The Big Problem with BJJ

Posted on October 06, 2015 by Travis Conley | 23 comments


There is a big problem that has been sweeping through the vastly growing BJJ community.  Every year more and more people start practicing the ever popular martial art known as Brazilian Jiu-jitsu, more schools pop up, more tournaments are had, and every year this problem grows bigger with it all.  It's something that needs addressed, it's spreading like cancer, it's an ulcer that can no longer be ignored.  I've watched it for years...and some people, outsiders or not, are completely oblivious to this problem or that they are even contributing to it.  In order for BJJ to continue to grow and evolve, to maintain the spirit and purity, BJJ must first recognize it has a big problem.  

Before I go on, I have to say that I am a huge fan of BJJ.  It's a huge part of my life, I started it nearly ten years ago and in many ways, like most people, it saved my life.  I just recently won Gold at the IBJJF Dallas International Open at the Adult Brown Belt level, the first guy ever from Kansas City to medal at that level.  I medaled at the PanAms two years ago, again the first.  I recently made the U.S. Sambo Team several times, competed a couple times in judo, been in seven different World Championships in just four years, seen over a dozen countries, and before even all that I wrestled my whole life.  I love any challenges, big challenges, I love competition, and I only want the very best so that's why I'm writing this, and why I feel pretty qualified to do so.

In BJJ you'll find that many people don't want that, they don't care to compete against the best, the very highest level.  They just want a medal.  They want to participate, to win.  They just want to belong, and that's ok.  Probably the greatest thing about BJJ is that it has a place for everyone.  Big, small, old, young, women, shy, unathletic, unskilled...BJJ does not discriminate.  I can think of no other activity where that is the case.  Anyone can do jiu-jitsu!  In sport BJJ divisions include: kids, men, women, masters, weight, belt...so many different criteria to determine appropriate divisions for anyone and everyone.  Therein lies the problem, however.

The problem is not that everyone gets a shot, it's that when they do they are not honest about it.  It's simple deceit, fabrication, or white lies.  There are three examples of this:

1. Medal without winning or Uncontested Divisions.  I can't tell you how many times I see someone brag or post on social media about a bronze medal when they had three people in their division.  They don't share any particulars or details, just a big smile with them and their newly acquired freebie medal and something like "I did it!", which brings loads of "likes" and "Congratulations! You're amazing" and "Wow good job" responses from friends, family, and students who don't know they are being lied to, subtlety.  Human beings are naturally drawn to success and winners, this is just feeding that basic psychological principal.  For what?  To make yourself feel better?  To get adoration and praise from people?  To try and raise your legitimacy in the eyes of your students?  For the purpose of gaining new students?   

Solution:  Stop it.  You may be fooling outsiders or newcomers, but that doesn't last, and more importantly you are crippling yourself and BJJ as a whole.  Just be honest with how your division played out and take your free medal as the ticket that it is, and try your hand in the Absolute Division!  You can also move divisions up or down, weight or age to follow where more competitors or tougher competition is at.  My coach and friend medaled without winning once, he took that medal, staked it up in the very back of the gym by the garbage where everyone changes out into their gis, with the words "No Fee Medals" because he is not proud of it.  It serves as a harsh reminder.  If you are still worried about losing, you're doing it wrong.  In BJJ you lose a lot.  What you do lose however, is integrity when you post bullshit, so again, stop it.

2. "State, National & World Championship" Tournaments.  This one gets kind of hazy, so try to follow along.  There are many different organizations and companies vying for the top spot, trying to bring the best tournaments to BJJ.  Today, there are more options and great choices when it comes to the tournament experience than ever before, and even more popping up.  It's amazing.  However, it seems they all have their own version of "State" or "Nationals" or better yet, "The World Championships" and you've probably competed in one of those or even several.  Keep in mind there is no governing body overseeing BJJ, and any tournament promoter can call a tournament anything they want.  

