Trends and developments in the competitive Jiu-Jitsu scene
Location: Toronto, Ontario, Canada
Since the onset of sport Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, there has been a constant influx of new techniques and strategies. A definite relationship exists between the techniques that are allowed by the ruleset or organization and the ones being utilized by the competitors. In the past decade or so, certain techniques or positions have emerged to “change the game.” Said techniques have been implemented for their effectiveness, allowing competitors to control or win the match. Here we will take a look at the most popular techniques to have emerged and the impact they’ve had on the art as a whole.
The berimbolo, which literally translates to “scramble,” is a technique that can be said to have revolutionized the sport. The berimbolo, being prized for its flashiness, generally entails using a deep DLR (De La Riva) guard to invert or spin underneath and take the back. Colloquially, this technique is referred to as the bolo. While the goal is to hit a “bolo to the back,” you can also use the bolo to come up on a leg-drag (another popular position for passing the guard) or simply use it to sweep. Brother pairs Rafael and Guilherme Mendes, as well as Paulo and João Miyao, are famously known for being associated with this technique, creating their own variations and succeeding with it throughout their competition careers.
Much like the berimbolo, the 50/50 guard or 50/50 position started to gain more prominence by the early 2010s. Traditionally viewed as a stalling position, 50/50 entails both competitors having their legs intertwined against the inside of the knee. As such, each competitor has equal access to the same types of attacks from this entanglement, hence the name 50/50. The stalling criticism stems from the competitors’ propensity to get “stuck” in this position, teeter-tottering back and forth in an exchange of sweeps1. The aforementioned Mendes brothers have pioneered this position to offer much more for those who truly understand it. While there is no denying 50/50 can be used to slow down the game or hang onto a lead, the position itself is versatile, with options to sweep, submit, pass, and take the back are all at its disposal.
Moving into 2014, American Jiu-Jitsu competitor Keenan Cornelius put the Jiu-Jitsu world on notice with his highly effective “worm guard,” which entails using your opponent’s own lapel to tie them up in order to open up your attacks2. Worm guard is one of many lapel guards Cornelius created, with the others including “reverse de la worm guard,” “squid guard,” and “gubber guard2.” Worm guard can also be used to set up the berimbolo, and lapel grips can be used in combination with 50/50.
The biggest thing to keep in mind with any of the guards or positions we’ve discussed is the type of implications they’ve had for both serious competitors and recreational practitioners in the training room. Those who don’t learn these techniques will be subjected to them from those who do. So even if 50/50 isn’t your game, it’s important to understand this position to deal with it effectively. Furthermore, many of these techniques and their associated strategies have caused rule changes for organizations such as the IBJJF (International Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu Association). Sticking with the 50/50 guard as an example, in 2015, the IBJJF made it so you could no longer score an advantage for a near sweep from this position; an effort was made to prevent competitors from using 50/50 as a means to deliberately rack up advantages1
More recently, starting in 2021, the IBJJF has allowed for heel hooks, and knee reaps to be legal for the adult brown and black no-gi competitors. This is a change that, on the flip side, with the rules influencing the way the game is played (rather than vice versa), 50/50 players now have the inside heel hook as the most pertinent danger from this position. However, this rule change has less to do with the 50/50, as much as it does with the IBJJF being more inclusive to leg-lock/heel hook enthusiasts; competitor registrants they might have otherwise lost had it not been for the rule change. Delving deeper into heel hooks, it must be acknowledged here as well that there has been a boom in the number of people practicing them. Influences such as John Danaher and his “Death Squad” of elite competitors have proven the heel hook’s effectiveness for no-gi, much like Cornelius and his use of the lapel in the gi.
As Jiu-Jitsu continues to evolve, so too will the techniques, positions, and strategies, as we’ve seen. The techniques that are most popular tend to be those tested and proven on the competition mats. Competition organizations, in turn, must acknowledge these trends, and in some instances, change the rules as a result. What will be the next big trend or development to emerge? Time will tell.