Reaping the Knee: The Fantasy Position of BJJ

Josh PalmerBJJ, Random Thoughts, Training2 Comments

Firstly let me just say thanks to everyone who contributed some excellent discussion to my last post: Am I starting to dislike Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu? The response was amazing and certainly generated a good amount of healthy debate.

It is not my intention with this blog to focus on seemingly negative attitudes to our sport. I split my time fairly well between the two worlds of BJJ & MMA and I hope that I can occasionally offer interesting talking points for scenarios that cross this divide. However, there are a few issues that seem to repeatedly spark an incredible amount of anger amongst BJJ practitioners and I feel it’s good to revisit them from time-to-time. Several occurrences at the recent IBJJF European Championships appear to have done just this. This video will get us started…

Black Belt MW Finals: Fernado Terere Augusto (Blue) vs Claudio Calasans (White):

Regardless of how you feel about the specific example above (was it just lassoing the arm or not etc) it did once again, thrust this volatile issue back into the spotlight. I’m not sure there are too many aspects of BJJ I’ve heard more complaints and arguments about than this one. Rather uniquely, this includes outspoken complaints from higher-level practitioners. There was even a reasonable petition attempt (Spear-headed by Jason Scully) to have the rule removed. In my gym we’ve come to nickname this: the fantasy position.

OK you got me, it’s another inflammatory post title for effect. But what do I really mean by this? Hands up if you know of any other grappling based sport that understands and treats the position ‘reaping the knee‘ the same way as BJJ. I can hear all you Sambo practitioners laughing in the background, and don’t think I’ve forgotten about you Catch Wrestlers either. I had one of you chuckle fairly recently as you told me “errr we just call it securing the leg. Why wouldn’t you do that?“. Now that’s a good question.

You can’t really argue against its effectiveness when properly applied. It’s undeniable that in a fight/match…whatever you’d like to call it, that when attacking a standing openent from your back it’s a simply brilliant position. You can remove their base and at the same time by forcing their body to rotate away, inhibit their ability to strike you…and that’s before you break out your own offensive leg lock game. Even if you’re not pursuing direct leg attacks from the position it’s great just for setting up sweeps and scrambles.

The general understanding in the Gi BJJ community is that it’s simply more ‘dangerous‘ to reap the knee and gain inside control. For reference, here’s the IBJJF guide on ‘reaping‘ rules: Leg reap rules for Gi and NoGi Grappling

Are they actually dangerous? Of course! But let me rephrase: are they any more dangerous than trying to stop the flow of blood to the brain or break a joint? We are training a combat discipline after all! One that believes itself to be provable above and beyond many other combat styles practiced today thanks to the nature of our progressive resistance training. Everything we’re doing is potentially incredibly dangerous if taken to its final conclusion (all be it that injuries sustained to knees generally require substantialy more time to heal than other issues). But that does NOT mean we can’t train/learn/defend these techniques effectively and safely.

Just because you’re reaping the knee doesn’t mean your going to heel hook a guy. If he then chooses to forcefully spin the wrong way that’s his problem…it’s like pulling away from a locked-in armbar or lifting your chin up nice and high for a choke…you wouldn’t do it! Or maybe you would but then I’d suggest there’s something a tad wrong with your approach! It’s a small follow-up point but all of that is before we consider malicious intent. If we’re training together I’m not going to try and visciously remove your arm. Why would I suddenly ignore this ethic when it comes to legs? I can’t argue against the fact that in the deep past there may have been an increase in training injuries directly related to this position but I do firmly belive this may have been down to training methodology and mentality not any extra magical power this position posesses.

I have to give credit to user ‘Chance‘ who highlighted the following when commenting on my last blog post: “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“. I think this is a very interesting and clever point. If injuries really were on-the-up specifically due to knee reaping why wouldn’t you take steps to mitigate the damage. But to me that means educate and train correctly not remove it all togerther and, as ‘Chance‘ said: neutering BJJ for personal gain.

In an effort to incorporate all grappling styles with no bias, the competitions I’ve hosted in the past at GoToTheGround evolved to specifically make knee reaping (not heel hooks!) legal, a decision that was well recived by most attendees. But let’s consider the majority of competitions as they currently stand.

