Disputed Ground

On Martial Arts, Politics, and Culture.

Submission-only rules suck because Jiu-Jitsu should be a martial art.


Respect the position bro.

Respect the position bro.


Said the wise Jiu-Jitsu master back when Jiu-Jitsu fighters were the most dominant martial artists on earth.


Said the guy selling you a $20 internet stream in 2016, when Jiu-Jitsu is at its least relevant point in years.

What went wrong? Why are we here? After a series of increasingly dull sub-only events, including today’s Polaris card that featured zero submissions, we should address the issue of sub only, and why it’s bad martial arts.

The case for sub-only goes something like this: “What matters in fights is the finish. Getting a pass doesn’t mean you won a fight, but getting a submission does. Likewise, people want to watch exciting events, and submissions are more exciting, therefore we should watch submission only.”

These arguments have persuaded large segments of the community, but they’re ultimately flawed.

1) The focus on the submission puts the cart before the horse. Submissions end fights, but that does not mean that the best way to get submissions is to simply go for more of them at the expense of fighting for positional dominance. Getting submissions is difficult, so traditional Jiu-Jitsu strategy has been to first secure increasingly dominant positions and establish control. In the course of securing these positions, the opponent either (A) commits a major blunder in an attempt to scramble out of a bad position, (B) fatigues from fighting against superior leverage and gravity, or (C), allows you to establish such an immensely dominant position- such as a flattened out back mount- that imposing a finish becomes easy. Indeed, not only does this make the finish easier, but following this process also prevents your opponent from climbing up the positional hierarchy, and protects you from serious damage or defeat if you lose position while attempting a submission before securing dominant control. Imagine a striking coach saying that what matters is the KO, therefore let’s throw nothing but power punches to the head. Such a mindset should be treated as equally nonsensical in Jiu-Jitsu. Good process leads to good results, and submissions should be the end point of your strategy, not the starting point.

2)The submission only format does not lead to better fights. While this blog would disagree that only fights that end in submissions are exciting, let’s grant that premise for the sake of argument. The problem remains: Submission only matches don’t result in more submissions. Why is this so? Simply stated: Because the format abandons combat realism. As discussed in argument (1) above, submissions often occur in process of positional battle. In a real fight, positions represent dangerous striking, and so you fight to avoid them, or get damaged with strikes. In a point Jiu-Jitsu match, the rules respect that combative reality, and award large and oftentimes insurmountable point margins for transitions up the positional hierarchy. In submission only neither applies. You have neither of these things to contend with, and so you begin to lose the relevance of position, and with it the factors that make finishes happen. An overwhelmed opponent can go to a draw against superior opposition by avoiding risky scrambles, suffering no punishment from being controlled, and actually expending far less energy than the aggressor. This is why most sub-only tournaments now seem to be draw-only tournaments.


“But what about EBI?”

EBI suffers from the same thing, but they realized the issue earlier on and manufacture overtime submissions through a unique rule-set that can force people to give up their backs or an armbar, something their athletes often can’t get to during regulation because of the perverse incentives of no-points/sub-only rules. EBI overtime goes even further and adds a clock to this, flipping it on its head and making the awarded position super-dominant in OT by penalizing you for every second you spend being controlled. This is why submission rates shoot up during EBI overtime.


Conclusion: Examining the incentives of the sub-only rule set, and the various ways these tournaments deal with it, it’s clear that submissions come from the value of positions. In real fights, positions can be a matter of life and death. The more a rule set recognizes and respects that reality accordingly, the more that rule set will tend to produce submission finishes.


10 thoughts on “Submission-only rules suck because Jiu-Jitsu should be a martial art.

  1. Because stalling in 50/50 playing for an advantage is so much more of an authentic martial art. Poorly written article with an even more poorly thought out premise

    • So this might have been a good objection…like four years ago before these events started popping up. It’s a zombie argument that seemingly won’t die no matter how many times it makes contact with the silver bullets of reality. Did you watch the Polaris card? There was plenty of double-guard play. Double guard seems to be more a feature of lighter weight jiu-jitsu than that of any particular rule set. People at that weight just don’t respect toe holds and straight ankle locks as much. At higher weights, those tactics get your shin bone snapped. Heel hooks check against this somewhat, but even in ADCC we’ve seen boring double guard like this. Sub only has failed to solve this. See Metamoris, Polaris, and EBI. Poorly written reply with an even more poorly thought out premise

  2. @BJJ that’s a false dichotomy. It isn’t one or the other. Of course there are boring points matches. But that doesn’t address any of the points made out here. I enjoy points and I enjoy sub only. For different reasons. But the premise that every points match ends in a 50/50 see saw fest is a little silly too.

  3. The problem with bjj starts with that the entire rule set – EBI, IBJJF, etc- allows competitors to pull guard. That negates the competitions as non combative. We need realistic takedowns. Stop the stalling too

  4. Submission only with time limits suck. Not submission only

  5. Pingback: Interesting Article on the Flaws of Focusing on Submission Only | A Skirt on the Mat

  6. Perhaps a compromise. Use positional, no advantage rules for the win in case of no submission and award bonus type money for submissions. Like double what you would normally get for the win.

  7. Always the same whining.
    the same thing was said about judo, that the changes done by the IJF have changed it as a martial art. which was false of course.
    sport judo follows a set of rules which dont allow certain long standing judo moves but that affects only competition, not the art itself. jiu-jitsu can be both a martial art AND a competitive sport but one doesnt negate the other. i think choice is the best answer and eventually we will see which the audiences like more, sub only contests or point counting.
    dont confuse the evolution of the sporting side of a martial art to be the martial art iself, it is only one facet of it.
    judo has managed to make its sport side totally different and more importantly, fan friendly that its results both at Grand Prix events and 200 million people watching their worlds can not be denied.
    we have to make competitive jiujitsu interesting and things have to be tried out to take it out of its niche.
    subs only sounded like a good idea but it hasnt panned out. we can try new things and ideas but in the end those rules dont define what jiu jitsu is so that whole ‘its not the martial art I love’ vision is wrong.

  8. As chrmnma0 said, Polaris, EBI and others are not true submission only. They are ‘submission or time runs out’. True submission only is without time limits, like the good people at US Grappling. Until we see that format put in place, I don’t think it’s a fair comparison.

    Of course, the problem is that the not-quite-submission-only events that have been popular so far rely on PPV and ticket sales for revenue, which inherently requires some kind of definite end point (especially for booking a venue). That’s harder to do with true submission only with no time limits. US Grappling have always managed to finish on time (as far as I’m aware), but then I don’t think they’ve had elite level black belts with big reputations on the line.

    Still, I’d very much like to see a well-run organisation like US Grappling have the chance to prove that no time limit sub only can work even with the big names. Hopefully we’ll see it one day.

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