Combate! – For New Competitors Part 1


By Sen-Foong Lim


–          The referee’s signal to start the match

So, you wanna be a fighter?  Excellent!

But wait – you say you’ve never competed against anyone in a combat sport before, other than your classmates and the bully in 5th grade?

Dealing with a self-defense situation is somewhat different compared to competition fighting.  With competition, you have a set date and time for your fight.  Before knowing exactly who you’re going to fight, you know, in general, the size and skill-level of an opponent.  Heck, you most likely know the age range and gender of any opponent you’ll be facing the day of the competition.  All things considered, then, competitive matchups should be as close to a fair fight as possible.  Thus, you can better prepare yourself.  To extrapolate from G.I. Joe, if knowing is half the battle, the other half is most definitely proper preparation.

This series of articles will focus on preparation for competition as a novice.  So if you’re considering signing up for your first tournament, read on!

The First Rule of Fight Club is…

Do your homework prior to signing up.  Get online and check out the event’s website or e-mail the co-ordinator to answer any questions you may have.…learn the rules of the fight club you’re signing up with. 

Format and Schedule


Each tournament has a different rule set.  The International Brazilian Jiu Jitsu Federation (IBJJF) rules are very different than those for Grapplers’ Quest (GQ).  Gi

competitors may have a totally separate set of rules from those fighting in the no gi division, even within the same event.   There are also many different types of tournament format – single elimination, double elimination, round robin, submission only, etc.  Knowing the rules of the game is an essential part of preparing for victory.

Many events have the start times for each division and the brackets available online prior to the event, so you can know who your first match will be against and when you should arrive to register (about an hour before your match so you can warm up and weigh in).

Most tournaments place competitors in different divisions based on age, gender, and weight.   While you can’t change your age or gender (easily), you may be able to go up or down in weight class.   Knowing what weight class you’re aiming for will give you a timeline to reach your goals.  Knowing if you need to weigh in the day of, the day before, with gi, without gi, etc. can be very important if you’re planning on dropping a weight class or two.

All Dressed Up and No Place To Roll

Speaking of fight wear, you should be aware of what constitutes a legal gi.  From sleeve length to patch placement, there are many things that can make a gi illegal for competition in certain tournaments.  Even colour can be a factor – IBJJF only allows white, black, and blue gis, while at Naga events you can wear any colour uniform.  You should also figure out if you can wear a mouth guard, cup or any other protective gear.  Hair length, facial hair, and hygiene (e.g. nail length, open wounds, etc.) are also key factors to note.   It would be a huge let down to be unable to fight because your gi or finely coiffed beard didn’t meet the tournament’s regulations.

What’s My Sign?

Learn the referee’s commands and signals.  Some events (IBJJF) are officiated in Portuguese, some are run in the local language.  Watch videos of matches to learn how the officials signal points so you know when you’ve scored and can progress your game.  Youtube has a great video on the signs used in IBJJF – here’s a link!

[jwplayer mediaid=”1199″]

Get to the Point(s)

Points and submissions are generally how you win matches in BJJ.  Given that competitors are close in weight, skill level, and age based on divisions, points may often be the deciding factor over submissions.  So you need to learn how scoring works and what techniques score points.   The video linked above also tells you how many points are given in IBJJF for specific techniques.  In IBJJF, positions have to be held for a 3 second “stabilization period” in order to score points and  have to meet criteria in order to be counted as a scoring position (e.g. back mount requires that the hooks are in place without the feet being crossed and that you have upper body control as well).

Gain an understanding, as well, of what constitutes and advantage.  Advantages are like tiebreakers – if both competitors have the same score in points, advantages, such as those given out for submission attempts, will decide the outcome.

You’re Outta Here!

Learn what techniques are allowed and not allowed – this is a case-by-case basis and can depend on things like age and gender of competitors, rank of competitors, gi vs. no gi, and sanctioning organization.  For example, many submission wrestling competitions allow slams, heel hooks, and other techniques that have been disallowed in most gi competitions.  Many of these are instant, no-questions-asked disqualifications the instant the technique is applied.  Just like with the cops, ignorance of the laws is no excuse.  So know what’s allowed prior to stepping onto the mat to save yourself any potential embarrassment.


Here’s a link to the rules for IBJJF tournaments ( and here’s one to the rules for Grappler’s Quest tournaments (   Figure out what age division you’d be in, when you have to weigh (and at what time), how long you have to fight, and if you’re allowed to do knee bars  in either event as a white belt.

In upcoming  articles, we’ll continue the discussion of first-time competition with a look into what to bring with you, coaching, and my answer to the eternal question of “Should I cut weight?”

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