Over the years, I have heard people say that going to open mats is like going to a mini tournament. Others have said that going to open mats helps with tournaments.
Yes, it does give you a bit of the feeling of rolling with someone new and unknown, but it does not give you the same feeling. In fact, there is a huge difference between them.
Consider this.. You attend an open mat and roll with someone whom is your rank and you are unfamiliar with. In the first round they tap you out… You still have a chance to get your dime back and roll with them again. In a tournament you have only one shot at that person, so one mistake can cost you the entire match. At an open mat, you have unlimited chances to roll with them again.
Think about the physiological effects that has on us as grapplers. If you are rolling/training with someone new at an open mat, you have enough time to feel them out and figure out their game. So, in our mind, we are a little more relaxed and have less pressure.
At a tournament we know that we have one shot to win the match. Knowing this puts more pressure on us which can also effect our decision making during our match(s), putting us in an autopilot mode of rolling. We might compete against someone and it may take 6 months to another year before we get another shot to compete against that person again.
Open mats have their place, but there is no substitute for getting better at tournaments. Truth is, getting better at competing is done by competing.
This article was written by Christopher Story who is a 3rd Degree Black Belt under Bruno Bastos. Christopher Story is the Head Instructor of Evolve Jiu-Jitsu based out of Fort Worth, TX.