Grappling Bulletin: You Shouldn't Be Mad About The IBJJF Heel Hook Rules

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Hello grappling fans, welcome to 2021. We can’t forget 2020 but we can move on as quickly as possible. I’m sure you feel the same in hoping that 2021 will be an easier ride and things return to some semblance of normal. 

We’re already on track. There are many events confirmed for the next three months, including our own flagship promotion Who’s Number One (aka WNO). Fight to Win have hit the ground running with weekly shows booked for Miami in January, and month-long stints in Dallas and Austin in February and March, respectively. The IBJJF announced their first event of the season, a gi and no-gi event scheduled for early March in Texas. 

With the calendar filling up and events coming back it’s going to be a challenge in keeping track of everything, but leave that to us because Grappling Bulletin is back. 

We’ll bring you all the essential news from around the world. Stay tuned for regular updates from us, and maybe even some surprises in how we deliver this news to you. Say no more for now, but hopefully a nice surprise will be coming your way soon. 

The Heel Hook Rules Got People Big Mad, But Why? 

Late last year we shared the news that the IBJJF would allow heel hooks in no-gi events in 2021. It was, gently speaking, a bombshell piece of news. This was the biggest shake-up to the IBJJF rulebook in a generation, and the resulting discussion (there was a lot of it) was a mixture of excitement and confusion. 

What would the rules look like? Who would they affect? How would they be applied? The only way to know for sure was to wait for the IBJJF’s updated rulebook, which finally came out just after the holidays. 

The rulebook didn’t say much except for which leg locks were allowed (pretty much all of them). IBJJF did drop some clarification in the form of a helpful YouTube video, which we reviewed here

The big takeaway here is that heel hooks and reaping will be reserved for adult brown and black belts only. Twisting leg locks will be illegal for white, blue and purple belts, and will not be permitted in the masters divisions. 

Personally, I thought the no-gi crowd would be excited about the IBJJF finally permitting heel hooks. The rashguard and spats crew had long decried the IBJJF for being out of touch, for being watered down, for being overcautious, for ignoring the growing trend of leg lock development. 

Well they got their wish, but they still found something to complain about. Here are some actual comments in response to our post about the news: 

"It is a good start but reaping, toe holds and knee bars should be legal blue and up too." 

"Wait so as a master's black belt, I can't heel hook? Clownshow."

"Lame. Let masters do it. Open up toe holds and knee bars blue and up. IBJJF will never get my money otherwise." 

"This is bullshit. Why are Masters athletes being seen as lesser in skill than Adult athletes?" 

Arguing with people on the internet is an impossible battle and there can be nothing gained by tackling every negative comment. The only reason I address them in this article is in the hope that by offering them some information, they may educate themselves and consider their viewpoints. 

For the masters competitors complaining about the lack of heel hooks, I'll avoid the obvious concerns of injury and instead say this. The rules are not for you– they never were for you, and you should be happy about that. 

The new IBJJF leg lock rules are an investment in the future. They're for the up-and-comers who until now were training in a very specific style of competition jiu-jitsu that ignored heel hooks completely, and even left them more vulnerable to leg locks as a result. If you are a masters-age competitor who trains heel hooks, you're good. This rule change is to inspire blue and purple belts to get working on those techniques in preparation for their brown and black belt days. That's what you wanted, right? 

One of the biggest motivations for the IBJJF in allowing heel hooks was they didn't want to see jiu-jitsu go the same way as judo. The more rules, the more restrictions there are, the more diluted the art becomes. Judo suffered from rule change after rule change until many of its most effective techniques were removed. 

If you have a problem with the new leg locks rules there are plenty of other tournaments which cater to you, but don't be angry with the IBJJF. They've just given generations of grapplers the green light to train and compete with leg locks. That's something to be very happy about. 

Do Belts Matter In Pro No-Gi? 

Something we've discussed at FloGrappling is whether belts really matter at the pro level. It's true that most elite grapplers active today are black belts, with a few notable exceptions. Nick Rodriguez became an ADCC silver medalist while still a blue belt and was promoted to purple on the podium, but he's about the only example of that. 

This last weekend we saw two high level brown belts operating on the same level as pro black belts. William Tackett and Pedro Marinho both went home from Fight to Win 160 with wins against established black belt competitors. Tackett beat John Combs and Pedro Marinho defeated Gabriel Almeida, with both wins coming by decision. 

Not only are Combs and Almeida high level, they're both ADCC Trials winners. So it goes to show just how good Tackett and Marinho are. But was it a surprise? Not really. 

We named William Tackett as the Breakthrough Grappler of 2020 in our FloGrappling Awards based on his performances over the last twelve months, a run which saw him submit high level black belts such as Fellipe Andrew, Aaron "Tex" Johnson and Jason Rau. 

