Monday, August 27, 2012

Protect Yourself At All Times

Apparently to Rousimar Palhares this hand signal means crank harder.

One of the worst situations in combat sports is being caught by surprise.  The most common way this happens in BJJ is during a match stoppage, especially when the referee is indecisive.  If one competitor thinks the match is stopped and the other is still attacking, the situation goes FUBAR quickly.  These scenarios are exactly what I want to look at in this post.

In this first example, when the competitors near the edge of the mat the referee moves closer to stop the match.  One competitor relaxes, stops defending, and then this happens:

According to the Youtube comments the referee officially called a stop, but it's not very obvious to me.  If the ref was doing a good job, there would be no room for questions because the stop would have been clear and decisive.  Rather than getting between the competitors to ensure a clean break, the ref hovered closer as if to make a stop, but didn't commit.  Unfortunately, the referee's indecision combined with the competitor letting down his guard resulted in a vicious slam.

This next next example is a similar situation, except it involves a submission.  Here is David Avellan vs Rusimar Palhares from ADCC Nottingham:

When competitors go off the edge of the mat, the referee calls for a stop and even puts his hands on Palhares for emphasis.  David Avellan relaxes because he thinks the position is going to be reset, but Palhares doesn't acknowledge the stoppage, and keeps cranking  the heelhook.  Avellan is caught completely off guard as his knee is destroyed.

Avellan may have avoided injury by continuing to defend until Palhares actually let go of his leg, but it's impossible to know for sure.  The referee could have also been more forceful in the stoppage, but the thing that really shocked me is that Palhares wasn't disqualified.  The referee and the supporting officials allowed Palhares to get away with a blatantly dirty move in one of grappling's most prestigious events.  Embarrassing.

This last video focuses on an unfortunately common hazard: ignorant competitors.  The IBJJF rules clearly state that referees must use Portuguese commands during matches.  If one competitor doesn't read the rules and doesn't speak the right language, verbally stopping a match becomes impossible. When a ref is unable to communicate with the athletes, this happens:

Conor Huen, the guy trying to break his opponent's foot despite the ref's call to stop, didn't realize that Parou means stop because he never bothered to read the rules.  This is dangerously negligent.  Why someone would spend his or her money to enter a tournament and not even bother to read the rules is beyond me.

This situation might have been avoided if the referee attempted to physically separate the competitors.  Unfortunately, the IBJJF directs referees to rely only on verbal commands and hand gestures to control the competitors.

So what can we learn from looking at these stoppages?

To fellow referees, my advice is to always stop a match quickly and decisively.  Don't be afraid to get between the competitors.  Go with your gut and don't second guess yourself.  If you make a bad stoppage, don't worry about it.  You can always recover.  Coaches might yell at you, but that comes with the territory.  It's much easier to restart a match when nobody is injured due to a poor stoppage.

Also, if you do make a mistake, don't let it bother you.  Move along quickly, otherwise it will continue to eat away at your confidence.  And confidence is exactly what you need to make good calls, stay in control of matches, and keep your competitors safe.

As a competitor, it's important to always respect the element of danger in the sport.  To borrow a saying from MMA and boxing, "Protect yourself at all times".  Remaining vigilant could be the difference in preventing a serious injury.

Also, if your opponent is still attacking you even after the ref has called a stop and you feel threatened, please just tap out.  You can always argue your case later.  If the match was actually stopped, the ref should simply restart it as normal.  If you were wrong, then at least you've saved yourself from a potential injury.

Finally, I think we would see a reduction in these situations if the IBJJF started directing referees to get more hands-on with stoppages.  Unfortunately this is just one of many things I would like to see the IBJJF improve, so I'm not going to hold my breath.