GTR Archives 2000-2022

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Roberto Pedreira

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Coolness versus Efficiency

The Crisis in Jiu-Jitsu

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Robert Drysdale

Posted May 18, 2022

The term gjiu-jitsuh has been under constant change since it was first introduced in the West in 1892 (here) and remains devoid of any clear definition. Yet, for the purpose of this article, I will stick to my own definition, which I believe isnft too far from a universally accepted definition: Jiu-jitsu is that the purpose of jiu-jitsu is to practice combat as realistically as possible and within measured boundaries that allow for efficient learning on one end, while minimizing serious risk of injury on the other and with entertainment only as a side benefit.

Which is to say, jiu-jitsu as a sport is an attempt at preparing for the reality of a fight within limits that safeguards its practitionerfs physical integrity. A definition that is far from being a universal one, as jiu-jitsu continually drifts in the direction of sport and away from the reality of combat, but that in any case, will serve us here.

Furthermore, the near to complete absence of any reliable information regarding what is actually happening on the mats, versus what we think is happening, makes this article speculative, even if grounded in my observations (and whatever data I could find), of having spent my entire adult life deeply immersed in jiu-jitsu as a leader, practitioner, coach, and fan of the art. At any rate, I believe my points are valid considering what we know and what is easily observable both in the gym as well as in the competitive scene (under all current formats in which it is practiced).

Below, a few examples of tradition having hindered and still hindering the technical development of jiu-jitsu in the name of safety:

Heel-Hooks – Up to recently they were banned in almost all events. Although one could easily argue that they are riskier (as per the shorter and thus faster lever) and more compromising in terms of recovery (because it is typically a longer one with or without surgery) due to its erotationalf motion. They have been, nonetheless, used in recent years with no more apparent serious injuries deriving from their use than other classic submissions, such as armbars or chokes. Suggesting that if they are more dangerous, it wouldnft be by much.

Additionally, heel-hooks are typically only legal in sem-quimono (no-gi) competitions, but not in the kimono (gi). But why? The classic argument is that it would be harder to gsliph out of a heel-hook in the kimono than it would without it. Which is true, but it is also to assume that the most efficient way to escape a heel-hook is to gspinh out of it relying mostly on explosiveness and the slipperiness of the situation. When in fact, the defense of the heel itself is more acutely made by hiding it under the opponentfs body, followed by the control of the opponents attacking arm. This is the most efficient defense known to its skilled users.

A defense that is in fact, made easier because of the kimono. In other words, defending a heel-hook in the kimono, in theory, would be easier than defending without it because holding onto a sleeve is much easier than attempting to control your opponentfs wrist by holding it. And considering the lower than anticipated injury ration in sem-kimono when heel-hooks are available, why are they still banned in the kimono? My guess is two-fold here: tradition and the fear of those who arenft comfortable being attacked or of attacking them choosing to remain within their comfort zone instead. Granted they are only that, guesses, and nothing else.

Knee-Bars, Toe-Holds and Wrist-locks Considering that they are only legal in the black and brown belt divisions (blue belt and up for wrist-locks) we must ask why arenft they legal for lower belts? The assumption is that they hold a greater danger for less experienced practitioners? But why? What is the fundamental difference between a choke, a kimura, an armbar or a knee-bar?

In terms of the wrist-lock and toe-hold an argument could be made that the former has a short-lever (much like the heel-hook does) while the toe-hold has a rotational axis (almost identical, if not identical, to that of the heel-hook). But the greater question here is the belief that white belts canft learn when to tap from these just like they learn how to tap from every other submission. In fact, much of the prejudice regarding submissions comes from what I believe is in fact a myth, namely that submissions are more injurious than transitions are. From my experience at least, transitions, scrambles and takedowns are the prime cause of injuries in the gym as well as in competition, not submissions. But again, these are my observations and nothing else. Without concrete numbers, we canft know what to legalize in order to further innovation and what to decisively ban for the sake of the practitionerfs physical integrity and health.

