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Do We Need To Rethink How We Score The Back?
By now, many of us have seen the controversial ending to the Kasai 4 Pro bout between Renato Canuto and Vagner Rocha. It was a high-paced, back-and-forth, action-packed match (as predicted), and Canuto gritted out a victory by points, 3-0. He was able to score on a double leg takedown, and he got a point (under Kasai rules) for a near takedown, so he had a comfortable lead with the clock ticking down. Still, Rocha is always dangerous, and he was able to pass and roll to the back, locking on a body triangle with a few seconds left. The referee decided that, under the rules, this didn't merit any points and the crowd and a lot of the BJJ community was pretty frustrated, even though (by the rules) this is the correct call the way it is written.
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Under IBJJF, Kasai, and a lot of other organizations rulesets, to score points for back control, you must have two hooks around your opponent and you must stabilize this position for 3 seconds to get 4 points. Only the mount offers the same volume of points because BJJ wants to prominently establish those two positions as the strongest, where you can best attack and are the safest from counter-attack. These rules have been pretty standard for a while, but they are outdated and could use an update.
Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu has its roots in self-defense, and it is important that any rule exists to incentivize and reward good self-defense. The basic theory around any point or advantage given is that you are showing better skill at controlling someone, keeping them controlled with a series of more dominant pins, and ultimately submitting them. So, with this self-defense identity in mind, do our rules really reflect that, especially from the back? Let's consider these three situations.
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Hooks vs. Body Triangle
Just like we saw this weekend at Kasai, you get no consideration for taking the back with a body triangle, you only are rewarded for taking the back with two hooks. This is actually counter-intuitive since a body triangle is better control than just hooks! It's both of your legs working together, closing a loop around your opponent, instead of them working separately where your opponent can escape a little easier. In fact, a lot of fighters feel more control with just one hook over the hips, the other behind the hip, with the sense that it is better at arching in and preventing escapes. If the goal of the rules is to always be pushing people to control a fight, then why not include the body triangle?
The Turtle Advantage
BJJ is always evolving, and the rules need to always be evolving too. Sport BJJ tends to favor guard players, and that is in big part because of a loophole in the rules; if you pass the guard, and your opponent is able to move and get to turtle (where it is common to just roll back to guard and reset the fight), you get an advantage instead of 3 points for the pass. Most competitive guard players really rely on this as a last line of defense, and it has been a deciding factor in a lot of matches at all belt levels. But why are we incentivizing the turtle? Why do we want our fighters to use the turtle? Turning and giving away your back to an opponent, in any spirit of "self-defense", is something you should avoid at all costs. In MMA, where BJJ first became the proven gold standard of self-defense arts, fighters actually prefer the turtle to back control, because it lets them put more into their punches without needing to commit their legs into a grappling exchange. The rules already treat this as a defensive position, and not a guard, because you can't sweep from there (it's scored like a roll from being mounted to being on top in guard), but it's time that BJJ stops letting its fighters be so comfortable in a bad position.
A Pass To The Back, 3+4 or just 4?
The final confusing rule around the back that we'll highlight today is around scoring a pass to the back. If a fighter goes from trying to passing the guard and passes and mounts, he gets 7 (3 for the pass, 4 for the mount). However, if you start in someone's guard and (by design or from a scramble) take the back, you only score the 4 points for back control. If mount and back are equally dominant, then why the difference? You started in the guard, and you have ended in a dominant position, outside of the guard, so somewhere along the line, you had to pass. The same situation happens when you sweep directly to the back; unless you end up on top, you will not get points for the sweep, only 4 for the back. You started in your guard, you ended in the most dominant position in BJJ, but you didn't gain control? It is an odd loophole that needs addressed.
Sport BJJ, especially the IBJJF, operate to promote the sport and to promote Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu as the best form of self-defense in the world. Hopefully, they can address any inconsistencies or loopholes, so that the sport can continue to grow and we can continue to reach a larger audience. If you are interested in finding some new and innovative ways to take the back, look no further than Mikey Musumeci, the most successful IBJJF American grappler ever.