My Experience at the Submission-Only Tournament in Philadelphia (Good Fight)

podium-lex-fridman-good-fight-championAbout 2.5 years ago, I competed in a submission-only tournament organized by US Grappling and loved it. The rules were simple: no time limits, someone has to win by submission.

Rose Gracie and Javier Vazquez have been championing the idea of submission-only tournaments in organizing the Gracie Worlds and yesterday she teamed up with Jim Fortunato of The Good Fight to run a submission-only tournament in Philly. When you put the words “submission-only”, “tournament”, and “Philadelphia” in the same sentence, you don’t have to say anything else, I’m going. I had a lot of work for a deadline next week, but I couldn’t miss this one, so I put my excuses aside, packed some apples, a gi, my Kindle (in case things got ugly time-wise) and went.


I competed in the 185 lbs purple belt division, but I didn’t weigh myself at all, so I was ready to compete in the 205 lbs division. I decided last year that I’m going to blame my losses on a lack of technique and heart, and not on anything related to weight. I’m a grappler, not a bikini model, so weight cutting, at this level, should be the last thing on my mind. Some people disagree, but that’s where I stand. Technique is king.

As the picture above shows, I won my division. It was one of the bigger divisions at this  tournament with 9 people. That’s small for the tournaments I usually do, but big for a regional submission-only tournament. I have been working on a lot of different submissions lately, but I won all my matches in a boring way: by quick choke. I took what was there and didn’t force anything else.


The rules of the tournament were like those of the Gracie Worlds, and different from the US Grappling submission-only tournament I mentioned above. Here are the most notable distinctions:

  1. Time limit except finals: All matches except the finals have a time limit of 15 minutes. Finals are no time limit.
  2. No submission, both guys lose: If neither guy gets a submission by the end of the 15 minutes, both lose.
  3. “Reaping the leg” redefined: Loosen the IBJJF reaping the leg rule. Allow reaping the leg unless you are clearly performing an extreme reaping action similar to a heelhook.

Lesson Learned

  1. Submissions are hard to get. I would love to see actual statistics on this, but a lot of the matches I saw (in white, blue, and purple belt divisions) actually went the full 15 minutes with neither guy getting the submission. This was especially true for the heavier weights. I wonder if the story would be different for unlimited time matches. The Good Fight will continue putting on these submission-only tournaments. I think as people learn and adjust to these rules, we will see less stalling and see the competitors open up more.
  2. Don’t let go of submissions too early. In my finals match I went for a quick straight footlock and my opponent tapped my leg once, the ref saw it and said stop. And then my opponent started to complain that it wasn’t a tap, but an attempt to defend the footlock. Even though the ref said the match was over, I honestly believed the guy, and asked if we can keep going, and we did. I felt bad for letting go so quick. It’s a habit I built up in training. I’ve been letting go of certain submissions early so that people don’t hate me for doing them over and over and over. But of course, this is not good for a tournament when it’s important to get a clear tap before letting go. By that I don’t mean “injure my opponent”, but I simply mean to bring his leg/arm to the breaking point and hold it there until a tap is clearly seen by the ref. If I break a leg or arm, I really want to give my opponent a legitimate opportunity to tap first. So, control and steady pressure is key. I don’t want to hurt myself nor anyone I compete against. Winning a grappling match is important, but not that important for me at this stage in my life.
  3. Everyone is friendly. In every submission-only tournament I’ve done, the competitors, the coaches, and the spectators are a lot friendlier. I don’t know why, but my guess is it’s because the #1 reason for complaining and tension is disagreements with the way the refs give points. In a sub-only tournament, there are no points, and the refs don’t have to do anything but watch for whether the guy tapped or not. Plus this style of competition feels a lot more like training. So people relax, open up, and just go for the sub, which results in a more beautiful jiu jitsu. If I have to lose, I would rather lose by beautiful jiu jitsu. It’s when I learn the most.

