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Sports competitions have become more and more prevalent in the world of Brazilian Jiu Jitsu, leading schools across the country to adapt and accommodate to the formats of each event, from World’s and Pan Am’s to Naga’s and everything else in between. Here are some of the issues that people often bring to me, and if it is worth anything, my suggestions from an unbiased perspective:

The use and abuse of advantages at the expense of displaying the skills of accomplished competitors, especially in semi-final and final matches.

Many of those following important events have stumbled across awesome match ups, like dream matches of some of the top notch jiu jitsu players in the world, just to be let down by boring matches where talented fighters spend most of the time going for advantages, and visibly working the clock instead of going after one another.  One formula would be to limit the use of advantages only up to quarter-final matches, saving the most exciting ones to be decided by points or submissions only. If there is a tie, throw tie breakers (3 min lapses with sudden death - whoever scores first). That will keep the audience thrilled, and the competitors on their toes.  We all want to watch awesome jiu jitsu, not a contest of who holds and stalls better the other.

Then comes the series of infamous positions that can make or break the flow of a match, like the 50/50 guard.

From an entangled and risky half guard situation this position can lead to submissions, yet it can also be used to simply hold a match forever.  Instead of trying to eliminate it from the tournament vocabulary, new rules can impose a time limit if no submissions or reversals take place. I would say from the time the person pulls the 50/50, he/she has one minute to set up something. If he/she fails after the minute, the match is immediately restarted: done deal!

Due to the constraints of time and organisation, tournaments have to present a points criteria to determine a winner in the absence of a submission.

Yet, as we all know, submission is king, and no matter what amount of points someone may have against another, if he/she gets submitted, all those points will go down the drain. Yet, the irony of it is that a valid submission attempt can only add up to an advantage at most. I would love to see athletes who go for submissions to be awarded points as well if they get close enough to tap the other person out. After all, jiu jitsu is about finishing and taking care of business!

The other more disturbing issue is the fact that some events, due to their size and frequency, may not have the logistics to assemble enough well trained staff.

Referees may be rushed through same day clinics, emphasising mostly how to score matches, and not enough on how to keep competitors safe. That issue is dramatically increased if we consider kids’ tournaments, where parents, referees and coaches often get into disputes about the length of time before stopping a match when a submission is in effect. One event I attended not long ago had over two dozen kids with arms popped out from arm bars, and two with dislocated knees from knee bars (which apparently were allowed in the kids’ novice division). My suggestion is that each tournament should provide information for all parents and coaches about the safety measures that referees will enforce, including stoppages, even if an athlete does not show signs of tapping out, yet seems to be at risk.

The issue is of course more prevalent among children’s divisions. Parents and coaches have to all be on the same page, or risk punitive measures by the tournament organisers, which can culminate with expulsion from the premises up to permanent bans from future events if the parents do not comply, or if they make a big scene if their kid’s match is stopped due to a submission that the referee feels could hurt the child. Although the most popular events provide paramedics at tournament facilities, it does not hurt to have referees instructed on basic first aid knowledge, even if they are not required to provide any assistance.

Many of my students often travel quite a distance for a competition, and after all the hours moving around the country get to the venue to have the event starting late and ending up even later than expected.

The issues in regard to time management fall into three categories: lack of space for the number of competitors, lack of staff to run the event and lack of preparation or experience of the staff running the event. Starting time and ending time are critical, which tells me that accepting registrations on the day before or during the day of an event is poor practice, in my opinion. All brackets should be ready a minimum of a couple of days in advance, so organisers can at least plan the schedule for when each division starts, and so on.  Getting a small venue with fewer than ideal mat areas will doom any event from the onset.  We can all start on time, but I have seen events that had to literally pull their mats out of a gym and place them in the parking lot in order to finish all the matches, since the tournament venue lease expired before the finals took place (what a nightmare!). It is time for organisers to stop being cheap and to get some mats and enough square footage, so our athletes can jump into the battle before midnight! After all, we are jiu jitsu fighters, not vampires!

Then we have the more special events that work with higher time limits and no points awarded, hand picking each competitor for interesting match ups or super-fights.

Matches can only be decided by submission, and after an expanded round, a draw is declared if nobody gets tapped out.  I believe for jiu jitsu’s sake that this is awesome, since the idea is to restore the essence of jiu jitsu by providing to technicians of the art better conditions to show their skills. Yet, it is not uncommon even then to see some matches falling into the same trap of regular tournaments, where stalling and holding back lags on and turns a dream match into a boring one.  The same principle of resetting the match when nothing is happening, or adding tie breakers (lapses of 5 mins until someone gets a sub), or at least an automatic 10 min overtime in case of a draw should apply. Maybe I am hallucinating, but for sure that would shake the dust up a bit for those matches that do not meet the hype!

There is a lot more to do yet, and almost no time to get it done. For all those who love and live the jiu jitsu life, I hope these words can bring you some light!  Train hard, train smart, and above all, have fun!

Carlos Machado
9th Degree Coral Belt
Owner RCJ Machado Jiu-Jitsu Inc.

November 07, 2018 — Jiu Jitsu Style