Historically, jiu-jitsu has always been victimized by dividing philosophical approaches to training. Most of these divisions can be traced back to the early days in Brazil when there were only a few academies to train at. In these infant, formative years, students would split off and form their own schools breaking traditions of honor to your instructor and lineage leading to verbal disagreements and even physical conflict about which academy’s style was more effective. Tournaments would be held and ill words would be spoken. The original damnation of leg-locks can be traced back to one of these early conflicts between George and Helio Gracie, in fact.
Stylistic disagreements are unavoidable. However, some could suggest that without them, the modern jiu-jitsu competition circuit would not be here today. Conflicting points of views lead to exploration and improvement in order to stay ahead of your competition. And what better motivation than honor to prove your style is superior?
One example of this stylistic conflict in modern jiu-jitsu is the battle between sub-only grapplers and points match grapplers. Both sides study the art of jiu-jitsu, however purest of either discipline often feel the other inferior. While sub-only and points match training offer different strategies specializing in their particular focus, they both promote improving your overall grasp of the art. So no matter what your end goal is, focusing on both should be in any serious grapplers training regiment.
Sub-only grappling means just what it says: Submission is paramount to everything. Grapplers of this mindset tend to train with only the final blow in mind, constantly searching for a tap from any position. This training promotes creativity in your grappling. Flowing from one setup to next while your opponent evades your attempts creates some very beautiful rolling. Less concern is placed on positional dominance because there are opportunities to submit from almost all positions. The need for a takedown, for example, is not given as much importance, and rightfully so. Takedowns require extreme energy output. So why waste that precious commodity when a guard pull puts you right in the game? Strategy dictates restraint. The same can be said for aggressive guard passing, especially in today’s modern game where sitting back for leglocks has become the norm. There is no strategic value in a guard pass, because, unless you intend to advance your position to hunt for a submission, there is no reward.
Points match training incentivizes positional dominance based on jiu-jitsu’s more traditional hierarchy of advancement: takedown or sweep to secure top position, passing your opponent’s guard, back control. So strategy would dictate energy expenditure in this pursuit as a means to win a match. These intense exchanges to advance a position and/or stop your opponent’s advancement are dogfights. Grapplers of this style tend to be more forceful. In this case, strategy dictates aggression. However, knowing that a match can be won without a submission often leads points grapplers to hold on to a stagnant position while waiting out the clock for a boring win.
Most competitive grapplers today fall into one of these groups, and because we normally train with the intent of our goals, the strategies around the rules of our preferred competition set dictate the focus of our jiu-jitsu. Sub-only grapplers may struggle with guard retention, takedowns, and guard passing, while points grapplers can often lack creativity in hunting for submissions. However, a not-so-obvious side effect is the mental game. Points grapplers will often be grinders. Training can be more intensive for them, which can lead to a more single-minded approach. While they are tough and rugged, they stop thinking outside the box to sacrificing positions and take a chance on the submission because doing so in a match can cost them the win. On the same token sub-only grapplers can fall into the habit of “selling out” for a submission and sacrificing a dominant position because there is no punishment for losing it. These lack of consequences make the struggle to maintain positions less important, so these dogfights for control are unimportant. Sub-only grapplers can be caught off guard by the intensity of points grapplers because of this.
Why does it matter?
Because training with the intent of a specific rule set in mind will get you very prepared to win at that game. But jiu-jitsu is more dynamic than just rule sets, and competitors should want to improve their entire game, not just the parts that win their respective competition goals. Grapplers constantly plaster social media sites with divisive tags that say, “sub-only for life” or “no butt scooting.” But why not embrace the other side to have a more complete game? Instead of finding excuses to why you don’t like specific rules sets, improve your game to win at them.
There will never be the perfect format to discover whose jiu-jitsu is the best. Points matches lead to stalling out the clock, and sub-only matches often end in tie-breakers or ref’s decisions that are no longer a true display of submission dominance. No-time-limit sub-only comes the closest, but no one really wants to watch two world-class practitioners try to submit each other for two hours. So why segregate yourself into one direction by denying the validity of one format over the other? Why not focus on making yourself a complete grappler and be successful at both? This goes for everyone. I’m talking to all you IBJJF world champions, too. The guys that somehow manage to stay in their points match comfort zones. You may not be a world champion unless you win at the Walter Pyramid, but you definitely won’t get the respect of a large portion of the BJJ world unless you win at Polaris or EBI.