Here’s How The BJJ Tournament Ruleset Affects The Style You Play

Joining Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu tournaments is one of the most realistic ways to test your grappling skills. As the saying goes, you cannot cheat the grind, and your skills reflect the time spent on the mats. While constant skill improvement is always the goal, when it’s time to test yourself in competitions, the ruleset may dictate the landscape of a match. In this article, we will discuss how a BJJ tournament ruleset affects your style.


The BJJ Ruleset

Every BJJ ruleset is unique, and matches can be approached differently depending on the ruleset of the competition. Some may be fast-paced, while others may take time, depending on the length of the match. Each has its own strengths and weaknesses and, therefore, requires different strategies heading into the competition. Let’s discuss below how some BJJ matches are approached depending on the ruleset.


No Time Limit

The no-time-limit and submission-only ruleset are often regarded as the purest form of grappling. In this ruleset, the point system and the subjectivity that comes from referee decisions are thrown out the window. Two grapplers will fight, and the one who submits the other wins.

This ruleset is the easiest to understand as it relies on the primal instinct of which of the two grapplers can make their opponent quit and win. It doesn’t need to rely on complex rulebooks containing points, penalties, and advantages. No points, rounds, or judges will determine who’s the winner. You must submit the opponent or make them quit, regardless of how long the match takes.

Generally, in this setup, grapplers pace themselves up, building the intensity for the later minutes of the match without giving an inch or opening for their opponent. While the grappler that submits the other is considered the winner, approaching the no-time limit with a fast pace, looking to hunt for the submission directly and finish the match as quickly as possible could be better. Assuming that both grapplers are on the same skill level, conditioning comes into play as playing at a steady medium intensity and not wearing yourself out while making the opponent work, for the most part, will cause them to fatigue.

This, in turn, will drastically decrease their performance, causing them to open up positions that can put them in an inferior one. While finishing the match as early as possible is ideal, the advantage of aiming to do so is that the opponent is not as slippery, as there will be less friction late in the match, allowing them a tighter hold over their limbs and, thus, better control over the submissions.

Taking the opponent down as the match starts is always an advantage and shows your dominance, though rushing in and draining your gas tank early on may put you in a vulnerable position. As Sun Tzu said, appear weak when you’re strong and strong when you’re weak. This is why some grapplers prefer to pull guard in this ruleset to conserve energy and effectively set up their attacks later.


Submission Only

Unlike the no-time-limit submission-only ruleset, there is also a version of the submission-only with a time limit. To win, a grappler must submit the opponent or make them quit by tapping or a verbal tap by yelling from the excruciating pain of a submission. Matches typically range from 6-8 minutes for colored belts, and no points are awarded to either participant in the first round. Some tournaments use the format of going into overtime if both grapplers aren’t able to submit one another and start implementing the point system from there. In contrast, others do not and leave the decision to the judges after the overtime.

Typically, grapplers engage at a medium to high pace of grappling exchanges in this setup. Depending on your style, scoring a quick takedown that will land you in a dominant position is ideal. Good control over the dominant position often leads to a submission opening. For example, finishing the submissions can be pressure or speed-based when passing the guard.

Some grapplers are swift at applying submissions, while sometimes they may lack control, and others prefer total control and slowly pressure their opponents into submission. Overall, competitors under this rule are more eager to pull off a submission than in your regular tournaments, so always remain aware and safe.



Under the IBJJF, likely the most used ruleset, grapplers lean towards effectively controlling their opponents in a dominant position over time. However, this does not mean that grapplers will start stalling once they get into a dominant position, as they may be penalized for passivity by the referee. Getting into a dominant position means that the grappler on the bottom must look for ways to escape, and the grappler on top must effectively neutralize the opponent’s attempts while constantly creating a threat to attack.

Slams are prohibited, and there are three ways to win: submission, points, or advantage if the scores are tied as the time expires. There is no way better than the other, but generally, competitors of the IBJJF may start slowly and build their intensity and pace up after the first few minutes. It depends on your competing style, as some may prefer to start with a takedown immediately and finish with a submission. However, the eagerness to pull off a submission is slightly disregarded, as you can win matches through the point system.


ADCC Rules

The ADCC ruleset is somewhat a combination of submission-only and a scoring system. In the first half of the match, no points will be awarded, which means grapplers only have the submission as a way to win. In the second half, they add negative and positive points to win. While it may depend on the tournament, nationals, and open championships are 6 minutes, and the final round is 8.

As we see in the ADCC World Championship, matches usually start at a slow to moderate pace, though remember that the qualifying rounds in the ADCC World Championships are 10-minute matches. Playing at the trials, national, and open championships due to the less competition time, grapplers may have to play at an increased intensity while still able to sustain it throughout the match. Hunting for submissions is still the goal, especially in an ADCC ruleset; therefore, expect your opponents to be aggressive as they come.



Each ruleset is unique. As a competitor, it is essential to scrutinize a competition’s ruleset to understand its nuances for the best possible results. Having this goal in mind will keep your strategy fluid and precise.


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