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Ego, Humility, and Jiu Jitsu

Don't Be An Ass?

The history of jiu jitsu is a history of unfavorably looked upon techniques--especially where some of the Gracies are concerned.  While Grand Master Helio Gracie showed both wrist locks and even heel hooks, these sorts of techniques have often been frowned upon (if not outright forbidden or circumscribed) at gyms and tournaments around the world. Then there was the turtle guard, 50/50 guard, the berimbolo, etc.--all techniques that have been criticized for their lack of "real world" applicability. While it turns out the 50/50 guard has passed the "street credibility" test when Ryan Hall used it on The Ultimate Fighter to submit two MMA fighters in short order, there is a new hated position/technique in town--the so-called "Donkey Guard" that is being developed by Jeff Glover.

For some videos of Glover using the position in matches and for a brief description of the position, see here and here. At times, the position seems as much a taunt as anything else--which some view as unsportsmanlike (but more on that below). Consequently, it has been met with hostility by some competitors (see here). So, now it has been banned from Gracie tournaments. Here is the justification offered by Rose Gracie (see here):

No Donkey Guard: This is just silly! I can’t even consider this a guard. If you were to do this in a real fight you would get kicked in the groin. So for this reason, this technique will not be allowed at Gracie Tournaments.

So-called "Butt scooting" is banned for the same reason--namely, it's alleged non-applicability in the streets (although it has been used in MMA--but let's leave that inconvenient fact aside for now).

For present purposes, I want to ask whether the "street standard" is a good standard and whether it is being applied consistently. In regards to the first question, I don't see why the street cred argument has any teeth in sport jiu jitsu. For instance, unless you are constantly using punch protection from closed guard, in the street you would be getting punched in the face or headbutted. The same goes for bottom half-guard. If MMA has taught us anything, it's that bottom half guard is markedly more dangerous when your opponent can drop punches or elbows (especially when you don't have a kimono to grip into to eliminate space). Yet, no one is suggesting that these foundational guards be banned despite the peril they potentially pose in the streets (at least as they are commonly used in tournaments). So, why ban the donkey guard?  Because someone will kick you in the groin of course!  Just look, it already happened in a tournament (see above)!

But wait a second, just because someone could kick a donkey guard player in the groin under competition rules, that doesn't mean the position doesn't work in the street.  Indeed, the position is really just a modified entry into the most dangerous take down in the game--namely, the scissor take down (or kani basami). This take down is so dangerous that it is banned at many tournaments despite the fact that it makes for a beautiful take down which sets you up for heel hooks and inverted heel hooks. So, while the donkey guard may look silly, on the surface, it turns out the only reason it isn't "street certified" is because the position has been neutered by competition organizers. If Glover and other donkey guard players were allowed to scissor sweep from the position, it would be a very dangerous position indeed. In short, the donkey guard could have plenty of street cred--since tournament rules don't apply in the real world. Either way, the street credibility standard is not appropriate for competition jiu jitsu since it conflates sport jiu jitsu with self-defense oriented jiu jitsu--which each have their own unique situations, goals, versions of techniques, etc. 

The second question I raised above is whether the "street cred" rule is applied consistently. Here the answer is an obvious and resounding "No"! For instance, you are allowed to turtle--yet, if you turtle up in the street you're going to get punched in the face repeatedly. Yet Telles' turtle guard (which I use and love, I should add) is permitted while the donkey guard is not. This, despite the fact that the former lacks street credibility while the former has it (once the artificiality of BJJ tournament rules are removed). So, why ban the donkey guard?

The main reason, if I am allowed to speculate, is that (a) Jeff Glover is known for clowning around during matches (which some deem as disrespectful), and (b) Jeff Glover has used the donkey guard as more of a taunt than a proper position (at least in the beginning). It's not that it fails the street cred test. It's that it's been used by Glover (at least occasionally) in a way than many deem unsportsmanlike. To be honest, when I saw him doing it against Yoshida for the first time, I was a bit put off for this very reason. It didn't seem he was giving Yoshida the respect he deserves.

Yet, here again, there's a sense in which if I turtle and simply give up access to my back, I am not respecting my opponent's skills very much. But both turtling up and the turtle guard are allowed. Consistency ought to be the key here. What's good for the Brazilian turtle guard goose ought to be good for the American donkey guard gander.  Or so it seems to me! In my eyes, the donkey guard should be permitted. But if a competitor uses it to taunt more than take down, then he (or she) should be DQ'd for unsportsmanlike conduct.  Not because there is anything inherently wrong with the donkey guard.  But because it can (and has been) used in ways that can reasonably be interpreted by some as disrespectful (even if others would view it as merely "playful").

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