Monday, April 14, 2014

End Point Jiu-Jitsu Now*

* at least for black belts.

If there's one thing that's become clear to me after watching an epic contest between Royler Gracie and Eddie Bravo at Metamoris 3, it is this: competitors who think their matches could in draws are more likely to fight for the finish.

There are a lot of ideas about what is wrong with sport jiu-jitsu right now. Rafael Lovato Jr. has become one of the faces of the contemporary "Save Our Jiu-Jitsu" movement, such as it is. And while I commend his focus on changing the mindset of the average jiu-jitsu artist, I think the surest way to change the way the game is played is by rearranging the incentives.

The problem with sport jiu-jitsu is not just that there is a tremendous incentive not to lose. That's pretty common in every sport. The problem with sport jiu-jitsu is that there is also a tremendous ability to avoid losing.

After all, jiu-jitsu is not a toughman contest. It's arguably the most sophisticated self-defense martial art every devised. So should it really be a surprise to see the kind of matches we too often see? Two BJJ artists attempting to simultaneously play guard until they are able to transition to taking the back, moving from the sin qua non of defensive martial arts (the guard) to what is quantitatively the most dominant position in grappling (rear mount).

Not only might this "bug" have been a feature, we probably should have seen it coming all along.

That's why you've got to change the rules, to make some of the natural tendencies of superior, self-defense oriented martial artistry more appealing from a sportive point of view. At the same time, it's not going to work exposing the "inferior" self-defense of everybody on the losing end of a BJJ contest. That's the recipe for the conservative, advantage-based, sports jiu-jitsu we have right now.

I think there's a place for this kind of jiu-jitsu: in the belt ranks from white to brown. But once we enter the black belt realm, let's start looking at competition differently. Watching Gracie v. Bravo, I ask myself, what's a sweep or two between black belts? In a world in which we are expected to regularly sacrifice Pan and World titles on the altar of collegiality, why not spare black belt competitors the ignominy of one-advantage losses and insist on a submit or draw standard?

At the end of the day, I just want to see great jiu-jitsu. And more often than not I see great jiu-jitsu when I see competitors who desire winning more than they fear losing. I see a lot of that in the lower belts. I spent a fantastic afternoon at the greatest jiu-jitsu tournament in the northwest watching mats full of kids, women, white belts, blue belts, purple belts, and brown belts going for it without a single stalling call that I remember seeing. The Revolution event is very IBJJF-oriented, with advantages and everything. But these competitors didn't need any incentive to get after it.

The same is true for the sole black belt match, my professor and a talented, local new black belt I've trained with once or twice - with whom my professor actually shared his winning technique shortly after the match. That's the kind of class we roll with here in the PNW.

But elsewhere incentives are different, where the stakes are higher and rank and reputation become a part of the mix. So why not change the nature of the game, at least at the highest level, as well?