Different rules for children – Children arenft fragile. They are as strong, or as weak, as we raise them to be. I donft believe there ought to be a separate ruleset for children because nothing compels me to believe that they are more prone to injury than adults are. In fact, the opposite may well be the case. Children are not only more flexible and durable in terms of their joints, but they also recover from injuries at a remarkably faster rate than adults do. If we must have any difference in terms of rulesets and what they permit, it would make more sense to allow for more submissions in the kidsf division than in the adults. Assuming injury prevention is the mark to be achieved, and that the rules that are meant to give body to this prevention are organized within the same hierarchy in which its practitioners are exposed, from most exposed (adults) to the least exposed (children).

To be clear, I am not suggesting this in practice. I am only arguing that from a safety standpoint, adults are not only more exposed to injuries but also have a social risk attached to the injury, since adults typically have life responsibilities that children donft have.

Another topic to be considered here, is that youth tends to be more creative and adaptive in general terms. It would be beneficial to jiu-jitsu organizations and gyms alike to better understand how this works, when this heightened creativity initiates its progression and retrogression, as well as its limits and its advantages in terms of maximizing the technical innovation of jiu-jitsu, which is in general terms, better off in the hands of our youth.

The idea that children are fragile and incapable of handling pressure or incapable of learning how to tap is a myth in my view. The concern, might be less in regards to safety than to the flak from public opinion, which, on a side note, is seldom informed and normally more preoccupied with virtue-signaling (in the case of non-parents) and excessive pampering (in the case of parents) than a true concern for the well-being of children, or anyone else for that matter. It isnft unreasonable though that organizations would heed the pressure from public opinion and parents, because however unreasonable and uneducated, the pressure is real and consequential. An unfortunate reality that is product of what I believe is grounded more on a myth than in the reality of risk during the practice of jiu-jitsu.

              Holding the inside of the pants and sleeves – It is widely held that holding the inside of the kimono pant or sleeve was made illegal in order to protect fingers who could accidentally get trapped and broken as a result. Something I have never seen and that I suspect has never even happened because it is highly unlikely that it would except in the most unlikely of scenarios. The real reason why holding the inside of the pant or sleeve is illegal in my opinion, is due to the fact that these grips work so well. In my view, holding the inside of the pant leg would facilitate guard-playing to a considerable extent by granting superior control of the opponentfs leg (a control that has been remedied in recent years by practitioners instead holding the outside of the pant with the palm of their hand down, which is slightly harder to achieve, but almost equally rewarding in terms of control), but wouldnft in my view, increase, or decrease risk of injury. The effects would be merely technical in nature.

              Knee-on-belly as a dominant position - It is my view that the knee-on-belly position is far from being a dominant position in jiu-jitsu (under any ruleset) and even less so in a real-fight or Vale-Tudo (aka MMA). To make my point, just observe how often it is used (or better, how often it isnft used) in high level jiu-jitsu competitions or in the cage. In the case of the former it is the least scored point other than the back-mount (which I have never seen scored incidentally) and in the case of the latter, it is such a rare occurrence that I think that the last time I saw a knee-on-belly inside a cage was at a time when the challenges were still held between jiu-jitsu representatives and those of other traditional martial-arts with no clue of what would happen when the fight hit the ground.

Surprisingly, the IBJJF system awards 2 points for knee-on-belly but only an advantage for a tight and near submission. A strange hierarchical logic to say the least. In my view, knee-on-belly is virtually exclusive efficient against those who know absolutely nothing about ground-fighting; or much weaker and lighter opponents; or physically exhausted ones. otherwise, I fail to see the knee-on-belly as a dominant position of control (although I use and teach it often as a valid transition from standing pass to side-control and from side-control to a standing stance). Lastly, its rareness at the highest levels speaks volumes as to the reality of its actual efficacy.

