Why We’ll Never See BJJ in the Olympics


EDIT: I’ve polished this up and it’s now in the articles section. Please check out that version instead.

When I see Facebook groups like “Get Grappling into the Olympics – Need 1,000,000 Followers” I feel pain from how stupid the statement is. There are already three forms of grappling in the Olympics – Judo, Greco-Roman Wrestling, and Freestyle Wrestling. I understand that they probably mean “Grappling” by the FILA definition, but my point stands.

So let’s list the martial arts which are also Olympic sports: the three above (obviously), archery, fencing, boxing, and taekwondo. Karate, sumo, and wushu are also recognized by the IOC, but not contested at the games – this is the same as bowling, tug of war, and chess. The three I see people pushing to get into the Olympics are MMA, BJJ, and “grappling”. This is probably pretty biased, I’m sure there are other sports demanding to be recognized by the IOC, but these are the ones I see based on my interests and community.

So let’s break it down.

MMA

Starting with the obvious – MMA. Pankration was explicitly left out when the Olympics were revived. My basic understanding is that the Olympics are a time of peace. MMA may just be another sport to us, but most people don’t see an athletic competition – they see a fight. My only beef with this explanation is why boxing is still around, but I don’t understand why boxing still exists at all on Pay-Per-View either. Someone’s buying those fights despite being able to watch MMA instead? I think it would be a plausible swap to replace boxing with pankration. That would be as close as MMA would get to the Olympics though – Pankration.

BJJ/Grappling

BJJ… You don’t want BJJ to be an Olympic sport. I know, I know, you want the international recognition that Judo has, but trust me on this one. When the Olympic committee suggests a rule change it happens even if it fundamentally changes how your sport works. My understanding of why we can’t shoot singles/doubles in Judo anymore is that the IOC handed down a suggestion to the IJF to differentiate Judo from Wrestling. I apologize in advance if that’s not true and it’s something the IJF chose to do of its own accord. The point does stand that the rules would shift toward more exciting matches. But what about the bigger issue? How many similar sports does the IOC allow in? With Greco, Freestyle, and Judo, how many other wrestling styles do you allow in before you draw the line? Arguably BJJ is to Judo as Freestyle is to Greco, but what of Sambo? What of No-Gi?

This really hits the point of Grappling not being an Olympic sport. I think it boils down to three axes (plural of axis, not the plural of ax/axe). The jacket, the submission, and standing or the ground. If you’ve read the Magnificent Scufflers two of these will be familiar ways to categorize grappling. Submissions is really tricky because Freestyle comes from American Folkstyle which came from Catch which definitely had submissions. You can still use some submissions as “holds” by not finishing them. But for the sake of sanity, lets use all three axes. Also, you have to remember that standing and ground aren’t exclusive – Judo and Greco both have ground elements – but rather it’s representative of the focus of the sport and where most of the action happens

S/G Jacket Sub
S        Y        Y     Judo
G        Y        Y     BJJ
S        N        N     Greco-Roman
G        N        N     Freestyle
S        Y        N     Gouren
G        Y        N     ???
S        N        Y     No-Gi Judo (or some interpretation of Catch)
G        N        Y     “Grappling” (No-Gi BJJ or some interpretation of Catch)

Three axes, eight options. How many do you do before you say “too similar”? Would someone at home know the difference between BJJ and Judo? Not just us. The common man or woman at home watching the Olympics with little sports knowledge. The common teacher having the school kids present on the sports – how would she explain the difference?

Entertainment

How many times have you sat through a super high level BJJ match and just about fallen asleep because they sit in half-guard fighting over 3 inches of space? Now remember, you’re into this. Imagine what it’s like for someone who isn’t. Three inches that they can’t see and even if they could they wouldn’t understand what’s going on with that three inches. No grappling art should be more boring than tennis, but BJJ seems to exceed on that front. So, what makes grappling fun to watch?

  1. Big throws – I don’t care who you are, watching someone fly head-over-heels into the earth is exciting.
  2. Intense scrambles  – ‘nough said?
  3. Submissions – People understand broken arms. People don’t always understand two points for pulling your leg out from half-guard top and holding it for three seconds before it gets trapped again.

So, how do we make BJJ entertaining? Well, let’s start by teaching everyone throws and preventing them from butt-scooting. The easiest way to do this is to have big points for big throws and negative points for plopping onto your ass. We can increase the number of scrambles by changing the point system to benefit all pinning positions instead of a couple and the notion of passing the guard – points for a guard pass plus points for each hold – kesa, side control, N/S… Oh, and if we want more submission attempts we should give advantages for each attempt which can be considered a practical attempt that would have worked, and we should also reward skillful escapes… Wait, now we have too many rules, how can a ref be an expert at all of that? We’ll take a few out, but for the sake of being exciting we need those throws.

