How the Olympics Could Kill Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu

Recently, there has been a rallying cry in our community for Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu to become a recognized and participating sport in the Olympics. With the upcoming games coming to the homeland of Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu in 2016, Rio de Janeiro will have the spotlight for a number of months leading up to the opening ceremony.

We will see stories abound about Brazilian culture and tradition. We will see clips from Carnival, Copacabana Beach, Christ the Redeemer (Cristo Redentor), Samba, Capoeira and, hopefully, Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu. It would be a wonderful thing to get a bit of that spotlight and bring more positive attention to our sport. But, this is where that should end.

Many people have attempted to make the argument that it is time that Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu becomes part of the Olympics. But, I think that would be disastrous for the art. With the restrictions of the Olympic governing bodies, Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu would become less enjoyable and we would actually see a decline of the art/sport we all currently enjoy.

The Pinnacle

The Olympics is the pinnacle of many sports, judo and wrestling included. The current pinnacle of success in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu is to become an IBJJF World champion (possibly an ADCC champion, but I believe Worlds is a bit more prestigious at this point in time). If Jiu-Jitsu were to be added to the Olympics, this would become the most prestigious competition and would define the best in our sport.

For Jiu-Jitsu to even be considered for the Olympics, one ruleset would need to be implemented. The IBJJF has established a ruleset for their tournaments, but these rules continue to evolve as Jiu-Jitsu evolves. It seems that every year, new positions, throws, or submissions are penalized or eliminated.

People see the regulation of the sporting rules as something that is taking away from the art outside of tournaments. If the Olympics were to establish a ruleset, Jiu-Jitsu would evolve less because everybody would be training for that one set of rules. Because people want to be successful at the highest level of our sport, people are only practicing to be successful within the IBJJF ruleset.

For some, this focus has shifted the emphasis from fighting and self defense to how to score an advantage in competition. Some would argue that this is spoiling the ability for Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu players to adequately defend themselves when it comes to violent encounters in real life. To be successful and make a living, one must conform to the ruleset that gets the grappler the most attention so as to attract more sponsors. Right now, this is the IBJJF, but within our sport, there are organizations competing to see who can establish the best ruleset. If Jiu-Jitsu became part of the Olympics, they would be the be all and end all of rules.

Jiu-Jitsu, though, still exists outside of the IBJJF. If Jiu-Jitsu players dislike a specific ruleset, we still have tournaments in which we can participate. Submission only has seen a dramatic rise in popularity thanks to tournaments like the Gracie Worlds and Metamoris.

This submission only ruleset is much different than an IBJJF tournament. Even within the submission only movement, we see differences in how these tournaments are run. The Gracie Worlds have matches that are 15 minutes in length while the KO Finisher (another submission only tournament) has shorter matches of five to ten minutes that many think creates a flurry of submission attempts and eliminates stalling. Along with the submission only movement, we see other organizations like the ADCC that has their own rules.

In ADCC rules, competitors are penalized for things like guard pulling. Also, there are no points for the first ten minutes of the match to encourage competitors to attempt submissions without the fear of giving up position or points for their attempt. With all of these options (and competition), the competitor can find a ruleset that they most like and participate in these tournaments. In our academies, we have many different grapplers training for many different styles of tournaments and, because of this, we need to hone more skills to be able to compete under different rulesets.

If we see the pinnacle of Jiu-Jitsu become the Olympics, the governing body of the sport will have pressure on it to establish a ruleset that makes Jiu-Jitsu stand apart from other grappling arts already involved in the Olympics. This pressure will possibly eliminate submissions, positions, throws, sweeps, and more that are currently allowed in Jiu Jitsu.

The Olympic committee is concerned with viewership and wants an audience to be able to clearly see the differences between sports. For example, just recently, judo established a rule that judoka can no longer touch the legs. At first the rule was that an attack must be attempted above the torso and then the judoka could attack the legs. Then, because of pressure from the Olympic committee to make the differences between judo and freestyle wrestling more obvious, judo eliminate leg attacks all together.

The Olympic committee thought that a judoka attacking legs was too similar to freestyle wrestling and that judo needed to do more to differentiate it from wrestling. Leg attacks also made for matches of the clinch game where judoka were grinding out wins. This didn’t make for the most entertaining matches for viewership. Big throws is what attracts new viewers.

