Self defence in BJJ: A different perspective on accident management

Self defence is a very important aspect of training BJJ, grappling, Karate or any of the martial arts. This is something I believe very strongly in, but I feel a lot of readers misunderstand what I mean when I say "self defence".

Mostly, the term "self defence" conjures images of an exaggerated, usually pre-determined, attack from a friendly partner which is then met with a variety of vicious-looking counter-attacks until the bad guy is seemingly neutralised. "If someone attacks you with an overhead knife strike you do this then this then this then this...then you freeze!".

While indeed there are technical aspects to self defence such as clinching (from stand-up and on the ground), blocking (hand on the biceps) and distance management (using the knee shield in guard, reaching mount to neutralise attacker's punches), and these are very much valuable assets if and when drilled against progressive resistance, that's not the part I meant. I call that part "Defending yourself against the intentional acts of others"

I'm mainly referring to defending yourself against:

1. The unintentional acts of others

2. The grip of your ego

3. Your lapses of awareness

All these are very deeply and intricately linked and often if you address one, the other two get a nice dose of medicine but addressing all three (along with the aforementioned technical detail) will give you the best results.

The unintentional acts of others

We mostly know what our weak points are and where we are most vulnerable and when. I think if you've grappled for a couple of months (while paying attention to your instructor and how your body reacts to the pressures of grappling) you will conclude that your face, neck, shoulder, ribs, knees and knuckles are the most vulnerable to accidents caused by the unintentional acts of others (slips, overzealous grip fighting, surprising weight loading...etc.). I appreciate that some accidents will be inevitable, but I argue that the majority can be avoided if we:

1. Talk about them as instructors

2. Talk about them as grapplers

3. Take responsibility for our own safety in vulnerable positions (e.g. Choose our grip battles carefully, protect our face at all times even if strikes are not allowed, anticipate potential next-moves...etc.)

The grip of your ego

I know this is a stack pass, but I borrowed this pick from
Grapplearts because top dude might as well have been in
an armbar or a triangle :)

The ego is the enemy. Always. Sometimes people think that a little bit of ego is good because it pushes for survival, winning...etc but I'd argue that we're no longer talking about the same thing here.

By ego I'm* referring to an abstract set of thoughts, emotions and illusions that we think makes up who we are. "I'm strong" "I'm flexible" "I'm technical"...etc. These are qualities that describe snapshots of this dynamism we call ourselves, but they are not our true self. Your loved ones won't stop recognising who you are if you fall into a position where you find yourself neither strong, flexible nor technical. They'll still know who you are and, hopefully, love you for it.

But the ego doesn't want you to think like that because it's a self-feeding illusion so when you are get a big, strong, ugly monster in an armbar and they squish you and your guard, the true you is saying "let go and let's live another day with a healthy neck. Let's flow!" But your ego is screaming "but, but you're a blue belt and he's a white belt! Don't let go! Fight and finish it!". Result? You may get the armbar or maybe you won't. You may get out of there with a major neck injury or maybe you'll come out uninjured. One thing for sure, your ego got the best of you in either case. It's not jiu jitsu. It's not toughness. It's unawareness that your actions are dictated by a self-fulfilling voice that wants you to believe that you are equal to these transient quantities. If you are aware of the ego, you can start protecting your "self" against it.

Your lapses of awareness

I'm sure you can all see how this third one will benefit from a dedicating a conscious effort to addressing the first two. If you are more aware of your partners'** actions and you are aware of your ego's voice then you are simply more aware and more in the "now". Hopefully, you will grow into a more compassionate grappler who looks after his training partners and do everything in your power to avoid accidents in the gym / academy. This will quickly make you everyone's favourite training partner and someone beginners aim to emulate. Now imagine a whole academy or BJJ team who genuinely look after each other even when they are working super hard. A "Family" that practices jiu jitsu together and makes every member a grappling badass. Doesn't that remind you of someone?

*ego as defined in Buddhism (or at least that's how I undersand it)
**awareness of the actions of the training partner you are training with is a great start but ideally, you want to develop it to be aware of what's happening in the room around you. Ever been so into the roll that you bump heads with another pair or perhaps kick a third party in the head?



Liam "The Part Time Grappler" Wandi

Proudly sponsored by Predator Fightwear: Built for the kill and Brutal TShirt: Made By Grapplers For Fighters

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