The Importance of Meta Games in Grappling Sports
In the sport of jiu-jitsu there is a long history of games within the game of competitive grappling. This is commonly referred to as the “meta game” and every few years the prevalent metagame changes to something new.
Looking at the metagame, and predicting it, can be a fascinating way to analyze current competitive game play. Looking at the past few years of meta-games shows some clear trends.
One great example of a meta game is The Berimbolo. The Berimbolo was initially pioneered by Samuel Braga but was later popularized by the Mendes Brothers and the Miyao Brothers. Interestingly the berimbolo pairs well with a wrestling technique called the crab ride. When the berimbolo initially was in vogue it was a seemingly impossible technique to stop and anyone playing it skillfully had a significant advantage in competition.
Another more recent meta game is the leg game. When the Danaher Death Squad burst onto the competition scene fans saw a style against which very few had any sort of defense. Grapplers like Eddie Cummings, Gordon Ryan and Garry Tonon outclassed their competition using leg entanglements for years. As of late other competitors are starting to catch up and are developing their own understanding, competitors like Lachlan Giles and Craig Jones whose own unique perspectives have allowed them to become part of a second wave of the leg lock meta.
A meta game arises when one person or group of people either create a new technique or take existing techniques and organize them into better systems. An example recent new technique meta is the worm guard, an entire system based around manipulating the opponent’s belt and using that entanglement to set up sweeps and submissions.
New technique metas are far less common than metas the revitalize existing technique, a great example of this is the recent reemergence of 50/50 as a guard of choice of leg lockers as a result of Lachlan Giles’ third place finish in the absolute division at the ADCC in 2019. Giles used a specific entry to a modified 50/50 to beat 3 far larger opponents drawing attention to a new method in a field (leg locks) that hadn’t seen a new method in a while.
Another meta that has recently seen a lot more love is the back game. Specifically competitors who geared their games for Eddie Bravo Invitational rules were forced to sharpen their back attacks and the Danaher Death Squad cut out a lot of their leg innovation and as a result the sport saw a resurgence of back taking and back attacks. The sport has always favored the back because of the 4 points awarded for back mount and the long history of the rear naked choke being considered the top submission.
Considering the current direction of the sport there’s a possibility of seeing a wrestling based approach becoming the new meta. Looking at some of the recent competitive stars in the sport, specifically John Combs, the Tackett Brothers, Kody Steele and others. Given the decrease in EBI rules competitions and the rise of events like Kasai and 3rd Coast Grappling points fighting has become more prevalent in professional grappling which may give way to a new meta: wrestling for jiu jitsu.
Considering the short history of the sport, it is remarkable that there have already been so many different metas that have arisen in competitive grappling. We see new metas come about every couple of years as a result of competitive trends and popular rule sets which result in innovation and different skill sets permeating the art even on the hobbyist level.
If you are a competitive grappler, what metas do you think will be taking over in the near future? Do you agree that wrestling is the likely next step? Or will we see something different and unexpected? If you are a grappling fan what meta do you want to see more of? Will we see a different submission become the most popular? Or will we see a specific positional transition make its way to the forefront? Either way, metas are a fascinating way to analyze grappling and as a sport each development, each new trend only enriches the knowledge that we all get to share.