When it comes to competition, he IBJJF is the leading Brazilian Jiu Jitsu organization in the world. Standing for Internationtal Brazilian Jiu Jitsu Federation, it’s been responsible for competitive events across the globe. The IBJJF is a product of Carlos Gracie Jr. who is the head of Gracie Barra, the most widespread BJJ association. Organizing tournaments for more than 20 years, it is the leading organization of its kind.
Some of the greatest competitions in the world of JIu Jitsu are held by the IBJJF. The likes of The Mundials, The Europeans, The Brazilian Nationals and the Pan Ams have grown to be the most prestigious tournaments available. Those who manage to score high in these tournaments have rocketed up the official rankings. So, as it seems, the IBJJF is a flawless organization working for the good of the sport.
A source of controversy
In truth, things are way more complicated than they may seem. First and foremost, the IBJJF is a for profit organization which does not pay competing athletes any monetary prizes. This approach is acceptable when it comes to the lower tiers of competitors, but at black belt level it’s different. During the last few years we’ve bared witness to the rise of professional Jiu Jitsu and it’s getting huge. Events like EBI, Polaris, Copa Podio, ADCC and the World Pro series have been in full swing lately.
In stark contrast to the IBJJF, these organizations pride themselves in promoting professional Jiu Jitsu, where athletes are paid for their efforts. This causes a rift with the IBJJF, whose modus operandi is to require an entrance fee for all competitors. SO, on one hand it is the professional Jiu Jitsu scene, offering money but not as widespread. On the other, it’s the IBJJF conglomerate, demanding money to compete and not giving anything back to athletes.
The second eye glaring problem with the IBJJF is their incredibly restrictive rule set. Apart from the questionable points systems, the submission limitations have been a huge source of negative feedback. Back in the days of its global domination, the IBJJF’s approach was tolerated, given the lack of competition from other organizations. Since then, however, things have changed. People started frowning upon the impractical point system claiming that it is killing the spirit of Jiu Jitsu. Winning a match on advantages (a still unclear concept for most competitors) or by referee’s decision became the norm. Submissions have been severely restricted, even at the elite level, with no logical explanation as to why.
Let’s dig a little deeper into IBJJF rules and the pitfalls they might lead to for those that decide to compete.
The rule set traps of the IBJJF
The IBJJF rule book is a 44 page long manual that is available online. It outlines the seemingly never ending array of rules in detail, with the help of an exorbitant amount of pictures. However, even when carefully read, this manual fails to outline some of the most inconspicuous and controversial rules. These are not just insignificant rules, but decisions that might change the outcome of a match. Competing athletes have to be aware of these rules, regardless how stupid and confusing they might be.
1. Stalling positions
Stalling is probably the most frowned upon strategy in high level Jiu Jitsu and for a good reason. Keeping someone in a position that will result with you beating them by a single advantage is not the Jiu Jitsu way. Agreed BJJ is all about control, but it is the type of control that leads to a submission. Grappling arts like Judo and wrestling place an emphasis on holding/pinning the opponent to win, but BJJ is more dynamic. Once you hit the ground it should be about going up the food chain to get the tap.
IBJJF rules state that you can’t keep someone in your closed guard without attacking and penalties will be awarded accordingly. Four penalties mean you get disqualified. The same goes for being stuck in the closed guard of an opponent. Staying there until time runs out will earn you penalties. But there is a loophole. If you get to the mount position, or the back, you can stay there indefinitely. The logic of the IBJJF is that those are the most dominant positions and you can’t get to a better on. However, the reason why they are so dominant positions is because they lead to the most submission opportunities. Camping out there until the buzzer goes against the very essence of Jiu Jitsu.
2. Passing trickery
The idea behind a pass in BJJ is to bypass the opponent’s legs in order to gain a dominant position. In an IBJJF tournament getting to side control or mount will result with 3 points for the guard passer. Getting to the back though, will only get you the 4 points that the position brings. Since the same amount of point is awarded for the mount position, it’s clear how one can get confused.
Also keep in mind that side control, as a position does not yield any points. The 3 points you get when you get there most times, stem from the pass, not the position itself.
Under IBJJF rules, if your opponent sits down you are obligated to engage and pass the guard. If you decide to back away in order to force them to follow you up you will get penalized.
3. Sweeping conundrums
A sweep is worth two points in the world of IBJJF tournaments. Any motion allows you to reverse the bottom position and get on top of your opponent is considered a sweep. Well, sort of. If you manage to reverse bottom side control, or bottom mount, you won’t get anything for your efforts. A sweep has to involve the legs during the reversal, in order to merit full points. This limits you to getting points only form guard or half guard.
If you end up on your feet while attempting to sweep someone and you get thrown down in the process, you won’t lose any points. Just make sure that you land in guard. The logic behind this one is that points will not be awarded for putting you in a position you were already in.
In a funny twist of events, IBJJF rules allow you to actually sweep yourself. Yes, you read that right. Whenever you’re attempting to pass someones guard and you decide to sit back, allowing them to end up on top, they get the points. A sweep doesn’t have to originate from the opponent, it can be initiated by yourself as well. So be careful when you decide to sit back for ankle locks in an IBJJF match.
4. Mat space
Getting off the mats while engaged in a match will result with the referee resetting both opponents in the middle. However, if one opponent is caught in a submission and decides to leave the mat it’s all over. No penalties awarded, it DQ straight away. However, you’ll only get disqualified if you leave on purpose. If you end up outside the mat space while escaping a sub, you will be reset, but the opponent is going to get 2 points.
You can also earn a DQ even before you step on the mats. Apart from having to be on weight, make sure your Gi is up to IBJJF standards. IF you’ve already competed in one of their events you already know the drill. Sleeve length, sleeve width, the state of your belt all undergo examination before you’re allowed on the mats. You should also make sure your Gi is either white, blue or black, or you’ll be asked to replace it.
5. Manipulating the point system
Remember those advantages that make everyone lose their minds? Well, those pesky little things are the tipping factor that decides most matches under IBJJF rules. They also contribute to lots of matches being boring beyond comprehension. The trick with advantages is that they only matter if you’re all square on points. IF you have just one point more than your opponent and they have 10 advantages, you’ll walk away with the win. All things equal though, advantages will determine the outcome.
If no points or advantages have been awarded, it’s down to who has been misbehaving. Whoever has more penalties is going to lose the match. And in the occasion that nothing significant happened during the match it will be down to the referee to decide who wins. His decision is going to be based on those infamous advantages again – but this time by deciding who got closer to getting one.
6. Behavior during match
During a match both competitors are not allowed to talk to the referee or among themselves. Arguing decisions with the ref will earn you a penalty at least. The same goes for any verbal exchanges with the opponent. Having a penalty like that decides a match is a cruel and unusual way to lose.
Keep in mind that you should keep your belt tidily tied as much as possible. The ref can stop a match and ask competitors to redo their GIs and belts. However, this is not a time intended to give you a break. Unless you want to get a penalty, don’t spend more than 20 seconds readjusting your belt.
The IBJJF seems to struggle with the rise of Jiu Jitsu in general and the professional scene in particular. Submission only events with no restrictions and longer or no time limits at all are taking the mantle. Yet, IBJJF tournaments still carry weight. They are a great place to compete for most people, excluding elite black belts. There’s still great opposition at their largest events and lots of tough matches. Despite the hefty entrance fee and lack of any cash prizes, IBJJF tournaments are a great way of gaining experience. Just make sure you’re aware of all the rule tricks surrounding this type of events.