Understanding BJJ Referee Gestures And Commands

BJJ Referee Hand Gestures And Commands

Being a BJJ referee is a hard business. I can attest to that myself. That said, once you go and referee a match or an entire tournament, you’ll understand how important it is to know all the little rules and regulations. Тo that extent, it was baffling for me how many people have no idea what the referee’s gestures or commands are. Ther are not that many, to be honest, and one glance through the rulebook of any organization would be sufficient to be up to speed. However,  for anyone looking for a shortcut, and less technical ways of explaining, let me clear up some of the most common ones. 

There’s nothing mysterious about what а BJJ referee gestures or says. It all has to do with what\s going on in a match. However, most competitors do not know what a referee is doing, apart from the point gestures. While you’re fighting, this is not that important, as the only time you need to be paying attention to referee gestures is when you’re not engaged in a match with an opponent. However, you need a counter that knows what referees are doing, in order to be able to act quickly and accordingly. 

The Ungrateful Task Of BJJ Referees  

Being a BJJ referee is anything but easy. God knows I’ve said some bad stuff about refs throughout the years. Who hasn’t? It took me stepping on the other side, or in this case, in the middle of the mat,  to understand how big of a task it is to referee a Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu match. Referees have to think about everything and watch everything. It is much harder than you might think to try and get things right while enforcing the rules at the same time. And of course, mistakes are bound to happen, which doesn’t go well with competitors. 

That said, the case of the BJJ referee is not helped at all by the lack of knowledge of the rules. It is not just that people do not want to learn the gestures and commands of the referee. The rulebooks are also written in a way that’s repulsive to read and often hardtop comprehend. It took me ages to figure out what every little thing in there was actually about. Certain stuff remains a mystery even to referees themselves, which is probably why they have the right to call things as they see them. In fact, the very first sentence in the IBJJF rulebook is that the referee’s decision is final. 

That said, let’s not just shift all the blame to the referees. I know I never will again. However, there’s a huge caveat to learning the rules-  you know how to get around them. Learning the gestures and commands can help you be a better cornerman for your teammates as well as figure out things on the fly when you’re fighting. Here’s a shortcut to the most important ones in the rulebooks. 

BJJ Referee Hand Gestures 

Let’s make things simple from the beginning. There are only 12 gestures that referees make outside of awarding points (3 gestures for points). All in all that’s just 15 gestures you need to learn. In order to make understanding them easier, we devised a simple structure by dividing them into categories. 

Points And Advantages 

BJJ Referee Hand Gestures pointsWith points, I think everyone knows how things go. It is universal under pretty much any ruleset with points that the BJJ referee raises an arm, with as many extended fingers as they’re awarding points. In terms of IBJJF rules, this is extremely simple as you can get either two, three or four points, hence the appropriate number of fingers for each. A referee will hold their arm in the air for a few seconds to make sure everyone sees the points awarded. Moreover, one arm of the referee refers to one athlete, while the other to the second. the p[alm of the referee when awarding points is always facing in the directions the referee is facing. 

Advantages are even simpler. Every time the referee has an arm stretched to the side, with the palm facing the mat, an advantage goes to the athlete the arm corresponds to. Probably the easiest of the BJJ referee hand gestures. 

Warnings And Penalties 

These are arguably the most important BJ Jreferee gesture you’ll need to learn. Penalties usually refer to negative points, which you can “earn” in several different ways. One is to amass three penalties. Another is to intentionally try and leave the area while escaping form a move. Thre are many more examples. the take away here is that some penalties you can get away with, while others might cost you a match. So be mindful about what the referee is signaling, because sometimes you won’t’ even know you’ve made a mistake. ` 

Stay In Area 

BJJ Referee Hand Gestures stay in area This is one that people usually do not pay lots of attention to until they get punished for it. Whenever a BJJ referee points to one athlete and then holds the hand at shoulder height, with an open palm and a finger to the ceiling making a circular motion, that means that athletes need to respect the bounds of the mat area. Several of these might cost you a match. 

Point Deduction 

BJJ Referee Hand Gestures point deductionWhenever a referee’s arm is at shoulder level, with their elbow bent and palm towards the head, that means a point deduction. Once again, the arm corresponds with the athlete in question. Moreover, the hand is open with the palm pointing towards the referee’s head. 


BJJ Referee Hand Gestures penaltyThis is the one that really counts. One penalty is not important. Two means an advantage for the opponent. A third brings the opponent full two points while a fourth sees you receive a DQ. A penalty starts with the referee pointing towards the belt of the athlete in question first. They use a straight arm and an open palm. The arm then goes at the shoulder level, with the forearm bent at the elbow at 90 degrees. The palm is facing forward and the hand is in a clenched fist. 


