We’ve seen it all before when watching tournaments: from turtle-slow belt tying to running around the mat space in celebration, BJJ allows it all – but is it really a bad thing? That all depends on what you expect from a sport based on a martial art. In judo, discipline is of the utmost importance. Judo is mentioned here as a comparison to jiu-jitsu because they share the same roots.
In judo, discipline is upheld for almost every single thing. This includes bowing at the mats every time you enter and exit, making sure all your fingernails and toenails are trimmed, your gi is properly closed and washed, your belt is properly tied and so forth. These are rules that apply in the dojo and at tournaments.
Tournaments have their own additional set of rules in judo. Competitors are to bow in upon entering the mats. They must then bow again before entering the inner circle of the mat space and once more once they reach the ref. All of these practices are formalities, but we have seen that BJJ is not nearly as strict, especially in most gyms. You’ve surely noticed at least once or twice someone at your gym with a horrible smelling gi. In a proper judo gym, they would have been asked to leave. Few instructors put in the effort to even make sure their students tie their belts properly.
But that’s just in class - at BJJ tournaments, we can see guys do all sorts of crazy things; celebrating for 30 seconds after the match has finished, not properly tying their belts for the arm-raise, talking during the matches, or even talking back to refs. In judo, these things are basically forbidden. If you talk during the match or if you take too long to tie your belt, then you get penalized.
BJJ has made an effort to mimic many of these judo rules. However, many are not implemented as strictly as they should be. But the big question is, does it really matter to have all these rules? They don’t really effect how good you are at jiu-jitsu, so what does it matter? It is a matter of opinion, but it comes down to pride in the sport and martial arts and how you want to carry yourself on the mat. If you work at a bank or office, why bother putting on a tie? You can get the same work done in shorts and a t-shirt. Things like tying your belt properly, maintaining personal hygiene, and bowing when entering the mats are reflections of yourself and are also respectful to your teammates and teachers. If you burst into excitement at a tournament, and run in front of your teammates in the stands and cheer while the ref and your opponent are waiting to close the match, it’s disrespectful. If you tie your belt poorly at the end of a match with your gi half open, it’s just messy and can also be seen as disrespectful. Ultimately, it is necessary to have these rules to uphold the image of the sport. Many dream of jiu-jitsu becoming an Olympic sport one day, and having a high level of organization is definitely a requirement.