Memorable Moments: In Pictures

Here are some memorable moments from the tournament. First, and most of all, my friends and training partners Drew Vogel and Christine Vogel (husband and wife) both competed and won their divisions. Drew is a black belt. Christine is a blue belt. Did I mention I interviewed them on the podcast about their trip to Japan? Here is a picture of a cool moment where they were both competing on the mat at the same time:


After I was done competing, Christine gave me a delicious sandwich. It was simplicity at its best. Good bread, meat, and a little bit of bacon. No sauce. No nonsense. I compete a lot and I don’t remember the last time I ate something delicious at the venue. I’m usually too preoccupied with the matches, but being forced to take a break and enjoy good food was very zen-like. Just me and the sandwich:


bananas-prashant Outside of good food, a good laugh makes the long wait of a tournament easier. For those in the know, Prashant Paul is a Muay Thai instructor at Control Kickboxing who is a great trainer and a funny dude. I won’t say more about it, except that he made me very uncomfortable in trying to eat a banana. Thanks bud.

sunshine-lex-at-starbucksAfterwards, a few of the Balance folks went to Starbucks. I drank coffee with no sugar, a thing I’m still sticking to. Mark took this picture of me which makes me look a lot more intelligent than I am. So I’ll take this opportunity to say that I’m glad that I got my ass out of bed, ignored all the excuses, and stepped on the mat. If you are asking yourself: “Should I compete?” My answer, for sure is: Hell Yes.

As always it was good to hang out with the usual crazy crowd of competitors, many of whom are now my friends. I have to give a huge thanks to all my coaches and training partners from Balance Studios. Here is a picture of some of my teammates who were at the tournament:


0 thoughts on “My Experience at the Submission-Only Tournament in Philadelphia (Good Fight)

  1. Matt Fuller

    Hi Lex!

    This is a great article explaining the differences in tournament format! I agree with all of your “lessons learned” points, especially #3 ; Everyone Is Friendly.

    One of my favorite things about running the Sub Only formats is the overall atmosphere of the gym. When you walk into a standard points tournament mid day, you’re likely to hear 50-100 people yelling and screaming about how their competitors are down by 2 points and there’s only 2 minutes left, or something like it. While there is certainly a place for that atmosphere in BJJ there’s none of that at the sub only formats. Nice and relaxed, take your time, work slowly and methodically and win. You make friends with your opponents whilst sitting and watching the current competitors. It’s a completely different feeling at Submission Only events and it really makes being there so much fun!

    I saw you were wondering about the Good Fight’s match statistics and while I can’t provide any insight there, I wanted to direct you to USGrappling’s Sub Only Event page.


    We track the submissions and times of each match and average them out- I’ll list what we have from our last event in Greensboro, NC below. Maybe this could give you an idea of what the day could look like at other events.

    “Average match times and submission popularity are calculated based on collected data from 377 submission only matches.

    The fastest submission of the event was an 8 second armbar. There were 5 matches that lasted over 1 hour, and 33 matches that ended in 60 seconds or less.

    Average Match Times
    Overall – 8 minutes, 13 seconds
    Gi – 8 minutes, 16 seconds
    No Gi – 8 minutes, 10 seconds

    Men’s – 7 minutes, 49 seconds
    Women’s – 8 minutes, 39 seconds
    30+ – 9 minutes, 54 seconds

    Advanced – 6 minutes, 55 seconds
    Intermediate – 10 minutes, 17 seconds
    Beginner – 7 minutes, 14 seconds
    Novice – 4 minutes, 47 seconds

    Black Belt – 23 minutes, 34 seconds
    Brown Belt – 13 minutes, 38 seconds
    Purple Belt – 12 minutes, 21 seconds
    Blue Belt – 6 minutes, 32 seconds
    White Belt – 6 minutes, 23 seconds

    Submission Popularity (Overall)

    Armbars – 22%
    Kimuras – 13%
    Triangles – 9%”

    Thank you for continuing to train and be a part of this AMAZING community of grapplers. I am reminded daily of the unique situation that we find ourselves in- to find people excited and dedicated to a hobby that becomes a lifestyle.

    See you soon!

    Matt Fuller & the USGrappling team


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