At some point in your journey with Brazilian Jiu Jitsu your coach might encourage you to compete. The International Brazilian Jiu Jitsu Federation (IBJJF) is known for hosting one of the largest and most competitive tournaments all around the world. Many other competitions end up adopting most of their rules, and many gyms use the IBJJF standards for belt promotion.
If you are looking to test your skills, an IBJJF competition is the place to do it. But before you jump on the mat to get the tap, you might be surprised to learn there are some moves (and gis!) that could get you disqualified. This article will tell you what you need to know to be prepared for your next IBJJF competition.
IBJJF Scoring System (How to Win)
“Winning” in an IBJJF tournament can be done one of three ways. The first is by having more points than your opponent when the timer runs out. The second is winning by an advantage point (in the event of a tie on points). The third, and best way, is you forcing your opponent to tap (or go unconscious). The IBJJF rules forbid matches from ending in a tie, if you tie on points and advantages, the referee decides a winner.
The IBJJF awards points as follows:
|4 Points||3 Points||2 Points|
|Mount, Back Mount, Back control||Guard Pass||Takedown, Sweep, Knee on belly|
All positions must be held for 3 seconds in order to secure points.
It should be stated that these positions are narrowly defined. For example just having a seatbelt grip on someone does not count as back control. In order for the referee to count your back take, you have to get both your hooks inside your opponents legs for 3 seconds.
*It should also be noted that having a mounted triangle does not count as a full mount position, and no points will be awarded.
These rules encourage a clean game. Although it might be tempting to go for a quick sloppy submission in the hopes you might get a tap; you are awarded points for establishing dominant control. It is also possible to build a strategy around points, winning every match without a single submission or even a submission attempt!
A common strategy to rack up points you see early is using a position like knee on belly. An athlete will go from side control to knee on belly for three seconds, get his points, and go back to side control. In this case, however, a competitor cannot receive more points for returning to knee on belly.
A competitor must be advancing position, and if they intentionally relinquish the position they will not be awarded points again.
The IBJJF rules encourage engaging your opponent, and penalize disengagement. An advantage point is a point awarded when you are unable to secure a position for a full three seconds. An example would be if you took mount but your opponent escaped before the three second mark. You would still be awarded one advantage for nearly completing the mount.
Advantages are also awarded for attempted submissions. If the referee decides that you were near completing a submission, they may award you an advantage point.
Advantage points can also be awarded after a match is over! (But before the results have been announced.) If two athletes are tied, the referee may award an advantage point to decide a winner. Advantage points are left completely to the referees decision and you might see some angry coaches at your first tournament.
Advantages only decide the outcome of a match if two competitors are tied on points.
The quickest and most exciting way to win an IBJJF match is by submission. This part of the IBJJF rules is pretty straightforward. If you tap with your hand, foot, or say tap the match is over. The referee also has the power to stop the match if he feels an athlete is in any kind of serious danger.
*According to IBJJF rules a scream also counts as a tap. If an athlete screams in pain, or discomfort, the referee should end the match right away.
Don’t be afraid to tap in competition. Remember at the end of the day, a medal isn’t worth as much as a hospital bill. Suffering a catastrophic injury may also take you out of the gym for months, and make any training you do in the future more difficult. Being competitive is great; but Jiu Jitsu competitions are just a sport, and not worth your health!
IBJJF Fouls (How to Lose)
Brazilian Jiu Jitsu is considered to have rather lenient rules compared to other martial art competitions. The IBJJF is where you will meet some of the most aggressive and fearsome competitors. However the IBJJF is known for being extremely strict with the rules they do have, often disqualifying individuals so quickly they may not even realize what they did until after it’s over.
The IBJJF has different levels of fouls, and different penalties for each. The kinds of IBJJF fouls are:
This can be anything from profane language, to rude gestures, or general unsportsmanlike conduct. The referee has the power to disqualify someone “at the moment of infraction” even if the match hasn’t started, or is already over. Thankfully BJJ has a great community and this is rarely a problem. Be a good sport!
As stated above, the IBJJF punishes people for not engaging their opponent. This would be an example of a technical penalty. A common example of this is stalling (when someone is up on points and chooses to stay in a position to run out the clock rather than engage).
These kinds of fouls are dramatic versions of technical fouls. Like if someone kept leaving the match area in order to have the fight restarted. The IBJJF recently stated that if an opponent stands up or disengages to avoid a sweep/submission; the opponent would be awarded two points.
If a competitor receives 4 serious penalties they will be disqualified.
In the event of competitors tying on points and advantages, the competitor with fewer penalties will be awarded the win.
These kinds of penalties are illegal moves like the suplex, or a spinal lock (Like the big brother choke.) The penalty for one of these moves is immediate disqualification. However, it should be noted that more moves are legal at higher levels. For example, for no-gi competitions the heel hook is now legal at brown belt.
Banned IBJJF Techniques By Rank
Here is a list of the current IBJJF illegal moves. Using these moves (even if your opponent taps) will result in disqualification.
Getting disqualified is one of the saddest things to watch in an IBJJF match. Especially if the person who is getting disqualified is up on points. Disqualifications in IBJJF matches happen very quickly and often happen because the athlete doesn’t understand the rules. At white belt, slamming is probably the most common cause of disqualification.
Any time your opponent is playing guard it is illegal to raise their back off the ground and drop them back. Also illegal are takedowns that force your opponent to land on their head or neck, like a suplex.
You will know the referee has issued a disqualification ruling because they will stop the match, and hold up their arms in an “X” shape. Many times they won’t even explain why they have made the ruling unless they are asked. According to the IBJJF rulebook, the referee is the highest authority in the match and the final say no matter what.
IBJJF Hygiene Rules
The IBJJF mandates athletes have good hygiene (and for good reason). Obviously no one who has a staph infection should be allowed to compete! Also you wouldn’t want to roll with anyone who has long finger- or toenails. One of the IBJJF’s stricter rules is that competitors must tie up long hair. Also, temporary hair dye that can stain someone’s gi or the mat is forbidden.
IBJJF Uniform Requirements
You might be surprised to learn that during your weigh in a referee will also check your gi. Some gis are made of high GSM (grams per square meter) fabrics or are woven in such a way they make it hard to get grips on them. These gis are illegal. This is where the IBJJF is different from other competitions is their strict rules about uniforms.
Another uniform requirement that you may find surprising is that it is illegal to wear cups, or any kind of genital protection. The reason why is it might make an armbar more dangerous, and it might hurt the opponent during combat.
Rules for the Kimono
First and foremost, the IBJJF only allows gis that are white, royal blue, or black. Any other color like red or green is forbidden. Also there can’t be any mismatched colors: you can’t wear black pants and a white kimono. It is also illegal for you to use a gi containing multiple fabric colors, like a contrast-color lapel.
One of the most strict rules they have is also the length of your gi. It is not fair to other athletes if someone wears a gi that is too small. At your weigh-in they will measure to make sure your sleeve hangs 5cm down from your wrist. They will check your sleeves with a measuring tool.
If all these rules aren’t enough, the IBJJF also has strict rules for where patches are allowed on the gi. This is why you might have seen people wearing gis that have really awesome patches in strange places. The reason for this rule is that the IBJJF doesn’t want to impede anyone’s ability to grab a lapel, or sleeve.
The IBJJF says athletes should have a belt four to five centimeters wide, and should be tied twice around the waist. If you are able to tie your belt well during class, then the normal way you tie it should be fine. If your belt comes undone during the match, the referee may stand you up and give you time to retie it.
If you and your opponent are wearing the same color gi, one competitor will be given a multi-colored belt to tie around you so the ref can tell the two competitors apart. If this happens to you, just tie this over your normal belt.
The IBJJF runs competitions that are professional and on time. This means they are incredibly strict and known for not being lenient with their standards. This is both the best and the worst thing about them. Since they are the largest company that organizes competitions, many gyms also adopt their standards for belt ranks, making problems even more difficult.
You might’ve heard the most recent controversies about Robert Degle and Mica Galvao. Both of these practitioners are known for being extremely accomplished in IBJJF competitions, submitting multiple black belts. However due to IBJJF regulation they are unable to compete at the black belt level.
Other controversies around the IBJJF revolve around illegal moves like reaping, when someone in a leg entanglement position moves their outer foot over their opponent’s midline. The IBJJF claims this puts pressure on the knee and made it illegal.* Many have voiced outrage over this rule, arguing it is not particularly dangerous.
*The IBJJF has responded to criticisms regarding reaping and no longer automatically disqualifies competitors who accidentally reap their opponents.
It’s important to step into an IBJJF competition knowledgeable and with a game plan. There is nothing more disappointing than preparing for a big competition, only to find out you don’t have the right gi at the door. The IBJJF may seem intimidating but the rules are for your protection (and sometimes your annoyance). It’s important to have fun and be safe!
Jack is a BJJ blue belt, and holds a bachelors degree in English Literature.
“He enjoys traveling, reading, and the Bow and Arrow choke.”
“He hopes to one day start teaching English overseas, and become a published author.”