BJJ rules – part 1

As a fast developing martial art and sport, BJJ has endured many small changes in its rules. Whis is it important? As a matter of fact, rules and regulations heavily influence sports, the overall strategy and even the game can radically change the way sports are played. You can see this clearly in MMA. During the first UFCs, anythign could go in the cage, in fact gloves and mouth protection were not used and even strikes to the groin area were allowed, there was no time limit or rounds, etc. The result of many matches would be radically different if fought under nowadays rules.

In grappling sports the change can be a lot subtler, but they still make a difference. Judo was a total different game 50 years ago, with a lot of more possible grips and many matches ending in the ground. To keep the fight more standing up and please the non educated audience, rules were changed and nowadays you can see even in the top level that many competitors have no clue in the ground whatsoever, prefering to hold to their lapels in a turtle position until the ref call MATTE, which stops the fight and restarts it from a neutral, standing up position.

Not all changes are bad, many actually improve the sport, whereas others are detrimental to the sport as it farther those combats from the true spirit of the martial arts. You might be asking, so what is the true spirit of the martial arts? According to the famous japanese swordsman and artist Miyamoto Musashi, the true way of the martial arts is to fight your opponent and win. He despised the showy techniques and “hidden meanings” taught by most styles of his time as useless decorative stances and parted ways with the ones that tought of dying in combat as honourable, his way was one of victory, not of death in battle.

One thing that strikes me is the huge number of people training martial arts without having a clue on what to pursue. This reminds me of a traditional jiu jitsu master in London praising Aikido as such a peaceful martial art. Ouch! I looked at this guy and saw that even though he trained for probably a decade or so, he had no clue of what he was doing. Martial comes from Mars, the roman name for the Greek god of war Aris. Can’t he see a contradiction in a peaceful martial art?

So which rules are good and which are not? This is a difficult question and sometimes I ask this to myself. Different rules are what make the application of techniques and tactics so different from Judo to BJJ to Sambo to Wrestling and so on. All those sports are beautiful and all of them are someway limited in scope by the rules. Anyone interested in being complete therefore should study different grappling styles and find which techniques to be more adequate to his own style, and this obviously holds true to striking arts too.

Having said that, lets get to the point. Rules have changed enormously in BJJ over the years since its implementation in the 70’s. I started practicing BJJ 20 years later, and I remember when the knee on the belly was awarded 3 points and guard passes 2. Since passing the guard is more difficult and more important, the federation decided to invert the scores. This is a very good example of a change that was beneficial to the sport. What about the bad ones? In my opinion the 2 biggest errors were to change the way that people weigh in before the competition, and the introduction of the advantages.

First lets adress the weight issue. All different grappling arts have different federations and hence different guidelines and rules. I will try to elaborate this better. Weight is a very important parameter in a fight, one that influences a lot the outcome of the matches and since the transformation of martial arts into sports, weight divisions were introduced in order to allow people to compete in a fairer ground. Of course height, skills, speed, strenght, flexibility and other aspects also influence the results, but weight is easy to measure and was brought to the olympic sports of Judo, Wrestling, Boxing and other combat arts. This allowed a greater number of participants to fight each other without disproportionate advantage to the heavier person.

It is hard to compare different rules if you have not fought under them, but a simple look at the weight divisions in BJJ, Wrestling and Sambo shows that there is no logic whatsoever to why are they divided in those ways (Not to mention Grappling which has as many different rules according to each tournament organiser). For instance, in BJJ athletes are placed in 9 divisions separated by 6 kilos each, Wrestling has an upper limit of 120 kg (which means that if you weight more than that, either diet or do not compete at all) and so on.

Now lets think of two fighters. One weighs 120kg, the second weighs 125kg. Do you think those five kilos will make such a difference in such heavy guys? I guess not. Now imagine that one athlete weighs 55kg and the other 60kg. The picture changes, right? So, understanding that a linear increase is not satisfactory, because in heavier weight divisions one kilogram matters less, the people responsible for the rules in Judo, have constantly adapted the divisions and, although no system will ever be perfect, they designed a fairer system than others.

For those not familiar with this, in Judo they have -60, -66, -73, -81, -90, -100 and over 100 kilos. So the difference increases one kilogram at each step, for they saw that 5 kilos matter a lot more in the lightest divisions. You do not find this logic in any other grappling sport. Why don’t the other arts copy this? It is not copyrighted or protected, but it seems that logic is beyond the grasp of the federation officers responsible for BJJ and Wrestling, they will stick to their outdated linear or non logic systems unless there is enough pressure from the fighters.

Now to a more specific absurd of BJJ. Although the weight of the Gi has no influence whatsoever in the outcome of a fight, a few years ago the BJJ federation had the brilliant idea of weighing the athletes just before their first match with the Gi on. Why did they do that? They had a problem, tournaments in the past used to weigh in the fighters on the previous day, which gave an advantage to athletes able to lose many kilos in order to fight lighter opponents. A logic solution, once again, was to copy what is done in Judo. Judoists weigh in 2 hours before their matches, so they can lose some weight but not much or else they will be too weak.
But why copy others? The masters responsible for BJJ envisioned a new way, to weigh in the athletes just before their matches. The idea of weighing people with the Gi is just outrageous to me, as someone can plainly cheat by having a lighter Gi so he can have one or two kilos more of muscle (Gi manufacturers saw in this a great opportunity, making lighter Gis for competitors), and this was a detrimental change for the sport. Not only our weight divisions have no logic to start with, now they brought a change to make it even more illogical. The Gi is dead weight as compared to our muscles. So instead of losing weight and risking being weaker if the body does not recover, we simply use lighter Gis to have an advantage over others. Then soon all competitors got lighter Gis, levelling the playfield, but the irrationale of this measure implemented by the federation was to allow people to weigh in and fight right away, not because this is a good thing for the sport or for the athletes, but because it is easier for them to do that than to have more officials checking the weight in semi naked athletes in another room in the competition day. Checking the athletes in underwear in the main hall is supposed to be offensive, so they introduced this measure a few years ago. Now we not only have a defective linear system of categories in BJJ, also we have to watch out for how heavy is our Gi (Hold on, let me buy a lighter belt, better to spend a few bucks than to lose 200 grams by running on the ompetition day).

I would be delighted to hear arguments in favour of weighing in the athletes with the Gi, not for the sake of the organisers but for the good of the fighters, and so far no one could present me a good one.

I will write a sequence to this post soon only to adress one rule that proved to be one thousand times more detrimental to our sport than the weight divisions, the absurdity that are advantages. Introduced in the sport a few years ago, they were supposed to make the fight more active and less stalled. This of course did not happen, or else I would be defending them.
To be continued…


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