Manchester BJJ Open, Isabel’s First Competition

Deciding to go for your first competition at white belt can feel like a big step. For a female competitor there usually aren’t as many girls to get advice and support from before hand which can make the experience a little bit more intimidating. However Stealth BJJ’s women team has grown quite a bit recently, so a number of them decided they would compete at the BJJ 24/7 Manchester Open. We asked Isabel, one of Stealth BJJ’s white belts to share some of her thoughts about the journey to her first competition.

Martial Arts Competition

Deciding that you want to compete can be a big step for some people. It can be difficult to find the motivation to take that big step. So I asked Isabel:

What was it was that made you decide to compete?

“Initially there was the encouragement from my Stealth Brazilian Jiu Jitsu team mates. With this I decided that joining a competition will be good motivation to improve my skills. It will also be my one year anniversary training BJJ so it is just about time I see where I stand outside the gym!”

Isabel mentions one of the main positive reasons for competition – improving her skills and seeing where her skills are against none Stealth BJJ practitioners. This is not just a challenge for female practitioners. Everyone finds it difficult to see their own improvement and progression when rolling with their training partners (who know your game as well as you do). A competition can be a good opportunity to apply your skills against someone that doesn’t know your game. It also puts you outside your comfort zone, which is a great way to get better!

One of the other benefits of competing is the impact it can have on your training so I asked:

Are you looking to change anything up around your training schedule?

“I will be training a minimum of 3 times a week. I am also going to do more open mat sessions. I will also probably look at doing some private lessons. I’m also planning to eat cleaner and healthier. This is probably going to be the biggest struggle for me!”

Fortunately there are few white belt girls competing in the same competition as Isabel all working together to get that mat time in. This is a great way to make sure you get to training, especially for females. Training with the guys is great, but for competition preparation it’s important to get used to training/rolling with other girls.

Improving your diet is quite common when preparing to compete for any grappler. Sometimes it is to make sure you can hit your weight category. Or just to give you plenty of energy to get in all of the training. Cleaning up your diet is probably the best way to handle this for your first competition. If you are not used to it, trying to lose a lot of weight before a competition can be hard work and affect your energy for training.

Women Training

BJJ competitions can be a little confusing, as there a lot of things you have to comply with. Weight, a suitable gi and knowing how to score points.

How are you finding having to think about competition rules and scoring?

“I still do not fully understand the points system but I will learn it along the way during training to prevent losing unnecessary points during the comp.”

This is a common issue with first time competitors knowing the rules is important as scoring points is one of the key methods of winning a match! Most competition run under IBJJF rules and their rule book can be found here . You really do need to have a rough understanding of these before your first competition. Fortunately at Stealth BJJ we have quite a few trained and experienced BJJ referees, so any competitor in the team can clarify any thing they needs to with them. If you are not this fortunate then most competition experienced guys at your gym will also be able to help.

Following up with Isabel after the event I posed a few more questions for her looking back on the whole thing. Spoiler – Isabel did really well on the day of competition and took bronze in both her category and the absolute (that is where all the medallists in each weight category compete against each other). Isabel’s training partners Vicki and Em, both took Gold. Coral also fought extremely well, going into her first competition. I think that is a credit to Isabel and the women’s team as a whole but back to the interview!

Now you’ve experienced a BJJ competition what was the worst thing about the day?

“Nerves. Definitely.”

This isn’t unusual and she wasn’t alone in feeling this, virtually everyone experiences some form of competition nerves. Everyone gets nerves when you are facing a challenge and depending how you handle them they can be a good thing. Having said that, very few people actually like feeling nervous!

Now we know what the worst thing about the day was let get more positive and find out what the best thing about the day was?

“The atmosphere there was great!!! The support and cheering for team mates. I was so proud of everyone who participated!”

We always have a great team approach to any event but it was great to see our women’s team working together at the event. Vicki Harold and Cat Goy (our more experienced female blue belts) giving advice and support between matches with Stealth BJJ Head Coach Steve Campbell providing valuable coaching for the matches themselves. It was a great team effort.

You planned to increase your training as part of your preparation. Did taking part in the competition actually have any effect on your training?

I used to train 2-3 times a week. But I doubled up to 4-6 times a week and had a few private class with Chau. I did a lot more drilling than rolling.

Isabel set herself a goal on the run up and it was great to see that she stuck to it. That is the great thing about competing, win or lose it is a great way to focus your training. The target of a competition is a great way to motivate you to get down to the mats and focus on your jiu Jitsu.

Additionally Isabel had privates to help focus on her own needs (Stealth have a range of coaches who can offer private tuition) and then drilled and worked the technique. For me drilling is the best way to get comfortable with new techniques and movements. Plus it is less intense than rolling all the time, which will have helped Isabel to hit the 4-6 days a week training, in addition to working full time.

Was there anything about the competition that was different to how you had imagined it?

“Not really! Even though it was a local competition, it was fully registered for and there were a lot of people there with a lot of experience. It did help it was well organised.”

Jiu Jitsu Training

The BJJ 24/7 competitions are well established and are some of the most well attended in the country. The Manchester Open especially has been running a number of years and is always well attended as well as attracting a high calibre of participants. As local competitions go this was a high quality but challenging event.

We all know that hindsight is a wonderful thing and when we look back at an event we might have done things differently so I asked the obvious question:

If you could give advice to yourself before competing what would that advice be?

I would remind myself to break grips and guards before moving on. But the most important thing is to enjoy the process and day.

The realisation about grips breaking does come with experience and she has certainly learnt it quicker than I did! But coming away with learning, win or lose is important. But I think Isabel is definitely right, the most important thing by far is enjoying yourself.

Isabel was far from our only competitor or medallist on the day. Stealth BJJ had a really great team turnout at the BJJ 24/7 Manchester Open. All the guys did amazing and Stealth BJJ managed to take 2nd place in the Team awards. Winning a hand painted skateboard deck as our team prize.