Missed my monday Post but wanted to try and keep kinda on the schedule so here’s a quick note that’s been going through my head for a few years. I may go more in depth later but for now I’m just going to give the quick and dirty version. Grappling is boring and except at the highest levels, ugly. I personally believe this holds true for all types of fighting, but as I can’t even speak as an ecuated amatuer in fields that aren’t steel fighting, I won’t try to. However in my sport, I feel I’ve somewhat earned the right to speak with a measure of authority. So with that said, Grappling is bad for the sport, and if you do it you are too…
Ok maybe that last part is overblown…but really grappling in armor is the worst thing for the crowd to watch. Our sport, at least the Melee version, is already really hard to understand and follow. It may seem simple to us, if you touch the ground you’re out, but when watching it that doesn’t really help you figure out what’s going on until the fight is over and everyone is on the ground. There is no central point to focus on, no real good way of telling who’s winning without actively counting, and in individual fights it can be hard to tell if someone is near falling or not.
All these factors can add to the excitement of the sport but also means there’s more than a little confusion going on. It’s worth it to get over that hurdle when you see violent crashes of body on body, sparks flying of weapons and armor, and brutal attacks that leave onlookers wincing. It is not worth it to come watch a bunch of dudes hug each other and fall down. That’s what the low end of grappling is. The high end isn’t much better alot of the time though.
See there’s this universal problem with grappling. It’s a subtle art that requires alot of knowledge to follow. That’s why Joe Rogan was so crucial to UFC in the beginning. When tapout bros were saying they hated BJJ and the ground game because all it was people humping each other on the ground for 5 minutes, Joe was there giving insight into the chess match happening setting up positions and counters. We don’t have that. Worse our armor makes it even harder to see the moves. Even worse still, because of your limited movement and rule that touching the ground makes out, alot of the really slick looking moves, are not viable.
What you’re left with is a limited set of moves, that are unexplained(and possibly not understood even by those of us with a clue) and hard to see, with an outcome that is often anti-climatic. Put it together and it’s ultra boring even at the high level. Even the good stuff is kinda ugly too though. Usually it’s just over balancing someone and walking them past their base till they fall over or just applying pressure from a place where you have leverage until they give out. That’s not good entertainment.
I understand winning is the goal as fighters, so I would never say don’t grapple when it’s the smart move(though that’s much less often than you’d think. See the Knights Hall Training video series on the Commandments of grappling and stay tuned for the accompanying blog post/maybe series?) but I would say that as promoters of the sport we should be looking for ways to limit it. I personally find the change in rule set away from rail hugging to be one of the best ways to handle this. When you watch events where rail grabbing is still allowed you notice the fighting stays at the rails 90% of the time and becomes how can I get this guy to let go of the rail? Events where it’s not allowed fighting still tends to the rails 60-80% of the time but fighting at the rail is also slightly more dynamic. This is even greater at events where hay bales are used or tall cattle rails. Beyond rail changes, a more clear guideline on how to enforce breaking up inactive clinches would be helpful and a greater propensity for doing it on the part of the refs.
In the end it isn’t on the fighters to not grapple for crowd reasons, however luckily it turns out that’s the tactical decision as well. And if you want to build a crowd for your fights I highly recommend prioritizing other skills first. Learn the grapple as a back up technique and try to use tactics that are more dynamic. You’ll find that where the sport is currently, it’s not a handicap to switch to that focus and building a crowd will get you fighters, which will in turn allow you to fight more and add knowledge to your training, which will make you better fighters.
I hope our sport continues to evolve and as we increase spectator knowledge, learn better more effective grappling techniques, and refine the rules, we may move past this point where 30-50% of fights are uninteresting competitive hugging. For now I think the solution is increased ref skill, modifying lists to discourage static rail fighting, and focusing on the effective take down skills, which tend to be flurries before quick throws and trips, checks, and punishment more than straight up grappling.