My Experience at the Hellfish International No-Gi Championship

medal-hellfish-no-gi-championships-lex-fridmanLast weekend, I competed at the second installment of the famed international Hellfish tournament hosted by the equally famed Tim Carpenter. Check out his jiu jitsu school and blog.

The tournament was awesome. My experience competing was sweet and yet bitter like the not-quite-yet-ripe bananas that were sold at the concession stand.

I had 5 tough matches, losing in the finals to end up with 2nd place and a medal that makes the IBJJF Worlds medal look like a McDonald’s happy meal toy.

This was an open-weight division with 5 purple belts and 2 brown belts. I was right in the middle, weight-wise, at 183 lbs. The heaviest was Tim Williams (1st place) at  210-220ish, and lightest was Dan Pacific (3rd place) at somewhere around 110-180 lbs. Every one of these guys was very good. Below is the picture where it looks like we are standing on a podium… but we are not. Also, it’s hard to tell, but crucially important to mention, that the 1st place medal is black (not gold) and has skulls on its ribbon. And rightfully, the ribbons for 2nd and 3rd place are flimsy and flowery to bring those who wear them shame.


Lesson Learned #1: Russians

A Russian coaching a Russian. This lesson is yours to be learned, reader.

“You know the easiest thing about fighting Russians? Nothing.” – Anton

Lesson Learned #2: Losing

Last person to submit me was Garry Tonon over a year ago, and now: Tim Williams. Both were no-gi matches and both had incredibly strong squeeze on their chokes. I made mistakes in both cases, and worked to fix them right away in training after.

I try to strike a balance between hating losing and taking everything in life (good or bad) with a chill smile. Losing leaves a sting for days that’s good for the ego. I soak in it for a bit, and then let it go. I come out on the other end of that feeling a better grappler and a better human being.

Lesson Learned #3: Refereeing is Hard

I got an opportunity (first time) to ref a bunch of matches and came to the obvious realization that the job of a good ref is damn hard. For people that know me, I’m a student of the rules. When I play a game (and it’s all a game), I like to learn the rules, before I let go of them and just compete.

But “knowing” the rules is different than being able to apply them on the fly in the heat of a match. Here are some things that I learned. It’s a lot of text, so you can stop reading now, and go train!

Pay attention: After a while, it’s not so easy to be completely focused for every second of every match. I only had to ref for about an hour or two, but if I had to ref from 9am to 8pm, it’s possible that I would make some bad calls. Like anything else this takes dedication and practice.

White belt scrambles: I saw some crazy white belt scrambles that lasted for 30 seconds and involved 5+ major position changes, and in the end I would give one score, and would actually struggle to remember who was on top and who was on bottom when the scramble started.

Subjective advantages: The biggest thing I realized is there are a lot of subjective decisions left to the referee, especially when giving advantages. So, basically the important thing there is to be consistent. Here are some things the IBJJF clarifies about advantages that was useful for me at this tournament:

  • Escape submission without holding position: Rule #3.3.1 When one athlete comes to point-scoring positions but only gets out of the submission in hold without staying in these positions, he/she will not receive any advantage for that positions.
  • No advantage for a takedown if it started as a defense to a sweep: Rule #3.4 Athletes who, in defending a sweep, return their opponent back-down or sideways on the ground shall not be awarded the takedown-related two points or advantage point.
  • Assessing “danger”: 5.2 An advantage is counted when the move to a point-scoring pass position is incomplete. The referee should assess whether the opponent was in any real danger and if the athlete clearly came close to reaching the point-scoring pass position.
  • Assessing “danger” again: 5.3 The athlete shall be awarded an advantage-point when he/she attempts a submission hold where the opponent is in real danger of submitting. Again, it is the referee’s duty to assess how close the submission hold came to fruition.

Never forget: I’m expected to remember (sometimes for over a minute) how the positions progressed so that when a new position is finally stabilized, I can give points or advantages. See the “zoning out” problem above. (Rule #5.4: The referee may only award an advantage point once there is no longer a chance of the athlete reaching a point-scoring position.)

Half guard: Why, why, why are we still supposed to give an advantage for reaching half guard? I don’t care if your opponent’s back is flat on the ground. I don’t care if you have an underhook and he is weeping from the shoulder pressure. Get past his legs! This one was a very annoying rule, because it forced me to pay attention to the incredible amount of half guard hugging that was going on. (Rule #5.7 Examples of Advantage Points: When the top athlete achieves half-guard position, with exception to reverse half-guard.)

Other Highlights

Marco Perazzo, of NJMA fame, and an interviewee on the Take It Uneasy podcast, was working the scoreboard. He brought his alter ego this time: a kind gentle soul who showered me with praise and polite small talk. His previous Hellfish appearance was slightly less reserved:

There was a black belt superfight between two technical, athletic dudes Anton Berzin and Derek Leyer. Just good jiu jitsu. The fans won:

Alright, that wraps up my professional coverage of this once-in-a-lifetime event. Champions were made. Wills were broken. Fun was had by all. I highly recommend that everyone, EVERYONE compete in the next one.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *