I had a conversation this weekend with a parent over whether or not he should put his child into wrestling. I think my thoughts are evolving over time on the subject so I thought to write them down. If you had asked me 8 years ago when I first started teaching full-time whether a teenager who does BJJ should do wrestling I almost always answered yes. Now I get parents who ask me this question not just about their high schooler, but also about their kids who are 8 years old and sometimes even younger
Wrestling for me was a big part of my high school experience. It taught me a ton about work ethic, toughness, competition, success as both a team and an individual. I found wrestling in 8th grade after our Tae Kwon Do school started showing us some judo and submissions. I was sparring with the adults which was a getting a little frustrating as a 12 year old due to the power difference and with the UFC coming out I was a bit disillusioned by Tae Kwon Do so when my mom enrolled me in a wrestling summer camp I was excited. I went to the summer camp for a number of weeks and did pretty well, the only issue was that the summer camp was at the rival high school and not my own. They were bummed that I would be joining the "other team". Luckily for me the other team was the vastly better high school for wrestling so I quickly learned the difference betwen good coaching and bad coaching for wrestling. My high school had two great coaches, the first was a Michigan Wrestling Hall of Fame coach, made a lot of state champs and was pretty old school. When he retired he was replaced by an Olympic alternate, Junior World Champion and 2x NCAA runner up for the University of Michigan. He taught more about how to succeed as an individual.
I bring this up because looking back, I had great wrestling coaches. This allowed me to probably value the amazing instructors I had in Saulo and Xande. I guess I am finding it frustrating as a coach to recommend to parents that they send their kids off to wrestle because of all the value and experience that I got out of it and then they send them to the nearest school (usually the only option) and they get subpar coaching for 4 months out of the year. So I am becoming more and more reluctant to send my athletes to wrestling programs because I am not seeing a high level of high school coaches in this area. Wrestling is a lot more popular and competitive in the midwest and even in Michigan there are just such wide gaps in wrestling coaching. So I am getting to the opinion that would I rather have your kid learn Jiu-Jitsu from a highly decorated competitor and full-time coach or to take time away from that to learn from a part-time coach who probably didn't go very far in the sport (especially when you are talking about younger kids).
The other thing I always caution with wrestling is burn out. I saw it a lot in high school wrestling from kids who started wrestling when they were in elementary school. They have been competing for so long and cutting weight for so long that they are done with it by the time high school ends. There is so much focus on success in high school, which would give them a chance at a university team that the kids don't love the sport anymore. The sad thing is it takes so long to get good at wrestling and grappling in general that aren't giving our kids a chance to succeed at an international level. We put so much focus on high school success, that college success seems unbelieveable, but really the college wrestlers are just kids to the adults who are trying for the olympics usually. Watch some of the matches that flowrestling puts on between Daniel Cormier and current NCAA champions or Ben Askren facing Quinten Wright (Penn State champ). The older former olympians who have been focusing solely on MMA for years can toy with the college kids. The Russian wrestling team is so much older than the USA team because it takes so long to get good at this stuff. That is something that Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu allows for and USA wrestling doesn't really.
So in general I won't say that kids should or shouldn't stop wrestling for BJJ because the level of the coaches vary dramatically in each. There are coaches in Colorado that I would love to eventually work with my son. But I would also hesitate to take him out of program with world class instruction for one with less than that. Please don't think that I dislike wrestling, I still get on the mat as a wrestler at least once a week, but I am learning from world class guys and I highly value that experience.
If you do decide to put your kid into a wrestling club:
This year marked the first IBJJF Denver Open. I was very happy with the results of the tournament with Ribeiro Jiu-Jitsu taking 3rd place. It is nice looking back to when I moved here in the summer of 2007 and I was the first representative of Ribeiro Jiu-Jitsu in the state of Colorado. So after having the Ribeiro Jiu-Jitsu - Denver academy open for just over 3 years along with my black belts academy in Windsor and several affiliates of Rafael Lovato Jr we were able to capture 3rd place as a team is just amazing.
At a lot of IBJJF tournaments they will host a rules seminar. I had done my first rules seminar last year at the Masters Worlds and I credit that rules seminar with part of my ability to win that tournament. I remember the rules that stood out to me were the fact that there is no stalling from the top of mount and from the back with hooks position. These rules enabled me to relax once I achieved these positions and put the pressure on my opponent to escape. When they tried to escape I submitted them. But if I didn't know the rules, I would have kept busy attacking and they would probably just clam up and be harder to submit. So the knowledge of the rules gave me the most efficient way to the submission.
