We see it at the highest level of the sport: two top competitors from the same academy in the same weight class cut through their division, make it to the finals, a lot of people would love to see the match…and then they close out. It happened over the weekend between Michael Liera Jr. and JT Torres. It’s very common throughout our sport. Closeouts are an inevitable part of an individual team sport like jiu-jitsu. Our teammates are like family. Should we be willing to compete against them?
I wrote a while back about “jiu-jitsu math”, how just because Player A beats player B and Player B beats Player C doesn’t mean that Player A beats Player C. This effect is greatly amplified when Player A is very familiar with B or C. The dynamics of the sport change when you’ve experienced someone’s skill set day in and day out; you know their strengths, weaknesses, and proclivities on the mat and closeouts are a great way to take that off the table.
Then there’s the issue of loyalty. In a sense you are being disloyal to your teammate if you step on the mat and genuinely try to beat them. However, if you step out there and put on a subpar performance, that can reflect poorly as well. Moreover, what if one of you gets injured? That doesn’t help your team, and the reality is that if push comes to shove, you can always settle the score in private at the gym.
On the other side of things there’s something inherently unsatisfying about a closeout. There have been some great matches between teammates, and there was even this match between the Miyao brothers:
Jiu-jitsu is relatively safe. If you tap on time, your chances of getting hurt are minimal. But each match puts wear and tear on you. Every moment on the competition mat is dangerous even if your opponent has no intention of hurting you. It can be tricky.
I don’t personally have the right answer. I will compete against anyone, including a friend, family member, or a teammate. When competing against someone I know and like, I am less vicious with my submissions and I may pick my shots to protect them. But I am there to win. I’m not there to flip a coin or play rock-paper-scissors. With the kind of time and effort I put into training and the kind of money it costs to compete, when I compete I’ll do my best to take on anyone that steps across the mat from me. We can be friends/family/teammates after.
What do you think? Are closeouts good or bad for the sport?