BJJ training and self defence…. (part 2)

I think when people discount BJJ as a formidable self defence style, they are speaking from either an;

a) un-educated perspective, i.e. basing their opinion on watching sport BJJ or even MMA, where, the exponent is focussed completely on 1 opponent, fighting with a strict rule set and a referee…….With some slight changes to training focus and style and BJJ practitioner can be made able to, at least be cognisant of dealing with multiple attackers…. again, more on that later

b) a biased perspective, this tends to be the TMA (Traditional Martial Arts) styles, a lot of which are struggling to cope with the emerging interest and success of BJJ. They forget that BJJ is based on TMA styles, just trained in a modern and progressive environment and not tainted by public popularity, which tends to water the styles down to appeal to the masses (not that modifying a style to appeal to a more general demographic is a bad thing).

Take any popular martial art of today, look at it 15-20 years ago, or before there was state or national funding available and I think you will see a different beast.

or c)Ego, my favourite, when you watch a 90 kg rugby player get submitted by a 70kg lady, or a TMA Black Belt submitted by a 15 year old BJJ Green Belt. This reason produces some serious soul searching and from here people either discount the occurrence as some trickery, or start training in earnest.

As a white belt (bearing in mind it took me over 4 years to get my blue…) I had the opportunity to train with a 2nd Dan in a TMA (a style that claimed a strong ground component) and after several hours of beating each other up, he was left a bit bewildered by my success ( I had been doing BJJ for about 12 months at that point).

Several weeks later we had the opportunity to train again, but this time he declined with no explanation. I was disappointed as I always enjoy training with other skilled Martial Artists and this guy had some great throws….. As it eventuated, we had the opportunity to discuss his reluctance over a beer soon after and it turned out that following our initial sparring sessions he had gone back to his Sensei seeking some guidance, he was perplexed that a white belt had been more than competitive with a 2nd Dan… “How can this be so Sensei?”

He was instructed not to train with BJJ practitioners any more, as they play a sport and do not train in lethal techniques, Sensei then further explained that training in a sport makes for a sporting mindset and will detract from the true ability in the TMA that this guy practiced!!! I question how many “lethal techniques” Sensei has ever delivered in his life. I find it annoying when the closed mindedness of coaches/ teachers/ Sensei/Sifu results in their students being disadvantaged.

But then why did the fundamental techniques I had been taught at that point work so well?? after all I probably had an arsenal of 2 or 3 effective takedowns, a working knowledge of the basic positions and a few submissions from each.

Because we trained every day with controlled full resistance, every technique I used worked because I had used it with a training partner who was trying to stop me almost as hard as he could. I had been tapped with these techniques a 100 times and again they worked. They were not taught by a 15 year old Black Belt, that had never been in a confrontation. They were not taught via Kata, or touch sparring or forms, they were drilled on the mat, in a realistic environment with realistic pressure and resistance, resulting in realistic results!

I digress, but this is a topic that we will return to in the future, BJJ is an evolution of TMA and that is evident in so many of the techniques. The techniques have been made subject to a more contemporary setting and in short their effectiveness in a self defence situation will mirror the original intent of the club and coaches.

If you train with a competition orientated club that will base everything on points and educate you on the finer points of “stalling to glory” then don’t be surprised if some of the application lets you down in a real world confrontational situation.

On the other hand, a club that prides itself on practical application, a club that has some sort of proven pedigree will probably deliver a more pragmatic approach to training.

It will always be easier to take “real world” BJJ and apply it competition that to try and take a good competition club and teach them self defence.

As they say a competition Black Belt is 1 punch away from a being a Brown Belt, another from Purple, another from Blue and 1 more from a white belt, unless he trains under structured but real fighting pressures how can he be expected to apply his skills in a foreign environment.

Next pressure points, biting, groin and the eye gouge!


When I was going to compete recently, there were a number of things not in my favour:

  • My first fight was against a longer term black belt with a strong reputation.
  • I had a former coach and key training partner as my second fight in the draw, while they had a bye in the first round. They are a strong, aggressive fighter with significantly more submissions on me than I had on them, and I had none on them in competition, whereas they had some on me.
  • I had an ultrasound that showed I had ruptured my bicep, and only had 5% of the bicep tendon remaining, two days before flying out to compete.
  • My nearest and dearest didn’t want me to compete in the fear that I would be further injure my bicep.
  • I was moved to a younger age division, as there were no competitors at my age.
  • I weighed in 4 kg under weight for the division.

As it turned out, I got a good result. It is too easy to look at the outcome and subscribe to a simple win/loss mentality. “I won, so it doesn’t matter so much how I won, but that I won”. Conversely, “I lost so it doesn’t matter how much effort I put in, or how hard I battled, but it’s a loss and it was all for nothing”.

Regardless of the outcome, I believe it is important to face the adversity rather than shrink from it. Any of these things could have been enough to dissuade me from competing. Unconsciously we are always looking for an easy path, an excuse for why we can’t do something. “I want to go to training, but I had a hard day at work”. “I don’t have the energy to get off the couch”. I find the days I feel least like training, can be the most rewarding. The adversity can be all the things in your life demanding your time and attention, before having the time and energy for training.

Adversity sharpens your character. As steel sharpens steel, the stronger the adversity, the stronger your resolve must be, the stronger your character will become.

I don’t suggest you necessarily welcome adversity, but when it appears, know that it is a war of attrition. Will you outlast adversity, or will adversity outlast you?

The art of learning

Really interesting previous post on competition v self defence. It leads into my thoughts today on learning on the mat. last night we trained an escape technique that was taught by two instructors. Both showed similar techniques, but we left the teaching just at the base level. What I mean by this is we taught the bottom of the pyramid, giving out just the information to provide a solid base to work from. We learned, tweaked and then drilled this and then went live at the end of the session.

