Why competition is not the same as a roll at your gym!?

by Prof. Martin Guggi with the help of Prof. Bert Obernosterer and Coach Markus Miedel.

For a long time now I think about this topic. I see some people going to competitions a lot and some people who only roll at their gym. Do not get me wrong, rolling at the gym can be very stressful and hard but it is not the same as going to a competition.

I never liked going to competitions. The reason why is because you spend so much time there. Traveling to the competition, waiting until it is time for you to start your warmup – then you cool down again starting to warmup again – and finally you stay in front of your opponent. If you win – great, but if you lose you spent a hole day for nothing and you have to drive home for a couple of hours. So your weekend is gone.

The time when you fight someone in a competition is great, but the time you spent is huge. I fooled myself for some time telling myself that sparring in the gym is the same as fighting at a competition. After participating on tournaments with my students again I can definitely tell you that this was wrong! Here is a list why:

  • You can never feel the pressure from a competition in your own gym, even if you have strong training partners – you need them to push you, but the situation at a competition is different;
  • You can lose by one wrong move and that’s it, you will never be able to recover in time;
  • In the gym we normally fight for the submission but not for points or advantages;
  • How many people do you have in your weight class at your gym? How many people do you have at your belt level at your gym? How many people do you have who are real competitors and not hobby athletes?
  • How many people are watching, supporting, screaming at you at your gym? This is a different situation you have to get used to.
  • How many times do you have a referee stopping the fight and restarting it in the middle of the mat?
  • How many times do you restart your roll at your gym in the same position? Restarting is really a big deal. If you blink for one second you are too late. In my last competition the referee stopped the fight on the outside of the mat area in Single X position and restarted us in 50/50 Position. During the time we went back to the middle of the mat if was planning to pass single X position and then I was more than confused to start in 50/50 …. These seconds you lose can be hard to catch up.
  • You never have a referee at your gym who does not speak your language … so it is hard to talk to him. The referee is always right!
  • How often do you gas out at your gym? In my case, really rarely. After one fight at any competition so far I was breathing heavily, my arms were tight and tired from the grips. Then you get around 5-10 minutes and you have to fight again and nobody cares if you need more time or not.
  • How many times do you fight through tough situations in a gym? If there are only 30 seconds on the clock in the competition you are holding the position with everything you have. You are not playing around and try to be fancy – you just hold.
  • You never have to make weight at your gym. In a competition you have to keep an eye on your weight a least for the last week before the competition. Sometimes even longer. This means you are not eating normal, you are not drinking enough if you still need to make weight on the competition day. If you have to make weight it is hard to fight at the level you could fight because the weight cut is an extra pressure for your body.

Of course, you can still say, I am a teacher and not a competitor. I like to train every day for myself… I did the same for a long time. But there are so many teachers out there now who are competing and teaching. Now who do you think is the better teacher?  I definitely understand that some people do not like to compete and just want to drill for themselves. And I really respect this. But I cannot respect this for myself if I want to prepare my students for a competition.  It is not enough that I have been a competitor 7 years ago. BJJ is changing all the time. New positions arrive, New tournament formats are developing (EBI, Quintet = group tournament) and so on.

My friends Bert Obernosterer and Markus Miedel opened my eyes on this field: There are more ways to be a successful coach:

  1. Competition proved Coach: competitors like Caio Terra, Marcelo Garcia, Josh Barnett or Andre Galvao to name only a feel can help their students to improve because of their own competition experiences.
  2. The second could be called the “academic” Coach: people like John Danaher, Greg Jackson are helping their students from the outside to improve. The advantage they have is, that they do not confuse their students with their own experience as a competitor, but they really help the student to improve their game without being a successful competitor for themselves. They do not know about the feeling of the adrenaline in a competition situation, but they invest their time 100% in the analysis of the students’ game and the martial art. Very often students are a copy of the teacher. When your teacher is an “academic” Coach he is not trying to make you a copy of him and his game.

Most coaches have been athletes for themselves and later start to help their students to improve based on their own experiences. If you want to be successful coach there are more ways to be successful but they both have common that the students’ needs should be priority. You should concentrate on the students’ needs – this is a real coach. (If a coach is able to coach students with different body types than his, he is really far into the game but someone like this is really hard to find….)


For myself I found out that I love the time with my opponent on the mat – but I still do not like to waste my time (I hate) waiting to compete or traveling for hours. But I can spend this time with my students and friends. I can be a

role model for them and influence their lives in a positive way.

  • Help them to overcome fear of competing.
  • Help them to find a new goal after a hard situation in their past.
  • Escape the normal lifestyles.
  • Students are becoming friends.
  • Finding more joy in the win and success of my student than in my own.
  • Giving students more than techniques.

The last trips with my friends were really amazing. So much camaraderie and friendship you find at these trips is worth traveling and waiting for hours to compete.


As a teacher competing taught me:

  • Fancy techniques are great to teach at a seminar or camp, but at a competition it comes down to your basic game and instinct before anything else.
  • Starting the game from a standing position is so different than sitting on the mats and starting the roll from there.
  • Most used Guard forms are – close Guard, Single X and 50/50
  • On YouTube you see so many fancy techniques and they really look cool but what you need at a competition is bread and butter. Compare this with my last article “Are leglockers bad grapplers?” the percentage of people using the berimbolo is under 10% but in almost every YouTube video you see people doing this fancy modern stuff.
    • Fancy or not well-known techniques can be an advantage too, but please do not neglect the basics. John Danaher’s Leglock System helped Eddie Cummings and other athletes to win many submission only tournaments in the last years because he used techniques and a system nobody knew at this time. Ryan Halls 50/50, the berimoblo form the Mendes are also good examples for unknown or even fancy techniques which helped them to win a lot. But please do not get confused and start training only these techniques. All these guys where already good grapplers before they used these techniques to get even better and only a few of them have had success for a long time.

Do not think you have to change your life and start to become a full-time competitor. If you do so, you will have to change the culture and atmosphere of your school and students and this cannot be the goal if you want to be a successful business man running a BJJ school. Compete 2-4 times per year and feel the competition for yourself before you start talking about something you do not know!

There are a lot of ways why you want to compete, why you want to be a coach, the way you can be a good coach or not… but be honest to yourself and your students and always questions yourself if you are who you think you are!! The good part is that as humans we can always change – that’s the way how to improve. For me starting to compete again was an eye opener and it changed the way I thought about preparing my students for competition.

For all who want to see how much fun we had at one of our last trips to Prag – Coach Markus was competing at an EBI Event there – ….. 🙂