Am I starting to dislike Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu?

Josh PalmerBJJ, MMA Musings, Random Thoughts, Uncategorized29 Comments

Warning: This post has absolutely no coherent argument and I’m ranting for the sake of it!

As a rule, if you ask me my thoughts on training, mat culture or the various grappling derivatives in general, ninety-nine percent of the time I’m going to respond with something like this:

But then there’s that pesky one percent when I’m forced to wonder… am I starting to dislike Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu? Surely not? ‘Jiu-Jitsu‘…I have those words forever inscribed on my back. I’ve written at length about what an overwhelming force for good in a persons life the sport can be. Yet right now I’m wondering what an earth’s going on.

If you follow my twitter, earlier this week you’ll have seen this:

Why did I tweet this? Well it’s simple. I saw this video from last weekends IBJJF European Championships:

Assuming you can get past the utter farce that is the first four minutes of this video, then yes, you get a cool attempt at taking the back and a decent explosive pass to side control to round off the encounter. But let’s be honest: if you didn’t really love jiu-jitsu, you’d have stopped that YouTube link 30 seconds in. Maybe less.

Judging from several other reactions around the web including this little gem from the ADCC official account, I’m not the only one who thinks this.

I’m not suggesting for a second that either of these gentleman aren’t exceptional BJJ players competing on some of the highest stages in the sport. Clearly both are devoted, tough competitors whose life obsession is the pursuit of ‘Jiu-Jitsu’. But perhaps more appropriately in this instance: ‘very specific rule set grappling‘. Catchy name for a sport ain’t it? Both competitors are playing to the rules. I appreciate that. But then maybe the rules need to change.

I’ll be honest that when I first started training I had this romantic yet naive notion that BJJ is all you need in a fight. Of course it isn’t, but without a doubt it’s a damn good edge to have. However I find myself concerned that continuing down this progression from tested martial art to sport is going to drag the art further away from an applicable combat discipline. We’re already seeing a whole host of techniques that lack any usefulness once removed from the very refined gi environment.

It’s not without precedent I feel. I think it’s fair to say both Taekwondo and Judo have suffered from this.

Old-school Judo black belts are just scary people, there’s no two ways about it. I’m lucky enough to train with an ex-Olympian and it’s just plain horrible! Brutal grip strength, core strength, explosiveness, the list goes on. But they grew up and developed with extensive newaza, less grip restrictions and more critically I feel: direct leg attacks. Fast forward to today and many of the latest wave of club level Judokas look highly bemused if you shoot a decent power double. Who knows, maybe the rule changes did make it more exciting to watch for uninformed spectators. I’m not sure they’re helping outside of that.

Olympic Taekwondo bores the hell out of me. I don’t think I even need to point out the flaw in the move of that martial art to sport…but I will. Bounce, bounce, bounce, hands down, spin kick, miss and end with back facing opponent. For the love of God I want one of them to just decide ‘you know what, I’m going to punch this person in the face‘.

Obviously this is something I’m not a fan of and I pray it doesn’t happen in BJJ though sadly, it’s clearly already started.

I’ve always liked that in the context of MMA, BJJ can be seen as a key component. It’s right up there with wrestling and Thai boxing as essential skill sets. It’s not some obscure traditional martial art which the masses chuckle at. Whittled down to just one or two useful techniques over time. It’s dynamic, aggressive and devastating. Under the duress of MMA, it’s the real aspects of Brazilian jiu-jitsu that shine through and it should be pretty obvious: it’s not sitting on your ass falling sideways holding a pant leg. Takedown, pass, submit. I hope BJJ as a whole doesn’t lose that mentality.

Yet for some reason, so many people practicing sport jiu-jitsu don’t seem to feel the same or simply don’t appreciate the difference. I’ve seen some downright asinine posts on various forums from people decrying BJJ belts being awarded to those who perhaps don’t compete regularly in gi but do extensively in MMA. Well guess what guys: they’ve tested BJJ in a truer and harsher dynamic than most of us ever will.

Josh Barnett is a dominating grappler and MMA competitor. He knows what’s up:

It’s just my opinion, but the closer we get to the video above the more we lose. Over the past couple of years there’s been insinuations flying around that submissions in fights are disappearing. That BJJ in MMA is outdated and redundant. It’s not at all. I’ve commentated some outstanding groundwork over the past couple of years. But keep on with shit like that first video and it may well be.