Are you really a National Champ? No, because any nationality can enter and compete...Nationals should be only that nation, with it's citizens of that particular nation, hence the term "National" (I know it sounds redundant).  Are you a State BJJ Champ?  Doesn't matter, nobody cares.  State is robbed from the wrestling model with league and regional qualifiers, but sadly all that is used in BJJ is just the name, "State" to drive up the number of competitors/sales for the promoter and just to sound cool.  As with Nationals, there is no proof of residency necessary.  It's not a legitimate state tournament.  

The whole World Championship talk is of high debate as well, a much bigger conversation than can be covered here.  Quickly though, what's often cited as the main argument is that a World Championship must have qualifiers and so many different countries involved to be considered a real World Championship.  I understand that, but bottom line, you have to look at where do the best in the World go to compete, and you'll find the answer.  I was curious back in 2011 why some of the best in just Brasil or U.S.A. didn't compete in FILA, and I found out the hard way.  I can also tell you the best in the World don't gather to compete down in Texas every year in December.  It's pretty well-known that even with all it's many issues, complaints from competitors, and corruption, the IBJJF is still the standard, the authority in Brazlian Jiu-jitsu.  ADCC, although this year was not so good, for many years and still does, takes the top spot when talking no-gi grappling.  Like it or not, those two organizations lead the field and are recognized by the masses as the very best, housing THE World Championships every June and Submission Grappling World Championships every two years, respectively.

Solution:  More of the same, stop falsifying your accomplishments!  Do your research, ask around, ask your professor or coach and you'll find tournaments that are respected, and those that aren't.  It's more than fine to compete in local or small tournaments, it's encouraged, but if you knowingly boast about winning some dogshit tournament that just has a fancy name, your own ego and integrity is the issue at hand.  Don't feed a greedy tournament promoter so they can keep running sub-par tournaments.

3. The Masters.  This one is most important.  As mentioned before, one of the many amazing things about BJJ is that any age gets a shot.  In BJJ there are Masters divisions for every five years of age difference (Master 1: 30-35, Master 2: 35-40, Master 3: 41-45, Master 4: 46-50, Master 5: 51-55, Master 6: 56 and above).  Within these age brackets you can compete at white belt all the way to black belt (except Master 3 and above, only blue to black) so if you got a late start in BJJ you will always have an appropriate division.  Every IBJJF, and just about any other tournament has Masters divisions.  

Since the inception of the first Brazilian Jiu-jitsu World Championships in 1996, there has also been a Masters and Seniors International Championship held in Rio de Janeiro in July every year.  In 2012 that tournament moved to California, now called World Master Championships (They dropped the term "Seniors" and just use Masters) and just like everything else in BJJ, grows every year.  This years rendition just took place last week, and loads of bronze, silver and gold medals could be seen flooding the BJJ community and all of social media, but unfortunately so were ill-informed "I am a World Champion" posts.  

There is a huge difference between competing at the top of the top, the very best, the Adult level (18-30yrs old) and Masters (30+yrs old) so there is definitely a big distinction between a World Championship and a Masters World Championship.  In wrestling, judo, sambo, other similar grappling sports and even golf, there is no option to compete in a different Masters age group every five years, it's just Senior (Adult) and then once you can no longer be competitive against the best, you move up to Veteran (Masters).  Masters in BJJ is a privilege, one that is exploited, the line is blurred by leaving out that one world, and it happens at all tournaments (PanAms, Opens, etc.).  To me, it is completely disrespectful to those who dare to step out among the very best, the Adult level.  

Don't get me wrong, winning a Masters World Championships or medaling is a phenomenal accomplishment and there is absolutely nothing wrong with competing in Masters divisions, but falsifying your achievement is!  I plan on moving into Masters someday and spending many, many years there.  Some of the very best and favorite black belts are in Masters, it's amazing!  The best Jiu-Jitsu in the world can be found in those divisions, but just call it what it is, like they do!  I'm not talking about them, I'm talking about those who want all this exterior affirmation, or adoration from people, mascaraing around as someone they aren't.  They can't wait to turn a year older so they can be in another age bracket, to get easier matches?  Are you kidding me?  I want the hardest matches, the best!  You really won a World Championship?  So you are on par with the likes of Buchecha, Keenan Cornelius, Bruno Malfacine, etc.?  In Dallas, after I won the Heavyweight Brown Belt no-gi division (I moved up from Medium Heavyweight to chase competitors, I was underweight over eleven pounds), I heard this same thing I hear all the time again, "I got a late start [in BJJ], I wish I could compete in the Adult division like you"  I guess he didn't know that I'm 31, soon to be 32 years old and I've ate, slept, trained and sacrificed to the bone for nearly a decade to be at that level, to just aspire to hang at that level.  It's a slap in the face.