I think you know where I went there. I also think you’re intelligent enough to recognize what’s happened in judo since 1964. I’m not saying BJJ is never exciting. I love a good, exciting match and they do happen. What I am saying is Judo has been modified to BE exciting. Penalties enforce that you have to try to throw which results in big throws and fast submissions. It doesn’t make sense to make BJJ an Olympic sport and try to convince everyone it’s different from Judo. To be blunt, if you want to play in the Olympics, play Judo.

So let’s play Possibilities – The Game of What-ifs.

To qualify for the Olympics is quite a feat. I was lucky enough to read Dr. AnnMaria DeMars blog while writing this one (I had already picked out my topic by perusing LockFlow today). It brought up Olympic qualification and made me remember this. Ferguson made a good point about women’s wrestling. Let’s say two of the top two female judoka are from America. One of them gets to go to the Olympics for judo and the other… gets to go to the Olympics for wrestling.

What if BJJ or grappling became an Olympic sport?
Well, first and foremost BJJ players would be playing against the top Greco, Freestyle, and Judo players in the world for a spot in their own sport. Given that you’d have one qualifier per country (only one Brazilian? Yep. Only one), it’s pretty likely that the judo alternates could win in countries where judo presents a higher level of competition than BJJ. Even countries with Greco alternates who can win by points after adapting their game for the gi stand a chance.

Second, some governing body has to do the rankings for jiujitseros to allow them to qualify. FILA does both forms of wrestling, the IJF does judo. So you can chose one of them or the IBJJF. This ultimately means having the IJF rank people or doing some other form of qualifying matches which means BJJ would have to grow quite a bit. This also means some serious money has to make its way into BJJ. Serious money. It’s expensive to travel all around the world to compete, and with the creation of a world circuit entirely run by the IBJJF (oh, yeah, there’s that caveat, it’d have to be an IBJJF tournament to count for ranking…) you’d be looking at players who need tens of thousands of dollars just to compete, let alone training.

What if Jiujitseros started competing in Judo?
What do you mean, “what if?” Jimmy Pedro Jr. and Marcelo Garcia. I’ve taken jiujitseros to judo tournaments and had them win (albeit on the ground), and I’ve taken judoka to BJJ tournaments and had them win (albeit by dominating standing so that they landed in a pin and just took the easy submission on the guy who couldn’t breathe anymore). This happens. We just don’t have Jeff Glover or Caio Terra doing the Judo world circuit to qualify for the Olympics. They should.

If any jiujitsero can afford to, they should. Do AAU Nationals, do state qualifiers, regional qualifiers, and then USJI Nationals. Compete in judo. Don’t worry about being thrown. Play bad judo. Do a “skillful entry into mat work” and choke people (you will have to be competent standing to not get tossed and you can’t pull guard, but I feel like that’s not asking too much from an Olympic hopeful). Learn the rules so that you don’t get disqualified for pulling down on the head with a triangle. Try. I pay like $20 per judo tournament versus the $80 for one NAGA division ($100 for two…). Worth it.

Something To Prove

What happened to the old days? Catch would compete against Greco. Greco against Judo. BJJ against the world. Right? Those are the stories. Kimura vs. Gracie. The rules have changed, but they’ve changed for everyone. It’s not like BJJ is following some 102-year-old rules that have always dictated how it’s played. Rules evolve. Games evolve. If BJJ wants a place in the Olympics it can pry it from Judo’s cold, dead hands the same way MMA will have to pry it from boxing’s. Imagine if MMA champions went to the Olympics and won in wrestling, boxing, and Judo. Who would then deny that MMA is a sport that transcends the other combat sports? Who then would deny the reintroduction of Pankration? BJJ players have an avenue to the Olympics if they want it. Someone has to really want it though. It’s entirely possible that Keyboard Warriors are the only people pushing for this, and to them I say, “Nut-up or shut-up.” I’m never going to be a professional MMA fighter. I’m never going to be an elite grappler. It’s possible that I’ll win a state tournament and maybe qualify for regionals, but past that, who would I be kidding? I’m a software developer from Wisconsin with a grappling addiction who’s been exposed to a lot of the internet and a lot of the politics people complain about. Guess what, the odds of you doing any better than regionals aren’t much higher unless you’re a lot younger than me or already close to the national/international scene. Even then, they’re pretty slim.

Added: Definitely read SlideyFoot’s post here. It’s a solid perspective which is a bit different and links to a slew of other issues preventing BJJ from being a viable Olympic sport. Included is the link to an MMA thread in which a user named JSho outlined the 33 criteria to be considered.  It’s interesting to evaluate BJJ just on those criteria to realize why it’s not plausible.

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3 thoughts on “Why We’ll Never See BJJ in the Olympics

  1. Great post: I did a short piece a while ago, but I went in a different direction to yours. It continues to surprise me how many people still think BJJ has:

    1) Any chance of ever getting into the Olympics
    2) That it would be a good thing.

    Resounding NO to both.

  2. Pingback: #260 BJJ in the Olympics with GracieMag Editor-in-Chief Luca Atalla

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