Rickson Gracie has recently been doing a press tour pumping up his Jiu Jitsu Global Federation, a new Brazilian Jiu Jitsu organization he created. Rickson has attempted to create competitions and organizations in the past, always with an eye towards experimentation with rules to little success, and sometimes to the derision of grapplers. But this time the tournament rule set he has produced does deserve some praise, but if it succeeds is another thing.
First the tournament does use a point system that rewards position. Despite some members of the Gracie family railing against points in grappling tournaments, this is a good move. First it makes it a bit more approachable for those used to point Jiu Jitsu competitions and also an eye towards positional grappling is what makes Jiu Jitsu, Jiu Jitsu. The rationale for from old school Jiu Jitsu is that positions that can lead to effective striking are rewarded because then the grappling more closely resembles the grappling one would use in a fight.
What the rule set does remove is advantages, which is a big positive. Advantages are one of the key things many competitors and observers of the IBJJF do not like. Advantages are awarded for almost achieving things in the IBJJF rule set and were originally put in as a tie breaker system to reward activity and aggression. But in recent years they have become the cause of a good deal of passivity and conservative game-plans as grapplers work to get a lead with Advantages and then prevent actual points from occurring. So the removal of advantages is a big positive because the only thing that gets rewarded is actual, successful grappling, not nearly doing something.
In an interesting twist, it also appears that 3 points for passing guard will be awarded for passing the guard, or achieving a pin in the half guard. This rule is very similar to pin points awarded in International Sambo competition and appears to be a nod to the evolving nature of ground striking in MMA, in which the half guard can be a rather dominant position. Also there is a minor penalty for guard pulling, and awards takedown points to the first person to stand up in the event of a double guard pull. While this is a nod towards those fervently opposed to guard pulling, it also leaves that strategy as an option for competitors, it simply makes it a riskier, less desirable option.
When it comes to submissions, the rule set has some encouraging signs as it appears to be more inclusive, in some ways, of traditionally shunned submissions. Straight ankle locks and attacks that stretch the legs apart will be legal not only at White Belt but also in upper level teenage divisions. After that the list of banned techniques at each belt level look very similar to the IBJJF until you reach a new division, titled "Elite". This Elite is not defined but occupies a place above black belt, so it will likely be filled with professional competitors.
In the Elite division basically all submission holds, save small joint manipulation, are legal in both gi and no gi competition. That includes neck cranks, all varieties of heel hook and toe holds, and spine locks. Additionally the flying scissors takedown will be legal, as will reaping the knee in ground positions and leg locks alike. This is a big positive for this rule set. Especially when it comes to knee reaping, the flying scissors, and also heel hooks, these are techniques that are banned across all of gi Jiu Jitsu and in many ways are feared by competitors, and much of that fear is based on misunderstanding the techniques.
All three are argued to have too high of a chance for injury, but are legal in several competition rule sets and those competition mats are not covered with the remnants of exploded knees. Sambo competitions, as well as NAGA events, both allow the scissors takedowns and knee reaping, and they have not had a rash of knee injuries that cause competitors to cry out for a rule change. ADCCs, NAGA, and Metamoris allow heel hooks in their no gi competitions, and those have been applied safely far more often than they result injury. Kevin Casey's knee was not turned inside out when Keenan Cornelius applied a heel hook on him at Metamoris 3 because Casey could recognized the position and that he was controlled to the point of no escape, and he tapped out before Keenan even had to apply pressure on the lock.
There are many that will argue that this is not enough, that for too long Brazilian Jiu Jitsu competitions have marginalized and in some cases ostracized those who specialized in leg locks, and they have a very valid point. This rule set is a step in the right direction towards a gi Jiu Jitsu competition taking an open minded approach to leg locks. But other than allowing ankle locks right away the rules are not that different from the IBJJF in all divisions aside from this Elite division.
There are also those who will argue that some leg locks, specifically the ones that twist the knee, should be the province of professionals only and that hobbyists don't need consistent exposure to those leg locks because their main goal is to keep training uninjured. And while it is a respectable position that there are people who want to compete without worrying about their knees being attacked, and certainly not all levels of all competitions need to reflect this rule set, there then needs to be some consistency. The current IBJJF rules, that set the standard for many competitions are full of frequently pointed out problems. Twisting leg locks are illegal, expect for toe holds which can result in a similar twisting action of the knee. Knee reaping is illegal, but 50/50 guard, which puts very similar pressures on the knee, is completely legal. The flying scissors takedown is legal because it can cause knee injuries, but jumping guard, which can result in just as horrible knee injuries, is an extremely common sight at Jiu Jitsu competitions.
Additionally the IBJJF rules create fear of techniques that are be applied safely in other competitions. In some ways this makes it easier for leg lockers to find their preferred submission, but unfamiliarity with leg locks increases the chances the competitor in the submission injuries his or herself, thus furthering the belief that leg locks are dangerous.
In any event, Jiu Jitsu competitions targeted towards finding out who the best grappler is should include as many submissions as is safe. Not every black belt should be forced to be a leg lock guy, but it stands to reason that a black belt should at the very least be able to defend every submission and be able to compete face every kind of submission grappling game if he or she wants to compete at an international level.
This rule set is a step towards the Jiu Jitsu community acquiring a more open minded view, but will this competition catch on? NAGA has carved out a spot as a competition circuit that is more open when it comes to submissions, but it opens those submissions to competitors much sooner. Will this rule set be different enough at the sub-elite levels to really attract a following? If the competitions are initially held in California with its huge base of Jiu Jitsu competitors, it is possible, but it is far from a sure thing. It is possible if the rule set was a bit bolder and opened up more submissions for lower belts they might have created a bit more difference between themselves and the competition, but Rickson is more inspired by his vision of Jiu Jitsu than business.
It is hard to argue with Rickson Gracie when it comes to Jiu Jitsu, but it could be argued that to really impact how Jiu Jitsu is trained and how competition rules are structured the open minded nature to submissions should be extended to more than the just the Elite grapplers.
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