Solution:  If you win at Masters, put "Masters" in your title.  Again, who are you fooling?  Yourself?  Your students?  Your kids?  Is that what you want, for them to eventually realize it was not what you said someday?  Just call it what it is, it's awesome enough!  Another idea is from a friend, but it lies not with the competitors, rather, with the organization.  Just as IBJJF has recently made white belt medals different, blasting "Novice" in big bold (which I didn't think was necessary, white belt is an important, very impressionable rank), I think the same can be done for Masters divisions, blast "Masters" in big bold across the medals, distinguishing them different from the Adult ones (except World Masters, they already are because it's a separate tournament).  That way people couldn't falsify claims or white lie with a photo. 
 
All three of these examples boil down to the same thing:  Stop lying.  You'd be surprised at how many people hear what you say, or don't say.  Act with honor.  Ignorance is dangerous, and friends and family who merely repeat your claims not knowing, are only contributing to and compounding the lack of integrity.  "I trained with a World Champion today."  Did you, really?  Why do we have so many, and why is it that it feels like so many medals are self-esteem medals or participation awards?   Is that elite?  Is that the purity we strive for, BJJ holding the highest standards, that nothing can hide or lie on the mats, everything comes to truth?  It's ruining the growth and development of the sport and art in every way.  It confuses.  If we who are already involved in BJJ are confused about who is who, what is what, then how are those not involved or new fans to know?  Ego, fear, confusion, isn't that what martial arts and BJJ are supposed to squash?  The spirit of the warrior, that a Champion is of the rarest of all people, a short list, they have a place reserved at the top because they are willing to do what it takes, pay the highest price with their mind, body and soul for years, for a lifetime.  Maybe I'm alone with all this, maybe it's not as big as a problem as I see it...but one thing I do know is that I am sick of it, sick of busting my ass aspiring to belong with the elite for even just that one tiny moment, clawing and fighting to reach for the top, to be among the best, for that dream...and for what?  Only to be constantly kicked down and slapped in the face.  I love this sport, let's not keep ruining it.

Posted in BJJ, Blog, Editorial


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23 Responses

James
James

July 21, 2016

I think the real problem with Bjj practitioners is that they focus on compitions rather than self defense.

Sanchi
Sanchi

October 14, 2015

Look at all these sensitive bjj practitioners. You did a fantastic job man!
Having been a collegiate wrestler and gracie jj practitioner I can rightly compare and state that bjj tournaments are just really weak, watered down tourneys, like one of the earlier comments said. All these big named tournaments are just meant to make the average bjj practitioner feel good and make them continue paying for bjj lessons. Someone commented and said this sport is a ‘lifestyle’ DRAMATIC. BJJ isn’t demanding and doesn’t require it’s grapplers to cut weight, it doesn’t require it’s grapplers to stay and practice on the mats for 3 hours and run 5+ miles together with your teammates. So again, I question the sport being a ‘lifestyle’. Wrestling is. And it’s funny how I’ve said this to fellow bjj practitioners/friends and they all disagree, but they’ve never wrestled in their lives.
Once again, great opinionated article bro, I wish I could have expressed this to my former team when I was a gracie student

