Sunday, February 12, 2017

Jiu Jitsu "Social Media" - A Cautionary Tale

I recently started a minor sensation on Facebook and other social media. Without any intention to do so whatsoever.

I started a snowball rolling by accident and it picked up momentum rapidly, dragging in several "international Jiu Jitsu news sites", and at least one Jiu Jitsu celebrity ... so far.

Fortunately, no one has been hurt by this ... so far. Not even me. As I discuss later, I, and others, could have been less fortunate - and in similar situations have taken serious damage

I train in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu (BJJ), a martial art and competitive sport. I have been doing this for eighteen years and hold a black belt. At 62 years old now, I am not and never was a serious competitor, and competition is not my personal focus. However, I believe competition is part of what keeps the art evolving and growing and I support those who do enjoy and pursue competition, mainly by acting as a referee at tournaments. And some coaching. So I do have an interest in competition Jiu Jitsu and rule sets.

There is no overarching body that controls all BJJ competition. The closest thing is the International Brazilian Jiu Jitsu Federation (IBJJF). The IBJJF runs competitions all over the world, and has a specific rule set it uses. Adults of all ages, and children as young as four, compete.

IBJJF competitions have two strains of BJJ: Gi (where the competitors wear heavy jackets and full length pants, with belts. similar to Olympic judo) and no gi (where competitors wear a rash guard and shorts).

Gi Jiu Jitsu is more complex and allows for more techniques using the grips the gi provides. No gi allows fewer ways to grip the opponent, but tends to be faster and more energetic, without the grips and the friction the gi provides.

There are other organisations with different rule sets, totally separate from the IBJJF. The IBJJF is often criticised for being under the control of a particular Jiu Jitsu organisation, Gracie Barra, and having a rule set which is too complicated, disallows many legitimate holds used by grappling arts other than Jiu Jitsu, and is too often gamed by competitors in ways which make the competition boring to watch, and which are far removed from actual combat. Just saying.

Most of my training and coaching involves IBJJF-legal techniques, but there are a plethora of interesting, very effective, and not necessarily dangerous techniques which are outside the IBJJF rules, but which many of us find fascinating.

A lot of people hate on the IBJJF, but in my opinion without much justification. YMMV.

And there is the old saying: Never ascribe to malice that which can be explained by incompetence.

The Australian branch of the IBJJF is The Australian Federation of Brazilian Jiu Jitsu (the AFBJJ).

While browsing Facebook, I stumbled across a post from the AFBJJ, Western Australian Branch, hereafter called the AFBJJWA.

The post notes a change to competition format.
Dear Instructors and athletes,
Please read the important note regarding Kids No Gi Events.
In line with the accepted International governing body, the IBJJF, the AFBJJ wishes to follow and not allow No Gi categories for Juniors. 
The IBJJF believes and the AFBJJ agrees that No Gi at Junior levels is a poor foundation for Jiu Jitsu. 
Further after consultation with peak insurance bodies, it was established that liability may be evident in Junior No Gi categories, as the International body does not promote them. 
The AFBJJ wishes to fall in line with the IBJJF and not offer nor support No Gi categories for Juniors. 
It can be noted that Juvenile categories (they are those for athletes that turn either 16 or 17 in the said competition year) are allowed. 
We trust that you understand that this is in the best interests of the children's development and safety.
Have a fantastic day.AFBJJ
One apparent (though, as we shall see, inaccurate) implication is that the IBJJF are discontinuing no gi competition for Juniors (up to 15 years old).

I have no personal stake in this. If anything, leaving kids' no gi out would make for a shorter competition day, which for me as a referee, would be a small plus.

Others - those who would no longer be able to charge entry fees for junior no gi competitors, those juniors who might want to compete but can't, no gi-only academies, and those who sell IBJJF-official no gi competition wear, for starters - might feel differently.

I sent the Facebook link to my coach, who runs regular tournaments himself, in a short message. He confirmed in a short reply that it was legit, and that kids' no gi would no longer be offered in kids' competitions run by his organisation.

About here and now is where I stepped on the IED.

I posted on the Reddit BJJ forum, asking whether anyone knew anything about why kids no gi was being discontinued by the IBJJF. I quoted most of the AFBJJWA Facebook post. The responses generated a small amount of heat, but little light. No one knew much.

Reddit BJJ post

I trained at the gym the next day and got some more information from my coach, and one poster on Reddit set me straight on one aspect of the issue. The conclusion that most had jumped to, myself included, was that this was a recent, and poorly implemented, change by the IBJJF.

This was wrong.

But my snowball was already rolling, accumulating debris and irate punters as it careered down the hill, powered by its own momentum, out of my control.

BJJ Eastern Europe took the molehill and made it into a mountain first:

BJJ Eastern Europe: IBJJF Rumoured To Be Discontinuing Kids’ No Gi Competition

They wrote a whole article based on my post on Reddit and the AFBJJWA Facebook post (which was quoted almost verbatim in my Reddit post). I was quoted anonymously as a "verified black belt redditor". Woo hoo.

