17 IBJJF BJJ Competition Rules to Remember

Defending the triangle at an IBJJF BJJ Competition

by Jeff Meszaros

There are a lot of things to consider when you sign up to compete in a tournament. You need to make weight, you need to be physically fit enough to win, and you need to have fairly sharp technique. At least, sharper than everyone else. That’s the idea, anyway.

But you also have to understand the rules. Otherwise, you may get penalized or even disqualified for doing something you didn’t know was illegal. Sadly, Brazilian jiu jitsu hasn’t been standardized so what is legal at one tournament might be illegal at another.

The good news is major associations publish their rules online so you can study them before you step on the mat. For the International Brazilian Jiu Jitsu Federation, the rules are on their website. If you’re competing at one of their events, here are a few things to remember.

1, No Slamming Your Opponent

IBJJF illegal slam by Quentin JacksonMaybe you are a big fan of Alexander Karelin and you love nothing more than lifting people up off the ground and then returning them to the Earth like a meteor, but slamming isn’t allowed by the IBJJF.

If you get stuck in an armbar or triangle, you’ll have to escape in a way that doesn’t remind people of “Rampage” Jackson vs. Ricardo Arona. If you don’t know what slamming is, check out that fight or the gif on the right. That’s slamming!

Also spiking someone on their head is not cool. Remember Jake “The Snake” Roberts? He was a pro-wrestler and his favourite move was the DDT. He did it by dropping a person right on their head. As fond of a memory that might be, that’s illegal in IBJJF events.

2, Pulling Guard vs Guard Counts as a Sweep

Sometimes it can be hard to pass someone’s guard. But if your opponent is using their guard and you fall back to pull them into yours, they get 2-points for a sweep. Even if you fall back for a foot lock, if they get out and stay on top, they get 2 points. So, either be the first person to pull guard or, even better, pass their guard and mount them.

3, Don’t Talk to the Referee

There was a time when you could argue with a referee during your match and they might change their mind and see your point of view. But that is over. Now, if you talk to them, you get penalized. So don’t voice any objections to points being called. Just shake their hand at the start of the match and let your sweet jiu-jitsu do the talking.

4, No Stalling Unless You’re at the Top of the Mountain

Once you’ve scored some points, it’s very tempting to coast to victory by running down the clock. If you try that in IBJJF events, though, you may be given penalties for stalling. And those accumulate so on the fourth penalty you’re disqualified. You can only cruise once you’ve reached the mount or the back. Once you’re at the top of the mountain, it’s alright to camp out since you can’t climb any higher.

5, You Have a Time Limit to Tie Your Belt

If your belt falls off, just keep fighting. Don’t ask the referee about it and don’t stop to put it back on until they tell you. Even then, don’t expect a breather. You have twenty seconds. If you take longer, you could get stuck with a penalty.

6, You Can’t Leave the Mat to Escape a Submission

A few years ago, at the World Championships, Abraham Marte got caught in a triangle by Rodrigo Cavaca. Quite calmly, he just picked him up and walked off the mat. Then he got DQ’d as that is illegal. If you go off the mat accidentally while escaping from your opponent’s submission, that’s different. Then they get 2 points and the match is restarted standing but you can’t go off the mat while in a submission hold and expect the referee to rescue you.

7, Sweeps Always Involve Using your Legs

If your opponent mounts you and you bridge and roll them off, congratulations. That’s good, but that isn’t points. To get sweep points, you need to start in the guard or half guard. Once someone has passed your guard, any turnovers are reversals not sweeps. So if you’re stuck under the mount, side control, knee-on-belly, or north/south position, turnovers aren’t worth anything, even if they feel like a moral victory.

8, Countering a Sweep is Not a Throw

Sometimes, you need to stand up to finish a sweep and your opponent manages to throw you back to the ground again. But, as long as you land in your guard, that’s not points, no matter how big the throw is. You only get points for improving your position. Making someone go back to where they began a move is not worth anything.

9, Side Control is Not Worth any Points

Some positions are worth points. Like mount and knee-on-belly. If you throw someone or pass their guard and then get to one of those positions you get points for both the throw or pass and for the position. But side control is worth nothing. If you get there, you get your points for passing or for throwing but your don’t get any for the position.

10, Taking the Back is Not Passing Guard

Passing someone’s guard means you move from being between their legs to one where you’re clear if the legs and pinning them flat on their back. That’s either side control, mount, knee-on-belly or North/South. Moving to their back is great, but you don’t get passing points, and you only get the 4 points if you get your hooks in. Even then, you don’t get those points if your feet are crossed or your legs are triangled around them.

11, Neck Cranks Aren’t Allowed

I’ll never forget the fight between Mark Coleman and Dan Severn. For those of you who didn’t see it, that ended with a brutal neck crank as Coleman nearly pulled Severn’s head off. But that was the UFC. If he had done that in an IBJJF event, he would have gotten disqualified because neck cranks only are allowed when they are part of a choke.

12, Not All Throws are Legal

Certain throws that work in MMA, wrestling and judo just aren’t allowed in BJJ competition.  Some of the problematical takedowns include the flying scissor throw (aka kani basami), and suplexes that result in your opponent’s head hitting the ground.

13, The Rules Are Different for Kids and Lower Belts

There are different divisions depending on your age and belt. The younger you are and the whiter your belt is, the less you are allowed.

White and blue belts, for example, aren’t allowed to use bicep slicers, calf slicers, kneebars or toe holds.

Kids of all belt levels aren’t allowed to use guillotine chokes, or omoplatas or Eziquiels. No one wants to see a kid get disqualified so do your homework and make sure they know what’s allowed.

14, You can’t “Reap” your Opponent’s Leg

Bending your opponent’s leg inwards is a no-no under IBJJF rules as it attacks the knee in the same way as a heel hook which is another very illegal move. So, if you are going to attack your opponent’s leg, make sure it is straight or bent outwards, but don’t bend it inwards. Also, don’t push your opponent’s feet to make them look like they are reaping your leg. That’s illegal too.

15, You Have to Pass the Guard

If your opponent sits down in a mixed martial arts fight, you can back up and the referee will tell them to get up so you can knock them down again. But under IBJJF rules, backing away from their guard will get you penalized. It’s your job to pass their guard, not their job to stand up and take you down.

16, Don’t Forget about Advantages, Points and Penalties

When you’re up on points, there’s no need to submit your opponent. When you’re down on points, you’re probably in a position where submissions aren’t at your disposal. This is why, in the IBJJF, most fights are won and lost on points, so don’t ignore the score. And figure out how to read the scoreboard. It’s simple.

When points equal, a ref checks who has more advantages. You get those for almost doing something worth points or almost getting a submission. If advantages are equal, the ref will look to the penalties. If they’re the same, it’s a referee’s decision, based on who came closest to scoring an advantage.

17, You Can be Disqualified Before you Even Get on the Mat

Before you even step on the mat, you have to pass some tests. One is making weight. If you don’t weigh the right amount while wearing you kimono, then your day ends there. Also, your kimono itself is examined. If it’s not blue, white or black, you need to replace it. If it’s torn or has embroidery in the wrong place, you need to replace it. If it fits like a scuba-diving suit, you need to replace it. If you can’t, you are disqualified.

This is not a Complete Summary of the IBJJF Rules

As you can see, the IBJJF has very involved rules and this is just the tip of the iceberg. There are many more that you’re expected to know about many other things. But if you’re going to put in the time to train and you want to win, you owe it to yourself to read the rules booklet. It would be a shame to get disqualified by surprise.

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