Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Risky Business II: The Can Opener

While writing my last post on risky moves, I was reminded of the daddy of all borderline legal moves, The Can Opener, and I thought it warranted its own post.  When I first started competing in grappling tournaments the rules for the Can Opener were very different than they are today.

The old rules for the Can Opener allowed it to be used as guard break, but not as a submission.  You could only apply the spine lock to your opponent while his guard was closed.  However, once the feet opened, you had to release the hold or else you would be disqualified.

Even though these rules have since been replaced in most grappling organizations, they still live on as a grappling urban legend.  At almost every tournament that I work, someone asks me about the Can Opener.  The myth of its legality stays alive to this day through hearsay and the occasional local tournament that has no regard for its customer's necks.

Fortunately, the IBJJF, US Grappling, and most other professional organizations prohibit the use of the Can Opener in ALL CASES.  There's no more grey area.  It's black and white.  If you attempt a Can Opener then you lose.  This makes my job easier because misunderstandings tend to happen when a rule is left open for interpretation.

The best example of the obsolete Can Opener rule causing chaos is the infamous match between two-time ADCC Champion Jeff Monson and six-time IBJJF World Champion Marcio "Pe De Pano" Cruz:

This tournament was (allegedly) using the old Can Opener rule: Once the guard is open, the neck must be released.  However, when Monson applied what he thought was a legal technique, Cruz tapped out!  After a LENGTHY argument Monson was disqualified (and there was some intense disagreement).  When two world champions in a sport don't agree on how a rule should be applied, that indicates a problem.

I don't want to argue about Cruz gaming the system, only he knows if his neck was in danger.  I'm only highlighting this situation to illustrate that grey areas in the rules are bad for our sport because:
  • They create too much pressure on referees to make precision calls.  Referees are human and make mistakes.  The rules should be as simple and precise as possible to minimize errors by officials.
  • They create too much confusion among competitors.  I hate to see people accidentally disqualified because they attempted something they thought was legal.
  • They lead to accusations of impropriety and gamesmanship.  Regardless of the truth of the accusations, the fact that the questions are asked is enough to hurt the sport's reputation.
Thankfully, the rules have become simpler.  Things are moving in the right direction, but there are still some  loopholes that need to be ironed out.

As a competitor should you be training to take advantage of edge cases?  My advice would be no.  Stay far away from any move that has a potential for disqualification. Avoid putting your fate in the hands of a referee.  If the Can Opener is your favorite way to break the guard, learn a new move or try MMA.  Focus on fundamental techniques instead of tricks.  Let your skill be the deciding factor in your matches.