Wednesday, June 12, 2013

5 Thoughts, Odds, & Ends after Mundials 2013 and Metamoris II: Grappling Year in Review

I don't wax poetic much on here, because the purpose I set for the blog was to 1) occasionally document my progress and2)  collect grappling/MMA related news and cool stuff from across the internetz.
For a sport as big as grappling (Judo, Jiu-Jitsu, wrestling, and MMA) may seem to those in the community, there's at the end of the day other than a short list of sources like youtube, Graciemag, Budo Dave/Inside BJJ/This Week in BJJ/IBJJF TV (someone go thank Budo Dave for everything he's done for visibility and the broadcasts of world class grappling ever improving) there's not a lot of user-generated content on the internet and if not for what viewership drives MMA, grappling by extension would very much be solely a niche sport.

I'm a blue belt in BJJ who started learning more mat work (newaza we call it in Judo) because I had fought twice in MMA and realized I had to round out my game. It's not a slight on the mat work in Judo, but I wanted to see how the specialists do it, like going to a foot doctor for an ankle sprain rather than going to a general practitioner. Some people disagree, and will do so until they die. For me, the proof has been in the proverbial pudding. Anyhow...that's my abbreviated story.

At any rate, it's been an interesting two weeks or so given the advent of the Worlds (following shortly after the Abu Dhabi Pro and the Pans) then followed up by a different sort of grappling event in the Metamoris II Pro Invitational. In the grappling world we cram the Pans, Abu Dhabi Pro and the Mundials into less than 2 months of the year (and this year we had the Metamoris II to follow that by only a week later).

It's interesting in that between the memes, sherdog forums, and training sessions at the gym, there is undoubtedly rampant talk occurring in the grappling world in various forms about the direction of the sport, the martial art (the UFC on Fuel TV down in the motherland this weekend set a record for fights ended by submission), the relationship between sport competition and martial art and self-defense, and the spirit of the art (however esoteric or unclear that term is to however many practitioners and spectators).

Here are 5 thoughts or questions or topics that seem inevitably a part of the debate going forward:

1) To Double-Guard-Pull-Ankle-Grab or not to, that is the question.
The ongoing debate of the double guard pull and ankle gripping for 90% of the duration of a 10 minute black belt final continues. Brazlian Jiu-Jitsu purists will say need not concern itself with giving incentive to fight on the feet or avoid the double guard pull because it is the ground fighting which separates it as a sport. An attempt to give disincentive to guard pulling will inevitably change the structure of the sport for many competitors, but the ADCC has a negative penalty for guard pulling and it has not been the end of the world, the tournament, but one can argue what you do find are large portions of the match being spent on the feet when what we've come to see is ground fighting. How to strike the balance then is the greater question, one to which there may not be an answer. Like all high level sports, any attempt (and Judo players can virtually ALL attest to this) to influence behavior or strategy largely just leads to adjustments where camps and teams and high level players look for increasingly ingenious ways to game the system and hierarchy of points.
   - the foot on lapel grip utilized both at the Worlds and at the Metamoris as more stall than offensive falls into this category. Judo has so largely restricted gripping that many positions are almost counter-intuitive such as banning the clasping of the hands around the waist or gripping the belt or gripping in any unorthodox fashion unless immediately attacking with a throw. Was Kano's goal to establish a sport whereby it was rock 'em sock 'em robots but with throwing? Would Helio think much of two guys sitting down grabbing one another's feet for 8 minutes at a time to win by standing up?

