How Going to a Tournament Changed My Sparring

Leading up to my first tournament, I looked at our sparring class as a chance to simulate a tournament. As a result, I tried to defend, sweep, mount and submit my partner. That was my focus. Sometimes I pulled it off, more often than not I didn’t. But for each match I focused on trying to “win.”

Then I went to Sasquatch Open. The matches didn’t go the way I hoped they would. I did some good things (like taking them to the ground on multiple occasions.) I did some things rather poorly, for example, maintaining my guard. In fact, one coach told me Monday “If you’re going to pull guard, you should have one.”  He said it tongue-in-cheek (I think) and I laughed, but there was more than a kernel of truth to that.

Immediately after the tournament, I started thinking about my gameplan. Did I have it wrong? Should I abandon my plan of pull guard, sweep, submit? Should I start learning some takedowns so that I can take it down and wind up in mount, bypassing the sweep step? The more I thought about it, the more I decided I wasn’t ready to be that drastic yet. The tournament highlighted two glaring errors in my game. First, not getting any sweeps off. In reality, I didn’t even really try any, once I got in guard, I didn’t want to unhook my legs to execute a sweep attempt. Secondly, I did not do a good job on pass defense. Once my opponent started to pass, they were able to relatively easily.

So that’s what I’ve been looking at in sparring the past two weeks. Right now I’m not even trying to perform sweeps, but rather working on retaining guard. I’ve given up opportunities for other actions, like setting up submissions, because I wanted keep my partner in guard and work on retaining it.

Sometime soon I’ll shift my focus away from retaining guard, and start trying to set up sweeps. Even if it means I get passed, or don’t retain my guard, I’ll be content to mostly work on sweeps.

My focus has changed, and my approach to sparring is starting to change. Rather than looking at whether I tapped or he tapped, I’m looking at “was I able to keep guard?” Or “What happened when I tried to retain guard, and he tried a standing pass?”  I’m actually starting to approach sparring with a specific gameplan that I want to work on, rather than consider it a mini-tournament.