The BJJ world has been buzzing over the double disqualification of Keenan Cornelius and Paulo Miyao after their snooze-fest of a match at the 2013 Abu Dhabi World Pro Jiu Jitsu tournament. Watch the match, but only if you can endure the boredom. The only person in this video who does anything interesting is the referee who issues three warnings and ultimately disqualifies both competitors, to the obvious relief of the crowd.
Get in my Guard, bro!
I believe this is a defining moment for Jiu Jitsu. It is now impossible to ignore the fact that the disruptive reboot of Kodokan Judo that changed everything in 1993 has mutated into the static, uninspiring combat sport it is now. It is a combat sport whose top competitors have sat on the mat, scooted toward each other, and assumed the “50/50” position – an arrangement better known in the LGBT world as “scissoring” – for the duration of their match. It’s embarrassing, really. It’s like something you’d come up with to make fun of Brazilian Jiu Jitsu. We are witnessing the rise of Booty Scoot Jiu Jitsu. It would be funny if it weren’t so tragic.
My first Jiu Jitsu coach used to say that every martial art starts as a legitimate system for unarmed combat and that people, who are morally weak, pursue short term goals like chasing medals. This causes the martial art to devolve into one of two things: Sport or Dance. He didn’t use the term “Medal Chaser,” but most of you know to whom and to what I’m referring.
Brazilian Jiu Jitsu is not immune to the “Sport or Dance” trap. Helio Gracie developed a novel fighting system that changed no-rules fighting. Those who train only to compete in grappling tournaments have made a conscious decision to depart from the art’s hard-knock origins. Sport Jiu Jitsu has become such a different beast that I don’t think a single name is sufficient to contain both the body of techniques one studies for MMA, Combatives, or self-defense, and this new sport that everyone wants to play. It’s clear enough what Sport Jiu Jitsu is – it’s right there in the first word. It’s a combat sport, just like Judo, or Fencing.
Some call it ironic that the first place went to Kaue Damasceno, who was disqualified in the semifinals for slamming Keenan. I say this just sends the message that, in this combat sport, passivity is seen as a greater sin than over-aggressiveness. That should be obvious enough. If Jiu Jitsu is a Sport, then it’s also entertainment.
Are you not entertained?
Sport is entertainment, and entertainment is spectacle (Spectacle, from the latin spectare, to watch). Every professional sportsman labors in the service of spectacle. He or she lives on money that starts out in the hands of spectators (there it is again) and sponsors. All combat sports enforce activity: The boxing ref breaks up the clinch. The Judo referee stands the Judoka up after 30 seconds of ne waza. And apparently, Abu Dhabi’s refs will disqualify you for playing Booty Scoot Jiu-Jitsu.
Let’s go back to Keenan and Paulo’s match. It amounts to a bunch of grip fighting and ineffectual ankle-groping. Neither opponent is willing to take any appreciable risks from the outset, opting instead for unconventional tactics like the upside-down guard Keenan tries in the first minute of the match. While both competitors appeared at times to be looking for submissions, there was no attempt to improve position. The match is a stalemate from the get-go. The cheer from the crowd after the ref announces the double DQ says it all: They were not entertained.
I feel bad for these competitors, as they are professionals who worked hard for a paycheck and walked away with nothing. But in the end they have chosen, as their profession, to be competitors in Sport Jiu Jitsu, an evolving and unpredictable job that didn’t even exist ten years ago. They have committed a great sin: that of being entertainers who are not entertaining.