For the vast majority of jiu-jitsu practitioners, the leading BJJ dichotomy is “gi jiu-jitsu” versus “no-gi jiu-jitsu.” But for competitors, it is may be less about gi versus no-gi, and more about points-based jiu-jitsu versus submission-only. Of course, there are hybrids of the two – such as ADCC style tournaments – but generally, it’s a pretty clear division.
In this blog, I discuss what the IBJJF “points-based” system is all about, why you should care, and even give you some pro-tips on points-based strategy.
Why Do We Even Care?
The short answer is: competing under a points-based ruleset demands a distinctly different strategy than competing under a submission-only ruleset.
As the name suggests, submission-only rulesets are all about that definitive finish. Whatever the submission may be – a choke, armbar, leg lock, etc. – obtaining the tap from your opponent is the ultimate goal. It doesn’t matter if you had been absolutely dominated, position-wise, throughout the rest of the match. The submission rules all. A complete underdog can come from behind and snatch victory from his or her opponent.
This can make for some very interesting and exciting matches.
A rules-based ruleset, however, is more nuanced. Of course, the submission still signals a definite victory, but there are many other ways to win. And this is where – everything else being equal – the cleverer and/or more experienced strategist will prevail.
“But submission-only rulesets require strategy, too!” Yes, they do. But for the most part, your goal is quite clear in submission-only: get a submission. You know that… but so does your opponent. Additionally, a submission requires action… an in action lies opportunity for your opponent to escape or apply a submission of his/her own. But in a points-based ruleset, a win can arrive by capitalizing on a slight advantage, and then deciding when no action is the more prudent tactic.
Doesn’t that make for boring matches, though? Well, yes, sometimes. A lot of the time, actually. So, keep that in mind when you bring a non-jiu-jitsu friend or family member to a tournament “to watch.” I wouldn’t subject that kind of torture on anybody.
But if you’re a fan of Sun Tzu’s The Art of War, you might better appreciate this strategy, particularly in light of the entire tournament or career of the jiu-jitsu practitioner. A boring match with a tough opponent may be what is needed to advance to the next round, or even win the finals and claim that coveted championship title.
IBJJF Points Explained
Initially, the IBJJF ruleset was the jiu-jitsu ruleset. And it still serves as the primary ruleset for most points-based tournaments. But today, there are many different points-based rulesets. It seems like every new promotion tries to tweak the ruleset a bit, in order to set themselves apart from the rest, or make the matches more exciting.
But we’re going to focus on the IBJJF ruleset here. Just understand that not all tournaments follow it exactly, so don’t just assume that you’re competing under an IBJJF ruleset if you enter a local points-based tournament.
Always check the ruleset to confirm.
So, What ARE the Points?
The IBJJF makes their ruleset pretty clear on their website, with their Rule Book, Technical Fouls & Illegal Moves Poster, and videos. But I’m going to go a step further and give you some pro-tips on how to secure them.
Takedown Points – 2
When both athletes are standing, and one causes the other to fall to the mat and remain there – on his/her back, bottom, side, or knees – for at least three seconds. This can be achieved via several wrestling or judo techniques.
- Pro Tip #1: Force your opponent to move before initiating the takedown. A body that is stepping or off-balance is much easier to takedown than one that is static.
- Pro Tip #2: Follow your opponent down. This allows you to use your weight to help keep him/her on the ground for the required time.
Sweep Points - 2
When the athlete on bottom with his/her opponent in a guard, inverts the position so that the opponent is now on the bottom, and remains there for at least three seconds.
- Pro Tip #1: Create action in the opposite direction of where you would like to sweep. This will cause your opponent to compensate in your desired direction, and makes him/her easier to sweep.
- Pro Tip #2: After sweeping, control your opponent’s hips – if you land in guard – or elevate his/her foot – if you land on your feet. This will hinder your opponent’s ability to get back up after being swept.
Knee on Belly Points - 2
When the athlete on top – and free of any guard – puts his/her knee across the opponent’s torso area, with the other knee off the mat, while his/her opponent is on his/her back.
- Pro Tip #1: Don’t fully straighten the non-knee-on-belly leg. Keep some angle in the knee, so that you can easily follow your opponent if he/she tries to shrimp out from under you.
- Pro Tip #2: Control your opponent’s shoulders and hips, to keep him/her flat on the back, when establishing the position. This inhibits his/her ability to shrimp out from under you.
Pass Points – 3
When the athlete in top position manages to go around or through the bottom athlete’s guard, and maintain side control or north-south position for at least a period of three seconds.
- Pro Tip #1: Focus on the hips. If you limit your opponent’s ability to move his/her hips, you inhibit his/her ability to maintain the guard.
- Pro Tip #2: Focus on the hips, again. Once passed, either pin his/her hips flat to the mat or twist his/her hips away (keeping his/her shoulders flat on the mat), to inhibit his/her ability to re-guard.
Back Take Points – 4
When the athlete controls the opponent’s back, torso to back, with both feet in between the opponent’s thighs and un-crossed, and maintaining that position for at least three seconds.
- Pro Tip #1: Keep your chin on your opponent’s shoulder. This helps prevent you from giving your opponent the space he/she needs to escape.
- Pro Tip #2: Pinch your heels to your own butt. Your opponent’s legs will be in the way, so you won’t actually connect your heels to your butt, but it will help inhibit your opponent’s ability to move his/her hips to escape.
Mount – 4
When the athlete in top position, free of his/her opponent’s guard, sits on his/her torso with one or both knees on the mat.
- ProTip #1: Pin your opponent’s shoulders to the mat. Most mount escapes require your opponent to be on his/her side. Keeping his/her shoulders flat on the mat inhibits his ability to escape.
- ProTip #2: Pin your opponent’s hips flat to the mat. For the same reason as above, keeping his/her hips flat on the mat inhibits his/her ability to turn to the side.
The most enviable jiu-jitsu practitioner is equally fluent in both submission-only and points-based rulesets. So, whether you’ve never competed before, or you pride yourself in being a submission-only competitor, competing in a points-based ruleset is an instrumental part of becoming an exceptional and well-rounded jiu-jitsu practitioner.