I met S7 founders Dayan Henderson and Paul Paterson at the Jiu Jitsu Expo in Long Beach a few months ago. The on the spot presentation they gave me was very polished, very ambitious, but in 16 years it wasn’t necessarily promises that I haven’t heard before. Dayan and Paul admittedly didn’t have too much of a background in the martial arts and they seemed very nice but I’d believe it when I saw it.
A few weeks later long time friend Josh Rosenthal gave me a call and asked if I’d be interested in refereeing the inaugural S7 tournament in Utah. I’ve played pretty much every role there is in this game, but the idea of taking a role of slightly less responsibility than I normally do was actually kind of appealing, and if nothing else it was an expenses paid trip to see what S7 was all about.
We were picked up at the airport and driven to the venue, some distance away. Most of the folks in the van I was familiar with (Josh had recruiting among the Jiu Jitsu community in the Bay Area) and like me I got the sense that most weren’t quite sure what they were getting themselves into. I watched the weigh in the night before for awhile (a pretty standard affair), when they offered to take the crew to dinner and for a sneak peak at the set up.
Walking past S7’s trailer into the venue I was blown away by the production values, and believe me, after all this time in the sport, it is not easy to do that to me. 10 brand new mats laid out, LCD score boxes on every mat banners throughout a venue that could accommodate at least four thousand people. Gorgeous medals and belts that would make title holders in major MMA promotions jealous. In all of my time and having been to hundreds of events both big and small, this layout had struck me as one of the most impressive. It wasn’t just me either; all of the referees seemed to have the same reaction to the place. These guys clearly mean business. If nothing else, this setup confirmed that the promoter were willing to put their money where their dream were at, in a big way.
The rules are different from what you would be used to if you’re coming from the more traditional BJJ mindset, and were largely developed by Josh Rosenthal and Herb Dean. The easiest way to summarize the rule is that positions are worth Secondary points (analogous to advantages) and submission attempts are worth Primary points. While an actual submission will finish the match, in the case of no submission then Primary Points determine the outcome, then Secondary Points. Far more submissions are legal, and at the higher levels, pretty much everything goes.
The rules are a bit of a work and progress, but my favorite thing about S7 is the sense of optimism and the willingness these guys have to listen. Paul and Dayan may be relative newcomers into this space, but they are clearly interested in what’s possible in the future, not what can’t be done because of the past. It was honestly refreshing to be around that type of point of view as in all this time I may have gotten a bit jaded about certain things. At the same time they are very respectful and listened to what we had to say (the referees especially), but I get the sense that anyone entering an S7 event would get the same treatment and value of input. Ultimately a lack of input or care has been the biggest gripe I’ve heard from competitors over the years.
The Utah event itself was well run overall despite a few hiccups not uncommon to promoters running their first tournament, (or sometimes promoters running their hundredth). The action was good, the rules were easy to adjust to and I people I talked to seemed to have a good time and were happy with the event. I know everyone involved is taking notes and looking forward to improvements on the next event.
I think the S7 shows a tremendous amount of potential to elevate Submission Grappling and the related arts to new heights, they have certainly made an investment and set lofty goals. I’m very happy I was brought on board at the early stages and look forward to working with S7 in the future.
You can find out more information about S7 at their website S7SG.com 
The next event will be in Oklahoma City on August 25th and I hope to meet many of you there.