I Watched 100 White Belt Matches. Here's What's Actually High Percentage.
Welcome to High Percentage Martial Arts. If you're new here, you should check out our story and what we're all about. Our goal is to bring some objectivity into your training using the powerful arguments of data.
As the first article in our ongoing series about white belts, I'm opening the series with the key takeaways from watching one hundred white belt matches. I was most interested in testing some long held theories about competition strategies, but also in seeing what were the trends among winners and losers.
What I did.
I watched one hundred, IBJJF (rules) white belt matches in a gi. I did not differentiate by weight class, gender, or age. I only watched matches where I could see the full match unedited, including the winner.
Why one hundred?
I would have loved to have done closer to 400 matches, to get the margin of error under 5%. But I settled on one hundred for one reason: this is very time consuming. Recording a single match takes about five minutes. That's over eight hours to record 100 hundred matches, plus several hours to analyse and write content. I ultimately settled for less matches, and more content in the long term. One hundred matches is still a healthy sample size, but the margin or error is slightly higher.
What information did you gather?
I divided every match into winners and losers and what their behaviors were. Information we tracked was:
- guard pulling
- guard passing
- scored and failed takedowns
- submission attempts
- scored sweeps
- the first takedown
- the first score
I followed the IBJJF rulebook to determine what counted as a takedown, sweep, guard pull, and guard pass. The only area where I created my own definition was submission attempts, since IBJJF only awards advantages for submission attempts that put someone in "real danger of submitting." I wanted to record any submission that was recognizably attempted beyond the setup phase (we're still fine tuning this criteria for future articles).
With all of that nerdy stuff out of the way. Here's the seven biggest takeaways. I'll be taking some "deep dives" into these topics in later articles.
It's all about guard passing.
There is no "silver bullet" in the matches I watched. But guard passing was the single greatest indicator of success in a match. Among the winners, 65% of them passed guard. Only 12% of competitors passed guard and lost, and in most of those cases both fighter's passed guard.
In all of the matches I watched, only three competitors passed guard, did not have their own guards passed, and still lost the match. It was statistically the single greatest thing white belts could do to win matches.
Submission rates are bad, but from the bottom, they're abysmal.
As you may expect, most submissions that white belts attempt are not successful. Less than one in three attempts (31%) were successful.
But what stands out more is that submission attempts from the bottom are far less likely to succeed. From the bottom, success rates plunge to 16%.
Submissions from the top were successful 34% of the time, slightly beating the average.
I did not track sweep success rates. But my impression was that sweeps were far more likely than submissions for bottom fighters.
The king of submissions
The armbar from the mount was the number one finisher of matches by a wide margin. It was attempted a whopping 34 times in the matches I observed and was successful 41% of the time. It's finishing rate was 10% higher than both the total submissions and even 7% higher than submissions from the top.
But technically, the highest percentage submission was the rear naked choke. I observed it being attempted ten times, and it finished five times for a 50% success rate. While the RNC was high percentage, it was also low opportunity. The armbar from mount finished three times as many matches with a similar success rate. It was the most rock-solid sub for white belts.
Collar chokes from guard do not work
At least, not for white belts. The double rainbow of submissions, the collar choke from guard had the lowest success rate of any submission with at least ten attempts. In the fifteen attempts that I observed, only one was successful (6%). Put another way, I watched one hundred white belt matches, and only one ended with a collar choke from the bottom.
Surprisingly, the second least successful submission was the armbar from the bottom, coming in at 16%. Only three competitors pulled it off!
Missing in Action
It was surprising to note that some very fundamental submissions were almost totally absent in the matches I observed. It's expected that you wouldn't see white belts using omaplatas (I didn't see a single attempt) or inverted triangles (I saw one), but here's some popular techniques we couldn't find much of:
- Arm Triangle: only two attempts, neither were successful
- Kimura from the bottom: only two attempts, neither were successful
- Straight footlocks: no attempts
The first takedown is huge.
UPDATE: I have published a whole article on takedowns at the white belt level
Some people are big believers in the "be first" strategy. You want to be the first one to get grips, the first one to shoot for a takedown, the first to score, ect.
Generally speaking, they have a point. Competitors who scored the first points won 62% of the time, which is significant but not insurmountable for those that didn't.
This especially extends to takedowns. In matches where takedowns occurred, the person who scored the first takedown won 76% of the time. But keep in mind that nearly half (49%) of matches contained no takedowns.
In the vast majority of the matches, people that got taken down would not score takedowns themselves. Just two matches contained both competitors scoring takedowns.
Pulling guard was statistically, neither an indicator of success or failure. Winners and losers pulled guard at a nearly identical rate (31% and 32% respectively). The rest of the time, the fight went to the ground some other, random way.
What's the bottom line in standup? Conventional wisdom holds up here: Shoot for a takedown or pull guard. Getting taken down is a death sentence.
The activity gap
One overarching pattern of losers is their lack of activity. If you compared all actions that I tracked of the winners and losers, winners were 127% more active than losers overall, and more active in every individual category. This even included failed takedowns and submissions, which winners had more of than losers.
This jumped out to me because in BJJ we often praise defense more than offense. Obviously, defense is huge. Especially for a new student. But the activity gap can be seen as a strong argument for offense. At least, where sport BJJ is concerned.
So what do you think? Is one of the "low percentage" techniques very high percentage for you? And what other theories would you like to put to the test? Let me know in the comments.