My first grappling love was wrestling. Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu and Judo soon followed, and in the last few years I have added Sambo. I watch most jiu-jitsu PPVs (can’t wait for Polaris 5) and most major IBJJF tournaments. I live in North Eastern Pennsylvania, so we get to see great wrestling at Lehigh University and at local high schools. On the Sambo front, I watch my friend Reilly Bodycomb compete, and a year ago I was in Paraguay as the unofficial translator for the U.S. team for the Pan American games. For Judo, I still follow the career of a few of my old training partners from my time at Cranford Judo, both of which are national team members.
So you could say that my love for grappling is pretty serious.
The reason I tell you all of this is that very often when I hear talk about the problems with BJJ rules the IBJJF system which has become default for the majority of tournaments. We seldom look outside of BJJ to see how we might improve competition rules. While they might not be BJJ, other sports have had to address similar issues, whether those issues were tactics abusing the current rules or safety issues, especially for kids matches.
Here are some of the rules I would like to be implemented in some form:
1. Standardized resetting positions. Every major tournament seems to generate some sort of controversy surrounding a reset position. Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu has evolved, and the advent of the post-modern BJJ games has made restarting positions increasingly difficult. We are not just looking for who had half guard or closed guard anymore. Some of the berimbolo positions or lapel guard positions are incredibly complicated, and it is incredibly hard for a referee to look at the position for maybe fifteen seconds and then recreate it perfectly, match after match after match.
Folkstyle wrestling uses standard positions: one neutral, one bottom, and one top. We can take a look at the FILA grappling rules to see how these look in a grappling context. If the action rolls out of bounds, we could use a standardized open guard position, for example, to restart the match.
FILA Submission Grappling's Reset Positions:
2. Lift to stop. A video of a teenage competitor injuring his neck after being lifted by his opponent has been making the rounds on social media. Thankfully, he is expected to make a full recovery. Much debate has been made about how the match should have been stopped, or how we need to train with those situations in mind and be prepared for slams. How about we borrow a rule from Judo and Sambo instead?
If you are locked in a submission and you lift your opponent, the action stops. You are then reset standing. This puts emphasis on performing submissions in a way where it is difficult for your opponent to lift you, instead of relying on the rules to keep you safe. If a standing reset is too much to ask for BJJ, but how about a restart from open guard? While this rule is not necessary for purple and above—ADCC already allows slams—but it could be a great way to protect both young and new competitors.
3. Kneebars and ankle locks legal at all levels. Ever since the 50/50 guard entered the BJJ metagame, this issue has occurred at the lower belt levels: One opponent goes for a legal ankle lock and the other opponent changes the angle, turning the legal ankle lock into an illegal kneebar. The result? One person gets DQed and then a bunch of people shout and argue in Portuguese. This happened at Worlds this year.
The competitor in the blue was DQed as it was deemed a legal technique and the competitor in black argued he was trying to transition to 50/50. Now with the way the game is headed I think it would be beneficial for everyone to allow both kneebars and ankle locks at all belt levels, and get rid of the silly reaping rule, as reaping positions will result from escaping kneebars. Sambo has allowed both ankle locks and kneebars, and contrary to popular belief these are no twisting leg locks allowed in sport Sambo, and they don't seem to have an issue with injuries many BJJ players fear so much.
These three rule changes won’t fix every problem in BJJ competition rules, but they will help. Our sport is evolving rapidly, and our rules should follow suit. If we insist on ignoring the latest developments in technique and strategy, our dated rules might actually hurt competition growth in general.