In most competitions you’re allowed to utilise a 50/50 style of leg control because it’s supposedly ‘safer’ than a reaping style. This is a concept entirely fabricated for sport competition dictated by the removal of heel hooks. Furthermore it maybe safer for your opponent but not for you when as a result you’ve placed yourself in unecessary danger…it’s called 50/50 for a reason! Given the choice I’m fairly certain the majoirty of grapplers would prefer attacking wth the reaping option. The reason why was summed up quite nicely by Chris Herzog in this forum post: “My choice is clearly the reaping style of leg attacks. There are various levels of control to the reaping style (we use the terms Clamp, Wedge and Knee Knot and my school). The clamp being the fastest method but offering the least amount of control of the 3, the Knee Knot offering the most control. I consider the Knee Knot to be the Spider Web of leg attacks. It offer and very high level of control with near zero amount of risk of a counter attack and a number of very effective submission options, to me it’s a straight Kill Zone. For myself and my students the study of 50/50 is very important specifically for defensive purpose, personally the only time you really find me in 50/50 is if someone attacked me with it or during a scramble. In my experience it just doesn’t offer the same level of security as the reaping method, leaving yourself open to counter attacks while you’re attacking“.

There are probably three key areas of complaint regading the current competition legislation. I’m aware of course that ADCCs, NAGA and a handful of others have a more open and expanded ruleset which I personally prefer.

Firstly, as a YouTube commenter said above: it increases referee involvement. In my opinion this is never a good thing. As top UFC referee Marc Goddard highlighted in a recent interview on the London Real Podcast: ‘If I’ve done my job, nobody’s talking about me‘. I believe the same holds true for any combat sport. I don’t want to see the ref and I certainly don’t want his opinion to have a significant presence in the outcome of the encouter beyond keeping the competitiors safe.

The automatic DQ is complete overkill. IF the position must remian illegal, shouldn’t we at least limit the disruption and absurdity that arises from needlessly throwing out competitors? There’s usually a more than sufficient opportunity to guage when there is danger present, call ‘Parou’ and warn/reset accordingly. It would seem to me that this is the happy-medium solution to reaping that could adequately satisfy most parties.

Thirdly, is something I honestly hadn’t fully considered till I re-listened to an old interview with Ryan Hall. Competitors who deliberatly force the opponent to a position that will get them DQ’d. At this point I was starting to get worried that our sport was turning into football (soccer) where grown men get the slightest knock and roll around on the floor for hours at a time but thankfully it appears as though the IBJJF have taken steps to eliminate this practice via their 2013 rule changes. Someone please correct me if I’m wrong.

Oh well, we all know the IBJJF aren’t likely to change their minds on the issue quickly so don’t expect to be breaking out your knee knots anytime soon. However just because it’s illegal in their competitions doesn’t mean you shouldn’t incorporate it into your own game. They can’t over-regulate that. In a brilliant recent interview with the guys at Open Mat Radio, Ryron and Rener Gracie questioned what percentage of those training jiu-jitsu actually do so to compete in competitions. They ballparked it somewhere around the ten percent mark. As they then pointed out, if this really is the case why on earth would the remaining ninety percent let themselves be bound by competition rules?!

At the end of the day everyone’s going to have to make up their own mind as to where they want to take their grappling. If competitions are your deal then we know beyond a shadow of a doubt that rules dictes tactics and thus, for the time being you’re going to have to heed the reaping regulations. If not: proceeed acordingly and go get tangled up.

I’ll leave you with a video of what might be one of my favourite submissions in recent UFC history arising, rather appropriately, from a knee reap: Charles Oliveira hitting a sick transition to a reverse calf slicer.

2 Comments on “Reaping the Knee: The Fantasy Position of BJJ”

  1. This is a very good move however i can see why they are so tough on it. Want to use it just do no-gi or tournments that allow it.

  2. At my gym they are allowing people to heel hook me when I am on top (standing trying to pass) , but I am not allowed to defend myself when on bottom by reaping and to replace guard from the mount. I attempt a straight footlock sweep and they turn their hips forcing the reap and then look at each other saying I should be DQ’d. I am purple belt training since 2000. and this sport is going downhill!

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