Below a few examples of how trends shape the practice of jiu-jitsu, which is in essence guiding its evolution blindly or away from its combat-oriented roots:

 gJiu-jitsu is all about the submissionh – One of the most commonly discussed topics in jiu-jitsu is a ruleset that encompasses the essence of jiu-jitsu, in other words the greal jiu-jitsuh as it is envisioned by its practitioners and their various views of what grealh may look like.

Sticking to our definition above that: gThe purpose of Jiu-jitsu is to practice combat as realistically as possible and within measured boundaries that allow for efficient learning on one end, while minimizing serious risk of injury on the other,h in particular its gpractice [of] combat as realistically as possibleh we can immediately begin to question the idea that gjiu-jitsu is all about the submission.h A position so commonly held by the advocates of sub-only oriented rulesets who, in general, favor the entertainment of witnessing a submission over the reality of having to conquer and control position (as one would in a real-fight and as exemplified by any vale-tudo fight when the fight hits the ground) in order to achieve submission, instead of constantly going for what I call sacrifice-submissions (those that compromise your superior position in order to risk a submission). Which may seem noble on the surfacec but are they in agreement with the reality of a fight?

Advancing submission in order to achieve position is a tactic I have used and advocated for many times, even though, generally speaking, the opposite makes more sense. What makes little sense is emphasizing sacrifice-submissions (sitting back for a foot-lock, going for an armbar from mount or side-control, a guillotine from side-control) as the hallmark of what greal jiu-jitsuh is. Far from me from advocating against the use of sacrifice-submissions, instead, what I am arguing for here is the development of a conscious decision on which submission to attack and when and if to attack it at all, assuming greal jiu-jitsuh still gis to practice combat as realistically as possible.h

Admittedly, there seems to be some evidence that sub-only formats yield a higher submission rate even if discounting overtime (here), showing a significant 80% submission rate, vs. 40% for ADCC and an average of 38% for IBJJF gi Pans and Worlds (years 2014, 2015, 2016, 2017 for Worlds, 2016 and 2017 for Pans and 2017 for Womenfs Pans, all black belt divisions), even if the data pool is small, these numbers are far from irrelevant. It is not the point of this article to stray into a debate of the differences, pros and cons of all these rulesets and the inevitable debate that follows. The point here is merely to demonstrate how trends driven by an impetus towards entertainment, can lead jiu-jitsu away from its combat-oriented roots and towards the less realistic but, perhaps and arguably, more entertaining routes.

Case in point: the same data shows sub-only with a remarkably high heel-hook submission rate of 37% while the RNC shows only 15% (a very low incidence of RNC compared to other rulesets and which is explainable due to the format, an issue to be addressed elsewhere). Contrast that number with the more reality oriented ADCC ruleset and its stats of 21% for RNC and 21% for heel-hooks. Finally, compared these with the UFC stats and its gas real as it getsh rules where the RNC takes 32% of submissions while heel-hooks claim a mere 2% of the total submissions in that organization. The correlation of reality and positioning and of entertaining with sacrifice-submissions is clear for all to see, even if the data pool is small.

Yet even if small, the pattern is clear in that the more reality oriented the ruleset, the more important positioning becomes for the submission to take place (keeping in mind that the acquisition of the back is necessarily a step-by-step process of controlling positions, normally more than one, unlike leg-attacks). All this without even looking into the very high rates of TKOs (which are a product of good positioning) on the ground in MMA fights. All in all, the trend does the job of steering jiu-jitsu away from its reality-based practice and intent and towards entertainment.

Berimbolos, inverted-guardds, deep-half-guard and lapel-guard – Only a few years ago, when the new variant of the DelaRiva guard popularly referred to as gberimboloh (a made-up word with no actual translation used to describe a messy situation such as a bowl of noodles for example), I was surprised by its aesthetic appeal (or gcoolnessf) as well as the feverish insistent by my students that I place more emphasis in it during classes. Fast forward a few years later and the same feverish insistence was now asking for more lapel-guard sweeps as well as any other novelty they saw online.

