Tournaments are a big deal in BJJ, at least for the people who compete. They’re a chance to compare your skills to other practitioners. They’re a chance to compare your skills to the last time you competed, to see how you are doing. They’re the fun reward after weeks or months of practicing and drilling.
But the downside of tournaments is they’re often pricey. If you go to a local tournament, it’s usually between $50-100 to enter depending on when you sign up. If it’s more than a couple hours away, however, you normally have to factor in at least one night of hotel costs because it’s hard to get to a weigh-in by 8:30 or 9am, if you have to drive 4-5 hours. In addition to the money, there’s the risk that you might not get many matches. For example, if it’s a single elimination tournament, you could lose your first match and be done. Even if you win your first match, if you have a small division, you might not get many matches.
So it makes sense that some people are a little hesitant to sign up for a tournament. However, I think sometimes they end up shooting themselves in the foot. This is for people who at least express a desire to compete, not everyone will want to, so I’m not writing to those guys.
I think if you have a desire to compete and you are thinking about a specific tournament you should sign up as early as possible. I think that for a few reasons. First, and most simple, a lot of tournaments have an early sign-up fee and a late-sign up fee. Sometimes the difference might not be too significant, other times, I’ve seen it be $40 or more.
In addition to saving money, it helps the people running the tournament. If they know they have 50 or 75 people pre-registered, that helps them at least start to do some work. They won’t have complete brackets until everyone signs up (assuming you can sign up the day of) but you can have a good idea of how many brackets you will have. Imagine running a tournament and the morning of the tournament you don’t know if you’re going to have 5 people or 50 people sign up. The last tournament I competed at saw either 3 or 4 guys sign up in my gi division the morning of. That was one division (master white belt under 185lbs.) Average that over the all weight divisions and all age brackets and you could possibly have quite a few people added to your tournament in a very short time frame. I’ve never run a tournament, but it seems to be a kind of foolish to sign up the day of and then complain about the tournament running behind schedule. (I personally would prefer no day-of signups, but that’s not my call.)
Finally, by signing up early, you let other people in your age, weight and rank know that you’re competing. Now unless you have name recognition and people are scared of you, that actually serves to help you out. How many times have you heard someone (or if you’re like and are on internet forums, read from someone) who a few days out said “I was thinking of competing, but there’s only one guy in my division, it doesn’t seem worth it.” And I can understand the argument.If you spend $60 and go to a tournament, compete in one match and get silver (or even if you get gold) you could have bought a medal for much less than the $60 you just spent. But how many other people might there be out there saying the same thing? What’s the number of people in your division to make it worth it? What if you don’t sign up and that guy just spent $60 to compete against nobody?
In the end, if you sign up early for a tournament, you’ll probably save money and you might encourage other people to sign up, making it an even better deal. Personally, every tournament I’ve decided to go to, I signed up as close to the day that I decided as possible.