How do we rectify this situation? I’ve no idea of course, I’m just ranting. But there are plenty of reasonable suggestions flying around. Penalty points for guard pulls? Allow heel hooks in the brown and black belt divisions? Every argument has it’s pros and cons but one thing is certain, most people don’t want to see anything that constitutes the first four minutes of that video.

So I say again: am I starting to dislike Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu? Of course I’m not! I’d just rather keep mine as applicable to as wider array of situations as possible. Either that or I’ll need to change my tattoo to say: ‘grappling saved my life‘.

29 Comments on “Am I starting to dislike Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu?”

  1. Spot on…. But this has been my view point for a while. Nice to hear someone else feels the same. I often find the mat is a better test than a comp… As long a you aren’t playing ‘comp rules’.

  2. The double guard pull footsy thing doesn’t take away from Jiu Jitsu as a combat art, if keenan cornelius does that to anyone other than a high level jiu jitsu competitor the fight would be over in less than a minute. The only reason that it looks odd is when two highly skilled guys are in that position.

    1. Undoubtedly – but I wonder at what point we consider competition BJJ and applicable ‘fight’ BJJ (for want of a better term) as so far apart they cease to fall under the same umbrella of ‘BJJ’. What happens when fights consist more of inapplicable techs than applicable ones?

  3. Definitely agree, but unfortunately we’re just going to have to wait for someone to come up with a works every time counter to it for the sport to evolve past it.

    Some could argue that maybe the ref should step in or rules introduced to cut down on it. Problem is that when they introduced the first silly rule into Judo 10-15 years ago the Judo guys probably thought it was a good idea to make the sport more action packed, but then it just became a precursor to new rules every few years banning more and more things.

    Judo tends to have 4-5 restarts per fight where as in 15 BJJ fights I’ve been restarted about 3 times. The rules of BJJ are that the fighters fight and if they want to have coma inducing fight with people playing on their iPhones instead of watching then so he it. I’d say that’s better than having a Judo style fight where the ref and rules have as just much to do with the process of the fight as the fighters do.

  4. I think there are many top end black belts who agree with you, but just don’t publicly say it for fear of it sounding like sour grapes. The journey from Terere, Moura, or Viera and their exciting games to what we have now seems to have happened overnight. The level seems to have raised competitively, but is it a competitive sport or a fighting system? What is in the video is a game, some would say a dull game (especially if they came up watching the names above), but not a fight.

    I think a few things are significant. Firstly, adding takedowns might serve to make the sport more “realistic” but would probably also serve to decrease participation in competitions generally. Fighting for takedowns is the hardest part of grappling, and some would say the most hazardous. Give a guy a choice between a wrestling class and a Jiu Jitsu class when he’s feeling a little tired and he’ll choose BJJ every time. I don’t think the federation want that, and I think it suits them to have more people going to tournaments.
    Secondly, I think guard pulling is perfectly legitimate since BJJ is mainly about fighting on the ground, but that there are certain positions such as 50/50 that are pretty much stalemates and could be resolved by a stand up. I don’t care to watch guys seeing who can get whose leg over whose other leg. There are exceptions. Cavaca has one thing in mind when he goes to 50/50, and it’s not getting an advantage point, it’s footlocking you.

    Good post!

    1. Thanks for the input Barry – I appreciate the feedback. I’m pleased with a lot of the discussion arising from this on various sites.

      I completely agree with both your points. I don’t feel restricting guard jumping is the way to go but I’m very much in favour of opening restrictions on leg locks and knee reaping. Even if for the time being it’s the higher divs only.

  5. If i am going hard for 7 minutes in 4 matches and is completly exhausted going into the final and all i need is to pull guard for 3 minutes to recover i think it is a perfect strategy.

    1. Then you need to train harder, IMO.

      If you know you could potentially have 4, 5 or 6 matches, then you prepare for that.

      One of the things I love about the original UFC. Multiple matches in one night. You want to talk about exhausting!!

    2. 4 matches, christ thats nothing. Try 11 matches in one day. Cardio pays off, cross train with mountain biking (grip strength and leg strength and lungs that never quit.

