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Polaris 3 Analysis: Jiu Jitsu vs Submissions

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John Danaher Instructionals

The magnitude of the Polaris 3 card (full results here) and its earth shaking capabilities were well acknowledged prior to its kick off date, and within less than 24 hours since the event’s terminus we had plenty to read from social media fans and BJJ forums regarding the famous invitational.

The general consensus in these (sometimes heated) debates seem to surround the number of draws and the general submission only concept proposed by the show. The majority of fans point towards the EBI ovetime system as the perfect solution for these ties, others, including the current absolute World and Pan American jiu jitsu champion Bernardo Faria, mention for the benefits of the point system (here).

Personally, as a long time fan of the sport, I have always been inclined towards points, particularly if one is to take any type of “street” application from this martial art, but enjoy watching all aspects of grappling. Positional dominance is a big part of what we do, which in no way should be correlated with stalling. In mixed martial arts there are points for octagon control, in judo you get points for waza-ari, yuko and koka, not just ippon and in wrestling there are points for takedowns and the majority of matches don’t end in a pin. Controlling your opponent, even if one cannot get the tap makes sense also in a jiu jitsu contest designed to find out who the best is at grappling… Best at grappling, not at submissions.

The more recent sub only movement revamped by Rose Gracie and her “Gracie Worlds” – now led by Polaris and EBI, proposes something different; “to find out who is the best at submissions”. This has opened the sport to a wider audience other than its practitioners, submissions are something the untrained viewer can watch and understand, positional dominance is a harder envelope to push.

This key difference also allows athletes the play “loose(r)” games without fear of the scoreboard. Has the submission only proposal proved to provide a more excitement than the points system (be it ADCC, IBJJF or any of the numerous options available)? That is debatable and up to the individual, but if you want to check the stats between the two approaches, we wrote something a while back regarding the subject (here).

Unfortunately widening the sport’s viewer base to a less educated audience will have its setbacks. The main one being that these spectators will not be thrilled to see any of heated exchanges provided by a 15 minute grappling match, they are there to see the submissions. The path that leads to the submission; the strategy, the skill level, the athleticism required to even attempt submission after submission as seen last night by Garry Tonon, Jake Shields, Joao Miyao and CO. breeze past this audience without acknowledgment.

In the past Polaris survived without the criticism of these fans by using expert matchmaking, implementing exciting – yet slightly mismatched, bouts for the crowd’s entertainment. An M.O. also used by EBI. This time the formula didn’t work as well as an end product (the sub), but did it deliver entertaining matches? Absolutely.

The EBI proposal to fix the draws issue is not really a solution for Polaris in my honest opinion. The Eddie Bravo Invitational overtime has proved to be a genius idea for the submission only proposal, under a tournament setting. The best way to remove referee decisions from the equation while adding excitement by incorporating overtime rounds from “seat belt” position or armbar control, leaving the ability to advance in the arms (legs and necks) of the athletes. But does it really deliver the best submission artist from that match? Not really, it decides who the best is at escaping/submitting from a set position that was given to him/her. Given, not earned. Basically a penalty shoot-out which makes little sense when there is no title on the line.

The fun thing about submission only is to see grapplers lose their inhibitions and lay it on the line, it is the path to the submission. And although we can say that some of the athletes on the Polaris 3 card opted out of this challenge, the majority went above and beyond. Looking back, I truly cannot remember 60 seconds of stalling in Tonon vs Palhares, Shields vs Agazarm or even Miyao vs Sasa. The prelims matches (often omitted in these social media posts) were also extremely entertaining, particularly those of Alain Pozo and Keith Mackenzie, both providing exciting submissions.

All and all, if a fan can only enjoy watching a jiu jitsu match without seeing a hand raised in the end, even when the challenge provided high paced matches with plenty of entertaining moments, then he/she does not really enjoy watching grappling, just grappling highlights. In my eyes, as a fan of this martial art, I felt pretty entertained throughout the whole event.

Just a man’s thoughts on the matter.

Cover photo by Jiu Jitsu Style.

John Danaher BJJ Escapes

One Comment

  • slideyfoot says:

    Polaris, EBI and others are not true submission only. They are 'submission or time runs out'. True submission only is without time limits, like the good people at US Grappling. Until we see that format put in place, I don't think it's a fair comparison.

    Of course, the problem is that the not-quite-submission-only events that have been popular so far rely on PPV and ticket sales for revenue, which inherently requires some kind of definite end point (especially for booking a venue). That's harder to do with true submission only with no time limits. US Grappling have always managed to finish on time (as far as I'm aware), but then I don't think they've had elite level black belts with big reputations on the line.

    Still, I'd very much like to see a well-run organisation like US Grappling have the chance to prove that no time limit sub only can work even with the big names. Hopefully we'll see it one day.

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