Playing by the Rules

by Kanani Guerra

Rules. Can’t live with them and can’t live without them. Every sport has its rules and BJJ is no different. As a competitor or coach, it is critical to know and understand the rules of competition. Understanding of the rules will ensure you are eligible to compete (correct weight, uniform, etc.) and should factor into your strategy for each match. The Arizona Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu Federation holds several tournaments a year for both kids and adults. The AZBJJF abides by the rules established by the IBJJF (International Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu Federation). The rule book itself is 50 pages long. Don’t worry, there are plenty of pictures (no, really!). Check out these critically important rules and view the full rule book at .

BEFORE THE MATCH: Before you can even fight, you have to make it to the mat.

UNIFORM: For gi tournaments, IBJJF rules call for a white, black, or blue gi. Gi tops and bottoms must match in color (without significant fade). The lapels/ collars of the gi must match in color also. Women and young ladies must have a shirt/covering under their uniform. Men and young men may not wear a shirt or rash guard under the gi. You must wear underwear to compete. (Yes, this is a legitimate rule. We can only imagine why.) Long spandex can be worn under the uniform but can only reach knee level. Uniforms (including belts) must be free of rips and tears. There are very specific requirements on the length of sleeves, pants, belts, gap space in the sleeves, etc. You can view all requirements and no-gi uniform requirements in the rule book.

WEIGH-INS: Gi tournament? You weigh in WITH the gi and belt on. You must be at or under your weight division while uniformed. No-Gi? You weight in WITH your no-gi gear. Simple, right? Be sure to know what your weight class is and always try to check a test scale when possible.

BRACKETS: Knowing how to read the brackets can be very helpful to know what is going on during a tournament. By IBJJF rules, tournaments are always single elimination and there is no fight for third place- two third place medals are awarded. The AZBJJF has variations to this rule in the kids’ divisions in order to allow them opportunities to get additional practice/fights. One unique bracket is a division of three. In a division of three, also known as a ‘round robin’ with Person A, B, and C, no person is given a BYE to the final. Person A and B fight. The loser of the fight, let’s assume it is Person A, then goes forward to fight person C. If Person A wins, they head onto to the finals to fight Person B again. If person C wins, they move onto the finals. This division is a unique case where a losing fighter may fight again and move into the finals. If a division has four (or more) competitors and a competitor is disqualified (due to weigh-ins, no show, etc.), the bracket does not become a round-robin. The person opposite the disqualification is considered to have won the match and moves forward in the bracket. It is a lot of information to remember but is important to know!

STRATEGY & AWARENESS: How does knowing the rules change the way you compete?

TECHNIQUES: A key component to understanding the rules is knowing what techniques are legal and illegal for each age and rank. There are several techniques not allowed for kids due to risk of injury (think spinal injury- ouch!). Guillotines are a great example of a technique used frequently at adult divisions for every rank but is not allowed for competitors until Juvenile divisions. Leg locks become legal at brown belt and above. Certain positions are illegal at every age and rank such as knee reaping or scissor take downs. Failure to know legal techniques could cost you or your student the match and result in a disqualification. Worse, someone could get seriously hurt.

STRATEGY: This is the most developed knowledge of the rules and using the rules to play your game. Beyond simple understanding of the scoring positions, it is how you use your knowledge of the rules to strategize how you will play your match. This is real time thinking and not usually planned out in advance. Imagine with 25 seconds on the clock, you have your opponent in the closed guard. You are down by 3 points. Quick knowledge of the rules will tell you that even if you can accomplish a sweep, you would still be short 1 point. You would need a sweep and mount to win. You know that you must hold that position for three seconds to receive your points. That leaves less than 22 seconds to accomplish the move (if you can hold your opponent immediately with no scramble). This would immediately tell you that point scoring isn’t an option anymore. So, with 25 seconds left, you look for the fastest arm bar, triangle, or wrist lock you can muster because you know that this is your best shot at a winning outcome of the match. There are infinite different scenarios and impossible to plan each out ahead or for your coach to shout during the fight. This is why knowledge of the rules can be invaluable during your fights.

So take some time to learn the rules. Read the rule book, compete as often as you please, ask questions to knowledgeable coaches, or take the referee course yourself (great knowledge for all ranks). Use those rules to your advantage. Make them work for you!