  6. I think you might be a little delusional about how he sport relates to the art. And about fighting and mma. MMA isn’t real fighting. And sport jiu jitsu isn’t all of jiu jitsu. In regards to Mma, when’s the last time anyone was in a real fight an was half naked? Or had a time limit and a real ref? Sport jiu jitsu is watered down by rule and at the same time highly concentrated with fancy stuff. It’s why Rodolfo and Roger are still my favorites. Very old school stylists. Takedown, pass, mount and submit. The answer is, add strikes. All those fancy techniques vanish once punching is involved. And everyone in my lineage teaches this same principle. I could keep going but my iPhone is a PIA.

    1. I can’t actually work out whther you agreed or disagreed as you tended to do both. Thank you for your perspective though.
      I don’t feel I explicitly said MMA was real fighting, I simply said it’s a truer and harsher test of ones functional jiu-jitsu hence why the good old ‘Takedown, pass, mount and submit’ will always be king.

  7. Good points brought up, but your proposing that we stop the advancing of the sport just to satisfy you and a few meat head fighters opinion about sport jiu jitsu?

    1. Not at all. My heart and home is jiu-jitsu. Though for you to refer to MMA fighters as ‘meat heads’ is extremely inappropriate. Many are amongst some of the smarter, more articulate people I’ve met in this world.

  8. On a related note-what was the impetus for the IBJJF reaping ban? In my years of bjj and sub grappling-I haven’t seen or known anyone who injured their knee in this manner (I don’t doubt the possiblity, I simply haven’t experienced it).

    1. I tend to feel the same and in the competitions I hosted I did not make it illegal. Interestingly I may have a video post of a different perspective on this from a new-wave yet old-school coach. Stay tuned.

      1. There’s many opinions about the knee reaping rule but only one truth. Yes, it’s dangerous and can/does cause a more enduring injury. Back in the 90’s it was one of the most common causes of injury at academies everywhere. Full recovery time being 6 months to never, the handful of coaches running things at the time and still struggling to get the word out about jits, got tired of losing monthly training fees to knee reaps and banned them in the schools, then in the tournaments. It was about $$$$.

        The second most common more enduring injury? Heel hooks… Ah, a pattern emerges.

        What’s truly a shame is in a fight, a real fight, where you grounded and the other guy isn’t, a knee reap is the surest way trash the opponents base and temporarily neutralize ALL the opponents striking opportunities. If they have a weapon a knee reap is a real life saver, opponent ending up face down on the ground as they do. It’s a fantastic move.

        In my 20 years of jits, generally speaking, I’ve come to see that every rule change came about as a result of association heads seeking a practical solution to keeping attendance, and thus income, high. In doing so some might say they’ve done a good job of protecting the students. For my part, I feel like not all, but most, have done a poor job of protecting the full power of the art by neutering it for personal gain.

        1. Altough I’ve been in the game shorter(8 years) I do feel the whole leg lock ban in BJJ is a bit too much.. No heel hooks? Sure, pretty dangerous technique. But the whole knee reaping as you call it, not crossing the knees, no kneebars till….brown(?) Pretty stupid. Its all allowed in grappling and injury’s dont seem more common there then they are in BJJ, besides, its a combat sport.. Risk is a part of that. With the rules as they are right now, I cant even make a straight ankle lock like its supposed to, without getting DQ’ed..

          The second danger is that a lot of higher belts hardly know how to defend leg attacks, because they havent trained them half as much.
          My strategy against brown belts is always knee bars, because most suck at defending those..

  9. If your talking about jiu-jitsu in a broad spectrum, then I’m not totaly with you on your argument. Although, you do bring up the idea on how these “young grom” generation is evolving the sport aspect. Thats the thing though, you have “sport-jitsu” and “street’jitsu,” other known as gracie jiu-jitsu, self defense. I think instructors are losing the sense, or the drive to emphasize the importance of self-defense..and there are specific moves for this that are real simple. I myself, training at a Relson Gracie school for a little while, was forced to learn self-defense. They made it a “must” in their school, and were really strict on learning your self-defense, which was cool. I learned some cool knowledgable shit that came through in a clutch moment on the street sometime ago. I just think that maybe, possibly, “miyao types” are not to blame. You have to take in account that the small man game is starting to blossom in different ways. Meaning the x-guard, deep half, delariva, spider..what ever the guard, it all flourished in one way or another. And i think this is the evololution of sport jiu-jitsu, or jiu-jitsu – minus the self-defense.

  10. It seems that no one wants to pass anymore and I think that’s another big problem. When it comes to the Miyaos it’s either they’re playing guard or they’re not playing at all. We need to get folks into passing again. Watch Rodolfo versus Keenan. He didn’t bother to play sideways footsies with Keenan and that’s because he isn’t afraid to pass.