Travis Conley
Travis Conley

October 10, 2015

I honestly didn’t expect this blog post to get as much attention like it did. Vast majority of responses have been positive, and of course, some negative. I’ve wanted to cover these topics for a long time, didn’t know how or even if I should. It would have been easy not to, but do nothing, then nothing happens. I know these are hot topics some people can’t or just won’t talk about, it’s uncomfortable. Some thought it was about Masters vs. Adult, it’s not. Or about discrediting others, it’s not. It’s about deceit. I always use a positive spin on everything, this time wasn’t though, I didn’t pull it together back into a positive light and that’s regrettable (along with the title; should have said “My”, not “The”) but this is just one man’s opinion, mine, I own it, and that’s not regrettable. The great thing, with some of the disagreements I’ve gained new perspectives and insight and had some amazing discussions (like with Dan Camarillo, who I’m a huge fan of) over the past couple days. Thank-you to everyone reading, giving their thoughts and responses.

Jim Hevner
Jim Hevner

October 09, 2015

Poorly written! You have no idea what you are talking about.

Matt Holland
Matt Holland

October 08, 2015

Surly the article should be titled the big problem with social media / ego

Kristopher McLeod
Kristopher McLeod

October 07, 2015

I don’t totally disagree w points in the article, however I think it’s mostly a non issue.
1. if you have the balls to enter a tourny to rest yourself n make a weight, and noone enters, you didn’t know that. You deserve recognition n pride that you did it. I agree though that they should mention how many were there, but people should change their perception of that.
2. Masters divisions are legit. The ONLY part I agreed w here is the phrase “5 times world champ” if only 1 was at black belt. Just take the extra time to say what they’ve won specifically.
3. MY MAIN ARGUMENT AGAINST THE ARTICLE is that the biiiig prob w tournys is sandbagging. AND that the problem w BJJ is that problems w tournys is what people look at to decide the problem w BJJ. make sense?? the problem w BJJ is how it was created to be a fighting art, and people will use how they do in a 5 min match as a guage as to how their BJJ is. Meanwhile, SOME (NOT ALL) schools never practice takedowns against a striking partner. They don’t defend Strikes from guard. They don’t address passing on a striking opponent who wants to stand back up, not reguard, etc.

Ben
Ben

October 07, 2015

You write an article titled “The big problem with BJJ” and this is the best you could do? Multiple Federations and Masters divisions at tournaments? Really? Even if you are talking about problems with tournament BJJ, double guard pulls, restrictive and inconsistent uniform policies which get 20%+ of competitors DQ’ed for no good reason because the IBJJF oversells their events and has to thin the herd, silly rules (no outside single leg takedowns, no foot passed the center-line of the body or its called reaping, arbitrary rules on foot-locking, etc.) are all bigger problems than what you mention.
I will compete (and win) at no-gi worlds this year. My division is Masters 3 blue belt featherweight. So far there is only one other guy in the division. Hopefully there will be 4+ total by registration deadline but even if it’s just 2 and I get the gold, I’m stoked. But I don’t think for a second that I could beat or even score a point against Cobrinha, Rafa Mendes or even the adult blue belt featherweight world champ (maybe I could get some points that match). No- gi worlds is a smaller tournament, but that’s ok, I know it’s worth but a win is a win.
This year Bernardo Faria won black belt absoulte gold at worlds. Buchecha was injured, Rodolfo didn’t compete. Does that make his accomplishment any less worthy? He won all of his matches in a division open to anyone who won gold or silver in their black belt world champion division. He tapped Leandro Lo. If your think his win is anything less than it was, you should complain about that in your next article. While your at it, you should take away all the kids Pan-Ams medals since they didn’t beat Keenan, Buchecha, or Rodolfo either. Kids medals are a huge problem in BJJ, all these kids getting medals just for beating 70 pound opponents. Shameful!

