Home Jiu Jitsu Culture A Crash Course in IBJJF Rules

A Crash Course in IBJJF Rules

A Crash Course in IBJJF Rules
Here's what you need to know if you are considering IBJJF competition.

One of the most annoying cliches in jiu-jitsu is the guy proudly proclaiming, “Bro, I don’t even know the rules! I just go for the submission!” This is silly when you think about it. How many baseball players do you know say, “I don’t even know the rules, I’m just going for the home run!”

What gym bro guy doesn’t get is this: the majority of matches in a five minute IBJJF will end without a submission. This means playing the position game, and knowing it’s rules, are more important. In fact, there is some research showing white belts especially, are better off not attempting submissions at all. Almost like your coach preaches “position before submission” for a reason.

Knowing the rules isn’t usually that complicated, but we worry we’ll have to keep a complex mental flowchart in our head. It’s not true, but there are some important things to know to give you an advantage and keep out of trouble.

The International Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu Federation (IBJJF) is still the largest governing body in the sport. While new submission only formats are gaining steam, the sheer amount of tournaments hosted by the IBJJF means it will continue to be the dominant ruleset in the sport for sometime.

how many baseball players do you hear saying, “I Don’t even know the rules, I just go for the home run.”

The rules for the IBJJF  are mostly intuitive. While high level competitors complain all the time about the finer points, new competitors at the lower belts will find them straight forward. They reward players for doing almost everything they would want to do in a real fight. Get a takedown, work to a controlling position, and attempt a submission when it’s safe to do so.

So if you’re new to the format of IBBJF, here’s a quick primer on the things you need to know about the ruleset:

You Must Be Offensive to Score Points.

Sure, good defense is really important. No one is saying it isn’t. But IBJJF rules fundamentally reward offense in the form of takedowns, guard passing, sweeps, and submission attempts.

What this means is you will not get points for defending a submission, sweep, guard pass, anything. You will also not be awarded points for any sweeps you make from the bottom of mount or side control. A sweep is defined by IBJJF as being from the guard (including half guard) only.

ibjjf match
Be offensive! You will not score points for defense .

You Must Try and Improve Your Position

Don’t plan to win any matches by defense alone, you must have a mindset of moving forward and advancing position. IBJJF has rules in place to deter stalling. Essentially, if there is any position superior to the one you’re in, you must work towards it. So if you’re in the top half guard, you need to move towards side control. If the ref feels you’re intentionally slowing down the game, you could get a penalty.

Most importantly, this includes passing the guard. You cannot back away from someone’s guard like MMA. You can circle and feign attacks, but don’t take too long in doing it.

The good news here is, if you achieve either mount or the back you’re explicitly allowed to stall by IBJJF. That’s right, you’re never obligated to attempt submissions. If you’ve achieved mount or taken the back, your job is done. The burden is now on your opponent to escape and retake the fight.

The Three Second Rule

In order to get points for advancing from one position to the next, you must hold it for three seconds. So if you pass someones guard and they are fighting like hell to shrimp away, you must stay passed their guard for three seconds. Same goes for taking the back and mount. This is why coaches are always screaming for you to “Stabilize!”

So when you’re training, get in the habit of counting to three after you advance position. Even better, have a mindset of settling into a position instead of scrambling or going for a submission too soon.

This also works both ways. When you get your guard passed, you have three seconds to recover, get up, or do something that gets you into a scramble.

A Sweep Must End With You on Top

A sweep is anything you do from guard that ends with you on top of your opponent. Knocking them down is not enough, you must take the top position. This includes simply standing up, as long as you stay connected to your opponent, and hit your feet before they take their back off the ground.

Bottom line: finish your sweeps by getting top position and keeping the work you did.

Pull, Don’t Jump

If no one has told you already, you can pull guard in a match but will not be awarded any points for it. However, you have to keep some things in mind.

Most importantly, you cannot “jump guard” meaning leap forward and wrap your legs around you opponent so that they are holding you up. You must pull them down to the mat. Similarly, you cannot simply sit down on the mat in the hopes they will come to you. You must be touching a part of their body as you pull guard. If this seems arbitrary, watch this video when you’re not eating.

It’s pretty simple, you must pull them down to you.

If You Try a Submission, at Least Get Close

According to IBJJF, submissions where your opponent is “in imminent danger of being submitted” will be rewarded with an advantage point. Advantages are used as tiebreakers at the end of a match.

So if you attempt a submission that is failing, you may want to hold on a little longer. If it’s close, or even just looks close, the ref may award you an advantage. As soon as they do, you can release. Otherwise, remember you do not get points for failed submissions. Let it go and move on.

Don’t Do These Things:

There are many illegal techniques in IBJJF, especially for white and blue belts, some of these open up to brown and above:


Heel Hooks


Knee Reaping

Scissor Takedowns


Cranks (ex. neck cranks)


Toe Holds

An important note here is you will not be issued warnings for any of these. You will simply be disqualified and that’s that.

If You Don’t Remember Anything Else

Getting on top and staying on top is a solid plan in competition. As we discussed in another article, jiu-jitsu is a top-down affair. So is listening to your coaches, who know what you should be doing.

If you want to get a leg up on the competition, consider. . .going for their legs, with John Danaher’s new “Enter the System” instructionals. Here’s a great review article we recently posted about it.

Finally, the IBJJF published their updated rules online each year, here’s the 2018 ruleset

See you at the tournaments!