For those of you who have seen many advanced guards it is clear that first, at least in the case of the berimbolo, which requires an enormous amount of flexibility and mobility, they arenft for just anyone to practice. Secondly, they are much like I argue above, a far drift from the reality of combat (like most open guard techniques anyway). Insisting on teaching on what I call ethe centerf or efunctional jiu-jitsuf (that which is most likely to work for everyone and anywhere), I resisted the fads facing much resistance by some students. The issue wasnft so much one of the so called gmodern jiu-jitsuh or of my supposed preference for what is called gold-school, but rather an insistence in teaching a jiu-jitsu for all, regardless of age, traditions or trends and basely solely on the one question that really matters: does the move work in a fight or not?

Admittedly, much of my own competitive jiu-jitsu practice (and teaching) was not reality based, but was what I had learned and what I had seen work in competition so, naturally, I soaked it in and, more often than Ifd care to admit, have succumbed to the pressure from trends, resisting only their placement in ethe centerf and keeping them instead in the margins. Over time however, and likely due to my exposure to wrestling and vale-tudo, as well as the business-oriented pressure of teaching inclusively all different age groups, genders and for various preferences, I began to make the effort to lean away from trendy jiu-jitsu and towards one that would work everywhere. Hence my resistance to berimbolo, deep-half-guard, reverse DelaRiva, lapel-guard and other so-called modern guards that bear no ground in the reality of combat.

My instincts however, did not fail me. Shortly after the fever, some numbers on the most common sweeps came out. Which were, in fact, not a shocker to me and more or less what I had expected, but that, unfortunately, did little to appease the demands.

The sweeps in numbers, in the 2016 IBJJF gi Worlds were: Inverted/tornado (aka ghelicopter-guardh) 3%; DelaRiva (according to the editor from the source in private correspondence, berimbolos were included in the DelaRiva category that year) 4%; Reverse DelaRiva 5%; Lapel-guard 5%; Half-guard 13% (worthy of notice here is that half-guard and deep-half-guard differ fundamentally in technical terms as well as to the exposure to strikes in the case of the latter); Closed-guard 18% and a surprising 24% for the 50/50 guard for reasons I will explain below. While the 2017 IBJJF gi Worlds yielded very similar results: Berimbolo with a total of 4 sweeps; Lapel-guard with 6; Reverse DelaRiva 7; Half-guard 28 and 50/50 again with a staggering 65 total sweeps (sources respectively and representing numbers for the adult, black-belt divisions: (see data here and here)  for unknown reasons, 2016 was measured in percentages while 2017 in total sweeps. Still, both years tell a very similar tale).

What about 50/50? – It doesnft take a martial-arts expert to see that the 50/50 position requires an explanation. How can it be leading above all sweeps by such large margins? First off, I will begin by saying that these numbers would not be so high in case heel-hooks were allowed in with the kimono for obvious reasons. Secondly, I want to make clear here that, as far as the reality of combat goes, 50/50 falls in the same category as berimbolos and lapel-guard sweeps, with the difference that (a) they are more easily accessible to all individuals, regardless of flexibility and mobility; and (b) 50/50 has a potential for a high submission rate, particularly if heel-hooks are made legal.

Yet none of this does anything to explain its high performance in the kimono. For this we need to understand the nature of 50/50 sweeping which works much like a seesaw in which competitors sweep each other back and forth in a far from realistic manner racking up points with less effort than usual and essentially throwing a monkey wrench on jiu-jitsu statistics. For this reason, I donft include 50/50 as part of the center but would rather place it within the margins, next to other so-called modern guards.