BJJ Referee Hand Gestures DQProbably an easy one to figure out. Both of the referee’s arms are overhead, crossed, with the fists closed. Of course, the mandatory pointing toward which athlete is the recipient precedes the DQ gesture. 


This is the largest category of BJJ referee gestures. Here there are basics that you might take for granted, but may come off as disrespecting and disobeying a referee if you do not know them. That’s certainly not something you want to do to a BJJ referee, regardless of organization or ruleset. 

  • Enter Area  

BJJ Referee Hand Gestures approachBoth athletes usually start from the edge of the mats. Before they enter the mat area, though, they need the invitation/permission of the referee. The gesture is when the referee uses both arms extended towards the athletes, and then bends their elbows, palms facing inwards. 

  • Start Of Match 

BJJ Referee Hand Gestures fightThe beginning of the match is one of the easiest gestures, with the BJJ referee extending a straight arm froward and lowering it down between the two athletes. 

  • End Of Match / Pause 

BJJ Referee Hand Gestures stopBoth arms o the BJ Jrefere go up, outstretched to each side. The palms of the arms are facing down. in essence, it is like the advantage gesture, just down with both arms as well as a verbal command. The same feature signals both a break in the action or the end of the match. 

  • Adjust Gi 

BJJ Referee Hand Gestures adjsut GiWhenever there’s a break in the match, both athletes will be required to adjust their attire. The gesture a referee does in this situation is using both arms crossed downward at the waist. The referee usually faces the athlete in question when giving this command. 

  • Adjust Belt 

BJJ Referee Hand Gestures adjsut beltSimilarly to the Gi adjustment, there might be a belt adjustment gesture. In this situation, a BJ Jreferee holds both hands at the waist, with fists clenched. The gesture is simulating tightening the know of an imaginary belt. Once again, it may refer to both or only one of the athletes. 

  • Stand Up 

BJJ Referee Hand Gestures stand upIn certain situations, both, or one of the athletes will be required to stand up. this is when a referee uses a specific gesture, that starts to wit them pointing at the athlete’s belt, as in previous examples. From that gesture, the BJJ referee than raises their arm to shoulder height, palm facing the shoulder. That signals the athlete to stand back up on the feet. 

  • Return To Ground 

BJJ Referee Hand Gestures go to groundOn the opposite need of the spectrum is a command to return to the ground. This works in a reverse fashion to the previous gesture. Namely, the referee starts with the arm corresponding to the athlete at shoulder level, before lowering it diagonally across the body towards the mats. 

The Essential BJJ Referee Commands 

IN addition to the gestures that a BJ Jreferee uses to control the match and let those that work the table about points, advantages, and penalties, they also use certain verbal commands. In fact, they only use a few, which, surprise, surprise, are in Portuguese. The exact number of verbal commands here is 4, and they’re not at all hard to remember. 

Combate – Plain and simple, this means to start a match. Both at the beginning of a match and at every restart that might take place the BJJ referee will use this verbal command in addition to the appropriate hand gesture. In this situation, it would be the signal to start a match. 

Parou – Probably one you ‘ll hear most often. This refers to stop any and all actions. it corresponds with the stop/pause hand gesture. Accordingly, it means that you should stop what you’re doing and look at the referee. It may be the actual end of a match or just a situation that merits a restart in a different area of the mats.   

Lute  - This means “fight”, freely translated. It is something a referee uses when trying to signal one athlete to work more, rather than stall. A BJJ referee can either point to the athlete in question or touch their shoulder to cleary signal which athlete is in question. A penalty gesture usually follows this verbal command. 

Falta – This one is used once again in situations of penalties. However, this verbal command is only used when there’s a serious foul, which in most cases, is grounds for an immediate DQ. Still, once again the referee either points to the chest of an athlete. or touches their shoulder, along with the verbal command. This is oen you do not want to hear aimed at you while you’re grappling. 

Final Thoughts 

As I said, understanding the BJJ referee hand gestures and verbal commands will make you both a better competitor and a better cornerman. After all, if you’re competing, you have to compete by the rules. Why not know exactly what’s going on, rather than trying to figure it out on the go? Moreover, you’ll save yourself valuable time arguing pointlessly with the referee after the fact. Remember, the rulebook is designed to protect a BJJ referee and their decisions. It is better to know what you’re doing and avoid all the confusion!  

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