Three Reasons BJJ Doesn’t Need Time Limits (Submission Only Matches)


There are usually three main arguments used against Submission Only matches.  First, people argue that Sub Only builds bad habits for MMA or self defense.  Second, people say that you’ll be here all day.  I call this the “Chicken Little” argument.  Finally, people argue that takedowns and other fundamental BJJ techniques are a part of the game, and should be rewarded as such.  Let’s call this one the “Reward” argument.

Here, I’ll discuss some of these common arguments, giving my take as both a competitor and a coach (as well as tournament promoter).  Take it all with a grain of salt, but please remember that while I do enjoy more traditional matches with points and time limits as well, I’ve been in a unique position to see literally thousands of matches under this format over the last five years, competing in many myself, and coaching students in even more.

1.  Positional Dominance doesn’t always equate to a win in a “real” fight

For those who would make the argument that Submission Only tournaments aren’t “pure” because they allow one person to be positionally dominated by another with little to no repercussions, consider Anderson Silva, arguably the greatest MMA fighter of all time. How many matches has Anderson not only lost on points (assuming standard BJJ scoring for the points), but also been completely dominated? Certainly at least his match with Travis Lutter, where Silva was taken down, passed, and mounted in round one; or both of his fights with Chael Sonnen, where Anderson would have been down by double digits.  Many MMA fights have certainly seen the eventual victor clearly positionally dominated from a traditional scoring perspective.  And yet, there was the definitive finish at the end.

The bottom line is that it’s not over until it’s over.  Points aren’t inherently bad, but to have a fair and balanced group of tournaments for participants and coaches to select from, it’s always good to have variety and options, and US Grappling’s Submission Only tournament series provides just that:  options.

2.  If you have a time limit, and both competitors lose (or there is a draw) if there is no submission, it completely changes the dynamic of the contest.  If one competitor is outmatched and realizes he or she can simply hold on to survive (rather than tap), that makes it possible for him or her to hold on!  However, if there is no time limit whatsoever, both competitors tend to open up and realize that their fate is in their own hands.

More importantly, simple math proves that it can (and does) work!  Check out data from thousands of Submission Only matches.  The average match length is 8 minutes, and as long as that statistic is taken into account, it most certainly can (and does) work.

To paraphrase Royce Gracie, if you’re stuck in the middle of the ocean, but you know that within a few hours a lifeboat is going to come pick you up, you’re most likely going to wait for the lifeboat to arrive.  On the other hand, if you have no idea when (or whether) a lifeboat is coming, you’re much more likely to swim in the direction you’re most likely to find land.  Similarly, if you know a time limit is eminent, but feel overmatched, you may have a tendency to hold on and wait so that you don’t “lose” the match.  Compare and contrast this to realizing that the only way you are going to finish the match is to make the other person tap, or tap yourself!

3.  Transitions from positions are their own reward.  If the takedown is a fundamental part of BJJ that should be rewarded as such, use the takedown to advance your position and set up a submission!  If you believe the mount or back should be awarded a set number of points, show why this position is so dominant for you and finish your opponent.  Many high level judoka and excellent takedown artists have used this strategy to great success in both MMA and sport jiu jitsu in recent years, and I have seen this strategy work well in Submission Only matches quite frequently.

No matter what your opinions are on the subject, I believe they are valid, and should be considered when thinking about the big picture.  Give the Submission Only concept a chance when considering options, and you may be pleasantly surprised by the amazing vibe at all of these events.  People are, across the board, less stressed out when competing.  The typical sense of camaraderie is amplified at these events.  Overall, it’s a fantastic experience every competitor should have at least once!

Having run literally thousands of matches with no time limits whatsoever, we at US Grappling believe that we have cracked the code as to how to make it work, logistically.  If you aren’t convinced, just come be a spectator at one of our events.  There is never a spectator fee at any US Grappling events, so you can come watch at no charge!