For these reasons, judoka are no longer allowed to even touch the legs in tournaments. If the legs are touched in a match while standing, that judoka is disqualified. This rule has impacted training in dojos around the world because judoka are training to win tournaments.

With the implementation of this rule, judo is less effective in preparing students for self defense situations. In jiu jitsu, we have seen positions such as the fifty fifty be all but eliminated in gi matches because of the reaping rule. We have also seen throws eliminated because of safety concerns. With more stringent rules, we will see more and more things made illegal. I, for one, do not want to see what has happened to judo happen to Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu.

The Conglomerate

The IBJJF is the biggest governing body in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu and has a major influence on how it evolves. There are many criticisms of how the IBJJF has treated the people participating in their tournaments. The organization is making money off the competitors who pay high priced entry fees to participate. At the end of the day, the victors are awarded a medal and their pictures are taken atop the podium.

For the competitor’s ego, this is a prestigious moment. Many months of hard work, dedication and dieting went into preparing for the tournament. For their wallets and well being, this medal means very little. For a select few, the podium means sponsorship. Sponsorship in Jiu-Jitsu is not what some believe it to be. For most, sponsorship means free gear. Free gis, shirts, hats, tape, supplements and so on are great. It can be costly to participate in our art but for those trying to make a living and be a professional, free gear does not pay the bills.

Recently, the IBJJF has started paying black belt winners at certain tournaments but this is not enough. Many Jiu-Jitsu players work hard to win at the highest level and then are forced to leave the sport behind to pursue MMA. MMA pays. Not only does MMA attract more sponsorship money, but it also pays people to win.

The IBBJF needs to do more to keep high level athletes involved in their organization if it wants to flourish. With more options popping up, there is more motivation for athletes to participate elsewhere. Take Metamoris. This is an event held once every few months that is paying its athletes well. Jiu-Jitsu needs more organizations like Metamoris that are investing in their athletes. The Olympics are not an organization known for supporting its athletes (this largely depends on the country in which the athlete is from, but let’s face it, they are not paid like professional athletes).

If Jiu-Jitsu was added to the Olympics, we would see more of the same happening to the athletes. Initially, we would see a large number of competitors training for the prestige of being called an Olympic champion. After a while, though, we would see athletes leaving the sport again for MMA.

Ronda Rousey has been very outspoken about how she made no money while training to be an Olympic competitor. The US government does not pay its athletes. Olympians, like Jiu-Jitsu athletes, get their money from sponsors. Much like the IBJJF, the Olympics committee is not out to see that its athletes are well taken care of financially or otherwise. Their concerns are focused on viewership because it leads to more profits. Those profits are not shared with the people who are responsible for attracting viewers. The athletes, the most important part of the Olympic and IBJJF success, are left to fend for themselves.

This isn’t always the case. Some countries do take care of their athletes. Some countries pay their athletes like a business would pay an employee. The athletes are paid a salary so that they can train and be at their best to represent their country when the time comes. Then, if the athlete is successful, they are rewarded with a bonus. These bonuses vary from country to country but they are something that will help the athlete once the competition ends.

The IBJJF does not do either of these things for the most part. I don’t believe that if Jiu-Jitsu were to be included as an Olympic sport, we would see athletes being fairly rewarded for their training. The athlete would be no better than they are now.

A Solution

The focus of this rant has been my opposition to Jiu-Jitsu becoming an Olympic sport. As you can tell, I am strongly opposed to it but, I would not be opposed to seeing a submission grappling event being held in the Olympics. This could be a sport of its own with its own ruleset.

This would give the Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu participants yet another option to compete. Not only would it give Jiu-Jitsu athletes an option to compete, but it would give participants of other grappling arts another option. Who wouldn’t want to see a guy with a Catch-as-Catch-can background grappling with a Sambo guy or a judoka grappling with a Jiu-Jitsu guy?

Of course, many people would want the prestige of being an Olympic medalist, and it would be training for this specific ruleset but it would become its own sport. It would not be judo, or jiu-jitsu, or catch wrestling. It would be submission grappling. It could incorporate rules from all the grappling arts.

This could be considered the purest form of grappling while leaving the individual arts to their own rules. It would allow all of the arts to grow and evolve individually without spoiling any art individually. Would this lead to people leaving Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu for submission grappling? Maybe, but it would leave the art that I love to be something that is unique and independent to evolve.

ArsJitsu - In Association withTeam Marcelo Pereira
In Affiliation with Team Marcelo Pereira - Naples, Florida

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