Brazilian Jiu Jitsu and Self Defense

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Does BJJ work?

I get a surprising number of questions about the practicality of BJJ in self defense. It’s pretty obvious that the origins of BJJ are rooted in self defense. In fact, a certain family made it famous by challenging every other martial art in both tournaments and individual matches. There is no reason to engage in a silly argument that always seems to go back to Bruce Lee movies. I want to have a look at what the different martial arts are, and discuss intelligent decision making.

You will never see this in a street fight.

How does BJJ compare to other martial arts?

The reality of all martial arts is that we’re playing a game. The limitations are what define the game, and determine the skills we develop. Boxers have astonishing speed and timing, because grabbing and holding is discouraged. Many other striking arts kick the head or legs from greater distances, because takedowns aren’t a significant factor. The grappling arts focus more on positioning, because striking is not usually practiced. Some focus mainly on takedowns and holding, while others have varying degrees of emphasis on submissions. Each system has its merit, and is superior to knowing nothing at all.

BJJ is a game where we study a complete positional hierarchy, and learn to navigate from one place to the next. Submissions are the end goal, but a win can be obtained by position alone. Takedowns are studied, but are not the primary focus.

During your first few classes, you should feel lost and easily handled by the experienced players. They can put you where they want, and your instincts will defy you. After a few years of training, you should be able to do the same to anyone who doesn’t train. Let that sink in.

What about MMA?

Modern MMA creates an interesting mix of constantly changing trends. Everyone knows varying degrees of kickboxing, wrestling, and jiujitsu. MMA is also a business that sells tickets based on entertainment value, not practicality. We should keep in mind that the addition of gloves, rounds, dress code, time limits, and a reasonably soft ground affirm that this too- is a game.

How well do you handle adrenaline?

If you actually get into a position where you may need to fight, you will have an adrenaline dump. This is an altered state of consciousness that makes many people freeze up due to lack of experience. Too many people say they train only for self defense, but don’t want to compete. Bjj competition is the safest place to see how well you handle using BJJ with significant adrenaline in an unfamiliar place. Everyone does not have to take an MMA fight, and should definitely avoid street fights if possible. But if defending yourself is a fear that you are seriously concerned with, compete until you are able to think under stress. Only after that are you ready to worry about striking, weapons, etc. We are talking about actual testing at full resistance. Striking means brain damage, and weapons can lead to death. You have time to begin with what is reasonable, and build problem solving skills under duress from there.

What is your best plan in a self defense situation?

So, my advice on self defense? As a BJJ guy, I say think about what position you’re in. Don’t be in a position to fight! Recognize when you’re in a bad situation and leave early. Anything can happen in an uncontrolled environment. If you’re really good and want to show off, go take a boxing or MMA fight and make some money. Fighting multiple attackers, guns, and knives is always dumb. This is still true if you have a gun. Guns shoot bullets, not stop them.

Maybe you’re in a profession where handling people is part of the job; bouncers, police, first responders. In this case, I recommend BJJ without reservation. Hitting people is bad for PR, and nobody has time for broken hands. There is a lot to be said for being comfortable and well practiced in various grappling situations.

With all that covered, being preoccupied with self defense is simply unhealthy. Pick a game you like to play, enjoy it, and don’t worry about reenacting a movie.