2) The Role and Place of High Level Professional Grappling Events
As the UFC continues to be the biggest and (other than teaching) only other real avenue for those wishing to parlay their grappling skills into cash money compensation. The IBJJF has promised the IBJJ Pro League as an attempt to truly professionalize the sport and that combined with the prestige of the ADCC (though only every 2 years) and now the Metamoris with high profile match-ups and visibility is a continuing step in the right direction. The Metamoris with what at times felt like irrationally one-sided and commentary based in nepotism runs the risk of alienating the very hardcore grappling fans it should depend on as viewers. I can't in good faith bring a friend or uninitiated grappler to watch the next Metamoris after debacles like Brendan Schaub/Cyborg or Ryron vs Galvao. I don't think the sport needs to bow to the IOC the way Judo has and overhaul the rules to the point that it becomes perhaps the most narrowly defined form of grappling competition. I do think that Metamoris needs to avoid browbeating the very specific interpretation of Gracie self-defense Jiu-Jitsu they plug and extoll with their academy and perspective.
3) This is a Professional Level Sport
We are in an era where the sport and athleticism of it has truly caught up with the technique and minus perhaps Caio Terra, I don't forsee many if hardly any competitors winning without athletic training/strength & conditioning being an essential part of their training. Even so, it took Caio a considerable length of time to beat Malfacine at the Worlds (this year being the first I believe). Buchecha and Rodolfo run roughshod over virtually all other competitors regardless of size. Caio Terra  and Kron Gracie (and Leite in this year's Mundials) persist as some of the few true small(er) men who still sometimes put it on the line against the behemoths.
Seeing a man the size of Buchecha move with the speed he does is frightening to put it mildly, speaking for myself as a competitor at under 149 lbs.

4) "It's not who votes that counts, it's who counts the votes"
Commentary and Events as Commercials - (I'm talking about you Metamoris)
Listening to anyone try to excuse the behavior of Brendan Schaub in the Metamoris regardless of what their last name is was a farce and insulting and borderline delusional. Ryron proved a point to some (not to me) with his escaping and avoiding of submissions against Galvao (though, for a guy who's been doing Jiu-Jitsu for something like 20+ years to show he's hard to submit or take down if he doesn't really try much isn't impressive to me) was one thing. Watching someone try to rationalize and legitimize Schaub's behavior at an event charging $20, then stating that those who spectate don't understand or that Schaub came in with a smarter plan than other black belts who fell into Cyborg's trap was insulting to those of us who train, those of us who may have brought a friend to watch high level grappling. On the flipside of castigating the Metamoris II commentary and WTF moments like Schaub/Cyborg, there is also the completely valid point that the vast majority of black belt finals matches were completely unintelligible to even many low level grapplers (even those accustomed to the Gi). It's hard to rationalize watching 8 minutes of ankle grabbing, no matter how high level a competitor you may be, especially at the regional or local level. Again, I don't know that it's the place of the sport or the governing body (IBJJF) to change the rule structure, but ultimately, I find myself far more interested in the brown belt matches often times than I do the black belt finals which....honestly....kind of defeats the point.

5) The Decline of the Berimbolo?
Purists and those favoring a more traditional Jiu-Jitsu lamented the 50/50, and especially the Berimbolo as positions outside the cadre of the spirit of the art, and beginning with the Pans and even Abu Dhabi, I felt like the Berimbolo was finally well enough understood that you saw competitors like Laercio Fernandes against Gui, and Cobrinha against Raf ultimately nearly nullifying the Berimbolo. Following closely now at the Mundials, Gui did not make it to the Podium and Augusto Tanquinho Mendes dethroned Rafa.
- The Brothers Mendes and the Brothers Miyao ushered in an era where standing passing was all but negated for many competitors and forced many to re-evaluate the strategy necessary to win at the highest level of Sport Jiu-Jitsu. It will be interesting to see what shakes up in the IBJJF tournament scene over the next year, and what new faces (if any) start encroaching upon the stalwarts of the lighter weight classes: Caio, Malfacine, Rafa,Cobrinha, and Gui.
And while I decry stalling positions, the advent of ways to game the rules and gain advantage however slight forces the sport to adjust and adapt and evolve, for good or ill. Crisis creates character and when a sport elects to avoid crisis and stop changing, it loses the possibility of evolving which to me, is the death of the art.



  1. I thought the scoring of an advantage to Paulo for pulling guard first and a penalty to Keenan for pulling 2nd was a good way to push the action

  2. Justin - I could see plausibility of the advantage and penalty being used sparingly to force the action. It's always a fine line between referee's forcing the course of the match, but I'm for almost anything at this point if it will avoid 8 minutes of ankle grabbing. The let down of watching a bracket and guys running roughshod over the competition then ending with that kind of match is a tough pill to swallow sometimes.