Note that this is not necessarily a complaint. But I’m pretty sure this is not going to be a popular opinion.
This past weekend we saw the 16th annual Pan Jiu Jitsu Championships, the largest ever at some 3200 competitors over four days. This represents a eightfold increase of competitors from the first Pan American games and in a big way represents the growth and popularity of sport Jiu Jitsu not only in the United States, but world wide. As is the case with seemingly every major tournament, the Internet buzz is going to include more than a few complaints. I think many of the more common complaints, and maybe some of the chatter from talking to some of the participants can be traced back to a simply root problem.
The Pan Jiu Jitsu Tournament is entirely too big.
On one hand, the IBJJF is to be commended for creating an event that attracts so many people, and it is obviously a logistical chore to cater to 3200+ participants. Despite the best efforts of many, there are bound to be a few problems stemming from having that many matches going on. A very simple solution would be to shrink the size of the tournaments.
That’s bound to be a controversial statement, and I’m sure a few people reading this are sure to call me crazy, but here me out.
The Pan Jiu Jitsu (actually all IBJJF tournaments) is an “Open Tournaments” i.e.: anyone can enter. While the Worlds might be the most prestigious tournament in the IBJJF calendar, because it is an open tournament it is technically no harder or more difficult to win than the Pans, or the Euros, or the smaller regional events because any officially ranked practitioner of Brazilian Jiu Jitsu under the IBJJF can officially enter any of the tournaments. It is feasible that a competitor could earn a “World Championship” without ever participating in a regional tournament.
I believe that Brazilian Jiu Jitsu is one of the few large combat sports that this would be the case. Virtually any other competition would require some sort of qualification process to even earn the right to compete for the title of world Championships.
In addition to growing the size of their major tournaments the IBJJF has also managed to successfully run a series of smaller regional tournaments across the United States, and it is reasonable to expect with the growth of Brazilian Jiu Jitsu world wide, that more regional tournaments are coming to other places that Brazilian Jiu Jitsu has developed a following.
So a solution is ready made then, if one would be willing to make the bold step.
Make the local regional tournaments qualifiers for the larger regional tournaments, and make the larger regional tournaments qualifiers for the worlds.
Example, a competitor who won the SF Open would then qualify for the Pans. If that competitor won the Pans they could then participate in the Worlds.
The most obvious benefit of this is that now the prestige behind each of these tournaments is more genuine. A World title would now mean that you went through a field of the current best of the best from all over the world, competitors that had to earn the right to compete at this level.
Come to think of it, this wouldn’t be such a bold step after all, because in the earlier days of the IBJJF, one had to qualify to compete in the Mundials (Brazilians at least had to).
By shrinking the size of the major tournaments, this also allows better use of the current resource capacity of the IBJJF as well. Smaller tournaments would offer less chance for mistakes to happen. Mistakes happen because of the sheer volume of matches and competitors that have to be managed, and also happen due to the fatigue of the officials involved.
I have some further “bold” suggestions that would be made feasible by having a qualifying system, or that could further streamline the process.
First, as convenient as it is to me personally to have all the major tournaments in Southern California, by all right the Pans should be held in different venues in the Pans territory. The Worlds should be held in multiple spots across the world.
Secondly, every match for every belt level should have multiple referees and judges involved. This is obviously not possible with the current pool of referees and the enormity of the tournaments. But it’s not just black belts that deserve fair refereeing, every competitor pays the same price to compete and most of know that to the competitor involved, every match is important. Multiple referees is much more feasible in smaller tournaments or tournaments the competitors had to qualify for.
For that matter, I don’t know how the referees can ref so many matches in a weekend, and I have no idea how some of them can compete at the same tournament. Their efforts are absolutely appreciated, let me make that clear, but making a qualification system to would make some choices easier. You either compete, or you referee. If you failed to qualify, then we know your weekend is free.
Third, I am actually advocating a return to day before weigh-ins. Or really any weigh in that is not done immediately before the match. I can appreciate the apparent reasons for the weigh in process now, if not on a philosophical level, but on a practical level of remembering the days of 12 hour lines to get weight in (the “old timers” out there can attest this). I think this was more of a flaw in the execution than a flaw in the design. I appreciate the thoroughness in which competitors uniforms and equipment is spot checked, I only wish the competitors themselves were checked with the same degree. I am a little more concerned with things like ringworm and staph infections than the length of my competitor’s belt (especially when someone will likely be given a secondary belt to wear). The weigh-ins and bullpen area is definitely the bottleneck to any tournament. You can eliminate this bottleneck, and allow for more vigorous checking of the competitors by going back to day before weigh-ins.
You can actually eliminate the bullpen all together (which is definitely chaos), do away with the ring coordinators to boot and smooth out much of the processes by adopting a Judo or Wrestling style Bracketing draw system. This system allows a competitor to see exactly when they can expect to fight on a given mat, and when their next match will take place. For example, a competitor might be assigned match number 7 on Mat 4, and if he advances he could expect to fight match number 23 on the same mat. Aside from Judo and Wrestling, other grappling organizations (such as Grappler’s Quest and United Gracie) have used this system and after participating in this style of bracketing I can say it’s THE ONLY BRACKETING SYSTEM THAT MAKES SENSE AND EVERY TOURNAMENT INCLUDING THE IBJJF SHOULD EMPLOY IT. The bullpen then becomes a true warm up area and if you miss a match it’s your own fault.
I am definitely interested in hearing your feedback and contributing to a positive discussion on improving OUR tournament scene.
Gumby is the co-founder of OTM and also runs a Jiu Jitsu Academy in San Jose called Heroes Martial Arts. He's been to more tournaments in the last sixteen years than he can easily count.