Photos provided by David Brown Photography.
Strategic planning is the first thing to consider when preparing to compete in any sport. Without a game plan, how will you know which areas to focus on in your technical or strength and conditioning training? In MMA, it’s much easier to come up with a plan because you know in advance who you will be fighting, but when preparing for a Brazilian jiu jitsu tournament, you have to take a variety of games into consideration.
I’m fortunate that I have a lot of experienced teammates to help me with my game plan at Titans MMA. After my last tournament, they helped me to work on areas I needed to improve before competing again. I was never interested in competing before, but now that I have I see how valuable it is as a learning tool. Of course I want to win, but at this point I found the matches I lost to be the most valuable ones in preparing for my upcoming tournament.
There are a lot of great resources available to help you create your own plan, one being How to Defeat the Bigger, Stronger Opponent Series 2 with Stephan Kesting and Brandon “Wolverine” Mullins, which includes game plans for top and bottom position as well as defense. In his interview with Stephan, Brandon explained how planning his strategies in advance helped him to succeed in competition:
I’m a big believer in game plans and I try to follow them as best that I can. Obviously, sometimes things go wrong, but a lot of times things go just like you planned.
I can remember the very first black belt match I ever had. It was my first time in Brazil, my first time competing in Brazil, my first time as a black belt, so there was a lot of pressure. The day before, my roommate came in with kind of a strange look on his face. He asked me if I wanted to know who I was fighting. I told him “No, I don’t care. No, I don’t want to know. I’m just going to go out there and do the same thing anyway.”
I had just learned a new triangle setup maybe a month and a half before, and I was really excited about that specific setup. I would think about it every single night; I would visualize myself getting to the position, and executing the triangle from exactly that setup. This went on for about a month and a half.
And then I go to the tournament and had to fight some guy I never heard of and never seen before. So I went out there, pulled guard, used the setup, submitted him in about two and a half minutes, and walked off the mat a winner.
I was really excited, like I said; it was my first black belt match, first match in Brazil. Now my roommate is giving me another strange look – I could tell that he had thought I was going to lose the match. He told me, “Man, that guy was world champ two years ago at the brown belt level. I didn’t think you’re going to win.”
To me, that was a really great example of how visualization can work out and how and game plans can happen exactly how you see them in your mind.
Another top competitor, Jason Scully, provides a spreadsheet to people who subscribe to his newsletter that is very helpful in developing a learning blueprint for BJJ. Using it to write out your basic game plan for a tournament will help you to visualize what you plan to do and keep it fresh in your mind. Another helpful resource for creating a game plan template is Developing a Gameplan: The Beginner Phase on BJJEngineer.net.
Regardless of how detailed your plan is, your opponent isn’t always going to do what you want him or her to do. This is where the rest of your training comes in. You have to be able use what your opponent gives you to your advantage. When things go wrong, your experience in class will help you to take the match back where you want it to be, so you can continue attacking with your strategy. Bruce Lee said:
Empty your mind, be formless, shapeless – like water. Now you put water into a cup, it becomes the cup, you put water into a bottle, it becomes the bottle, you put it in a teapot, it becomes the teapot. Now water can flow or it can crash. Be water, my friend.
One of the things I practiced in class for my last tournament was keeping calm. I knew I was going to be on edge, since it was my first time competing, so I kept in mind that I had to keep my breathing as calm as possible, maintain a neutral facial expression, and relax my body.
Bas Rutten shared some striking advice on his Facebook page a while back that I found useful for rolling in BJJ. He said:
This is a good drill for you, BEFORE you start sparring. Put your back against the wall, bring your hands up, and now let a buddy of yours hit you. Start really slow and relax your face muscles, (when I teach I call it “poker face”), look at his strikes and simply block each punch, just keep your eyes open and relax. Let him start with hooks and straights to the head, once you are used to that, let him include the body shots (spleen, liver, solar plexus). The main goal, is to keep your face muscles relaxed, once you start flinching, you are “telling” your brain that something is wrong, and it will start panicking, once you start panicking you start to defend the wrong way because you will bring your hands up too high for head shots, and too low for body shots (panic reaction), meaning, you are going to be an easy target.
Hopefully when the day of the tournament arrives, all of your hard work will instill that expectation of winning I mentioned in my article about mental toughness. Just remember that when you walk onto the mats.
Weekly Training Update
The past week has been disappointing in regards to my fitness level. My BioForce HRV score was garbage with a low of 64.6 and my resting heart rate hit a low of 73.9. I was sick last week and only able to train a few times, but when I did roll I felt my technique was coming together and my energy level was where I wanted it to be.
BioForce HRV scores are affected by mental stress and the fact I was sick and unable to train so close to the tournament made me very anxious. I also missed training yesterday because of a snowstorm, but I did get a shovel training session in and tonight I will be back on track. I feel confident the work I’ve done over the past eight weeks has improved every aspect of my game and look forward to competing on Saturday.