Point vs Counterpoint: Are Points Arbitrary?

I recently had a Facebook debate with a gentleman who is a BJJ and Judo black belt. In that debate I made the point that point systems are arbitrary, and a big part of why wrestlers and Judokas need to be tougher than jiujiteiros is that BJJ competition give competitors the option to submit the opponent. Point collection and time limits make matches far more stressful. His argument was that the point system is based on superiority of positions, and thus points are not arbitrary. I’d like to explore both sides of this debate.

For starters, let’s take a look at his very valid argument: points are based on positions and transitions that are dominant, thus they are not arbitrary. If I can take side control or mount on someone, my chances of being able to then submit them climb exponentially. If I can pin you to the ground, chances are I can beat you up. If I can throw you with perfect form, chances are I can do other unspeakable things to you.

The point system is based on positions and transitions that jiujiteiros, judokas and wrestlers all value. A submission can be “caught” but a substantial score margin cannot be, it requires superior technique. Therefore a submission can be at times far more arbitrary than a point.

OK so I’ve made the side of the argument in favor of points. If I missed anything I’m sure you, the reader, will provide that extra information. Now I’m going to take a look at why I think that points are arbitrary and submissions are truly the only path to real victory.

For starters, not all positions that are dominant are worth points. For starters, closed guard. I’ve heard it said that closed guard is basically mount with the mounted person sitting up. I agree with that and I think that if knee on belly, a transitional position is worth points, guard should be worth SOMETHING; alas many of the top players in the world are very much able to submit their competition from there. Look at Roger Gracie vs. Jacare, if roger had been awarded points for his guard the match would have ended differently, and the reality is that only one of those two men did any damage in that match and it wasn’t the winner.

Point systems change. What’s a takedown? If I touch the guy’s leg while he pulls did I take him down? When someone pulls guard is their opponent awarded a takedown? I’ve competed at many tournaments that had points structured like that. Points don’t really mean much in the street. My ability to snatch up arms and legs means a bit more, at least in my opinion.

Then there’s the matter of a timeline. Take away a time limit, all the points in the world don’t matter. You need a time limit for points to matter, but what if that time limit goes from 5 or 6 minutes to 10 or 20 minutes? Will the outcome be the same? Oh and how about weirdoes like me that try to submit people from everywhere including but not limited to the worst positions mount and back mount? And I’ve actually succeeded at doing both with fairly decent success rates. Maybe I should get bonus points every time I set up a submission from bottom mount?

Are points an arbitrary construct? Or does their correlation with superior position mean that they are a sound and rational construct? Personally, when I win or on points I view it as a draw, even if my opponent or I have our hand raised. In my mind, if I didn’t do enough to make the other person tapped it is a fundamental failure. What do you think?



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