Facing a Training Partner in the First Round of a Grand Slam Tournament

Photo: Edwin Najmi

One controversial topic at major Grand Slam tournaments is “teammates closing out their division rather than competing against each other.” While this is common practice for high level black belts who represent the same team/association and train together as in the case of Gracie Barra’s Romulo Barral and Braulio Estema, there is also the possibility of facing a training partner and teammate from the same association well before the finals.

Last week, my buddy Joe who trains under Rolles Gracie at Renzo Gracie Middletown in New Jersey told me he is coming to Los Angeles for Pans in March. Joe has previously trained at my academy, 5 Star Martial Arts/Renzo Gracie Los Angeles, before NoGi Worlds, which he won at the Purple Belt Masters level. During his week of training at our school, he drilled and trained with my other friend and training partner, Marshall, who is in the same Purple Belt weight and age division and will be competing in Pans as well. Ideally, the two friends and training partners who would both be representing the Renzo Gracie Academy would be placed on opposite sides of the bracket and would meet up or close out their division in the finals.

However, there are rules in the IBJJF where only 2 competitors can represent a school/association. At major tournaments like the Pans and Worlds, major schools/associations such as Gracie Barra, Checkmat, Alliance, Zenith, Riberio, and Gracie Elite will form an “A Team” to give themselves the best chance to win the team title. When a competitor registers for Pans or Worlds, they register under their local school such as “Renzo Gracie Los Angeles” or “Gracie Barra Northridge.”  After the check date where competitors can switch age and weight divisions, each school/association will then pick 2 competitors from each division to be on the “A Team.” If there are more than 2 competitors, then the school/association will pick the 2 competitors that have the best chance of scoring points for the team title. If you are chosen for the “A-Team,” then you will be moved from “Renzo Gracie Los Angeles” to “Gracie Elite Team.” If you aren’t, then you will still be listed as “Renzo Gracie Los Angeles.”

IBJJF rules on number of competitors in each division from one school/association
IBJJF rules on number of competitors in each division from one school/association

In many cases, the affiliate coaches are left out of the selection process. This creates a situation where 2 training partners from the same affiliate location of a school/association will train and prepare together for a tournament, but one is selected to the “A Team” while the other person is kept on the local affiliate team. When the bracketing is done, the IBJJF doesn’t consider the 2 training partners to be teammates and they could be scheduled to face each other in the first round.

When I was in the locker room at Pans last year, I was talking to a competitor who was stuck in this situation. He and his friend trained together at Cobrinha BJJ in Los Angeles. He was selected for the Alliance “A Team” while he training partner was left on the Cobrinha team. Now, after preparing for Pans together for 8 weeks, paying money to enter the tournament, and traveling to Irvine (which in this case is a short drive from Los Angeles), he and his training partner were in the awkward situation of paying money to face someone they already face multiple times per week.

So while my friends Joe and Marshall would like to avoid each other until the finals at Pans, they could be meeting up much earlier if one or more members of the Gracie Elite family registers for the tournament and is picked ahead of Joe and/or Marshall for the Gracie Elite Team.  Since Joe and Marshall train at different Renzo Gracie affiliates, asking the Gracie Elite Team or the IBJJF to consider their relationship as training partners and friends might be a stretch. However in the case of the two teammates from Cobrinha’s that do actually train together out of the same Alliance affiliate location, there should be a policy from Alliance or the IBJJF to keep them on opposite sides of the bracket. This would create more work for the IBJJF in creating brackets at large tournaments like Worlds and Pans that draw 1,500 plus competitors, but it would be nice if they could take this into consideration from a customer service point of view considering their entry fees are over $100 and many people are traveling from all over the world for their major tournament. The opposite point of view, would be from the people who already oppose “closing out the division” and would prefer to see everybody battle to the end regardless of association and friendships.


  1. Either you have to be lazze faire or you get all technical and never let team mates face each other. I say stop being babies. I faced a good friend in the final of a tournament ans it was awesome. We train together constantly and there is no bad blood. Next time if it happens again he will try to take gold instead 🙂 its jiu jitsu man if you aren’t game don’t play.

  2. People should compete for the academy where you train! Problem solved in most cases! Do not move to “Elite” figurated groups”


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