We avoided teaching the fine points, the tricky tips and the sneaky moves. I am a massive fan that at each session, there is always a lynch-pin move. The move in the whole technique that matters. This lynch-pin move gets you to the position that matters, usually where the technique begins to branch into the individuals preference, or more importantly what the individual feels on the mat, determining the final sequence.

What has this to do with competition or self defence? Well what BJJ should teach you is building blocks of information that allow you to overcome instinct of movement. You all know this, when I push you, you push back!! What BJJ doesn’t teach if it remains too structured is your own application. Whether you turn left, right or pop out the back. If its on the mat or in a dark street, only you can decide on application. We see many early belts desire the submission, and forget the crux of BJJ is control of yourself and your maximise your opponent’s instinct.

Summarising, learning BJJ should be about solid platforms of concepts that work and can be applied and built on. BJJ is a ‘spiral’ martial art. There is a finite amount of things you can do i.e. back, side, 1/2 guard but a multitude of actions to paste onto the base actions if you get them right. So when your rolling, learn. Think of the base move, the lynch-pin and get that right. It may take 10, 20, 50 attempts but you will secure the skill. Then add. It is then when you can do this you will be more successful in the most important thing in BJJ (whatever that is?).

BJJ training and self defence… (part 1)

There has always been a lot of discussion about BJJ and it’s effectiveness as self defence style. In one corner we have the die hard grapplers who sware that every fight will end up on the ground, with them executing the perfect submission with grace, poise and style, before walking nonchalantly away from the downed opponent, who then, realizing the error of his ways, proceeds to dedicate his martial arts and self defence training to BJJ due to it’s proven superiority….

On the other hand we have the nay sayers who swear that BJJ is purely a competition style and any decent pressure point, dim mak, woo shoo finger hold, board breaking strike, excellent Kata etc. will disable the grappler prior to any effective take down, control or submission attempt.

The other main argument against grappling styles is that of the multiple opponents. The general scenario portrayed is that while you hold a fantastic mount on the attacker, his co-offender (assuming they are the bad guys) manages to execute a flying snap kick you to the head, before they both proceed to beat upon your skull…

From the outset of these ramblings I want to make the distinction between Competition BJJ training and the practical self-defence oriented BJJ training. This is a distinction that has to be made as more and more gyms are getting away from what the original intention of the Gracie family, which was BJJ as a fighting and self defence style. Now more and more academies are focussing more on points training and competition effectiveness… Why? The answer is simple, contemporary competition success equates to recognition, which to some, is the sole aim of their training.

I recently had a prominent Australian BJJ Black Belt tell me that un-equivocally, the most important thing to him, in any aspect of his students or personal training, was the team standings at the end of a competition. Is this what allows a club to claim to be The Best BJJ or TMA (traditional martial art) club in a town/ state? Does this philosophy carry over to the kids as well? If so, how does this bode for the future of the sporting side of BJJ. Also what affect does this have on the confidence of the students, are they aware of the limitations of the techniques they are being taught?

I make a point of getting all of our junior competitors together before a comp and make it clear that with out a doubt the most important thing to our coaches is to see them get in there compete, have fun and come away un-hurt. There is plenty of time for competitive pressure later, but I am aware that not all agree and you see time and time again, the loud, fat, obnoxious father, in his Tapout T-shirt, fuelling his failing ego through his adolescent son, who has made the commitment to train and compete…. sore subject, that we might come back to another time!

Would a more telling indication of training ethic and effectiveness of a club, or the style in it’s fundamental form, be the 20 year old on holiday in Bali who goes to the aid of an elderly man being assaulted by 3 drunken louts. The person in question managed to strike 1, take a second down and control the third, allowing the man to make his getaway. The point here is not the courage…. or stupidity… of the saviour, but the fact that his training had given him the confidence and knowledge to feel that he could deal with the situation… more on the actual story later.

The man going to the victims aid did not pull guard, nor execute a deep-half guard sweep.. no 50/50 either! What did he to? A Basic striking combination, a high, heavy, dumping double leg and then cage and close, body fold and strike from mount, with good aware ness of the position of the other assailants and did not dwell in positions for longer than needed.

So have a look at what you are being taught, speak with your coach, ask questions, but most of all, be honest and know your limitations…..

Part 2 to follow….

It’s Only Natural

It was quite some experience, being a part of the Telethon Adventurers Rollin’ for a Reason with the Arena crew. 24 hours of Jiu-jitsu. Getting ready to leave for the venue, the feeling was a little excited, but also a little nervous.

The experience really underwent a transformation as the time went on. The pace was high, particularly initially, practically a competition pace. There was a level of nervousness before each fight, as there is with competition.

But after a while, in the wee small hours when only the core crew was on, it changed. The perception of time was warped, hours turned into weeks. Fighting began to feel natural, to feel normal. The immersion of the same activity over and over, the non-thinking because you have been awake for 20 hours and you are getting beyond conscious thought.

It was a similar when I was competing recently. In the training leading up to the event I had been using a regime of high intensity, low duration, short rest periods of alternating rolling and circuit. When it came to the actual fights, it seemed familiar and easy. I wasn’t getting caught up in a game I wasn’t familiar with, and a ten minute rest period for the final was a holiday compared to the 45 seconds between rounds in training.

Flow. This is Jiu-jitsu at it’s best.

Unfortunately it is not easily achieved. We come onto the mat with expectations, with a game plan, we try to focus on an area, we invoke conscious thought to solve the problems we are presented with.