When I found out there was a rules seminar in Denver I decided to do it again. It isn't free and there are better ways to spend a Friday night, but a couple of friends were going to go in order to get their belts certified with the IBJJF so I decided to do the seminar again. I also contacted the IBJJF about reffing and they let me know that if I did 2 rules seminars and talked to the head referee Anjinho, that I could do ref training that weekend. So I did that. The rules seminars are also nice because you can ask questions about certain moves and positions that aren't fully covered in the rule book. So I was able to get clarity on toe holds from the honey hole and some other toe hold variations. Once again I passed the test with a 100% score so I did the go ahead to do the referee training.
The training took place Sunday after most of my competitors had already competed and most of the day was no gi. They mic'd us up so we had a head referee in our ear mentoring us through any mistakes. Sometimes the quality of the microphone was a bit of a nuisance, but it was comforting to know that I wasn't going to call a match wrong because they would fix the score if I did.
The first two matches were interesting because the first involved a pass when the bottom player was playing lasso guard. When the top player passed they bottom person maintained the grip on the lasso. This is a pass under IBJJF rules when the person on bottom accepts the pass. I knew the rule, but was a little slow on the call so I got told to give the points. The second match was a classic heavyweight match with a lot of standing and pushing out of bounds. I wanted to call the penalty for passivity earlier and more often, but I was only allowed to give it after the person who was pushed out of bounds accepted it and walked backwards. In the past I remember the rules were different where the aggressor would get penalized something which I saw Dillon Dannis use frequently.
I felt I got into the swing of things for the rest of that 40 minutes of coaching, having to step out periodically when a Ribeiro athlete would step on the mat. I messed up a call in one match where one athlete swept from de la riva and landed in single-x/anaconda with a reap. The reap was only across the body, so I stopped the match to fix the foot position and give a penalty, but was getting talked to by the head ref. Because of the mic difficulties it took a while to get sorted out and when I gave the penalty and called a restart to the action the bottom player swept back immediately. I thought the initial sweep hadn't been held long enough to give the points so I gave an advantage, but the head ref thought it should have been a sweep each so I waived off the advantage. It was a tough call because of the break in the action for the penalty and to reset the foot position.
I think another thing I learned that day was about how quick the referees are told to stop the fight once they leave the safety area (the yellow marking). It really is if a foot or a hand touches outside the yellow safety area they are quick to call a stop to the match which results in a lot of good takedown attempts being called an advantage because the athlete couldn't secure the position inside the match area.
Later in the day I would referee the no gi absolute division. The interesting calls that happened were one athlete had another in a standing d'arce choke. The defending athlete backpedaled hard towards the out of bounds. If they would have continued past the safety area I would have had to DQ them for fleeing a submission. At the last second the aggressor threw the opponent out of bounds. Because there are no resets in a submission under IBJJF rules this resulted in 2 points for the aggressor and a restart from the feet.
Not surprisingly, quite a few of the local competitors didn't know the rules about talking to a ref. You are only allowed to talk to the referee when you need medical attention (and not in a submission) or if your uniform needs attention like your pants are falling down. Otherwise a penalty is given. One of the competitors was complaining that I didn't give points on a takedown attempt and I really wanted to give him points, but once they went out of the safety area the most I could give was an advantage. When he started talking to me, I ignored him, but after the match I went out off the mat to tell him that talking to me would be a penalty.
The final weird thing happened on the match next to mine where an athlete was getting medical attention. If you are injured during the course of the match you can get injury time as long as you aren't in a submission. You should note that a stopping because of a cramp is an automatic loss so if you are massaging a cramp you should never let the referee see you do it. But the match next to mine stopped for a medical timeout and the trainer came over to help. But then it was obvious that the reason the trainer was coming over was because of a cramp, so the athlete helped, but then given the loss and that was a sequence of events I wasn't sure would lead to the loss, but it did happen.
Overall I am happy that I reffed and went through the training. It gave me a better knowledge of the rules for my athletes and gave me more insight into the day of the referees. I don't think it is by chance that one of the best teams in Jiu-Jitsu GFT is led by a referee Julio Ceasar and many of his students are referees as well.
Write something about yourself. No need to be fancy, just an overview.