Is Gracie / Brazilian Jiu Jitsu good for Self Defence or Is It Just a Sport?

Gracie Jiu Jitsu, self-defence, MMA and the competitive aspects of Brazilian Jiu Jitus (BJJ) all build on the same fundamentals, or at least in my mind they should do. But together these disciplines have hundreds if not thousands of techniques and details, so where should I focus my limited training time?

Well, you should follow your bliss as it’s up to you, but to me the answer is obvious: Focus on the universal delivery system which is acquired thru keeping your training strike-safe and punch-proof.

One of my favourite martial arts books is one called “Mastering Judo” by the awesome Takahashi Family:

The book has great technical sections on how to train, grip, do combinations and counters, weight cut, plan your competitive strategies in a judo match / tournament…etc. but it starts with 35 pages on the evolution of judo over the years, its traditional values and etiquette and its focus and attitude. A brilliant judo book. On page 8 is a very simple yet powerful diagram describing the evolution of judo as a sport:

It’s really cool how a picture can say a thousand words. As you can see, judo and sport judo are not two completely separate entities. Neither are competition jiu jitsu and the self-defence applications.
The parallels are so many. Both applications of the art rely on the same leverages and technical details of the body positioning and distance management. Here is a great example that literally jumped at me thru the screen when I was recently watching some instructional BJJ DVDs:

In the first picture you see the amazing Damian Maia demonstrating how using the forearm as a frame can be used as a great tool to prevent the guard pull in sport Brazilian Jiu Jitsu. This is from his second series: Science of Jiu Jitsu II

In the second picture you see a very young Rorion Gracie demonstrate how the power of the moustache, coupled with the same forearm frame, can be used to stay safe and gain the upper hand in the stand-up clinch in a self-defence situation (defence against bear hug over the arms). This is from the volume Gracie Jiu Jitsu: Self Defence Techniques.

Check out Royce & Charles Gracie's book too!

Going back to our book Mastering Judo, the accompanying article to the Evolution of Judo picture goes into many effects this transition has had on some of the core values of judo such as “Jita kyoei” (mutual welfare and benefit) and much more.

One paragraph really caught my eye and I’d like to share it with you:

“Sportsmanship, a Western term, is a concept that mirrors the teachings of judo on how to act honourably as a result of involvement in sport. George Kerr, a highly respected fighter, coach and authority on judo from Scotland and an 8th Dan, provides cautionary perspective: “if such courtesy is not maintained and the needs of competition prevail, judo will suffer and decline, as has happened in other Western sports.”

There is, naturally, a ton to be gained from training the sportive aspects of any endeavour and I love that side of every martial art I’ve ever practiced, but the core will always be the self-defence techniques, distance management strategies and defence-first mind-set. Even if you have now interest in using your martial arts training to defend yourself or your loved ones and all you want to do is win medals, I urge you to deeply study the self-defence curriculum of Brazilian Jiu Jitsu because:
  1. The crossover is too good to be missed (protecting against a punch to the face builds a great habit if you’re trying to avoid people controlling your collar from guard…etc.)
  2. When you get stuck on why certain techniques just don’t seem to click, the self-defence application will give you a ton of hints to work with (the correct timing, the necessary indicator, the required pressure and angles...etc.)
  3. One day, you might simply get bored with (or too old / injured for) your particular flavour of competition. Having a strike-safe and punch-proof game gives you that great delivery system and all techniques rest on the foundation of a sound delivery system. What does this mean? If one day you want to change from gi to no gi, or no gi to MMA…etc. then your transition will be much smoother and far less painful
  4. A new change to the rules won’t necessarily mean that you have to change your entire game / setups / grip systems…etc.
  5. You will learn to conserve yourself and play the game well into your 50's, 60's and beyond.
The biggest benefit for me who is a 35 year old aspiring maths teacher, former McChubby, crazy about body movement, physical education and longevity is that this focus provides me with a curriculum that I can teach to everyone alike and train with my 17 year old brother. He, like most of my students, is not massively into jiu jitsu competitions (neither am I) but he instinctively understands what a punch to the face means so when we get on the mat for our weekly Friday training sessions, everything I teach him has immediate tangible value and he loves it. A 35 year old and a 17 year old pair of siblings bonding over a healthy and fun physical activity. That kicks ass.



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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