BJJ is pretty unique among sports in that there are several different promotions and organizations with each one using a ruleset slightly different to the last, so how do we build the best? First of all, ‘best’ is very subjective of course. We’d need to find a ruleset that is not only good for the athletes but also good for fans that might be watching too. It’s long been a popular opinion that BJJ is simply not a spectator sport, but the recent success of the ADCC world championships has shown that it can be a spectator sport as long as it appeals to enough spectators to begin with.
There will always be hardcore fans who likely practice the sport on a regular basis, who would thoroughly enjoy any competition no matter what the ruleset was. But it’s a fact that certain rulesets attract more criticism than others, for a variety of different reasons like match-length and points-systems. Matches really do need some kind of time-limit, otherwise high-level matches can often go on for over an hour or more which naturally isn’t great for spectators.
The IBJJF increases match-length as you progress through the belt system with ten minute matches for adult black belts and most submission-only shows will put a time-limit at around the same mark. It seems then that a ten minute time-limit might be the best answer to this particular challenge of building a BJJ ruleset, although this could maybe be pushed to fifteen minutes as Polaris do with their title matches. When a time-limit is imposed, this then means that there needs to be a conclusion to the match outside of a submission win.
It is possible to call all matches that reach the time-limit a draw but that often leads to one athlete dominating a match but due to being unable to secure the finish, not having a deserved win on their record. For competitor’s sake, it makes sense to have some form of decision-based victory condition in place too. An informal and subjective decision can often lead to fans feeling as though one competitor was ‘robbed’ whereas a points-system allows for an objective measurement and removes any appearance of bias.
Realistically, the IBJJF is pretty close to having the best BJJ ruleset with regards to it’s points system, although this does have it’s flaws and is far from perfect. I believe the best answer would be to take this system and adapt it to better reflect a variety of situations, and simplify it for fans and competitors alike. The entire concept of advantages is something that causes a lot of headaches for competitors and the system could be simplified by classifying these near-score situations as a single point instead. This would also allow for penalties to be classed a single point deduction as well, and with harsher stalling calls this would further increase the amount of action in matches.
After doing away with advantages and penalties and relying solely on positive and negative points, it makes sense then to look at point-scoring positions. It has never made any sense for the 4 point back control position being awarded solely for hooks when a body-triangle or crossed feet is equally valid as a dominant position, that’s the first thing that points should be expanded to. Similarly, the IBJJF could learn something from ADCC in rewarding clean takedowns and sweeps.
A takedown or sweep is 2 points and a guard pass is 3 points in both organizations, but a clean takedown or sweep that ends with the athlete past guard remains only 2 points under IBJJF rules, and is rewarded with 4 points under ADCC rules. This is something that ADCC gets exactly right. A clean takedown or sweep that ends past guard might not be as impressive as a takedown or sweep followed by a guard pass but it’s certainly more impressive than a takedown or sweep that lands in guard, and should be rewarded as such.
Additionally, the negative point for guard pulling that ADCC employs is also a fantastic idea as it pushes the sport to include more standing grappling, which is something that is often found to be spectator-friendly. It also forces action on the feet when combined with harsher stalling penalties, while still allowing athletes who are confident in their guard the ability to go to the ground on their own terms. Realistically, this should apply throughout the length of the match instead of only in the latter half.
There’s always the possibility for a match to reach the end and the athletes to be even on the scoreboards. Most organizations will then revert to a more subjective referee or judge’s decision, but we do have an option available to us to stay impartial. Instead, we should rely on a ‘golden-score’ period. An unlimited additional round where the athletes continue from wherever they finished the match and the next person to secure points will be deemed the winner. This helps reward athletes who might have started out poorly but have begun a comeback and managed to finish a standard round in a dominant fashion.
One major challenge of building the best BJJ ruleset is also the techniques that are allowed. The IBJJF is one of the two most popular competition organizers on the planet for competitors but it has a long history of criticism when it comes to the techniques that were allowed. This is what has pushed the IBJJF to legalise heelhooks and reaping for brown and black belt adult competitors at last in 2021. The answer to that particular question seems simple, competitors tend to want less restriction on techniques, not more. Competitions like ADCC that allow any form of leglock are often seen as a more complete version of grappling and as such, more prestigious for the competitors that win.