July 3, 2020

White Belt Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu

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Competing Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu As A Senior Beginner



Image courtesy of Larry Criner’s Facebook page


Competing Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu As A Senior Beginner


OK, folks here is my first blog and since it is my first I thought I’d keep it simple and choose something that I have some experience with, being old and being competitive. Let’s get the easy stuff out of the way I am 55 and was a forty year couch potato. When my son wanted someone to do Tae Kwon Do with I jumped at the chance. I didn’t jump far and I didn’t fast (couch potato, remember) but I was there on the floor working, training, and yes…competing.


Let’s fast forward 14 years…I decided I was waaay to old and too slow to compete doing TKD or kick boxing and I was tired of getting kicked and punched any way and my friend and coach James Ruiz suggested trying BJJ. Actually he suggested it years ago but considering myself a striker gave it a pass. I trained with Po’ai Suganuma for a year doing No Gi but competitions were few and far between. He suggested trying Gi work, so I found the Hiro’s BJJ Academy which happened to be the closest school to the house and one of the best in Japan…win/win.


Took my first class in February and signed up for the JBJJF Asian Open in March…didn’t win…came close to winning the open weight lost by referee decision. Didn’t get hurt, met some great people, dropped down a senior level to get a match, made some new friends and got to spend the afternoon doing something I love with people who love to do the same thing. I competed eight times in the first year and will probably compete eight to ten times this year (my second year).


So now we get to the heart of the matter competing, and we’ll break it down to:






This is probably not going to be what you think. First right off the bat, why are you competing? If it is going to be to win and that is the only reason you’re pulling out that credit card, put it back in your wallet. It’s not because getting the “W” isn’t important but if it’s the only thing that is important then losing might be enough to take you off the mat all together. Personally I think a healthier approach is to use this as a measuring stick as to how you are stacking up with your training. We want the win, we want the gold, we want to stand on the podium and for a split second this becomes the pinnacle of your journey thus far…I get it but…read on..


OK, you have decided to compete. I’m going to talk about simple stuff, simple but hardly inconsequential (that means its important). First things first, big tournament or smaller tournament. Cost wise probably about the same. Smaller tournaments have a lot going for them, for the most part the feel is like a big open mat at a Dojo across town. Do not get me wrong, folks are there to win and they are taking it serious and the second that you think they aren’t, you have lost. But I have noticed less of a kill or be killed atmosphere which appeals to me personally. Now, all of that being said the larger tournament offer something entirely different…MORE! More people, more mats, more intensity, more Jiu Jitsu! Not to mention if you make it to the podium…oh yeah there’s nothing like that. Additionally there are usually more age brackets for white belts. That can be important, for example, I love the Dumau tournaments here in Japan, they happen nearly every month but they have restructured the age brackets to encourage more participation and I fall into the Senior 2 which is forty-one and up but I’m guaranteed a match at that level and lets face it that’s why we are there to compete. Most of your larger IBJJF tournaments don’t do much better with Senior 3 being the limit for white belts and the cut off being in the mid thirties. So pick a tournament that will let you compete with some confidence instead of going in thinking I’m giving up 20+ years as a beginner what chance do I really have. You don’t need that pressure on yourself and you are sucking the fun right out of it.


So you have picked a tournament! Congrats, huge hurdle cleared. Now what weight do you compete at. If you are lucky you are right in the middle of a weight bracket and you’ll compete at the same weight that you train at, and I hate you already. If you are right at the bottom of one weight class you may want to think about losing some of that weight to compete at the lower class. If you do this it is a balancing act it does you no good to drop or even cut the weight if you do not have the energy to compete. I once had a guy tell me that he competes in an upper weight class because they may be a little stronger but then they may be a little slower too. As an older beginner this decision is as important as whether to compete or not and I struggle with it every tournament. I always end up making the 5-7lb cut to feather weight mainly because I’m already giving up 10+ years I don’t want to get out muscled as well. If you decide to cut the weight as opposed to lose the weight gradually I’ll cover that in another article.


One last thing…learn the rule book. What you can and can’t do and what puts points on the board. Hard to play a game when you don’t know the rules.




Leading up to the tournament instead of focusing on every possible contingency focus on two submissions, two sweeps/reversals/escapes from each of your basic positions top and bottom: closed guard, half guard, side control, mount, back…you could probably throw knee on belly in there if you have time. Additionally decide are you going to pull guard or go for the take down.


Talking about the take down…we all start on our feet, if you pull guard you stop your opponent from starting out 2-0 in the first minute or so of the match. That being said, unless you have a lot of confidence in your guard game you could be allowing them to score three points for the pass and into a better position. If you do not practice your take downs on a regular basis count on pulling guard. You will wear yourself out dancing around with someone who will probably get the take down anyway and now you are tired, they are two points up and you’re in bad position AND you have less time than ever to try and figure out how to get a few points on the board or a submission.


Be aware that you need to be on top to score points, from your back you can only sweep or submit. Get up on top as soon as you can and stay there as long as you can. S T A B I L I Z E your position. Someone told me that you need to be either heavy or fast…true! Stabilize your position, take away all of his space and then weigh your options…move into better position or work for a submission.


We could go on forever about strategy, counters, counters to the counters etc, etc but the truth of the matter is you have to be flexible with your thought process in the match especially as a white belt. You are going to get guys that have trained for a month and guys that are going to get their blue belts right after the tournament. Don’t over think it. I’ve given you a good framework that will keep you competitive…have fun with it.




This isn’t usually a problem area especially for those of us with a substantial amount of years behind us but I want to bring it up anyway. This is a game, there is going to be a winner and there is going to be a loser. If you get your hand raised be a gracious winner, humble in victory. Manners count, none of us like a cocky child and we like a cocky adult even less. If you lose, shake your opponent’s hand at a minimum, tell them it was a good roll and that you look forward to rolling with them again. Even if they did stall for a minute and a half to win…LOL, a personal gripe that we’ll cover later.


I have made what I hope are life long friends on the mats because I fight hard, enjoy the competition, and though I want to win as much as anyone it is not a big deal if I lose. My disappointment in not getting the “W” is far outweighed by the thrill of being able to compete. I hope you’ll adopt the same attitude don’t be a cocky winner, don’t be a sore loser. If you can’t take losing don’t play the game.


Now the medals have been passed out, they are rolling up the mats, big hugs and handshakes all the way around…time to eat, drink, and watch everyone’s videos. This is a life worth living!


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