    Also, I think if the IBJJF were to allow heel hooks we’d see less 50/50 stalemates and probably more effective open-guard play.

  11. The truth is that so long as the rules for MMA and BJJ are different, they will continue to evolve differently. Im hesitant to compare them at all because of the GI. But, BJJ has and will continue to evolve much differently than grappling in MMA because a practitioner can seek the efficacy of techniques that would otherwise be too dangerous in the presence of strikes. BJJ has left the grappling of MMA behind because MMA favors primarily takedowns, top positions, and closed guard if you have to. This is why pure MMA style grappling will always be rudimentary in comparison.

    The evolution of BJJ is important to consider, which is why I am happy to see blog posts like this, even if they are negative. Flat out, the reason why contemporary and upcoming competitors are emphasizing these new strategies is because they yield the best results. The rise and mapping out of the De La Riva has brought the guard to very deep levels of dynamism. To try to pass the Miyaos, especially while standing, is much, much more likely to result in you getting choked than not. Not even Keenan wants to pass with them. Bringing up Rodolfo beating brown belt Keenan doesn’t change this. And, I would be very interested in watching Josh Barnett back up his clear cut homophobia against someone like Rafael Mendes.

    BJJ is and will always be about breaking comfort zones and evolving. The majority of objections to its current trajectory that I have seen are appeals to tradition, appeals to entertainment, and appeals to some sort of bizarre hetero comfort. None of these consideration are capable of overcoming the hard reality of efficacy. If, while competing, your opponent pulls guard, and you think following with a double pull is beneath you, you better find some effective ways of stopping them. Otherwise, you’re probably gonna get choked. BJJ might very well end up becoming something besides what some signed up for, but claiming fault in the evolution is both silly and indicative of a lacking plasticity in the complainer.

    Besides, all you really have to do is beat them to prove them wrong.

    1. The problem is that this new “efficacy” is only effective under the very-specific rules of BJJ competitions. If it continues on this path, it will lose a lot of the qualities and mentality that make it effective for self-defense.

  12. Definitely prefer Submission Wrestling. Don’t like the annoying/never see these clothes in real life gi, and don’t like rules. Don’t give a shit about pins, and I must be free to go No-Holds-Barred! Also not into the egotastic belt worship. When you’re REALLY great, your belt is not black… it’s gold.

  13. You ever pull an armbar on somebody and you get your balls slowly crushed by the dude’s arm lol? I swear we both shared the gayest moment ever, what started off as a standing fight (playing around, sort of) ended up on the ground after I hip tossed him, I went in for the armbar and I started to hyper-extend his arm back and I felt my balls being mushed by his shoulder, *HE* felt my balls being mushed rofl! E-brake right then and there, rip the needle right off the record — we both got up like it didn’t even happen, *ahem*, how about them Yankees! I don’t hate Jiu Jitsu at all its just… Yea… Its a bit intimate being that close to another dude rofl! A lot of awkward sh*t happens that nobody ever talks about.

  14. Firstly Josh I’ve only just found your website by accident and as I didn’t get a chance to say goodbye properly since you leaving Tsunami……..good bye and good luck.
    With reference to your article I couldn’t agree more. I don’t have any experience of MMA but having been involved with Judo as a British International in the past and I do lament the changes Judo has implemented in its drive to make it more “spectator friendly”. My issue with this is that it will NEVER be a spectator friendly to the un-initiated because, like all of our fighting/grappling sports , there is a great deal of technique needed that isn’t instantly recognisable to the untrained eye. As you know I’ve come late to BJJ and if you do follow a path to make the “sport” more appealing you will dampen its effectiveness in what it was original designed to be …a fighting art! In Judo’s defence as with BJJ most of the real fighters are able to mix it in the randori/rolling sessions but without a doubt there is a drive to make it a more appealing sport and unfortunately in this day and age that ultimately translates into “softening” it. So my message to BJJ is don’t lose the essence of what and why it was developed to do, and don’t compromise on its toughness to attract/accommodate an increase in numbers….you’ll regret it in the end. If people can’t hack it then tough…let them go and a find a less intensive sport…they’ll be the poorer for it!! You will always have old school BJJ’ers as we do in Judo and when it comes down to it they can still do the business. Good website and I enjoyed navigating it. ps You’ll never dislike but you’ll have periods of frustration with it.

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