The Rules Rundown Part 3 – The Sub Only Debate
by Josh Sequeira
In this three part series entitled ‘The Rules Rundown’, we discuss the competition rules in use at BJJ and grappling tournaments today. Following our edition about the IBJJF (available at http://grapplersplanet.com/the-ibjjfrules-rundown-part-1/), and last week’s edition about other points based tournaments (available at http://grapplersplanet.com/the-rules-rundown-part-2-the-other-guys/).
This week we will conclude the series, examining one of the hottest topics in grappling today – the Submission Only debate.
Some people believe that the use of points based tournaments only get in the way of the art of Brazilian Jiu Jitsu doing its part, and do not fully demonstrate who is truly the best overall fighter in a division, but instead who is the best point fighter. In the old school days of the Gracie challenges, there would be no time limits, and fights would go on as long as they needed to, until a competitor submitted his opponent or forfeited the match. However, as BJJ icon Marcelo Garcia recently pointed out, no time limit sub-only fights can be fun, but are not practical in a tournament setting because of the uncertainty of the duration of fights. “I think the points are good for the sport, to make it more dynamic, just for the sport, but definitely submission (only tournaments) are awesome, we just don’t have time,” says Garcia (see http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5WMtHabbUV8 for full video) .
In addition to Garcia’s point, it should be noted that if grappling and bjj wants to progress and gain more mainstream attention, it will be difficult to do so without time limits as casual observers will find it difficult to enjoy and embrace a martial art and sport they do not understand especially if there is no guaranteed time limit or sense of urgency between competitors to defeat each other.
Ralek Gracie, grandson of BJJ founder Helio Gracie, introduced a pro BJJ tournament last year, Metamoris Pro, which used submission only rules with a time limit of twenty minutes for each match. In the hope that the time limit would help make matches more exciting, Ralek brought together some of the biggest names and most successful competitors and practitioners in the world today. In the event that competitors were unable to submit each other within the time limit, matches were declared a draw. The idea proved to be a fresh and clever idea with many of the matches being very exciting and crowd pleasing. However, with the time limit and option for draws, some competitors fought with a more laid back style, seemingly fighting to not lose instead of fighting to win.
In the second Metamoris event, which recently took place on June 9th in Los Angeles, judges were introduced to help determine a winner in the event that time expired in matches without a victor via submission. Despite this push to have clear cut victors, two of the six fights still were deemed a draw by the judges, and despite the submission only format, only the main event ended with a submission. Ralek Gracie has already announced that there will be no judges for the third Metamoris event and after some obscure antics by one of the competitors, Brendan Schaub, who did not engage for almost the entire match, fleeing at every opportunity, Gracie has promised that his team will spend even more time trying to set up only the most exciting possible match-ups for fans.
Jiu Jitsu innovator Eddie Bravo has often openly stated his belief that points are slowing down jiu jitsu and preventing it from reaching its full potential. Instead of providing a system allowing draws, or having judges or referees involved, the man they call ‘Twister’ has held two tournaments within his association that offer a time limit and a submission only format, but have extra factors that guarantee pure action. If competitors do not submit each other within the scheduled time, both are disqualified. In addition to this, the fastest submissions take precedence in bye situations. In Bravo’s opinion this pushes competitors to have a sense of urgency, opening up their games, pushing them to look to submit their opponents as quickly as possible. Rose Gracie, another one of Helio’s grandchildren, and Ralek’s sister, hosts the Gracie Nationals and Gracie Worlds tournament on an annual basis, essentially following the same rules set Eddie Bravo has used in his tournaments. Thus far, Gracie’s tournaments have been very successful and exciting affairs.
At the end of the day, the various tournament formats available offer their own unique twists on matters. Some can argue that points based tournaments hold fighters more accountable for their actions by rewarding good jiu jitsu and promoting position over submission. At the same time, this can lead to people playing too close to the rules and not the art itself, resulting in what can sometimes be very boring and unappealing ‘snooze fests’ of sorts, creating points champions who are kings and queens of advantages.
On the other side of the spectrum, those who are for submission only tournaments argue that sub only helps determine who is truly better at the most important element of jiu jitsu, submissions. However, the format is very important in this case. No time limits can lead to very long fights that end up being a question of conditioning over technique. Eddie Bravo’s idea is very creative and innovative, but at the higher levels, where fighters are so evenly matched, fighting under such constraints and the fear of disqualification can lead to more exciting fights but fights that have the potential to be far more about taking risks and brawling than being technical due to the parameters of the matches.
Although sub only tournaments do not reward points for good positions and completely focus on the submission element of jiu jitsu, it should be noted and assumed that higher level practitioners will almost always push to compete with the idea of gaining dominant positions to finish fights. Although there is no reward for positions, it is highly unlikely that fighters will start giving up their backs to try and attack toeholds or allowing opponents to mount them to attack wrist locks. The same basic rules of jiu jitsu still apply whether points are involved or not.
It is very interesting to examine the various tournament formats available to us today. Some offer more immediate fan friendly action while forcing competitors into BJJ Russian roulette of sorts, while others offer more intricate battles and technical stand offs which can at times lead to snooze fests and create champions who win based on ‘near passes and sub attempts. At this point in time, the best plan of action might be to have lower belts (purple, blue and white) compete under points based rules, while higher belts (brown and black) compete in sub only formats. This will help promote the development of good fundamental jiu jitsu for lower belts, as long as there are no advantages and there are rules in place to penalize stalling (similar to what Five Grappling is trying to implement). At the same time, higher belts can compete in a format which can help demonstrate who is the better fighter overall. To avoid stalling and to promote constant pushes for submission, some sort of judging could be in place to help determine winners based on submission attempts, aggression and positional control in a 10 point must scoring system (similar to what boxing and MMA use)for the brown and black belts. This is not necessarily a concrete plan, but something in principle which might help grappling and sport bjj move forward, embracing the positives of both points based tournaments and submission only ones.
Much can be said for the progression of the sport and the martial art as a whole moving in the right direction, but at the end of the day, all of these tournaments and their respective formats are simply trying to push jiu jitsu forward in a safe and competitive environment to help our sport and martial art grow, and progress.
What are your opinions on the state of rules in BJJ today? Do you have a preference? What do you think about my proposed tournament format for lower and higher belts respectively? Leave a comment below and let us know what you think! This article concludes the Rules Rundown, we hope you enjoyed the series. Look out for more articles from Josh this summer!
Josh Sequeira is an English major in university, aspiring high school teacher and writer for Grapplers Planet. He is an avid competitor and student of the art of Brazilian jiu jitsu.