Ten Years Without Reaping: Time to Reevaluate

The term “cruzada de perna” was added to the CBJJ rulebook in 2006. It is eventually translated into “knee reaping,” entering just about every BJJ players vocabulary not much time later. The rule change trickled down from the IBJJF, which at the time was the only major host of world-class tournaments before they expanded to host “opens” all over the world in smaller regional formats.

Many grapplers today were not around when you could go for a footlock and not worry if your foot crossed over the knee reaping line. Knee reaping has been around for almost ten years at this point, and I believe this one change has had a great impact on the sport than any other action the IBJJF has taken in its history.

The rule had a huge impact on the reputation of leg locks as a whole, from toe holds to heel hooks. If your foot crossed that line, game over. This was one foul you couldn’t come back from. Were you attacking with a perfectly legal kneebar but your opponent twisted to escape? Were you countering your opponent’s leg lock attack and looking to establish your own control? Tough luck. You had to play within a narrow sliver of the leg lock pie.

Outlawing reaping was reportedly to increase safety—never mind the fact that sambo curriculums all over the worlds teach reaping to children, and there is no epidemic of knee injuries in Russia that I’m aware of. I’ve been unable to find any data on the number of injuries that could be associated with reaping prior to the 2006 ruling or how many matches have ended in reaping DQs since the rule change. Anecdotally, however, I’ve seen more matches end because of this foul than any other.

Some matches stand out in my memory: Davi Ramos was dominating a match but was DQed while trying to finish a footlock. Joao fell into a similer trap at Worlds while working for a 50/50 footlock. He instinctly adjusted for additional leverage and his foot slipped across the reaping line. And who can forget Terere’s comeback match during the Europeans? He was in the finals, facing off against Calasans and got called for reaping.

I’ve been fortunate enough to train with a wide range of competitors around the world. I love learning from arts outside of jiu-jitsu: sambo, judo, collegiate wrestling. If there is a different way of approaching a problem, I want to see it. I want to understand it. Along the way, I’ve trained with grapplers who don’t hold back from reaping because they aren’t trained to avoid particular regular positions.

My conclusion: Reaping is not more dangerous than takedowns or armbars.

We could get hurt falling just as easy as being reaped, but we learn how to fall. We learn what’s safe and what’s dangerous. And we drill. We must also learn how to roll and accept the reap and how to escape it without putting pressure on our knee. Yes, this is possible. Our brothers and sisters training sambo have been doing it just fine for years.

Jiu-jitsu has grown exponentially in the last ten years. Many things have changed, and our attitude towards footlocks is at a critical turning point. We are seeing a surge of popularity in the leglock game, especially as submission only formats like EBI and Polaris give grapplers the freedom to focus on the finish (isn’t that why we train?) with minimal rules to stunt their creativity. Yes, leglocks were looked down upon for a long time, but it’s time reevaluate.

We should never have to hear a referee say “parou” because of reaping again. It’s time to evolve.

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Comment on this post (2 comments)

  • Egemen Baranok says...

    Good article and a nice read.

    Even though it is presented as a safety issue, in my opinion the case against knee reaping was never a safety issue. IBJJF (just like any other federation for a particular sport does) always endorses what is considered as that sport without rocking boat too much. The Gracie method was go for a takedown, pass the guard, seek dominant position then look for a finish. In that particular order. The scoring system is built around that.

    Only point you can get on your back is sweeps. The rest are advantages which can easily be negated by a single point. So unless you submit a person or hold them down with your guard very tight it doesn’t really lead anywhere.

    Footlocks from the top really negate this strategy. Why go for a pass when you can just attack a leg or a foot. That is the reason why not much is allowed until brown belt. Straight footlock is the only leg attack that is allowed white-purple which makes up the majority of the fights in any given tournament. Straight footlock is relatively a hard to finish, easier to defend and a very risky submission (you risk the opponent standing up and giving two points for free once it’s defended)

    Same thing goes for the bottom. Knee reaping with bunch of leg and foot attacks again relatively are very strong chain of attack to defend against. Which kills the whole idea of having a strong guard or guard retention once you sre passed. Why try to work for a guard like that when you can with minimal effort and knowledge, wait for the pass, reap and start your chain of leg and foot attacks.

    So even though it is said to be for athlete safety (reaping from inside is just as dangerous but very much legal) I believe IBJJF has this rule just like there is offside in soccer or no (guillotine like) head isolation in wrestling or no pant gripping in judo. It’s just a way to preserve what is considered as the essence of the sport or what the sport should be by the federation. Do I agree? No.

    February 05, 2016

  • Andrew Foster says...

    Great article. I also remember Bill “The Grill” Cooper being DQ’d near the DQ’d of the 2008 NoGi Worlds. Even worse is that it was only for a split second during a fast transition and by the time the ref actually signaled for the DQ, the actual reap was long gone and Coop and his opponent were in a totally different position.

    Ryan hall and Seph Smith made a great analogy and said that a reaping leg control is basically just a lower body version of a “kimura grip” or “omoplata” the other person’s leg. Sure, you can use it to damage the leg, just like you can use a kimura or omoplata to damage the arm. But you can also use the kimura or omoplata to create a ton of other transitions and positions. Same with a reaping leg control.

    February 04, 2016

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