Thursday, April 18, 2013

The Keenan / Paulo Double DQ

Keenan and Paulo is unfortuntely the match that everyone is talking about after the Abu Dhabi World Pro.  All because one referee decided to take a stand and enforce his interpretation of the rules and of how our sport should be played.  In principle, I agree with what this referee did (and so did the crowd based on their reaction).  However, I don't agree with how the overall situation was handled.

The Good

  • Sport Jiu Jitsu matches like this look ridiculous to anyone who is not deep into the competition game.  Taking and maintaining a "top" position should be a primary goal of the sport and actively encouraged by the rules.  Issuing penalties for "passivity" is a potential solution to the problem.
  • Hopefully this situation will help start the conversation about how to handle "stalemate" positions in the sport.  If BJJ has any aspirations as a spectator or Olympic sport, it needs to at a minimum be entertaining to its practitioners.

The Bad

  • I think the referee took the rules into his own hands.  There is a clear precedent in other events held under IBJJF rules that boring double guard pulls are legal.  This is like vigilante justice.
  • I firmly believe that the IBJJF is wrong in it's policy of not stopping a match to issue a penalty.  I think the penalties came too fast, and stopping the match so that each competitor could acknowledge the situation would have helped prevent the DQ.  They stop to tie belts, but not for penalties...
  • Keenan and Paulo were not only disqualified from the match, they also lost out on medals and prize money.  These guys are professional competitors who flew halfway across the world to compete, I would expect the tournament organizers to be equally professional and at least award both of them second place.
I would like to to see the IBJJF add some sort of "stalemate" rule specifically targeting the 50/50 position and the double guard pull.  If neither player is willing or able to come to a top position, then the match could be stopped and restarted on the feet.  If the referee feels that one or both players were stalling or overly passive, penalties could be issued before the match is restarted.  The rule could also set an arbitrary time limit  before a stalemate is called like 30 seconds or a minute depending on match length.

There are other, more drastic options like changing point structures or penalizing guard pulls, but I think the stalemate option is needed regardless.  Even MMA, which is one of the purest expressions of unarmed combat, has a stalemate rule that allows a referee to restart a match standing.

It's pretty clear that something has to change.

Monday, April 15, 2013

What Not To Do In BJJ Competition

I'll share my opinion of the Keenan / Paulo DQ and the Abu Dhabi Pro later this week.  I'm a bit busy being a daddy these days.  Until then, here is a highlight reel of things you absolutely shouldn't be doing in sport BJJ.  (If you want to slam people from guard, please put on some gloves and fight MMA)

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Reaping at the IBJJF 2013 European Open

Image from

I am disappointed.  An inspiring story about the return of one of the greatest competitors in Sport Jiu-Jitsu history was derailed by a disqualification due to a leg reap.  This is after an update to the rules that was supposed to make reaping a much less serious offense.

Here is the match between Terere and Claudio Calasans:

Terere is clearly reaping.  Having the leg over the arm doesn't negate the torque placed on the knee.

However, given that Terere is reaping, the Ref should have stopped the match and restarted in a safe position.  Instead the ref appears to warn Terere, but doesn't physically move the leg.  The referee has a chance to move the leg to the "last safe position" during a restart from out-of-bounds, but instead opts to do nothing.

When the ref tells Terere that penalty points are being awarded for the reap, he still doesn't fix the position.  This ultimately results in one of the highest profile matches at the tournament ending due to an embarrassing technicality.  If reaping is taking place, the referee should immediately stop the match and restart it in a safe position.  This is both for the safety of the competitors and to avoid situations like this.

I understand that this is the first tournament with this new rule set, so perhaps the IBJJF is already advising referees to stop the matches, and this debacle is just a matter of poor training.  Hopefully this oversight is corrected before the 2014 rules update.  The IBJJF is making progress with the rules, but if this is where we stand with reaping, we still have a ways to go.

I haven't written anything about leg reaping yet, so I'll leave with a couple of videos showing the official definitions.

