BJJ competition ranting

And a happy new year to you! It’s my first post of the year so I thought I’d start it in true curmudgeonly form and rant about late last year’s experiences competing at a BJJ competition (Grappling Industries) in London. To those that aren’t versed in BJJ competitions in the UK, they happen literally every weekend up and down the country. It really feeds off the increased growth in BJJ as a combat sport generally. Grappling Industries is one of the more well-known organisers and their events occur world-wide.

I competed in the two over-40s divisions available to me: Gi and No Gi within the white belt division. Below are my thoughts of the day, coming from the Judo world.

The Designated Fighting Area

The first thing that hits you is the size of the fighting area. It appears to be a numbers game since a lot of matches are happening in the venue at any one time so you get very little space for your actual fight. For a Judo chap like myself it’s stifling since you don’t have decent space to get some movement going.

Some referees are good with freezing the action when it goes off the borders so you can then restart in the middle. Others are on another level in the competence divide, but we’ll get to that separately!

I didn’t get a measuring tape out so I can’t be specific but I doubt we had more than 3 metres squared in our match area. All of my matches either ended up in another competition area or other competitors were falling in ours.

The general waiting time

Much like many other BJJ competitions they use the Smoothcomp software. The software is fairly good with telling you upfront who you’re competing against and what your division looks like (number of people, whether you’re in a round robin, who your competitors are, their fight history). It also does a fantastic job of telling you when you’re scheduled to fight, with times updating throughout the day based on the results being input as the event progresses. There is waiting but it’s manageable because you’re always given a estimation of time.

There’s a point where things can get a bit hectic e.g. the website told me my next fight was in 25 minutes and then within a minute changed to say my first fight was on. You definitely need to keep checking!!

Referees and Timekeepers/Scorers

Let’s start with the time keepers/scorers. They all had a laptop hooked up to a screen that the competitors and spectators could see throughout the match. The Smoothcomp software was updating the scores and matches in real time. This is where the technological sophistication ends and human blunder begins… In almost all of my matches there was some kind of inaccuracy recorded, examples include:

  • A successfully scoring attack not registered
  • A win given to the losing competitor.
  • Time running out and noone being made aware leading to competitors fighting away, well after the fight was officially finished.

The vast majority of the timekeepers/scorers themselves had an attitude of boredom and disinterest. I could only presume they didn’t want to be there or had been wrangled into doing it – there was something clearly wrong with it. Any question you asked them was met with a “huh?” or “I don’t know?”. Fixing the inaccuracies in scoring was a painful and tedious process.

The referees were of varying degrees but the worst ones would neglect to score points that were very clearly there. When you throw someone or pass their guard, after 3 seconds you should be awarded with a score for that throw/guard pass; yet often-times these would be missed. In these competition rulesets the majority of matches are won with points and these points add up!

The referee often wouldn’t be paying attention to the clock (my fight went over at one point and the spectators had to call us out and stop it!). The worst offence is when they didn’t bother looking at the screens to note the points they were awarding were to the wrong person! Again a double-failure both by the referee as well as the time keeper.

A massive gripe I had was when the game was reset because the action left the fighting area. Ideally you’d have a referee freezing the action and making a mental note of who was where, which limb was in what place etc. THIS STUFF MATTERS! Often they’d leave it to the competitors to work it out amongst ourselves which would lead to disagreements about how far into passing the guard you were in. I generally wasn’t impressed.

I’ve done some officiating at a Judo competition previously, and granted the scoring was made on paper, but it was far more streamlined and accurate. Each person knew their role. There’d be a designated time keeper who’d be different from the scorer. There were never any mistakes and you could see the motivation in everyone there undertaking this (who I should mention were volunteers).

Your fellow competitors and the medal ceremonies

Medal ceremonies in Judo are a little more basic – you’ve typically got one of the referees calling out the winners and you get handed a medal. The backdrop is whatever is behind the referee which could range from a wall with an overdue paint job to even a strip of discarded gaffa tape (yep, had that).

With the BJJ competitions I’ve been to there’s usually an impressive backdrop with a well-worn podium, this Grappling Industries event was no exception.

As you can see from the photos I won gold in the gi category and silver in no gi.

The competitors

The competitors themselves were a relatively friendly bunch. There’s a bit more camaraderie with these BJJ competitions which I largely put down to the fact that I’m competing against similar-aged peers. We’ve got high mileage bodies, taxing jobs, probably kids, mortgages to service, bills to pay. We’ve got no ADCC aspirations and are too old to care about things like that. We’re hobbyists and won’t amount to anything further than that in the grappling world (and are happy with that).

Judo competitions tend to be a little bit more intense and I put it down to the age factor (again). Younger competitors tend to be a little more eager to prove themselves, with more fragile egos, the urge to win. Given there aren’t very many competitions going for Judo in a given month you have a sparse number of age-specific competition opportunities. This is to the sport’s detriment.

Generally there is good sportsmanship all-round but I’ve noticed in both Judo and BJJ competitions examples of real immaturity and poor social skills. I don’t think it’s appropriate to flex your muscles like the hulk after a win. Beating your chest makes you more ape-like, not ‘alpha’. In fact, whooping, punching the air and yelling out are for Rocky movies, not real life. Going to the warm-up area and shadow boxing with strikes and kicks is not only irrelevant for warming up to a grappling event, it makes you look pretentious and severely lacking in confidence. If you do any of this stuff yourself please just stop.

Conclusions to make

Judo competitions are more formal. They have a governing body. Every competitor has an up-to-date licence which is checked on venue arrival. I prefer this. Every match these days is filmed by the officiators – this is excellent and highly welcome.

I’d like to say that Grappling Industries need to up their game but the way that BJJ has become so popular I don’t think they even need to. People will still sign-up and compete. It would take a grass-roots effort for them to professionalise it a bit more but I doubt people will bother – noone’s that interested. Those that are will likely compete in more high-level competitions out there anyway.

What I want to leave on as a thought is how important it is to have the right support network in place. I’m no young, high level athlete with a dedicated support network. What I have had each time I’ve gone into a competition (whether it be BJJ or Judo) is the luxury of a great coach who’s been there to sit in the designated coach’s seat and provide the support I needed. Someone who’s dedicated their attention for those few minutes to my performance, who’s got my best interests at heart.

In this particular BJJ event I had the honour of Lucasz Kedziersky to guide me along. Here he is (along with my ugly mug).

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