Ben
Ben

October 07, 2015

You write an article titled “The big problem with BJJ” and this is the best you could do? Multiple Federations and Masters divisions at tournaments? Really? Even if you are talking about problems with tournament BJJ, double guard pulls, restrictive and inconsistent uniform policies which get 20%+ of competitors DQ’ed for no good reason because the IBJJF oversells their events and has to thin the herd, silly rules (no outside single leg takedowns, no foot passed the center-line of the body or its called reaping, arbitrary rules on foot-locking, etc.) are all bigger problems than what you mention.
I will compete (and win) at no-gi worlds this year. My division is Masters 3 blue belt featherweight. So far there is only one other guy in the division. Hopefully there will be 4+ total by registration deadline but even if it’s just 2 and I get the gold, I’m stoked. But I don’t think for a second that I could beat or even score a point against Cobrinha, Rafa Mendes or even the adult blue belt featherweight world champ (maybe I could get some points that match). No- gi worlds is a smaller tournament, but that’s ok, I know it’s worth but a win is a win.
This year Bernardo Faria won black belt absoulte gold at worlds. Buchecha was injured, Rodolfo didn’t compete. Does that make his accomplishment any less worthy? He won all of his matches in a division open to anyone who won gold or silver in their black belt world champion division. He tapped Leandro Lo. If your think his win is anything less than it was, you should complain about that in your next article. While your at it, you should take away all the kids Pan-Ams medals since they didn’t beat Keenan, Buchecha, or Rodolfo either. Kids medals are a huge problem in BJJ, all these kids getting medals just for beating 70 pound opponents. Shameful!

Steve
Steve

October 07, 2015

The issue misrepresenting one’s accomplishements exists in all grappling sports, not just BJJ. I have long believed people should not get medals for showinging up to an event. However, the bigger problem lies with the promoter in this case. The solution is simple: the promoter should not give a medal to people who do not compete for it. Awarding uncontested medals is where the problem starts. If organizations don’t award them, nobody will be able to brag about them. True, people do misrepresent their medals, but if they never got one to start with, the problem would vanish. It is equally a promoter and athlete problem.

Regarding sambo, you are incorrect. Master’s divisions are broken down by age. Though in the US the numbers are generally to small to do so. At the world and international level age brackets for masters are observed.

Bruno
Bruno

October 07, 2015

Travis, I disagree with your “BJJ Problems” in so many levels…

BJJ is not all about tournaments and medals, it is about lifestyle, dedication, sportsmanship and most importantly, self-defense.
Masters Carlos and Helio Gracie did not create BJJ thinking about competition and medals, they created it to give the weaker a chance to defend themselves. What really matters is that this sport is really for everyone to practice. Most of us BJJ practicioners attend to a bjj class after work, tired and just looking for some good time in the mat. To go there and puy yourself to the test on a tournament is already an acomplishment. I invite you to visit me in Brazil and stay here for a week training, I bet your toughts abouy competition and medals will change. See ya!

Hobbyist
Hobbyist

October 07, 2015

You did not mention the biggest weirdness of bjj: “purple belt world champions”. To be comparable to judo or other olympic sports there should be champions only at black belt. The lower belts could be “winners” or something but not champions. At least no one should be titled 5 time world champion if only one of those is at black belt. I believe competing at belt levels is good for the sport and hobby but shold not be confused with championsips. In the other hand I’ d see no problem for the browns to enter real (blackbelt ) world championships if they want and qualify.

Brian Springberg
Brian Springberg

October 07, 2015

I came from wrestling and can understand the complaint: these “championships” are too watered down by age and experience levels. After three months of training, I won a Masters II nogi “World” gold at blue belt by beating two guys in a total of one minute. I earned All-American honors four times in college, and understand what makes a good grappler. The thought of calling myself a ‘world champ’ seems like a joke. At the lower belt level, the ‘Masters Worlds’ is like local old guys flag football league; but the upperbelts are a different story. It is a fun way for old guys to stay in shape and compete, but these are not real world titles, and it is not really a problem.

David
David

October 06, 2015

ego will always be a problem. But BJJ can look to tae Kwon do it suffered a similar inflation problem. Oh wait it never changed and is now mostly a joke.
But the author maybe needs to start at home with his own ego: his complaint seems to be that his achievements are lessened in the eyes of others by people winning lower-grade medals. That is also an ego problem, the same problem : “these medals prove my worth”.

