Brett Cooper is a BJJ black belt and the Head Official for the CBJJF. He has many years of experience refereeing BJJ tournaments.
The Jiu-Jitsu Times recently asked Brett some questions about common misunderstandings concerning the rules and advice for competitors and referees.
Jiu-Jitsu Times: Brett, what are the common misunderstandings or misinterpretations of the rules that you see in competitors in BJJ tournaments? What is the most common situation where a competitor is upset about a referee’s call?
Brett Cooper: Most competitors are familiar with the basic scoring of BJJ, but a lot don’t understand all of the situations that lead to those points.
One of the most argued calls I see is around the differentiation between sweep points and takedown points.
A lot of athletes don’t realize that when a competitor stands up to finish a sweep, they cannot be scored takedown points on unless there is a distinct break and disconnection in the finishing of that sweep. This situation can last for a long time with the bottom athlete trying to finish the sweep while on their feet. If the sweeping athlete is returned to the ground (even with a thunderous judo throw) there are no takedown points.
To a lot of coaches and other athletes, all they can see is two competitors on their feet and one gets thrown, so it looks like points. This results in the uproar of coaches screaming, “Where’s the takedown points, ref?!?!”
The other situation that creates the most upset athletes is around illegal submissions or illegal behavior.
Leg reaping, slamming, knee bars, neck cranks, etc… a lot of clubs incorporate these into their training so it is tough to not use them while in the high stress situation of a tournament. A lot of competitors haven’t read the rules either, so it leads to a lot of confusion when you disqualify them.
Jiu-Jitsu Times: What are the most important things new competitors should know before competing in a tournament? Are there any problems that could be avoided that you see from a referee’s perspective?
Brett Cooper: 1) Allowed/illegal techniques and all disciplinary penalties. This will allow everybody to compete safely.
2) The rules. Tournament BJJ is a sport with a rule set. Just like a football player or basketball player, you have to know the rules to play a sport properly. This includes the uniform. Please know what you are allowed to wear and save yourself a disappointing morning.
If you choose not to do any of the above then that’s your choice, but then please don’t release your anger on anybody running the tourney when your day is cut short.
Jiu-Jitsu Times: What makes a great referee? What are the toughest types of calls that you have to make in a match? If you were tasked with changing the rules of IBJJF competition, what might you change?
Brett Cooper: A great referee is somebody who is willing to constantly learn, good in high stress situations, and is willing to put in time on the mats.
It takes time to be able to manage a mat properly. Most people just think it’s scoring points, but that is just one piece. Watching the athletes hands and feet, where are they on the mat, what position are they in, what position were they just in, does the scoreboard display the score the way you intended etc. These are the things that take time to build in a referee so they can focus on difficult scoring situations.
The toughest calls are usually in the lighter advanced divisions where there tends to be more inversion, berimbolos, and back takes from all positions. These create a lot to keep track of in your mind.
Everybody has things they would like to see in the rules based on their preferences. I think the IBJJF has created a safe rule set that is very granular. Some people like that and some people don’t. In some ways getting very finite on all situations is great because it allows the referees to score matches the same way. This rule set creates a safe consistent environment for competitors.
I personally love a wide variety of rule sets and that’s why I think it’s great to have so many different options. Sub only events are a great showcase for pure jiu-jitsu.
The EBI ruleset is really fun and creates some great matches that I am loving. Advanced no-gi submission only? Heel hook away by all means.
I’m not a big fan of advantages and would be ok with losing them. This does put more stress on the referees, though, because there will be more referee decisions. Advantages are like documented tie breakers. But it would at least stop people from playing an advantage based game.
Jiu-Jitsu Times: What advice do you have for a BJJ student who is thinking of contributing back to the sport of BJJ and trying refereeing? For example, what would you recommend in terms of education, learning the rules, or attitude?
Brett Cooper: Step 1- Read the rules! You would be surprised how many referees at smaller events have never read the rules.
Step 2- Start attending rules courses if you have any within striking distance. They help a lot because they discuss the difficult interpretations that are commonly messed up.
Step 3- Talk with whatever promotion or organization puts on events and let them know you are interested. See what opportunities they have for learning and mentoring.
And yes, have a great attitude and be willing to be wrong and constantly learn. ALL referees make mistakes. Learn from them. Own them. Get better.
And a final note to anybody NOT volunteering their time to help run an event or referee:
please treat all those people with respect, from the check-in person to the referee. They are giving up their time so that you can have an event to compete in. Treat them badly and they stop helping. They stop helping and you have nowhere to go test your skills. So please have fun, be safe and create the positive vibe of friendly BJJ competition that we all love.