How to start winning

Published on August 8, 2016

I consider myself a seasoned competitor. I have been competing in sports practically all of my life with relatively high success. I found that winning at everything from youth track to world class Brazilian Jiu Jitsu (BJJ) at the black belt level have a few things in common. In this post I will go over the most important things to start winning at any level in BJJ.



“Be prepared,” is a phrase I live my life by.

I first discovered this mantra in Boy Scouts, as it is part of the organizations motto. It has stuck with me and translated into every aspect of my life, including competition.

Being prepared can mean many different things to many different people. For me it means to train and become the best practitioner you can be by tournament time. World champion, Caio Terra, is quoted as saying, “The best way to get better at Jiu Jitsu is do more Jiu Jitsu.” This is sound advice for any level of competitor. If you want to prepare for a tournament, you need to roll with that idea in mind. There are people who are amazing at the art of BJJ, but never win. The same can be said about people who do very well in competition, but their overall knowledge of the art is minimal.

I know what you are thinking… How could someone understand the art of BJJ and still not win? This could be attributed to multiple reasons, but is most likely due to lack of strategy and understanding of how to win with the rule set given to you. So when training, keep your mind focused on performing clean precise technique (as that is always a plus in competition), what the score is, and how much time is left in the round.


Another way to prepare for a tournament is situational drills. For example, let’s say I start mounted and I am down by two. I only have one minute to either gain my points back or submit my partner. Use this drill with every situation you have encountered and think you will encounter in a competition. By doing this you will be less surprised in a tournament and more confident in your abilities if it does happen.



A large part of winning is in the mental game. Stay focused on a goal both large and small. A large goal is easy. For example, strive to get first place at the tournament. Small goals are much harder. Small goals require focus to stay on task because they are day-to-day or even roll-to-roll. For example, eating clean and staying disciplined with your extra workouts is a small day-to-day goal. Or setting a goal each practice roll to either not be scored on, or to make a certain position happen with the result you want. Both of these examples on a single occasion are simple to obtain, but to maintain that mindset over a couple months or longer requires discipline and focus.


Don’t have BIG eyes

I first heard this expression from my professor, Vicente Jr. At first I was perplexed as to what the heck was he saying. After a little explanation though, it made all the sense in the world and translates well in many situations.

To have “big eyes” is to see an opening for either a position or submission and trying to get there without taking the required smaller steps or securing the position. For example, suppose I were in closed guard, saw an opening, and decided to jump straight into mount. The chances of me getting into mount would be very low and could in fact open me up to either be swept or submitted. If I had just taken my time to go to side control or half-guard and secure the position before moving to mount, I would have increased my chances of success. This would have also decreased my opponent’s opportunity to counter and I could have been awarded very valuable points in the process.


This saying applies to tournament selection as well. If you are a blue belt who has never won a match in a local tournament, do not expect to go to Worlds and clean house. Be realistic in your current abilities and pick your tournaments accordingly. This is not to say you should never challenge yourself. Pushing yourself to new heights is what competition is all about. To start winning on a regular basis though, you first need to know what competition is like and what it takes to win at lower levels. This will prepare you both mentally and physically for the higher levels of competition.


Strategy and Competition Mindset

Going into any match you want to have a game plan. Know your strengths and focus your style or strategy to guide your opponent. For example, if you have a great armbar, your game or style should always end with you in a position to armbar. This is true whether you are on offense improving your position or on defense escaping a position.

I often see people fail because they do not have a plan. They go into a tournament as if it were a free roll at the academy with no consequence to a sweep or pass. When points and time limits are involved, every inch taken or given matters. So with your strategy to obtain dominate position, you also need to have the determination to shut down your opponent’s technique and advancement. A good mental exercise is to either write down or just imagine how you would get out of positions and where you would go with different variables in place. Also consider what you would gain from each avenue. For example, let’s say that I prefer to be on bottom, I have a strong half-guard sweep, and my closed guard passing skills are average. What would I do if I were mounted with only one minute left in the match and I’m down by either 2 points or maybe just an advantage?


Option One: I could trap and roll and end up in my opponents closed guard where I could try and pass for the remainder of the time. This may work, but I would most likely fail due to the increasing effectiveness of people’s guards today. Now the match is over and I have still lost on points.


Option Two: I could escape to half-guard (because of my confidence in that position), set up, and complete my sweep. Now I have been awarded 2 points with less than a minute left on top in their half guard. If I were only down by an advantage, I would maintain the position while slowly applying pressure to pass and win by 2 points. If I were now tied or still down by an advantage, I am now on top in half-guard and able to either secure an advantage for a near pass, 3 points for a pass to side control, or a possible 7 points with a pass to mount.


As you can see, both these situations get me on top with a minute left in the match, but only one has a higher likelihood of awarding up to a 7-point swing. Keeping similar scenarios in mind while training and competing will not only improve your overall BJJ skills, but will yield better results in any competition.


In closing, using these ideas is just a small part of what it takes to be a high level competitor. There are thousands of quotes that describe how hard it is to become a champion, but my favorite is this:

“A champion didn’t become a champion when he won the tournament, he became a champion in the countless hours of training, preparation, and sacrifice leading up to the tournament.”


What are your thoughts on how to start winning? If you have any suggestions or ideas leave them in the comment section below. Until next time stay safe and see you on the mats!

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