Neo
Neo

October 06, 2015

Sorry but none of these “problem” (writer doesn’t know what plural means) listed is what’s wrong with BJJ.
The problem with BJJ is that from the lowest to the highest levels of competition, the match starts with 2 people jumping to their butts. It’s embarrassing and defies the core of Jiu Jitsu as being a martial art.

John Barrera
John Barrera

October 06, 2015

I’m 54 years old and compete a lot…I fight in my divisions but also often drop into the regular adult divisions to fight “the best” I compete both to test and to advance myself. I learn from every match….If the author of this article thinks for a second that older competitors are easier to defeat or somehow lesser that other competitors, I sincerely invite him into any of the ‘masters divisions"…I would like to compete against him and also have numerous friends that probably would too…Lastly, there is nothing shameful or wrong about taking a 3rd place in a metal in a 3 man bracket and posting pics about it…he was there and competed and that’s much more than most people do……nothing comes easy in BJJ comps….it’s okay to be proud that you competed…

Jim
Jim

October 06, 2015

first of all the author has no frame of reference for competitors in the Masters brackets and his commentary gets increasingly shallow as the competitors get older. Odds are clear that only one in a meeting about 20,000 will get their blackbelt if they start jits after 45, that is 15 years away from my young brown belt friend. Next I wood say sandbagging is the real issue in a meeting the adr division and beyond, blackbelt a wearing purple until they can win national or international gold. Once they get gold at pure they all turn yo black in a meeting three years or less. White blue and purple must mean so much more than purple and brown at the elite level. Elite players stay brown do a year or two max, this is the real problem with competition. Schools holding guys at certain level to assure the school of the win. I would suggest that an elite brown belt is certainly a blackbelt in any school in America.

Gerald Lafon
Gerald Lafon

October 06, 2015

“BJJ does not discriminate. I can think of no other activity where that is the case.” You claim to have entered Judo events, and yet you can’t think of any other sport besides BJJ?

Leon Barrocas
Leon Barrocas

October 06, 2015

We hear you on some points about people claims on certain titles based in no win do to lack of competitors or prestige of tournament but you are confused on the world master championships those masters at the top of the black belts have been black belts twice as long as you have been training 20yrs and are most probably world champion from the first 1996 worlds so if you beat the competitor you beat a world champion I would like to Kenan or Bucheccha when they are 40 and if they will still be competing and for you if you Travis Conley iir you aren’t in the masters well I will challenge you being 40 yrs old brown belt bronze medalist in the 2015 world master and let’s put the masters challenge to the test and let’s see you you stand amongst the masters

Jake
Jake

October 06, 2015

This article is a little too critical and is marginalizing the accomplishments of others. Master 6 world champ is a world champ. It doesn’t man they are the greatest of all time and that’s ok.

Zamboni
Zamboni

October 06, 2015

T-money spits the truth #stopthecirclejerk

Dion Watts
Dion Watts

October 06, 2015

I agree with none of your opinions. They are not going to help Jiu-Jitsu IMO

David
David

October 06, 2015

This is not a BJJ problem. While you accurately point out the deceits, it’s rampant all over. People often making claims to being [Jr|Novice|Master] National or World Champion, but “forget” to leave out first part. It makes it sound more like they are really the single best in the nation/world when they don’t tell you it was amongst novices, or blue belts or whoever. (As author notes, being the Master 2 Blue Belt World Champion is way cool… but just saying “World Champion” is purposefully misleading!)

I had a much older neighbor many years ago who was a former military marksman. He came home from a world championships with a gold medal. So I said, hey youre a world champion! to which he replied, SENIOR world champion. I’m ok with the 60+ years olds, but I can’t shoot with the young studs. That I could respect.

Geo
Geo

October 06, 2015

Shitty article!… author says there is a ‘huge problem in BJJ’ then goes on to bullet point several problems that has NOTHING to do with the art of BJJ!
What he is complaining about in this article is unscrupulous people… being deceitful in their accomplishments and profiting from the growth of BJJ…
BOTH of which is a PEOPLE problem, not a BJJ problem.
This happens in all things not just BJJ
Author is a whinny bitch looking for attention!

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