Blue Belt Journal: A Review of Gracie Nationals

 By Benjamin Bieker

First, lets start off with a bit of a disclaimer in that this is an opinion based review, and that anything professed or stated in this article is my thoughts alone. In no way is this a general consensus or everyone’s belief. Just my own. With that out of the way lets get into it and take a look at Gracie Nationals 2013 the Gi portion which took place on January 19th. 


First, with almost any tournament you go in knowing there will be delays, misinformation, and general uneasiness as you go onto the mats to compete. The Nationals runs a bit different than all other tournaments as it is 15 minute rounds with submissions being the only way to win, and the finals go until someone actually is submitted. For example, one of the purple belt finals at this competition lasted nearly one and a half hours, and at the hour mark both combatants walked from the mat to get a drink of water. When the ref asked them what they were doing, they said that it is an unlimited time limit, and they both needed water. 


So, with this very different format the tournament would run as you would think different.  With six mats the officials decided to run different weight classes on each mat, and as the bracket finished they would move to different age groups and belt levels accordingly. Of course, they start out with the black belts and work their way down, but being at the lower belt levels you were not sure where or when you would end up competing when the possibility of hour long matches can happen at any given time. So, while the idea of running different weight classes per mat seems to make sense it did not translate well to into reality. 


You have participants waiting hours, and could have brown belts competing at the same time as blue belts. This must have made it hard for coaches to corner their students, because where other tournaments separate the belts the length of matches ended up bunching everyone together. Plus, it was very difficult to know when your bracket was called since you could not range it on if your same belt level was warming up, but you had to watch for your weight class instead.


They had positioned the warm up area behind the announcers booth which would have been fine at any other tournament ran in a gymnasium, but this tournament ran in conjunction with the LA Fitness Expo. So, while it was already hard to hear the announcer being behind them, anything that would have been heard was drowned out by the couple thousand people, demonstrations, and haggling going on in the actual expo. Luckily, the tournament was positioned all the way in the back of the Expo which kept a lot of people away, and made for a semi-peaceful environment among the madness going on around it.


As stated before, these are the type of things you have to know are going to happen at a tournament, because no matter how much planing is put into it there will always be something wrong. Whether it is people not showing up, backing out of matches, injuries, or just everything running behind on time it is hard to put on such a massive event on without a few hiccups. Obviously, the noise level was quite different, but anyone willing to put their body on the line has to be ready for anything. 


In terms of my actual experience within the tournament, it was interesting to say the least. When you cover something from a journalistic aspect of filming, taking pictures, and getting quotes it is different than actually getting onto the mats or into the cage and competing. I cannot say that it takes your mind out of the game, because that would be making excuses, and that is not what I am here to do. To sum it up, I went out in the first round, and I was none too happy.


If it was a points based match I was in control well through the eighth minute, but when you have someone continually attacking for a move you are not used to defending it is hard to keep concentration. The Gracies, unlike any other tournament, at the blue belt level allow leg locks and knee bars. This was something I knew beforehand, but not something that I expected to have to defend so regularly through a match. 


In most tournaments, these type of moves are not allowed until the brown belt level, and most schools do not teach how to apply them until the students are at that level. So, in my thinking matches would go as normal with just regular moves allowed for blue belts. Plus, in my eyes, moves that attack the knee or leg are very dangerous, and they can very easily hurt an opponent. So, when that was the first submission my opponent tried to throw on it threw me off. At about the ninth minute he completely locked the knee bar out, and I was forced to tap. 


I was smart and did not fight it off, because i could have very easily blew my knee out defending it. Unfortunately, other people fought it too long, had those types of moves put on them incorrectly, or just the natural viciousness of the move played a factor. Multiple people were unable to walk away from the mats, because their knees would not allow them too. This was more seen at the blue belt to purple belt level where the knowledge of the moves is not known. This is not a reflection of the tournament, because they are just allowing for all the moves in an arsenal when competing which is fine. It is more a comment on the competitors diving for these moves at all cost.


When learning Jiu Jitsu you are taught it is the art of self defense. The teachings of beating someone with technique in the absences of strength. That is what the Gracie Nationals tries to perpetuate in their 15 minute rounds. When you are exhausted, your muscles have failed, and all you have left is your knowledge are you still going to be able to pull out a win? Well, too many participants took the change in rules as a way to power through techniques above their knowledge and to get a win at all cost.


That mentality is goes against the real definition of BJJ, in my mind, and once again what the teachings the Gracies have tried to instill in their students. So, while the concept and ideals behind the Gracie Nationals is great in concept, it along with many other tournaments, get muddled in facts they cannot control. The exposure that the Expo brings to BJJ, the allowing of all moves, and running mats by weight class while all valid ideas, but they did not translate well into reality, for me. 


Now, you may ask someone else, and they could have loved the format. Maybe I am just jaded from the loss, but to me it is more than that. It is a failure of the teachings and game plans from competitiors that want to win at all cost. The real question past the win remains. Can you beat me on a setting of just technique without powering through moves you don’t know? That may be a question I never have answered, and is the biggest let down for me.


Stay tuned for next week when I review the All Americans ran by the NABJJF organization.


Check out some matches here!

Javier Vasquez’s match

Black Belt second round match

Brown Belt match

TechGasp Comments Master

About the author

Scotty OTM