BJJ / Grappling Tips: Self defence and Gracie Jiu Jitsu

With my friend Mr Eddie Kone, Royler Gracie
Black Belt and head of EKBJJ
The applicability of Gracie Jiu Jitsu as an art of self-defence is an area I have found myself increasingly interested in. I’ve never been a massive self-defence guy and I’ve always believed that you should work hard to gear your life in a way that you don’t necessarily find yourself in need of self-defence and I still stand behind that statement. Basically, if you’re becoming an expert and defending yourself against muggers or those who wish to harm you, you need to move house, stop showing off your iPhone and maybe work a little on your attitude!
That said, I have developed an interest in how self-defence and jiu jitsu actually link. It all started with me a few years back looking for a good online / DVD based source of jiu jitsu information and finding the Gracie University programme called the Gracie Combatives. I must iterate that, initially at least, my interest was in finding the best jiu jitsu instructionals I could get my hands on and not something particularly focused on self-defence per se. I was looking for someone who not only spoke excellent English, but could articulate their approach to jiu jitsu very clearly and for that reason, the Gracie Combatives was a great choice1. Rener and Ryron Gracie are excellent instructors with a wealth of experience and a very clear objective behind every lesson, something an aspiring high school teacher like me really appreciates.
What the Gracie Combatives also did was get me to appreciate, amongst many other things, the following:

1.       The value of indicators: For every technique, there is a clear indicator for when it’s best utilised. A simple and commonly known example is “when the opponent in your guard puts his hand on the mat, it’s time to attack him with the kimura” but there were many other ones I, as a BJJ purple belt, didn’t know such as when to switch from hips-down side control to hips-up kesa gatame…etc.2
2.       The value of head control: In practically every position on the ground, the opponent can gain a mechanical advantage over you by controlling your head and NOTHING reminds you to keep your head away the opponent’s hands like punches!3

A question was brewing in my mind:
 “Does a focus on self-defence (punch protection, conservation of energy, defence against attacks a skilled jiujitsoka wouldn’t do such as standing headlocks…etc., training against people of various sizes and experience levels…etc.) help better other aspects of your jiu jitsu (rolling, nogi, MMA, competition preparation…etc.)?”
I recently celebrated my 35th birthday and as a present, my wonderful wife hooked me up with a private session with my friend Mr Eddie Kone. Eddie is a Gracie Jiu Jitsu black belt under Royler Gracie and recently received his first degree through Rafael Lovato Jr and he’s also the head instructor of a large and growing jiu jitsu organisation. Most importantly, Eddie is dear friend of mine so I was very happy with my gift and the opportunity to spend some mat time with him.
Drilling the finer points of posture within the closed guard
When he asked me what BJJ skills / areas I wanted to cover in the session, the answer was very simple: Gracie Self-Defence. I wanted him to review and update my current understanding of defence against front chokes, rear chokes, bear hugs over / under the arms (both front and back), collar grabs, shoulder grabs and the basic hip throw from the safe clinch.
What Eddie did far exceeded my expectations. Not only did we cover all these in detail, and more techniques, he spent a good amount of time explaining the mind-set4 and framework5 within which these techniques fit. It was really mind blowing. The level of detail6 was fantastic but more than that, the attention to both the value of indicators and head control / knockout protection really cemented to me how authentic his approach to Gracie Jiu Jitsu is and I look forward to learning more from him.
More to the point, the adjustments he made to my self-defence techniques immediately addressed a couple of issues I’ve been having with getting some techniques to work when rolling! Look at this famous example from Kid Peligro’s and Royce and Charles Gracie’s book “Brazilian Jiu Jitsu self defence techniques”:
The devil is in the detail!
 When I demonstrated this defence against the shoulder grab to Eddie, he made a tiny adjustment that immediately:
1.       Put ME in total control
2.       Completely ruined my opponent’s balance
3.       Linked with a submission from side control that Martyn taught us a while back that I kept struggling with (and mentally blamed it on having short legs!)
Martyn had learned this really sneaky near side Americana from Rodrigo Praxedes at Phuket Top Team and I immediately liked it by kept failing at it. I thought it was a height thing (Martyn is tall and lanky and I’m, well, not!). The adjustment Eddie showed me from this self-defence position he had learnt from Royce Gracie personally not only fixed my defence against shoulder grabs and the nearside Americana Martyn had shown me but also meant I could better perform this other fantastic nugget of an Americana attack from side control I saw once on a Keith Owen DVD but could never get (this time I blamed it on, you guessed it, my short arms!):
I am convinced that training the self-defence aspects of Gracie Jiu Jits will trickle in and improve every other aspect of your jiu jitsu but, as always, don’t take my word for it. Try it out for yourself. The next time your opponent smothers your armbar or a triangle attack from guard, ask yourself, would he have been able to do that if I had protected against say punches by controlling his other arm / wrist or broken his posture more…etc.?
With the team: Shuban, Piotr, Eddie and Nish
1.       MGinaction is another great platform to learn but from what I’ve seen, it doesn’t lay out jiu jitsu in a linear format (i.e. this is the first technique you should learn and this is the next and this is the next…etc.). Still, is nothing short of a brilliant BJJ resource.
2.       Those who know me know my love for Saulo Ribeiro’s focus on the right timing (or as he calls it “momento”) for every move and this is a similar concept
3.       Whether by stretching your body away from them when recovering full guard or by controlling the distance when playing open guard or burying your head under their jaw line in a butterfly sweep, head control = safety from punches = better leverage
4.       How does what you’re doing look to a bypasser? Who looks like the aggressor / defender?
5.       When to clinch, how to de-escalate a violent situation, how to close down your opponent’s options…etc.
6.       Where should your feet be, your hips, your arms, your head…at one point, he even asked me to pay attention to what he was doing with his armpits!



Liam "The Part Time Grappler" Wandi

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