||141.5lbs (64kg)|
|Middle||181.5 lbs (82.3 kg)||152.5lbs (69kg)|
|Middle Heavy||195 lbs (88.3 kg)||163.5lbs (74kg)|
|Heavy||208 lbs (94.3 kg)||175lbs (79.3kg)|
|Super Heavy||222 lbs (100.5 kg)||No maximum|
|Ultra Heavy||No maximum|
IBJJF adult gi weight classes
13. Find out how your tournament works
In addition to weight classes, tournaments may be elimination and/or round robin style:
- Elimination. This is a competition where you have to win each match to make it through to the next match. Losing a match eliminates you from the competition. IBJJF competitions are generally elimination style.
- Round robin. This is where you’ll face all or most of the competitors in your division, with the winner being the athlete who wins the most matches. Some BJJ organizations like Grappling Industries run round robin tournaments where you’ll get up to four matches in the round robin portion of the competition. If the division has more than four competitions the winner of each pool of four athletes will face off against each other.
Visualization has helped many athletes in the past and is one of the key techniques mentioned in many sports psychology books.
An easy way to do this comes from Jason Selk’s book 10-Minute Toughness. He recommends athletes come up with a “personal highlight” reel similar to what you’d see for a professional athlete.
In this concept, you visualize yourself looking through your own eyes and rolling in three situations:
- 60 seconds of a strong past roll or match you’ve had
- 60 seconds visualizing yourself rolling perfectly in your next upcoming important match
- 60 seconds visualizing yourself rolling perfectly in the next roll or match you’re likely to have
During the visualization you should make sure you see yourself making correct actions like going for a sweep or takedown with no hesitation or performing a submission and dealing with the opponent’s counter automatically. You should also visualize at game speed according to Selk.
In Selk’s 10-Minute Toughness routine he advocates athletes practice visualization as a type of “mental workout” before every training session or competition.
The best competitions for white belts
There’s no one best competition for a white belt. Some white belts will want to compete straight away in the biggest competition they can find, which is generally an IBJJF competition. Others might want to start in an inhouse competition where they have the support of their regular training partners.
Below are your options and the benefits of each:
- In-house competition. Many gyms or affiliations will run their own inhouse competitions once or twice per year. This is a great way to compete for the first time in BJJ, because you’ll likely feel more comfortable competing in your regular gym in front of people you already know.
- Grappling Industries. Grappling Industries runs competition events in many cities around the world, and has a round robin tournament. This means competitors will most likely have more than one match even if they lose their first match, which is great value and also great for experience.
- IBJJF. The International Brazilian Jiu Jitsu Federation (IBJJF) runs many competitions around the world each year. Because of how common these competitions are, they can be a good first option for a white belt to enter. They’re single elimination tournaments though, so they might not appeal to white belts looking for multiple matches.
- NAGA. The North American Grappling Association (NAGA) like the IBJJF runs many grappling competitions around North America each year. These are single elimination tournaments like the IBJJF, but are very common if you want to compete.
Strategy and high percentage techniques for white belt competitors
As a white belt competing for the first time you may want some advice about what techniques you should use in a competition.
The excellent blog High Percentage Martial Arts has studied hundreds of competition matches and has found some great statistics about what works well for white belts in tournaments. Some of the highest percentage techniques and takedowns are:
- Sacrifice throws were the highest percentage takedowns at the white belt level (56% success rate)
- Guard pulls were successful most of the time (83% success rate)
- When an athlete successfully scored the first points of a match using a takedown they went on to win the match 76% of the time
Source: High Percentage Martial Arts
- Armbar from mount was the highest percentage submission (41% success rate)
- The rear naked choke was hard to get, but had a high finishing rate (50%)
- The cross collar choke was only successful one out of fifteen attempts (6%)
Source: High Percentage Martial Arts
Debunking common myths about BJJ competitions
- It’s too expensive. BJJ competitions charge a fee to enter, but if price is a concern to you there are many ways to get a discount. Entering early usually gets you an early bird discount, which can sometimes be almost 50% off depending on the competition. You can also enter in round robin tournaments like Grappling Industries so that you’ll usually be guaranteed more than one match even if you lose. Finally, you can also enter in-house competitions which are generally much cheaper than official competitions.
- The only people competing are “pros”. Many white belts are encouraged to compete by their instructors, and the vast majority are regular folks who just want to experience a competition or two to see what it’s like. While it’s true that some white belts might have previous martial arts or grappling experience, these are generally far less common, and shouldn’t deter you from competing in order to grow as a martial artist.
- BJJ competitors get injured all the time. Injuries are less common in BJJ competitions than you think. An analysis of 2511 BJJ competition matches found that BJJ has a lower injury rate than Judo, wrestling, MMA or Taekwondo in competitions. There were 9.2 injuries per 1000 athlete exposures in BJJ compared to wrestling at 9.0 – 30.7 and judo at 25.3 – 130.6 per 1000 athlete exposures. The most common injury in these BJJ competitions were orthopedic injuries like sprains, with the most common injury being to the elbow. You can read our full guide about BJJ injuries for more information.
Any questions or tips about competing in BJJ competition as a white belt? Leave them below!