Competition Etiquette: What Are The Rules Of Engagement In Jiu-Jitsu Competition?

I’ve had more opportunities to compete recently than usual, and have been reflecting on some aspects of competition that I hadn’t before.  One aspect of competition that I’ve touched on in the past is that of competition etiquette.  What is okay, and not okay, to do at competition?

One thing that can happen during a competition is that a competitor sustains an injury.  This can be something minor, or it can be major.  I saw a few competitors at my most recent competition that had to tape up a joint to protect it from further injury.  This made me wonder if attacking an injured body part is in poor taste or if it is simply tactically sound.

If you know your opponent has a specific hole in their game, should you avoid that hole in order to level the playing field?  If you know that a guy got his elbow popped in a prior round, and that elbow is on the side that you like to arm bar, is it wrong for you to arm bar them?  What if you were the one that arm barred them?

This brings me back to an incident from a couple of years ago in which a blind competitor faced a sighted competitor and, allegedly, the competitor with full use of his sense of sight avoided contact with the blind competitor so he could, literally, blindside him with a takedown to win the match on points.  He won the match, but did he dishonor himself?  Did he break an unwritten rule of etiquette?

On a personal level, there are a few things that I personally avoid: I try to do my best to not poke my opponents in the eyes and to not grab their fingers.  I am not shy about attacking a joint that I know to be injured, but I am more sensitive to the tap; after all, this is just jiu-jitsu and we are all part of the same small community.  I’ve never faced a competitor with a known disability, but I wouldn’t change my tactics to prey on that disability. I would however use the same tactics I normally use. Competitions aren’t cheap and we are there to try to win.

What about submission speed and viciousness?  Again this is something that has been explored before. Some people feel that you should give your opponent time to tap, and not try to break joints.  This isn’t the tactic of many.  In competition you need intent behind your submissions in order to get the tap.  If one is stubborn to tap, and the person applying the submission hesitates that could wind up costing the match.  I’ve lost matches in which I released arm bars after my opponent’s elbow popped.  In these cases the guy was injured, but beat me.  I do my best to tap early in competition when I get caught because I assume that my opponent is trying to cripple me, and I personally don’t want to be crippled.

There are very few absolutes on the competitive playing field.  In my case, I always show respect before and after my matches even if I dislike my opponent or their mid match tactics.  Once the match is over it is important for me to carry myself like a martial artist, with discipline and respect.  However during the match, all bets are off.  I have one goal: win.

Are there rules/points of etiquette that you follow during your matches?


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