They saw fit to write an article about a rumour based on a Reddit post, which was about my question about a Facebook post by the AFBJJWA. It doesn't get much more flimsy than that.

No checking with the IBJJF, AFBJJ, AFBJJWA. Not even with me. No apparent attempt made to get any more information from the official bodies themselves, nor from anyone who might actually know.

Not to be outdone, Jiu Jitsu Times got in on the act:

Jiu Jitsu Times - IBJJF: No More No-Gi Competitions For Kids?

And, a couple of days later, a friend alerted me, with some apparent glee, to another article in the Jiu Jitsu "media"..

Chris Brennan, a highly respected American Jiu Jitsu and MMA competitor who has been around forever, mentioned the "ibjjf kids no gi controversy" in a savage lambasting of the IBJJF on that pillar of Jiu Jitsu journalistic integrity, BJJ Eastern Europe:

BJJ Eastern Europe - Former UFC Fighter Chris Brennan Slams IBJJF For Latest Decision: We Can’t Have Corrupt S*it Running The Sport

I've watched your "King of the Kimura" video lots and lots of times, Chris Brennan, and you are a fantastic jiu jitiero, but you and the rest have jumped a whole school of sharks here.

I'm thinking to myself: I've unwittingly created a raving monster out of a vacuum.

What have I done?

So, what actually happened?

The IBJJF themselves run competitions.

The IBJJF have never run kids' no gi competitions. Never. They could not discontinue something they never started. This fact isn't mentioned in their rulebook, even implicitly.

Other organisations run competitions, and many use the IBJJF rules. They may have been running kids' no gi competitions for well over a decade. The IBJJF has very little control over what they do. They did not "stop" anyone running a kids' no gi competition. Nor can they, directly.

The AFBJJ are Australian representatives of the IBJJF. They and other organisations associated with them, tightly or loosely, happily ran kid's no gi divisions in their competitions up until this year.

I don't know who talked to whom, but the AFBJJ realised, or found out, or asked or were told by the IBJJF, that the IBJJF don't run kids' no gi.

The AFBJJ or one of their subsidiaries or officers though that in light of this "new information" that they should check with their insurers that they were still happy with them running kids' no gi competition. The insurers apparently didn't think that insuring organisations running divisions not sanctioned by the AFBJJ's international parent body, the IBJJF,  was a great idea.

So, no insurance for a kid's no gi division? You'd be foolish to even think about running it then, wouldn't you?

So, the AFBJJ announced they wouldn't be doing it any more.

If you wish to run a kid's no gi competition, the IBJJF can't stop you. You just need to find a different insurer prepared to cover you. In Australia, the precedent set by the AFBJJ might complicate finding a willing insurer.

I'm getting this info third hand at best (Unlike BJJ Eastern Europe, who were getting it fourth hand, and Jiu Jitsu Times, who were getting it fifth hand). But, if I'm right:

  • The IBJJF haven't changed anything.
  • The AFBJJ's insurers' reluctance to cover kids' no gi left them little option but for the AFBJJ to cancel that division in their competitions.
  • Any other competition organiser using the AFBJJ's insurers, or any other insurer who might view their involvement similarly, would probably have to do the same.
  • The AFBJJ and others affected could seek an alternative insurer, prepared to cover kids' no gi competition. If such an insurer exists, and the organisations thought the search would be fruitful and worthwhile.

This is about insurance. It's not about the IBJJF taking preemptive steps to prevent the next generation of the Danaher Death Squad, or Eddie Bravo's students, from getting a foothold from which to start the slow destruction of the IBJJF empire.

About insurance, not control.

Among some comments on the related Facebook posts and articles:
This is such bullshit
Sweet Christ ... BJJ is eating itself and ruining the art.
The beginning of the end of the biggest organization, already buggered up with more rules than any other organization.
Zero to do with kids safety...everything to do with the politics of pushing kids toward the gi (Brazilian jiu-jitsu) in a time when no-gi is becoming more and more popular.
This is a good read. (me - WTF??????)
 I think IBJJF is ridiculous stupid. 

Other people have made fairly innocuous comments on different subjects on the web and suffered very badly for them. Some of these are well documented in the book So You've been Publicly Shamed, by John Ronson. He also wrote "The Men who Stare at Goats" and "Them".

"Them" describes how he sneaked into a meeting of the Bilderberg Group with Alex Jones, a journalist and broadcaster well known to conspiracy theory buffs.

I feel as if I have fallen into a similar reality tunnel as Mr Jones.

Be careful out there on the internet. No telling what can happen as a result of your innocent, well-intentioned posts. Some call it the Wild West, after this it feels more like a portal to the Bizarro dimension.

I Started a Joke

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