Is Self Defence still a Thing in BJJ? Should it be one or not?

Is Self Defence still a Thing in BJJ? Once again, the points of view may differ widely!

With the ongoing “sportization” of Jiu Jitsu, more and more Schools emphasize mainly on BJJ as a sport, aiming competitions.

Do not get me wrong, each Academy is free to focus on whatever seems the most important to them.

The remaining question is: what significance does Self Defence have to them?

In this article, I will share my personal point of view with you, which will also give you an insight view how I consider the topic “Self Defence”.

A glimpse on the origin and the evolution of Jiu Jitsu

Modern Times of BJJ

Key Points of Self Defence

My personal point of view and conclusion

A glimpse on the origin and the evolution of Jiu Jitsu

Jiu Jitsu in its “ancient” roots was a martial art and method of close combat, developped to defeat armed and armored opponents (usually refered to the “Samurai” Era).

Basically it was meant to be used on the warfield. So its Self Defence aspect is beyond question.

Even though it splitted up into different branches, the Jiu Jitsu branch itself kept the focus on throws, strangles and joint locks, with an empfasis on maximum efficiency and minimal effort.

Mitsuo Maeda, a student of Judo Founder Jigoro Kano began his Training at the Kodokan 1894. He became on of Kano’s Top Students. Maeda’s specialty was ground fighting, called Newaza in Judo.

In 1914 he traveled to Brazil and went in touch with Gastao Gracie, a local businessman. Gastao’s son Carlos started training under Maeda and learn his newaza-based style of Judo. After several years of training he started to share his knowledge with his yournger brothers. one of the brothers had a hard time to apply the Judo techniques, due to his small size and lack of strength. This person was Helio Gracie. So Helio started to adjust the techniques and principles to make them work, regardless of size or strength. These improvements gave birth to what is now known as Brazilian Jiu Jitsu.

Modern Times of BJJ

Since its creation, BJJ evoluted a lot and many things changed. Today, the general aspect of BJJ seems very far from its “Battlefield rooted survival” method.

There is huge focus on the sport and competition aspect of BJJ nowadays.

Nevertheless, Nevertheless, some teams still have Self Defence in their curriculum and some even made it a mandatory part in their rank evolution.

Even though, it think that there are way more Teams and Academies who don’t really attach importance on it.

This said, if you take a quick look on the IBJJF Rules Book (just to take this one as example), you can see that Mount, Back Mount and Back Control will get you 4 points (the highest value). Compared to a Self Defence situation, this seems quite legit, as these positions are probably the worst you can get caught.

Furthermore, these days there are so many martial arts, fighting methods, a.s.o. who emphasize on Self Defence and promote it as such, that the competition between them is quite rough.

The consequence is that people think about many other martial arts, but not necessarily BJJ.

The efficiency; a crucial point

A recurrent concern in debates is that “Modern Jiu Jitsu” is inappropriate for Self Defence, because “modern” techniques like the Berimbolo, Inverted Guard, and others “wouldn’t work on the street”.

Before we lump it together, let’s talk about “Self Defence”!

Key points of Self Defence

Disregarding legal aspects, some important Key points should be considered when it comes to Self Defence;

Psychological Stress is probably the most determining factor in a threatening situation. It can have a negative impact on your senses (hearing and sight mainly), slowing down your reactions and result – in its worst case – in anesthekinesia.

Considering this, Self Defence techniques/methods should be as “simple” as possible. The fancier the techniques are, the harder it will be to apply them.

Of course, your routine as a martial artist may contribute that you handle stress differently than an “average” person; nevertheless, applying a Berimbolo (as an example for a “modern” BJJ technique) in a “Street Fight” will be a tough job!

But what about “simple” and “basic” BJJ techniques? Single- and Double Leg Takedowns, Full Guard, Mount Position… to bring your Offender down and under control?

What about “simple” concepts like applying pressure, weight distribution, and “gently convincing your opponent to stop”?

This is where the “old school” concepts of BJJ come into play.

As an Instructor I take care that my students build a strong base with these elementary concepts and techniques.   

Hence, we build a bridge between the Roots of BJJ, Self Defence and Modern BJJ.

My personal point of view and conclusion

As we have seen, BJJ underwent some major evolutions. Nevertheless, the roots of fighting are still present and as important, as they were 100 years; they are simply the basics that – in my personal point of view – every BJJ Student should learn.

It is the Instructors Decision (Or the Academy/Team Approach) that decides how much importance is given to that Topic.

Personally, with my background and my point of view on Martial Arts, these Self Defence aspects are inseparable of any Martial Arts style.

Dig into Martial Arts history! Not only the one of the style that you practise, but open your mind. The very famous musician Frank Zappa once said “A mind is like a parachute. It doesn’t work if it is not open.”

A look back in time gives you a different view about why Martial Arts developed in the way in they did. You will find a bunch of similarities between the different Martial Arts, but also the characteristics of them (why they move the way they do, why do they punch or block that way…).

I promise you that a whole new world will be revealed to you.

Keep up the work!


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