Marinho had a powerful year too, impressing us with his wins versus Roberto Jimenez, Johnny Tama, Oliver Taza and David Garmo (among others). Known for his brutal guillotine choke, he's already submitted the Jimenez and Tama, two of the best black belts on the scene. 

So does it matter that they're brown belts? I think most people would agree that a promotion to black belt would be a mere formality, given the results they've delivered. It's a reminder that at the professional level, rank is so subjective it shouldn't be the first consideration when making predictions. The belt system is so deeply ingrained in jiu-jitsu that it's hard for people to look beyond it. Jiu-jitsu is a rich art full of nuance, so it's should stand to reason that the belt system isn't always– forgive the pun– black and white. 

Back to the point. I think most people would agree that there shouldn't be a barrier to matching high level brown belts with black belts. The biggest obstacle would be finding black belts who'd accept a match against somebody ranked below them in the entirely arbitrary belt system. Matches should be made based on the merit of your results, and hopefully we see more like these soon– they make for thrilling viewing. 

Coming Up on FloGrappling 

Jan 22: Fight to Win 161 

Cyborg vs Tim Spriggs, Tex Johnson vs Arnaldo Maidana, Diego "Pato" vs Gabriel Sousa, Jason Rau vs Enrico Cocco, plus Rida Haisam makes his sub-only debut on US soil. 

Jan 29: Fight to Win 162

An all-woman showcase of world-class talent. Featuring Talita Alencar vs Gabi McComb, Amanda "Tubby" Alequin vs Nathalie Ribeiro and much more. 

Feb 6: BJJ Stars 

The BJJ Stars Heavyweight Grand Prix will go down live on FloGrappling. A strong line-up with five world champs including Nicholas Meregali, Lucas Hulk, Felipe Pena, Mahamed Aly, Erberth Santos and top Brazilian black belts. Plus superfights with Leandro Lo vs Gustavo Batista and Roberto Jimenez vs Isaque Bahiense. 

The Rising Stars Who Will Compete In The WNO: Jones vs Ronaldo Free Prelims

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Before Craig Jones vs Ronaldo Junior or Gordon Ryan vs Roberto Jimenez, four prospects will fight on the undercard of Who’s Number One on Friday, February 26. Those matches will be streamed live for free on the FloGrappling Facebook and YouTube channels, and will feature four hungry and exciting competitors.

The Grappler Without Fear: Roberto Jimenez Will Face Anyone

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Roberto Jimenez lives by a code. Based on his words, and expressed through his jiu-jitsu, one of the tenets of that code is to let his jiu-jitsu flow.

Based on his actions, another tenet is never to refuse a challenge.

Roberto "Cyborg" Abreu and Roberto Jimenez

5 Must-Watch Matches From Roberto Jimenez

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Perhaps above all things, Roberto Jimenez is known for engaging in dynamic and compelling matches; his only goals: self-expression and the submission.  

Lis Clay Set For First Black Belt Gi Match vs Maria Malyjasiak At F2W 165

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Fight To Win will close out its three-week stint in Dallas with an all-female card. Fight to Win 165 on Saturday, February 27 will be the second ever card featuring women, only; continuing the promotion’s pattern. Fight to Win has scheduled its third all-female event for the third weekend in March in Austin, TX. 

Grappling Bulletin: Lauded by Joe Rogan, Vagner Is On An Unstoppable Run

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Vagner Rocha has been on a tear and though he brings out the haters every time he competes he has fans in high places, including none other than Joe Rogan.

Betting Lines Released For Who's Number One: Craig Jones Vs Ronaldo Junior

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The online betting site BetDSI has released money lines for Who’s Number One: Craig Jones vs Ronaldo Junior.

Revisiting Junny's Unlikely Black Belt Debut vs Geo Martinez

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Edwin "Junny" Ocasio and Geo Martinez had completely different paths to their first encounter at the KASAI Pro 6 Bantamweight tournament in August 2019.

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Vagner Rocha Takes On Two-Time ADCC Champ Yuri Simoes at Fight to Win 164

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Fight to Win will see two no-gi grappling titans face off on Friday, February 19, 2021 as Vagner Rocha moves up in weight to take on two-time ADCC champion Yuri Simoes in the main event of Fight to Win 164. 

WNO: Craig Jones vs Ronaldo Junior Official Event Preview

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Who's Number One (WNO) is back with another stacked card on February 26th, with WNO: Craig Jones vs Ronaldo Junior. The action will kick off at 8:00 ET, with two free prelim matches streamed on the FloSports app, Facebook and Youtube. WNO always brings together the best no-gi talent in the world, and this event is no exception.

Grappling Bulletin: UFC 258 Was Not A Good Night For Jiu-Jitsu

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Grappling fans would have found UFC 258 hard to watch as two of jiu-jitsu's top representatives in the Octagon fell to their opponents. We look at what went wrong.