This video defines the basics of reaping.  It was filmed before the recent rules change, so disregard the talk about instant disqualifications :

This video further clarifies the reaping position from De La Riva and One Leg X-Guard:

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

The IBJJF Rules Changes for 2013

Alvaro Mansor is a walking rule book

The IBJJF is finally addressing the complaints of the BJJ community!  A preview of the updates can be found at GracieMag, with an updated rule book to be released any day now.  The major changes and my thoughts are below:

Takedown Score:
Starting in 2013, the referee will award two points for a Takedown after the athlete who initiates the Takedown stabilizes the position on the opponent on the ground for three (3) seconds.
This update streamlines the takedown scoring rules by removing the "Ippon Rule".  I agree with this change because the rules for takedowns are already overly complex before taking Ippons into account.  Presently, I've refereed hundreds of matches with these changes because US Grappling has used these rules for scoring takedowns for as long as I can remember.  This works out really well in practice because as a referee you can devote one hundred percent of your attention to the guard pull and not worry about how the competitors land.

The only thing I dislike about this update is that it becomes harder to score with a takedown.  Takedown points are already rare enough because of the prevalence of guard pulling, so I hate to see a change that has the potential to make takedowns even harder to secure.

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Scoring Primer: Guard Passing

[This is the second of a planned four-part series covering each of the ways to score in submission grappling.  The first article, covering takedowns, is available here]

Guard passing is one of the most misunderstood scoring methods in competition.  The confusion comes from the common misconception that controlling your opponent from side control is worth points.  Before I continue with this article allow me to clearly state:  There are no points for side control!  Side control is just a position.  It's the action of passing the guard that scores.  Now that I've got that out of the way, we can continue.

As with my previous article in this series, I will be using the commonly adopted IBJJF rule book.  Under IBJJF rules, passing the guard is worth three points, which makes it unique among the ways to score.  I've heard that in the (very) early days of competition a guard pass and a sweep were both scored equally, but guard passes were eventually bumped up to emphasize the advantage of being on top in a real fight.

Guard passes (like sweeps and takedowns) are "Actions", meaning they are made up of an initial position, a transition, and an ending position.  As with other actions, all three requirements must be met in order to score points for the pass. 

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Scoring Primer: Takedowns

[This is the first in a multi-part series covering each of the different ways to score points in competitive jiu-jitsu.]
noun    [teyk-doun] 
When an athlete forces his/her opponent to the ground after having been standing at some point during the movement
The first opportunity to score in any grappling match is with a takedown.  Understanding how takedowns are scored is vital for seizing the initiative before your opponent.  In this article, I'm going to take an in-depth look at exactly how a referee determines if a throw, a shot, or a trip qualifies for points.

Unfortunately, since competitive Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu doesn't have a unified rule book, I'm only focusing on competitions that use IBJJF-based scoring.  Under these rules, takedowns are worth two points, which makes it part of a three-way-tie for the "least amount of points that can possibly be awarded" along with sweeps and the knee-on-belly position.

A takedown is considered an "Action" for scoring purposes, so the focus is on how you perform the move.  I've already briefly written about "Action" points and "Position" points in BJJ, but basically a takedown (along with all other "Actions") has three components:

Initial Position  =>  Transition  =>  Final Position

A referee is going to look at these three requirements and make sure each one is fulfilled before awarding points.  I've dedicated a section below to each of these criteria.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

8 Things To Do Before You Compete

Preparing for a grappling tournament is stressful.  It's easy to get caught up in training and forget about all the little details that come along with competing.  This is especially true if you're new to the competition scene or competing in a promotion for the first time.

Based on my experience competing and as a referee, I've come up with a list of important things that people often overlook before stepping on the mat.  These tips are probably common sense to seasoned veterans of the grappling circuit, but newer competitors should find some benefits.  Remember that ignorance is not an excuse.

1. Read over the rules

I'm surprised by the number of people I encounter who train every day, cut ten pounds, and drop $100+ on an entry fee for a tournament, yet never bother to look at the rules.  Most tournaments have a rules meeting before the event starts, but that's not a great time to be exposed to the rules for the first time.

To make matters worse, BJJ doesn't have a unified rule set.  Most organizations use rules based on the IBJJF, but usually with some minor differences.  Keeping the differences straight among all the different events is headache.  To keep from getting confused, take the time to briefly read over the rules.

Below are links to the rules for some of the popular grappling organizations: