BJJ has evolved into a worldwide combat sport with an enormous scene ranging from complete beginners to elite athletes competing professionally. Different levels and organizations do things differently, but how do most BJJ tournaments work?
BJJ tournaments divide competitors into divisions based on age, weight, and skill level to ensure competitive and fair matches. Then grapplers compete in either a single elimination format, where the winner moves forward, and the loser is eliminated, or in a round-robin format, where each competitor faces multiple opponents from his division.
Entering BJJ tournaments is an amazing experience that elevates you as a martial artist. Even as a spectator, it is better to know how everything works to enjoy the experience more, and this article will help you understand how tournaments work and which are the big organizations in the sport.
There are different formats for BJJ tournaments, but the two most popular ones are single elimination, double elimination, and round robin, with the vast majority of big organizations opting for the elimination format. Competitors in tournaments are always grouped in divisions based on age, skill level, and weight.
We will take a closer look at the three common types and their advantages and disadvantages.
Single elimination is the most simple and common system used by the IBJJF, ADCC, and many other organizations. The rules are simple: the winner moves forward in the bracket while the loser is eliminated from the tournament until the gold, silver, and bronze medalists are determined.
Elimination-style tournaments allow for a quicker conclusion. In the case of the IBJJF, there are already so many divisions based on age, belt color, and weight that single-elimination tournaments are the only way to finish a competition in one day.
The downside of elimination tournaments is that you only have one match if you lose in the first round. Given that all tournaments have an entry fee, often around $100, it’s easy to see why many think the price is steep for a single match.
The logic behind double elimination is similar to single elimination: there are rounds, and the winners progress in the brackets. The distinction is that when an athlete loses a fight, he moves to another bracket where he can compete for third place.
The grappler who wins all of his battles receives the gold medal, the competitor who loses in the final receives the silver medal, and the winner of the loser’s bracket receives the bronze medal.
In the round-robin format, you face most people in the division, meaning everyone grapples against everyone in their weight class for up to four matches.
Then the person with the most victories is the winner of the bracket. If there is a tie in wins, other factors are weighed to determine the winner. Here is an example of the largest organization using the round-robin format Grappling Industries:
Most Wins > Most Submissions > Head To Head Match > Most Points Scored
In cases with more than four participants in a weight class, they are separated into pools. After each pool has a winner, the winners face each other in single-elimination matches.
The big advantage of round-robin tournaments is that each participant gets way more experience. Those who lose a lot will still have four matches in a single day.
Different Organizations Hosting BJJ Tournaments
In House Tournaments
In-house tournaments are a great practice by many BJJ academies to allow students to feel the thrill of competitions in a domestic atmosphere.
This is an excellent option for white belts and beginners who feel more comfortable competing in the gym they know and in front of familiar people. Additionally, the opponents are rarely strangers, even if they are from a different gym, making sandbagging impossible.
IBJJF stands for the International Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu Federation. Carlos Gracie Jr. created it, and it is the most prominent BJJ organization on the planet, hosting many tournaments worldwide each year. The IBJJF hosts gi and no-gi tournaments, which are always single-elimination brackets.
In addition to smaller tournaments, the big events of the IBJJF called Grand Slams are the Brazilian Nationals, the Pan Jiu-jitsu Championship, the European Championship, and the World Championship.
Many domestic organizations, like the United States Jiu-Jitsu Federation, are branches of the IBJJF, and the rules and rankings are according to the main organization. The IBJJF has the safest rules, with many regulations and restrictions on dangerous techniques depending on the age and belt level of the practitioners, making it the perfect choice for beginners.
The IBJJF has a detailed ranking system for all its athletes. Rankings are based on points earned in tournaments by winning a medal. Points are distributed for weight division medals and open-class ones.
1st Place- 9 pts; 2nd Place- 3 pts; 3rd Place-1 pt
1st Place-13.5 pts; 2nd Place- 4.5 pts; 3rd Place-1.5 pt
These points are then multiplied by a number determined by the weight of the tournaments. For example, the World Championship has a weight of 7, the other Grand Slam tournaments are 4, and most domestic tournaments are 1. All the tournaments in a year are organized into a season, and each belt rank and age group has a separate ranking.
Here is the full information on how the IBJJF ranking system works: https://ibjjf.com/athlete-ranking-info#
As you can see, the IBJJF has a well-organized structure spread worldwide, creating a highly regulated and competitive scene fully capable of moving the sport forward and constantly bringing the competition up.
The Abu Dhabi Combat Club tournaments are not strictly BJJ but rather submission grappling, bringing together grapplers from different styles. ADCC tournaments are no-gi, although you can choose to wear one. The ADCC is considered the Olympics of grappling, and winning the World Championship is highly prestigious.
Reaching the World Championship can be done only through qualifying tournaments called trials. There are also open and national championships using the ADCC tournament format and rules.
The main ADCC World Championship and Trials are contested only by people over 16 years of age, but all the rest of the tournaments have different age and experience divisions. The experience in grappling the practitioner determines the experience levels has:
Beginner- Less than 2 years of experience
Intermediate-From 2 to 4 years
Advanced- More than 5 years
Professional- More than 5 years
The only big organization holding regular round-robin tournaments is Grappling Industries. They operate mainly in the USA but also hold a few events worldwide every year. All of their events have gi and no-gi matches, and similarly to NAGA, they use the IBJJF rules for gi and their own set of rules and divisions for no-gi submissions grappling.
The North American Grappling Association is another big BJJ organization holding frequent tournaments, mainly in the USA, with a couple of events abroad. The tournaments are gi and no-gi, but the main focus is on no-gi. NAGA uses the IBJJF rules for the traditional gi brackets, but it has its own ruleset and groups for no-gi.
The most notable difference is the divisions. NAGA uses experience level rather than belt rank to divide competitors. Here are the NAGA age and experience divisions:
- Children (13 years of age and under)
- Teens (14-17 years of age)
- Adult (18-29 years of age)
- Master (30-39 years of age)
- Director (40-49 years of age)
- Executive (50 years of age and older)
- Novice – 6 months & under of grappling experience
- Beginner – 6 months to 2 years of grappling experience
- Intermediate – 2 to 5 years of grappling experience (blue belts must compete in at least Intermediate)
- Expert – 5 years & over of grappling experience (purple, brown, and black belts must compete at Expert)
While the elite grapplers in ADCC and IBJJF are considered professionals and earn money from tournaments, these organizations also have a lot of beginner brackets.
Other organizations like EDI, Combat Jiu-Jitsu, Polaris, Fight 2 Win, and others operate more like professional fight promotions, each with different formats and rulesets, and only elite grapplers participate.
If you are a beginner with limited or no competition experience, you should concern with the tournament format of these events only from a viewer’s perspective.
Tournaments are a vital component of Brazilian jiu-jitsu and a big reason for the sport’s worldwide popularity. Organizations like the IBJJF and ADCC have elevated the level and visibility of BJJ and submission grappling, making it one of the world’s premier grappling sports.
Most BJJ tournaments work on a single elimination format where only the winner moves forward. However, things like double elimination and round robin are still used, although to a lesser extent.