With all this in mind and the algorithm led gcoolh effect taking the driver-seat in terms of the evolution of jiu-jitsu and which direction it takes and with efficiency taking a nose-dive in terms of interest and investment, it is easy to imagine how future generations of martial-artists and fans alike will ridicule jiu-jitsu as it is practiced today. Which isnft hard to do, even for an untrained eye. Take a peek into what is drilled into the heads of practitioners today as to what they are learning and practicing daily and contrast it with what can be easily observable in any real-fight. It is all a far drift from reality if not a complete head-dive into folklore.

Which isnft to say that jiu-jitsu practitioners canft fight. Even if indulged in practices that are far from the reality of combat, the average jiu-jitsu practitioner is still far more capable of putting up a fight against just about anyone other than other competent fighters themselves. My point here is to demonstrate how even this efficiency is testimony as to the bottled potential jiu-jitsu truly has. And I write gbottledh exactly because of the tradition and trends that shape our practice today and that I am critiquing here. The fact that sport jiu-jitsu still holds to a large extent the potential for efficiency in real-combat goes only to show the useful experience granted by live-sparring (which competitors have in abundance). Yet this same potential efficiency of competitive jiu-jitsu in a real-fight says nothing about the limits of what it could do and where it could be in case it was practiced in more realistic and objective terms, with efficiency for real-combat in the driver-seat.

It is easy to see why BJJ as a whole will suffer from ridicule in the future if it doesnft rethink and organize its growth and direction: the uniting theme of all combat practices over time hasnft been health and certainly isnft fashionable ecoolnessf (if this were the case, pro-wrestling would have take over a long time ago). The underlying theme that threads all martial oriented practices is the age-old question: does it work in a real-fight? This is the question future martial-artists will be asking when judging martial-arts from the past. In fact, it is precisely the criteria that thrust jiu-jitsu into the spotlight and above its competition. The Gracie family, by sticking to efficiency as they perceived it as their guiding north, would set a purposeful direction for jiu-jitsu that would culminate in the victories of Royce in the UFC and from there catapult jiu-jitsu into the world. Efficiency is what made jiu-jitsu great and admirable, not fashion. An elementary notion in case we still value combat above the quick to come and go fickleness of fashion.

The point of this article isnft to tell people how they should train or what they should like. And while I make my stance clear in this article as to what my personal preferences are, the bigger picture here is that jiu-jitsu, in my view, is being steered by tradition and fashion which due to both ignorance and gaweh effect respectively, have the negative side-effect of leading us away from its declared purpose of objectivity in real combat. Add to all this the inability of most jiu-jitsu practitioners to execute takedowns effectively and it is no wonder the days in which jiu-jitsu fighters dominated the vale-tudo scene are long gone. Unsurprisingly, given the simplicity and objectivity of western wrestling, they dominate in the cage. Although to be fair, also due to a variety of other reasons that donft belong here.

My overall goal in this article is to perhaps give wind to thought, sober discussion and action that would set our art back on its path of objectivity towards the reality of combat. For this, education would go a long way in rethinking how we teach, train and organize the sport in the future, in hopes that a communal agreement on where it currently stands and where we intend to go is reached. All this, so that rational observation, data and action (rather than inadequate and under-considered traditions, fashion and social media algorithms), take the helm once and for all. Preventing the jiu-jitsu community from being a target of the same sort of ridicule we so promptly awarded to traditional martial-arts and their own folklore. Lest we become exactly what we used to so freely and gratuitously laugh at.

 

 (c) Robert Drysdale 2022. All rights reserved.

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More by Robert Drysdale:

Americanization of Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu

BJ Penn for President

Remembering George Mehdi

Reflections on the Evolution of BJJ

Who Taught Oscar Gracie?

I was Skeptical

Selling Self-Defense

Rickson Gracie is Wrong

Rev. of book by João Alberto Barreto

Maeda Promotes Five Brazilians

Science and Sanity in BJJ

Jiu-Jitsu in Cuba

Is Oswaldo Fada Jiu-Jitsu a Non-Gracie Lineage?

 

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GTR Archives 2000-2022

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