While growing up I played and participated in all kind of sports; basketball, football, cross country, baseball, etc. However, my father and brother were heavy into tennis. I learned how to play because I would tag along with them occasionally. They stayed on the courts too long for my tastes though. However, their love and patience for the game translated into many tournament wins, trophies, t-shirts and in my brother’s case, the number one player at his high school and a full scholarship to play tennis.
One extra special perk of practicing so much and being dominating players in tennis was being ranked number 1 on the Men’s and Teens ladder at the Officer’s Club. I grew up in a military family and the Officer’s Club had a huge swimming pool, tennis and golf courts, etc., before it became standard fare for many neighborhoods. My father and brother held their number 1 rankings for the majority of time we were stationed at Ft. Bragg N.C. after they climbed their way up through the rankings.
The tennis ladder worked like this. You had about 20 or so people who were on the list which also provided their phone numbers. You could only challenge the person immediately above you and they had to play you within two weeks or they had to forfeit their position. You would call them up and arrange a date to play and the winner would report the results to the coordinator of the board. Every week the new positions would be published on the ladder in a prominent place for all to see. The results also went out on a Ft. Bragg newsletter at the time. So you could gain even more ‘notoriety’. This was a source of pride for my dad and brother and I received a vicarious thrill through their rankings too. Not everyone is trying to go pro with their sport but this made them top dog in their locale.
I tell this story this to suggest this. What if there was a BJJ Ladder used ‘in-house’ by academies? Now hear me out. I know we try to be selfless in training with our training partners and pals in our BJJ schools. However, if done appropriately I think a Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu Ladder would be a great tool to help motivate BJJ players.
My Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu Ladder would run like this:
1. Establish a category for each belt rank (so people won’t be afraid to participate). You could even have Children’s, Adult’s, Master’s or Absolute divisions (rank and weight). Players sign up first come, first serve. That will determine the initial rankings (it should eventually even out). Then create a chart listing the rankings and provide a telephone and email address so the person can be contacted (or they can challenge in person). They have two weeks to meet the challenge or they forfeit the rank to the challenger. (The coordinator will have to set the criteria for a legitimate attempt to challenge).
2. A player can only challenge the person immediately above them. This will keep a number 10 player who’s having a good day from beating a number 2 player who is having a bad day from disrupting all of the other ranks above 10. The other ranks would have a legitimate argument that they would probably not lose to the former number 10.
3. The challenge would be settled by a best of three (2 out of 3) submission rounds. The rounds would be three to five minutes long (highest rank chooses) with a 3 minute break in between. You can only win a round by submitting your opponent. If there is no winner after three rounds then the ranks stays the same. I know this favors the one being challenged but that person is the higher rank. Further, it can be settled without judges and points and should prevent too much stalling. To make the challenges safe and to remind participants that it is a friendly bout, I would suggest that the grapplers start from their knees and that the coordinator of the ladder strongly suggest to all participants that the competitions are friendly and safe. The winner of the match notifies the person (or instructor) who is coordinating the ladder.
4. The next step is very important. The new rankings must be posted every week and must be in a prominent position for everyone to see. Perhaps it could be published on the school’s website or newsletter if they have one.
In my mind this would serve the BJJ and grappling community in so many ways. First, it will offer a chance for grapplers to regularly test their progress without having to wait 2 to 6 months for a tournament. It will make things exciting as people watch the rise and fall of the ranks and people start to follow other people’s development. It will also give participants a chance to “boast” a little to their family and friends of their ranking at their academy. If any one has an experience like mine no one knows anything about my BJJ school unless I tell them. So if you are at the bottom of the rankings no one has to know and your BJJ buddies don’t care because we have all been there and may go back at any moment.
I also think that it would motivate people to train harder and more often, to become more technical and to start analyzing other people’s games (the people they will challenge) more closely to see how they can beat their style of play. Why? Because they want to be number 1 or would settle for 2 or 3. Further, as there are stakes tied to the outcome of the bout it will help in the mental training required to win matches for upcoming tournaments.
As long as the Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu ladder is ran and conducted with a spirit of fun and goodwill it should be a fun way to keep things interesting.
(If anyone decides to try it let me know how it works out. I would be very interested in the results and remember you heard it from Bakari at JiuJitsu365.)