Totowa MMA: A look inside NJ United Mixed Martial Arts Academy

Making Sharp Techniques Sharper: 12/5 Tournament Results

Last Saturday, I coached my teammate Rubin Pushpangathan at The Good Fight’s Winter BJJ Open submissions-only tournament. He took 2nd place in white belt gi – a division I love to watch due to its elimination of avant-garde leg-lock games that are typically used to stall. Anyway, with two submission wins, a grueling back-and-forth in the sudden death portion of his second match, and an epic finals match, Rubin’s performance was highlight reel material. I correctly believed that he would do well, but I never suspected that his loss in the finals would be partially due to a misjudgment by the ref. I say “partially” because Rubin allowed his opponent to get into a compromised position where the ref could make a judgment in his opponent’s favor. Naturally it can be frustrating to lose in this way, but such a loss can actually provide insight into technical details that are needed to sharpen your game – but that you didn’t know you needed.


As Rubin was escaping the beginnings of a mounted triangle from his opponent, the ref thought that he heard Rubin verbally tap out, and he stopped the match. Rubin denied tapping. His opponent denied ever having heard Rubin tap. I was more focused on Rubin’s elbow-knee escapes and good posture, so I didn’t hear or see his alleged tap either. Rubin and I argued for the match to continue, but after the ref consulted with his superiors, he regretfully told us that the decision had to be regarded as final. Upon first glance, the lesson of this story is that you can sometimes face two opponents on the mat: your opponent and your ref. But there’s also a third opponent: your own self, and all of the flaws that entails. It’s always more convenient to find fault with your opponent and ref, or to claim that you’ve been “robbed” by a bad decision. And yes, sometimes people are robbed in this way. But regardless, you can never tell just how badly your opponent will exploit your errors, or how badly the ref may interpret them. Therefore, the healthiest long-term move is to put the weight of the result squarely on your own shoulders. Rubin did this, and he’ll be a better competitor and all-around human being because of it.

During his final match, Rubin locked in four different triangle chokes from his open guard. Admirably, his opponent defended them four different times. One could argue that if the ref hadn’t made a bad call, then the match would have continued, and Rubin may have found a final triangle opportunity that would have turned the match in his favor. In an ideal world without x-factors or bad refereeing, this possibility may have become an actuality. I’ll say without bias that Rubin has the skills to have made it so. But since events panned out differently, Rubin and I took the next-best thing – we were on the mat the next day, and we did an in-depth study of how to preempt and break down the specific triangle-defenses that he encountered in the finals. For the reader who is a spectator of martial arts or has just starting out in jiu-jitsu, the video below will illustrate some solid triangle basics. In short, it’s a sneaky, technical choke that can be either simple or complex, depending on the opponent’s defenses.

Sure, it’s always preferable to win than to lose. However, every practitioner’s jiu-jitsu game has flaws and limits, and competition is a great tool to expose them. After all, problems are best solved when they’re first properly defined and analyzed. And sometimes, it takes a loss to truly gather this data. Rubin isn’t to blame for a ref’s subjective decision. After all, the ref could have made a similar call in Rubin’s favor during one of Rubin’s own tight triangles or armbar attempts. And if that had been the case, then the same lessons would apply to Rubin’s opponent! But in any case, the tournament was valuable in that it drove home a critical lesson that martial artists learn and re-learn throughout their whole lives: regularly improve your best techniques so that your opponent won’t have the opportunity to escape them again.

JJ Mike


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