Most Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu tournaments follow the standard IBJJF rules. These rules are defined by their use of points to reward competitors for gaining certain dominant positions and the actions they take to get there. Other grappling organizations like NAGA and Grapplers Quest have their own rules, but usually follow a format similar to this:
BJJ Point System
4 points – Rear mount
4 points – Mount
3 points – Passing the guard
2 points – Knee-on-belly
2 points – Sweep (from guard)
2 points – Takedown
Advantage points are also awarded for “almost” earning points or getting a submission. Advantages are only used as tie-breakers.
The idea behind the points is to reward the person who is gaining the more dominant positions and seeking to submit their opponent. The value of the positions is roughly matched to how well they lend themselves to effective punching and striking, though some incarnations of sport BJJ positions may no longer fit that goal. This way a winner can be determined at the end of the time limit when no one is submitted.
Some “submission only” tournaments don’t use point systems like this, and the only way to win is by tapping out your opponent.
Competitors start the match standing in front of each other. They are expected to engage each other, and the match continues when it goes to the ground. Unlike grappling sports like judo and wrestling, BJJ doesn’t reset the fight to standing because the competitors went to the ground (though there are rules to prevent stalling on the ground).
Striking, slamming (picking someone up and smashing them into the ground), and dirty fighting (like eye gouging) are not allowed.
Pulling guard is usually legal. This is when one purposefully sits or jumps to guard rather than attempting or defending takedowns.
Certain moves are illegal at different belt levels. For example, white belts can’t do any leglocks, but blue belts and up can do straight ankle locks. Heel hooks are illegal at all levels in gi divisions. Read the rules of your tournament for a full list of allowed and banned moves.
IBJJF tournaments have the same banned moves for no-gi divisions as the gi ones. Other tournaments (like NAGA) that divide no-gi by beginner, intermediate, and advanced (rather than by belt rank) often allow more heelhooks, calf and knee slicers, and neck cranks. Know what rules you’re competing under at each tournament!
Divisions are broken up by belt rank (or experience level), then age group, then weight.
The absolute is the open weight division, where competitors of any and all weights go against each other.
Weigh-ins are usually done while wearing the the gi right before the competitor’s first match.
A referee starts and stops the match, and rewards competitors when they earn points. The ref also issues warnings, penalties, and/or disqualifications for rules violations.
The scores and clock are kept by a scorekeeper at a table next to the mats.
If points and advantages are tied at the end of the match’s time limit, the ref picks the winner.
Here are a few common misconceptions beginners often have about the BJJ tournament rules:
You don’t get points for escaping bad positions. If you are under mount and bridge your opponent over so you’re now on top in their guard, you earn 0 points. Same goes for escaping rear mount, knee-on-belly and side control.
Side control is worth 0 points. Passing the guard is worth 3 points, and people get confused because you often pass to side control. If you are under side control and flip your opponent over, you earn 0 points, since you didn’t sweep them (sweeps are defined as starting in guard and using the legs), and you didn’t pass their guard.
You can’t run out of bounds to escape a locked in submission. If the submission looks like it could end the match, the ref will try not to intervene even if you are almost off the mats. The ref may even bring you back to the middle in the same position and restart from there. (I know a sambo guy who got his arm broken by an armbar trying to drag his opponent into the audience thinking the ref would stop and reset the match.)
Advantages are not always consistently awarded. The ref is making a judgment call about how close a move was to succeeding when he awards an advantage. What’s “close” for one guy might not be that close for another guy, so advantages are often controversial. Here’s the rule most people seem to follow: The ref is wrong when he gives one to the other guy, but you totally deserved yours.
The refs speak Portuguese. The IBJJF rules have the ref directing the match using hand signals and Portuguese commands. Learn what these are so you can behave correctly when you’re not being told what to do in English. IBJJF referee and BJJ black belt Hillary Williams explain these commands here.
Last modified: May 12, 2017