Reflecting on the Current Meta of Grappling after ADCC
After a bit of a hiatus, we’re back and talking about what we love best: Stats, science, and game theory in BJJ and submission grappling. ADCC seems the best time to take a pause and look at the state of the meta and what the top level competitors are doing to win against elite competition.
We’ve noted before that emulating black belts may not be the best thing for someone totally new to the game. But it’s also worth noting that our research has shown that black belts are largely using the same finishers as everyone else, and the ones they are not using are often illegal at the lower levels.
ADCC is a tournament where it’s rules and stakes encourage tactical play. As we mentioned in a previous podcast, more than 90% of previous ADCC matches have been won by the athlete with the first score. This has resulted in a hyper awareness of the rules and optimal play. Sometimes this makes matches a little slow, as opponents are very reluctant to take risks (of course, not always though). Here’s some current trends that stood out to us in the meta:
Knee Shield Half Guard and Butterfly Guard
We saw Craig Jones, Lachlan Giles, and Gordon Ryan all use modified versions of knee shield (and it’s variations like z guard), and the butterfly guard. The guards served as a launching point for inversions and leg entanglements. Each fighter had their own slightly different takes on the position, with Gordon Ryan favoring being up on his back hand, and Craig Jones having a strong hook on the back of the hip. Lachlan Giles used the butterfly guard in combination with the de la riva.
This fits with research that we’ve done showing that high level grapplers don’t use static guards, but attack with multiple guards in sequence. It’s also worth paying attention to it you’re looking to develop you leg attacks from the bottom.
Back Takes Are the New Guard Pass
There were surprisingly few guard passes to side mount at ADCC, with competitors often going straight to the back from a pass. We also saw some athletes going straight to the back from takedowns. And of course, inversion attacks were employed by many of the lighter athletes. This makes sense, as the number one ADCC submission was a rear naked choke, making up thirteen out of thirty-five submissions.
Two things to factor in here is that many people are learning to counter leg attacks with back takes, Gordon Ryan in particular showcased this against Lachlan Giles. But also, the rules of ADCC emphasis that in order for some positions to be scored, an opponents shoulders must be pinned to the ground.
Naturally, this encourages opponents to get one or both shoulders off the mat, which opens up back takes. But it’s more than that. The back is the ultimate endgame position, one person can be 100% offensive while the other is 100% defensive. In side control, a huge amount of energy must be expended just to keep an opponent in place. At the highest levels, athletes are skipping it whenever possible.
Body Lock Takedowns
We saw in a very low success rate in single leg takedowns, at least scored ones. Due to the aforementioned rules for shoulders needing to be on the mat, it was almost impossible for single legs to score at ADCC, since opponents could easily sit up on their hands or elbows. Instead, we saw successful competitors like JT Torres using body lock takedowns, which give greater upper body control.
Leglocks Are Alive & Well
Will the leglock craze ever end or is it a permanent part of the meta? Some people speculate that the other fifty percent of the body we used to ignore is reaching it’s end, as competitors develop defenses to the various leg entanglements. But it showed no signs of slowing down at ADCC, as heelhooks, ankle locks, and toeholds made up 31% of submissions, second only to the RNC.
Not sure if this is significant, but most leglocks came in the absolute division, where Lachlan Giles went on a legendary leg locking run.