Almost all tournaments have a rule set in place to address disengagement. Specifically, competitors can be penalized or even DQ’d for disengaging. A friend and fellow Brasa teammate of mine, Larry, had a situation come up that I think is worth exploring.
Larry is blind. When you roll with Larry, the right thing to do is to make initial contact, and then start rolling. Larry also competes actively and does quite well. Larry’s account of the situation that came up was that he competed at a tournament and had an opponent disengage and then use the fact that Larry couldn’t track his movements as a major tactical advantage. The guy scored two points and then basically stalled the rest of the match. I posit that whether or not Larry’s account is accurate the situation and potential situations surrounding it are problematic on many levels.
For starters, disengagement is against the rules, and to disengage for tactical reasons against a blind opponent is simply wrong. There are in fact no rules on the IBJJF rule book to address this, so Larry’s opponent strictly speaking was working within the rules. There are however no rules against licking an opponent either, but that would be wrong as well. There are plenty of unsportsmanlike behaviors that are not explicitly forbidden.
So what is the right thing to do when facing an opponent that is disabled? Should you try to win at any cost? Or should you engage them on their terms thus giving up an inherent advantage?
The correct and honorable way to roll/compete against a blind opponent is to make a first contact, and to not disengage for the purpose of sneak attacking them. There are however no rules in place to force this so people will do what they want in this regard.
Another issue in this matter is the reffing. If a referee knows that a competitor is blind they should use their discretion and judgment and force the opponent to engage in some way. Simple as that. Brazilian Jiu Jitsu is a grappling art, force the competitors to grapple, and if one refuses to do so, penalize him or her.
Larry is an inspiration to many. He trains hard, rolls hard and competes well. His opponent used a void in the rule book to beat him. The referee of their match didn’t do his or her due diligence in that match because they allowed one competitor to disengage from the action.
I guess another crucial question is: is disengagement between sighted competitors acceptable if it’s done for tactical reasons? As in: someone is playing open guard, the other person disengages, times the guardeiro’s movements and then steps around their legs, is that disengagement acceptable?
I think that in Larry’s case, engagement is a basic piece of etiquette. When you grapple with Larry you make a neutral first contact before action begins. Should that be made into a rule for opponents of blind competitors at all competitions? I think so.
*Disclaimer: Larry didn’t ask me to write this. I read about his situation and felt that it merited a bit of focus from the larger Jiu Jitsu community