The Grappling Pendulum: From Catch to Sub Only
Today in the jiu jitsu and grappling world, there are more competitions, more rule sets, and more disagreement about what is the best rule set for these competitions than there has ever been in history. Up until very recently, the juggernaut organizations behind the ADCC Championships and the IBJJF Worlds were the be all end all of grappling competitions. Over the years, each of these organizations has worked to provide a platform and rule set that balances the awarding of points for dominant position and action, while protecting competitors, and ensuring that spectators have an exciting experience. Looking back through the history of grappling, namely the history of catch wrestling, one can see some similar patterns repeating themselves.
The Rise of Sub Only
With the rise of new organizations, there has also been a shift in rule sets in some cases with sub only tournaments becoming more popular. In these tournaments, points are not awarded for achieving certain positional milestones or for overall aggression. Instead, in the case of no time limit, sub only matches, the two athletes go at it until one opponent achieves a submission on the other. This can lead to some very lengthy matches. One of the most anticipated matches in recent memory was the sub only match between Keenan Cornelius of Atos and Gordon Ryan of Team Renzo Gracie.
But are these matches and this style of competition the best for the athletes and fans? These matches are reminiscent of the legendary matches Helio Gracie is credited with like the one with former student Valdemar Santana which lasted nearly 4 hours. How many spectators in today's short-attention span arena would still be in attendance after 1 hour, let alone nearly 4?
The Demise of Catch Wrestling
Is sub only just a newly repackaged catch wrestling and will sub only go the way of catch wrestling with its focus on securing the submission with much less concern about time limit. In the early 20th century, catch wrestling struggled with image problems and Olympic politics. Some felt that many of the techniques were too punishing, while some associated catch wrestling with the theatrical, performance oriented professional wrestling trade. Ultimately freestyle and Greco Roman wrestling styles survived, arguably because of the focus on points based competition and the fact that it was not tainted by professional wrestling's reputation.
Here you can check out an example of Coach Neil Melanson showing how catch wrestling can help smash an opponent's half guard.
At the end of the day, the consumer or the fans will drive the growth of the various competition platforms and rule sets by spending money on tickets and pay per view events. Sub only and other alternative rule sets who try to take on the juggernauts like IBJJF who generates the vast majority of its revenue by having the athletes pay to compete on its stage, must be creative in its marketing to attract the most broad spectator base it can.